To be a consistently successful spring turkey hunter, you need to prepare long before opening day. As a professional turkey hunter who travels to many states and as a television cameraman/field producer, I have a ton of things to do to prepare for my annual ‘Chasing Spring’ expedition and battle with the feathered warriors.
Preparation for turkey hunting season
I hope my top 10 preseason preparations will help you have your best season ever.
- Gear and turkey call checklist
Now is the time to inventory your calls and hunting equipment-don’t wait until the evening before the season opener. Match proper strikers with pots, slate and glass, clean and tune box calls, replenish chalk and sandpaper. Break in multiple diaphragm mouth calls, insert toothpick between reeds to separate, rinse with water, then place in a plastic bag and put in the freezer until you get closer to the season. Meanwhile, practice with older mouth calls.
As the king of losing things during the heat of battle, I have a great tip for keeping track of your mouth calls. I use a snuff can I made with an attachment for my mouth call. I just snap it on my shirt or jacket and my mouth calls are in easy reach and I don’t lose them
Organize your calls, clean and tune then and always put together two sets in case of loss or breakage. If you use a turkey vest, put two vests together, keep the second vest in your hunting rig. I use a backpack for my calls and camera gear. When I set up, I simply place the open backpack on the ground next to me for easy access to calls and camera accessories. Make sure your Thermacell bug repellent device is replenished and packed and also pack a quality first aid kit. Put fresh batteries in flashlights and cap lights and back extra batteries. Organize and pack your camera gear.
- Practice, practice, practice
Make calling practice schedule and practice religiously. It makes all the difference during hunting season. While sessions indoors are better better than nothing during bad weather or at night, practicing outdoors is much better for realism. Mouth call practice in the truck is not only valuable, but could possibly save your marriage. Set up in the woods with avideo camera 50 or 60 yards away from you, then run through your different calls and listen to the recording. This is what the gobbler hears and helps with realism in your calling.
- Study turkeys: reading, videos, observations
Read everything you can find about regulations, laws and the rules of the state you will hunt. Study websites; pick up regulations pamphlets and keep one in the truck. Check and double check that you have the proper permits and tags before you hunt.
Watch TV shows and DVDs about turkey hunting, not so much for the host or hunters, but to watch and listen to turkeys. Watch the hunts and analyze what they did or didn’t do. Listen to recordings or watch videos of wild turkeys. Take it all in as part of training for the upcoming season.
- Exercise and sleep
Thanksgiving and Christmas are rough on all of us, with so much food and wintertime laying around the house. Exercise is important, especially for us old guys. Focus on cardio exercise and get extra sleep. It might seem like a little thing but it will make a big difference come hunting season. Check your town for a good fitness center. St. Louis as an actual hunting workout place called “Fit2Hunt” with a personal trainer. It even offers online personal training-check it out at fit2huntperformance.com.
I exercise early morning since that’s when we turkey hunt. I go to a gym at 6 a.m. on weekdays, get on a treadmill, bike, stepper and sometimes go for a swim. As the season gets closer, I walk with my dog––some of my best workouts are walking the woods, ridges, hills and hollers, just like during turkey season. I do this at least three times a week. Scouting is great exercise as well.
- Blinds, seats, chairs and cushions
Pop-up blinds have become a valuable turkey hunting accessory. I do my share of running and gunning or just setting up against a tree in a pre-scouted location. But in inclement weather, on a field edge, or in tight on a roost, a blind becomes very effective. Before the season, pop open your blind on a warm sunny day, air it out, replace broken rods and fasteners. Match chairs for the right height and practice aiming out shooting windows. Locate last year’s cushions, clean and store them with the blind.
- Schedules and great food
I always write and print a schedule of hunts with dates, including who I am hunting with, their email and phone numbers and directions to hunting area. I also note if I’ve hunted the area before and include maps and notes from the last hunt. If I am part of a turkey camp, I love to make out a menu for meals for each day. It’s always fun to go shopping with a couple of the guys at a local store to pick up perishable groceries for camp.
- Turkey guns and patterning
This could be an article in itself. Go through your turkey gun, take it apart and clean it thoroughly. You tend to fire your turkey gun much less than guns you use for other types of hunting. Many hunters I’ve met have taken a new turkey gun into the woods without ever shooting, let alone patterning it. In my past media camps, we’d sometimes get guns shipped in from sponsors. We would have our outdoor writers shoot light loads at clay birds, just to get the feel for the gun they would be hunting with-we wanted them to get used to shouldering it, taking the safety off , shooting and reloading.
It’s also hugely important to pattern your turkey gun from a shooting bench in a controlled environment-you want to know what load will put the maximum amount of pellets where you want them to go.
You also should practice shooting your shotgun while seated and wearing all the clothing you’ll wear in the woods, especially your jacket or vest, face mask and gloves. Good turkey hunters often pattern their shotguns wearing all their gear and sitting down as if hunting.
- Aerial and topo maps of hunting areas
I am a huge advocate of topographic maps and use them religiously. On scouting trips, I mark gobble locations and roost areas. I study topo maps for all the areas I hunt. Before a recent trip to Oklahoma for a spring outdoor writer hunt and television shoot I studied topo maps of the ranch for days, long before leaving home. This preparation made a big difference for proper camera set-ups when hunting. I always knew where I was on the ranch and what the terrain features were out of my line of sight.
- Hunting truck, UTV, ATV
Go through your hunting truck. Inspect the tires, get the oil changed, maybe a tune-up. Clean out any unnecessary items. Do whatever is necessary to have your truck ready for extensive travel. Then pack your hunting gear in your rig just before the season so you are ready to go.
Have your side-by-side or ATV serviced. You do not want to break down during your long-anticipated hunt.
- Low-impact scouting with a turkey call
When turkeys begin gobbling, get out there undetected, keep your distance and listen to the gobbles. Don’t just listen at daylight, listen after the birds fly down to determine where they travel.
Scout an area and learn terrain features before spring green-up. This helps you find poop and feathers and scratching and dusting areas.(Remember, big poop, means a big turkey.)
Then I go the next step and call. Instead of an owl or crow call I like a turkey call. Cutting and yelping can help locate roost areas and locate them throughout the day.
I don’t want to call them in and get discovered. I call to make them react so I know where they are.
So, I’ll move and call, just making sounds that turkeys make. It doesn’t shut any turkeys down and now I’m better prepared. I know what the turkeys do, what time they do it, and their general direction of travel.
You, too, can learn all of this simply by watching, listening and calling.