The clock has whirled rapidly around, the circle has completed itself and another spring is upon us. Another month of spring turkey lies ahead.
I myself love — and dread — gobbler season. I love the quest, everything about it, even the many defeats and frustrations, but dread the agony of those 4 a.m. alarms. When you’re exhausted, it’s tough climbing out of that warm bed.
But there are those special mornings when dawn’s first light cracks the dark skyline with the faint, golden streaks of light, when only you and the Lord are there to watch. If you’re lucky, a brazen gobble will cut the crisp, clean air, making getting out of bed more than worth the effort required.
It’s then, with a softened heart, you thank God for this day, your freedoms and especially for the magnificent gobblers He created. Then the hunt can begin.
There are many conflicting opinions about how close a hunter should get to a gobbler on the roost. Anyone who’s hunted out of a tree stand knows how much farther you can see when you’re 20 feet up in the air. In fact, there have been many times I’m unable to see the bright, fluorescent orange pack in my tree stand when standing beside the deer I shot from it. You can count on the fact a roosted turkey stands a far better chance of seeing you before you can ever see him.
EARLY IN THE SEASON when there are no leaves on the trees hunters must be very careful. I’ve busted more turkeys from the roost than I care to remember. A gobbler’s sharp eyes can easily spot you from afar.
That doesn’t mean he’ll always fly, though. He may stop gobbling for a few minutes, then begin again if you move no closer. You think he didn’t see you, but you’re wrong. He’ll gobble and gobble, then fly off in another direction. Even if he isn’t sure just what he saw or heard, he will not move in your direction once suspicious. Though he didn’t actually fly away, consider the bird busted. You gave yourself away and just didn’t realize it.
Set-up is becoming ever more important. I’m convinced a 3-year-old gobbler realizes that funny looking lump at a tree base is something to be treated with extreme suspicion. Try to use existing brush or limbs to break up your outline whenever possible.
A big gobbler’s greatest asset are his eyes. Your camouflage pattern must match the area and foliage you’re hunting in. It’s self-defeating to wear a dark camo pattern when the predominant trees on the ridge are white oak or maples with their very light bark. Dark camo’s fine if you’re sitting against a hemlock or red oak with their shaded, almost black trunks.
If your camouflage pattern is mismatched to the trees surrounding you with a gobbler close by, try to quickly position yourself so the turkey cannot see you until he is within shotgun range or move behind other natural cover or shaded side of a tree. The important thing is to be aware of the colors and shades of the natural world surrounding you when setting up.
I BELIEVE the most effective patterns made today all have very light grey or off-white in them to help break up your outline. The camouflage pattern you love at arm’s length when viewed at a distance has a strong tendency to merge into one general color or shade, not the many you see up close. Hang your jacket up, walk off 50 yards and look back at it. You might be surprised at what you really see.
If you have read any of my columns before you know I am constantly preaching about patterning your shotgun. Still, the great majority of hunters I speak with have never patterned their guns — or do so at the wrong range.
Even some experts writing in national magazines seem to have no real concept of what they are doing. One, for instance, took specialized turkey loads costing about $4 a piece and patterned it at 25 yards. Why in the world you would ever do that is beyond me. Any full-choke shotgun shooting a trap load of 7s or 8s will kill a turkey at that range every single time if placed on target.
In the same vein of thought, any shotgun with a modern turkey choke and a quality turkey load in the chamber should kill a gobbler out to 40 yards. Still, even though chokes and shells are continuously improving, you must pattern your gun to make sure your choke was marked correctly at the factory or that your sights are on.
One friend had a shocking surprise when he discovered his choke was really improved cylinder. And he wondered why he missed a gobbler at 40 yards.
I have purchased two chokes that shot a foot low and left. Whether they were threaded at a slight angle or bored off-center is hard to say, but if I hadn’t shot them I’d never have known.
A TURKEY head is small, so it makes sense to pattern your shotgun on a regular 8.5- by 11-inch sheet of copy paper. That covers the area of a bird’s head and neck and allows a little left and right leeway if the bird or you moves a little.
The maximum range of your shotgun is that distance at which your shotgun hits the paper at least 55 to 60 times on the average. One pattern might be 53; the next shot might be 68. After all, your hold and each shot are slightly different.
It’s a good rule not to shoot over 50 yards; the pellet energy and velocity fall off very quickly after that. Show the bird the respect it deserves.
Again, you absolutely must not move when a gobbler’s looking in your direction. He’ll see the smallest motion and be gone. Only move your shotgun when the bird is behind a large tree, rock, mound or other obstacle.
Above all you must squeeze the trigger! Aim only at the head and neck, forget the body. It’s tempting to center that big black turkey and hope, but only BBs in the head and neck kill instantly.
Good luck and good hunting!
(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)