Monthly Archives: April 2012

I have been hunting turkey for many years now. During this time I have spent more money than I care to remember (or admit to my wife) on gear and equipment in pursuit of gobbling turkeys. I can’t tell you how many turkey calls I have purchased that have gone by the way side, never to again grace my turkey hunting vest. The worst part was, a great deal of them never even made it into the vest! I guess it was easy to justify a few bucks each spring for something that held the promise of being a grunt better than what I was using at the time. After all, with all the other money we spend to be able to participate in this sport, what’s another $10-$20 bucks for a hot new call or other gadget that could give you an edge against a wary adversary. I guess there is nothing wrong with this if you don’t get to carried away.

Turkey Calls

Turkey Calls!

However, after a few years you will eventually come to the same realization that I did…most new gear is much like fishing lures, They are designed to hook more fishermen than fish. So it is with turkey hunting equipment. This is not to say that there are not some great new calls or other turkey hunting paraphernalia brought to market each year.

Here‘s the deal, you can only use one or two turkey calls at a time and you can only carry a limited amount of equipment afield. More importantly, with time and experience you will “cull the head” when it come to your gear, until you have developed the essentials that work for you and your style of hunting turkeys. At this point, you should have in your arsenal, 2-3 key turkey calls, several locator calls and misc. gear that hold a permanent position in your tool box. This setup will cover 90% of your hunting. Here is the key point in all this; it will be battle proven gear that you have confidence in. This cannot be understated! There is no sense in changing what works!

Now, if you find you have a weak link in your tools, by all means, seek out a new piece of gear that will be an upgrade to that key item. I would recommend taking the advice for that new acquisition from someone you know has experience with it. Most new gear such as calls, cannot be tested before you buy them! In the middle of a battle is no place to discover your new hot call has a flaw and fails under pressure!

-What Gear Do You Really Need, To be an Effective Turkey Hunter?

This list would be much shorter than you would expect. If you have been following my articles, you have heard me make the statement that a “master turkey hunter” does not even need a turkey call to be effective at harvesting turkeys. The only gear you cannot live without is your gun, camo and a locator call. With a little practice, hopefully you can get to the point where you can use your natural voice for “owling” and cull one more item from your vest. My best advice here, in general, is to keep your gear limited to the essentials. In up coming articles I will give you some in depth and highly detailed information on exactly what gear I pack around and more importantly….why!

I am not telling you my way is the only way but rather, I am providing you with a proven, successful template that you can use as a base to develop your own “essential gear list.”

Unfortunately, I find much of the information I read about turkey hunting is very general in nature and the author is either not experienced enough to explain in detail why he uses certain items or he just may not be the kind of purpose driven person that scrutinizes every detail of each piece of his equipment. That kind of information will not serve you well. Nor can such an author be taken as an authority. I will show you the where, when, why and my reasoning behind any advise I offer. This way, you can benefit from my experience and make your own intelligent, informed decisions. “Blind followers are easily led astray!” (from the book of Larry)

Picture of my primary turkey hunting gear

My Primary Turkey Hunting Gear!

The following is a general list of items that I consider necessary to ensure a successful hunt.

-The Turkey Hunters Essential Gear List:

-Gun

-Camo Clothing appropriate for the spring season

-Head net and gloves (fingerless preferred)

-Turkey Hunting Vest with a fold up, waterproof seat cushion

-Binoculars with bino system

-Turkey Calls (diaphragm and box call with chalk)

-Turkey locator calls, Crow & Owl

– Pruning Shears, Small light weight

-Knife, (not to large), a 3″ blade is perfect.

-Flashlight, light weight, the smaller the better!

-Good pair of light weight waterproof boots!

-Tick & chigger repellant (preferably with permethrin )

-Camera with remote or self timer

In up coming articles I will take an in depth look at each item, tell you what I use and why. Some may consider it TMI, (too much information) but it is what makes the difference between a guy that kills a turkey once in a while and a turkeys worst nightmare!

-Tailor Your Gear Around Your Turkey Hunting Style!

This is another key point. One box of tools is not enough to handle all repair jobs! If it was it would be so large you couldn’t move it. However, you can cover most situations with a box that you can carry in one hand. Such is the case when it comes to turkey hunting. You may go on a hunt where conditions dictate a different type of call, maybe a high pitch box for windy hunts or a diaphragm or waterproof slate for wet weather, at times maybe a blind for setting up in the middle of a field.

If you tried to include enough gear to cover all situations you might encounter while hunting turkeys, you would need three men and a boy just to haul it all around. Forget about mobility, which is where the most exciting hunting adventures take place, in my opinion. Rather, your strategy should be to have a base set of gear that will cover most hunts, then add or substitute other items as conditions dictate. Remember, if you can get by without it, leave it in the truck! Don’t sacrifice stealth and mobility for extra gear.

-Why it is Important to Keep Your Turkey Hunting Gear to a Minimum!

If your style of turkey hunting is to sit in a blind for hours on end in one location, then the amount of gear you have to pack in is not as great an issue as for a “run and gun” type hunter. You would not think that a small knife or metal pruning shears, etc. would make much of an impact in your vest but when you combine all the basic gear you really need, It is significant and the weight really adds up quickly.

However, though the overall weight of your gear is important, the real issue is the bulk! When you fold up several collapsible turkey decoys in your vest back, maybe a fly down wing, camera gear, etc, plus a fold up seat cushion, before you know it you feel like the pills berry dough boy.

The problem with this is that you trade away all your stealth in favor of gear. This is a serious mistake for a highly mobile turkey hunter. If you doubt me on this, grab your gun and light camo’s and go slip around in some relatively brushy woods for a little bit, then gear up with all the accessories you would like, (don’t forget the decoys) and try it again! You’ll be hung up on every little bush you pass by. You have just made the two greatest errors a turkey hunter can make, noise and movement! This has educated and saved more turkey’s lives than all other mistakes combined.

If you will gear down and keep it to just the essentials, you will be a far more effective turkey hunter and I guarantee you your success rate will go up. Just select the gear that best compliments your hunting style, tweak it a little as experience dictates and stick with that. Don’t get caught up in trying every trendy gadget that comes on the market. Remember, you were born with the greatest advantage that tops all others …… ….your superior intelligence. First learn to rely on this, it will kill you more turkeys than gadgets ever will!

Best of hunts,

Larry Stephens

If you’re planning to be a successful Turkey Hunter, you must have a solid strategy for locating your quarry. This sounds pretty obvious but “if you can’t find em’, you can’t kill em”. It is mandatory that every hunter develop or adopt methods for locating turkeys for any given situation and time of day. At times, even in the dark! However, the dark stuff is an advanced subject that I’ll discuss with you later in my book.

Calls for locating turkeys

Killer Locator Calls!

– The Right Locator Call for the Right Situation!

If you were just paying attention, you picked up on my above reference to “different situations and times”. There is a “Best Locator Call” for any given situation but it can most easily be broken down by time of day. As far as locator calls are concerned, You will need calls to cover three periods of the day:

 

#1 – Before daylight, up to fly down.

 

#2 – The times between fly down and fly up.

 

#3 – Fly up to hard dark.

 

Locating Turkeys on the Roost.

Early Morning Owling!

Before I give you the short answer I need to state that there can be several calls that can be employed for each of these periods. There are even some calls that may work a little better than others depending on where you are hunting and the amount of pressure the birds have experiences. For example, if you hunting public land, you can expect that the gobblers are getting hammered with crow calls during the day. It would be a good idea to carry a hawk call or even a more off the wall locator call.

O.K., Here is the meat and potatoes. For before light, up to about fly down….The “Owl Call” reins supreme! After fly down until about fly up the “Crow Call” is the call that will produce the most responses from a gobbler. Once he is back on his roost limb, you need to be back to the Owl call.

If you have not already, your going to read all kinds of opinions and claims from others about how their favorite call works so good. Your going to hear about everything from coyote calls to pileated woodpecker calls but the Owl and the Crow calls do all the heavy lifting! The proof is in the pudding as they say and you don’t kill as many turkeys as I have without being damn good at locating them! Have a look at my Turkey harvest photo section, your eye’s will go cross before you get to the end of them.

 

– The Must Have Locator Call!

I have hunted many different places, the call that I use to locate 95% of turkeys I hear is the Owl call. I do all my Owling naturally but I do carry a back up Owl call for times when my throat gets a little soar from calling. You don’t have to be “contest ready” to be effective at natural owl calling either. I would rate myself no better than average. It’s knowing where and when that’s more important. 

If I had to pick one thing that I like best about hunting turkeys I would have to say it’s roosting! In fact I consider roosting the one most important thing that a turkey hunter can do to increase his chances for success. Roosting is my greatest “Secrete Weapon for Success” and the corner stone of my Turkey hunting book. Others might argue that mastering turkey calling may be number one but a skilled turkey hunter can be more effective than you could believe at killing turkeys without the aid of a turkey call. Have a look at a few of my self filmed videos to see how it’s done!

 Another thing to keep in mind is, an Owl makes a variety of sounds. I have found there are certain Owl calls that out perform others for enticing a gobble and will discuss this in greater depth in my Book as well.

 
 
 

 – Why the Owl Call Reigns Supreme!

Here’s something to keep in mind. The Barred Owl is going to be the first creature to start calling in the Morning and will be about the only one calling at last light after the gobbler is back on the roost! As darkness approaches all the hawks, crows, blue herons, etc. go silent. A gobbler has heard this routine, every single day of his life! He is hard wired to gobble at an Owl!

 

– The Call You’ll Use More Than Anything Else and why!

O.K., it’s no secrete that the Owl is my favorite locator call but there is a call that could actually get more use than the Owl if you don’t take advantage of roosting. I rarely hunt without having roosted the evening before so most of the time I have a bird put to bed for the mornings hunt. Therefore, I don’t normally do much late morning or afternoon hunting. As a rule, Toms will not gobble much at these times and if he don’t gobble, I’m not to interested. For me, Spring Gobbler Hunting is all about hunting a gobbling bird off the mornings roost. Everything else pales.

 The primary call your going to want to use for this is the “Crow Call”. In all the places I’ve hunted, the crow is the most commonly heard, loud call you will hear throughout the day. Turkeys love to gobble at a crow up in the morning and this call will out perform all others during this time, right up until just after he’s back on the roost. Again, when hunting in high pressure areas, you need to have a good backup call as the birds are likely getting crowed to death but the crow will still probably out perform all other calls. In this situation I would make a call with one locator call and if no response,wait a couple minutes and call with your backup.

 From my experience a Hawk scream would be my backup call choice and I typically have one in “my turkey vest.”

Osceola Gobbler Standing at Attention!

Osceola Gobbler!

 - The Hail Mary Call, What to do When All Else Fails!

This is another topic that falls into the advanced subject matter category but I will touch on it briefly. Many times I have slipped in to a place expecting to hear a gobble after fly up but gotten no response despite my best owl calls. As a last resort, and this is usually almost in the dark, I will wait a couple minutes after my last owl and then do either a hen fly up cackle or a cut. I prefer the cackle!  He may only gobble one time at it but that’s all I need. I have literally seen them gobble in the dark at this. It will not work all the time but It’s worth remembering as it will work at times when nothing else will! I have dragged gobbles out of birds even in the hard dark, many times. Have a listen to the above video of a flock of birds gobbling, cutting and putting at me cackling and cutting at them in the dark,  This was a flock of about 10-12 birds with two gobblers and the rest made up of jakes and hens. Don’t make the mistake of thinging a tom won’t gobble in the dark!

 One last tip to remember. If you try this and your by yourself, keep the call short. If he gobbles and cuts your call (gobbles before you finish your call) you may not be able to course him!

 Best of hunts!

 Larry Stephens

 

For the purpose of this discussion were going to be talking about pop-up type blinds vs. no blind at all. There is a middle of the road blind situation where a hunter utilizes whatever natural vegetation is immediately available or carries a short netting that can be deployed pretty quickly but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

– Why I Seldom Utilize a Turkey Hunting Blind!

Turkey Hunting Without a Blind!

Personally, I find a turkey hunting blind of any kind more trouble than they are worth unless I plan to be camping out somewhere and that don’t happen to often. I like the freedom of mobility and the feeling of being actively involved in the hunt. Being tied down to one spot while turkey hunting goes against my nature. 

My two most important reasons for not making use of a pop-up style blind is that I just have to much gear to hump in as it is, especially now that I have gotten into self filming my own hunts. The second reason is that I use a very mobile style of hunting and the blind does not mesh well with that. Besides, I just never found them necessary. I would offer this tip as well, if you plan to hunt without any blind or cover in front of you; try to set up such that you cannot see the bird coming from a long way off. If you can see him, he can see you, really good! If you know anything at all about turkeys you know how easy one can pick you off from long range. A turkey’s vision is so good It’s almost scary. If it their great sight magnification was not bad enough, they are very good at quickly accessing what they see and recognizing shapes or anything that is out of place.

Here is another key point; I am not sure exactly how many gobblers I have taken to date but it must be North of 80 by now! The percentage of them shot from a blind is very small. Even smaller is the number shot from a completely enclosed blind. Most of the time I set up so close to a roosted gobbler that any movement required to set up a blind would likely blow the whole deal. The proof is in the results!

– How Can You Locate Your Turkey Hunting Blind to Force a Gobbler to Hunt You!

There is no doubt that there are situations where a turkey blind is a big benefit for a turkey hunter. However, If you feel your need to be in a blind the majority of the time you are probably setting up in the wrong locations to begin with.

One of the most important principals of luring any animal to gun, whether it has feathers or fur, is you have to be calling from the right location! This is where most articles drop the ball and leave you wondering, O.k., just where is the right location? Well, it is not so much a specific place as it is a place with the correct visibility!

It is crucial that your hide be in an area that forces an animal to hunt you!  What I mean by that is this, If you are set up in a place where a turkey can see your position from a long ways out, say 100 yds plus and he can’t see the turkey that he hears calling from that position……guess what happens next? He’ll hang around there, (100yds plus), for about 15 minutes until he realizes there is no turkey there and he either gets suspicious or looses interest and walks off having never come into shotgun range!

Whenever and if at all possible, always call from a place that has enough cover or limited visibility to force the gobbler to have to come in to look for the source of the calling and not allow him to use his superior eye sight. You will loose that contest almost every time. This is the number one mistake many turkey hunters make!

If you remember nothing more from this article than this one tip you will have made it over the biggest hurdle that keeps most hunters from being able to effectively harvest animals using a call.

-What Are The Negative Aspects of Employing a Turkey Blind?

– Bulky and heavy to pack in.

– A hunter may become careless with extended blind hunting as the blind hides his sins.

– There is a great deal of motion and noise necessary to deploy a Turkey Blind

– Reduced Hunter Visibility.

– A Blind Reduces the Hunters Mobility.

– The Blind limits your shooting lanes to a degree and makes follow up shots difficult.

 

Turkey Hunting Blind!

 

– What Are The Benefits of Using a Blind?

– A blind really shines for concealing movement? (a turkey hunters nemesis)

– Comfortable, particularly in bad weather.

– Very useful in open country or pastures with little cover.

– If you are hunting with a young hunter that can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes it affords them some movement without blowing the hunt.

– Amazingly and unlike a deer, you can through up a blind in the middle of a field and as long as it don’t move, a turkey will pay no attention to it and walk all around it!

In the end, the decision to utilize a blind basically comes down to your style of hunting for any given hunt. If you are going to be hunting in open country with little cover or large fields, a pop up blind is a big advantage. However, If you are going to be covering a lot of ground, you need to lighten the load and dump the blind! It is neally unnecessary for most hunting situations and presents more negatives than positives.

Best of Hunts.

Larry Stephens

Hunting turkeys in the fall is considerably different than hunting turkeys in the spring. However, many of the basic turkey hunting skills you would use during the spring are also necessary for pursuing turkeys in the fall. The key to being successful in the fall is being able to locate the flock. The flock will be where the feed is! The following is some of the more important information and tips that I have learned over the years that could help you harvest more fall turkeys.

Fall Gobbler By Bow!

-How does Fall Turkey Hunting Differ from Spring Hunting?

The hunting and calling techniques differ from fall to spring and turkeys in the fall are typically “flocked-up”. These turkeys present different movement and social patterns. Where the hens in the spring are in very small groups of 2-5 with many singles, during the fall the hens will be in large flocks that typically contain her brood from the spring and maybe a few other hens. Sometimes a flock may consist of several hens with broods associating together. These flocks can contain jakes at this time of year also. During the spring, jakes will be in their own bachelor groups for the most part. Gobblers on the other hand will only associate with other gobblers in the fall and will also be found in bachelor groups. One other major difference from spring hunting is the lack of gobbling by mature males. Also, mature males are less likely to respond to a hunter’s calling than hens and juveniles.

The greatest difference between fall and spring hunting is the type of calls you need to use and where the turkeys will be found. Finding the turkeys at this time of year is the greatest hurdle to over come.

-Can Hens be Harvested During The Fall?

Unlike spring hunting where only bearded turkeys or gobblers can be harvested, in the fall, most states allow the harvest of hens. One of the main reasons the harvest of hens is allowed is that many hunters find it difficult to tell the difference between hens and immature toms.

One of the first decisions you need to consider if you plan to pursue fall turkeys is whether you are going to target mature gobblers or hen flocks. The turkeys will be split up into these two groups based on sex and the mature gobblers do not associate with the hen flocks at this time of year. The Hen flocks can however contain young immature gobblers from the hens spring clutch. These immature toms are known as “jakes” and can also be found in small groups of their own.

-How do Calling Tactics Differ From Spring to Fall?

The calls a hunter needs to be able to mimic for fall hunting are different from the calls he would use during the spring. For most fall hunting scenarios the hunter will be trying to imitate the sound of a turkey that is trying to locate other birds from its flock. The most common calls to imitate in the fall are the, lost yelp”, the “assembly cluck” of an adult hen, the “kee-kee” of the juvenile turkey or in the case of mature toms, the “coarse gobbler yelps” and occasionally, the “gobble”. However, Keep in mind that while mature toms often gobble in the fall in Northern latitudes, they almost never gobble at this time of the year in the south. In fact, I have only heard two gobbles in all the hours spent afield here in my home state of Florida. The gobble call should be used very sparingly in the South but you could incorporate it more in the North.

Your calling tactics for fall need to match the type of turkeys you are calling to. Young hens, and immature toms are the easiest turkeys to call in during the fall, followed by mature hens and then Mature gobblers.

For immature turkeys, the “kee-kee” or “whistle” is a very important call but if you bust up a hens brood flock, using the “assembly cluck” to call the young back in is a deadly tactic! This is the meat and potatoes of fall turkey hunting!

If you are calling mature hens, the best calls to employ are going to be the “lost yelp” and also the “assembly cluck” of the dominate hen.

For mature Gobblers, “course yelps” are going to be one of your best calls. Again, in the North you can also do some gobbling but birds in the South just do not gobble in the fall and therefore, it is my opinion that if it is an un-natural call for that time of year, I would not use it, or very, very sparingly at the most.

-Tips for Locating Fall Turkeys?

Locating turkeys during the fall is 75% of the battle!

Pre-season scouting is one of the best things you can do to increase your odds of taking a fall turkey. Once you have found where a few different flocks are using and feeding you can probably expect them to be in that same location until something scares them off or the feed runs out.

Turkey feeding sign!

Osceola Turkey Feeding Sign!

Turkeys have substantially different habits during the fall than during the spring season but many of the same methods for locating them can be employed.

One of the main difference in the birds habits is where they spend most of their time. Food and safety are the primary driving forces behind the day to day movements of turkeys during the fall.

During the fall the food sources for turkeys vary widely and are distributed over a broad area, hence the turkeys must cover a lot of ground to make a living. In the northern states the turkeys will mainly be found in the timber, scratching in the leaves for any left over seeds and bugs they can find or feeding on AG fields. In the south, there will still be some green available to be picked so it’s a 50-50 shot on whether they will be in the woods or in some open areas. The trick to locating turkeys in the fall is to know where the feed is that they are keying in on. If you like hunting turkeys with a dog, this can be a tremendous advantage for locating them.

-Strategies For Hunting Fall Turkeys!

Scatter the Flock: One of the most used fall turkey hunting techniques is to locate a flock of turkeys and flush them, preferably in all directions. The hunter then sets up at the flush site if the birds scattered well or moves ahead maybe 50yds or so in the direction the majority of birds flew and then sets up and attempts to call the birds back in, working on their strong instinct to stay in a group at this time of year. Remember, most of these flocks will be comprised of a hen and her brood from the spring so they don’t want to loose momma!

Roosting: Roosting is another technique that works in the fall but it is very much different than in the spring. During the spring you can hear a gobble from as much as a mile away but since there is no real gobbling going on in the fall you need to have a good idea where the turkeys like to roost in the first place and get into the area before they do. Many times the hens will cackle when they fly up just as in the spring but here in Florida you are probably only going to get to hear them take flight and beat their way through the tree tops.

The Ambush: This is somewhat like deer hunting but does involve calling. Like roosting you need to know ahead of time where a group of turkeys likes to feed in the morning or maybe where they are loafing at midday. Basically you set up in one of these locations depending on the time of day and do some intermittent calling. However, remember that as the day progresses, turkeys do less and less calling unless one is lost. It is unnatural for a turkey to do a lot of calling from one location and will make a turkey suspicious if you do it.

The Rainey Day Hunt: Just like turkeys in the spring, turkeys in the fall are going to head for an open field, powerline, graded road or very open woods, etc. when wet weather moves in. This makes them easy to locate as they are very visible. This is half the battle (and then some) during the fall. Once you have found them, then you can develop a strategy to hunt them.

Gobbler's wing primary feather found under a roost tree!

Couple these tips and techniques with your basic spring turkey hunting knowledge and you will also be successful in hunting turkeys in the fall. It’s just a matter of getting out there, finding them and applying the strategy that’s appropriate for the hunting situation!

Best of hunts,
Larry Stephens

Activity Report

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Trophy of the Month!

Dylan Godwin Oklahoma Tom 2016 1 s Dylan Godwin harvested this Oklahoma Tom with a single shot .410 and a Bull Creek Custom Calls mouth call.

LaCrosse Men’s Alpha Mudlite

LaCrosse Men's Alpha Mudlite Boot LaCrosse Men's Alpha Mudlite Waterproof Boot Excellent Boot for Turkey Hunting, comfortable right out of the box, great traction.

Avian X Turkey Decoy

AvianX Lookout Hen Turkey Decoy One of the best turkey decoys on the Market. Relatively easy to carry, Super Tough and as Realistic as it gets! Click on the photo above of text below for more information. AvianX Breeder Turkey Decoy, Camo

Barronett Blind

Barronett GR250BT Grounder 250 Ground Blind The Barronett Grounder 250 Blind is a well made 5 hub blind and is reasonably priced. Click on the Photo or text below for more information. Barronett Blinds GR250BT Grounder 250 Ground Blind in Blood Trail Camo

Florida Hunting Regs

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