Spring is here and turkey season is right around the corner! That means outdoorsmen/women everywhere are gearing up to hit the turkey woods. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce someone new to the outdoors and allow them to experience those breathtaking sunrises/sunsets, bone chilling gobbles, and beautiful strutting birds we all adore. Just like hunting any other species, turkey hunting always seems to test your skills and patience as a hunter. Every time I set my sights on chasing the renowned “thunder chicken”, I learn something new. With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks to mentoring new turkey hunters and making your hunting trip more successful this spring.
Be Prepared & Practice Shooting Scenarios
Many new turkey hunters typically begin hunting with a shotgun as their weapon of choice, however it is not usual for beginners to start with archery equipment. You will want to make sure to identify the vital locations on a turkey and use the respective equipment to practice. A 20 gauge with an appropriate load (see the 2021 Turkey Guide for more information) is plenty sufficient for turkey hunting, just be sure to have your mentee shoot prior to hunting to become more familiar with the firearm, pattern the shotgun, and know the maximum effective distance to make an ethical shot. The same is true for those archery hunters: avid practice prior to hitting the field is essential. While target practicing, be sure to have your mentee shoot from different potential positions (kneeling, sitting against a tree, prone, etc.) to have them ready for any situation.
Scouting is Key
Regardless of the method you choose scouting is key to your success! Scouting birds in an area by visually watching them roost is a great way to locate them. You can also locate birds by using crow calls, owl “hoots”, or a turkey gobble to cause individual jakes or toms to shock gobble. For beginners, allowing them to watch and listen to the birds will generate that much more excitement, and allow them to learn a lot about basic turkey behavior.
Be Flexible & Patient with your Strategy
There are multiple strategies used while chasing turkeys. Some hunters choose to run-and-gun turkeys by calling and moving locations in hopes to close the distance on a gobbler. Spot and stalk is another common method. These methods require the hunters to be well camouflaged, lie very still and move very slowly. For beginners, I really like to take the time to set up a pop-up-blind which allows for more concealment and some forgiveness when those birds get close. If you are using a pop up blind, wearing a black shirt and facemask while in the blind can help to match the background of the inside of the blind and allow you a little more movement to get into position. Using a blind is especially nice for those that are archery hunting to give great cover while coming to full draw. Additionally, when taking a new or youth turkey hunter out, they need to be comfortable with the variable spring conditions. With our sometimes-unpredictable Nebraska weather, a blind can help with this, especially when it is somewhat water resistant, has a collapsible blind chair, and plenty of snacks.
Don’t Over Call
Now let’s talk calls. Having the best of the best gear is not necessary. Turkey hunting does require some gear to hedge your bets at being more successful. Teaching a new turkey hunter to call is typically most easily done with a box call. However, with a little bit of practice most people can catch onto a diaphragm call or slate call fairly quick. It is important that you do not over call, as this can make the birds weary. Using the same call repeatedly can make the birds cautious or even disinterested. Turkeys use vocalizations to communicate and identify; switching up calls can imply there are multiple other turkeys in the area but don’t overdo it. Check out the latest Spring Turkey Series with Nebraska Game and Parks for more tips on calls.
Be Mindful with Decoy Selection & Set Up
Having some diversity in decoys is important when considering the date within the spring turkey season and how the birds are reacting. I recommend at least having a hen decoy but combining that with a semi-strut jake or young tom decoy can be deadly at the right time of season. Adding a real turkey fan can really enhance the look of jake or tom decoys if you happen to have an old one on hand! Make sure to place those decoys approximately 5-15 yards from your location in an opening to present a clear, close shot. It is good to make your presence known with a call and respond to the wild birds when necessary by yelping, clucking, putting, or purring, but let your decoys do their work.
Remember: Be prepared and practice shooting situations, scouting is key, be flexible and patient with your strategy, don’t over call, and be mindful with decoy selection and set up. Hopefully these brief talk-of-turkey tips help you and someone new have a more enjoyable turkey hunt this spring!
Author: Jake Koenig
Jake Koenig is a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist III in Wahoo. His counties include Platte, Colfax, Dodge, Butler, and Saunders. Jake keeps busy putting habitat on the ground and introducing new hunters to our heritage throughout all seasons. Watch for more hunting and habitat tricks and tips from Jake in the future!
You can contact Jake Koenig at:
611 Commercial Park Road
Wahoo, NE NRCS Office