There’s no need to wait on your hunting buddy, or even rely on their expertise, to head to the turkey woods. As long as you completed your hunter safety course, feel comfortable hunting alone and handle a gun safely, you can hunt independently to gain confidence, knowledge and experience. Brenda Valentine, NWTF spokeswoman, and Derek Alkire, NWTF conservation field supervisor, provide insight on how you can be successful on a solo mission.
Both NWTF representatives believe participating in a mentored hunt will help rookies learn hunting strategies and decrease mistakes, but as long as folks have the proper licenses, it’s always possible to harvest a bird.
“It’s not essential for someone to have hunting experience before going out alone. All you need is a background in safety and woodsmanship,” Alkire said.
Valentine echos the thought and believes the best way to learn is to “go hunting, make mistakes and figure it out.”
Once you’ve decided which path you’d like to pursue, your next step is to invest in the proper equipment and learn the corresponding skills. Use the list below to help prepare.
- Obtain a good gun, with a sling and proper ammo. Then practice patterning different turkey loads to ensure your gun is sighted in and you’ll make a clean, ethical kill.
- Borrow or buy a turkey call and watch tutorials or read articles on how to make the most realistic turkey sounds. Knowing how to properly run a turkey call is key.
- Locate a map of the property you'll be hunting, study it and learn how to read the terrain. Bring it and a compass with you in the woods and use them together to navigate the land.
- Use hunting aids, such as blinds, decoys and shooting sticks, to help hide movement, entice turkeys and relieve arm fatigue.
- Pack snacks and water to stay energized and hydrated.
Camouflage clothing and waterproof boots are also necessities and you may want to consider a turkey hunting vest to help organize your gear. With those items, and maybe tick and mosquito prevention, you are perfectly capable of harvesting a turkey, granted you have a good setup, like the one below.
Sensible First-Time Setup
“A ground blind is a good setup for a new hunter. There is not as big of a responsibility to move and go like there is with running and gunning. Plus, it hides fidgety movements,” Valentine said. “Use a decoy or a stick to mark the limits of your shooting range and distance. Try calling every 30 minutes and watch for a turkey to show up.”
Find an area that you know birds frequent and set up nearby to optimize potential encounters. Scouting for turkey sign prior to the season can pay dividends.
Don’t forget bad situations can happen anywhere. Don’t let the unknown keep you from the woods, but prepare for accidents or injuries and do your best to avoid getting lost by not traveling out of your comfort zone.
“To combat that, use common sense. Don’t cross ditches and fences with loaded guns, watch where you're walking and look where you are about to sit,” Valentine said.
“If something does go wrong, always stay calm. Mistakes often occur when we get in a hurry,” Alkire said.
Always tell someone where you are going and leave a note on your vehicle before you walk into the woods. Carry a first aid kit and keep your cell phone near you; you’ll be thankful you did, just in case a catastrophe does happen.
- “The benefit of hunting alone is you are learning so much more because the responsibility is on you,” Valentine said.
- “Solo hunting can actually make harvesting a bird easier because one hunter eliminates the communication concern and cuts down on the movement that multiple hunters create,” Alkire said.
- “When you are by yourself, there is no intimidation. I find that people are intimidated about calling or messing up when they are with someone else, but when you are alone, if you screw up, oh well, do better next time. It’s encouraging to hunt alone,” Valentine said.
- Another pro is that you can work off of your own schedule and when it’s most convenient for you.
- “The downfall is not getting to share the experience with someone else. Hunting can be more enjoyable with friends or family,” Valentine said.
- “Hunting can get frustrating and boring at times if the birds are not gobbling. Hunting in a group can provide entertainment and lifelong memories even if the turkeys aren’t talking,” Alkire said.
Dead Bird, Now What?
Harvesting a bird is no easy task, but if you do manage to down a gobbler, you’ll have a few extra chores to complete.
Be sure to follow state regulations on tagging or reporting your harvest before you do anything. Then proceed to take photos to solidify the moment. Before moving or picking up the turkey, be sure the bird is dead to avoid being spurred. Depending on where you are and how warm it is, you may want to start field dressing your bird, or put the bird in a cooler on ice and ask for help or guidance later. It’s best to self-assess the situation based on your skillset and knowledge. If you decide to carry the bird out, attach a piece of orange cloth to your bird. Other hunters can be in the woods, and you want to make sure that you are well seen. Safety first!
Follow these guidelines, stand tall and you’ll be the tallest person on any solo adventure.