The fun thing about spring turkey hunting, which opens Saturday in Texas’ North Zone, is that it is a gadget sport.
Spring turkey hunting is similar to duck hunting in that hunters have toys, lots of toys. There are calls, decoys, camo, guns and ammo and special gear bags. The difference is they typically aren’t as expensive as those for waterfowl.
The problem for turkey hunters, is having the self-control to buy what you need, not what you want. That is hard.
For example, turkey hunters are going to buy calls. There are mouth calls, box calls and slate calls.
They all make the same sounds, but mouth calls are limited in range so a box call or two might be necessary. A slate is also excellent for early morning soft purrs, but are also limit in range making a box call backup important.
Here is the difference. Duck hunters are going to pay $50 and up for each call and are going to have a lanyard of them for different species. Turkey hunters may find a $20 box call that sounds just as enticing as an $80 one, and those able to use mouth calls can get away for as little as $5 a call.
Learning to call, when to call and which call to use may be the hardest part of turkey hunting and the biggest obstacle keeping hunters away from the spring season. The season is scheduled around the birds’ breeding season, but during the course of a month hunters may find turkeys in pre-mating bachelor groups, paired with hens or searching for remaining hens that haven’t been bred.
While the breeding chronology stays much the same in normal years, it can be impacted by a number of factors including drought causing hens to be disinterested or early spring-like weather that can trigger early breeding. Even in a dry year mature toms are going to start the season looking for hens. Gobbling activity, however, may end earlier than normal if they don’t find breeding hens.
And there is no set time throughout the state for the peak. The northern portion of the North Zone typically lags weeks behind counties to the south creating a situation where hunters in McCulloch County are hunting birds on the back side of the breeding season while hunters in Gray County are hunting birds that are still in groups.
Calling a tom without a hen is pretty straight forward and certainly the easiest time to hunt. Calling toms with hens requires one of two tactics, calling in the hen or waiting until the hen goes off to feed or nest and the tom is again on his own. That require hunting up into the morning and sometimes early afternoon.
But remember this, there are no perfect calls in the wild. Learn to sufficiently yelp and cluck, and then don’t do it too often or too loud.
Camo is another important need in the spring season. Turkeys have excellent eyesight and a 270-degree field of vision requiring hunters to wear camo from head to toe. Fortunately it is going to be warmer than duck season so a pair of cotton gloves costing a couple of bucks, a camo cap and a face mask are a lot cheaper than cold weather gear and waders.
However, warm weather also means bugs like ticks so hunters would be wise to invest in both permethrin spray for clothing and DEET spray for the skin.
While decoys are a necessary to duck hunting they are an option for turkey hunters. Some like them and are successful with them. Some find they can be detrimental.
For the most part there are three types of turkey decoys, toms, jakes and hens. When they work right they really help keep the tom’s eyes off the movement of the hunter, but there are times they can spook a gobbler and keep them from coming into range. The big tom decoys are the most likely to turn away young birds, but a hen decoy might cause a tom to hang up and wait for the hen to come him.
There are some new gimmick decoys on the market, including some motion ones, that look good in edited videos. Whether they are better at attracting hunters or birds is to be determined.
A hunter might be just as effective by staying back in the woods just a little so a gobbler has to get really close to see what is or isn’t there.
The perfect shotgun for turkey hunting depends on the situation. On the right day a .410 might work, but for most occasions a 12-gauge is the best option. A 20-gauge is certainly usable, but it will require the right ammunition.
The target on a turkey is its extended head after it pulls out of a strut. With a 12-gauge a hunter is effective to 30 yards, maybe more.
No matter what gauge a hunter uses, nothing beats a three-inch, No. 5 or No. 6 turkey load for knockdown power.
The North Zone season remains open through May 11. The South Zone is open until April 27. The Eastern turkey season is open April 15 through May 14.
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