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Turkey 2011

by Terry Knight

California’s spring wild turkey season gets underway on March 26 and, from all indications, it should be a banner season. The spring hatch produced a record number of birds and there was a good carry-over from last year. The general season runs through May 1 and the limit is one bearded turkey per day and a total of three for the entire season. There is also a two week extended season for archers.

Wilderness Unlimited (W.U.) has a number of leased ranches that offer excellent turkey hunting. In other words if W.U. allows turkey hunting on a particular ranch, then you know it has an adequate amount of turkeys to hunt. This saves time for the hunter because you don’t have to do any preseason scouting.

Basically, preparing for the spring season involves having the correct camo clothes, a turkey call and a shotgun. There is a wide array of camo clothes on the market. Most will work fine. The object in using camo clothing is to be able to break up your silhouette. Actually many veteran turkey hunters use their duck hunting camo for turkey hunting. Your camo should include a face mask as well as darkcolored gloves. Even your socks should be either camo or dark-colored. It’s surprising the number of hunters who are completely dressed in camo but are wearing white socks. A wild turkey has the best eyesight of any creature in the woods and, yes, he can see color very well. One method of checking the effectiveness of your camo clothing is to sit next to an oak tree and have your partner look at you from a distance of about 30 yards. He should be barely able to see your profile.

It goes without saying that you have to call in the turkey. In fact, calling in the bird is the most exciting part of the hunt. There are literally hundreds of turkey calls on the market and they range from the mouth call, slate call to the box call. The easiest to use is the box call. Plus, they sound just like an old hen. Most of the box calls require that you use chalk on the striker and the best chalk is the blue carpenter chalk, which can be bought at the local hardware store. Another call that every hunter should have in his kit is a crow call. This call is used to locate turkeys on their roost tree.

Blinds and decoys are gaining in popularity and decoys can be very effective for the archer. The same goes for a blind. For some reason the wariest old tom will often walk right up to a blind. The problem with using a blind or a decoy is that they add to the weight of what you are carrying. This is especially true if you’re a hiker and want to go as light as possible. However, blinds are great if you’re taking a youngster hunting.

By law, turkeys can be taken with shotguns, archery or even a pellet gun. Shotguns are the most widely used, although a lot of hunters are finding that archery hunting is more challenging. Very few hunters use a pellet gun. A standard 2 ¾ or 3-inch shotgun shell works fine for turkeys. A few hunters use the 3 1/2-inch but that often leads to shooting at too far a distance and crippling the bird. The most popular size shot is number 4 leaded or copper-coated lead.

The shooting hours for the spring season are a one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. One of the most common mistakes novice turkey hunters make is not getting an early start to hunting. For example, say the legal shooting time is 6 a.m. then you should be in the woods no later then 5 a.m. or even earlier. Turkeys always roost high in the trees and they start to stir well before daylight. To locate these roosting birds you should be up on a ridge where you can hear for a long distance. Blow your crow call as loud as you can. I can guarantee that if a tom is within hearing distance he will gobble back at your call. Locate the tree where the turkey is roosting and sneak to within approximately 150 yards of the tree. Set up against a tree or bush and give a couple of soft yelps on your turkey call. Normally the tom will respond with a thundering gobble. Don’t call again until the legal shooting time. Often the tom will fly down away from you and will work its way back to your position. Call only enough to keep the tom interested in you. Once he starts toward you, quit calling and make him look for you. As he gets close, raise your shotgun to your shoulder and be ready to fire. Often all you will see is the gobbler’s head. Be sure and wait until you see the beard before shooting because a young tom will often either have no beard or a very short one. Once you decide to shoot, aim at the base of the neck and squeeze the trigger. Once the tom goes down, immediately run to the bird and put your foot on its neck because you don’t want a wounded bird to run away.

If you don’t bag a bird early in the day, walk the ridges and stop and call frequently. Give a series of sharp yelps. If you get a gobble in response to your call, set up and work the bird the same as you did in the morning. The big mistake many hunters make is that they scare the bird by moving too much You have to remain perfectly still and that means not moving your head, hands or feet.

Cleaning a wild turkey can be done using two methods. One is to pluck the bird by soaking the carcass in hot water to loosen the feathers. The other method is to skin and breast out the bird. Whatever method you use be sure and place the meat on ice. A turkey will spoil fast in warm weather.

Terry Knight Articles

Terry Knight conducts several training seminars annually on hunting wild turkeys throughout Northern California. He was instrumental in organizing the first Wilderness Unlimited Wild Turkey Seminar in 1994, the success of which led to partnering with the California DF&G and the National Wild Turkey Foundation, in 1996, to form the Wild Turkey Expo. He is also the past-president of the California State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

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