What’s it take to learn to turkey hunt?

How I Learned to Turkey Hunt

When I first started turkey hunting it had been years since I’d hunted. I was in the dentist’s office, and out of boredom, I picked up a copy of Turkey Country magazine that was sitting on the table. I read a story about a turkey hunt and I knew instantly I wanted to try it.

At the time, I was living in Northern California, and I didn’t know a single person who hunted. Not to be deterred, I set about to learn how to turkey hunt on my own. I purchased a new shotgun and began reading everything I could find on turkey hunting. I got a box call and some camo and learned to pattern my gun. Then I spent months scouting public land for turkeys and even found some. Come the opening day I had a plan, I knew what birds I was going to hunt.

My First Turkey Hunt

Opening morning of turkey season 2009 I pulled into the parking lot of a state wildlife area. There were 3 other cars in the parking lot. I proceeded to hike a mile and a half to my spot, in the dark, wearing a headlamp and set up in the dark. Then I sat and waited for the first light of day. A half-hour before sunset was shoot time. I knew where the birds should be roosting, so I waited, expecting a gobble. And I waited. Nothing. I waited some more, trying to be patient. Finally, at sunrise, I decided to try calling.

I let out a loud yelp with my box call. Being new, I had no understanding of the nuances of turkey talk. If there were a gobbler there, surely they would shock call at least. Nothing. I sat there for another half hour, then decided to get up and go for a walk to see if I could locate them. As I walked away from my spot, I realized there were 4 other hunters set up within 100 yards of me. I was completely shocked, naïve to the fact that other hunters knew where these birds were, too.

Getting Close

As I walked deeper into the wildlife area I came across some very tall grass. Much of this grass was almost as tall as I was. I noticed a small trail going into the grass and wondered to myself if maybe turkey or deer had used the trail. Surely no other hunters had been into that area; the grass was wet and would have shown if they were. I decided to walk that path.

As I pushed deeper into the trail it began to open up, clearly becoming a highly used trail by deer and other wildlife.  Suddenly, three deer jumped out from the grass beside me, startling me before they ran away from me at full speed. This confirmed to me that hunters had not been this way. I continued down the path, and a couple of minutes later I spotted a fairly large group of turkey hens. Unfortunately, they had spotted me, too. They took off running. Thinking quickly, I assumed that if there were hens around, there must be gobblers, too!

I quickly put my decoy in the same spot I saw the hens, and hurriedly found a (terrible) spot to sit. I then began calling with my box call. Within seconds, two jakes (young male turkeys) appeared directly in front of me! They were very close and looking right at me. As I tried to get my gun up they saw the movement and began to move away. I aimed for the head of the one in the back and fired.


My first season, on the first day of turkey hunting and I had a bird! This turkey hunting wasn’t just fun, it was pretty easy!

Except it wasn’t. The rest of the season I wasn’t able to get any birds to come to me. Or for the next three years…

What I Learned

TJ with a tom from US National Forest

Being a good turkey hunter isn’t something you can learn entirely from a book or online, I found out. It comes with experience. Much of that experience comes from being out in the woods, both during the season and off-season, learning from the animals you hunt. It comes from talking to experienced hunters and learning from them. It comes from making dozens of mistakes, sometimes the same mistakes over and over.

Even the most seasoned turkey hunter is going to have days where you think “Why the hell do I do this?”. The difference is that you step back and ask yourself how you can learn from that experience!

To make it easier for new hunters to learn to hunt, I’ve put together a compilation of knowledge, gained from my experience and the experience of others, to help you get started. Hopefully, I’ve covered everything you need! Remember: you’ll need your hunter safety certificate, then purchase a license and any applicable tags and stamps for your state. Talk to your state wildlife agency; they can direct you to the places on their site that cover the rules, regulations, and requirements to hunt.

Finding Places to Turkey Hunt

One of the biggest challenges for the new hunter is finding places you can hunt, especially public land. One of the most valuable tools for finding public land is OnX Maps. OnX allows you to identify who owns a specific piece of land, including all public lands.

Get 20% Off onX Maps with Mossy Oak Promo Code | Mossy OakIt also shows you the borders of that land, allowing you to stay legal during your hunt. State lands, United States Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and even potential public access to private lands are all available in OnX Maps.

Additionally, USFS and BLM maps can help locate these areas, since you may not be familiar with where these lands are. State wildlife websites list wildlife areas, and will usually tell you what species you can hunt. You can cross-reference this information with OnX to better locate and narrow down the areas you want to hunt.

If you see turkeys in an area, reference your maps to see if any accessible land is in the area!

Finally, other apps give similar info and features to OnX Maps: BaseMap and Gaia GPS are two excellent alternatives.

Turkey Hunt Scouting

Turkey tracksOnce you’ve identified a place or places to hunt, it’s time to scout it. But wait, don’t go yet!

Turkeys like to live in transitional areas; that is, areas where the habitat changes. At the edges of clearings where there are taller trees next to a forest, for example. Look for areas where the turkeys can get water. They will travel up to a mile to get water, but if there’s no water in that vicinity it might be harder to find the birds.

Also look for areas where this might be food crops, such as agriculture, oak forests, blackberries, even pine seeds. Turkeys subsist on bugs and vegetation (seeds, grasses, flowers, berries, etc.), mainly.

Scour your GPS maps and Google maps to find areas that are likely to meet these conditions, and place waypoints on your map before you visit. Pro tip: if your GPS app supports it, download the maps to your device before you go, in case there is no service there.

Get out and scout! Drive to the location. Get out and do some hiking. Look for turkeys, of course. But also be on the lookout for scat, feathers, tracks, and even areas that they take their dirt baths in. These will be slight depressions in loose(er) soil where they lay down and shake the dirt into their feathers. Often they use dirt roads for dirt baths!

Road Hunting

Another strategy you can use is to drive through the area, if you can, and stop occasionally to listen and look around. In spring, before the season starts, I head out early in the morning, before the sun comes up. I listen for gobbles on the roost. Sometimes I even use a coyote call to try to get them to shock gobble.

If you locate birds or signs of turkeys, spend as much time there are you can before the season. Be stealthy, but try to find where they roost. Do your best to learn where they go throughout the day, where they get water, and watch their behavior.


Turkey call on a turkey vestTurkey calling is an art form. It will take you years to understand turkey talk and learn to imitate them correctly. Be sure to watch as many videos as you can! Practice, practice, practice!

I recommend simple calls for new hunters. A box call or a pot call are both relatively easy. Mouth calls are for advanced callers, but they are inexpensive and keep your hands free. Don’t be afraid to try one.

Method of Take

For method of take, you have to understand what is legal in your area. Your state’s turkey hunting regulations will spell this out for you. All states allow shotguns and bows, but some states also allow air guns, crossbows, and other weapons. Choose what you are comfortable with. Learn how to use it safely and practice it often.

The key here is to become proficient, and comfortable enough that using the weapon is natural and not something you have to think a lot about!


Turkey ammunitionIf your choice is a shotgun, be sure to select a few different brands and types of ammo. You’ll want to use some of each to pattern your gun. Patterning your gun is simply shooting it from various ranges at a target with a turkey head on it (or a circle the size of) to determine what ammo is going to work best for your gun between 10 and 60 yards.

Your objective is to get ammunition that’s going to put a lot of pellets in a 6″ circle at ranges from 10-50 yards. Several factors can affect this, including your choke. Most turkey hunters use an extra full or super full choke. Check out some turkey-specific chokes from brands such as Indian Creek, HeviShot, Primos, Carlson, Jeb’s, and Truglo.

Each type of ammo is going to behave differently in each gun with each choke. Be sure to test before you go out. I have missed several shots on turkeys when I didn’t pattern before I hunted, and this story is not uncommon!

TSS, Tungsten Super Shot, is the latest craze, and for good reason. It’s non-toxic, for starters. It’s also very lethal, even at longer ranges. It’s also very expensive, with some brands being as much as $10 per shell!


It’s incredibly important to be comfortable in the turkey woods! Since you’ll be hunting in the spring, you can expect cold mornings and warm afternoons. Maybe even some rain. Layering helps ensure you stay insulated when it’s cold and allows you to peel when it gets warm. Check out KUIU, Sitka, FirstLite, Nomad, and other brands for quality gear that will keep you warm (or cool), dry and comfortable.

Wool socks help you stay warm even if your feet get wet. Good boots will allow you to hike all day. Ultralight rain gear will keep you hunting even when it’s pouring, and it will fit in your pack or vest without taking much space.

Speaking of vests, this is an important piece in every turkey hunter’s kit. It’s loaded with pockets to help keep you organized and make reaching for what you need a lot more simple than pulling it from a pack.

You’ll also want a headlamp with a green mode. This allows you to sneak into the woods in the dark to get closer to the roost with less chance of being seen.

Finally, a mask is important! Turkeys have amazing eyesight and detect movement well. Don’t leave it to chance, cover your face!


Turkey and a turkey decoyIf you’ve ever watched hunting shows on TV, you’ve probably noticed nearly all of the turkey hunts involve decoys. Many people believe that decoys are necessary for turkey hunting, which is far from the truth. In fact, in my experience, decoys can often hinder your hunt. I have seen turkeys run when they catch sight of my decoys.

So when should you use decoys? The early season is a great time for decoys, because the birds are not yet pressured enough to be wary, and can easily be fooled. If you are hunting land that gets no pressure, decoys can also be effective.

Understanding how to use decoys improves your odds of success. Find some resources on proper decoy placement, and practice those setups in your yard until you feel like you’ve memorized them.

Using decoys can be a lot of fun, and it takes the attention off of you. Being able to watch the turkeys as they interact with your decoys is not only rewarding, it’s a great teaching moment.

There are many decoys on the market, and you will probably have success with most of them. Some of the more realistic (and expensive) brands are Dave Smith Decoys and Avian X.


Turkey scat

What is woodsmanship? Woodsmanship is said to be an essential skill set of the outdoorsman, in terms of hunting. This includes learning how to identify animals from their tracks, even the sex of the animal. It means determining the age of those tracks, and often, how to find those animals if those tracks are fresh. It also includes identifying animal scat.

Understanding the wind and how to hunt it are vitally important. For turkeys, the wind is less important. But it does play into where they roost!

Learning the areas you hunt and the quarry you are after intimately is key. Make an effort to learn the fauna around you, and know which is prime forage for turkeys. Understand the seasons and how the forage changes for those seasons. Turkeys eat what’s available; berries in the summer, acorns in the fall, seeds in the winter, grasses, and flowers in the spring. This is not the extent of their diet, for sure! They eat TONS of insects and other plants, so be sure to learn what they eat around you.

Speaking of seasons, all animals change habits depending on the season. Many also change locations, turkeys included. One of the toughest aspects of hunting is understanding where those animals are from season to season.

One often overlooked, yet incredibly important aspect of hunting is understanding how to approach terrain and walk through it, nearly undetectable.

Use all of your senses when hunting and you’ll learn to become a better hunter and better woodsman/woman!

After the Turkey Hunt

Plucking a turkeyAfter the hunt is when the real work begins. You’ll need to understand the anatomy of the turkey, or any other animal you harvest, to properly dress and butcher it. Learning how each cut should be best prepared takes time, but is important to the quality of your food. Some cuts are tougher than others and need a different approach to cooking them.

You will want to preserve your kill, and understanding various preservation methods will create a variety of ways you can use that animal down the road, as well as save some freezer space. Many overlooked parts can be extremely nutritious and delicious. Learning how to use those parts will not only increase your harvest, you will show more respect to that animal by wasting less.


As you can see, there is a LOT to know about hunting. It will take years to learn, especially if you’re doing it without a mentor. I suggest you join some social media groups related to turkey hunting and follow along and ask questions. If you know any real hunters, ask if any of them are willing to mentor you.

This is why I started this service, to help others learn to hunt and how to use their harvests!

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