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How To/Pro-Tips

Patterning a Tom

Most hunters are every bit as much an advocate of patterning a gobbler as a trophy buck. That means a real and ongoing study of that gobbler as an individual rather that the general knowledge gained by regular pre-season scouting.

Of course it must all start with scouting. However, once you have located a gobbler (or gobblers), you should keep on learning their particular habits, movement patterns and preferred places.

Be cautious about this in the pre-season. Just as with a big buck, too much of your intrusion will alert the gobbler, influence his pattern and make him more wary. Never practice calling a gobbler before the season. You will teach him a lot more than he will teach you.

As the hunting season progresses, note which way the gobbler travels when he leaves his roost, where he normally meets up with hens and his preferred strutting grounds. By knowing the gobbler's routine, you considerably raise your chances of bagging him.

Tuning Up for Turkeys

It's not too soon to start practicing with your turkey calls for the upcoming season. You don't have to be an absolute master of the call to be a successful turkey hunter, but being competent sure doesn't hurt your chances for success.
Start out with your old favorite calls to get back in the groove. You might want to replace some of your diaphragm or tube calls because latex deteriorates with age. Better to break in a new call early on than have last season's favorite go sour on you in mid-season. Also by starting early you can experiment with new calls (both makes and call types) and maybe find something that works better for you.
With all the excellent video and audio tapes available, good turkey call instruction is widely available and learning effective techniques is not the slow curve it once was. Visiting local turkey calling contests is also a good idea. Hearing top-ranked competition callers and attending their seminars might help your technique.

Targeting Turkeys with a Bow

Shotgunners prefer to shoot for the gobbler's head and neck. For even very good archers this is a very difficult target. A gobbler's head is a small target and is seldom still for very long.
Bowhunters should focus on the heart/lung vital area. The best way to do this is to imagine that the gobbler is wearing a cape, fastened around the base of the neck, that drapes down over the upper 1/3 or a bit more of the body. That about covers the vital area.
The only weak spot in the gobbler's "body armor" is the upper back. This area exposes the spine and covers the heart/lung area with little muscle or bone. From the side, the "wing butts" of the upper wing, which contain heavy feathers and strong wing bones, cover the vitals. From the front, three inches or so of breast muscle cover the vitals. For these reasons, powerful hunting bows are recommended for gobblers, particularly if you are using mechanical, expanding heads.

Check Out Your Changes

Shotguns can be really fussy about their loads. Every shotgun barrel has loads and pellet sizes that it "likes" and those that it doesn't. Sometimes the differences can be dramatic.
If you decide to try a new shotshell brand, load or pellet size, you should check it out on the pattern board. Probably most loads will look pretty good at short range, but at longer ranges, you might see very different pattern results between different loads and you might pick up a bit of additional range with the right load.
Always wear hearing protection while shooting your turkey gun to avoid permanent ear damage and hearing loss. The muzzle blast of a short-barreled, magnum turkey gun considerably exceeds the threshold of potential ear damage.
Bows are even more finicky. Change one little thing, such as head weight or design, arrow spine or anything else, and your bow will probably need to be re-sighted. A big gobbler's vital area is pretty small and there is not much margin for error.

Turkey Gear

With all the new hunting equipment available, how much of it is really useful to a turkey hunter? I find much of it to be very useful indeed.
You can get some good binoculars at a size between a paperback novel and a pack of cigarettes. These are very useful in all turkey habitats for identifying distant turkeys across pastures and fields. Binoculars are almost a must for turkey hunting on the western plains and mountains, which are much more open than eastern turkey habitat.
Short-range rangefinders that are accurate to 60 or 70 yards are a big help for both shotgun and bowhunters whose armament has a very definitely limited range. Take a few range readings around your set-up and you will know the moment that gobbler steps into range.
The new GPS units are great, but not only to keep you from getting lost. They can also guide you through a dark morning back to that gobbler you roosted last evening.

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