Turkey-chasers nationwide are getting ready to break out the old calls, go through their camo, and make plans for the spring hunt. No matter what gear, states, or schedules they prepare however, experience and advice can make or break the hunt of a lifetime, or even just a pre-work hunt off the roost. This article challenged some of the best turkey hunters in America, as boiling down their many years of hard-won expertise is a task in-and-of itself. Their tips are gathered here, and can’t help but make you a better turkey hunter.
With many hundred’s of gobblers, 43 turkey seasons, and six books under his belt, along with more seminar gigs than you can shake a tail-feather at, the 78-year old Alford has more years of experience than anyone on our star-studded panel. To stay consistent over the years, Alford credits the 4 – P’s:
- PASSION for the hunt including knowledge and wisdom
- PLANNING long before the adventure begins
- PATIENCE while on the trail, and
- PERSISTENCE allowing preparation to meet with opportunity
The Hunting Public – Aaron has emerged as one of the nation’s premier turkey authorities, publishing thousands of hours of great YouTube instructional and informational turkey hunting content. Each week during the turkey season, people live vicariously through Aaron’s video work and many travels throughout turkey country. When filming hunts, he starts at high points during the first 30 minutes of daylight when birds are most vocal. Aaron notes, “No wind is ideal, but if it’s gusting try to listen downwind of where you anticipate the turkeys to be so the wind is actually carrying the sound towards your location.” Gobbling isn’t the only thing he’s listening for either, and says that “Turkeys can give their position away with a variety of sounds. We killed a tom with 1 1/2 inch spurs last year on public land because he gave his position away in the tree with a quiet gobbler yelp. We setup and called him straight in without hearing a single gobble.”
Champion’s Choice Calls – Twelve-time Wisconsin State Turkey Calling Champion Jeff Frederick sounds more like a turkey than your average hen, and has long made high-end custom calls for those that both compete and hunt. I like Jeff’s calls and use them often, but what he can get out of them compared to what I can just isn’t fair. Jeff’s number one tip is to be wary of falling into the rut of letting past experiences dictate your current hunting plans. Frederick says, “Turkeys will rarely do the exact same thing from day to day, as any prey species won’t survive well if predators pattern them.” Similarly, avoid becoming complacent and letting your shotgunning suffer. “I’ve been witness to plenty of ‘first-time’ misses,” says Frederick with a grin.
Gamehide Hunting Clothing – As general manager at Gamehide Hunting Clothing, Steve totes his bow across the Midwest, continually testing gear and challenging gobblers with a stick and string. Annually, he’s taking down several gobblers in multiple states, and knows more about bow-hunting for turkeys than most will even learn about turkeys in general. His number one tip centers around shot placement. Steve says, “Many people have the tendency to rush the shot and not take the extra time needed to settle the pin on the small vital area a turkey provides. Once that long-beard commits and is in bow range he usually sticks around to check out your decoys. Take that extra time to relax, settle the pin and let the arrow fly.”
NWTF Grand National Calling Champion – As a guide and upper-echelon competitor on turkey calling’s biggest-stages, the name “Billy Yargus” makes both turkeys and fellow callers get a touch nervous. I’ve had the opportunity to hunt with Billy, and the guy doesn’t just sound like a turkey, he sounds like a flock of turkeys. That morning, Billy called in two toms with a flock of hens, a coyote, then another group of 3 bruiser toms, all in the span of an hour. He did it with absolute non-stop chatter from a mouth call and box call. So I asked him with all the advice on not over-calling, why he would call louder and longer than anyone I’d heard before? Billy’s answer was simple, yet stuck as a great tip I’ve taken with me. Yargus explained, “If you’re not confident on a turkey call, then sparingly calling and keeping the bird guessing just may-be your best bet. If you sound good on a call however, let the local birds on that morning tell you what to do.” I have to admit, the hens around us were incredibly vocal, and the toms were eating it up. Billy was blending in, and standing out all at the same time.
Guide – I’ve written about Guy before, a local friend and former turkey hunting guide that’s been chasing toms beginning in the early 1970’s in Southern Illinois, and all over the country after them ever since. Few have seen as much in-the-field experience as he has, and fewer yet will be able to translate that into hunting success. As someone who I’ve learned more from than any amount of books, videos, or articles combined, I felt obliged to include one of his best tips that I’ve used on many occasions. “Leaf scratching is the best call you’ve got,” says Cunningham, “cagey old birds that’ve been messed with by all the neighbor kids won’t gobble, but they’ll come in quiet to some soft yelps and lots of scratching.” In Oklahoma a few years ago, we tag-teamed a particularly bad bird as I listened to Guy move around behind me, quietly yelping, scratching, and occasionally flapping a hat like a turkey rising up and stretching its wings. I was convinced not one, but several hens had slipped in amongst our setup and pinned us down. We’ve shared many hunts like that over the years, including ones where turkeys gobble from the roost immediately after not yelping or cutting, but simple leaf scratching.
Ron Schara Productions – Chances are you’ve seen Travis Frank’s work on TV and video, even when he’s not being featured on camera. Travis grew up hunting turkeys, calling them nothing less than “addictive,” but now is often faced with the challenge of getting birds to cooperate on camera for several TV shows he produces such as Outdoor Bound and Due North Outdoors. With tight time schedules and expensive camera time, Frank is a master at getting after birds and making it happen. He cites overall scouting as his number one tip, mentioning “I prefer to scout birds from as far away as possible with optics, while still being able to see small details like exactly which fencepost they’re coming past to enter an ag field, or what birds (hens, jakes, or toms) come to openings and when.” When out on foot, Frank says that “tracks in a field tell the story, especially large amounts of them.” To get birds to close and put on a show, Frank relies on a hen and jake combo to provide maximum appeal without the risk of spooking less dominant toms. “Adult gobbler decoys have really come on strong in recent years, but I don’t want to limit the amount of birds I’m hunting to only one or two dominant birds in the area.” Travis stakes down the hen, and positions the jake in a manner to the hen that looks like he’s “pushing” her around. This method works great, especially early in the season where competition for hens is heavy.
Quaker Boy Game Calls – Ern’ has been hunting gobblers across the globe for decades on TV, videos, and in game call product development roles. An incredible gobbler-getter, and great guy, Ernie’s tip is a really good one. “My number one tip would be to persevere.” says Calandrelli. Keeping a good attitude is key, as he says, “the one thing that is in your favor in spring gobbler hunting is that every morning is opening morning. I have seen the same gobbler seem impossible to kill for days then run to the call like it was the first time he ever heard one.” Take it from someone who’s killed some crafty birds in his time, as that’s advice you can take to the taxidermist.
Primos’ “The Truth” Videographer – Lake gets a ring-side seat to some of the best turkey hunts on the planet, and works for true legends in the industry at Primos Hunting. In chasing some great gobblers over the past few years, he offers “The best tip I can give anyone who wants to become a better turkey hunter is to become the best woodsman that you can be.” He cites observational skills, reading terrain, and moving about without spooking as key traits to successful hunts. He states it best by saying, “Decent calling and excellent woodsmanship will kill more turkeys than excellent calling and subpar woodsmanship every time.”
Primos Hunting – Perhaps the most influential turkey hunter of our time, Will Primos has been doing it longer and arguably better than anyone before him. He shares turkey hunting advice through TV, video, and countless articles over the years, and is annually one of the most sought-after names in all turkey circles. His number one tip revolves around setting up on hill-country gobblers, and specifically why it’s best to set up higher above them in elevation. Will offers, “It is basic instinctive survival for a turkey, as any gobbler coming to another turkey knows that predators close-by could be listening too. A turkey headed downhill towards a predator would have to run uphill, gain ground, then turn left or right to jump and put air under its wings to fly away.” Will continues, “If you are above a turkey he will more readily come to you because he knows that if he sees danger he has to simply turn downhill, catapult into the air and sail to safety.” For anyone who has seen how quickly a tom can scoot and coast downhill, you know how sound this last tip really is.