Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Preparing for Turkey Season

One of the best parts of spring turkey season is getting ready
for it.

Spring turkey season arrives at just the right time, as so many
things are coming to life and we are all busting to get out in the
woods. Because the weeks leading up to opening day pass in late
winter, it’s one of those special sports you can spread out in
front of you in the basement and prepare for.

You can see yourself making all the right moves, silently
slinking into position without alerting that big gobbler. You lay
an owl hoot on him and he fires back, then you make him wait for a
long time until you let him know a sweet hen is right over here,
and he gobbles so hard he almost falls off his perch, and he turns
on the limb and you know everything is going in your favor.

He gobbles more, on his own, facing directly at you, and you can
hear the spit before the drumming, as plain as day, like the sound
of somebody striking matches up there. Even though it’s early you
give him a string of yelping that builds in excitement, with some
cutting in there for good measure.

In the early light big wings beat against branches and he sails
right to you, seeming to land in full strut, if that’s possible,
the white on top of his head almost glowing, fuzzy at first because
you were focused on the gun barrel, but you bead down and track him
and he spins with his full fan right there, and you can see the
white veins on his tail feathers and his body shakes when he drums,
wingtips dragging as he surges forward, and when he turns again you
make a perfect shot…

And then you realize you’re making this all up in your mind.

Snapping back to reality, you relax the grip on the new slate
call, still in the package, and look around at all the gear on the
floor. Your friend, who has come over to practice calling, asks if
you’re okay.

One of the great parts of spring turkey season is that dreams do
come true.

But only if you prepare well.

Avoid the Wrong Noises

There is no substitute for donning every piece of clothing and
gear you typically wear in the woods and putting it through a dry
run. It might sound like a pain in the butt, but it doesn’t compare
to the heartbreak of spooking a bird when you make the wrong noise
at the wrong time.

You do not have to be silent when walking in the turkey woods or
sitting at the base of a tree, but you must avoid making the wrong
kinds of sounds. You can sound like a turkey or deer walking, or
scavenging for food, but that’s about the whole list of approved
noises.

By putting on all your clothes and gear, you find out where the
wrong noises are ahead of time. If you have access to in-the-ear
hearing enhancement, put them in for this drill, because now you’re
approximating the acute sense of hearing that turkeys have. (If a
friend has such devices, borrow them, because they don’t have to
fit perfectly; in fact, you actually hear with more depth and
authenticity if you let them hang out a bit.) Try to walk quietly
and listen critically. You’ll hear your legs swishing together, the
foreign sound of fabric against fabric. You’ll detect the subtle
clanging of binoculars against the gun barrel that can be fixed
now, rather than when you’re trying to move up on a gobbling
tom.

If you hear noises that sound like anything other than a turkey
or deer, do whatever you have to in order to get rid of them. If
you think “no big deal, that’s so soft no turkey will ever hear
it,” you are kidding yourself. Turkeys hear way better than we do,
they live there, and they avoid sounds that don’t sound right.

I will never forget slipping into position on a bird with my
brother, and listening to the loud rustling of his brand new
cordura turkey vest against the bark of an old oak tree. The bird
was probably 60 yards out, but he quit gobbling and I’m pretty sure
I know why. We went back to the truck and left that vest behind for
the rest of the day, then he took it back to the store and got one
made from quieter fabric.

If there is any velcro on anything, you can open and close it at
camp, but don’t even think about doing it in the woods. Even listen
critically to your boots. Some boots are heavy-soled and loose in
ways that make them sound like you are a dinosaur walking. By
learning to walk with ‘muscle control’ and set your feet down
softly, you can take care of some of this problem, but some boots
were not meant for turkey hunting.

Practice sitting down against the wall (or against a tree, if
possible). Practice pulling out your water, box call, mouth calls,
gloves, mask-anything you stash between uses. Listen to every move,
and be critical of what you have to do to get at stuff. If I like a
certain turkey vest but it has velcro, and some of the pockets are
not in the right place, I’ll take it to a tailor and have it
customized.

For example, some turkeys just like box calls, for some reason.
If you’re in the middle of working a turkey, and you don’t know
where he is at the moment but want to hit him with a box call, it’s
important to get at the box and remove it without making noise and
without looking like you’re trying to get out of a straight
jacket.

The box call pocket should close with a button or quiet zipper,
and be located in the front where you can open it with both hands,
holding them in about the same position you would use to hide a
poker hand from prying eyes.

Continue testing every move you might have to make, and listen
for the wrong noises. Fix them all now, while you’re in the
basement.

Practice Calling

You already know you should practice. Listen to recordings, now
widely available, of real turkeys. The most important thing to
reproduce is the rhythm.

Marty Eye, younger brother of Ray Eye, is a lifelong turkey
guide in the Missouri Ozarks and champion contest caller. But every
spring he complains about his calling when practicing in his
basement. “As soon as I hear the turkeys, I’ll be fine,” he says,
meaning that he has to hear that rhythm, and the emotion, of real
turkeys talking to each other, before he can get it right
again.

That’s why the digital recordings of real turkeys are such an
awesome practice tool. You can hear the turkeys every day, in your
basement, and copy their rhythm. Don’t worry about whether your
calling is high- or low-pitched, or the degree of rasp. It’s all
about the rhythm… although some gobblers will get excited by
certain pitches and degrees of rasp, and being able to imitate
different sounding hens can be important on any given day.

During these practice sessions, be honest with yourself about
which calls are your strong suits. If you can make good yelps on a
slate call, but struggle on a box and can’t make any good sounds
with a mouth call, only use the slate while you are hunting. Keep
practicing with the other styles of calls, but don’t even bring
them into the field, where you might be tempted to dig them
out.

If you will be using in-the-ear hearing enhancement while
hunting, now is the time to condition your ears. If you push them
into your ears on opening morning, you will be sore and ready to
take them out in about an hour.

But Wait, There’s More

There is more to do in order to be ready. You should pattern
your shotgun (which we’ll talk about separately in detail soon),
line up your hunting spots and scout them, and try to do other
stuff ahead of time so you can concentrate on hunting once it
starts. I try to work ahead and do things like spring cleaning in
the garage sometime in late Feb and early March, so the decks are
cleared for about seven weeks of very little sleep and lots of
driving.

Hopefully, at a few points along the line, dream sequences come
to life, big gobblers strutting in, sights and sounds that keep the
sport alive between seasons.

 

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