Turkey hunting's popularity today has given rise to a vast assortment of equipment and different hunting methods. The restoration of the wild turkey population in North America is one of the most successful wildlife management successes in our history. From near extinction in the early 1900’s, the species now numbers in the millions and can be found in every American state except Alaska and in every Canadian Province except the Northern Territories. Both the population and the range are expected to continue growing.
The success of the wild turkey restoration has given the enthusiastic hunter the opportunity to pursue the wild turkey using different methods. Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces offer a spring turkey hunting season and a fall turkey hunting season with special segments for bows, shotguns, centrefire rifles and even muzzleloaders. Following I will discuss with you the different methods by which turkeys can be hunted and the special requirements needed for the different segments.
…loaded with birdshot are by far the most popular tools of choice of the turkey hunters and accounts for more than 90% of all turkeys taken. Of these the pump action shotguns are more poplar than others, such as the double barrel shotgun or the semi-automatics. A pump action is relatively light and allows the hunter quick follow-up shots if needed. The preferred caliber is a 12 gauge chambered for 3” to 3 ½ ”. A good turkey gun should have a barrel of no less than 22”, with a 24” to 26” barrel being a better choice. A longer barrel usually gives a little better performance and velocity of the shot pellets.
Fixed-choke barrels should have a full choke to provide the tight pattern needed for killing headshots on turkeys. Barrels with interchangeable choke tubes can be fitted with “full”, “extra full” or “special turkey” choke tubes. Exactly what choke tube is best will have to be decided at the shooting range. Not every gun delivers the best accuracy with the same type of choke tube. While one gun performs better with a full choke another may do better with an extra full choke. Only time spent on the shooting range and shooting different loads with different choke tubes and shot sizes will determine what your gun likes best. A word of caution: the extra tight “turkey” choke tube delivers a very tight pattern intended for use with lead shot only; shooting steel shot can easily damage the choke or barrel. These extra tight choke tubes also deliver hefty recoil as the pellets are condensed and forced trough the tight muzzle of the gun. This is especially true for some of the super magnum “turkey special” shells available today.
A turkey is a very though bird to kill and keep on the ground, ad to this the relatively small size of the target – the turkeys head - and even a novice hunter will realize how important proper patterning of your gun is. A well-patterned gun will deliver a dense pattern out to about 30 to 40 yards that will place consistently 8 to 12 pellets into turkeys’ head and neck. The most common shot size choices are #4, #5, or #6 shot pushed by a large powder charge. Buffered loads of nickel or copper plated shot pattern best because the buffering reduce “flyers”, deformed pellets that fly of course.
Over the past decade turkey hunters looking for a special challenge to an already demanding sport turned to muzzleloading shotguns. Until recently, these weren’t exactly ideal for turkey hunting. The cylinder-bore barrels common to most muzzleloader shotguns simply could not produce the tight patterns needed to be an effective turkey-killing tool. However, today this has changed. The newer generation of muzzleloader shotguns caters to the new found enthusiasm of muzzleloader turkey hunting by offering either fixed full-choke barrels or interchangeable choke systems.
Even so, in effective range and firepower the muzzleloader is no match to a modern “turkey special” 12-gauge pump action gun. Nevertheless a growing number of hunters seem to accept the limitations of a muzzleloader in exchange of the satisfaction of a traditional means of taking a turkey and using better woodsmanship to get closer to the birds than is necessary with a modern day shotgun.
Among muzzloader turkey hunters the 12 gauge caplock double barrel is the favorite tool to take on a turkey hunt. The double barrel allows for a quick follow-up shot if needed but require special safety requirements. After firing one barrel always remove the percussion cap from the nipple of the loaded barrel before reloading the empty barrel. Also get into the habit of tamping down the load in the loaded barrel as the recoil may have created a space between powder charge and shot. To make sure you do not load the same barrel twice cut a little notch into the ramrod at the muzzle when the rod rests on the full charge, this will be your “barrel charged” indicator, if the mark is in line with muzzle the barrel is charged, does the mark fall below the muzzle the barrel is empty.
To build a turkey-hunting load you need five components: powder, shot, over-shot wads and percussion caps. Before you begin loading your muzzleloader shotgun read and study the manufactures owner manual, where you also will find loading tables for your particular muzzleloader. Caution: Never use a heavier load than is recommended by the gun manufacturer as the upper limit. Pyrodex RS or blackpowder in either FFg or Fg granulation may be used in modern muzzleloader shotguns.
Some hunters assume that the maximum allowed powder load gives the best performance, but like with most things in life and hunting, more is seldom better. The same rules as with a regular shotgun apply to a muzzleloader shotgun, the only way to determine the load that will give you the best performance is to spend many hours at the range. Working up a perfect load for your blackpowder gun is tedious work where attention to detail is paramount to achieving accuracy. In muzzleloading each load is truly a custom load, hours are spent on the range trying out and mixing different components that make up a load until one arrives at the perfect compromise of sufficient power, range and shot pattern. As you work up a load keep a notebook and a loading table handy for reference and to make notes. If you are a newcomer to muzzleloader hunting I strongly suggest that you read as much information about muzzleloader hunting as possible and in addition purchase a few of the many good books on the subject.
Where permitted to hunt turkeys with rifles as well as shotguns, rifles account for more kills than shotguns. Hunting turkeys with a rifle requires good marksmanship to make the often long-range head shots. A turkey hit in the body with your favorite deer rifle, is often rendered both dead and inedible at the impact of the bullet. Serious rifle turkey hunters prefer accurate rifles chambered for smaller calibers, such as the .22-250 Rem. And .223 Rem. With the choice of many high quality loads on the market for these calibers achieving a high degree of accuracy is not impossible. The avid rifle turkey hunter carefully hand-loads that maintain excellent accuracy at ranges under 200 yards, while reducing velocity to levels that minimize meat damage.
At ranges under 100 yards the little .17 Remington has acquired a large following among rifle turkey hunters. The small 25-grain bullet kills a turkey instantly with little meat damage. Another favorite is the good old .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum. A riflescope in the range of 3-9x40 or 4.5-12 will bring the target very close and aid in the accuracy of the shot placement.
Trying to kill a turkey with archery equipment is at best a very challenging and though job. Calling a turkey nervous and wide-eyed within the effective range of 15 to 20 yards needed for a killing shot with bow and arrow requires exceptional calling expertise, patience and camouflage skills. Bringing the turkey close to you in one thing but then having to put the calls down, pick up the bow and draw the string is quite another story.
For the bow turkey hunter the compound bow is the best choice. Because of the substantial time laps between drawing and releasing the string other bows are less favorable. The compound permits you to hold the string drawn fro some time without fatigue. Where legal, a crossbow is the best choice of archery equipment for turkey hunting as you can preload the arrow and keep the string drawn without holding it.
If legal in your area use a natural or commercial groundblind to disguise your movement of drawing the bowstring back. Decoys are good too to take a toms attention away from you. Caution: do not use decoys on public land or anywhere where you share the land with other hunters, it just is too dangerous.
Because an archer needs both hands to shoot a bow, most bowhunters use mouth calls to lure the turkey the last few yards closer to the hunter. If you can not use a groundblind and, or a crossbow it is a good tactic to sit absolutely still and wait until the turkey turn around strutting showing you his “bulls-eye”, the fanned tail will obstruct his view to the back. Now, pick up your bow, draw the string aim for the bulls-eye and let the arrow fly.
The average deer-hunting bow is more than sufficient to kill a turkey. Set the draw weight lower, around 30 lbs. to 45 lbs are plenty good, this will help you to hold the string back for a considerable without beginning to shake from fatigue. The arrows should be tipped with a large cutting diameter broadhead and some sort of “grabbers” to prevent a complete pass trough shot. It is nearly impossible to retrieve a bird after a pass trough shot as he will take off and fly away even if mortally wounded. If the arrow stays in the bird it will prevent him form taking off flying. Good quality expandable broadheads are excellent turkey killers.