Preseason Turkey Hunting Checklist
Spring is knocking on our doorstep and all around the Country the clock is quickly winding down to opening day. Spring turkey hunting requires a level of preparation that would rival any other game animal. From the time spent scouting turkeys and practicing with your favorite turkey calls, to putting in the offseason work to ensure that the habitat on your farm is the best it can be, the argument can be made that turkey hunting is a year-round activity. By mid-March the gobblers are already starting to become vocal, which as you know will get any red-blooded turkey hunter’s heart pumping! As the season continues to inch closer and closer, now, during the preseason, is the time to begin to review your turkey hunting checklist and ensure that you are ready to go come first light on opening day.
Turkey Hunting Checklist | Preseason To-Do List
When it comes to managing habitat for wildlife, there really is not a defined “off season”. Instead, the year is typically broken into two periods, “hunting season” and “not-hunting season” for lack of a better term. This trend certainly holds true for those dedicated turkey hunters who do their best to manage the habitat on their properties to specifically benefit wild turkeys. One of the best attributes of 99% of all hunters is their passion for conservation, and the desire to give back to nature. So when the season comes to an end, the work to ensure that the turkeys on your property have what they need to survive and produce more turkeys for next season begins.
Create the Draw | Food Plots for Turkey
Spring turkey hunting is all about creating opportunity, and one of the best ways that a turkey hunter can do this is by installing a spring food plot. Aside from the entire suite of habitat management practices that you can complete (timber stand improvement, brush management, prescribed fire, etc.) on your property that will help provide habitat for wild turkeys, installing a spring food plot can really be top of the list in terms of attracting and holding birds. So when you start reviewing your preseason turkey hunting checklist, be sure that spring food plots are listed right at the top!
Planting a spring food plot for wild turkeys is relatively easy and typically very cost effective. There are several species of forage that a hunter can install that will typically yield the incredible results. Wheat and chufa are usually the two most popular forages that are incorporated in a spring food plot, however, clovers such as ladino or alsike and even alfalfa can all be great additions to your spring food plot strategy. All of these forages provide an excellent food source for wild turkeys, both from the forage itself and the insects they attract and can typically require very little equipment when planting and maintaining the plots. Hopefully, you can already check “spring food plots” off your turkey hunting checklist, but if not, there is still time! Species like wheat can be seeded quickly and with a little moisture can germinate and produce a forage base in a short amount of time.
Gathering Intel | Scouting for Turkey
There is simply no two ways about it, scouting turkeys is critical in the preseason. If you were to poll turkey hunters, most would likely tell you that there is no amount of time that could be considered “too much time spent scouting”, granted you are not over-pressuring the birds. While there certainly is no greater challenge than hitting the woods with zero information and pitting your wits against unfamiliar terrain and unfamiliar birds, the reality is we all want to know as much about the turkeys we are chasing as possible.
Success when scouting turkeys (finding the bird, noting the area, and recognizing his pattern) is typically the foundation of a successful hunt, and although many turkey hunters continue to keep tabs on the wild turkeys on their farm all year long, spring turkey scouting really begins to pick up around the month of March. Hopefully by now you have had trail cameras running or at least an opportunity to break out your binoculars or spotting scopes and put your eyes on long beard or two, but if not there is still plenty of time. By mid-March, gobblers will still tend to be grouped up, however, by early April they will have begun to disperse in search of hens. Once they break from their winter patterns, wild turkeys can disperse over a great distance so keeping a close watch on the gobblers in your area is extremely important.
Calling All Turkeys | Turkey Calls and Calling
Likely what makes turkey hunting so exciting and appealing to so many hunters is simply that you are doing your best to vocalize and sound just like a real turkey. So when you squeeze the trigger on your shotgun or let an arrow fly, there is an enhanced sense of accomplishment that comes with wrapping your tag around the leg of a long beard. When it comes to turkey calls and using them in the field, there are likely many who feel as though they are best turkey caller to grace the woods since Harold Knight, when in reality they could stand to spend a few more hours practicing.
The point is, failure to break out your calls prior to opening day is often a mistake. We can all use a little practice every now and again, and regardless if you are slate or box call kind of a person, you much prefer to break out the tube or mouth calls, now is the time to get them out and start tuning them up. A side note as it pertains to turkey calls, the pre-season months are also a great time to go through your vest and organize your turkey calls. Once turkey season comes to a close, many turkey hunters will hang their vest up, not to be touched again until the morning of opening day. There is no worse feeling than reaching for your favorite call only to find that it isn’t where you remembered. Take some time to organize your turkey calls in your turkey vest as it will help to stay focused on the task at hand rather digging in your pockets!
Fire in the Hole | Patterning a Shotgun
There is no doubt that patterning your shotgun is critically important part of your spring turkey hunting preparation. It is also true that patterning their shotgun is something that only a small proportion of turkey hunters will do each and every year prior to the start of the season. If you fall into this category, then now is the time for a change.
The unfortunate reality is that many hunters will just assume that their shotgun will continue to shoot the same as it always has a year in, and year out. Most of the time, this statement will hold true, however, even the slightest change in ammo brand or shot size, as well as any changes or modifications made to your shotgun (new sight, red dot scope, etc.), can change how your shotgun performs and could ultimately cost you a turkey. Aside from that, shooting a few rounds through your scatter gun (while wearing your turkey hunting gear) is just good practice and preparation. It is always better to address an issue while there is still time to rectify it than to discover and issue while a gobbler is quickly closing the distance. All too often, a shotgun can catch or hang on your clothing or vest, so taking a few shot down range while in full camo can really help tie up all the loose ends and ensure your confidence is flying high come opening day.
The same can be said for compound bows. This is especially true if you are planning to turkey hunt out-of-state. The bumps and scratches that go along with traveling can take its toll on a bow. Try and shoot your bow before each and every hunt to be sure it is still on point. Often times this means shooting your bow the night before a morning hunt. Remember to also shoot with your broadheads on to ensure the arrow and broadhead of your choice are on their mark.
Making Calls | Finding Hunting Permission
When it comes to hunting private land and specifically receiving and maintaining turkey hunting permission on private land communication is absolutely critical. The more interaction and communication that you can have with a landowner not just during turkey season, but over the course of the year, the better your relationship will likely be. It is important to develop a report with your landowners, and becoming a familiar face is certainly one way to accomplish this.
If you do happen to have permission to hunt on private land and you have not been in contact with the landowners up to this point, now would be an excellent time to reach out and make contact. For starters, it shows that you value your relationship and are appreciative for the opportunity to hunt on their property. Second, it ensure that if for some reason you happen to lose permission on the property or someone else happened to also receive permission, you now have time to develop a plan B. In addition to contacting your previous landowners, now would be an excellent time to begin reaching out and making contact with any new prospective landowners and attempt to secure any new hunting locations…even if it means going out of state!
Turkey season is already taking place in several states, and will be in full swing in just a few short weeks in others, so if you haven’t taken the time to begin working through your turkey hunting checklist there is no time to waste! Tag soup is a dish that is best served cold, so be sure you do your best to avoid receiving a healthy serving of it this season. A little planning and preparation can really go a long way to ensuring that you start the spring turkey season out on a good note!