Archive for the ‘Spring Turkey Hunting’ Tag


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The opening of turkey season is a time of emerging interest in the many acres of public access lands.  Each spring turkey hunters prowl the woods in search of lovesick gobblers.

Southern Illinois contains approximately 350,000 acres of huntable turkey territory.  Hunters fan out throughout those public lands to hunt their favorite locations.

Nesting success has been good in the area and local residents report seeing large flocks of birds all through the winter.  Of particular interest to turkey hunters are the expansive 277,000 acre Shawnee National Forest which offers the single most tract of turkey habitat in Illinois.  Hunter success has traditionally been very high in the forest.

Other state and federal lands are also available for turkey hunting in southern Illinois.   A complete list of public hunting lands is in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Hunting Digest.  It is available free at locations that sell hunting licenses, from all Department offices throughout the state, and on the IDNR website.

Spring turkey hunting is gobbler hunting.  The male birds gobble to attract hens for mating.  The birds mate, and the hen goes her own way.  Once she is successfully bred, the hen will make a nest, lay eggs, and raise a brood of young.  If the breeding was not successful, she will seek out another gobbler with which to make.

Hunters seeking turkeys should be sure that they learn how to hunt turkeys before taking to the field.  Consistently successful hunters are those that scout the birds prior to the season.  They find sign of the bird’s activity such as feathers, droppings, dusting areas and tracks.  You can sight birds from roadways with the use of binoculars.

Another way of locating birds in the spring is with the use of a “shock gobble”.  Male turkeys will sound off when hens are in the area.  He thinks he is king of the woods during this period and will offer a challenge gobble in response to almost any sound.  The sound can be the gobble of another bird, the hoot of an owl, or even the slamming of a car door.

In the early morning and late afternoon, turkeys move to areas where two types of vegetation converge.  This can be grass, pasture, crop fields, brush or woods.  They frequent fence rows, roadsides, weedy ditches, abandoned roads and old railroad rights of way.

It is important to remember safety always when in the woods turkey hunting.  Turkey hunter will be sharing the woods with mushroom hunters during at least part of the season.  Safe hunters are those who hunt in the traditional fashion by calling birds to a point where a clear kill can be made of a clearly identified target.  A hunter’s knowledge of proper hunting techniques and familiarity with the birds’ habits can be helpful in promoting safe hunting.

Turkey hunters can gain information about the sport from the National Wild Turkey Federation.  Information is available on line at:

Information about turkey hunting is Illinois is available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL62702-1271.  Their website address is



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Early life is the most hazardous time for young turkeys.  An important sign of turkey population success is whether the young live through the summer.  If conditions are right one year, the number of birds making it to the next spring will be greater. By watching brood conditions in your area it is possible to plan for next year.

Continued flooding hurts the turkey nesting along flood plains.

Any decreased gobbling makes finding those birds more difficult.  Spring turkey hunting is gobbler hunting.  The male birds gobble to attract hens for mating purposes.

As the weeks continue into the latter part of spring, there are fewer female birds to be attracted to the gobblers.  Gradually, the season winds down.  It is this decline in mating activity that is believed to be the cause of fewer birds being taken later in the season.

Wind and rain can also affect turkey harvest in the spring.  Besides being a detriment to hunters taking to the field, wind and rain can sometimes cause the birds to react differently to a call.  Turkeys do continue to practice their mating rituals regardless of weather.

Nesting success is dependent upon weather in late May and early June.  Below‑average temperatures and very wet weather causes poor nesting success.  Good conditions lead to at least two years of excellent hunting.  However, it will be two years before those birds are gobbling.  Jakes (yearling males) do not gobble the first spring after their birth.  They will come to calls but do not gobble.  They often surprise a hunter who is unaware just how close they are to him.

It is important that the hunter learn how to hunt turkeys before taking to the field.  There are those hunters who take birds year after year, and they are the ones who get out in the field and scout the birds before the season begins.

Successful turkey hunters scout areas to find turkey sign.  They look for dusting areas and tracks on back roads.  By driving the back roads, one can see tracks of birds traveling across the road and near creeks.

You can spot birds by use of binoculars.  By looking for movement then using binoculars, one can identify turkeys. He can determine the number of birds, number of gobblers and number of jakes.  That helps to find that specific gobbler with the long beard.

In the early morning and late in the afternoon, birds feed.  Birds move to the edges.  Edges are areas where two types of cover converge.  This can be grasses, pastures, crop fields, brush or woods.  Some other areas to inspect are fence rows, roadsides, weedy ditches, abandoned roads and old railroad rights of way.

Most mating activity among turkeys occurs in April.  Older gobblers establish territories and each then collects a “harem” of two to six hens.  After mating, each hen goes off to begin her nesting.

Nests are usually located in undergrowth that offers some concealment.  Most are near the base of a tree or shrub which provides some overhead cover.

If the first nesting attempt is a failure, many hens will re‑nest.

The hen visits the nest once each day for two weeks to lay a single egg.  During the latter part of this period she will spend several hours sitting on the eggs each day.  What follows is a 28 day incubation process with the hen leaving the nest only once each day.  This is generally early in the afternoon, to obtain food and water and sometimes to take a dust bath.

Only about 35 percent of wild turkey nests hatch successfully.  Predators sometimes kill the hens while they are on the nest.  Agricultural and logging operations kill some of the hens.  Some hens are startled by man’s intrusion and will desert the area.

Once the young hatch, the hen remains with the brood near the nest.  After several days, she will take them to an open area where insects, grass seeds, blackberries and a wide variety of plant material is available for food.  Several hens and poults will join together and will stay together until the next spring.


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Late winter is a good time to prepare for spring turkey hunting.  Doing some homework greatly increases a chance at a big ole Tom.  You do some of the preparation at home in bad weather.  Other things need doing outdoors on the nice days.

Indoors in late winter, one can brush up on calling skills and experiment with new calls.  It is a time to tune them.  All calls need to be in good operating condition.  Check mouth calls to make sure diaphragms have not deteriorated.  Friction calls need chalking.  It is a chance to perfect the tone, cadence and intricacies of each call.  By studying videos or audio tapes and trying to imitate them, one learns from some of the best turkey experts in the country.  Watch their techniques and learn to match them.

As one studies the calling of experts and attempts to imitate them, learn the how, when, where and why of attracting turkeys.  An example might be that loud yelping is sometimes better for young gobblers in early season.

At certain times, such as daybreak or late in the season, the more wary gobbler might be frightened away.  These skills hunters learn in a few hours of watching video or listening to audio tapes.  To learn this on your own, it might take many seasons.

More indoor activity might include making sure that accessories are in order.  Such items as clothing, head nets, hats, and gloves must be located.  They can get lost from one season to another or need replacing.

As the weather improves, move outdoors.  Take the time to pattern a shotgun and determine its effective range.  This is especially true if one has purchased a new gun or has had difficulty with an old one.

Next, scout out some perspective hunting areas.  Begin with friends, acquaintances and natural resources personnel.  Call them and ask about probable areas to check.  Begin early as many other people are doing the same thing.

Follow up by searching the areas mentioned.  Look for scratchings, feathers, dusting areas and tracks.  Among of the best places to begin is in hardwood forests and field

As the opening day of hunting season approaches, breeding season for the turkeys also begins in earnest.  Tom turkeys begin to gobble.  Hunters should spend more time in the woods at dawn and dusk when turkeys are most active.  The more gobbling, the better you will be able to pattern their activity.  If they do not gobble on their own, try to annoy them with an owl or crow call.

If you are able to locate a gobbler with the owl or crow call in the evening prior to a hunt, it is possible to locate where he will most probably be in the morning.  Sneak as close as possible to the location before first light the following morning.  When legal shooting hours arrive, make three or four soft yelps.

This is probably your best opportunity to take a tom.

Turkey hunting is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports.  Whether or not one is successful depends upon preseason practice and preparation.  It is worth it.


Out foxing the wild turkey can also mean conquering the weather.  Some springs in Illinoishave been rainy ones.  But, turkeys stay out in the rain and if a hunter wants one he has to do the same. 

Rob Keck, former Executive Director of the National Wild Turkey Federation, finds some springs it rains on his parade too.  “Everywhere I go,” says Keck, “It seems like it rains.  I hunt more times in the rain than I can remember.” 

Keck has to find way to get around the weather.  He spends a lot of time just trying to find a dry place where he can still hunt.  Out buildings and rock outcropping are just two of the places he uses. 

Always on the alert for ways to beat the weather, Keck takes his slate call, turns it upside down and uses it that way.  When not using it, he keeps the call and striker inside his coat.  By using these two maneuvers, he is able to keep it out of the elements. 

Keck, who uses slate calls quite a bit, always carries his strikers in Ziploc bags.  He just pops the bags into his vest.  He usually has his vest on the outside of his rain gear so that the calls and strikers are accessible.  In the bags they remain dry. 

He stresses the need to keep a striker dry.  Because once that tip gets wet, you are out of business. 

Speaking of strikers, Keck finds that a real ticket to successful calling relates to the fact that some birds want you to start with one call and finish with another.  He has to carry a variety of strikers.  But he likes to do that anyway. 

When in the woods, Keck carries a variety of calls from box calls, mouth calls, slates of different compositions, even wingbone calls.  When asked how many calls he carries, his response is, “I usually put a 50-pound limit on it.” 

Keck finds it amazing that he can get one turkey to gobble on one particular striker and the next bird will not even listen to it.  He just keeps switching around to find what is really going to work.  Some birds appear to not work a slate call, but it may be that he will not work a slate call with that particular striker. 

Keck points out that often a commercial call has a striker that has not actually been matched to the slate.  He works at matching strikers to the slate.  Each combination sounds different even though they can be made out of the same types of woods.  Keck carries a variety of wooden strikers, usually made out of very dense and heavy woods.  He uses everything from tiger wood, rosewood, ebony to a whole variety of woods.  This enables him to find what works best with a particular call.  He explains that, “everyone is going to have a different sound when you combine two surfaces.” 

That includes box calls as well.  Keck finds that changing the angle of the lid on a box call can make a different pitch.  To do this Rob either backs out the Phillips head screw or tightens it.  “What this does,” explains Keck “is change where the paddle is actually striking on the lip of the box.”  As you get out closer to the edges, a higher pitch is produced.  Moving more to the center you are going to get a deeper pitched sound. 

Every turkey wants something different.  Changing calls is one way to change the sound of the box call.  Another is how you hold the call.  You change the sound by changing the location of where you hold it.  Holding it into your body and reversing where the hinge is located will change it as well. 

Keeping your calls dry, experimenting with them and their use, and using different calls and strikers, can make all the difference in sound.  It can spell the difference between bringing home a big old tom and just getting wet and frustrated.

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