Mar 13, 2019
Turkey Hunter Training
Tips for finding and harvesting a prized bird in Wisconsin this spring
By Jesse Quayle
The wild turkey is truly one of Wisconsin's wildlife management success stories. The success of the wild turkey management program can be attributed to hunters purchasing wild turkey stamps which provide vital financial support.
Since the turkey was successfully reintroduced into Wisconsin in 1976, population levels continue to rise all across the Badger State. Wisconsin has many opportunities to harvest a wild turkey, including the youth hunt in April, the state’s Mentored Hunting program, Learn to Hunt and a disabled hunting opportunity.
Spring turkey authorizations are issued through a preference-based drawing system. After the preference drawing is complete, all remaining harvest authorizations – now called bonus harvest authorizations – will be sold over the counter. Bonus authorizations will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Each zone will have a designated sales date. The first zone will go on sale in mid-March. Hunters may buy leftover harvest authorizations on a one-per-day basis until sold out, or when the season is over.
Where to turkey hunt
As a fulltime hunting and fishing guide, I’m often asked a lot of questions about turkey hunting. The first question asked by most hunters is about location.
Just like deer hunting, location is everything. You want to find areas with a good food source where you see birds feeding throughout the day, or at least early morning or just before dark as they head to the roost. You also want to find large roosting trees, for example, large, tall white pines, red pines or oaks.
In areas where you have more hills, turkeys like to roost toward the top of the hill rather than on more flat land. Turkey also like to roost closer to field edges or just off the field.
A great way to find roosting areas is to look over a woods in early spring before the leaves start, searching for taller trees were birds can roost. Most of the time you will find taller trees with a lot of feather and droppings on the ground just below the tree. Close to the roosting area you also will find leaves turned up and the ground heavily scratched up were birds first feed as they hit the ground early morning.
Another question I’m asked is how to roost turkeys. Again, find tall trees in the area you plan to hunt. For instance, if you have a field where birds are feeding just before dark, wait until they’re in the woods and listen for them to fly up to their roost. Most of the time, if there is a gobbler with them, he will fly up on roost and gobble a few times before he goes to sleep.
Another great way to pinpoint an exact spot or tree turkeys roost in is to do an owl hoot. Some hunters like to use crow calls. Again, you will want to do this a safe distance from the roosted birds and soft enough so that you don’t spook the turkey out of the roost.
Call of the morning
Most of the time turkeys are more vocal in the morning. Again, find the area you where think the birds have roosted, but this time wait until the bird starts to gobble on their own. A lot of times birds off in the distance will get them fired up enough to pinpoint the tree where they are roosted. This can be done the morning of the hunt or by checking periodically a few days before the hunt. I like to check the area two to three times a week before the hunt to make sure the Tom is roosting in the same woods.
On mornings where the birds are less vocal, I get them fired up by shock gobbling with the shaker call, crow call or a couple simple hoots from the owl hooter. Do this in safe distance to where you won’t spook the birds.
I’m also often asked how often to call. This can be one of your most important steps in harvesting a turkey. I prefer the bird to be on the ground before calling. Once Tom has hit the ground, I give a few yelps letting the Tom know my location. A lot of times if you call too much and the Tom has hens roosted with him, the hens will pinpoint your location and will fly down, drawing the Tom away from you.
On mornings where the birds are really fired up and very vocal, calling out a little more often can be successful in getting the hens to come in or to break the Tom away. Another method is the silent mode in which you get the Tom fired right up and go silent. The object is to let the Tom come and find you, kind of like a game of hide and seek.
This past 2018 season I tried few new approaches on different hunts with clients. One scenario was where the Tom hit the ground gobbling and went silent. I would call just a little – just a couple clucks and purrs – and if the Tom would gobble, I would go silent. If the Tom wouldn’t gobble, I would shock gobble and do a few clucks. At times this worked very well.
Another method that worked is to use two different calls at the same time. I would use a mouth call and a box call one right after the other. With the box call I would give a few yelps, stop, and then finish out a few more yelps with the mouth call. The object is to sound like a couple different hens at once.
For the most part you should be able to read how well the Tom reacts to your calls from the time the bird starts to gobble in the tree to time the Tom hits the ground. Some days no matter what you do, they either won’t gobble or they just don’t want anything to do with what you put on their plate.
On some days, sleeping in and waiting until around 10 a.m. to head out to the woods and calling every couple hundred yards might just find that mid-morning Tom all fired up and alone. At times, setting up on the edge of a field with decoys just waiting for a Tom to arrive can be rewarding.
All in all, put in the time practicing these methods and you will have a very rewarding turkey season.
Jesse Quayle is a fulltime hunting and fishing guide based in south central Wisconsin. For more questions on turkey hunting the state, go online to www.greenwaterwalleyes.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Jesse on Facebook at Green Water Walleyes Guide Service or call him at 608.547.3022.