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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Start Turkey Hunting Now

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., March 17, 2007.)
Despite the hoopla about calling contests
and all that you hear from other hunters,
calling turkeys is not rocket science.
If you've been promising yourself that you'll hunt spring gobblers this year, don't wait until the eve of the April 28 opener to get started. And if you're age 16 or under, your special day is April 21.

Spring gobbler hunting can be loads of fun, and I'm surprised that more people don't do it. The season is long. Although five Saturdays (six if you count the early junior hunter day) put plenty of pressure on the gobblers, that first week or two is prime time. By taking a couple of vacation days, or by getting into the woods and out before your daily grind starts, you can pack a lot of turkey hunting into a little bit of time during those first two weeks.

Turkey hunters must be early risers, so "early to bed" is the successful turkey hunter's motto. Being tired at a 4:00 AM wake up or starting to drag after an hour in the woods is the quickest way to lose enthusiasm. Get out in the woods a month before the season -- so that you can be sure to know where turkeys are actively gobbling. Otherwise, day after day of hearing nothing will discourage even the most well rested crack-of-dawn hunter.

Although the advertisements suggest otherwise, you don't need a truckload of specialized equipment to hunt turkeys. You probably already have everything you need. Camouflage clothing is a must, but don't worry about the latest camo pattern. Hunters wearing unsophisticated camo are still killing turkeys. Camo-up your face, make sure your white socks or T-shirt are not showing, and don't move.

Powerful 3½-inch magnum 12 gauge shotguns that will kill the turkey and stun the hunter are not necessary. Calling the turkey close enough for a sure shot is. Although specialized turkey shotguns can throw an effective pattern at 50 yards, I seldom shoot beyond 30 yards. At that range, a 20 gauge with a dense pattern can kill a gobbler.

A few words about calls. There is no best call. Not a box, not a slate, not a diaphragm. Each has its advantages. It's hard to make a bad sound on a modern box call, it's no big deal if you do, and boxes seem to project the sound a fair distance. A slate will purr and cluck so softly and sweetly that you'd think you have a ball of feathers in your lap. And a diaphragm, although it takes more practice, has a big advantage. It can be operated with nary a movement on the hunter's part.

Try several calls at a sporting goods store, and settle on three or four that are easy to use and produce different sounds and pitches. Some calls might be better than others, but they all will work. Don't worry about name brands. They all reel in gobblers every day in every state throughout the season.

Practice plenty, comparing your calls to recorded sounds. Concentrate on tone and cadence. Despite the hoopla about calling contests and all that you hear from other hunters, calling turkeys is not rocket science. Once you have an excited gobbler, try to sound a little less interested than he is. Make him look for you.

There you have it. Get plenty of sleep. Do your scouting. Wear complete camo. Know the limits of your shotgun and how it patterns. And be able to throw different sounds at the turkeys.

Finally, be patient and have confidence. I tagged my first spring gobbler on a trip home from college to hunt for 2 or 3 days. My dad had done the scouting. I was wearing woodland camo and carrying Dad's Ithaca double barrel. That longbeard took 45 minutes to get within range. Soft yelps on a single-reed diaphragm brought him to 40 paces -- still the longest shot I've ever taken. He weighed more than 20 pounds.

There were experts hunting hard for that turkey. I was no expert, but I carried him home.


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