30 minutes before sunrise. Listen on clear, windless mornings, if possible. Keep a log of the number of birds you hear and where they are located. Use a locator call (owl, crow, or hawk work well) to solicit gobbles if needed; however, avoid using turkey calls before season opens.
Note not only where turkeys are roosting, but also where they land after flying down. Try to observe where the birds frequent throughout the morning. By doing so, you will have a plan in place for midmorning hunts if your first setup doesn’t pan out. Mapping out the habits of as many birds as possible will give you options, thus increasing your chance for success.
Test Your Equipment
If a safe, legal, and ethical shot opportunity at a gobbler arises, you will need the appropriate equipment to cleanly harvest the bird. If you plan to use a shotgun, a patterning session to test your gun, choke, and shell combination is in order. A trip to the range before season is all it takes to complete this task (see Proper Patterning). During shot-gun patterning sessions, you are not only checking for point of impact (the gun shoots where you aim) but also pattern testing to determine the number of pellets present in your pattern. You will need adequate pellet density in your pattern (at least 230 inside a 30-inch circle) as well as the appropriate-sized pellet to effectively harvest a turkey. Missouri regulations allow for No. 4 size shot or smaller; generally hunters avoid shot smaller than No. 6. Range time is also needed if you will be hunting with archery equipment. In particular, be certain of vital archery shots and routinely practice in realistic hunting situations.
The key is to only take shots that are within the effective range of your equipment and skills. To ensure you are taking appropriate shots, learn how to subtend. As hunters, we have legal and ethical expectations to abide by. Properly testing equipment will maximize harvest opportunities and will reduce the likelihood of wounding a bird.
Brush up on Calling
The communication between a hunter and a love-sick spring gobbler is why many people turkey hunt. To increase your odds of calling in a bird, spend time before season imitating the calls of a hen. If you are new to turkey calling, attend a turkey-calling seminar, or go online for recordings of turkey vocalizations.