Tactics

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: A Guide for Hunters

February 29, 2024

Connor Merritt

Connor Merritt

Turkey hunting is a time-honored tradition that blends the thrill of the chase with the satisfaction of a successful harvest. For those new to the world of turkey hunting, it’s essential to understand the basics before venturing into the woods. In this Hunting Wild Turkey 101 guide, we’ll cover everything from the types of turkeys you might encounter to the gear you’ll need, hunting techniques, and even tips on preparing and cooking your hard-earned bounty. After reading, you’ll be ready for expert turkey hunting in no time.

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: What to Know Before You Go

Wild turkey 101 in the woods.

Understanding Wild Turkey Subspecies

To the casual observer, wild turkeys may all look the same. But they’re not. There are actually four main subspecies of wild turkey spread across the continental United States and Hawaii, each with their own appearance and characteristics.

The most widely distributed subspecies are Easterns, whose range stretches across the entire Eastern half of the United States into parts of the central plains. Rio Grandes are the second most populous subspecies with their core range running through most of central Texas up through Oklahoma and into Kansas and Nebraska. Pockets of Rios can also be found in California, Oregon and eastern Washington, as well as Hawaii. Merriam’s predominate in large swaths of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and south through the Rockies all the way into New Mexico and Arizona.

Osceolas are only found in the southern half of Florida and are found in the most limited range of any subspecies short of a tiny pocket of re-established Gould’s wild turkeys in the very southern part of Arizona around Fort Huachuca. Osceola’s offer the first opportunity to hunt wild turkeys in North America each spring with the first seasons in southern Florida opening usually around the first week of March. To hunt Gould’s, most hunters travel to Sonora or Chihuahua in Mexico where the birds are more populous. Because the hunting of Gould’s in Arizona is still so limited, that is why the taking of an Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s in the United States is considered a wild turkey Grand Slam.

While each of these subspecies share many similarities, they all have slight differences in appearance, such as the broken bars on the Osceola’s wings or bright white tipped tail fan feathers found on the Merriam’s. But the real challenge is understanding the type of terrain each subspecies calls home and how they use that terrain, and perhaps even more importantly, how you should use their terrain as well to hunt them and call them in.

Wild Turkey 101: Appearances and Ranges

Eastern Turkey

  • Appearance: Eastern turkeys have dark, iridescent feathers with bronze and greenish hues. They typically have white-tipped tail feathers and may have varying amounts of barring on their wings and tail.
  • Range: Found primarily in the eastern United States, all the way from Maine down to Florida.

Rio Grande Turkey

  • Appearance: Rio Grande turkeys have lighter, more tan-colored feathers compared to Eastern turkeys. They typically have less iridescence and fewer white markings on their feathers.
  • Range: Found primarily in the central United States, including states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Gould’s Turkey

  • Appearance: Gould’s turkeys are the largest of the wild turkey subspecies, with longer legs and larger bodies. They have vibrant, metallic-like plumage with more pronounced white markings on their feathers.
  • Range: Only available (in the United States at least) in Arizona and New Mexico.

Osceola Turkey

  • Appearance: Osceola turkeys have dark, glossy plumage with minimal white markings. They often have coppery or purplish reflections in their feathers.
  • Range: Only found in Florida.

Merriam’s Turkey

  • Appearance: Merriam’s turkeys have light-colored plumage with white tips on their tail feathers. They often have less iridescence than Eastern turkeys and may have pale, buff-colored wing feathers.
  • Range: Can be found in most states in the central and western US.

Wild Turkey 101: Hunting Seasons and Regulations

Like any game, wild turkeys have specific hunting seasons set by wildlife management agencies to ensure sustainable populations. These seasons vary by state, so it’s imperative to check local regulations before heading out. Typically, spring is the most popular season for turkey hunting, coinciding with the birds’ mating season when gobblers are most vocal and responsive to calls. Fall seasons may also be available, focusing on different hunting strategies.

Where to Hunt Wild Turkey

While you can find turkey hunting opportunities across most of North America, we have a few specific recommendations to help get you started:

  1. Fort Drum, New York
  2. Fort Liberty, North Carolina
  3. Fort Huachuca, Arizona
  4. Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii
  5. Fort Carson, Colorado
  6. Fort Cavazos, Texas
  7. Fort Jackson, South Carolina

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: Preparing for the Hunt

Hunter walking with turkey on back wild turkey 101Selecting the Right Firearm

When it comes to choosing a firearm for turkey hunting, shotguns are the weapon of choice. The most common gauge used is 12, with 20-gauge also being a popular option for those who prefer a lighter firearm. It’s important to use ammunition specifically designed for turkey hunting, such as turkey loads, which are designed to deliver dense patterns at longer distances. Many hunters opt for shotguns equipped with a choke tube to improve accuracy and pattern density.

You can also use muzzleloaders or bows if that’s more to your liking.

Learn how to choose the best gun sight for turkey hunting here.

Mastering the Art of Turkey Calls

Turkey calls are indispensable tools for luring in these wily birds. There are various types of calls, including box calls, slate calls, mouth calls, and diaphragm calls. Each has its advantages, and it’s often a matter of personal preference. Learning to mimic the distinctive sounds of turkeys, such as yelps, clucks, purrs, and gobbles, can significantly increase your chances of success. Practice your calling techniques before heading into the field to ensure a natural and convincing performance.

Camouflage and Concealment

Wild turkeys have keen eyesight, making effective camouflage and concealment vital for a successful hunt. Wear clothing that matches the natural colors of the environment you’ll be hunting in, and consider a full camo setup, including face masks and gloves. Additionally, using a ground blind or natural cover can help break up your silhouette and keep you hidden from the sharp eyes of a turkey.

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: Essential Gear for Turkey Hunting

Aside from a shotgun and turkey calls, there are several other pieces of gear that every turkey hunter should have:

  1. Decoys: Realistic turkey decoys can attract gobblers by simulating the presence of other turkeys in the area.
  2. Binoculars: A good pair of binoculars is essential for scouting and identifying turkeys at a distance.
  3. Turkey Vest: A turkey vest with multiple pockets can keep your gear organized and provide a comfortable seat during long hunts.
  4. Map and Compass/GPS: Knowing the terrain and having a reliable navigation tool is crucial for a successful hunt.
  5. First Aid Kit: Safety always comes first, and having a basic first aid kit can be invaluable in case of accidents or injuries.

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: Tips and Tricks for the Hunt

When hunting wild turkey, patience and persistence are key. Consider these tips to improve your chances:

  1. Scouting: Before the season begins, spend time scouting the area to locate roosting spots, feeding areas, and travel routes.
  2. Set Up Early: Arrive at your hunting location well before sunrise to set up while the woods are still quiet. Turkeys are most active in the early morning. Read more about setting up here.
  3. Be Still: Turkeys have excellent eyesight, so minimize movement. Use a comfortable seat in a well-camouflaged location and avoid unnecessary fidgeting.
  4. Use Cover: Blend into your surroundings by utilizing natural cover. A well-placed ground blind can also provide excellent concealment.
  5. Stay Silent: Turkeys can detect even the slightest noise. Move slowly and avoid unnecessary sounds.
  6. Want More Tips? Check out this article for more in-depth hunting tips for beginners.

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: Field Dressing and Packing Your Turkey

Once you’ve successfully harvested a turkey, the next step is field dressing and packing. Follow these steps:

  1. Field Dressing: Start by removing the feathers and then carefully clean the bird. Be sure to remove the entrails, keeping the meat clean.
  2. Cooling the Meat: Properly cool the turkey meat as soon as possible to preserve its quality. Consider using a cooler with ice packs or even a turkey-sized game bag.
  3. Legal Requirements: Familiarize yourself with state-specific regulations regarding tagging and reporting your harvest.

Hunting Wild Turkey 101: From Field to Table — Cooking Wild Turkey

wild turkey 101

Bringing a wild turkey from the field to the table is a delicious treat; the meat is lean and flavorful, making it a versatile ingredient for various dishes. Here are a few ways to prepare your wild turkey:

  1. Roasting: Roasting a wild turkey with herbs and spices can result in a delicious, traditional dish.
  2. Grilling: Marinate turkey cuts and grill them for a smoky flavor.
  3. Smoking: Slow-smoking turkey can infuse it with a rich, savory taste.
  4. Stewing: For tougher cuts, consider stewing turkey with vegetables and broth for a hearty meal.
  5. Ground Turkey: Use ground turkey for burgers, tacos, or chili for a leaner alternative to beef.
  6. Want to Dive Deeper in to Turkey Preparation? Check out this in-depth article to learn even more.

Conclusion

Going on a wild turkey hunt is not just a pursuit of a beautiful animal; it’s an immersion into nature, an exercise in patience, and a celebration of hunting. By understanding the basics of turkey hunting, from selecting the right gear to mastering calling techniques, you can enhance your chances of a successful and fulfilling experience in the great outdoors. Remember to prioritize safety, respect the regulations, and savor the process from field to table as you join the ranks of passionate turkey hunters across the nation.

For expert turkey hunting 101 tips and tricks, read this article on iSportsmanUSA.

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