Strut Your Best Stuff

Plenty of things can go wrong during a spring turkey hunt. Some are avoidable, some aren't. We can't control the actions of a turkey, no matter how perfectly we call. But we can make the best of our calling location, which is entirely within our control. The steps we take to design the perfect setup start with the evaluation and selection of the calling site and go all the way to the shot itself.

HUNT THE ROOST

The first thing you must consider is the turkey's position and likely flydown spot, as well as the terrain and density of the vegetation. The distance from your calling site to the roosted bird can vary anywhere from 100 to 300 or more yards. Moving in too close means possibly bumping the bird. It's best to hang back and not risk it. When possible, move in on a roosted bird in the dark. When scouting birds flying to their roosts, choose a vantage point that allows you to identify the best approach routes for the following morning.

CALL SMART

Before determining your calling location, scout the area and identify any obstacles to turkeys, such as a fence, a small creek, a gully, an irrigation ditch or other breaks in the terrain. Situate yourself where incoming birds don't have to make a choice about crossing such an obstacle, because they probably won't. If you're in hilly country, don't set up on a ridge where you'll be skylined. If you expect birds to come from the top, set up about 30 yards downslope, so that when a bird appears it's in range. If there's a big fallen log or blowdown nearby, consider what you'll do if a turkey approaches from behind it, offering too close a shot. It might be best to change your location to avoid that scenario.

BUILD A BLIND

A blind might help if you're in sparsely vegetated country, such as at the edge of a field. Pile brush and branches loosely, but make sure your view isn't obstructed. Natural foliage is the best blind material. There's no need to establish your blind days in advance of your hunt--the birds will pay it no mind.

PICK YOUR SPOT

Place yourself in or near whatever vegetation is available. If possible, sit in front of a tree to block your outline. Don't sit where there's a small sapling or branch that prevents you from swinging your gun freely from side to side. A bird might come in from an unexpected direction, and if your gun is positioned on the wrong side of the sapling, you'll have to raise the barrel, swing it to clear and then lower it. That's too much movement.

READY YOUR GUN

Position your shotgun where you can raise it easily, with no jerky movements. Aim the muzzle in the direction you think the bird will come from. If you hear it approaching from a different direction, ease the gun to the better position to eliminate excessive motion.

Rest the gun across your lap or somewhere else comfortable. Consider a knee rest that straps onto your leg and props up your gun.

STAY COMFORTABLE

Use a seat. Many turkey vests come with one attached. I like a collapsible, lightweight aluminum stool with a webbed seat. Cut away any pesky branches or vines that might touch you as you move. The idea is to be so comfortable you won't be tempted to move.

FIND YOUR RANGE

Pick out objects that are 30 yards away to help you range the bird. I tend to overestimate, thinking the gobbler is farther away than it is. Use a range finder or actually pace off the distance to trees and stumps around your position and make a mental note of these points.

DON'T BLOW IT

Conceal anything that might give away your presence. Be sure your wristwatch is not showing, and that white socks aren't visible above your boots. If the sun is shining right on you and you wear glasses, use a face mask that covers most of your face. Also, use a camo gun or wrap your gun with camo tape. And don't keep your calls tucked away in your pocket. Place them next to you, within easy reach.

CAMO UP

Wear camo from your nose to your toes. A hat, face mask, shirt, pants and gloves are mandatory. The actual camo design isn't that important, as long as it blends in reasonably well with the surrounding foliage.

MAKE THE SHOT

You might do everything according to the book, but foul up when the bird appears as you prepare for the shot. Always have the gun up and at your shoulder before the gobbler moves within range. If you're caught off guard, raise the gun only when the bird walks behind a tree or brush or turns away from you while strutting. Occasionally you'll be taken totally by surprise, and the bird will have no cover to walk behind. If that's the case, bring your gun up smoothly and shoot as soon as the gun nestles into your shoulder and the sight picture is right. Hopefully the longbeard will give you a second or two for the shot, but don't be surprised if it doesn't.

[This article contains a chart. Please see hard copy or pdf.]

For the best concealment, put your back against a tree that's at least shoulder-width across.

To avoid spooking turkeys, keep your movements to a minimum by having calls in position at your side and a clear shooting lane in front of your gun.

Choose a setup where there are no obstacles, such as fences, creeks or ditches, between you and the birds.

Don't crowd the roost. Keep at least 100 yards between your setup and the roosted birds.

When hunting in an area with sparse vegetation, augment your spot with a blind of natural materials such as twigs and branches from the local foliage.

Read More About Jim's Hunts and Opinions • outdoorlife.blogs.com/zumbo

Calls for Beginners

Don't be intimidated by turkey hunters you see on television who are champs with a diaphragm mouth call. If you can't use one, don't fret.

The easiest call to use is the push-pin type. A finger tap makes a sound like a turkey yelp. The standard box call is also simple to use. It gives a yelp as well, and takes mere minutes to master.

Charlie Elliott, former field editor of OUTDOOR LIFE, used a box call exclusively and lured in hundreds of birds with it. Many old-timers have no clue how to use a mouth call, nor do they want to. They still get birds with a box call. (Redhead RTX, $35, basspro.com; Knight & Hale Tom Coffin, $23, knightandhale.com)