Wild turkeys always get in the mood for love as winter’s drab landscape gives way to the brilliant colors of another spring. Likewise, spring turkey hunting seasons are scheduled to coincide with peak breeding periods, when gobblers are revved up on testosterone and most responsive to calling.
On April 3, Texas’ spring turkey season will be in full swing in most counties where it is legal to hunt the regal North American game birds. The only exceptions are 13 counties in eastern Texas, where a 23-day eastern gobbler season doesn’t get underway until April 22.
The birds communicate among them themselves with peculiar body language and signature vocals frequently used to send sexy messages. It’s trash talk that only another wild turkey can truly understand.
Hunters attempt to spoil the romance by joining in the conversations and playing dirty tricks meant to throw a mature gobbler into a fit that forces a fatal error. The main idea is to entice the bird into shotgun range using some sort of call to simulate the inviting sounds a hen turkey looking for male company.
Sometimes it works like a charm. Other times it doesn't.
Some of best turkey hunts end almost as quickly as they begin. The gobbler takes the bait and comes barreling in without a care.
One shot. Lights out. End of story.
Most veteran hunters will agree that not all gobblers are April fools. That’s because every bird is different, as is every spring turkey hunt. Just when you think things are about to work out, a wily long beard will teach you a valuable lesson.
Here are some worthwhile tips spring turkey hunters can follow to boost their chances of burning a tag this season while making their outings more enjoyable:
1.) Know before you go: There is no substitute for scouting. Whenever possible, try to visit the property ahead of time and cover some ground. Listen for gobbling birds and look for reliable sign like tracks, scratching or dusting areas, feather drops, fresh droppings and active roost sites.
Wild turkeys like to roost above ground, usually in trees, to avoid ground predators. Rio Grande turkeys, the most abundant subspecies in Texas, tend to roost in the same trees each night. Eastern birds are less choosy and prone to roost wherever they are at nightfall.
2.) Learn the Land: Know the land and use it to your advantage. Use scouting trips to learn the locations of drainages, creeks, fence lines and water sources.
A poor turkey caller with a good set-up is more likely to be successful than an expert caller with a bad set-up. At times it is next to impossible to coax gobbler to cross a creek or goat wire fence. Always try to set-up to call in spots that create the path of least resistance between you and the gobbler. Otherwise, the bird may “hang up” and refuse to come any closer. In real life, the girls go to guys.
If you are day hunting on unfamiliar property, ask the landowner or outfitter for any geographic tips about the property. Google Earth is a very helpful source.
3.) Trash Talk: The essence of spring turkey hunting is conversing with the birds, usually with a slate, box or diaphragm (mouth) call. Turkeys make a variety of sounds when communicating among themselves. Learn to yelp, putt and purr and you can call turkeys successfully.
The diaphragm fits in the roof of your mouth and creates realistic turkey sounds by pushing air across your tongue, causing the call’s plastic reeds to vibrate. The mouth call is the most difficult to master, but highly preferred because it keeps your hands free and makes a variety of turkey sounds. It’s a good idea to carry several reed-cut options.
Box and slate-style calls are friction calls that are much easier to use. The slate consists of a pot and striker capable of making some really sexy sounds. Make sure to bring along a piece sandpaper to keep the pot surface rough.
A box is the simplest call to use. The calI’s paddle pivots on a hinge screw. Slide the paddle across the edges of the box to produce sounds. There are several tutorials on YouTube for using turkey calls.
Hunters rely on locator calls like crow calls and owl hoots to locate birds from a distance. Roosting gobblers will sometimes “shock gobble” when they a locator call at first light.
4.) Geared Up: A turkey vest or backpack is handy for carrying spare calls, ammunition, food, water, knife and other essentials. Be sure to take along a good bug spray to repel ticks and mosquitos. Some vests have padded seats integrated into the vest. The extra padding can be a blessing when sitting for long periods.
5.) Fire Away: Just about any shotgun kill a turkey but a 12-gauge loaded with three-inch magnum shotshells (No. 4-6 shot) is ideal. Shotguns should be equipped with a full choke to produce tight pellet patterns at long distances. It’s usually not wise to take shots beyond 30 yards.
6.) Full Camo: Turkeys have incredible eyesight. Dress in full camouflage head-to-toe. If you can see a turkey's head, you can bet it will see any movement you make. If you suspect a bird is approaching, shoulder the shotgun in advance and position the barrel on one knee pointed in the direction where you expect to see the turkey.
7.) Hang In There: It pays to be patient. If the birds aren't gobbling, pick a spot and hunker down, calling occasionally. But don't call too much. If a gobbler answers from the distance and shuts up, avoid the temptation to move for a while. The bird could be coming in “silent.”
8.) Decoys: A gobbler coming to a call is constantly looking for the source. It can be a big advantage if he's got a nice looking lady to look at once he gets there.
Hen decoys can sometimes work wonders on long beards reluctant to commit. Place the decoy in an opening so it can be seen from a distance. Be cautious when using decoys on public hunting lands; you never know when there may be an inexperienced hunter in the area.
9.) The Right Shot: The most lethal shot is to the head, ideally when the bird is facing you or from the side. Aim for the base of the neck, right where it meets the feathers. You are almost guaranteed to get some pellets in the bird's head, even if you pull high on the shot.
Never shoot a gobbler in full strut, or a spooked bird or one that is flying off or running away. Body shots aren’t a good idea, either. Turkeys don’t leave blood trails like deer. The chances of recovering a wounded bird are slim.
10.) Getting Legal: A valid hunting license and upland game bird stamp endorsement are required to hunt turkeys. Birds must be properly tagged immediately after harvest; you will a physical license on your person. Some public lands require hunters to have a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit.
East Texas hunters are reminded of special regulations including a one gobbler limit by shotgun, archery gear or crossbow only; hunting over bait is prohibited.
Successful hunters in ET counties are required to report the bird to TPWD online or using the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” app. Reports must be filed within 24 hours of harvest.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.