HUNTING AMERICA’S BIRD   Leave a comment

Peering thorough the early morning mist, it is difficult to determine if that object is a stump, bush or a turkey.  The later is preferred.

No one really knows just how long hunters have pursued the wild turkey.  Suffice it to say that throughout recorded history in America, this bird has provided food and sport.  Here in Illinois, it is one of the most popular game animals available.  In 2010 hunters took an all time record number of birds. 

The birds thrived in the 1800’s.  Early settlers lived off them.  But, the agriculture practices of the settlers destroyed most of their habitat and the birds vanished from the scene.  Illinois wildlife officials tried restocking them in the 1950’s with very poor success.

Early in the 1970’s a new method of management was attempted.  Beginning with a few birds obtained from other states, Biologists began trapping the offspring and relocating the birds.  Since that time, they have transplanted some 4,751 birds to 278 release sites across the state. 

Today they are found in all 102 counties of the state even though they were released in only 99.   

Much is made of a turkey’s intelligence.  That is probably more due to instinct than to actual smarts.  The turkey has fantastic eyesight and they are afraid of everything.  It is not a super bird.   He can be taken if one does his homework and pays attention to detail in the woods. 

The wild turkey weighs about 21 pounds and is a fast runner as well as a strong flier.  They routinely fly across the Mississippi River, no small task for such a large bird. 

Turkey hunters must learn the habits and habitat of the quarry.  Some hunters each year are successful without preparation.  They are not the ones who take birds year after year.  

Most birds are taken during the spring hunts even though some are harvested in the fall.  In the spring, the male or gobbler has love on his mind and is less aware of other things in the woods, such as hunters.  

This is not to say that the turkey will ignore a hunter.  Quite the contrary, he will be long gone if he spots a hunter’s movement.

In the spring, the hen will mate with a gobbler each day until she conceives.  She then begins to lay one egg per day for 10 to 15 days.  Once she has her eggs, she will stop breeding with the male.  This means that each gobbler has fewer hens to mate with as the season wears on.  Late in the season, gobblers are more vulnerable as they seek hens with which to mate.  They find fewer available.

Gobblers are solitary animals.  Sometimes they will be found with another male.  These are usually brothers.  Siblings will travel together but their functions are different.  One will be a strutter and a lover while the other is a fighter, warding off other gobblers in the area. 

To overcome the instinctive defense mechanisms of the wild turkey, a hunter must pick a hunting area with birds.  Simple, but it requires some advance field work.  Hunters must also prepare their equipment for the job at hand. 

Hunters must begin prior to the opening of the season.  It involves scouting and practice with the weapon to be used.  It takes legwork to find a good area to hunt.  Talk to locals about birds they might have seen. 

Topographic and other maps are handy for marking where one has seen birds as well as sign of them.  A pair of binoculars is good for use from the roadway.  One can drive a lot of roads and scout without having to actually walk all over the countryside. 

While scouting, look for birds, droppings, feathers and tracks.  They are rather opportunistic in their feeding habits.  Turkeys all types of seed, grain, acorns, insects and small reptiles. 

Turkeys will often respond to a Barred Owl call.  Turkeys hate Barred Owls and will often gobble in response to just hearing their call. 

Pre‑season practice with a shotgun should include patterning the gun.  Remember the smaller the shot the more pellets in the load.  The idea is to get most of the shot in a 30 inch circle at 40 yards.  Most hunters are comfortable with number 4 or number 6 shot.  Illinois limits shot size to Number 4 to Number 7 1/2.  It is best to check local regulations in case of changes.  Two ounces of shot per load is the best.  

Experiment with different loads, size of shot, and manufacturer’s ammunition. 

Full camouflage of both the hunter and gun are a necessity.  Once in the woods sit against a tree wider than your shoulders.  This helps to conceal your outline and also is a protection from shots made from behind by another hunter. 

A word to the wise at this point.  Hunt defensively.  Never stalk a turkey.  Someone may be concealed to you and about to shoot in the direction of the bird.  Never wear the colors of red, white or blue in the woods during turkey season.  All of these could mean turkey to some other hunter.  

It is best to set up on a side hill and make the bird come to you by calling.  One can set up 75 to 125 yards from the bird and then call him into range.

There are six basic types of mechanical calls on the market.  They are the box call, diaphragm, corn cob‑slate call, push button, wing bone, and tube call or as it is sometimes called, the snuff box call.  Each has its advantage and disadvantage.  Try each and make up your mind as to which works best. 

Box calls are probably the easiest to master and are thus the most popular.  Diaphragm calls are popular because their use frees up the hunter’s hands for use of the weapon.  They take much practice.  All of them will bring in birds. 

Turkeys respond to seven or eight basic calls from a hunter.  They are the Yelp, the mating call, the assembly call, cluck, purr, cackle, cutting call, and the fighting gobbler.  The latter is a combination of purr, cluck, and broken gobble that is made by using two push button calls at the same time.  

It is a two man operation to be used in mid to late morning. 

Another call the turkey hunter carries with him is the Barred Owl call mentioned earlier.  It is used at first light.  The call is a “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”.  Gobblers in the area will often gobble in response to this call, thus giving away their location.  A crow call used later in the morning will sometimes elicit the same response.  

As with all calls, it is important to learn the proper use and to practice frequently before the season begins.  

Turkey hunting is an interesting sport for the early spring.  It is probably the fastest growing hunting sport.  Study the sport, practice with the calls and weapons, and study the quarry.  If one does his homework. Chances are good for a successful and safe hunt.


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