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Tips to give you an edge on those wary gobblers


Spring Is a Special Season


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Working a big adult robin-breasted tom into range takes a lot of skill, patience, knowledge and mastery of specialized gear. Kenny Darwin photo

May 01, 2009
My heart was pounding as I shouldered the Benelli and put the Tru Glo bead on the huge gobbler walking directly at me. He strutted 25 yards away, walked behind a tree and let out a gobble that made me jump out of my seat, and I damn near jerked the trigger. I knew he was hung up behind the big oak. I expected him to walk around the tree and I could take him. I called all I could, purred and clucked and brought him through the forest into kissin' range but now he was too close.

When his bright red head moved from behind the cover, I readied for the shot. Just as he stepped into the open, I fired and bagged the 11-inch bearded bird. I sat next to the beautiful prize, admired his colorful plumage and thought back on all the preparation necessary for a successful hunt. Here are a few tips that will give you an edge on those wary gobblers this spring.

Practice

Makes Perfect

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Already have a turkey shotgun

and want to maximize your effectiveness in the field? Then, you need to practice shoot with different loads and choke combinations to determine the"best" choke and shell for your gun. Every shotgun shoots differently, many have unbalanced patterns where the shot is displaced high or low off target; others tend to throw patterns with large holes. The trick is to select a choke that provides a balanced pattern with no holes and shot are spread evenly around the center. My choice for my Benelli is a Comp-N-Choke XXX Full tube which gives super tight patterns at long distances.

Next, concentrate on the size shot you want. Most turkey hunters like No. 6 shot because it gives a dense pattern. For instance, Winchester 3-inch, 2-ounce turkey loads No. 4 shot has about 300 pellets. If your gun has a 30-inch pattern at 35 yards using this load and it has a balanced pattern, you will cover the circle and have a pellet every 2.5 inches. No.5 shot will provide one pellet every 2 inches and No. 6 gives roughly one pellet every 1.4 inches. That is why hunters like No. 6 shot.

I'm different, and like the knockdown power a No. 4 gives when hitting a big bird like a 25 lb. gobbler. Guess I've learned about No. 6 shot and how it cripples ducks and geese, so I like heavier shot. My Comp-N-Choke is not made to shoot No. 4, so I settle on No. 5 shot. Of course, all this is elementary when your target is inside 20 yards, which is where I like them when I drop the hammer. But the main reason you should practice is to develop an accurate load that throws a balanced pattern containing enough shot to dump an adult gobbler at the range you intend to hunt.

There are several reliable aftermarket chokes available including: Comp-N-Choke, Jelly Head, Pure Gold, Tight Wad, Strut Stopper, Undertaker, Gobble Stopper and Super Max for Heavi-Shot.

Every turkey hunter needs a comfortable sling to carry the gun when that big gobbler is draper over the other shoulder. Slings are ideal for hunter safety and help when you carry decoys, chair and blind. I'm sold on the Claw Sling. Take a peek at the Claw Contour Sling.

Want to trick-out your gun? Don't forget a camo pistol grip, LimbSaver Recoil Pad and Tru Glo Red dot Sight.

Camo Crazy

My hunting buddies say I'm nuts about matching my camouflage to the environment where I'm chasing gobblers. Years of hunting wild turkeys with telephoto lens has taught me that he who blends with the outdoors is spotted less by the wary eyes of big birds and you will have less hang-ups and make more clean kills.

Most hunters assume that when Mr. Gobbler slams on the brakes at 50 yards that he is hung-up because there isn't a live hen close or he is waiting to hear that perfect tone from a love sick hen call. Truth is, most of the time a turkey stops approaching because he sees you. It might be your hand movements with the calls, maybe the bottom of your boots are all black, or your face mask doesn't quite completely cover your white skin; but the sharp eyes of a wild turkey can pick up minute detail like few other critters in the wild.

If you want to succeed at killing toms you need to camouflage everything, hands, face, boots, clothing and gun. In addition, you need to match the camo to the environment. April hunters can use deer camo, no problem. But when weather warms, rain comes and rich green grasses and leaves suddenly show, it is time to switch from brown camo outfits and get out the military green outfit.

I love hunting the late season, in area ZZ of Southern Michigan. One of my deadliest tricks is to spray paint clothing, tennis shoes, hat, and gun to match the green May woodlands. I begin by purchasing mail order camo from US Infantry. I get either woodland camo green or tigerstipe and I spray the brown areas or black patches with Rusto-Oleum American Accents Leafy Green Satin. When I'm finished I match the environment perfectly and I can sneak though the green vegetation with camera gear, which is also camo painted, and have outstanding results.

Let me make one point perfectly clear, I have no pet turkeys or monster bucks. I'm a field nut, hell bent on hunting wild critters in their natural environment with gun, bow and especially camera. My models are wild, wary and damn difficult to approach, call or coax into camera range. In order to fill the frame of my 400mm lens I need to be inside 25 yards of a big gobbler, a daunting task for those who lack advanced woodsmanship skills or don't understand the characteristics of wild turkeys. While most turkey hunters spend a few days in the woods, I'm chasing longbeards the entire season. It is my opinions that poor camouflage and body movement are two mistakes rookie hunters make that ruin easy hunts. What about you? Ever looked in the mirror to inspect your hunting garb for areas that need touch up work?

Turkey Skinz

I was overjoyed to get a note from fellow outdoor communicator, Fred Abbas, with a package containing A Way Hunting Products Turkey Skinz. My first impression was the product looked and felt like real feathers; that's because they are. They're made of real turkey feathers perfectly layered to make a plastic decoy look like a live bird. They attach in seconds by wrapping around the decoy with handy Velcro straps and they will work on hen or tom decoys.

I put mine on a feeding hen decoy, set it in a clearing, made a few calls and soon had a Jake interested. I snapped pictures as the bird came in for a close look, then wiggled out of sight. My next set up was on the edge of a Jackson County field in farm country where I saw a pair of longbeards the day before. The sun was high; it was getting warm outdoors when I placed the hen decoy on a small knoll and tucked into the brush. I made several calls and nothing appeared.

The warm sun made me sleepy and I crawled into a shady spot and took a quick nap. When I woke the wind was blowing and the grass was swaying around the decoy. That's when I noticed the pair of gobblers coming my way. I gave them a few soft love purrs and one bird immediately gobbled, made a big jump forward and the pair raced toward me. I could see the beard swinging on the first tom as I readied the Benelli. But the duo slammed on the brakes, stood tip-toed 40 yards away.

For an instant I thought the wind blew down the decoy, so I glanced at the hen covered with Turkey Skinz. Man, it looked perfect and the thing I noticed most was how the feathers would move, flap occasionally in the wind, making the decoy look real. One look at the toms confirmed my feeling; the pair was coming fast at the decoy. They were fooled to the max, completely convinced the hen decoy with feathers was the real deal, slightly bent, she appeared ready for breeding. I let them surround the fake bird with a Phyllis Diller feathered overcoat. Man, these toms were convinced. They began struttin', draggin' their wingtips on the ground and the bird with the longest beard slowly slipped up on the back side of the decoy.

When he attempted to breed the fake it fell to the ground and the duo jumped in the air, made an alarm putt and they ran a few yards and stopped to look back at their sweetheart hugging the ground. That's when Mr. Benelli sounded my presence. Heck, I'm not going to let a tom turkey walk after abusing my decoy, making sexual advances and knocking it to the hard earth. The point is this, Turkey Skinz make dead looking decoys come to life, period. Excellent product, Fred!

I've had plenty of fun hunting over full body gobbler decoys in full fan. Most are lightweight, heavy duty and have photo realistic fan tail that moves in the wind. I've had toms come running for these decoys looking for a fight. Caution! Hunt with these decoys and the realism fools hunters too.

I think there is an advantage when using tom decoys. Other birds can see them at long distances and when combined with other decoys the spread mimics live birds in a love circle. This drives big toms crazy and you can expect breeding gobblers to approach with guard down. Is your decoy ready for opener?

Calling All Gobblers

Look inside my turkey vest and you will be amazed at the variety of calls. Each serves a purpose. The box call can be heard in high wind and long distances and offers full realistic, high quality turkey talk. Slate or friction calls come in handy when convincing call-shy birds that love sweet, smooth talk. A mouth call can make clucks, yelps and cutts that are loud or super soft purrs that are idealistic when birds are kissin' close and you want to close the deal and need both hands to get the bead on a tom that is at close range.

I believe in switching calls to get the attention of birds is important. Sometimes they want it loud or raspy; other days they want a high-pitched hen purr. But many hunters do not practice enough to get good with their call. A turkey call is exactly like a musical instrument, the more you practice the better you sound and the more tones you can make. The trick is to give'em realistic sounds and plenty of variety. If you call turkeys and they go the opposite direction you need to work on your calling skills. Savvy hunters can call the majority of toms they see into shotgun range. The trick is to be good enough, sound like a real bird and call them all, not just the occasional Jake.

Relax And

Be Happy

Seasoned longbeards have humbled many great hunters. The turkey's eyesight and ability to detect movement is 10 times keener than a monster buck. After years of failing at what seemed a futile pursuit, I discovered the secret to turkey hunting success: a ground blind. Once I used a ground blind my luck changed. You see, turkeys seem to ignore the structure. You can be inside dancing a jig, eating lunch, talking on the cell phone and the camo netting nullifies a turkey's best defense, his eyes, by concealing your movement. If you plan to hunt with a friend, family member or youth, I suggest you use a blind.

Turkey hunting can be a waiting game and to enhance your hunt and feel comfortable you need a seat. Michigan's camo clad army uses a variety of pads that come with vests, but a folding Gobble Lounger or H.S. Strut deluxe seat is a good investment. Seats help to keep you comfortable and if you are comfortable you move less and spook fewer turkeys.

When I'm sitting in my camo blind I like to use the Bull all terrain stool which has adjustable legs oversized leg caps and swivel seat. I also like the Primos Double Bull Tri-Stool designed at the perfect height to see out window openings.

There are plenty of other gadgets to consider for turkey opener. Gerber makes a hunting kit designed to customize your ambush site which includes wood saw, ratchet pruner, turkey carrier, spur measuring tape, all nestled in a nylon belt sheath.

Michigan has had a long, cold winter with plenty of snow. When the weather breaks, get out scouting soon as turkeys start to disperse throughout the Wolverine State countryside. Spring is a special season and I hope you get outdoors to enjoy the sweet smell of Mother earth, the sound of singing robins and the distant gobble of a big tom turkey calling to attract mates.

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