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How To/Pro-Tips

Turkey Calling Basics

Many hunters are hung up on which type of turkey call to get and most have a number of different types. That's fine and offers some real hunting advantages if the hunter is reasonably proficient with all, or at least most, of them. It doesn't take contest-championship calling ability to successfully call wild turkeys. However, it does take reasonable proficiency in imitating turkey talk to consistently take gobblers. Practice makes perfect, or at least good enough. You should get an instructional tape with your call or watch a few of the many turkey hunting videos to get a good idea of what real turkeys and top callers sound like. Practice until you sound pretty much like them. It's best to practice out in the open and tape your own calling to see where your technique needs improvement. After you master one call type, move on to another. There are times when being able to switch to a different call is a very productive turkey hunting tactic.

Going Against The Grain

Sometimes you can't avoid high-pressure hunting situations and it's deal with the crowd or don't hunt. Maybe you can't beat 'em, but you don't have to join 'em. These are the times for long-shot options. Look for some really ugly and uninviting segment of hunting country. If it has some decent cover and a little water, it could be an elk hotspot -- at least right then. The elk are trying to get away from the crowd as well. Maybe this "bad" area isn't holding a lot of animals, but how many bulls do you need to tag out? Another play is to hunt in ridiculously easy areas -- right along roads and in little brushy draws in open and accessible areas. Most elk hunters want to "climb the highest mountain." The elk just want to be left alone. Elk are not as good as whitetails at occupying tiny little niches of odd-spot cover but under enough pressure they'll give it a try.

When Success Strikes

When your bull is down and found, you have achieved elk hunting success but your job is not over. Now you are working against the clock, temperature and other conditions to preserve the prime meat. Considering elk size, on-the-spot butchering is the most common option. The goal is two-fold. You want to get the carcass cooled quickly and get it cut up into manageable chunks for easy transport. Some skin the elk immediately, because warm skin comes off easier. They then use the skin, flesh side up, as a clean surface on which to lay chunks of meat. Others gut and quarter with the skin left on to protect the meat, in its natural wrapper, during transport. Either way, quick cooling is essential to top meat quality. However, in the West, a shady spot often offers cool air and breezes even on a warm day. Get the meat out of the sun and protect it from insects with meat bags. Then begin packing it out.

Scouting For Gobblers

Getting a gobbler, or better yet several gobblers, located early is like having an ace in the hole when the season opens. Knowing the late-winter home range of a flock of mature gobblers translates directly to early-season success. Get out early and listen for gobbles. Eager gobblers sometimes want to rush things. Also look for gobbler tracks and J-hooked droppings. What you want to do is get a gobbler's pattern figured out before the season starts. He won't be far off his turf during the early season. Don't ignore hen sign. The larger hen flocks also keep to a general area. Later on, knowing where the hens are is a good way to locate a gobbler. Flock sign is most obvious as large areas of scratched up leaves. Early on, singular scratching sign indicates the gobbler flocks have broken up and the old boys are looking for girls. By mid-to late season, the hens start drifting off by themselves looking for nest sites.

The Turkey Hunting Shotgun

Today's turkey hunter usually carries a very specialized shotgun. The words "portable" and "powerful" sum it up the best. A dedicated turkey gun should be lightweight for easy carrying. Most are equipped with slings. They tend to have short barrels so they can be easily maneuvered in heavy cover and blinds. Most have a dull finish and many of the newest models are finished in a non-glare camouflage pattern. This is extremely important if you have to move your gun a few inches to line up on an in-range gobbler. Most have rifle-type sights and many have low-power scopes mounted on them. The "power" part comes from big loads and tight chokes. The three-inch 12-gauge magnum is most popular and many hunters choose the 3 1/2-inch 12 and 10 gauge guns. Super-tight "turkey-full" chokes deliver 80% or tighter patterns at 40 yards. This is a very different gun from the shotguns intended for flying targets. It is a true turkey-hunting specialist.

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