Donʼt worry kids. This school is COOL!
Want to know the secret to becoming a great turkey hunter? Find an experienced hunter to show you the ropes. If your parents or grandparents don’t hunt, ask around. Perhaps a teacher, scout leader or a friend’s parent is a turkey hunter. Plan your first hunt for youth turkey season, when kids age 6 to 15 are the only ones who can hunt.
Adult male turkeys are called toms or gobblers. Young males are called jakes. Female turkeys are called hens. All male turkeys have beards, which are tufts of stringy feathers growing out of their chests. Hens sometimes have beards, too, but not often. You can shoot only bearded turkeys during spring hunting season. To learn the rest of the rules, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4066.
To better your odds of bagging a gobbler, practice shooting at paper targets before pulling the trigger on the real thing. This is called patterning your shotgun, and it will make you a better shot. You’ll also learn how far you can shoot at a turkey—about 30 yards—and still pull off a clean kill. Download a gobbler target at www.xplormo.org/ node/3464.
To shoot a turkey, you have to find a turkey. Turkeys love a mix of woods and open areas. Ask a landowner for permission to hunt on their property or find a public area to hunt at www.mdc.mo.gov/atlas. Explore these places a week or two before turkey season. Look for turkey tracks and places where turkeys have scratched up leaves to find acorns to eat. If you find a bunch of turkey droppings under a tree, you’ve hit the jackpot. The tree is a roost, a place where turkeys spend the night, and it’s a good sign turkeys are in the area.
Most people hunt turkeys with a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun fitted with an extra-full choke. Load your gun with number 4- or 6-sized shot. If you have trouble holding the gun steady, a monopod—a stick to rest your gun on—might help. Turkeys have great eyesight and can see color, so wear camouflage from head to foot. Never wear white, red or blue in the woods because other hunters could mistake you for a gobbler. Don’t forget to pack a backpack with handy odds and ends such as a flashlight, turkey calls, decoys, knife, map, compass, bug repellent, rain gear, snacks, water, toilet paper and—oh, yeah—your hunting permits.
You’ll want to be in the turkey woods ready to hunt before sunrise. For safety, wear hunter orange when walking to and from your hunting spot. Find a tree to sit against with a trunk at least as wide as your shoulders. This breaks up your outline, making it harder for a turkey to spot you. It also keeps your back protected from other hunters. Tie something orange around the tree so other hunters know this is your spot. Box call Shotgun shells Turkey decoy
Turkey decoys—especially a jake and hen used together—can bring the toms trotting in, but use them with caution. Another hunter might think your decoys are real turkeys and creep in to take a shot at them. Never use a decoy in thick timber. Set up decoys only in areas where you can see 100 yards in all directions. Place a jake decoy 25 yards from where you’ll be sitting. Put it up where you’ll want a gobbler to be standing when you pull the trigger.
Hunters use turkey calls to cluck, purr, putt and yelp like a hen who’s looking for a boyfriend. There are all kinds of calls. Box and slate calls are easiest to get the hang of, but you need both hands to use them. Mouth calls take longer to master but leave your hands free to handle a shotgun. For your first few hunts, it’s best to have your teacher do the calling. If you try calling, don’t worry too much about hitting a sour note. Some of the worst calling comes from hen turkeys. When a gobbler who’s been making a racket suddenly shuts up, get ready. He could be sneaking toward you.
If a turkey sees you move, he’ll tear off to the next county before you can raise your gun. When gobblers are near, don’t swat mosquitoes, scratch chiggers or pick your nose. Keep your shotgun resting on your knees so you can pull it quickly to your shoulder when the turkey isn’t looking. If you have an incurable case of the wiggles, consider hunting from a blind.
Before you click off the safety, make absolutely sure the thing you’re aiming at is a bearded turkey. Also take a look at what’s behind your bird—you don’t want another turkey or hunter to catch stray pellets. Get your head down and your cheek tight against the gun’s stock. Aim for the spot where the gobbler’s neck meets his feathers. If the turkey moves his head or your aim is a bit high, you’ll still make a decent shot. Click off the safety, take a deep breath, and squee-e-eze the trigger.
If your turkey tumbles, stay put and load another shell into your gun’s chamber. The gobbler may get back up and try to run. It’s normal for a turkey to flop a bit after he’s been hit. Your teacher will let you know when it’s okay to approach your bird. Wrap the turkey in hunter orange before packing it out of the woods. This way, other hunters won’t mistake it for a live gobbler.
Maybe you’ll bag a bird. Maybe you won’t. But even if you don’t shoot a turkey, sitting out in the spring woods is fun. You’ll hear owls hoot, see raccoons scurry back to their dens, and maybe even find a few morel mushrooms. If you have fun and stay safe, you’ll pass turkey hunting school either way.
Nichole LeClair Terrill