The Vernal Equinox, which signals the first day of spring, is less than a week away, and it is obvious that the critters of the natural world are preparing for its arrival.
My brother, Bob, emailed a few days ago to inform me that the big Merriam toms that hang out around his home in northern Idaho are ramping up their gobbling and strutting, anxious to attract some of the local ladies for some loving. My younger brother, Dave, phoned earlier this week to let me know that the Richardson ground squirrel hordes that haunt his place were starting to emerge from their dens, which are just thawing out from this winter’s mini-Ice Age up in Big Sky country. The approaching sun is relentlessly bowing Old Man Winter’s back a bit more every day.
Folks, it’s time to gather up the gear and head to the range.
Since the spring turkey hunt will arrive first, let’s address the prep work necessary to consistently put the big birds in the bag today. Let me qualify this essay by letting you know that I am a novice turkey hunter, at best, and I have the good fortune of being able to hunt what many consider to be the best turkey real estate in the Intermountain West: the forested lake country of northern Idaho (the Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille area). Merriam turkey densities are extremely high there and the birds have grown accustomed to lots of human activities in their midst; a hunter couldn’t ask for a better scenario.
But even under the best of conditions, it is always wise to prepare carefully for each hunt. Let me lay out what I do to prepare myself to chase the big, beautiful, and tasty gobblers.
The last thing that any sportsman wants is to be checked by a warden and find that their paperwork is not in order. This is, at once, an embarrassing, unnecessary, and usually very costly way to end your adventure. To avoid this mishap, go online or to your local sporting goods store to get a copy of the regulations regarding your particular hunt area. Purchase the necessary licenses and tags and be sure to store them where you’ll have ready access to them throughout your hunt(s). Become familiar with the legal shooting times and bag limits, as well as the proper tagging and transportation requirements of your state. Finally, keep a copy of the regulations handy for easy reference for the duration of your hunt(s).
Choice of weather/seasonally-appropriate clothing is a highly subjective matter. Common recommendations generally call for slipping on a pair of sturdy, well broken-in, water proof, insulated hunting boots, warm, layered, dull-colored (non-reflective) or camouflage trousers, shirts, and outerwear. A comfortable, brimmed hat helps shield your face/eyes from snapping underbrush and the sun’s blinding glare. Many experienced hunters apply camouflage paint or use a cloth netting mask to help conceal our highly-reflective faces.
My family prefers combinations of traditional wool clothing and modern synthetics for all of our hunting, regardless of species, to stay warm and relatively silent in motion, and to allow us to blend into the background. Wild turkeys have acute senses of sight and hearing, so these are important considerations.
Guns and Ammunition
Much like clothing, your choice of gun and ammunition should be based on combinations that have worked for you in the past. Although manufacturers would love you to run out and purchase an expensive, new specialty turkey gun, the expense is not always justified. A more reasonable and economic approach would be to modify your existing shotgun’s performance envelope by finding the choke/ammunition combo that will increase your current gun’s turkey-taking potential. This procedure will work fine with older fixed choke guns, but your gun’s performance-potential will really be enhanced if its muzzle is threaded for removable choke tubes.
The testing procedure, though time-consuming and labor-intensive, is fairly straight forward. Check out several YouTube sites for detailed instructions on how to pattern your shotgun to identify the choke/ammunition combo that will turn your favorite duck/goose gun into a prime turkey slayer. Most authorities will recommend that you screw in a tightly-constricted (full or extra full) choke tube, and purchase two or three different brands of shot shells for the testing. A solid bench rest and shooting rest are musts. NOTE: Be prepared to take a pounding; modern high velocity turkey loads kick like a mule team, especially when you’re strapped to a bench.
As miserable as the patterning process is, you really need to carry the process out deliberately because this is the only way that you’ll know for sure how your gun will perform in the field at known distances. Remember: everything is theoretical until you put pellets on paper.
Like all of God’s creations, turkeys are creatures of habit and habitat. If you’re hunting a new area, I’ve found that local Game and Fish offices and gun shops are good places to pick up area-relevant information. If you get a chance to try your luck out on turkeys this spring or fall, please take the opportunity. You’ll discover why Ben Franklin admired the fowl enough to (unsuccessfully) promote it as our national symbol. It didn’t happen, of course, but maybe Ben has found some consolation in the fact that some many members of his favored species are now living and working in our nation’s capital.