Document 99491

Lend an Ear as a Turkey Hunting Sage Enlightens
Article by Jeff Williams | Photos by Mike Wintroath
Birds are wary creatures. It’s no easy task to bag a turkey
gobbler, even during spring when he’s driven by instinct and
his mind is on, well, other things.
Veteran hunters know all the tricks. If you’re lucky, you
know one willing to pass along experience gained by hours
of waiting under a tree or behind a bush for a trophy to strut
within range of shotgun pellets.
If you’d like to join the legions of turkey hunters who flock
to the woods each spring but don’t know the first thing or an
experienced hunting buddy, we can give you a starting point.
Our colleague Curtis Gray’s day job is coordinator
of the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program,
which has been phenomenally successful during the last
few years. In fact, the ANASP State Tournament is coming
up March 15-16 in Hot Springs.
When he’s not planning archery tournaments and
helping teams, Gray tends to turkey hunt – in season,
of course. He’s hunted in several states and he has a
passel of tips and tricks that only a veteran turkey hunter
can acquire.
Gearing Up
Getting started will cost a few dollars but it certainly
doesn’t have to be expensive. “You can start turkey
hunting for $25 if you want to,” Gray said.
His advice begins with clothing.
“You hear a lot about camouflage – you have to be
sure you blend in,” Gray said. “Think about where you’re
hunting and your camouflage pattern. You might be in
bottomland hardwoods but if you’re in the Ouachita
Mountains, you might want a little more green in
your pattern.
“You don’t want someone with a red, white and
blue T-shirt that looks like a gobbler – leave your red
handkerchief at home.”
Even novice hunters and some people who don’t hunt
at all are likely to have some camouflage clothing. It’s
not so much about the pattern as it is about breaking the
silhouette of a hunter’s body. Like Gray says, blend in.
“Fred Bear was doing this stuff with a red flannel shirt
on not too many years ago,” Gray said.
He suggests two important items are gloves and a
facemask to cover exposed skin.
“Go get a comfortable facemask and a pair of gloves.
Some masks are uncomfortable – they hit your nose the
wrong way. Don’t wait until the day before you go hunting
to get one that’s comfortable.
“Gloves can be as simple as brown jersey or camo that
cost $50. You will have to move your hands a little (when
you’re hunting) and gloves will help hide that.”
Like deer hunting, turkey hunting often requires long
periods of sitting still.
“Bring a comfortable cushion,” Gray said. That can be as
simple as a boat cushion or one made especially for turkey
hunters. Not only does a cushion aid in comfort, it keeps
a body off what could be a wet, cold ground.
LEFT: Jackson Morton works a box call with advice from Curtis Gray.
BELOW: A simple slate call does the trick for most turkey hunting situations.
Following the comfort theme, bring bug spray or a
ThermaCELL. But couldn’t a turkey smell bug spray and
be spooked?
“Turkeys won’t smell bug spray but they have great
vision,” Gray said. “My grandpa always told me that a
turkey will change its mind at 100 yards."
A flashlight’s another good idea.
“It’s gonna be before daylight when you leave the truck
but you don’t have to buy something special.”
One Call
Maybe you’ve seen page after page of turkey calls – box,
slate, tube, diaphragm, wing-bone and others – in sporting
goods catalogs. The sheer variety can be overwhelming
and they can cost a lot, too. Gray says keep it simple.
“People think they have to buy $75 calls – you don’t
need that. The first hunt I had was with a call made from
roof slate. There probably wasn’t $3 in that hunt.
“Don’t worry about a big selection of calls. Find one
that you can work – a pot and peg kind of call, usually
slate. You don’t need to sound like 15 different birds; you
need to sound like one good bird. Try a box call, get a
diaphragm, whatever. Learn to work one. Slate calls are
the easiest.
“A lot of people have calls that mean something to
them – they belonged to their grandpa or somebody in
the family. Leave that call at home. You’ll be upset if you
break it or lose it.”
Start Walking
If you feel good about the gear you need, spend time in
the woods – without a shotgun or a call. This is perhaps
the most important part of the hunt and one some hunters
overlook or sell short.
“Get a topographical map of where you’re going,” Gray
said. “You’re looking for water and roosting sites. Ask
yourself: Where will they go? Look for ridges and saddles
where they get in the sunlight and dry off that dew in the
“When you’re scouting, don’t call. Just go listen. Every
time you encounter a turkey, you educate it. Save it for
when you’re hunting. Just because nothing gobbles early
in the morning, that doesn’t mean there won’t be gobbling
later. Take binoculars and scan the woods. The only way
to get that knowledge about movements is by being there.”
Gray says his scouting begins in early March.
“Success on any public ground will boil down to
scouting, seeing what’s available. Don’t get in the habit
of going to one spot to listen for a gobble. If you hear
one, move to another place and listen. Don’t put all your
scouting eggs in one basket.”
Gray says to check food plots for dust and sand where
turkeys will be scratching. Look for other sign like drag
marks along logging roads.
of the truck and start blowing a call.
“Novices start hitting a hoot owl call, then they walk
through the woods blowing it,” Gray said. “Don’t do that.
Let (turkeys) gobble and they won’t know you’re there.”
Hunters must be prepared when the action starts.
“When they hear a gobble, most people want to start
calling. First figure out where to sit. When you hear that
first yelp, you better be ready. They can be on top of you in
a heartbeat. Have your gun ready before you make a call.”
Look for a tree that will break up your body’s silhouette.
“Maybe a cedar bush to back into,” Gray said. “In open
woods, find a big oak tree. Rake the leaves back so they
won’t rustle if you have to move. Look at shooting lanes.
Beginners don’t think about that until everything starts
happening. Think about scenarios. Think about what the
bird might see.”
This may be jumping the gun, but should you score a
trophy, consider what you’d like to do with it before you
have it.
“Pay attention to bringing it out of the woods,” Gray
said. “You might want to have a tail fan mount. If you tear
it up on the way out of the woods, the mount’s not going
to look good. Have a sack to put it in.”
Gloves, a couple of calls and a facemask are tools of the trade.
Plan for Permits
The application period for permit turkey hunts
on AGFC wildlife management areas begins in
mid-December and ends in mid-January (check Applications are limited to one per
person for each type of permit hunt. Youth hunters
must be 6-15 years old the day the hunt begins.
Permit winners are notified by email (an email
address must be included with each application).
Application is free, but successful applicants
must pay $10 to receive WMA hunt permits.
Call 501-223-6440 or 501-223-6359 for more
information about AGFC permit hunts.
For any kind of hunting, check for
the list of Sweet Sixteen WMAs. Any hunter must
have a free Sweet Sixteen Area Use Permit for those
areas. The permit expires June 30 each year.
National wildlife refuges also hold permit turkey
hunts. Here’s a list of those areas and how to find
out more (visit the websites for each refuge or call
these numbers):
• Bald Knob, Cache River and Wapanocca NWR: 870-347-2614.
• Felsenthal and Pond Creek NWR: 870-364-3167.
• Holla Bend NWR: 479-229-4300.
• White River NWR: 870-282-8200.
“There’s a lot of walking. Wear good boots and be
willing to walk. Take some food and water.”
Be aware that what you hear and see while scouting may
not translate to what happens when the season opens, at
least in Arkansas.
“That first peak of gobbling before people start hunting
is an unbelievable two or three days,” Gray said. “They
are all vocal trying to court a lady. You hear birds you
probably won’t hear again.
“When you’re scouting, realize that turkeys will move
through the day. A lot more turkeys are killed by ambush
than by calling.”
Another important part of the hunt should occur long
before opening day.
“Beforehand, you want to pattern your shotgun,” Gray
said. “I was hunting in Georgia with a guy who had a shot
at a turkey 32 steps away. He shot and missed when it was
25 steps away. His shotgun had never been patterned.”
Gray says first figure out if you want to use No. 5 shot
or No. 6 shot. To do that, buy a box of each. Shoot a
paper plate at 15 yards to see how much shot is hitting
the plate (patterning). Shoot again from 20, 25 and 30
yards so you’ll know how the shotgun patterns at different
distances. Draw a turkey head on the plate and practice.
You want to hit the neck at the bottom of the waddle (red,
wrinkled skin below the head).
Beginners can make fatal mistakes when the hunt arrives,
probably caused as much by nerves as inexperience.
Owl calls (one of several locator calls) are used to startle
turkeys into gobbling, and beginners can’t wait to jump out
Just Some Ideas
Finding a place to begin can be daunting for anyone
planning a first turkey trip. We asked Jason Honey,
AGFC turkey program coordinator and Gray for a few
suggestions about hunting on wildlife management areas
and other public land.
Winona WMA covers 160,000 acres in Perry and
Saline counties. Its Ouachita Mountain ridges and valleys
are known for turkey, although it is close to population
centers and can be crowded early in the season.
Gene Rush WMA along the Buffalo River is among
several areas in the Ozark Mountains that draw people.
Food plots for elk attract other big game, including
turkey. Gulf Mountain WMA in Van Buren County and
Sylamore WMA in Searcy, Marion, Stone and Baxter
counties also produce good numbers of birds each year.
Moro Big Pine Natural Area WMA in Calhoun County,
long known for excellent deer hunting, holds a healthy
turkey population. It’s among the better areas in southern
Bayou Meto WMA in southeastern Arkansas means
ducks to most hunters but it’s also good for other birds.
There’s not much pressure during turkey season; a boat is
a good idea. Also look into Trusten Holder WMA and the
expansive White River National Wildlife Refuge in the
same neighborhood.
As always, know the regulations before you go. AW
Regulations for
Turkey Season
Hunting G rkey
The statewide bag limit for turkey
hunting season is two adult gobblers
or bearded hens; no jakes. Hunters
6-15 years old, however, may harvest
one jake as part of the two-bird
limit (including the youth hunt).
No more than one turkey may be
taken per day. Shooting times are 30
minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.
Archery tackle and shotguns (10 gauge and smaller)
are legal.
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April 20-28
Zones 4, 4A, 5A, 9A
Zone Bag Limit – Hunters who kill a turkey in one of
these zones must travel to any other zone to harvest a
second turkey.
April 20-May 5
Zones 1, 2, 3, 4B, 5, 5B, 6, 7, 7A, 8, 9, 10, 17.
April 13-14 –Youth Hunt
Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 4B, 5, 5A, 5B, 6, 7, 7A, 8, 9, 9A,
10, 17.
Only youngsters 6-15 may take part in the youth hunt.
Youngsters who have Hunter Education cards must be
accompanied by a mentor 18 or older; those who do
not have Hunter Education cards must be under direct
supervision of a mentor 21 or older. Hunters must
follow bag limits for the zones in which they hunt.
Tagging and Checking
When you harvest a turkey, don’t move it.
Immediately remove the appropriate turkey tag from
your license and complete everything (except check
number) in ink. Attach the tag to a turkey leg. The tag
must remain on the turkey until processing and storage.
Hunters with a Disability License, 65-Plus Lifetime
License, hunters under 16 and Mississippi licenseholders under the reciprocal license agreement should
substitute a piece of paper with name, date, time and
zone number of harvest written in ink.
Call 866-305-0808 or log on to to
check the turkey within 24 hours of harvest.
Entrails may be removed, but evidence of the animal’s
sex must remain until checked. No big game animal
may be taken across state lines before it’s checked. If
you give away any of your game, a game transfer form
(in turkey guidebook) must be used.