Spring turkey hunting can be a humbling experience.
Even when armed with a top-of-the-line shotgun, a bag full of vivid calls and the most realistic camouflage on the market, the most grizzled of gobbler fanatics can be outfoxed by birds with a brain the size of a walnut.
The general spring turkey season began Saturday in northern counties and runs through the middle of May, and though the success rate in Texas generally is less than 40 percent overall, hunters should learn a new lesson each time they strike out in order to cash in on their next opportunity.
Just as there are plenty of nuances to turkey behavior, you can do little things to complement tried and true practices in the field that may help out in your pursuits. With this in mind, here’s an A to Z look at spring turkey hunting, including tips, tactics and regulations for the crafty birds.
Advance scouting can help you find roost sites and travel corridors.
Bring a box call, even if you prefer a slate or mouth call, since the box can spit out louder cackles and bring more attention, especially if it’s windy.
Camouflage yourself from head to toe, including gloves and face mask, since turkeys have excellent eyesight.
Decoys certainly help bring in social birds, and deploying more than one may entice them even more.
Even small variances in the terrain can make a turkey seem farther or closer than it really is, so let the birds come to you instead of going to them.
Find a wide tree to sit up against, which will break up your silhouette, when you set up to call in birds.
Grab a comfortable cushion to pad your derriere, even if you have a turkey vest with a built-in seat, to make it easier on longer waits.
Hold still if you can see birds, and if you must move to get a shot, wait until a strutting gobbler is looking away from you.
Inspect your setup and get rid of vegetation that may hinder a shot or add cover if you find the perfect tree that’s a little bare.
Join in on the calling if you’re not alone to give the impression of multiple birds in an area.
Keep proof of sex (leg with spur, patch of feathers with beard) on your bird(s) until you get home and don’t breast them out until at a final destination.
Line up your shotgun sights just above the feather line on a turkey’s neck instead of at the head so you’ll still see it if it moves and won’t shoot high.
Make sure you have a $7 upland game bird stamp (endorsement) on your hunting license.
Napping under a big cottonwood or oak is understandable, but stay alert otherwise since early season birds may not be as vocal and could sneak in quietly.
Only shoot gobblers or jakes since hens are illegal to harvest in the spring.
Pattern your shotgun and get comfortable holding it while sitting on the ground.
Quiet call-shy birds can be had, but setting up an ambush along a travel route likely is your best and only option.
Reach for a locator call (owl hooter, crow cackle) if you know birds are in the area but aren’t reacting to your turkey impressions.
Set your sights carefully when attempting to shoot, even with a tight turkey choke, especially if hens are near your gobbler.
Treat clothes with permethrin, which will kill disease-carrying ticks.
Use bug repellent with DEET to deter mosquitoes for the same reason.
Vocal birds often won’t cross fences or wade through thick vegetation, so set up to make it easier for them to come in.
Watch for snakes, especially during warm afternoons in dense cover.
X marks the spot for feeding and dusting areas, so look for tracks or feathers that have fallen off and set up near them if you haven’t had luck elsewhere.
You can expect to walk a lot if birds aren’t responding and you’ve got to seek them out, so wear comfortable boots.
Zero in on having fun and take along a youth, especially May 21-22, the last youth-only turkey dates in the state.
Turkey hunting this time of year isn’t simply about bagging a 20-pound bird. It’s the sum of all great spring things and a good excuse to put all your worries to the side — at least for a while — and daydream about that next red head on the horizon and the guttural booming in the distance.
At least until it becomes reality.
WILL LESCHPER IS AN AWARD-WINNING MEMBER OF THE OUTDOOR WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA AND THE TEXAS OUTDOOR WRITERS ASSOCIATION. WRITE TO HIM AT LESCHPERW@YAHOO.COM.