An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Welcome to the world of turkey hunting! You are about to join the ranks of thousands of like-minded hunters - some of the best conservationists on earth. Each of them started right where you are today... as a beginner.
Turkeys vary their feeding location based on time of year and availability of food. Adult birds that fed primarily on high fat content acorns in December to survive the winter months will turn to insects, seeds, newly sprouted plants and fresh greens during spring season. After turkey poults are hatched, they require insects, as much as 75% of the diet, for the first few weeks of their lives. In the fall, these young birds will become more focused on high fat foods.
While plant material is as much as 90% of the adult turkey’s diet, archery hunters may find them in the fall season eating grasshoppers in the early morning sun. When acorns are available, turkeys will feast on them for the majority of their diet during fall gun seasons. They may also eat berries, greens, and waste grain. When considering food sources as part of the hunting plan, knowing those parts of your hunting area where a variety of food is available within a small area will improve your chances. You can also look for places the birds have been scratching in the leaves to locate feeding areas.
Turkeys require water on a daily basis. On wet spring days, this may be satisfied with standing water throughout the habitat. Between rains, seeps, springs, streams, ponds or any other water source within the turkey’s home range can be used. Hunters that have not visually located birds they intend to hunt might look for tracks at water sources, as the birds will not be far from water.
MeatEater: History of the American Wild TurkeyConservation Field Notes with Steven Rinella
The home range of a wild turkey is less than 2000 acres, with toms typically having a smaller home range than hens (remember, she comes to him when he struts). Typically, a flock of birds will stay in a reasonably small area unless they are disturbed. Even when that flock leaves, if the habitat is good, more birds will move into the area, especially during the spring breeding season.
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As you can see, the vitals area on a wild turkey is actually very small, so shot placement is critically important when hunting with archery equipment. Prior to hunting with your shotgun, it is important to pattern it. Patterning your gun will help you determine your maximum ethical range. It will also show you what ammo and choke combination puts out the best shot pattern for your gun.
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Check out the National Wild Turkey Federation's learn to hunt playlist with more helpful turkey hunting videos.
Realtree: Bowhunting Shot Placement
Cabela’s: Shot Placement for Turkeys
Hunters Connect: Patterning your Shotgun for Turkey Season
Turkeys are birds of habit. They will be in approximately the same area every day. The flock will roost in the same trees, gobblers use the same fields to attract hens and the birds will generally feed in the same areas if they are not disturbed. By observing them daily, a hunter can plan to hunt to take advantage of these habits. Additionally, compiling the sign you find while scouting can reveal where the turkeys move through regularly, even if they are not actually seen there at that time.
Hunters Connect: How to Read Turkey Sign
Everything should be camouflaged from nose to toes—including your hunting equipment. Headgear is very important as skin and hair will stand out as a “telltale” sign that something isn’t quite right in the turkey woods. Additionally, your gun or bow/arrow also need to be well camouflaged to prevent glare, as this is the equipment that must be moved in order to take a shot.
Turkeys have exceptional vision and the slightest movement will alert them. If you have a bird in sight, watch for an opportunity when it is behind some feature, such as a tree, to raise your gun or draw your bow. Even when you do not have a turkey in sight, be as still as possible. If you must move, move slowly and carefully.
Holding Still: Realtree 365
Don't Make these Mistakes.
KDFWR: Turkey Hunting - Camo and Movement
Many hunters now recommend using a blind of some nature to hunt turkeys—especially when using a bow, mentoring a new hunter or when taking smaller children afield. Blinds not only conceal the majority (if not all) of your movement, they allow you to hunt for longer periods in relative comfort. As turkeys cannot smell, you can run a propane heater on colder mornings (after daybreak), pack a thermos of coffee and a lunch if you so desire. If you are planning to hunt without a blind, find a tree that is large enough to hide your silhouette completely. Plan to sit in the shadows—west side of tree in early morning if possible—as sunlight may glint off anything you are wearing or your hunting equipment.
Bowtech Archery: How to Set Up Your Turkey Decoys and Blind
Primos Hunting: Using Shadows to Hide when Turkey Hunting
For safety reasons, stalking turkeys is not advisable, particularly in spring. While you may believe you are the only hunter on a given property, another hunter may be in the area, and an unsafe hunting situation could develop. In addition, as stated earlier, turkeys have extremely good eyesight. If you are moving, the odds are good that the turkey will see you before you see the turkey. Rather than trying to stalk a turkey that you see out of range, make a mental note and be prepared for future hunts.
The easiest call to master is a hen’s yelp and it may be all you need to get a Tom in close! However, if you really want to bring your A-game, start here!
NWTF: Box Call Basics
NWTF Advanced Box Call
NWTF: Pot Call Basics
NWTF: Advanced Pot Call
Bone Collector: How to Clean a Turkey the EASY WAY!
MeatEater: How to Pluck and Clean a Turkey with Steven Rinella
If you plan to use the skin and feathers for a trophy, talk to a taxidermist for advice before you hunt. They can advise you on the best way to handle your bird after the shot.
Field dressing your turkey is much like cleaning a chicken. If you want to use the turkey as a traditional roasted turkey, you may want to pluck the feathers and save the skin on the bird. This will keep the meat moist during cooking.
George Wright, "Boss Gobbler", retired employee, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Remove all connective tissue when preparing breast meat. Cut into thumb sized strips, being sure to slice against the muscle grain to ensure tenderness. Beat two eggs and two cups of milk in large bowl. Salt turkey strips and soak in milk and eggs for a few minutes. Drop strips into large grocery bag containing fl our and shake until strips are well coated. Heat about 1⁄2 inch of oil in a large iron skillet. Place meat into the grease and cook slowly until slightly brown, then turn. Do not overcook. Should feed four adults.
From Will Connelly, Hunter Training Officer, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
This is a good way to utilize all parts of the turkey. Skin and cut up the turkey like a chicken (remember how to do that). Boil the back, neck, wings, etc. until tender. Set aside to cool. Dice onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, etc.(corn also) and add to the broth and continue to boil. The amount of vegetables will depend on amount of meat and number of mouths to feed. Add any and all the spices you desire. Debone and add the turkey meat to the soup. Add noodles and or wild rice for the amount of time on the package. Enjoy! (editor’s note: you can also include dumplings instead of rice or noodles with turkey soup!!)