Ten years ago there were no turkeys where I hunt. Now there are turkeys in three different timbers near my house. Because of the quick uptick in turkey numbers, many Iowans are beginning to chase toms in the spring. If you are noticing more turkeys where you hunt, and want to start hunting them, here is the approach that I took to bag my first bird. My next blog on turkey hunting will address calling and stand set-ups in more detail, but the information in this article is enough to give you a fighting chance. Let me know if you have any questions.
What you will need
All you need for your first turkey hunt is a diaphragm call, light-weight camouflage, a shotgun, and a single hen decoy. I have never used a blind and the first turkey I shot was coming into a fifteen dollar styrofoam hen decoy. If you gag when you use a diaphragm call you can use a slate call. A slate call is a good idea for long range calling, but to start out a diaphragm call is all you need. I would advise wearing a facemask because turkeys can see well.
Location For a Hunt
The precise location is more important for a turkey hunt than any other animal. Unlike coyotes that will run in from half a mile away or deer that roam all day during the rut, once turkeys fly off the roost and flock up your chance of success drops dramatically. Find where the turkeys roost the night before and then be within 100 yards of that tree the next morning. I have called turkeys into trees the evening before, but sometimes it can be too tempting to try to shoot them that evening. It’s a better idea to play it safe and watch them roost from afar. Turkeys don’t roost in the same tree every night though, so don’t think watching them roost once is good enough. Continue to scout each night before a hunt and get to your stand very early. The closer you are in the morning the less you will have to call. And the less you call the less likely you will get busted by a tom.
Call them in
Just like duck hunting, a decoy in the right location and holding still is more valuable than calling. Give a few clucks when you hear the first toms gobble in the morning. If you are in the right spot, simply saying chuck with a diaphragm call in your mouth is enough to coax in a tom. I like to make sure the turkey knows I am there before he flies down, but don’t call when the turkey is on the roost too much or he will sit and wait for the hen to walk under his tree. Last season the tom I shot jumped from branch to branch before dropping to the ground 10 yards from me and fifteen yards from my decoy.
Get them close
I had to learn the hard way that turkeys are harder to kill than you would think. I chased down my first turkey after wounding it with my shotgun fifty yards out. Now I would let that tom come in much closer. Thick feathers and small heads make turkeys deceptively hard to kill. Hold very still, let the tom get up close to your decoy, and aim small. If you think the tom is getting anxious watch for his head to change color. If it goes from a blue color to bright red he might be getting ready to take off. Like all animals you will learn to read body language with experience.
Lonesome hen late season
In Iowa there is less turkey hunting pressure than other states. This is good because it means you can hunt the later longer seasons without worrying about call-shy birds. I started out waiting until season four and five of Iowa’s turkey season and taking out a single hen decoy. Late in the season toms will come into single hen decoys. I will hunt the earlier season with a jake-hen combo if I am using my bow. For a first hunt just set a single hen fifteen yards out and slump against a tree. You will be hooked on turkey hunting in no time.