If you’re new to chasing turkey in the Spring woods, you are probably wondering about the best turkey hunting times! For starters, your hunting times will differ from state to state. Most states have a spring turkey season and some have a fall season. Even within the spring and fall season, there are times that you are allowed to hunt. Some states allow you to hunt all day while others may only allow you to hunt from daylight until noon. Ultimately, you’ll need to review the turkey hunting regulations for your state to find the best times.
Caping out a turkey and preparing it for display is simple to do and takes very little time. It makes a great display and there’s virtually no cost or kits to order, no plaques to make and no taxidermist bill to pay.
Once you’ve done one it takes no more than 10 minutes to cape a turkey out in the field and prepare it for transport. It takes about the same amount of time to prepare, stretch, and tack it down on a board, and borax the bird once the season is over and you pull it out of the freezer.
This “How to Cape a Turkey” write up along with the video that GSN has provided will make it easier for those who want to cape their birds.
Caping your turkey in the field
- Handle the bird carefully once you’ve harvested him. Be careful not to damage feathers or the fan when carrying him back to camp. The better shape he’s in – the better cape you’ll have.
- For easier caping clip the wings off.
- Hang the bird by his head and neck. This can be done from limbs or even the side rail of your truck. (Note: This entire process is easier if there’s someone to hold the bird still while you cape. I’ve done numerous ones alone but not trying to cape a pinwheel helps.)
- You will notice a distinguishable parting of feathers starting at the neck and extending down the side of the bird all the way to his fan. It’s similar to a human hair / part line. The key is to follow this line when cutting the cape off the bird. This is narrow on the neck and gets progressively wider as you get closer to the wing.
Make your first cut on the back of the bird’s neck where the feathers meet the hairless skin near the head and begin to follow the part line down the bird. Cut a few inches on each side to get started. Be careful to not pull feathers loose and as soon as the skin is exposed grip this instead to the outer part of the cape. This avoids pulling feathers loose that could affect the look of the finished cape. Once you get away from the head, slip your fingers tips in behind the skin and pull while you cut and follow the line. If in doubt where the line is go wider towards the clipped wing bone area. I usually make this cut all the way down to the bird’s leg and then do the same on the opposite side.
- After the side cuts are complete, grip the cape from the inside and begin to pull and trim the cape away from the bird. Often the skin will separate similar to skinning a deer but be careful to not over do it. As you approach the mid back region the skin is very thin and you have to be careful not to cut thru the skin. You’ll understand this better once you’ve done one. Don’t worry if you have a couple “cut throughs” as it will likely not show up from the outside of the cape. After clearing the mid back the cape will pull loose for a couple inches and then you’ll have to trim again.
- Once you trim the cape down to the fan area, finish the cuts on each side near the legs so that the entire cape is below the section at the fan. You’ll be able to grip the same place that you would normally just cut the fan loose and cut it free. The fan and cape should be in one piece and the caping is now complete.
- To prepare for transport simply place a paper towel or toilet paper along the area against the exposed skin and fold it over. Place it in a bag and its ready for the freezer. If traveling its good to have an oversized “carry on” bag that you can pack the cape in. I have packed as many as 6 capes in a piece of luggage. If you’re on a travel hunt and a freezer isn’t available, spread the cape and borax it until its time to pack up and travel. (A word of advice here is that if you do borax the bird, try and finish the caping process sooner rather than later once you are home. I have had birds began to cure out while still in the freezer making it difficult to prepare and stretch compared to a bird that was not boraxed.)
The field aspect is now completed and once back home simply place it in the freezer until the season is over and you have time to finish the process.
Turkey capes can be made into arrangements to maximize space
Preparing the Cape for Curing at Home
Tools Needed: Small snips or shears, knife, scissors, hammer, 4 d nails, 6 d nails, board or plywood strips, borax (Mule Team 20 20 can be found in most grocery stores)
- Remove the bird from the freezer and allow to thaw. I lay mine out in the truck bed or driveway and within a couple hours they will unfold and I can begin the finishing process.
- Flip the cape with feathers down and grasp group of feathers behind the main fan quills. Cut away with scissors. Press down on fan and hold knife flat and trim away meat where the main quills come together. Cut all meat away until all you see is the yellow near the quill tips. This is easy once you’ve done one and it can be done in one cut with experience. Cut both sides away and you’ll feel a small section of bone that protrudes up off quills. Use your snips and clip this away. Again press flat to quills and be careful where you cut.
- Often when you cape you’ll have a couple secondary skin and feather sections that need to be cut away. Theses can be left but I prefer to get rid of them for the shape I like. By carefully holding them above the main cape you can clip these off with scissors. Now check the cape itself and careful cut away any meat that may be on the cape from the original field caping. Now the cape is ready to be stretched and prepared for curing.
- Lay the cape on a board, strip of plywood, or sheet of plywood. (Its possible that heavy cardboard can be used as well but I like the stiffness wood provides.) Drive a 6 d nail through the middle of the fan where the quills come together (same area you cut the meat away and clipped the bone). Grasp the top of the neck section of the cape and pull tight and drive another 6 d nail to keep it in place.
- Drive 3 sets of 4 d nails to open and stretch the cape itself beginning near the fan and working your way to the neck area. You won’t stretch to the point of putting pressure on the cape but just firmly open it up and tack it down. 3 sets spread out should be adequate to help the cape take the proper shape. (Note: Don’t over drive nails. Tack just enough to hold so that they’re easy to remove later)
- Open the fan up so that’s it’s in alignment with the cape and adjust the fan to run straight across. It will permanently take the shape you give it so if it’s not all the way open or open too much that’s what you’ll end up with. Again, sight it so the base is straight across and tack a 4 d nail near the center quill area to hold in place. Adjust the feathers so that no openings between feathers are visible. Tack enough nails between feathers to be sure the spread will stay intact. I average using 6 nails to be safe.
- Pour borax to cover all exposed areas of the cape. Pour generously on the fan. Take the beard from the bird and “plug” it into the poured borax and it will cure along with the cape and it keeps the right beard with the right cape.
Photo shows capes tacked down and curing
Store the cape in a safe area from children, pets, and weather. Let cure for 5 weeks and then simply remove by pulling nails with pliers. I dump most of the borax into a container and then carry outside and walk into the wind and tap with a bristle brush and lightly scape and brush the excess borax off. Be careful not to breathe it in and wearing a dust mask is advisable. I tap the cape from behind as well to clear as much as possible.
- To mount the cape is easy. Lay feathers up, grasp the fan and determine approximate center of fan where quills meet. Drive a 6 or 8 d nail through the cape until the nail comes out the skin side. Hold the cape on the wall and tap the nail until it’s mounted on the wall. Avoid studs as just the drywall penetration will hold..
This is all it takes to skin and prepare a cape for mounting. Although several steps are involved from a time standpoint it only takes 20 minutes a cape for the combined aspects once you’ve done a couple.
Hopefully this piece along with the 2 videos will be helpful for those that would like to cape their birds.
Grand Slam Network
Ol Tom Field Expert
Mossy Oak Pro Staff
If you’re new to turkey hunting, you might be wondering how to shoot a turkey – and make it count! This article focuses on where to shoot a turkey with a shotgun. For the most part, when shooting a turkey with a shotgun, you’re going to aim at the head and/or neck.
Where to shoot the turkey
When turkey hunting with your shotgun, you want to aim at the turkey’s head or neck region. My favorite place to aim is where the waddles meet the feathers on the neck – and maybe a little up from there. Naturally, with the shotgun you will have the shot scattered in a circular pattern around the point you were aiming. If you’re aiming at then neck, your shot will hit the neck and head – and the result will be a clean humane kill.
How far can you shoot a turkey?
Pattern your gun. There’s no room for guess work after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on camo, guns, and calls only to miss a bird. If that happens, you probably kick yourself the entire way home. Besides, heading out to the range with a few buddies and patterning guns is fun.
Anyway, in the next session, I’ll cover an easy way to pattern your turkey hunting shotgun. You need to be putting a minimum of 78 shot in a 10″ circle. Personally I like to have well over 100. My Remington 870 youth model 20 gauge with a 21″ barrel and an Indian Creek .555 choke shooting Hevi-Shot #7s shoots 120-140s consistently at 40 yards. When I back up to 50 yards, it backs me down to about 90 shot in a 10″ circle. So I consider my effective range with that combination to be 40 to 45 yards.
Before the shot
I’m not going to go in depth on patterning in this article, but before you hit the turkey woods, be sure to pattern your shotgun with the same gun/choke/shell combination you’ll be hunting with. Changing up one factor in the gun/choke/shell combination will result in a different pattern. Sometimes the change will be enough to cause a miss! To pattern your shotgun, follow these steps:
- Buy a brown paper roll from the Home Depot, which is typically found in the paint section. It cost less than $10 and is cheaper than some of the other alternatives
- Mark a dot on the paper to aim at. Using a range finder, step back to 30 yards, and shoot at the dot you marked on the paper. Be sure to write the yardage information and the shotgun shell info on the target.
- Find a piece of cardboard and cut a circle with a 10″ diameter. Locate the most dense pattern on the brown paper and draw your circle around it. Draw a crosshair on the circle to create four sections, and count the holes in each quadrant and total them up.
- Keep in mind, a 10″ circle has 78 square inches. So your target needs to have at least 78 shot in the circle to make 1 shot per square inch.
- Repeat the process with a new sheet of paper, backing up 5 to 10 yards each time until you’re no longer getting at least 78 shot per square inch.
- This should help you identify your effective range. Once you find it, shoot at that distance a few more times to make sure everything is consistent.
Make the shot count!
When you set up on the turkey, be aware of your surroundings. First and foremost, make sure you’ll be shooting in a safe direction! Also consider the following tips before the shot:
- When you setup, make sure you have room to move your gun around and that the barrel is unobstructed. After all, you never know which direction the turkey will choose to come in. If you do have to swing the gun around, you can either wait until the turkey walks behind a tree, or you can just wait until he gets close and SLOWLY move. He’ll see you, but if your movement is slow, he might pop his head up and start to walk away – giving you time to put a bead on him and squeeze the trigger! I prefer to move the gun when he passes behind a tree or bush.
- Make sure you’re not shooting into brush, it will throw off your shot.
- Don’t rush the shot. If you’re looking down the barrel at the bird, its easy to become unnerved and squeeze a round off too early. Wait for the clear shot within your effective range!
- If the bird is walking or strutting, cut with a mouth call. He should stop or come out of strut and lift his head up. When he does… bust him.
- If you shoot right handed, get setup in a direction with the barrel facing slightly right of where you think the turkey will come in. Its easier to swing and aim left than it is right if you’re a right handed shooter.
- Get comfortable. If you’re not comfortable where you’re sitting, you’re more likely to move around and get busted in the process.
- If the pattern on your setup is TIGHT, be sure to take your time especially when the bird is close! Its easy to miss a turkey that is up close!
Here’s my missed turkey from 2012 on a North Georgia public land turkey hunt! I never saw this limb until after the shot. The bird came in from behind.
After the shot
After the shot, you hope to see a dead bird bouncing around like he just ate a load full of #7 Hevi-Shot! Either way, get ready for a second shot. You might have missed or sometimes a bird will flop or lay still, and then get up and run off (happened to a couple of folks I know last year). Regardless, you want to be ready for a second shot if needed. I usually try to get to the bird quickly with the gun in hand. I carry my gun in case he takes off when I get close to him. When you get to him, be careful picking him up – he can spur you good! That’s why most people just step on their head until they quit flopping.
Finally, always remember to keep your gun on safety before and after the shot! Its easy to forget to place the gun on safety during the excitement of the harvest! Stay safe, shoot straight, and let us know how you do!
Thanks to all or our members who share tips on shooting and patterning your shotgun for turkey hunting!
Use this method for roosting turkey in New Mexico and kill more turkeys this Spring! New Mexico is an awesome state to harvest your Merriams turkey for your grand slam! There is lots of public land to hunt turkey, elk and other game. One of the most effective ways to locate merriams turkey in New Mexico is to use a high pitched crow call when roosting them in the evening. You can literally drive the roads boarding public land, stop every 1/4 mile and locate birds for the mornings hunt. Watch this video to see how one of New Mexico’s finest turkey hunters, Ryan Bates, roosts his merriams!
Successful turkey hunters are good decision makers and to an extent gamblers. In fact it’s the element of managing each and every decision and the totality of the combinations you make that ultimately affects the outcome of each hunt you undertake. At the end of the day, it is your overall ability as a hunter to plan, observe, process, and react to what is going on around you. Think for a minute just how many decisions are involved with every hunting session, how often you’re making them at different stages of the game, how many took nerve and were a gamble because they seemed risky, and how many you have to get right to kill a bird.
This decision making process begins before you even enter the turkey woods. For example: The “night before” pre hunt decisions begin with: What do you carry in your vest, where will you start in the morning, and what time do you need to get up and leave to not be late?
The early morning decisions begin with your final choice of an area to begin the hunt, where you’ll park to avoid any possible bird disruptions, how you‘ll approach an area, and where you’ll stop and listen.
Let’s say you’ve arrived at your listening spot. Do you owl hoot or just let things unfold naturally? You hear an early gobble before good light. Do you take off after him now or wait a little longer in case one is closer? Now you hear other birds gobbling and you’ve got to make a decision on which one to go after. One’s gobbling a lot and is further away while the other is gobbling less but is closer. Which one will you go to? You’ve decided go after the bird that’s gobbles the most so you take off full speed with hopes of getting set up on him before he flies down off the roost. About halfway to the bird you second guess yourself. Was this the right call? Was the bird gobbling his head off already with a bunch of hens? Was the bird that gobbled just a few times alone and a better choice? Too late now, your committed and almost to the other bird.
Do you owl hoot to keep up with his location as you get closer or just keep heading towards him and trust your estimated distance? How close will you try and get and what type of terrain factors are there to consider? Now you’ve gotten within 150 yards. Do you gamble and try to get just a little closer? Could there be hens in the trees this side of him that you’re about to bump? Where will you set up? Do you put out decoys or not?
He gobbles from the limb so you know the games still on. Do you want to call to let him know you’re there and what call are you going to use? You throw out a soft tree yelp and he cuts you off with his gobble. Do you call again or wait until he’s on the ground? Or, he ignores you so do you call a little louder? You just heard hens so do you now call more or hold back and see what they’re going to do on their own?
He fly’s down off the roost and is gobbling but not moving towards you. Do you play hard to get or get aggressive and fire him up? Maybe you should try and talk soft and sweet and coax the hens over and hope he’ll come with them? Maybe you should try and make the boss hen mad and accomplish the same thing? Now he appears to be slowly moving in your direction. Do you call again or stay quiet? Maybe you should scratch the leaves? Now he’s gotten quieter and if he does gobble there’s a delay between your call and his gobble. Has he cooled down? Maybe you should swap calls? Maybe just change strikers? Maybe you should just be patient and give things time to unfold?
Now it appears the hens are taking him away. Do you gamble and attempt to swing around and flank them? Will the terrain allow you to move and what do you know about the ground you’re on? Are there other birds around that you don’t know about? Maybe it’s time to try fighting purrs or a gobble shaker? Is to too late in the season for fighting purrs to work? How many times has gobbling helped you kill a bird?
Wait….something you’ve done has gotten his attention again and it looks like he’s coming in. Do you put your slate call down or wait until he’s a little closer? Do you raise your gun now or wait until he’s in tighter and walks behind a tree? Are you going to hyperventilate or will you settle down? Will you get busted?
The truth is this is just a sampling of the thoughts that go through our minds and the challenges we face on any given day in the turkey woods. And although this piece really is a statement of the obvious, if you stop and think about each and every decision and move you made on a particular encounter that resulted in a dead bird, and changed any one decision, certainly any two or three, and it’s likely that bird is still walking after you leave the scene. Being willing to gamble at times has paid off while at other times it hasn’t, but that’s why it’s called a gamble. Most successful turkey hunters put forth a beyond average effort to develop their woodsman- ship and calling skills and just as importantly they learn to become good mobile hunting decision managers that are willing to take chances.
The basic and general approaches involved with turkey hunting often seem simple, but when you think about all the decisions that play into it, you understand just how much you have to do right to consistently kill gobblers. The key is to think on the fly, be adaptable, persistent, patient, and not be afraid to gamble and get it wrong. There’s always another day and a chance to implement brand new combinations. The good news is you only have to get it right a few times a season to get your limits.
By Bobby Parks
The Grand Slam Network
Mossy Oak Pro Staff
O’l Tom Field Expert
Recently I read a post on a forum that involved the cost per pound of a wild turkey compared to a store bought one. In this case a friend of one of our fellow turkey hunters could not begin to understand the rationale of putting so much effort and expense just to put a turkey on the table. Why would you incur such a cost when you could just walk in the store and buy one for $1.59 a pound? I’m sure in his and others minds we as turkey hunters must be crazy and while the latter may be true, I actually feel my $100 a pound bird is one of the best deals I get each year and is easily justified.
First of all grocery shopping and hunting are not quite in the same category and don’t carry the same level of excitement or require the same gear. Hobbies which can include golf, boating, skiing, stamp collecting, needlepoint, fishing, hunting, or whatever it may be, comes with a price tag.
Even among hunters, hunting has different meanings to different people and we have our own reasons, motivations, goals, and aspects that allow us to enjoy the sport. And, although I like almost all wild game, the meat aspect is not the reason I love to hunt, but more of a fringe benefit.
For me it’s about spending time in the outdoors, creating lifetime memories with family and friends, and knowing what its like to see & hear the woods come to life in the mornings. It’s about hearing the coyotes sounding off, the sound of wood ducks whistling through the air, listening to screech owls that sound possessed, and wondering if the whippoorwills will shut down before the gobbling starts. Its hearing gobblers gobbling and hens tree talking on the limb and enjoying the challenges that turkey hunting or any hunting brings. It’s a chance to meet and make new friends, and creates lifetime bonds with what are for the most part, down to earth people that have an appreciation for the simple things in life and certainly the outdoors and conservation aspects involved. Hunting in many ways brings people from all different walks and backgrounds together in a way that not many other “hobbies” or events can.
It’s about having trouble controlling your breathing and shaking when you’ve got a walnut sized brain bird that puts your slightly larger one to the test and wins most of the bouts that makes you feel childish. It’s about watching this happen to others, especially those new to the sport experience the same. And, it’s about experiencing the excitement, adrenalin, and extreme satisfaction when it all comes together after much anticipation and failed efforts.
We as hunters and outdoorsman understand this….but those outside this circle may sometimes have difficulty comprehending…For many of us it’s not about the meat or the cost per pound. Putting meat on the table really is just a fringe benefit and the real value turkey hunting brings is priceless.
So with all due respect, technically my turkey meat may run about a $159.00 a pound for all I know, but I guarantee you when I’m sitting at the table or frying it up in camp with friends eating it and remembering the event in detail that brought him to the table…I’d have paid more.
By Bobby Parks
Mossy Oak Pro Staff
Ol Tom Field Expert
It seems that each year on various forums we partake in the discussion involving “Calling” or Woodsmanship” regarding which is most important. Many highlight the woodsmanship aspects while the really good callers make their points for calling. In the end most of the veteran turkey hunters realize that the better you are at both, the better you’ll be at killing turkeys. I also believe that there is a third element of turkey hunting that rarely seems to surface during these conversations or at best seems to get mixed in with the rest.
I’m talking about “Turkey Hunting Experience /Wisdom” that comes from pursuing turkeys specifically and the knowledge that comes with it. This third element is a stand alone aspect that has to be combined with the others and is in my view the glue that bonds the other two together.
Think about it this way. Calling is something you practice and learn. It’s a specific skill involving instruments and various types of calls. Although some people seem to be more gifted when it comes to running calls, for most it takes practice to become better than average. Average calling will allow you to kill some turkeys but the better you are the more types of turkeys you can handle. And as important as it is to be able to call, it’s just as important to know when to call or when not to call and even what type of call to make. And, even if you’re a great caller, it doesn’t mean you’re a good turkey hunter.
Realizing “Woodsmanship” has varying definitions for many, in my opinion it’s a developed ability to operate and function in the woods in a manner that requires mostly unconscious efforts and becomes second nature for many. It’s a combination of learned skills that comes from experience and involves abilities to maneuver with a general in depth understanding of nature and wildlife. It’s a learned trait of minimizing the intrusion factor and being aware through sight, sound, and smells what’s going on around you. It’s an achieved comfort level while in that environment. But again, just because you’re a good woodsman does not mean that you’re a good hunter.
Woodsmanship and calling are both building blocks and a requirement that specific quarry skills must be added to. For example: If you deer hunt you learn about deer habits, environment, food requirements, and hunting tactics. This applies to any type of hunting such as elk, moose, bear, or waterfowl. The more you learn about the quarry, the better results you experience.
The Turkey Experience /Wisdom aspect is the “Third Element” of gained specific knowledge that can only come from experience and exposure to hunting turkeys. And although some may learn quicker than others, it takes years and the learning aspect never really ends. When this element is reasonably perfected and can be added to the woodsmanship and calling aspects, it totals to create the true turkey slayers that can kill birds consistently in any part of the country under most conditions. It’s comparable to having a good running, passing and special team’s capability in that it allows for a truly balanced attack. Lacking in any of these aspects will limit success.
Some may argue that this third element is “Woodsmanship” but in my mind it’s a separate category. Turkey hunting veterans that gain this knowledge and experience and combine it with well developed Woodsmanship and calling skills have expanded capabilities that go well beyond average. This group exhibits an ability to process everything that’s happening around them in a way that combines hunches, instinct, and what appears as a gifted talent. These individuals often don’t know what they’ll do until they do it but reactions to varying scenarios and appropriate tactics and solutions just seem to float to the top of their heads often enough that they stand out as hunters. Identifying and picking good set up locations is mostly second nature. Turkey hunting and the pursuit really does become instinctive and they combine the three elements as though it’s all coming through an IV that has an automatic regulator. Utilizing Woodsmanship and their calling abilities in a way that complement each other and extending just the right dose of each based on what their third element sense tells them is an unconscious effort. Just the right combination of aggressiveness and patience is utilized and balanced with persistence always at the core. Putting in the time and always believing it’s just a matter of finding a way and that there’s an answer to every situation is a given. There’s a healthy balance of confidence and humbleness at work at all times. Hunches and instincts are trusted and a willingness and relentlessness to constantly probe, search, and try to read a particular bird or situation is ongoing.
The drive comes from a combination of a love for the outdoors, the sound of a gobble, the sight of a strutting gobbler, and the challenge and satisfaction that comes from being successful. It’s the desire to repeat the adrenalin rush that comes at the moment of truth after endless amounts of anticipation and efforts that finally pays off. It’s a desire to work through the scenario and get the right combination that puts a bird over your shoulder or someone else’s. It’s a personal challenge between you, the bird, and the elements.
Being willing to gamble and sense when a right or wrong direction is taken occurs automatically. Defeat is never taken well but is not wasted in that it is imputed as a lesson learned that furthers the third element data bank.
And no matter how many they kill most always walk away feeling lucky knowing that it could have easily gone the other way and that the bird could still be walking. And when you win, you won the fight, but when you get beat, you’re not defeated; it was only one of many rounds.
Mossy Oak Pro Staff
Ol’ Tom Field Expert
As much as I look forward to spring and the beginning of our Eastern turkey season, I get even more excited about my planned trips out west to hunt the Merriams turkey.
There’s no bird on the planet that I’ve heard that can compare with that thunderous gobble that our Eastern bird can pound out but when it comes to “looks” and a bird that “acts right”, the Merriams turkey is hard to beat. In my opinion not only are they the most beautiful bird aside from the Goulds, but they also inhabit the most gorgeous terrain. Maybe it’s that “you always like what you’re not used to thing”, I don’t know but I do know that once you’ve made a trip out to one of the western states and see and play with this bird, you’re going back.
I traveled out west 9 years ago thinking I’d just like to hunt this bird one time, and I’ve gone back every year since. I hunt both private and public land and added a couple states into the mix over the past few years. My dream would be to do a western tour each season hitting every state that the Merriams inhabits.
The lists of states these birds occupy is long and include South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, and a few others. Terrain can vary but generally speaking this is beautiful country and what better way to see these places than actually walking on the ground and turkey hunting?
Generally these birds gobble a lot and will gobble later in the morning and more in the afternoon than our Eastern bird and they will come further to a call and cross what would normally be hang up features. If you’re an Eastern hunter, you’ll quickly adapt and be able to handle these birds. In fact, you’ll likely think you’ve died and gone to turkey hunter’s heaven.
Essential equipment includes binoculars, GPS and in my opinion a good high pitch raspy box call or crystal to cut through the wind and locate birds. Being in shape is a must as in many areas bird populations are sparse and it is a matter of covering lots of ground. Some regions involve high elevations and I can tell you from experience, this is hard to prepare for. You’ll want to travel as light as you can although a good vest is handy for storing layers as it may be snowing in the morning and warmer in the afternoon. A wind up to 20 mph are considered a breeze out west and does not hinder birds although higher winds may cause them to move into draws and valleys. You’ll find lone birds and bird pockets. What sometimes may sound like a jake at first (they gobble funny) is likely a gobbler. Run and gun hunters will love it as moving and flanking is a great way to hunt them and unlike an Eastern, you can chase him down from behind and often call him straight back down his back trail.
One method we’ve used during the late morning and mid day is to troll from a vehicle from remote roads. The first two years I would not do this but I learned that in areas where birds are sparse, you won’t last long trying to do it all on foot. The technic is simple and you ride and learn to spot potential areas to stop and call from. The key is to adopt the “Minute Man” mentality and have everything ready to go. You’ve got to be able to slip on your vest, grab and load your gun, and be headed towards the bird within 60 seconds because when you strike a bird he could be 500 yards away or just over the hill or in a draw and often will start towards you immediately. You’ve got to put some distance between the truck and a quickly found set up spot. Often the bird will sound off and you’ll locate him with binoculars at a distance at which point you chase him down or make a long move on him, set up, and then call. But again sometimes they’ll be in your lap within two minutes and the last thing you want to do is to bump into him when he’s’ coming in because you took too long to move or set up.
Locator calls such as crow calls or coyote calls can be very effective depending on where you are. Crow calls in particular are great at finding roosted birds at fly up time in one place I hunt. In fact a serious effort should be put into locating roosting birds especially out west and I’ve been luckier with dealing with these birds compared to Easterns straight off the limb.
Any bird can be tough under certain circumstances and hunting Merriams turkey can be as tough as any once they’re messed with or pressured which brings Eastern tactics back into play. A lot depends on where you’re hunting, the time of year, but mostly the pressure aspect. On private land or areas where they’re unpressured, my experience has been that you call more to these birds compared to Easterns but this can vary with regions as well. For example I’ve had birds gobble and come in from several hundred yards, cross a ravine / coulee that an Eastern bird would never have even thought about crossing and walk straight to me gobbling all the way. I’ve had birds that seemed to have a short attention span and if I stopped calling they walked away and only advanced if I called. I’ve also had a bird that took off running in the opposite direction the second I hit my box call. I know he had been hammered the week before and it was on public land. But, I moved to another area, killed two birds and moved again and my partner whacked another and in each case the birds were very cooperative.
The cost for these hunts varies but it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can go the outfitter route which has the benefit of accommodations, controlled and managed property, less pressured birds, and fewer question marks if researched or referred. But the public land route can be a great and more affordable option and only requires transportation, license, food, and accommodation cost. There is lots of public land and even Indian reservations in many areas that provide opportunity and all it takes is a little internet research. Either way incurs transportation and license cost. One way to look at it if you go the public land route is that the first year is as much of a scouting mission as it is a hunt. You may kill turkeys but you will learn and know more about the area for future trips.
If you’re looking to go as a group, planning to camp or hit multiple areas, driving may be an option to consider if you have the time but in some cases you’re talking about 20-30 hours or more one way. Flying in and a renting and SUV or 4 wheel drive truck is something to consider and my preference. I look for discounted airfares and rentals and plan accordingly.
The bottom line here is I’ve never taken or known anyone that hunted Merriams turkey that did not fall in love with both the bird and the country. It is an experience that all should know and if there’s a down side to it all aside from the cost; its when you’re done and headed back home, you know you’re going to have to tighten up, get serious, and get back in the tougher game of hunting your Easterns again.
By Bobby Parks
Mossy Oak Pro Staff
Ol’ Tom Field Expert