Turkey hunting is very popular due to the growth of turkey populations nationwide. You can hunt turkey in every U.S. state except Alaska, so no matter where you are, you can bag a bird.
If this is your first turkey hunt or you are looking for ways to improve your hunting success, we will discuss the when and where of turkey hunting, what equipment you need to hunt turkey, and give you some helpful tips and tricks to up your hunting game.
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Turkey Hunting Basics
Why do people hunt turkeys? Well, there are many reasons. Some hunters love the challenge of calling a turkey into their sights and making the perfect shot. Others can’t resist the taste of fresh, wild turkey. Still, some people just love that there are ample opportunities to hunt turkeys since there are over 7 million wild turkeys prime for the taking.
Considering the reason you want to hunt can determine the difficulty level. If you just want a weekend out and to take some shots at a few moving targets, you’ll surely find what you’re looking for. If you prefer to plan a detailed strategy and set up in an out-of-the-way location, calling in a turkey for an easy shot, you’ll find that too. No matter what your motivation is, there’s no shortage of turkeys out there.
Types of Turkey to Hunt in the U.S.
There are 5 main types of turkeys to hunt in the United States. These are located in various states.
Eastern turkeys populate areas east of the Mississippi and are the strongest gobblers of all turkeys. They are distinguishable by their chestnut-brown tail feathers and also are considered to have the longest beards. Tom turkeys tend to weigh 18-30 pounds with the female hens weighing slightly less than half their male counterparts.
These smaller birds are found in western states and are most concentrated in the Rockies. These fall in the below-average range in strength of gobble, beard length, and spur length. Merriams sport white-tipped breast feathers and light tips on the tail feathers. They range in size from 18-30 pounds for toms and 8-12 pounds for hens.
Rio Grandes are found in western states such as Kansas, Texas, and Mexico, among others. Their tail feathers sport a tan tip and wing feathers have equal bars of white and black. These turkeys fall in the median range in gobbles, size (toms~20 lbs, hens ~8-12), and beards.
These turkeys are only found in Florida and are infamous for the difficulty in calling them. They are recognized by their black wing feathers with thin white stripes and the dark brown tips of their tail feathers. The toms typically tip the scales at around 20 lbs and the hens at 8-12 lbs. Osceolas also have shorter beards but long spurs.
Gould’s turkeys are only found in New Mexico, Mexico (in the Sierra Madres), and Arizona and are similar in size to other species. They prefer to live in higher elevations and are known by their snow-white tipped tail feathers and mid-range beards and gobbles.
All of this to say, the type of turkey you hunt will likely be dictated by the area you are hunting in. So if you are hoping for a particular species, you will need to plan your hunt in an area where they are plentiful.
Top 9 States to Hunt Turkeys
While most states allow turkey hunting, some states are just better if you’re looking to bag a prize bird. Here are some of the top states for turkey hunting.
Missouri is the state that put turkey hunting on the map, even sending some of their turkey population to other states to grow populations. There is a lot of hunting pressure here though, because of the popularity of the state. However, you can take up to 2 bearded birds and there is ample public land to hunt on. This state has Eastern turkeys and hunters harvest around 50,000 birds each year.
The large turkey population (around a half-million birds) is reason enough for hunting in the area. The state also allows up to 5 birds per person (one per day). Around 40,000 turkeys are harvested by hunters each year. On top of all that, they allow out-of-state hunting and have one of the longest turkey hunting seasons. You can’t go wrong if you head to ‘Bama for your hunt if you’re looking for Easterns.
Wisconsin divides its state into turkey hunting zones and hunters can spend a week in a zone before hopping over to a new one. This allows for quite a few hunts and birds. With 350,000 Easterns in the area, you are sure to bag at least one.
While Nebraska does not boast the same numbers of turkeys, they do have a variety of species you can hunt, which diversifies your haul. You can find Merriams, Rios, and Easterns gobbling their way across the state. This state favors bow hunting, allowing three early weeks for archers to hunt. Nebraska hunting licenses allow you to bring home up to three bearded turkeys, so you can spend time bringing in more than one bird.
Kansas is another state with turkey diversity. The state houses three huntable turkey species; the Rios, Easterns, and Hybrids. With the state’s central location, it’s close to many other states and more than worth a drive. They also host the World Turkey Hunting Championship so you know they have great birds. Half the birds are Rios, which tend to be easier to call and thus, produce a higher level of success. You can harvest up to 2 birds and have access to their Walk-In Hunting Access which allows out-of-state hunters to hunt on various public lands.
Tags are not cheap in Tennessee, but the birds are plentiful and the bag limits generous. You can bag up to 5 birds and enjoy the beautiful landscape as well. Most eastern states can reach Tennessee after a relatively short drive and spend time hunting Easterns on their available public lands.
With over a half million turkeys in Texas, you have plenty of hunting to do. The Rio Grandes are the dominant species although Easterns are huntable too. You can bag up to 4 birds but only one can be an Eastern. Most hunting opportunities for out-of-state residents are guided or semi-guided but on the upside, this type of hunt has an excellent success rate.
Turkey hunting in Florida is great because you don’t ever have to deal with cold weather. Of course, instead you battle bugs, snakes, and humidity. The biggest reason for trekking to this southernmost state is for the Osceola. Whether you are trying to get your Grand Slam or just want to hunt their plentiful public lands, Florida is a great place to hunt both Easterns and the elusive Osceola, which is only found here.
Kentucky is home to over 200,000 Easterns and plenty of public land. However, there is also an abundance of private land and you can knock on doors or book a guided hunt on a prime piece of real-estate for turkey hunting. The state has a 2 bird bag limit and a small hunting window which lessens the number of call-shy birds.
We can’t forget to mention Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi too. No matter where you live, there are hunting opportunities nearby.
When to Hunt Turkey
If you’re wondering when to hunt turkeys, there are a few specifics to be aware of.
Most states have two distinct turkey seasons. All states offer spring turkey hunts but the majority of states (~44 at last count) also allow fall turkey hunts.
In the spring, turkeys are mating and toms are out in search of their mates. This brings them out of their normal habits and makes them more likely to be spotted. However, the further into the season you get, the more call- and gun-shy the turkeys get. So, the sooner, the better is a great motto when planning a turkey hunt.
Turkeys prefer mild weather conditions with temps ranging from 60-69 degrees. They do not like overly hot or cold temps, when they would seek shelter from the conditions. Moderate, calm days are when turkeys will be the most active and the most vocal.
They also restrict their activity and calling on rainy and windy days. However, even in inclement weather, turkeys have to eat and in the rain, will generally seek out open fields to find food. If you happen to find the right field at the right time, you just might get lucky. Here is more info on hunting turkey in various weather conditions.
Time of Day
When looking at the time of day, it really depends on your area. First thing in the morning hunts are generally the best time for anyone, anywhere. However, some areas may see mid-afternoon activity that rivals the morning, while other areas won’t see or hear a gobble until dusk.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon, you may find a stray gobbler or two in search of their mate. If you are patient and quiet, you may be able to call one in close enough for a shot.
Afternoon or evening hunts can be productive as toms look to find a roost filled with some hot hens to shack up with. Just go light on the calling as hens are not vocal at this time of day.
It is up to you to research the activity of the turkeys in your hunting area. Scout the area if it is nearby. Spend a few days just sitting in the area, listening. Keep a journal of active times and times when the turkeys are silent. If you’re far from your hunting area, ask some locals at a nearby hunting shop. These are often hunters themselves and will happily share some tips and tricks to bagging a good-sized bird.
Turkey Hunting Requirements
Certain things need to be taken into consideration when heading out on a turkey hunt. Two of these are the necessary gear and the rules and regulations.
Must-Have Turkey Hunting Gear
You could head out the door with any gun and try to fill your bag limit, but a successful hunt will require some specific pieces of gear. While there are many other products out there to make your turkey hunts easier and more comfortable, we will discuss the must-have gear you simply can’t leave home without.
Proper Weapon and Ammo
It may seem like any gun would suffice to kill turkeys but being overpowered or underpowered is never beneficial. Weapon choices for turkey hunting usually include a bow, shotgun, or muzzleloader. Beginners should start with a 12 or 20-gauge if using a shotgun. The ammo should be a heavy load, usually lead or tungsten. 2.75-3.5 inch loads are best.
For archery turkey hunting, you want to choose one with a minimum of 40 pounds of draw weight. However, don’t go overboard. If you can’t sit back comfortably in full draw, go with a lower draw weight. Compound bows are the best for beginners. Along with your bow, you’ll need broadheads in a variety of blade sizes to ensure you can take down whatever size gobbler comes into range. Mechanical broadheads are a good option although many hunters swear by fixed blades. Spend some time on a practice range to see which you are most accurate with.
If a turkey can see you, you’ll likely never see him. Turkeys have excellent eyesight so be sure you are as invisible as possible. Your hunting clothes can give you away or keep you hidden. You need to know your environment and match the surrounding area. If your camo isn’t a close match, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. This includes your shirt, pants, hat or face covering, and gloves.
Turkey calls are essential for drawing birds to your location. There are box calls, diaphragm calls, mouth calls, wingbone calls, and more. Figure out which call(s) work best for you and then take time to practice making calls until you can cluck, yelp, and purr like a turkey.
A choke will help you adjust your shooting pattern if using a shotgun. These devices adjust your pellet spread more slowly to give you tighter patterns from various distances.
A quality hunting knife has many uses when out in the wilderness. From finishing off a wounded animal to cutting branches to make room for a blind, notching your turkey tag, or harvesting your bird, there are numerous uses for a knife.
Other recommended (but not required) supplies include a hunting blind, insect repellent, a turkey hunting vest or backpack to carry everything in, high-quality boots, decoys, binoculars, and a comfortable seat.
Turkey Hunting Regulations
Turkey regulations vary from state to state. However, what is the same is you will generally need a hunting license and to purchase a turkey hunting permit. The permit will state how many birds, what type you can bag on your hunt, as well as any restrictions on weapons or other gear.
Always carry your tags and license in a safe place in your vest or bag. These need to be safe from adverse weather and can be requested by rangers at any time.
Preparing For the Hunt
There are a few things you will need to do before you head out on a hunt to prepare. Doing these things will help you be ready and more productive while hunting.
Before you decide to take on a turkey hunt, there is some preparation you’ll need to do.
Find an Experienced Buddy
If you are a complete beginner, you’ll learn more quickly if you find a seasoned turkey hunter to come alongside you. An experienced hunter can help you discover specific turkey-hunting strategies, how to scout for turkeys, and where the best places to set up are, as well as any tips for the specific terrain.
Practice With Your Weapon
Take your gun or bow to a range to practice. If using a choke, practice patterning at different distances to determine your effective range. This will give you a good idea of the range you can accurately hit your target out in the field.
Scout The Area
No matter how familiar you are with the area you are going to, birds change their habits from year to year and the landscape can change too. Fallen trees or deforestation can make the area look very different. You also want to know where the turkeys are going for food and to roost. Many hunters overlook this step and place their set up in a bad location or have a hard time finding birds. Don’t be that guy.
Knowing where the roosts are located gives you multiple potential spots and the freedom to move if a bunch of hunters show up to your first location. Avoid hunting pressure whenever possible.
How To Use a Turkey Call
There are many calls to choose from and how you use one differs with each one. Here are basic instructions for two call types.
A mouth call fits inside your mouth and far to the back. You will need to overcome your gag reflex and take time to learn to make various sounds with it.
1. Place the reed in the center of your mouth and use the middle of your tongue to seat it.
2. Do not blow air, but rather huff air from your diaphragm to force air through the call.
3. Practice using a steady stream of air to create a sound. This requires breath control.
4. Listen to the differences between a turkey yelp, purr, gobble, and cackle. Then try replicating these sounds.
5. To cluck, huff fast, forceful bursts of air across the reed(s).
6. Cackling is a series of excited clucks.
After you master these, you can check out this article on how to use a turkey mouth call and refer to the video below for some visuals of the process.
1. First, prep your slate with sandpaper. Sand in a back and forth motion to create straight lines, these are essential to the sound.
2. Hold the call away from your body, with the pot in your non-dominant hand and the striker in your other hand, held like a pencil.
3. With the striker at a 45-degree angle to the pot and run it across lightly. By holding higher or lower on the striker, you can change the pitch of the sound. Practice holding it in different areas to see what these sound like.
4. To make a “yelp” sound, apply light pressure and move the striker in small ovals across the pot. Expand the oval out to sound more like a tom turkey.
5. To make a “cluck” sound, apply medium pressure and quickly drag the striker toward you. Leave the striker in contact and allow it to skip across the ridges or grooves.
There are many more sounds and calls you can make. If you have a box call, wingbone, or another type, you can look up specific techniques or instructions to help you out.
Turkey Hunting Tips
Ok, you’re ready for the hunt. Here are some tips to further help you bag your trophy bird.
When hunting, you will encounter many potential dangers, mainly from other hunters around you. Here are some ways to be safe while hunting turkeys.
Wear Hunter Orange
Some people find this annoying but with the number of hunters out and about and the excellent camouflage many use, this can be the difference between hitting a bird and accidentally shooting a human and facing charges. Besides, it is the law, and you don’t really get a choice. Just do it.
Never Carry an Exposed Kill or Decoy In The Open
Always keep these in a bag. Hunters catching a glimpse of a turkey might attempt to take a shot at a bird they think is moving.
Never Stalk Turkey Sounds
Call turkeys to your location. Turkey sounds may be coming from other hunters and can both drive away birds and cause a potentially deadly situation if what you are shooting turns out to be another hunter.
Back Up Against a Natural Barrier
Placing your back against a tree, rock, or other natural barrier, keeps you protected from other hunters approaching from behind.
Don’t Move, Use Your Voice
If another hunter is approaching, call out “Stop” instead of moving. Sudden movement can be mistaken for a target and can cause a surprised hunter to fire.
Shoot Only At Confirmed Targets
Never shoot at sound or movement. These can be deceiving and turn out to be hunters. Only fire once you visually confirm your target and aim properly at the kill shot zone.
Tips For a Successful Hunt
Now, we have some techniques and tips to help you bag your birds and come home with a good haul.
Draw Your Turkey in Close
The closer your target is, the more likely you are to get a fatal shot. Gently call your bird in and aim carefully before taking your shot. A good piece of advice is to let them come as close as possible until the kill is undeniable.
Don’t Give Up
Even if the morning wasn’t productive, as long as regulations allow it, hunt through the day. Many hunters will head home and call-shy gobblers might revisit areas when things quiet down a bit.
Don’t Assume No Gobbling Equals No Turkeys
Sometimes turkeys don’t gobble for a variety of reasons. Maybe the weather isn’t right, they’re feeling the hunting pressure, or they just don’t feel like it. If you don’t hear gobbling, wait it out and some silent gobblers might move into range.
Turkey hunting requires patience. Many turkeys are weary of the same hunting song and dance and will take time to for them to come out. Some just hang out in their roosts longer than expected. Either way, being patient will most often lead to success.
Balance Your Calling
Don’t overcall or undercall. Even responsive gobblers may lose interest if you call too much because it’s not natural. Also, a tom who thinks a hen has lost interest will move in to find her. Turn the tables and make the birds hunt you.
Keep a Wing Close By
Some hunters have found success using a wing from a previous year to clinch the attention of a tom. Once they’ve answered the call, waving a wing in a natural way may entice them into range.
Hunt The Evening
Many states allow evening hunting and this tends to be a less popular time for hunters. Although an evening hunt requires a different strategy, this can be a prime time to hunt turkeys.
Turkey hunting, like most other hunting, comes with it’s own challenges, techniques, and rules. However, this is an activity you can do in nearly every U.S. state so it’s a great opportunity for turkey hunting beginners.
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