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Turkey Hunting Tips
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This hunting information is
provided as advice only. It is the duty of the hunter to ensure that
he or she is complying with all current laws and regulations.
Beginning with the 2009 Fall
turkey seasons hunters must use #4 shot or smaller to hunt turkey
For this species there are a few basics you need to
understand in order to hunt them legally with the proper licenses and tags.
The WDFW regulations have a number of exceptions to the information provided
below, these are general statements meant to help point the beginning
hunter in hunting this particular species. It is also the duty of the
hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all rules and regulations
put in place for that season, species, and area they are hunting.
populations are exploding all over Washington State. A hunter must
purchase a small game license and separate tags (transport tags)
for fall and spring general seasons. Multiple rules and bag limits apply. Check the most current game rules for clarification on
where and when these general seasons occur.
There is no
single "right" way to hunt turkey... being flexible and paying attention to
your surroundings will increase your success.
Since 1960, three subspecies of wild turkey have been introduced in Washington: the Merriam’s, Rio Grande, and eastern. Currently, the Merriam’s subspecies occupies portions of Ferry, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Spokane, Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, and Yakima counties. Rio Grande turkeys can be found in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties. Turkeys of the eastern subspecies can be found west of the Cascades in Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Thurston, and Wahkiakum counties. (WDFW website)
West side turkeys are the planted subspecies Eastern.
Eastern Turkeys tail feathers are tipped in brown and the body feathers are tipped in black. They are metallic looking as the feathers have an iridescence about them.
Blue Mountain area turkeys are the planted subspecies Rio Grande.
Rio Grandes have light brown lined tail feathers and on the lower back feathers.
Most all other Eastern Washington area turkeys are the planted subspecies Merriam.
Merriam turkeys have white lined tail feathers and on the lower back feathers.
Ponderosa Pine nuts are the number one winter food source of turkeys in Eastern Washington WDFW Game Status and Trends Report
In 2006, Washington State WDFW reported a total harvest of an estimated 6400 turkeys. WDFW Game Status and Trends Report
Average beard length of a
turkey is around 8-9 inches. They don't get much longer because
the Toms end up stepping on them or catching them on underbrush.
10+ inch beards are very unusual.
Turkeys are like all game birds and need to collect gravel to help digest their food. It is not uncommon to see turkeys spending a lot of morning hours in the middle of a logging road. (courtesy Mike D.)
Some hens grow beards
and is the reason that the seasons are set as bearded or non-bearded
rather than hen or tom.
Gobbling can happen at
all times of the year. However, active toms will begin the
heaviest gobbling from early April through early June.
A mature tom will have
18 tail feathers.
A turkey's head can
change color. From white, to blue, to full red. Red headed
birds typically mean that the bird is in a fighting mood. Blue and
white will mean they are ready to breed.
First rule! Know what you are shooting at !!! There is no excuse for accidentally shooting something you did not intend to. HWS staff
You have to pay attention to turkey droppings and foot prints. Look for these signs in openings in the forest.
Hire a guide for one season. Chances are that guide will teach you more during your hunt than you would learn from years of "trying to figure it out on your own." Guides are willing to teach and are getting paid to give you all their attention. Most guides will be flattered if you continually pick their brains for information.
Always get permission before hunting land that is private. You may think that the landowner wouldn’t mind if you took one out of that flock of 40, but, trespassing is never OK, nor is taking animals off of someone’s land.
There are quite a number of different types of turkey calls. Before purchasing one, ask around and see which ones work well. Diaphragm calls take a huge amount of practice to master. Slate calls are useless when raining. Box calls can be cumbersome and take both
of your hands to operate.
If you spot another hunter who is working a bird, be considerate and back off from the flock. It is unfair and unsportsman-like.
If using a shotgun, practice shooting with the same loads as you will be taking out in the field. Get used to how it patterns and your effective range.
Head shots are the most
appropriate shot selection for shotgun hunters. Archery hunters
should aim low in the vital area. Too high on the body will
not hit any organ.
Older mature gobblers usually have beards that average 7 to 10 inches in length. Many jake males taken during the fall hunting season have beards that are shorter than 2 inches. Juvenile hens rarely possess beards, but a portion of the adult females may be bearded. Beards on hens rarely exceed 5 inches and are meager compared with the beard of a full-grown tom.
Turkeys are smart but
have bad long term memory. Turkeys will come back a few days after
being disturbed. If you've seen a couple of toms and have shot one
in the group, the chances are the other toms will be back within a few
According to State
biologists and experts, turkeys typically only have a home range of
about a mile.
Full-grown toms have prominent spurs on the backs of the lower legs, which become longer and more pointed with age. On an old bird, spurs can go over an inch in length. Hens and juvenile toms (jakes) have only small, subtle spurs.
Turkeys have phenomenal eyesight. Camo up! Including your hands and face.
Believe it or not, a number of people have been able to use tree stands for turkey. It relies on the predictability of certain flocks of turkeys and limits your ability to be mobile. However, being well above the turkeys in the very early mornings and the evenings can allow you to not worry as much about your body movement.
Bad weather usually forces turkeys to shut down, they like to seek cover and attempt to stay dry. It is important to note that the turkeys are still in the woods, just not as vocal. Don’t let a rainy day spoil your attempt at a turkey hunt,
but realize that once the rain starts it will be quite difficult to
locate them by ear.
Don’t overuse your turkey call. Public land turkeys have heard the gambit of hunters calling at them. Use clucks and purrs and gently scratch the ground (do what others are not)
Turkeys are extremely mobile, they will cover significant ground during the day, so hunt the entire day. And if you don’t see turkeys right away, but, you see significant sign. Wait… they will show.
"Shock Calling" is something that can be done. Before heading into an area at first light. Blow a predator call or yelp like a coyote. Turkeys tend to "sound the alarm" when they hear a predator or when they are alarmed. If you pay close attention to where the bird has called from, sneak in that general direction.
When hunting a creek bottom or near a water source, turkeys will rarely cross water to go after another male or female. If you hear your birds on the other side. Move to their side.
Think like a bull elk
when you are spring hunting. Pretend to be a satellite bull (jake)
or a lone cow (hen) and pull that nasty old gobbler in to either fight
Be very certain that
the bird in your sights is a male during male seasons. Look for
the beard protruding from the breast and look for spurs. There is
no excuse for mistaking a juvenile (jake) with a hen. Limit your
shots to 25 yards or less. This will ensure proper identification
of the bird and a good close shot.
When scouting or hunting really early or really late in the day. Look up in the trees. This is where turkeys roost. While it is very unsportsmanlike to shoot a turkey in a tree, mark where the bird is and come back later
before first light and catch the birds when they come down off the roost.
Turkey roosts are safety zones for hens and gobblers. Only
specific trees are preferred by turkeys to use as a roost (lots of bare
branches well above the ground) Shooting
straight up into a roost can damage the tree and the roosting branches
making them unusable for future flocks. It can also be difficult
to correctly id your bird as a hen or a tom. In fact, some states
actually make it illegal to shoot turkeys out of their roosts.
Believe it or not, turkeys can fly quite some distance. They are very mobile and spook easily.
There are a lot of turkeys now in Washington State. Chances are most of them are going to be on private land. Get to know landowners before the season and seek their permission. The population seems to be exploding and with a yearly bag limit of 3, the WDFW seems to think so, as well. The turkey population increase on private land could mean that hunting turkeys on adjacent public land will be much easier in the future as the carrying capacity for these lands will eventually push more and more birds into more accessible land. It is important to note that a few of us here at HuntWashingtonState who have hunted in Washington all of our lives never saw turkeys growing up. Now it is not uncommon to see flocks of a hundred or more birds.
When contacting landowners be courteous and respect their not wanting to allow hunting of turkeys. Numerous landowners understand that turkeys actually help decrease the rattlesnake population. This is especially important if a landowner has cattle or other livestock. You can perhaps offer to do a bit of summer rattlesnake cleanup for the landowner in exchange for the opportunity to hunt a tom or to improve his land for turkey production. The National Wildlife Turkey Foundation has excellent tips on how to best enhance habitat for turkey production. http://www.nwtf.org/ When contacting landowners, offer to do some work. Chances are this offer will resonate much more than some strange guy in camo walking up to him and asking to trespass.
Purchase a turkey seat, you will make yourself much more comfortable for a much longer time.
It is very difficult to
still hunt for turkeys. Listen carefully to your surroundings and
wait for the telltale gobbles of the Tom's in the area. Get near
where you hear the gobbler and set up and let him come to you.
More often than not, it will be very difficult to sneak up on a
turkey. They have excellent hearing and eyesight. Ambush is
Fashion a simple
lanyard to help carry your bird out of the field. Carrying a bird
like the hunter in the picture to the left can be strenuous.
A loop of parachute cord tied to the legs and the other end tied to a
dowel, piece of deer antler, or plastic PVC will ease the fatigue in your
Be flexible in your choice of camouflage, be prepared to hunt in snow, open areas or deep forests. Have different camo patterns to blend into your surroundings. (courtesy Mike D.)
Place your decoy well inside the effective range of your
shooting ability. If a Tom hangs up 10 yds from your decoy placed
at the outer range of your ability, you are going to want to be able to still have a shot at the bird.
Move the decoy in closer to you. (courtesy Mike D.)
If you are driving and spot turkeys, never stop and watch them. It'll surely spook them. Keep driving at a normal speed and look for a place out of the way to stop your vehicle. (remember to obey all gun handling laws when you are in and near your vehicle!) (courtesy Mike D.)
Break out your binoculars.
Many flocks and roosted birds can be discovered by simply glassing an area.
Spot and Stalk works very well for quiet birds.
(courtesy John H, Spokane)
Intentionally spooking a
large flock of birds could easily work to your advantage. Break them
up by some method that doesn't overly spook them. By breaking up the
group they will be confused and eager to band up again. You will have
a good chance of sneaking on on one of these confused birds. (courtesy John
If you are well hidden, you
can add to your turkey calling by also scratching at the ground with a stick
hitting the ground with your cap or glove. This simulates a bird who
is dusting or shaking itself out.(courtesy John H, Spokane)
Try a duck hunting tactic.
Some of the open areas of turkey habitat can be used to decoy in a gobbler.
Use a dozen or so hen decoys to simulate a hen group. Place the decoy
spread somewhere near a good place of concealment (pit blind?) and catch the
gobbler as he comes to investigate. (courtesy John H, Spokane)
We use trail cameras to
locate our birds. If left undisturbed, you can pattern them pretty
well by checking the time stamp on your camera. (Philip R, Spokane)
If hunting big areas of the
blue mountains, we get up on top of ridgelines and wait for the gobblers to
speak. You can pinpoint specific drainages this way and not have to
burn elevation going down into draws where no birds are active (Philip R,
In the fall hunts of
Eastern Washington, birds will keep to shade during mid day. Look for
these isolated pockets to find your bird. (courtesy Robert K)
Hunt all day! don't
go back to the truck at noon. These birds continually move. (courtesy
Stay absolutely still when
the bird comes in. They have eyesight much better than humans and will
bust you if you so much as move a finger. (courtesy Alan K)
We pair a jake decoy with a
hen decoy. It really seems to mess with the Tom's need for dominance.
Place the decoys very close together like they are mating. That old
Tom will want to come in and break this up. (courtesy Stanley T)
Point the decoys in the
opposite direction you think your birds will come in. The birds will
come in faster and quicker when they aren't facing another bird. (courtesy
When setting up, choose a
place that is comfortable. You might need to sit for a while.
(courtesy Stanley T)
Walk down closed logging
roads where there are different types of habitat. Listen for the
distinctive gobble and move towards where you think the Gobbler is.
Set up as close as you can and soft cluck and purr. The chances of
getting that turkey to gobble back is pretty good. (Bill G, Pullman)
When walking the logging
roads, keep your head up and be careful approaching bends in the road.
Approach the bends and hills like you would still hunting deer. More
often than not, turkeys will be found graveling in the middle of the roads.
See them before they see you! (Bill G, Pullman)
Hunt turkeys similarly to
how you hunt rut elk. They inhabit the same habitat. They
vocalize when mating. They are always looking to fight off less
dominant males or attract a lone hen. When they have a sufficient
number of mates, they will protect their "herd" any way they can. (Jeff L,
Look around for turkey
spoor (poop) The presence of the J shaped excrement will divulge the
presence of turkeys. (Bill G, Pullman)
a mouth diaphragm call and practice every available cluck, whine, purr,
gobble. You'll need your hands free when using a bow or aiming
your shotgun (Brenton U)
Practice and get good
at using all of the calls of a turkey (youtube has a ton of videos out
there to help) Try every call in areas where the gobblers have
gone silent. You never know which sound will get that Gobbler to
sound off (Brenton U)
We use old turkey fans as decoys. You can easily mount the fan to a
stake and place them amongst or on our decoys. This makes the decoys
very realistic. (Tim P, Valley)
When getting into a huge flock of birds, try to bust them up without
revealing who/what you are. The resulting confusion and their
tendency to want to regroup can provide a couple of hunters with some
great shooting. (Tim P, Valley)
After a few weeks of the spring season, turkeys tend to move away when
you call at them. We split up and have one hunter do an "end
around' on the bird while the other hunter stays put. Either the
bird will spook back towards our stationary hunter or the bird will move
directly towards our other hunter. For safety, our stationary
hunter does not move from their spot until both guys see each other.
(Tim P. Valley)
Fall turkey hunting finds the birds in our hunting area all bunched up
in big flocks. We will get in and spook the flock and have them
take off in every direction. We then stake a decoy into the ground
and call these birds back to imitate the regrouping of the flock.
It's a fast way to fill all your tags (Gene, Spokane)
Bird Cleaning Tips
Be careful in chasing what you think is a turkey. In public land hunts, what may sound like or perhaps look like a strutting Tom, could be another hunter and a decoy or two. Remember that hunter orange is not required to hunt turkeys in Washington State. Always identify what you are shooting at.
Know your background before you shoot, turkey shot can carry quite a distance.
When going into an area or leaving, wear hunter orange. Easy way to keep yourself safe.
If you have decoys, stow them away when moving around. Don't have a decoy sticking out of a pack or under an arm. If you really are well camouflaged, other hunters will only see the deke.
Shoot at the head and neck of the bird. Don't shoot at the body. 1) you don't want to waste meat. 2) you don't want to ruin the feathers 3) your chances of merely wounding a bird are much higher. You don't want to have to go chasing your bird over hill and dale and screwing up other's hunting. And 4) If you wound and have to go chasing after the bird, your crashing around sounds exactly like a foraging or alarmed bear. There are some areas where bear hunters and turkey hunters share space. Keep yourself alive!
Modern style decoys are becoming more and more realistic. Be aware of other hunters approaching and that they may shoot at your decoy. In reciprocal to this advice, never shoot at a Tom unless you are sure it is a real bird.
When setting up, sit
with your back against a tree which is wider than you. Other
hunters might mistake a revealed arm or your camo'd head and mistake it
for a bird.
Spring turkey season is
tick season in Eastern Washington. It is highly likely that you
will encounter ticks. Get tick spray and use it! Check
yourself a few times a day for these creepy crawlies.
After leaving our
hunting area and packing a bird, we always carry an extra hunter orange
vest to drape around the bird. No one can mistake us for a bird
going through the woods. (courtesy Alan K)
Areas to hunt
Check out the big game species areas on this site to find access to public lands (go to Sitemap) for links.
WDFW has built a great game range map which will tell you generally where to look for the birds.
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