turkey hunting tips

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

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

Trio of Osceola Longbeards Gobbling in the Rain!

It is inevitable, your going to wake up one morning full of anticipation, all braced for a great morning in the spring gobbler woods and your going find the weather has turned foul and it is thundering and spitting rain. Are you going to roll over and drift off to sleep or are you going to man up and go kick some turkey butt?

How Does Rainy Weather Effect Roosted Turkeys?

The main thing you need to know and remember about a roosted turkey on a rainy morning is that they are not going to be in any hurry to get on the ground. Typically, the birds are going to hang-up on the limb much later than usual and many times will not fly down until after 8:00-8:30.

Strangely enough, fog does not seem to effect their fly down time nearly as much as the rain. I could not count the times I’ve had a gobbler fly down in conditions that were so foggy that you could not see 20yds!

What is the Single Best Thing You Can Do to Increase Your Odds of  Taking a Tom on a Rainy Day hunt?

This tip applies to all situations as far as improving you odds for success. However, it is especially important if you want to have a shot at harvesting a bird when bad weather moves in.

As with any turkey hunt, If you can have a bird roosted for the next mornings hunt you are ahead of the game. Al though  roosted does not necessarily mean roasted! This all depends on the timing of the approaching front. If the front arrives late in the afternoon, the pressure drops and the humidity builds, you can bet there is going to be no gobbling to be heard from the limb.

          “ A drop in pressure and rise in humidity will kill gobbling!”         (from the book of Larry)

If you are lucky and the weather holds off until after dark, chances are you will be able to get a bird roosted. Once the front has arrived you probably will not be able to buy a gobble come daylight but you will know right where to be sitting when he flies down.

Where is The Best Place to Find Turkeys on a Rainy Day!

One of the greatest benefits to rainy weather is the ability to easily find birds. Under no other conditions will the birds be so visible and easy to locate. All you need to do is go to the nearest pasture or field to find a turkey. Open woods can be a good bet also but the best places are fields, pastures, powerlines and graded roads, etc..

I believe turkeys prefer to be in the open on rainy days for two reasons. Number one is that a turkey walking thru wet bushes gets wetter and standing in the open and will dry quicker when the weather subsides. The second reason is that his hearing ability is diminished during windy wet weather and he can put his best sense to greatest use, his eye sight!

How Does Foul Weather Effect Gobbling Activity?

The answer to this question is three fold. To understand it you must look at the progression of a storm event. Basically, a storm can be broken down into three periods as it relates to gobbling. The initial approach of the storm which may be accompanied by wind and thunder. This is probably the period that is best waited out, the high winds subdue gobbling and make it very difficult to hear even if the bird does gobble at the thunder. The second period involves the bulk of the rain. Turkeys will either be in some very open woods or other type of open ground such as a pasture, woods road, powerline, etc.. This will make them relatively easy to locate but not necessarily easy to call. The third period begins as the rain begins to slack off and the thundering is becoming more distant. This is the period you want to concentrate on. Game is always more active immediately after a rain has ended and the thunder in the distance will usually have the toms gobbling, sometimes fiercely!

I have seen it written time and again that the wet weather makes it much easier to approach a turkey….. Let me assure you, this is not the case! True, you can move more quietly when the ground is wet but a turkey lives on his eye sight, not his hearing! A turkey’s eye sight is truly incredible, do not underestimate it under any conditions, even in high wind. Commit this tip to memory as it will serve you well one day, a turkey can pick you out in high wind even better than times of no wind! The reason is that your form does not move naturally with the back and fourth motion of the swaying foliage. If you are still and the bushes are moving you stick out just as if you were moving through still woods, maybe even worse.

At times this can be some of the best times to hear a turkey gobble but more often it will have the calling subdued. Thunder is one thing that can really get a gobbler going. It is not a guaranteed thing that every tom in the woods will be hammering at every clap of thunder but more often than not he’s going to gobble. At times it can be some of the hottest gobbling activity you will ever hear.

On the flip side of this are the times when you have 2-3 days of light rain. Calling during this type of weather will typically be off but again, the birds will be very visible and are huntable. This is one of the few times I would prefer to be in a pop-up style blind.

The ideal situation is to have a day that is misty to light sprinkling. The turkeys will be more workable and it will be more comfortable for you as well. All of the standard calling and hunting tactics pretty much apply here except that the turkeys are going to be confined to open spaces.

Which Turkey Calls work best for a Wet Weather Hunt?

There are many types of waterproof calls available on the market today. Actually, there is pretty much a wet proof version of all the most popular style calls. Obviously, the diaphragm call is unaffected by water  (or spit). The slate and striker and the box call being two of the most popular. If you get caught in a pinch you could operate your call with a plastic bag over it. A grocery bad or large zip lock will due the trick.

However, the call that really shines here is the diaphragm! It is probably the most difficult to learn to use but the advantages are great. I prefer a diaphragm over all calls and it is my primary call.

What Are The Benefits of Using Decoys When Hunting Turkeys in The Rain?

Personally, I do not recommend using decoys as much as a lot of people. The main reason for that is I like to set up very close to a roosted Gobbler. I can’t tell you how many I have shot that flew down and landed in my lap and I never made a call! When you slip in this close you cannot afford the added commotion of trying to set up a decoy. It will be all you can do to get yourself set up! Also, I like to do a lot of moving. One of my favorite hunting partners, Steve Bailey dubbed it “sneakin’ & peakin’!” I don’t hunt without some glass around my neck! I love to slip down a road glassing around bends, etc., prospecting for a gobbler.

However, a rainy day is better suited for staying put, blinding up and guarding a couple decoys on a field. This is even more effective than under normal conditions. The main reason for this is that all of the turkeys are going to be in the open where they can see your decoys! Another benefit is that you nor the turkeys will be able to hear very well so calling is not going to help you as much as the usual. You need to take full advantage of his eye sight and pull him in with the decoys!

How to Stay Comfortable on a Rainy Day Turkey Hunt?

Good Quality light weight, breathable rain gear is a must if you want to stay comfortable on a foul weather hunt. If you are soaked to the bone and cold, chances are your not going to last to long in the woods that morning. Being comfortable effects your mental game and that is very important under any conditions.

If there was ever a day that was made for hunting from a blind it is a rainy day! This is the place to consider taking advantage of a “Turkey hunting Blind” that will put a roof over your head and keep the weather off of you. Plus, If you are into self videoing your hunts, this is about the only way you are going to be able to get any filming in on a day like this.

If there is a silver lining in waking up to a rainy day turkey hunt it is that most hunters are not going to brave the elements when the rain sets in. You are probably going to have the woods and the turkeys to yourself!

Dress for the conditions, bring a couple calls that you can run in the rain and look for the birds to be in open country! You can’t kill em’ sittin’ on the couch!

Good Luck Guys!
Larry Stephens

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