When you talk about turkey hunting, many images come to mind. Visions of chasing Easterns in the hills of the Smokey Mountains come to mind. To some the gobbles of Osceola’s in the palmetto swamps of Florida are what dreams are made of. To others a Rio Grande in full strut on the plains of a Texas ranch is what first comes to mind. Too few of us think of pursuing birds in the rolling hills of the eastern part of the state, or matching wits in the thick forests in the Fort Lewis area.
This is the first of a two part series about the turkey hunting opportunities in the Evergreen State. Today will cover what you need to take up the sport and next we will cover tactics and where to go in the state. So let’s get you outfitted to hunt these birds.
Turkey hunting is like no other bird hunting you have ever done. It combines waterfowling, big game, and upland bird hunting. While you may have done one or all of these, you need to take a few of the skills and modify them just a bit. You will also need to adapt your equipment. First, the weapon you will choose.
There are a few that will tackle the birds with archery and a muzzleloader, but we will mainly be talking about modern firearm hunting. Chances are if you hunt any other type of birds you have a 12 gauge and that will be a good start. Hopefully you have a newer gun that has screw-in chokes. Turkey hunting requires you to put many pellets in an area the size of a tennis ball. Head shots are the rule and a tight pattern is a must.
Most upland hunting is done with a modified choke and this will be much too wide. Even the full chokes some use is not tight enough. For your weekend bird gun, you should have no problem finding an extra full turkey choke. Many of these extend beyond the muzzle of you gun to obtain the tightest patterns. With this tight pattern you want as many pellets as you can safely stuff in you gun. Three-inch shells are good, with the super mag three and one half even better.
If you are lucky enough to own one of those fancy shotguns with a gloss barrel and polished walnut stock, then you need to cover it. Turkeys have fantastic vision. Any shiny metal will quickly frighten the bird well out of shotgun range. A matte finish and dull stock or black synthetic will work, with a fully camouflage gun the best. If you do not want to buy a new gun (I know no reason not to), then try the many products that you can use to cover it. They range from camo socks, to tape that you can fully cover every part of the gun. The choice is yours.
Now that you have the gun, you need to know what to put into it. As mentioned the super mag shells are the best medicine around for these birds, but look at any sporting goods store and there are numerous choices. From past experience, copper plated number 4’s or 6’s work. There are many duplex rounds that try and combine the best of both worlds. They put both sizes in one shell. The most important thing is to find what your gun/choke likes best. Every gun will pattern a load differently so experiment with different brands. To pattern, buy one of the targets with a turkey head on it. Shoot from a range of about 30-40 yards and find which gives you the tightest pattern.
Ok, gun and shells are ready; you need to know what to wear. Your brown leaf pattern for elk, or the marshland pattern for ducks will not work. These birds are hunted during the spring when the woods are green. Early season bowhunters probably have stuff that will work. Like bowhunting, you must cover every inch of your body. Any exposed skin will stand out to these birds and the bigger toms did not get that way by being stupid. Camo paint, or facemasks are a must. Remember that the weather is usually warmer than you are used to so lighter weight camo and footwear is usually in order.
Like ducks, you will need to call to the birds. There are tons of calls on the market, each with their own degree of difficulty. Many of the push button calls are easy for the beginner and can produce the yelps and purrs needed. Slate and box calls are a little more difficult and do require two hands. Diaphragm calls can be used hands free and can make more calls than any other, but they are also the most difficult to use. Along with the call buy a tape so you can hear what the call should sound like before you head out. A locater call is a good way to find the roosting birds so add one of those to the list.
Other gear that comes in handy, a comfortable seat so that you don’t fidget just as the bird comes into range. A blaze orange carry bag for hauling your trophy out of the woods is a nice. You can almost get as many turkey decoys as duck. My decoys are a combination of two hens with a jake, but you can get gobblers in full strut and even a tom/hen-mating decoy! That is the fun of it; you can convince the significant other which gear is “needed” to hunt these birds.
So now you have your shopping list ready, and will soon be financing the sporting goods dealer’s vacation, we will next tell you how and where to put that gear to use.