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The Ultimate Turkey Hunting Guide

Turkeys are known for being intelligent animals with keen eyesight. This makes hunting them fairly challenging, but ultimately very rewarding. Because of the unique challenges that come with hunting turkey, it’s important to equip yourself with the right knowledge and gear before your first hunt.

  1. Wild Turkey Basics
    1. Species of Wild Turkey
      1. Eastern
      2. Merriam’s
      3. Gould’s
      4. Rio Grande
      5. Osceola
    2. Identifying Age and Sex
      1. Age
      2. Sex
    3. Turkey Sounds
      1. Gobble
      2. Cluck
      3. Putt
      4. Plain Yelp
  2. Turkey Hunting Gear
    1. Clothing
      1. Boots
      2. Pants
      3. Shirts and Jackets
      4. Camouflage
      5. Gloves and Face Coverings
    2. Turkey Calls
      1. Locator Calls
      2. Push Button Calls
      3. Box Calls
      4. Diaphragm or Mouth Calls
      5. Pot Calls
      6. Tips for Using Turkey Calls
    3. Decoys
      1. Tom Decoys
      2. Jake Decoys
      3. Hen Decoys
      4. Using and Positioning Decoys
        • Mating
        • Fighting
        • Hens Only
        • Decoys and Calls
    4. Firearms vs Bows
      1. Choosing a Turkey Gun
        • Gauge
        • Choke
        • Ergonomics
        • Sights
      2. Choosing a Turkey Bow
        • Broadheads
    5. Hunting Blinds
      1. When to Use a Blind
      2. When to Hunt Bare
      3. How to Pick the Best Hunting Blind
        • Windows
        • Weight
        • Durability
        • Camo
      4. Setting up a Blind
        • Consider the Sun
        • Ensure Visibility
        • Experiment and Adjust
  3. When and Where to Hunt
    1. Turkey Habitats
      1. Hunting Public Land
    2. Turkey Season
      1. Early Season Hunting
      2. Late Season Hunting
  4. Turkey Scouting
    1. Feeding Areas
    2. The Roost
    3. Nesting Areas
    4. Strut Zones
  5. How to Down a Turkey
    1. Taking Aim
    2. Making the Shot
    3. Distance
  6. Cleaning a Turkey
    1. Plucking
    2. Skinning
    3. Field Dressing
    4. Butchering
    5. Storing Wild Turkey
  7. Cooking a Turkey
    1. Cooking Whole
    2. Breast
    3. Thighs and Legs
    4. Offal
  8. Happy Hunting / Closing

Wild Turkey Basics


Like many other types of popular game, there are different species and subspecies of wild turkeys. You will also need to distinguish between the age, gender, and vocalizations of different turkeys.

Species of Wild Turkey

There are two main species of wild turkey: the Ocellated turkey of Central America and the North American Wild Turkey. If you’re hunting wild turkeys, you will probably be hunting for one of the five subspecies of the North American Wild Turkey. Each of these subspecies have their own unique characteristics.

Eastern

Easterns are a widely distributed species of turkey found east of the Mississippi River. They are the most abundant species of wild turkey, and can be found in 38 US states. Easterns can also be found in many Canadian provinces.

Adult males (or toms) will weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. Females (or hens) will be much smaller, at 8 to 12 pounds. They have very long beards and produce extremely strong gobbles. Easterns are generally characterized by brown tips on their tail feathers and white and black bars on the wings.

Merriam’s

Merriam’s are distributed in the Western mountain regions of the United States. Specifically, Merriam’s turkeys are extremely abundant in the Rocky Mountains. Adult males weigh between 18 and 30 pounds. Females weight 8 to 12 pounds. Merriam’s turkeys have light colored tips on their tail feathers. They also have white and black on their wing feathers, with more white than black.

Gould’s

Gould’s turkeys are found only in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Gould’s turkeys are one of the rarest subspecies of game turkeys. Adult males weigh around 18 to 30 pounds and females weigh 12 to 14 pounds. Gould’s turkeys have white-tipped tailfeathers and very long legs.

Rio Grande

Rio Grande turkeys are concentrated in the Western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and other Western regions of the US. Rio Grande turkeys can also be found in moderate abundance in Mexico. Adult males weigh around 20 pounds and females weigh 8 to 12 pounds. These turkeys are characterized by tan-colored tips on the tail feathers, with black and white striping on the wings. Rio Grande turkeys have moderately long beards.

Osceola

Osceola turkeys are found only in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, northern Belize, and Guatemala. These turkeys can be identified by their iridescent feathering and blue and gold tipped tail feathers. They also have an unmistakable, high-pitched gobble that is usually preceded by a drumming sound. Osceola turkeys do not have beards. Adult males weigh only 11 or 12 pounds. Females weigh under 7 pounds. Osceolas are among the smaller species of turkey.

Identifying Age and Sex

It’s important to understand how to identify turkeys in the wild. Different areas of the country will have different regulations and laws regarding which turkeys you are allowed to shoot. As a general rule of thumb, if a turkey does not have a beard -- do not shoot it. There will be some exceptions to this rule, but it is a good way to err on the side of caution when hunting.

While there are many simple ways to sex and age a turkey close-up, it can be trickier to do so from long distances. However, there are some ways to identify a turkey’s age and gender, even from hunting range.

Age

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Mature male turkeys are referred to as “toms”, and younger turkeys are known as “jakes”. While it’s relatively easy to tell the difference between these when you’re up close, these differences will be harder to notice at a distance when you are hunting.

One way to determine if a turkey is tom or a jake is to look for the turkey’s beard. Jakes will have much shorter beards than toms -- a juvenile turkey’s beard is only about 5 inches long, while a tom’s can be up to 10 inches. You can also age a turkey by its tail feathers. A juvenile bird’s central tail feathers will be noticeably taller than its outer tail feathers.

Sex

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It is fairly easy to tell the difference between male and female turkeys, even when looking from a long distance. Adult male turkeys will be larger and much more colorful than female turkeys. Male turkeys will have vibrant blue and red shades on their head and neck. Male turkey feathers will also be closer to a deep black color, whereas females will be more earthy-brown. Although more males than females have beards, do not assume that a turkey is a male just because it has a beard. About 1 in 10 female turkeys will also have a beard.

Turkey Sounds

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Wild turkeys have a very complex vocabulary and use a wide range of different sounds to attract mates and communicate.

While there are many simple ways to sex and age a turkey close-up, it can be trickier to do so from long distances. However, there are some ways to identify a turkey’s age and gender, even from hunting range.

Gobble

The gobble is one of the main vocalizations you will hear from male wild turkeys. It is a loud, gurgling noise that is very distinctive. The gobble is primarily used by toms during mating season to attract hens. Using a gobble may seem like a good way to attract turkeys, but that is not always the case. A gobble may attract a dominant, aggressive male towards your location. By attracting such a turkey, you will also drive other birds away from the area. Using a gobble is generally a last resort for hunters.

Cluck

The cluck is used by one bird to get the attention of another. The cluck consists of one (or several) very short notes. Hunters can use a cluck to reassure a tom that a hen is in the area. It is also used to encourage a tom to come closer into firing range.

Putt

Putts are very similar to clucks, but they have very different meanings. A putt is used as an alarm sound for turkeys, either to alert other birds or to warn the predator that it has been spotted. Putts are much sharper and louder than clucks.

Plain Yelp

The yelp is most often used by hens. It is one of the most basic turkey sounds, but the yelp can have different meanings depending on how the hen uses it. Hens often use yelps to communicate with toms, particularly during mating season. For this reason, it is a very useful call for attracting toms to your area. The yelp is one of the best calls to use when turkey hunting.

Turkey Hunting Gear



Clothing

Turkeys have excellent eyesight, which makes camouflage extremely important. It’s critical to blend into your surroundings, and your clothing is the best way to do that.

Boots

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When buying boots, you should carefully consider the terrain in which you will be hunting. If hunting in a rugged, rocky environment, you will need a steadier boot. Look for a hunting boot with a thick, rigid sole and excellent traction. If you are hunting in flat ground, you can easily wear a simple rubber boot. Tracking birds can quickly become an hours-long hike, so make sure that your boots are extremely comfortable.

You should also consider what season you will be hunting in. Many states have a spring and a fall season, but weather and conditions will vary widely from place to place. Check historical weather records and current forecasts to get a realistic understanding of the weather during your hunt. Take this information into account when buying your boots. While you can buy boots for both seasons, you may want to buy different socks for each.

You should also consider how you wear your boots. If you tuck your pant legs into your boots, make sure your boots have a fully camouflaged exterior. When turkey hunting, it’s critical to have unbroken camouflage from head to toe.

Pants

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Turkey hunting often involves long hours of stalking your game. You need to feel mobile and comfortable in your turkey hunting pants. Look for lightweight pants that do not restrict movement. However, be sure to invest in pants that don’t sacrifice durability for weight. A good pair of hunting pants should protect your skin from sharp undergrowth.

Turkey season can be fairly short, so many hunters will not let rain interrupt the time they have in the field. For that reason, we suggest buying waterproof pants. Wild turkey will still be out in the open during light (or even moderate) rain.

Lastly, your turkey pants should have full, uninterrupted camouflage. Turkeys have very good eyesight and it’s important to give yourself every tactical advantage that you can.

Shirts and Jackets

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Just like with pants and boots, you should consider the weather and season that you are hunting in when picking shirts and jackets. Turkey hunts often last hours, so the weather could change drastically while you are in the field. For this reason, we suggest layering several shirts and jackets. Be sure that each layer is fully camouflage, so that you can remove layers without compromising your concealment.

Camouflage

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Full camouflage is absolutely necessary for turkey hunting. But, having the wrong camouflage pattern is as bad as not having any camouflage at all. Be sure to scout your hunting location to determine what colors your camouflage should be. Also consider what time of year it is -- there will be more reds and browns in the later months, and more greens in spring. Be sure that your camouflage pattern matches the environment. For instance, do not use a waterfowl or marsh print in a heavily wooded area.

However, some states will require you to wear blaze or fluorescent orange as a safety precaution. Before buying your gear, check your local laws to see if you should include orange-colored fabrics.

Avoid wearing anything red, white, or blue. Turkey heads are usually these colors, and other hunters could potentially mistake you for a tom.

Gloves and Face Coverings

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It’s absolutely critical to cover your face and hands when turkey hunting. These areas move more than any other part of your body during your hunt.

Use gloves that have a camouflage pattern and sufficient grip. Make sure your gloves are rugged, but thin enough to allow movement. Your gloves should not be so thick that they inhibit your trigger pull. If you’re hunting in warmer weather, you can even find gloves with tipless fingers.

To cover your face, you can either use a hunting mask or face paint. Hunting masks are made of thin mesh and feature cutouts for your eyes, nose, and mouth. The mesh is usually camouflage, rendering you invisible to turkeys.

Some hunters may find hunting masks uncomfortable. In these cases, camouflage face paint is available for turkey hunting. Although face paint removes the nuisance of a mask, it does require more time to apply and clean up.

Turkey Calls

Wild turkeys have a very complex vocabulary and use a wide range of different sounds to attract mates and communicate. Using high quality turkey calls can be useful when trying to bag yourself a prize tom.

Locator Calls

Locator calls are not meant to imitate turkey vocalizations. However, they can be very useful for prompting a vocal response from any nearby turkeys. During breeding season, adult turkeys can be territorial and aggressive. They will often respond to any loud noise with an audible gobble. Locator calls imitate the calls of animals like coyotes, owls, or wolves. There are also locator calls that make loud banging or thumping noises. Wild locator calls will not attract turkeys to your area, but they can reveal any nearby toms.

Push-Button Call

Push-button calls are very popular for beginner turkey hunters because they are simple and effective. Push-button calls are operated by a spring-loaded plunger that strikes a piece of wood. A hunter can alter the sound of a push-button call by varying the speed or force applied to the plunger. Push-button calls do not make a huge variety of turkey vocalizations, but they are easy to operate and can even be mounted to the side of a firearm. You can also use push button calls with a single hand.

Push-button calls lack the versatility of other calls, but they are beginner friendly and generally quite effective.

Box Calls

A box call looks like a small wooden box with a handle on the lid. Even a novice turkey hunter can master a box call with minimal practice. These types of calls can be very loud, which makes them suitable for noisy, windy conditions or locating turkeys from very far away. The box call is easy to operate and makes very effective turkey sounds. It is also easy to change the tone or volume of a box call’s noise.

Unfortunately, a hunter must move to use a box call. This can potentially give your position away to any nearby turkeys. Some hunters also believe that box calls are not realistic enough to fool turkeys consistently.

Diaphragm or Mouth Calls

Mouth calls are very popular amongst experienced turkey hunters. They are held entirely in the mouth and constructed with a small piece of plastic that surrounds a pliable reed. By blowing air over the reed you can accurately imitate a huge variety of turkey vocalizations. You can also use a mouth call without any significant movement, which will help maintain your concealment.

Mouth calls make very realistic turkey vocalizations, but they take a lot of time and practice to fully master. Because they can be difficult to use effectively, some hunters use mouth calls in conjunction with other types of turkey calls.

Pot Calls

To use a pot call the hunter strikes a pencil-like tool on a small round disc. By changing the pattern of the strikes, the hunter can make a wide variety of realistic turkey vocalizations. You can even make different noises to mimic the sound of multiple hens. Different turkeys will react differently to various tones, and a pot call makes it easy to change the sound of your noise quickly. Pot calls do require some movement to use, so hunters will need to conceal their call in their lap as well as possible.

Tips for Using a Turkey Call

Each type of call is going to require different techniques for effective use. However, there are some things to keep in mind when calling for turkeys, no matter what tool you happen to be using.

  • Good Rhythm

    If your turkey sounds are too fast or too slow, you will not fool any turkeys into believing that you are the real thing. Proper rhythm is so important that even with poor noise-making, you will be able to attract birds if your cadence is correct. Before going on your hunt, listen to the calls of actual birds and try to match the natural rhythm.

  • Vary Your Noises

    The basic yelp is a very effective call. So, it is the one that turkey hunters use most frequently. However, be sure that you are not relying too much on any single vocalization. Turkeys have a diverse vocabulary and make a wide range of sounds. In order to sound natural, you need to match this variation.

  • Be Patient

    Sometimes, turkeys just don't vocalize very much. If this is the case, do not get impatient and attempt to hurry things along. Make as much (or as little) noise as you need to, and avoid rushing into where a turkey is in an effort to shoot quickly..

  • Practice

    Using a turkey call is a skill that needs to be practiced and perfected over time. We suggest spending time in the off-season practicing your turkey calling skills. Although some turkey calls are very simple to use, they will require experimentation, practice, and refinement.

  • Don’t Always Yell

    When using a turkey call, louder is not always better. While there are times when you need some extra volume, you should not always be calling as loudly as you can. If you are getting a response from a turkey, consider easing off of the volume a little. A hen’s call is supposed to be enticing to the tom. Soft yelps and clucks will be more effective than gobbling as loudly as possible.

Decoys

Turkey decoys are not necessary when hunting on foot. But, when hunting from a blind, turkey decoys can be very useful -- provided they are used properly.

Tom Decoys

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When buying tom decoys, you will find plenty of options. Some decoys will be strutting, while others may be in a simple fan position. Each of these will be useful, but it is more important to invest in decoys that are as lifelike as possible. When buying decoys (especially toms), choose quality over quantity. Only use strutting or aggressively-postured decoys when you know there is a very dominant tom in the area. More passive toms will be frightened by the decoy and may exit your range.

Jake Decoys

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When buying tom decoys, you will find plenty of options. Some decoys will be strutting, while others may be in a simple fan position. Each of these will be useful, but it is more important to invest in decoys that are as lifelike as possible. When buying decoys (especially toms), choose quality over quantity. Only use strutting or aggressively-postured decoys when you know there is a very dominant tom in the area. More passive toms will be frightened by the decoy and may exit your range.

Hen Decoys

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A hen decoy is very useful during the spring breeding season. Toms and jakes may challenge male decoys during this time, but they will always come to investigate any hen they see. When hunting in the spring, a hen decoy is going to be one of your best tools. You can find hen decoys in a variety of postures and color variations. You should experiment with different options to see what is most effective in your particular conditions.

When turkey hunting, you do not need to use a lot of decoys. Just one hen paired with a tom or jake will do just fine through most of the year.

Using and Positioning Decoys

When buying tom decoys, you will find plenty of options. Some decoys will be strutting, while others may be in a simple fan position. Each of these will be useful, but it is more important to invest in decoys that are as lifelike as possible. When buying decoys (especially toms), choose quality over quantity. Only use strutting or aggressively-postured decoys when you know there is a very dominant tom in the area. More passive toms will be frightened by the decoy and may exit your range.

Mating

If it’s mating season, placing your decoys in mating poses can attract eager toms. Place one male decoy upright, and another hen decoy on its stomach. If you have an aggressive male decoy, this could attract a jake who is looking to challenge a more dominant adult male. Use a red head on your male decoy to indicate aggression.

Fighting

If you have a jake and a tom, position them in a fighting stance. This will simulate the act of establishing the pecking order. To further the realism, you can place a few female hens around the decoys. Do not use more than one jake. In the wild, multiple jakes would easily take down any tom.

Hens Only

If you are hunting in the peak of the season, hens will feed in the morning and roost in the afternoon and evening. This means that toms are often left alone, and are eager to search for hens. Setting out hen decoys during this time can attract male turkeys while the real hens are nesting. If possible, using a large number of hens can come in handy. The more hens a tom has to choose from, the more their confidence and eagerness will b

Decoys and Calls

It’s a good idea to use calls alongside your decoys. If a turkey comes to your call and finds an empty field, he will likely leave very quickly. The turkeys will be enticed by your decoys and will investigate whether they are real or not. A lack of vocalizations could alarm the real turkeys. While your decoys do not have to be visually perfect, they do need to be very convincing. Pairing your decoys with a good turkey call is one way to make them more lifelike.

Firearms vs Bows

You can use either a bow or a shotgun to hunt turkeys. Bows will be much more challenging for novice turkey hunters, but they do offer some benefits over a traditional firearm.

Bows are essentially silent, so a missed shot may not scare away any nearby turkeys. However, bows are also less lethal than shotguns. This means that more accuracy will be required when using a bow to hunt turkey. Bows also require movement to discharge, which can very easily startle your quarry. For all of these reasons, we suggest using a shotgun for hunting turkeys for those who are not yet experienced with a bow.

Choosing a Turkey Gun

Gauge

Most turkey shotguns are 12 gauge. While other bore sizes can work for turkey hunting, 12 is by far the most common. 12 gauge offers a diverse selection of ammunition, and it has been proven in the field to be effective for hunting turkey. This bore size offers the right combination of range and stopping power to down any tom. While other gauges have gained some popularity in recent years, 12 gauge is still the go-to bore size for hunting turkeys.

Choke

The choke is a tapered channel in the muzzle of a gun’s barrel. The choke determines the spread of the shot. When turkey hunting, you generally want to find the tightest spread pattern that you can. We suggest a .670 choke for No. 4 shot and a .665 for No. 5 shot.

Ergonomics

A turkey gun will have a shorter barrel than other types of shotguns. This will decrease your shotgun’s overall velocity. But, the short barrel increases maneuverability. This can be very useful when you need to change positions in the brush (or in a blind).

Pistol grips are popular on turkey guns. They keep your hands in a natural, comfortable position. When turkey hunting, you may spend a long time waiting with the firearm in your hands. For that reason, comfort is key in selecting a turkey gun. Turkey guns also create significant recoil, so it’s important to have a recoil pad in place. Lastly, be sure that your turkey gun is camouflaged. Turkeys have incredible eyesight, and will easily spot an un-camouflaged firearm.

Sights

A turkey gun simply must have sights, especially if you are a novice turkey hunter. Shooting a turkey gun is similar to shooting a revolver, so sights can greatly increase your chances of downing a tom.

Red dot sights and scopes are both very effective for turkey hunting. Iron sights and fiber optics can be used, but they require some more time before discharging the weapon. When using red dots or scopes, the hunter can simply find the target and pull the trigger.

Choosing a Turkey Bow

When turkey hunting, you can often expect to find yourself in fairly tight quarters. For this reason, you should look for a bow that is very compact. Try to find a bow with an axle-to-axle length of 32 inches or less. However, if you have a bow that you already use for hunting other game, it will likely do just fine for turkey hunting.

One thing to consider is the poundage of your bow. When turkey hunting, you may need to hold your bow back at full draw for many minutes at a time. Only use a poundage that you are very comfortable pulling back.

Broadheads

You can use either mechanical or fixed broadheads to hunt turkey. Each option has its own advantages, and what you should use depends largely on your own situation.

If you are shooting through windows, we suggest fixed-blade broadheads. Mechanical broadheads could potentially deploy before the arrow leaves your blind if the broadhead catches on the shoot-through mesh.

You can use either mechanical or fixed broadheads to hunt turkey. Each option has its own advantages, and what you should use depends largely on your own situation.

Hunting Blinds

Blinds are particularly effective when turkey hunting. This is because scent is generally not a factor for turkey hunting. Instead, movement is what usually gives away turkey hunters’ position. A blind conceals movement entirely, providing comfort and increasing hunting opportunities. While they can be tremendously helpful, turkey blinds should only be used in some circumstances.

Choosing a Turkey Blind

  • Hunting with children -- Young children have a lot of energy and tend to move and fidget a lot. This type of movement will absolutely give your position away to any nearby
  • Hunting in the rain -- While modern water protection is effective, a blind will let you focus on the hunt, instead of keeping your things dry.
  • Long Setups -- If you plan on staying in the same place for several hours at a time, using a blind may also be a good idea. A blind will allow you to stretch, take breaks, and adjust your position for comfort. Sitting in the same spot for over an hour can be very painful. A blind allows you to hunt in comfort.
  • Open Field Hunting -- Turkeys like to be out in open fields. Using a blind will allow you to be right there with them, instead of being hidden in nearby foliage. Turkeys generally will not care if a large object appears overnight, especially if it is as silent and still as a hunting blind.

When to Hunt Bare

  • Big Woods -- If your natural surroundings provide plenty of heavy cover, use them! Leave the blind at home and conceal yourself in nearby brush and trees
  • Vocal Turkeys -- Some turkeys simply vocalize more than others. If the birds you’re hunting are extremely vocal, consider hunting bare. This will allow you to track them more freely and dynamically. Use your calls to monitor their position as you stalk them.
  • Big Country -- If you’re hunting turkeys in massive open areas, they will likely be more mobile. Staying in a blind will prevent you from tracking these birds across the land.

How to Pick the Best Turkey Hunting Blind

There are a few things you should look for when considering a turkey hunting blind. Not all blinds are created equal, so be sure to consider these when buying a blind.

Windows

Virtually all blinds have some kind of windows. But, you should look at the configuration of the windows before choosing a blind. Your blind should have multiple windows on each side to give you different shooting angles for any bird you may see. Varying window shapes and sizes also give you an increased ability to shoot your bird. When hunting with multiple people, the larger the windows, the better.

Weight

Blinds are large, heavy objects to lug around in the field. But, you should look for a blind that you can realistically carry to your location -- especially when turkey hunting. Turkeys can move a lot from day to day, and you may even need to move your blind several times in a single day. Look for a blind that is light enough to provide this kind of mobility.

Durability

Your blind simply must be built to last. Because you may be moving it so much, your blind needs to withstand being torn down and put up over and over again. Look for a blind made with high quality fabrics and rugged zippers.

Camo

Make sure to match your blind camo to your surroundings! Waterfowl camo isn’t going to do much good in wooded areas. Consider where you will be hunting most frequently to make sure the colors of your camouflage match the natural surroundings.

Setting Up a Blind

Once you’ve scouted the general area in which you’ll be turkey hunting, it’s time to set up your blind. There are a few things to consider to ensure you pick the best spot for your hunting blind.

Consider the Sun

If a turkey sees any movement inside of your blind, they will likely flee the area. If you are using a fabric blind, consider where the sun is when setting up. If the sunlight shines through your blind, it can reveal your location to nearby turkeys. Only keep one window open at a time as well -- the harder it is for turkeys to see into your blind, the better.

Ensure Visibility

Turkeys will generally accept the presence of blinds. If your blind appears one day, they will not find it suspicious. So, do not feel compelled to set up your blind in a perfectly hidden spot. Instead, make sure that you have proper visibility looking out at your quarry. It is alright if the turkeys can see your blind -- as long as they can’t see you inside of it.

Experiment and Adjust

Turkeys can move a lot throughout the day. The perfect spot for your blind in the morning could be a terrible spot for the blind in the evening. Be sure that you are ready to adjust the positioning of your blind whenever it may be necessary.

Where and When to Hunt


Once you’ve got all of your gear to hunt, the next step is to determine where and when you will hunt. Luckily, you can hunt turkeys in a variety of different habitats, and there is plenty of time in the year to hunt turkeys as well.

Turkey Habitats

When it comes to the ideal turkey habitat, one word comes to mind: diversity. Turkeys can be found in heavily timbered areas, wide open plains, and almost everywhere in between. All a turkey habitat needs is food, water, shelter, and trees for roosting.

Turkeys roost in trees, so large timber is generally considered ideal for turkey populations. However, turkeys can (and will) thrive in areas with sparse timber as long as there is food, water, and shelter. Many hunters and wildlife biologists will say that a turkey habitat requires anywhere between 10 and 50 percent non-forested land.

Hunting Public Land

Many hunters prefer private land for large game like deer and elk. However, public land can be exceptional for turkey hunting. Turkey populations are currently very strong all across the United States, making public land a great option for turkey hunting. Although you might find more competition on public land, there will typically be plenty of room for everyone.

To find a place to hunt turkeys, simply consult your state wildlife agency website. State and national forests are popular hunting sites for wild turkeys. When you’ve found where your local agency allows turkey hunting, look for the other factors: food, water, shelter, and some timber.

Turkey Seasons

With the exception of Alaska, every state has an official turkey hunting season. Season dates and regulations will vary by state. Opening days will be in the spring, with the season extending throughout the early summer in some areas.

Consult your local agency for more information on when your turkey hunting season is.

Early Season Hunting

In the spring, male turkeys announce their location with loud gobbles. This can give hunters an easy way to begin their hunt.

There are several strategies to fool early season turkeys. You should try to target lone, roosting turkeys. Find a group of gobblers without hens for relatively easy hunting.

Birds that already have hens will be more difficult to fool. They have little reason to come when you call. To combat this, find a breeding flock and try to excite the most dominant hen. This turkey may come to investigate your call, bringing the entire flock over with him.

You can also scout birds to better understand their daily movements. Even turkeys with hens will move throughout the day, and you can attempt to meet them where they move. Try scouting before opening day to best understand the turkeys’ patterns.

Late Season Hunting

Late season hunting is usually described as the last week of the spring season. It can be very tough to harvest birds during this time. Gobblers that have not yet been killed are smart, savvy birds that have likely survived other attempts at hunting. This makes them difficult to call in and even more difficult to down.

One way to hunt during the late season is to go where the food is. Late season gobblers have likely moved on from breeding and are spending more time feeding. Look for food plots and stalk around those areas to find late season gobblers.

Turkeys will also be less vocal in the late season. Their vocalizations may not be as loud or pronounced, so your calls should match this. Use soft yelps to sound as natural as possible. Calling too aggressively in the late season will surely drive away any turkeys.

Late season hunting will generally require much more patience. Use your calls sparingly, set up in the right place, and wait out your quarry.

Turkey Scouting


When hunting turkeys from early to mid season, scouting can be a valuable strategy. By scouting turkeys before your hunt, you can learn their day-to-day movements and gain valuable insight into their daily patterns.

Feeding Areas

With the exception of Alaska, every state has an official turkey hunting season. Season dates and regulations will vary by state. Opening days will be in the spring, with the season extending throughout the early summer in some areas.

Feeding Areas

Turkeys survive on a diet of insects and nuts. River bottoms, burned grassland, and crop fields all provide ample feeding areas for birds. We suggest using binoculars or a scope to scout these areas from a distance. The less impact you can make when scouting, the better. This will ensure that you do not alert the birds to your presence.

The Roost

It is easy to locate roosts by listening on calm mornings or evenings. Turkeys are most vocal in the early morning and before roosting in the evening. You can use locator calls to prompt responses from them during these times. Yelping hens, flapping wings, and breaking branches can all indicate that turkeys are traveling near their roost. Droppings and feathers will also reveal roosting sites. Be sure to mark these areas on a map to revisit later.

Nesting Areas

Hens will begin laying eggs and nesting in late April and early May. During these times, hens will spend most of their time on their nest. You can usually find nests built in areas of thick cover to avoid predators.

Wooded areas, field edges, and river bottoms are all common nesting areas. During the morning, gobblers will often strut alongside hens before the hens return to nesting. At this point, you can intercept the gobbler once the hen has left.

Strut Zones

While searching for hens, toms can be found on field edges or in small openings of timber. Look for drag marks in the dirt, which are often made by the wing tips of displaying toms. If you are lucky enough to find a strut zone near a roost tree, look for a hiding place between the two. From there, it will be easy to intercept the tom.

How to Down a Turkey


When hunting deer and big game, it’s vital to place your shot at the heart or near other vital organs. This is not necessarily the case when hunting turkey. With a wild turkey, you should only aim for the head or the neck. Turkeys are heavily muscled on their chests, and a body shot will likely allow the bird to get away. Proper shot technique is absolutely critical when hunting wild turkeys.

Taking Aim

The ideal shot to down a tom is a tightly patterned load right near the head or neck.

If you shoot at the body, your shot has to pass through the thick cover of feathers and muscles. Even if your shot does pass through these, the heart and vital organs are relatively small. At most distances, a body shot will not penetrate or find the organs. Much of the body is also what most hunters want to eat. The less shot in the meat, the better.

IWhen a turkey is strutting, its feathers also make its body look much bigger than it is. This means that a shot could miss the body entirely.

IThe head and neck contain the brains, nerves, and blood vessels that circulate the bird’s senses and blood. A shot to the head and neck area will cut off this flow. This means the bird will die instantly and painlessly.

IAim right above the feathers that join the body to the neck. This will let your spread cover the entire neck and head area. It will also allow some margin of error if your shot is not perfectly placed.

Making the Shot

Avoid shooting a bird while it is in full strut. While in strut, a turkey pulls its head and neck down to its body. This can block almost the entire target area. Instead, wait for the turkey’s head and neck to be extended and exposed.

If you shoot a turkey when its neck is protected, it is much less likely that you will bag the tom. The shot will hit the body, riddling the breast with pieces of shot. This will allow the bird to escape fairly easily. If you are able to issue a follow-up shot, the hunt could turn into a chase. It is virtually impossible to track a wounded turkey, because the thick plumage soaks up almost all of the turkey’s blood. This leaves the hunter with no trail to follow. Wounded turkeys can still take flight as well. Even if you are able to kill the turkey while shooting it in strut, the breasts will likely be peppered with shot.

Pulling a bird out of strut is fairly easy. Putt or cluck on your call. This will cause the bird to lift its head up to investigate the noise. Be ready to shoot as soon as this happens.

Distance

The ideal shot range for downing a tom with a high-performance turkey load is between 20 and 30 yards. At this range, shot density and energy are both at their best. 40 yards is often considered the maximum distance for shooting a wild turkey. Although your weapon can affect the precision of this estimate, it is a good guideline for novice turkey hunters.

Many modern loads are fully capable of downing a tom from 50 or 55 yards -- in the hands of a very experienced turkey hunter. Anything beyond that range, though, and even the most experienced turkey hunters will have a hard time.

At distances under 15 yards, you will have a higher chance of missing the bird. This is because the shot pattern will not open up at such a short distance.

Cleaning a Turkey


After you’ve downed your tom, it’s time to clean him. This is typically going to be the last step of your hunt, but it is also one of the most important.

Plucking

Plucking is the most traditional way to clean a wild turkey before roasting, smoking, or deep-frying it. Plucking the turkey’s feathers will preserve the skin and keep moisture in the turkey throughout the cooking process. Simply dip the bird in hot water (around 140 degrees Fahrenheit) and remove its feathers. After plucking, you should remove the entrails and wash out the body cavity. While plucking is more time-consuming than skinning, it allows you to preserve the skin for roasting or frying.

Skinning

Skinning is a popular alternative to plucking. It is faster than plucking, but you will lose the delicious turkey skin. Make one long cut down the breastbone, and use your hands to work the skin away from the breasts. Pull the skin down the back and over each of the legs.

Field Dressing

People often hunt in warm and humid conditions. For this reason, field dressing your turkey is a good idea. To field dress a bird, place the turkey on its back. Insert your knife into the bottom of the breast plate and make a cut to the anal vent. Remove the entrails and then reach into the cavity to sever the heart, windpipe, and lungs. Place ice into the cavity to cool the chest.

Butchering a Turkey

Once your turkey is plucked or skinned, you should break the carcass down into individual parts. If you are planning on roasting the bird whole, you can skip this step.

  • Set up a large cutting board or work surface to collect any blood runoff.
  • Use a sharp boning knife to cut along the seams of the legs, where they meet the body. The legs will come away from the breasts naturally when you make this cut.
  • Cut down the spine on the opposite side of the leg, and then pop the leg outward to reveal the ball joint.
  • Slice the leg away from the backbone. Repeat this process on the other leg.
  • Cut vertically down the breastbone and peel the breast meat away from the turkey. As you get to the bottom of the breast meat, slice it horizontally away from the carcass.

Your turkey is now broken down into individual cuts. Trim away any excess debris and rinse the parts under cold water.

Storing Wild Turkey

Wild turkey tastes best when it is cooked fresh. But, you can also store wild turkey meat for 3-6 months (and potentially more) in a consumer-grade freezer. When storing turkey, the enemy of freshness is air.

The best way to store turkey in a freezer is with vacuum sealed bags. But, if you do not have a vacuum sealer, we suggest wrapping the meat in plastic clingfilm. Then, store the wrapped turkey in plastic freezer bags. Be sure to wrap each piece of the bird separately, so that you can remove the meat as you need it.

Cooking a Turkey


Whether you want to cook your turkey whole or in its individual parts, there are many different ways to cook a wild turkey. If you are familiar with cooking domesticated turkey, you can apply most of those same principles to cooking wild turkey.

Cooking Whole

When cooking a wild turkey whole, you can generally roast it the same way you would a domesticated turkey. However, because wild turkeys are often smaller and much leaner, you should make some adjustments to your recipe.

First, a wild turkey will not take as long to roast. Depending on the size of the bird, a wild turkey could take 1-3 hours less than a store-bought turkey. Wild turkey is also much leaner than typical domesticated turkey. This means that you need to be very careful not to dry it out. Be sure to brine your wild turkey overnight in a salt water solution. Also, rub the entire bird (inside and out) with butter before roasting. This will help make up for the lack of fat.

Breast

Turkey breast can be cooked in the same way that chicken breast is. We do suggest brining the breast, as this can help prevent it from being too dry. Turkey breast can be oven-roasted, grilled, or cooked in a skillet.

Thighs and Legs

Wild turkeys have a lot of meat on their thighs and legs. But, because these muscles are used so much, they need to be cooked for a very long time.

The key to cooking wild turkey legs and thighs is a low and slow cooking method. Use a slow-cooker or a Dutch oven, and cook the turkey semi-submerged in some form of moisture. This will help tenderize the meat and break down the tough sinew. Properly cooked turkey thigh will shred easily, similar to pulled pork.

Offal

The breasts and legs aren’t the only edible bits of a turkey. The ‘offal’ includes the heart, gizzard, liver, and other rarely-eaten pieces. If you’re feeling adventurous, the organ meat can be pan-fried in butter. The carcass can be simmered in water for a few hours to create a delicious turkey stock. You can use this stock to make soup or chili.

Happy Hunting


Wild turkey is one of the most challenging types of game to hunt. They are incredibly smart and have great eyesight, which makes for a very difficult quarry. But, with the right knowledge and equipment, wild turkey is also one of the most rewarding animals to hunt. This year, use our turkey hunting guide to make sure you bag a trophy tom!