Everyone thinks that turkey hunting has really grown in popularity lately, but I've got news for you: there has always been hardcore turkey hunters, it's just that lately due to all the marketing it's in the limelight. A century ago they made their turkey calls out of turkey wing bones. Fifty years ago all that we had was a wooden turkey box call. I still have the old Scottish box call mom and dad gave me for Christmas when I was a kid. Back then we didn't have the push box calls, mouth calls, turkey decoys and good camo clothing. It was a lot tougher back then.
So marketing has really kicked up the awareness but out west we have to give the National Wild Turkey Federation and fish and game deapartments a lot of credit too for the work that they've done in transplanting birds into the mountains. Now turkey hunting is unbelievably popular here in Idaho where I live.
Why is turkey hunting so popular? An old Tom can be every bit as wary as a whitetail buck. They can disappear into thin air and their eyesight is unbelievable. They're masters of deceit. I've had the drop on a ton of them and they got away using every rise and small mound to duck behind as they made their getaway.
Tips for Turkey Hunting
It's best if you can find them traveling in a certain direction and set up your decoys in front and call them in. The most popular way is to find out where they're roosting but don't shoot them off the roost because if you scatter them at night they'll be easy pickings for predators. If you see them roosting let them be. Come back the next morning before daylight. Set up your decoys 150 yards away . You'll hear them start talking before they come off the roost you need to start calling then so they head your way. You might even try beating your cap against your leg to simulate a bird flying off the roost.
Used to all we had were box calls. Now there are push-boxes, slate plates, gobblers, reeds and locators. I use mostly Quaker Boy products. My favorite call is their Hurricane Supreme Box call but you've got to learn to use a reed so your hands are free. Some people tape a push rod box to the forestock of their gun so they can work it while they're getting ready to shoot.
If you've never seen one strutting it is something to see. The first time I took my wife hunting with me, I called one in and he started strutting. Katy started laughing and said what the heck is he doing? I could barely keep her quiet.
To locate a gobbler, many people blow an owl, crow or a peacock call. I use a Johnny Stewart coyote howler. If there's a gobbler around, 99 percent of the time he'll gobble after I hit the howler.
What shells should you use? In the old days we used No. 2 magnums. I've tested nearly all the major turkey loads and by far and away the best is HEVI-Shot. It is devastating. Check out the comparison article I wrote for BPS on 2/18/2013.
Aim at his neck right below his head. That way you'll hit his head and neck. If you've never hunted turkeys, it'll seem weird. Here you are hunting a bird with a shotgun but you have to aim at a body part just like you would at a deer. They're super tough birds.
Invest in a decoy or two. If you can only afford one, get a Jake (a Jake is a young Tom). It will draw in another Tom. What kind of self-respecting Tom wouldn't want to come in and kick the tail of a smaller bird? Back east I guess they can carry a 10-pound, bulky decoy, but out West we can't. I like Montana Decoys but the lightweight fold-up foam ones are easy to carry too.
If you see some turkeys during the day, set up your decoys in front of them and start calling. You want to work on the lead hen. Where she goes, the group will go.
Later in the season it gets tougher. The dumb ones have been whacked and the older ones are smarter. As the hens lay eggs, they'll be setting on them so you won't see as many hens running around, that will be good news.
But let me forewarn you. Turkey hunting can be addictive and almost as much fun as trying to call in a bull.