Late winter, early spring is the time of year when you feel the need to cutt, purr, yelp, cackle and sweet talk a puffed-up gobbler straight down your gun barrel. If you feel what I’m saying, then you’ll want to pay close attention to the following preseason gobbler guide. This proven game plan will show you step-by-step instructions on how to make each spring turkey season a success.
Step 1: Fine-Tune Turkey Calling
The old saying “practice makes perfect” is definitely true in sports and with turkey calling as well. Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to be a world-class championship caller to consistently tag longbeards season after season.
The easiest way to produce a natural true-hen sound is to listen to live turkey vocalizations and try to emulate those tones and cadences with your calls. I like to listen to an audio CD of actual turkeys communicating and practice my mouth diaphragm calls. This enables me to fine-tune my calling well before opening day. Don’t wait until a few days before season to start practicing and expect great results.
In addition, try to simulate real-life calling and hunting conditions during these practice sessions. When at all possible, operate your mouth diaphragm and friction calls outside. Calling indoors is not a true representation of how your calls will actually sound in the woods. It’s also not a bad idea to wear your face-mask and gloves when running your calls during the preseason. A striker has a somewhat different feel with a pair of gloves on, and your mouth call may not sound the same either under the cover of a face mask. You definitely don’t want to find that out when you’ve got a gobbling longbeard talking smack and looking for love just out of gun or bow range on opening morning.
Step 2: Shape-Up and Get Fit
A gobbling longbeard can make a poor ole turkey hunter wade through icy-cold creeks, climb steep mountains, belly crawl across open fields, and trudge through mosquito-infested swamps on any given day. Plus, you’re going to be getting up super early and chasing gobblers after a long and hard work week. With that being said, you better start conditioning and getting into better shape before your first hunt. When you work for a living, you’ve got to make the most out of every hunting opportunity you have in the woods. In other words, you just can’t afford to allow sore muscles, tired legs and exhaustion to keep you on the sideline and out of the action.
Consequently, you don’t have to train like a triathlon athlete to have a good turkey season. Hitting the treadmill or jogging cross-country a few times a week can make a dramatic difference once the season arrives. Simply walking and scouting your favorite hunting areas is another form of conditioning that allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Not only will you be getting much needed exercise, but you’ll also develop an in-depth knowledge about these locations. You’ll be able to pinpoint dusting sites, roosting areas and strut zones, while strengthening your legs, improving your cardio and increasing your endurance.
Light to moderate workouts in the weight room is another great way to help build your overall strength, stamina and endurance in the turkey woods. The ability to go the extra mile, climb one more distant hill, stay alert and hunt a few hours longer will ultimately help you tag more turkeys in the spring. If you’re not battling fatigue and exhaustion, you can stay later, hunt harder, and you’ll spend more time in the woods and less time at home trying to recover.
Step 3: Organize and Prep Turkey Hunting Gear
Once you start getting back into turkey season shape, the next step is to organize all turkey hunting gear and equipment. Everything you’re going to use in-the-field needs to be in topnotch working condition. This includes anything from your turkey vest and calls to your range-finder shotgun, boots and decoys. My preseason preparation ritual starts with organizing my turkey vest, clothing, boots, socks, decoys and calls. The contents of my vest include a small flashlight, friction calls, strikers, multi-purpose call-conditioning tool, diaphragm mouth calls, shock calls, binoculars, rangefinder, face mask, gloves, water bottle, pruners, extra shotgun shells, collapsible decoy, bug spray and a Thermacell unit. I also pack a sealable plastic bag filled with toilet paper and at least one thick garbage bag to store my hunting vest during an unexpected rain shower.
Inside of my ATV or truck, I also keep a box of essential backup gear and equipment that might be needed. These items include extra gloves, facemask, socks, shells, flashlight, spare batteries, additional calls, decoy stakes, portable ground-blind, knife, headache medicine, bottled water, snacks, cooler and a packable rain suit. Having these extra items close by and ready for action can prevent you from having to make a long drive back home on a good morning when the birds are active.
Making sure your shotgun or bow is deadly accurate and ready to knock beaks into the dirt is another vital preparation step that shouldn’t be overlooked. Practicing and experimenting with different shotgun chokes and turkey load shotshells or broad heads and arrows during the preseason is highly recommended. When the moment of truth finally arrives, you need to know exactly how your weapon will perform at various yardages and shooting situations. Knowing your shooting limitations and abilities can be the difference between a punched tag and a painful story about the one that got away.
Step 4: Use Smart Scouting Tactics
After you get your hunting gear and equipment ready for battle, you’ll need to implement scouting tactics that will help stack the cards in your favor. Most of us have limited scouting time due to work and family obligations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t thoroughly scout your favorite hunting areas. You just have to maximize what little time you have in the field by relying on smart scouting tactics.
For starters, take a few minutes to look at Google Maps or aerial photos of the areas you plan to hunt. This allows you to pinpoint potential hotspots and eliminate a lot of unproductive ground in the process. Finding possible roosting sites, feeding areas, travel corridors and strut zones from home will save you a lot of valuable time and wasted steps in the field.
Once you’ve located possible high-traffic areas and key locations that should hold turkeys, hang a network of trail cameras, or game cameras, to monitor these primetime spots. Trail cameras are normally associated with patterning white-tailed deer, but these surveillance units also are highly effective tools for turkey scouting. Setting up multiple trail cameras allows you to quickly locate and pattern the daily routines and habits of turkeys more efficiently.
Knowing the exact locations of where gobblers in your hunting area are roosting, traveling, feeding, dusting and strutting can be critical to your overall success. This is especially true when you’re facing those non-vocal days when the birds are being tight-beaked and refuse to talk. Understanding precisely where to setup when turkeys are not responding to your calls will help you hit pay-dirt when most other hunters in the area have decided to throw in the towel and go home.
Step 5: Implement First-Strike Hunting Strategies
Without a doubt, smart turkey scouting will increase shot opportunities in the spring, but there also are some other preseason projects that can payoff big time as well. For example, creating mock dusting bowls inside of prime ambush locations is a deadly first-strike tactic that really works. Turkeys routinely dust throughout the day, which makes these strategically placed bowls an excellent place to intercept a hard-to-call longbeard.
A second first-strike strategy is to simply use a foldable handsaw, pair of pruners and rake to construct mock strutting zones within heavily wooded areas. This tactic is highly effective, especially in locations lacking a lot of open terrain or fields. When choosing possible sites to create your mock strut zones, try targeting densely covered areas turkeys frequently use throughout the day that can provide high-visibility with a little work.
The key to success is to meticulously place these mock strut-zones within areas that can be reached and hunted without bumping birds in the process. Gobblers will often frequent these areas during the late-morning or midday hours when many hens are off nesting. Mock strut zones can be excellent places to intercept wary gobblers.
Preseason is the perfect time to get the jump on gobblers and other hunters in your neck of the woods. Make sure you use this preseason gobbler guide with proven tried-and-true strategies to make it rain feathers throughout the entire season.
Be prepared, hunt hard, hunt safe and make your own luck spring turkey season.