How To Become A Successful Turkey Hunter
By Leon Stilley, Jr.
I have been calling turkeys and hunting them since I was nine years old. I help my friends, and I will help anyone else who needs it. As a matter of fact, I will give a few tips now so that you can begin enjoying one of the best hunting sports available today.
Taking a wild turkey is not as difficult as some people would have you believe. Some turkeys are just hard to get. Usually, these are the turkeys that have been “educated” by man. An educated turkey is one that has heard every call ranging from the basic hen yelp to the calls that a real wild turkey hen rarely makes. Because turkey hunting is a fast-growing sport, there are sometimes as many hunters roaming the woods as there are turkeys to be bagged. Many of the turkey hunters today are inexperienced. They are not doing the proper things it takes to bag a turkey. This results in an educated wild turkey. Once he has been educated by the hunter, he becomes a turkey that is “hard to get!”
It isn’t fair to say that inexperienced hunters should not go hunting. However, it is fair to advise them to first go hunting with an experienced turkey hunter. By doing so, they will learn the do’s and don’ts of turkey hunting.
The inexperienced hunter must be extremely careful in selecting a mentor. If not, he might possibly be misled. For example, one veteran turkey hunter was overheard giving advice that was very misleading. The beginner asked what should be done if he calls up a hen before the Tom shows up. The veteran plainly stated that he should wave his hands in an attempt to scare off the hen because the hen will mess him up. For a beginner turkey hunter, this was bad advice. A hen turkey should never be intentionally scared. After all, she is the best teacher a hunter will find. So, be careful who you choose to teach you.
There are plenty of professional guides, good videos, and seminars available on turkey hunting. Familiarize yourself with some of these so that you can get a feel for the hunt.
The most important aspect of turkey hunting is to have a place to hunt. First, check with your local private landowners because this is a good place to begin turkey hunting. These turkeys are usually less educated than those on public land. If you can’t find private land, you should contact your local Wildlife and Fisheries. They can advise you about public lands that can offer some good turkey hunting.
After you find your spot to hunt, get to know the area as well as possible. Find where the creeks flow, where the fields are, where the terrain changes, where the fence rows are, and where the turkeys are roosting. You also need to know the turkeys' daily routine because they generally stay in the same area each day. By going and observing the bird’s activity before the season begins, you will learn much about its habits. While scouting the area, it is important that you not call the birds because this will then “educate” them before opening day.
It is important to know where fences, creeks or any body of water is located in the area because a Tom turkey is generally shy about crossing them. Although some hunters have been fortunate enough to make a Tom fly across the water, it is rare that he does. Sometimes when you are working a gobbler, he will “hang up”. This means he will remain stationary. In some cases, he has come to a fence, creek or body of water that he refuses to cross.
If there are fields in your hunting area, you should observe them by sitting along the edge of the woods, being very still, camouflaged, and scoping the field with good optics. My favorite optics are Vanguard Optics. By doing this, you will learn where the turkeys enter the field and what they are doing when they get there. You will find that a field is a good place for the gobbler to display his colors while strutting to attract new hens. This is also a very effective method of taking an “Old Tom”.
The second most important aspect of turkey hunting is to know your weapon. You should never go hunting with a gun that has not been patterned. Your gun should shoot a fairly tight pattern at a close distance. Since the average shot at a turkey is approximately 30 to 35 yards, it is best to know what your gun will do at 45 yards or closer.
It is also very important to shoot different types of shells to see which best suits your gun. There is nothing worse than spending all morning working up a gobbler only to miss or cripple him when he gets into range.
Because a turkey’s best defense is his ability to see anything that is out of place, it is very important that you are camouflaged from head to toe. There have been times when turkeys were called up to shooting range only to dash off with a blink of the eye or movement of the hand. If you don’t want this to happen to you, it is best to go to a sporting goods store and purchase some good camouflage. I’ve had good luck with Realtree Xtra. Make sure to buy the following: a cap, head net, gloves, pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. And an added luxury is a camouflaged turkey vest. This vest will have a cushion to sit on and big pockets to hold your calls and other gear. Before entering the hunting area, you should be completely camouflaged and comfortable.
Many hunters believe that calling is the most important aspect of turkey hunting. In my opinion, it isn’t. If you have ever been in the “turkey woods”, you have heard some of the worst turkey sounds being made by real wild turkey hens. Many beginners buy tapes, visit contests, and attend seminars so they can hear what a wild turkey sounds like. Although these calls sound like turkeys, they aren’t exact because some wild turkeys actually sound terrible. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t sound like the callers on tapes, in contests, or at seminars. When you are in the woods, you are allowed to call as the real turkeys do………… mistakes and all. If the Old Tom is happy with the sound, that’s all that matters.
What you must be concerned with is the type of call you are to use. There are many types to choose from. If you are a beginner, learn to use a box call or a slate since these are the easiest to learn to use. Once you master these calls, advance to a mouth caller or natural voice. These are good to use because they allow you to keep your hands free for shooting your gun.
After you have found a place to hunt, scouted the area, bought your Realtree camouflage, patterned your gun, and learned your calling techniques, you are ready for the big day. Your first turkey hunting experience will be one you are going to remember forever.
This lesson is one that was taught to me by one of the finest turkey hunters I know, Lenwood Stilley, Sr. My Papa is one of the pioneers of turkey hunting in my area. He comes from what is known as the old school. He does what it takes to put the bird in the bag.
According to Papa, you must have the day planned. Set your alarm clock to allow enough time for you to get all your gear together and make your way to the woods. You must approach the area as quietly as possible because you already know where the turkeys are roosted. You don’t want to scare them before the hunt begins. After you quietly park your vehicle, open the door, remove your hunting gear, and gently close the door. Without using a flashlight, walk across to the edge of the scouted area and get within 150 – 200 yards of the roosting birds. And wait.
Daylight breaks. The woods come alive with sounds from the wild. In the distance, an Old Tom lets off a big gobble.
It’s time to find a big tree to sit by. Make sure it’s big enough to break your silhouette. By then, you should be hearing the hens yelp. When this happens, you pull out the ole slate or box call. Place your gun in your lap with the barrel facing towards the turkeys. Begin making soft clucks and purrs on your call. Do this every ten to fifteen minutes or until you hear the turkey gobble. When this happens, the hair on the back of your neck will stand up, and your heart will feel like it is going to explode. By now, the real hens are starting to pitch down and move toward you. This excites the gobbler who is now double gobbling with every breath. He crashes down from the tree limb to the ground. You should begin making soft yelps, clucks, and purrs. Don’t get over anxious when the gobbler doesn’t advance toward you. He has hens with him that he will breed. Once he finishes, he will look for more. That’s when he will advance to your calls. Once he answers you, don’t do much more calling. He’ll get to you. It may take five minutes or a few hours, but he will get there. Be patient. If you don’t get him, go back the next day or until you are satisfied with your hunt. Any good hunter knows you don’t have to kill the bird to have a successful hunt.
All hunting situations are different. The one described here is a basic hunt. This kind of hunt will let you get your feet wet on turkey hunting. As the hunting season passes, you will find yourself in many different hunting situations. The more you go to the turkey woods you will learn how to adjust the hunt to different situations. Pay attention to what the turkeys do and the sounds they make. As a turkey hunter, you must hunt with your ears as much as with your eyes.
You are now on your own. Make each hunt a learning experience. If you mess up a hunt, don’t get discouraged. Learn from it, and try not to make that mistake again. Remember, even the best turkey hunter makes mistakes. “A mistake made is a lesson learned”. I believe if you use these tips, you can become a more successful turkey hunter.
Keep on huntn’,
Leon Stilley, Jr.
Leon has been part of Southern Boyz Outdoors from the very beginning. We'd like to thank him and Kinion Bankston from SBO for putting this post together for us.