Creeping into the final stages of an approach on a turkey can be adrenaline filled. Controlled micro movements fill space and time, walking with the delicacy of treading on rice paper. It’s time to think about a few things as you close distance, initiate calling and set up for the moment you send pellets downrange. You should consider approachability, visibility and concealment. This trio of hunting dynamics is a fundamental basic in nearly all hunting scenarios.
Turkey hunting is no different.
The approachability we’re leaning into is the gobbler’s ability to approach you. A hen typically travels to the gobbler when she’s ready to mate. You’re subverting the natural arrangement when you attempt to lure a gobbler in. If you plan to be successful, allow the gobbler to approach your calling and setup with ease.
Give a gobbler a reason to ignore your call and they’ll happily take it.
Avenues of Approach
An incoming gobbler needs approachability like you need to see the target incoming. As most animals do, a turkey prefers a route of least resistance. Know your surroundings and the routes the gobbler will likely take to approach your calls and set up. Be especially aware of blind spots. Nothing is worse than being caught off guard by a mature tom that magically appears well within range and can easily spot your movements while you try to set up a shot.
Plain and simple, you’ll most likely never have 360-degree visibility. The most obvious reason is you’ll probably be sitting against a tree, bush or some sort of supportive cover. While 360 degrees of coverage is hard to obtain, scour the landscape and see where all of your shot opportunities might be. Off the sides, behind in your blind spots and the numerous windows in front of yourself. Total heartbreak occurs when you call a mature tom into range and miss your shot opportunities due to the lack of a lane.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Your setup needs to provide good visibility. You do not. Turkeys have outstanding vision and it will pay off to conceal yourself from their prying eyes. Don’t worry about scent in turkey hunting. Turkeys do have a sense of smell, but it doesn’t guide their intuition in the woods. Their eyes are the biggest form of defense along with their hearing. Turkeys see color well and quickly spot anything that looks out of place. Setting up with an object like a tree, stump or shrub helps the cause.
Setting up this way blurs your camouflaged outline and helps absorb any slow movements needed as you work your turkey calls and aim your weapon. Earth tones will work, but camouflage is recommended.
A turkey’s head turns red, blue and white. Don’t wear these colors. A gobbler will spot you easily. Or another hidden careless hunter in the woods might send a care package full of hot #6s in your direction in a case of mistaken identity.
Covering your face and hands is essential. Your face mask should allow you to insert calls into your mouth without having to raise it or lower it. If need be, you can cut a small hole in your mask for this purpose. Your gloves should be lightweight and flexible so that you can manipulate your turkey calls and work your bow or shotgun without hassle.
If you can’t hold still in the woods, pricey camo is useless. Movement detection is a strong survival attribute turkeys are well suited for. Also, an approaching gobbler is going to investigate any and all movements in his field of vision while approaching the source of calling. Be absolutely still when the turkey is in eyesight. Your windows of opportunity to align the shotgun are when the turkey is navigating towards you and moving behind trees, when the gobbler struts and the tail fan blocks his vision or he looks the other way. Even then, move with extreme care.
Turkey Hunting Pop-Up Blinds
A pop-up blind makes camouflage simple; nearly entering the realm of cheating. Blinds don’t come without their faults. The contraptions are a hassle to carry around and they take time to set up. It’s almost impossible for the turkey to see you or your movements, though.
Most bowhunters regard pop-up blinds as necessities. An archer needs to rise up to his knees to shoot, a movement that can be hard to pull off without being detected by a turkey standing just yards away. Otherwise, the bowhunter will be looking for a perfectly placed shrub or tree to hide behind to draw the bow and peek around to aim. Shotgun hunters are equally benefited by pop-up blinds. Though many feel the extra barrier between the birds and themselves is an unwanted intrusion.
The experience of a turkey hunt is much purer and rawer when nothing but air separates you from the thunder of a turkey’s gobble.
Sweet Talking Toms
As mentioned before, hens typically move to gobblers when ready to breed. If you’re going to play with nature’s game book, your calling needs to be well thought out and practiced.
I hesitate to write even a single word on this subject. Mastering the skill of calling turkeys is difficult. Watching and hearing how calls are used and manipulated to make the correct sounds is essential.
If you don’t have a local turkey calling champion in your neck of the woods, YouTube is your new best friend. Experts are eager to share their secrets of calling. Look up Will Primos and Brad Farris.
Another resource is The National Wild Turkey Federation. The website has a catalog of basic turkey sounds and audio recordings of real birds in the wild. If you don’t use the internet, find the instructional DVDs and CDs from Will Primos. A little homework pays tasty dividends.
In most walks of life, keeping it simple is a solid bet. Only walk into the woods with calls that you are well practiced and proficient with. If you’re gonna get serious about turkey hunting, learn how to use a diaphragm-style mouth call and either a slate or glass pot call.
The slate call is a tried and true turkey call. The call works by the friction of the striker across the slate’s surface. Slate calls are user friendly and produce authentic turkey sounds. Always carry an extra striker or two; they love to return to the woods and stay.
The slate call is all you really need to kill a turkey. If you don’t have the time or inclination to dive so deeply into turkey calling, then learn to use a slate. These aren’t as versatile as mouth calls, but they are much easier to learn. If you were going to add a third call, I’d add an old-fashioned wooden box call.
Box calls are made from many varieties of wood, often works of art in both the craftsmanship and the sound quality. The artisans of the turkey hunting world tune these to perfection. Box calls create sounds with the most volume when the friction of the lid is stroked across the top edges of the box.
Due to the volume a box call can fill the woods with, it’s a prime tool for windy conditions and wide-open country.
The Sounds of Turkey Language
Again, simplicity can be an effective strategy when producing turkey sounds. You can kill turkeys anywhere with two sounds: the cluck and the yelp.
We can’t read the screwy thoughts of a wild turkey. Yet, the overarching opinion in turkey hunting states the cluck seems to signify contentment. It’s also an effective call to get a gobbler’s attention.
The yelps are a bit more complex. The delivery of the yelp calls will signify the meaning. Start soft with yelps and increase volume as needed. Less is more. A gobbler receptive to calling will respond just as well to this call as they will any other.
As you study turkey calling, the cluck and the yelp should be your starting points.
The purr and cut turkey calls are your next steps. A purr is a quiet call that seems to signify contentment. Easy to master on the slate, but difficult with a diaphragm. The purr generally boils the blood with the heat of sexual tension in gobblers. This is a soft call, best utilized when the gobblers are hanging up just out of reach.
The cut contrasts heavily from the soft purr. The sounds of the cuts are loud, sharp clucks that carry a long way. They are very effective to get a gobbler’s attention in the distance. The cut is an excited, aggressive sound, and it should be used sparingly.
Calling Amount, Cadence and Volume
Making a turkey call sound is harder than understanding when to utilize the call. Novice hunters often make the mistake of calling too often.
Call just enough and just loud enough to entice the tom. Too much calling will cause a tom to lose interest. Let em know you’re interested, but don’t be shy about playing hard to get. A gobbler that’s ready to breed will often only need a few soft clucks. Anything louder or additional calls could send the tom in a different direction.
Conversely, if the gobbler is playing hard to get, then, by all means, switch it up. Remember to keep your efforts sparse at first and only let the excitement increase if you find that the gobbler simply refuses to heed your calling.
The cadence of calls is nearly as important as the noise produced. Without this understanding, you won’t be an effective caller. Listen to the audio recordings on NWTF, watch and listen to quality YouTube videos and take notes.
You’ve located some turks and the calls you’ve been sending through the timber are being responded by gobbles. This is the make or break moment in the turkey hunt.
It’s a good reminder that before you get to this point, you outta check on a couple of things. Is there a shell chambered? Do you have a grasp on the avenues of approach a gobbler will come in? Does your camo have you concealed against your backdrop? If so, then start the calling sequence with a shotgun in the ready position resting on a knee.
The best place to rest your shotgun is over your knee when leaning against a tree. Put the shotgun stock up to your shoulder. You’ll need to move the gun less in order to make a shot. Aim your muzzle and have your body oriented towards the most likely approach the gobbler will make. Think about how you’ll make this shot and the variety of ways the turkey can move. Take a mental note of all necessary movements and plan them to be executed with ease in the moment.
Before ripping off your first call, have you also thought about distances? I always try to carry a laser rangefinder. Read the distances to trees or landmarks in your zone. Your maximum shooting distance will depend on your expertise and a combination of the morals and ethics in your head. For general purposes here, we can safely limit our shots to 40 yards with a shotgun and 30 yards with a bow.
Aim, Breath and Squeeze
The flesh of your finger pressing into the metal of the trigger of a shotgun is an exhilarating experience. This is the final moment of the work and preparation you’ve poured your time into. It’s also the final moment of the turkey’s life. You owe it to yourself and the animal for a well-executed shot, your freezer will thank you.
You want to hit the turkey in the head and neck when utilizing a shotgun. The turkey’s head is a small target and is quite the opposite of stationary. Plenty of hunters miss shots on turkeys every year.
Most of these missed shots are a consequence of shooting too high, sending the pellets rushing above the tom’s head. An easy trick to avoiding this mistake is to aim for the waddles on the turkey’s neck, and to never let the head of a tom be covered by the muzzle when a turkey is within 40 yards.
Find your target while relaxing your mind. Aim, breath and squeeze.
Feature image via Captured Creative.