This will not be one of those simple step-by-step guides with feel-good drawings that you find on sites like Wikihow, because let’s admit it right here and now when it comes to attracting and finding Mr. Waddles it’s just not that easy. There is much to learn and lots to do.
What this blog will do for you is provide a framework that gives you the best chances at locating a big gobbler and bringing him in a little closer so you can have an honest good look at that beard of his and admire every inch.
The Tom Turkey
Before we begin with the “how” we need to first look at the “why” and by knowing what to look for in a Tom Turkey, we can then adjust our techniques and methods of hunting accordingly.
Male turkeys, referred to as “Toms” or “Gobblers” personally prefer the name, Tom, to the untrained eye are not easily distinguished from other turkeys at a glance but there are still differences that stand out.
Of course, some may say that Toms has fanned-out tail feathers, bright-colored plumage, and fluffed-up chest feathers, which although true, does only occur during mating season which begins late February down south and early April for the more northern states.
Out of season the obvious signs of a male turkey is the obvious size difference. Males are larger weighing around 15 to 28 pounds and having a height of 43 to 48 inches, while a female turkey is 8 to 12 pounds with a height of 36 inches.
It’s no secret that ladies love a full long flowing beard, they simply cannot resist it and a turkey hen is no different. Weirdly enough Toms grow them on their chest, but nonetheless, they are just as proud and you can see the 7 to 10-inch beard swinging as they strut.
When it comes to hunting, a prized trophy tom is determined by three things, the length of the beard, tail fan, and spurs on the legs.
In finer detail, the Tom has numerous iridescent colors on its chest feathers, these colors range from bronze/copper, and gold to blue and red with touches of green. There are slight color variations within sub-species but more on that later.
There are 5 sub-species of wild turkey recognized in North America and their distribution covers every state except for Alaska, so you can imagine that is quite a varied habitat.
However, not all subspecies behave the same, make the same calls, and will react differently under certain circumstances. With that being said, below is a list of each subspecies.
- The Eastern Subspecies
- Merriam’s Subspecies
- Rio Grande Subspecies
- Gould’s Subspecies
- Osceola Subspecies
You can imagine that with 5 subspecies spread across North America, turkeys could survive almost anywhere. Well, even though they are hardy and very adaptive they still prefer certain characteristics when it comes to their home range.
Those consist of a mix of forest and hardwood areas, the more fruit and nut-bearing trees the better, and about 35% open fields or agricultural lands.
The heavily wooded areas provide shelter, safety, and a place to roost while the open fields and fruit or nut-bearing trees are a consistent food source.
Of course, we could delve deeper into each subspecies and analyze each habitat preference but that is an article for another day.
Mating season is the hunter’s best opportunity for bringing in a turkey. It’s Tom’s time to shine, gobble, strut their stuff and also lose all sense of safety awareness as they chase the hens.
Apart from trying his darndest to mate with as many hens as he can, the Tom will spend a large majority of his time defending these ladies against other Toms trying to cluck their way in there. Jokes aside, taking the time to observe these mating habits may give you ideas on how to effectively attract a Tom turkey closer, for example, you may notice the Tom is quick to react to a rival male being in his range and so a male turkey decoy may be a good option.
Weather also plays a big part in the mating habits of turkeys. Unusually warm or cold spells may accelerate or reduce the breeding activity. If bad weather is on the way, you may need to adjust your strategy.
Calling in a Tom turkey is truly an art form, it takes practice and knowledge as to what calls to use and when. Making a gobble here and there simply won’t cut it.
Again, to delve into the finer details of turkey calling would be a lengthy article in itself, so to summarize we have listed the different types of calls that a hunter should at least know of and be proficient in at least 3 of them:
The most common call heard by turkeys is the Tom’s gobble. Used to attract hens, show dominance, and alert other Toms in the area of their presence. During the height of the breeding season, a gobble call is always a go-to option.
Used as a locator amongst turkeys, the yelp can be heard from multiple turkeys. The yelp is a great early morning call and is best used to find turkeys residing in the area if you are unsure of their location.
Similar to the yelp call, but a little softer and more personal amongst hens within a flock. The cluck can also be heard at first light while the turkeys are still in the trees.
This loud and repetitive call is often given by a turkey that is lost or stressed in trying to relocate the rest of the hens.
A collective call given by turkeys when in flight, usually crossing fields, rivers, roads, or open areas, once landed they will cluck to regather and ensure all other turkeys made the crossing safely.
Feeding & Baiting
Feeding and baiting is a great option for the novice turkey hunter and it’s also a very good way of doing pre-season scouting to determine the number of Tom’s in the area and getting to know the turkey’s routine.
It’s always important to double check on local and state hunting regulations when it comes to baiting, but for those areas that allow it, you can’t go wrong with standard deer corn to bring in those big birds.
There is always a big debate at the cabin when it comes to the choice and placement of decoys out in the field. Some old-time hunters swear by the color of the decoy’s eyes as being a discerning factor, while others say it’s all about the plumage paint.
Unfortunately, there are no set rules when it comes to choosing the best decoys but one certainty is that a good decoy coupled with the right calls, will have a Tom come strutting his stuff in no time.
Turkey is all about pre-season preparation, learning their habits, from where they roost to where they feed and the calls they make at different times of the year.
In our opinion, there are no better teachers than old timers and Mother Nature herself. So, if you want to learn the specifics of locating and attracting Tom turkeys you can either spend your evenings hanging around in dingy bars buying weird old lonely guys whiskey in the hopes of sparking up a conversation on turkey hunting or you can spend that time outdoors, watching, listening, observing and learning all there is to know about turkeys.
Putting in that time and effort during the off-season will be worth every minute and you’ll be glad you did when you are rested up against the base of that pine or oak tree calling in a flaring Tom as he responds to your every gobble.