The Turkey Hunter’s Last-Minute Pre-Season Checklist
Twenty-four things you can do if you haven’t done anything to get ready for turkey season
Spring gobbler hunting is closing in fast. If you’re 100-percent prepared, good for you. If you’re like most hunters, it’s time to get into gear so the night before the opener isn’t a mad scramble. But duties, deadlines, appointments, work, chores, texts to answer, and family commitments all claw away at chunks of our time. With such full schedules, it’s hard to get anything done, let alone get fully prepared for turkey season.
If you’ve let a couple of important pre-season tasks fall through the cracks, or pushed them back until there’s no time to take care of them, here’s your game plan to get ready to hunt a gobbler. Check off these 24 items and then you can simply sit down for a quick breakfast, grab your gun, and hit the woods on opening day. Besides feeling good about being totally ready, you’ll be more likely to march out of the woods with a smile on your face and a longbeard draped over your shoulder.
1. Make Sure You Wake Up on Time
Maybe if you’re in your 20s or 30s, sheer adrenaline and anticipation will get you up at 3, 4, or 5 a.m. For the rest of us, sleeping in is a potential flub-up that has ruined too many spring gobbler hunts. My advice: Buy an extra alarm clock. Set two of them in case one malfunctions or gets knocked off the table and the battery falls out. And put them in different spots of your bedroom so you can’t roll over and smash the snooze button.
2. Get in Shape
It’s a bit late for serious conditioning, but you need to be as physically ready as possible for the sometimes grueling treks turkey hunting requires and the uncomfortable positions you may need to hunker in for long periods of time. Start with a few hikes and stretching exercises. Then gradually build up to more challenging workouts. Plenty of guides and videos for conditioning are available on the web. You’ll also enjoy hunting more if you’re not panting and sweating as you climb every hill.
3. Buy Licenses and Tags
You’ve probably done this, but just a reminder for those of us with poor memories, those who don’t have “to do” lists, or those who lose their “to do” lists. The price we pay for licenses helps the habitat, the wildlife, and the hunting. If you plan to hunt out of state, you can usually purchase licenses online before the trip, saving the time and bother of buying them when you get there.
4. Secure Hunting Permission
Maybe you’ve hunted a spot for ten years, but things change. Land gets sold, and the new owners might not allow you to hunt, or allow hunting at all. Make sure you still have permission on any private property you like to hunt, and get it in writing if required by your state.
5. Find a New Hunting Area
Even if you don’t lose your go-to hunting spot, you may find someone else parked there. Having another location pre-scouted that you can turn to could save the day’s hunting. Perhaps there’s a wildlife management area you haven’t tried, or a piece of private land that looked good but you never bothered to inquire about. With the possibility of losing your favorite hunting area always present, it’s a good idea to look for at least one new spot every spring.
6. Reorganize Your Turkey Vest
Everything was probably neatly organized in your vest when you started hunting last spring. But I bet it wasn’t when you finished. Now’s the time to take inventory of it. Empty all the pockets, shake the vest out, and wash it. Then make sure you actually need everything in there as you put items back. There’s no use carrying extra weight. Use whatever organizing system you like, but put everything in a specific pocket where you can find it quickly when you need it.
Pattern your shotgun on turkey targets at various ranges before you head into the field. Champion Traps and Targets
7. Pattern Your Gun and Find the Best Load
Clean your gun, then shoot several brands of ammo with different shot material and shot sizes to make sure you have the optimum load. Fire the shotgun at turkey head-and-neck targets to see how many pellets hit the vital area at different ranges. If you hunt gobblers with a bow, hopefully you’ve been practicing and had an archery shop go over the mechanics and components of the bow. Continue to hone your shooting skills as the opener approaches.
8. Spruce Up Your Decoys
Clean and check your decoys to see if any need replacing, repainting, or new mounting posts. If you use a decoy with real feathers, it might need some grooming, especially if you tossed it in the shed or a closet at the end of last season.
9. Check the Batteries in Your Rangefinder
Ranging rocks and trees when you set up so you’ll know when a bird is in the kill zone is a good tactic. But it won’t work if your rangefinder’s batteries dead. You still have time to buy fresh batteries. And that’s a lot better than waiting until after you miss a shot at a longbeard.
10. Go Over Your Camouflage Clothing
Get your camouflage out and make sure it’s ready to go. While you’re at it, wear your hunting clothes out in the woods and make sure they are the best match for your local hunting situation and habitat. There are endless varieties and most work well, but choosing one that makes you totally disappear improves your odds of beating a wary gobbler’s vision. Take a friend to look from distances of 30 to 100 yards as if he were an incoming gobbler. Have him take some photos, too, so you can look over them later and analyze whether your camo is the best choice. And make sure you have other camo or drab-colored clothing—like socks, a hat, and face mask—to cover every part of your body.
11. Practice Calling
Everyone needs a little tuning up before the season. It’s better to get your sour notes out now, rather than when you’re trying to lure in a tom with a 12-inch beard. Practice your old standby calls and try a few new sounds, too. They might be just the ticket for pulling in a recalcitrant bird. Also experiment using two calls at once. Sometimes that adds enough realism clinch the deal. A good place to practice is in the car, with hands-free mouth calls, or outside. Too much calling in the house can aggravate the spouse and kids. But maybe you’ve already noticed that.
12. Buy a New Locator Call
You probably already have an owl hooter. But it’s better to have several locators for stirring up a response when scouting before the season and when birds are in a quiet mood. Sometimes one works when the others fall flat. Crow calls are good. So are pileated woodpecker, hawk, predator, and other specifically labeled “locator” calls.
13. Recheck Areas Toms Have Been Using
Information can get old quick in the spring turkey woods. Sure, you’ve done some scouting already and heard some birds, but flocks break up. The biggest toms establish dominance and claim the best roost locations and strutting areas. Subordinate 2-year-olds are chased off and fill in other niches. A lot of this scattering and changing locations takes place just in the few weeks before seasons open. So even if you’ve scouted a lot, get out for a final reconnaissance trip or two right before the opener. Use a combination of walking and driving to cover lots of ground, working isolated trails and along ridges to call down into valleys and bowls. The goal is to locate as many birds as possible as close to hunting time as possible.
14. Don’t Educate Them
When you’re scouting, your goal isn’t to call birds in; it’s to locate them, and pattern them when possible. Calling a bird in now only makes it harder to accomplish that when it counts—with a gun or bow in your hands. Try just listening first. This is the least conspicuous way to pinpoint toms that are talking on their own at daybreak or during the second hot period of the day, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
If you don’t hear any, try a locator call to startle a response. As a last resort, try hen calls. Once you pinpoint a bird, stop calling. You want to locate birds, not spook them before the season opens.
15. Give Promising Areas a Second Chance
Don’t give up on a spot just because you didn’t hear anything one morning. If an area has potential or turkeys have traditionally used it in the past, check it out several times before the season opens. Birds may be there but just not gobble on a particular morning.
16. Scout from Observation Points
Another good approach is to climb to high observation spots such as ridge tops, fire towers, or other areas where you can glass and search for turkeys in fields, natural meadows, and open parts of woods. Bring a pair of binoculars so you can search a wide area.
17. Pattern Your Flocks
Besides locating birds, it’s important to try to pattern them. After a bird gobbles, wait and see what it does, where it flies to, and when it leaves the roost tree. Does it head for a field, an oak flat, or a nearby water hole? Walk out on a ridge? If you can find a bird that tends to follow a pattern, your chances for killing him go up dramatically.
18. Pinpoint Gobbler Roost Areas
Besides scouting at dawn, go out in the evening and try to roost birds. An owl call may do the trick as they head to their roost area or just after they’ve flown up into trees. Knowing their location at sunset gives you some idea of where they’ll be roosting during the season.
19. Pinpoint Hen Roost Areas
Also try to pinpoint hen roosting areas. That’s where toms will usually head at first light. Knowing where both the gobblers and hens are can sometimes let you set up between them. In that ideal scenario, you may not even have to call. You can let the hens fly down and entice toms right past your ambush point.
Read Next: How to Scout for Spring Turkeys
20. Check Watering Areas for Fresh Sign
Knowing where turkeys water is great. But chances are, they may use several locations. Check all the ones you know of to see which has the freshest sign and make sure that it’s a big gobbler’s tracks, not a hen’s.
21. Locate Strutting Areas Being Used
These are spots where birds display their fans to attract hens year after year. If you haven’t roosted a bird, try to be at one of these locations shortly after sunrise. They’re often on benches or flats, in logging roads, or small secluded fields and woods openings. Sometimes you can see where a tom’s wing tips have dragged on the ground. Also look out for fresh gobbler droppings, scratched areas where the turkeys have fed, and dusting spots where birds try to remove insects from their bodies. You need to be up to date on which strutting areas are being used right before the season opens.
22. Learn the Status of Green-Up
Besides locating fresh sign, last-minute scouting also lets you learn more about the current state of vegetation where you hunt. A turkey’s environment changes dramatically when tree leaves start to emerge. This knowledge will help when you need to move quickly on a bird, allowing you to predict the best setup spot and how to get there based on the current thickness of cover and visibility.
23. Find the Best Fields and Food Sources Right Now
Be sure to do an up-to-date reconnaissance of fields, too. Gobblers may use one field during early scouting trips, but move on to another by the time the opener arrives. A wheat field that turkeys used a week ago may now be ignored while birds head to a pasture where flipping over cow patties reveals succulent beetles and grubs. That’s where you want to be, but you won’t know where it is if you’re basing your hunt on old info. Other food sources require the same diligence. A fresh clover field coming up may suddenly draw birds in that a week ago were scratching in an oak flat for last year’s acorns.
24. Map out Your Hunt
Bring either a topo, hand-drawn map, mapping app, or notebook with you as you locate birds, check vegetation, and scout. Mark locations where gobblers are currently sounding off, where hens and toms are roosting, water sources that show fresh tracks, fields you see turkeys in, and new feeding areas. As you accumulate this up-to-date info, you’ll have a good idea of where your best chances are to kill a tom on opening day.