Feature Article: Wild Turkey Season

Wild turkey season begins March 30

BY ED MIGALE/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Mar 15, 2019

Get ready for the spring turkey season!

With the start of the spring season just a few weeks away, now is the time to start getting prepped and ready for that close range ­encounter with a long-bearded gobbler.

turkeyseasonopensTURKEY SEASON OPENS March 30 this year for the general season and March 23 for the Junior season, and everyone is out looking for a big gobbler like this longbeard. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

Here are some things you can start doing now that will up your odds for success:

— Locate and purchase non-lead ammo NOW!: The use of lead shot for turkey hunting is now banned statewide, and while this regulation is unpopular, it is what it is. The good news is that there are some excellent non-lead turkey-specific ammunition products being made, predominately by Hevi-Shot and Federal Cartridge Company.

I’m talking about the high quality ammo with tungsten pellets, not steel. Tungsten pellets — being much heavier than steel, and even heavier than lead — provide denser patterns AND more terminal energy than steel. This is extremely important as wild turkeys are big, strong, tough birds, yet the vital head/neck ­region of a turkey is relatively small.

But — and this is a huge BUT — availability on retail shelves can really vary. Last year, the large sporting goods chain-store near where I live ran out of this ammo early in the season and did not have any more in stock until near the end.

— Pattern your shotgun: Go to the range or someplace in the woods where it is safe and legal to shoot, and set up a large paper target that’s at least 3 feet X 3 feet, or better yet, 4 feet X 4 feet at a distance of 25 yards. Draw or paste a 3-inch dot in the center of the paper and shoot at it. Tip: you do not need to use expensive turkey ammo for this part of the shooting session; inexpensive target loads will suffice.

What you are checking for is Point of Impact (POI) vs. Point of Aim (POA). Here’s why: Most shotguns do not have sights. The have muzzle beads and a bead is not a sight; its purpose is as a point of reference as to muzzle location while wingshooting.

A sight — such as a scope on a rifle — is a precision aiming instrument, providing for elevation and windage adjustments, which a muzzle bead cannot do. But in turkey hunting we are not wingshooting, we are aiming our shotgun at a stationary target. So it is very important to know where our shotgun’s pattern hits the target (i.e., POI) vs. where we were aiming (POA).

Once this is established, you need to use turkey ammo in order to determine Pattern Density. You want a super dense pattern of shot to ensure multiple hits in the turkey’s head/neck region. “Full choke” shotguns generally provide the densest patterns and many veteran turkey hunters replace their gun’s standard screw-in choke tubes with after-market special “turkey choke” tubes which are engineered to provide extremely dense patterns.

Replace the large sheet of paper and paste or staple a turkey target to it. These targets — showing the vital head/neck region on a gobbler are available at many sporting goods stores. Shoot at the middle of the turkey’s neck, then count the number of pellet strikes in the neck bone and skull, looking for a minimum of 4 to 5 hits; more — lots more — is better!

Keep moving the target further away in 5-yard increments, checking the pattern density and fatal hits each time. Once you get to a distance where you are no longer getting 4 to 5 fatal hits — let’s say at 45 yards — you’ve exceeded your gun/choke/load’s maximum lethal distance. Consider, then, 40 yards as the furthest you can shoot at a turkey with confidence in a clean kill.

— Practice your calling: There are lots of turkey calls on the market, but not all turkey calls are created equal. Get a good turkey call that sounds alive and exciting. Then, learn to operate the call and practice with it so that you can make realistic, convincing hen turkey sounds. Purchase audio tapes of real turkeys and study the unique, ventriloquial sounds these amazing birds make.

And don’t forget a crow call! “Locator” calls — non-turkey calls that shock tom turkeys into gobbling — are essential tools in springtime hunting. Getting a tom to sound off without using turkey sounds lets you know his location without tipping your hand that you want to converse with him in seductive hen turkey tones. This can really be an Ace up your sleeve, allowing you to quietly move into a good calling position and set-up. Day in and day out, the sharp, piercing “caaw-caaw” of a good crow call is an excellent “locator” call.

— Learn about turkey behavior and how that applies to successfully hunting these wary birds. Read books and magazine articles. Study audio files and videos. Anything you can learn about turkeys and their behavior during springtime will assist you in your pursuit of these amazing, magnificent birds.

Good luck and hunt safe this spring!

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. A limited number of my “Sof-T-T” Pot & Peg Calls as well as my Cantankerous Crow Calls are also available. Email me for details on ordering. – Ed Migale

authoredmigaleAUTHOR ED MIGALE shot this nice gobbler on opening day of the 2018 spring turkey season.

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Luna Sea Sports Ad