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Feature Article: Turkey Fundamentals

Looking for success in the spring turkey woods? Focus on the fundamentals!

BY ED MIGALE/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Apr 05, 2018

Whether you're a veteran of a decade or more, or someone just getting started, the spring season for hunting wild turkeys is one of hunting's most thrilling and challenging endeavors … and one of my favorite pursuits. There is nothing quite like calling a hard-gobbling tom to within gun range – 25 yards! Especially when one attempts to do so in the gorgeous spring woods.

authoredmigaleAUTHOR ED MIGALE focused on the fundamentals to harvest his longbeard during the 2017 season. His book on turkey hunting and the unique calls he makes are helpful for anyone wanting to hunt spring turkeys.

All this excitement got started in California on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at one-half hour before sunrise. The season goes for 37 consecutive days through Sunday, May 6. Junior hunters and archers get an additional two weeks from Monday, May 7 through Sunday, May 20, 2018.

Shooting times for turkeys are the aforementioned half-hour before sunrise till 5 p.m., with a limit of one bearded turkey per day, and a total of 3 per season. Of special consideration for California hunters, only non-toxic (non-lead) ammunition is legal for turkey hunting throughout the state; regardless of whether you are hunting on public or private land.

The above are merely the bare regulatory bones on turkey hunting. Ah, but there is far more to turkey hunting that that!

Focus on the Key Elements vs. Being Distracted by the Fluff

In my contact with turkey hunters from throughout country, one of the things that stands out is that the aurora and mystery of turkeys, turkey behavior, and hunting techniques can get over-baked, with hunters attempting to concentrate on too much peripheral gadgetry, rather than focusing on key fundamentals.

Here are three foundational elements that will increase your odds for success in the spring turkey woods: 1.) The Set-Up; 2.) Calling Skills; 3.) Ammo Selection.

The Set-Up: Laying the Foundation

Where you decide to set-up will be the most important decision of the hunt.

And adhering to the fundamentals of choosing a good set-up will make it easier to adjust to a gobbler's final approach; those last few moments when anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Your set-up tree should afford you good visibility so that you can spot an incoming turkey, but you don't want to be able to see too far; a hundred yards is pushing it. The reason is that if you can see for much longer than that, so can the gobbler, and he might elect to stay out there a bit (out of gun range) and strut and display, expecting that the “hen” he heard will walk to him, which is what normally occurs in the turkey's world.

Try to predict places where the turkey might emerge from the woods. I call these “Avenues of Approach” and look for them whenever I'm going to set-up, as well as during the course of trying to call in a gobbler. An “Avenue of Approach” might be a space in the woods between two groups of trees or thick brush. Or it could be a two-track or logging road. Or the way a gully intersects a ridgeline. Keep these avenues in mind, because it's usually unlikely a turkey will crawl through thick brush; they dislike doing so the same as us.

Calls and Calling: The Catalyst of the Hunt

To consistently call mature gobblers into gun range you absolutely need great sounding turkey calls; calls that are vibrant and capable of sounding like a real live hen AND are also capable of emitting high-pitched, ear-splitting volume to enhance pleading yelps and cutts that can pull gobbles from distant toms.

A great field call should also be capable of producing sounds at the other end of the spectrum: ever-so-soft yelps, clucks, and purrs. Many turkey hunters believe that call volume should always be soft and subtle; that loud calling will spook gobblers into running to the next county.

And while I would agree that there are times, places, and situations where soft calling is the right course to take (I even build a special low-volume call just for those scenarios: my “Sof-T-T” Pot & Peg Friction call, I would also argue that loud, sharp, high-pitched calling is necessary in many situations and oftentimes is the determining factor in what fires up a gobbler and jump starts the hunt. Too, real hens often call loudly, and, in fact, sometimes sound downright boisterous as they banter back-and-forth with squeaky yelps and sharp cutts.

So think versatility when it comes to turkey calls and calling. Carry several different calls with you and mix things up during the course of the day in order to determine what the turkeys like. They'll tell you … if you ask nicely!

Use The Best Ammo

I've lost count of how many turkey hunters I've spoken with who – complaining about the cost of tungsten-based non-toxic turkey ammunition – have stated that they'll just hunt with the steel waterfowl loads they already have.

BIG mistake, in my opinion.

I highly recommend that you use special purpose turkey ammunition based on tungsten shot for our most magnificent game bird and leave the steel waterfowl loads for waterfowl hunting.

Steel shot simply does not provide both the pattern density and the energy to be an effective turkey killer at the 40 yard line. We can get lethal energy at 40 yards by increasing shot size – say a No. 2 steel pellet in comparison with a No. 6 tungsten pellet – but then we sacrifice pattern density. If we shoot No. 6 steel pellets, we might get the desired pattern density, but lack pellet energy much beyond 25 yards.

The better alternative is to go with one of the turkey-specific non-toxic offerings by Hevi-Shot or Federal. Yes, they cost more, but if you factor all the costs associated with taking a day or weekend off of work to be in and enjoy a turkey hunt, the few extra dollars for premium non-toxic turkey ammo is really inconsequential.

Final Thoughts

A spring turkey hunt is a special, unique adventure. Take the time to enjoy it for what it is. Slow down out there. Then slow down even more. Be patient. Then be extra patient. Hunt safely. Respect your fellow hunters; if there's a vehicle already parked in the area you hoped to hunt, move on and hunt somewhere else.

Forcing the issue rarely works on spring turkeys. Instead, try letting success find you. It will, if you'll let it.

Author's note: If you would like to learn more about turkey hunting, my new book “Ten Steps To Becoming A Successful Turkey Hunter!”is full of helpful tips and useful information. The full color, 136 page book is $24.95 plus shipping and sales tax for CA residents. To order a signed and personalized copy, contact me at Please include the words “Turkey Book” in your email's subject line or it risks being deleted. A limited number of my “Sof-T-T” Pot & Peg Calls are also available. This unique call is only $50 plus shipping and – if applicable – sales tax. Email me for details on ordering. – Ed Migale

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