The ABCs of hunting wild turkeys

A

Ammunition — One of the necessities for turkey hunting, ammunition (ammo) refers to turkey shot shells that are loaded into the firearm and used to harvest a turkey. Turkey loads typically have higher pellet counts than other hunting shotshells.

Assembly call — The assembly call is used by a hen to assemble her flock or young poults. It is a good call in the fall when trying to call a scattered flock back together. 

B

Blind — A hunting blind is a manufactured or man-made shelter/cover used to conceal hunter movement during the turkey hunt.

Binoculars — Optics device used to view objects from long distances.

Beard — With turkeys, this refers to the “hairs” that hang from the chest of male turkeys. The beard is considered a modified type of feather. Unlike feathers of a turkey that are molted, the beard continues to grow over the life of the bird. A small percentage of female (hen) turkeys grow beards.

Bow hunting — Using a recurve, long or compound bow to harvest a game animal, typically done in hunting seasons restricted for bow-only use. Depending on the state you hunt, crossbows also may qualify for bow seasons.

Bag limit — This refers to the number of birds that may be taken by a hunter. Bag limits vary between states, so knowing hunting regulations is important.

C

Calls — There are many types of turkey calls — box, friction, mouth, tube, wingbone — but they all are designed to produce turkey sounds.

Chokes — A choke is an attachment for a shotgun that constricts the exit end of the barrel to keep pellets in a tighter cluster at longer distances. Turkey chokes typically are a tighter constriction of the shotgun barrel than even a full choke.

Camouflage — A pattern of shapes, colors and objects to help become less visible to animals. Camo patterns can be put on clothing, hunting blinds, backpack, firearms and other hunting accessories.

Clucks and cutts — The cluck consists of one or more short, staccato notes. It's generally used by one bird to get the attention of another. Cutts are loud, sharp clucks that are often mixed with yelping. Cutting is a sign that turkeys are excited, not alarmed. 

Crop — This pouch near the neck and throat of the bird is used to temporarily store food. When examining the contents of a bird’s crop, hunters can get a good idea of what food sources turkeys are focused on.

Chamber — The portion of the barrel or firing cylinder in which the cartridge is inserted before being fired.

D

Decoys — Decoys are life-like recreations of, in this case, turkeys. They are used by hunters to help get the attention of and attract wild turkeys.

E

Eastern — The Eastern subspecies of the wild turkey is the most widely distributed subspecies east of the Mississippi River. They are also the most abundant of all the subspecies. You can find them in 38 states and several Canadian provinces.

F

Food plots — Landowners put in food plots, or planted areas, to attract wildlife and provide supplemental feed to what is available to species through nature.

Fly down or fly up — This call consists of three to 10 irregularly spaced notes, loud and staccato, increasing in pitch as the call nears its end. It is generally associated with leaving the roost, but can also be heard when a bird is flying up to a roost.

Flashlight — Provides illumination for a safe walk in on your hunt. A headlamp-type flashlight can give you hands-free operation. Remember to pack extra batteries or charge your flashlights regularly.

First aid kit — A good general first aid kit can be found at most box stores, but it is easy enough to put a few medical supplies together as you build your own kit.

Fletching – An archery term used to describe the wing-like material on the ends of commercial arrows. Also referred to as vanes, they create spin in arrow flight and increase accuracy. Sometimes fletchings are made from a plastic material, while more traditional fletchings are made with feathers.

Flock – The term for a group of wild turkeys.

Field dressing – The term used for the removal of the internal organs of hunted game after a successful hunt. Field dressing allows the meat of the hunted game to cool quickly, which can reduce bacteria growth.

Facemask – Turkey hunters use a facemask to help conceal themselves from the sharp eyes of wild turkeys. These can be made of a camouflage mesh or a solid fabric.

Face paint- Some turkey hunters prefer face paint to facemasks. Face paint can offer the same concealment factor as a facemask without having an actual mask on your face.

G

Gun — Shotguns are the typical choice for turkey hunters. Most turkey hunters use a 12-gauge shotgun, but others gauges, like the 20 gauge, can be used to hunt turkeys.

Gould’s — Subspecies of wild turkey found in Arizona, New Mexico and the Sierra Madres of Mexico. They have long legs and snow-white tips on their tail feathers.

Gobbler — A gobbler refers to the adult male wild turkey.

Gobble — The gobble is a loud, rapid gurgling sound made by male turkeys. The gobble is one of the principal vocalizations of the male wild turkey and is used primarily in the spring to let hens know he is in the area. 

Grand Slam – A Grand Slam is achieved when a hunter has killed all four U.S. wild turkey subspecies (Eastern, Osceola or Florida, Rio Grande and Merriam’s)

Gloves — Camo gloves are used to help conceal movements while turkey hunting, as they cover the exposed skin on the hands.

Guide — A guide is someone who is experienced and knowledgeable on hunting techniques, ethics and safety.  

H

Habitat — Habitat is the natural home or environment of an animal.

Hat — Turkey hunters use a camo hat to help conceal their movements while hunting. Never wear red, white or blue colors, as these are the main colors of a wild turkey’s head.

Hen — A hen is the female wild turkey.

I

Identification — An important part of turkey hunting, you must know how to tell the difference between a male and female turkey. In most states, it is illegal to shoot a hen. The most common ways to identify a male at a distance are to look for its beard, its full strut pose with tail fan spread or the male’s red, white or blue head in spring.

J

Jakes — Jakes are young male turkeys, under 2 years in age. When in full strut, generally their middle tailfeathers are longer than the rest. They will usually have short beards and spurs as well.

K

Knife — Many hunters take a knife with them while turkey hunting. There are many uses for a knife. Notching the tag after a successful hunt is at the top of the list.

Kee-kee  — The lost call of a young turkey in fall and winter. You'll even hear it from young hens sometimes during the spring turkey season. Usually a three-note call, roughly two seconds long. (https://www.nwtf.org/hunt/wild-turkey-basics/turkey-sounds)

L

License – A license to hunt must be purchased through your state wildlife agency to hunt wild turkeys. License sales support conservation and the management of wild game populations in your state. Check your state’s hunting regulations for license requirements.  

Locator call — A call used to locate a gobbler, usually that of an owl or crow. Male turkeys will sometimes “shock gobble” at the sound of other animals or loud noises, allowing you to pinpoint their location.

Longbeard — A longbeard refers to an adult male turkey and as the name implies, adult males typically have long beards.

M

Merriam’s — A subspecies of the wild turkey that is most abundant in the mountainous regions of the West. The Rocky Mountains are considered the central hub of the population. They have light colored tips on their tail feathers. 

Mounts — Hunters choose various mounts based on personal tastes. The type of mounts available depends on the species. For wild turkeys, from just a fan tail to a full body mount, the choices are many.

N

Nutritional value — Three and a half ounces of organic free-range wild turkey breast has 163 calories, one gram of fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol and 26 grams of protein.

Nock — A nock is the notch at the end of an arrow that snaps onto the bowstring.

Nest — Where wild turkey hens lay their eggs. 

O

Osceola — The Osceola or Florida wild turkey subspecies can only be found in certain parts of Florida. They have dark brown tips on their tail feathers and are known for their long, sharp spurs. 

Ocellated – The Ocellated turkey is a different species from the North American wild turkey and its subspecies (Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola and Gould’s). It can only be found in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, northern Belize and the El Peten region of Guatemala.

Oddities — Turkey oddities are the result of genetic variations that cause one or more turkeys in a flock to differ from the rest. Wild turkeys have four color variations that are rare. They are the smoke phase, the erythritic or red phase, the melanistic or black phase and the true albinos, which are pure white with pink eyes. Turkeys with these different colors are rare.

P

Patterning (your gun) — Patterning a gun means shooting at a target with the loads you will be using on your hunt. It is most common for hunters to use a shooting rest to eliminate human error while patterning your gun. 

Poults — Poults are baby wild turkeys. 

Putt — A putt is a sound made by wild turkey hens. It usually means the hen has seen or heard something and is signaling others of the possible danger.  

Predators — Predators are the animals that prey, destroy or devour another. The wild turkey has many predators, including bobcats, raccoons, coyotes and others. 

Q

Quiver — A pouch or accessary to carry additional arrows. Quivers can be attached to a bow or worn by the user.

R

Rio Grande — The Rio Grande wild turkey is concentrated in the western desert regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and other western states. They have tan-colored tips on their tail feathers.

Roost — Wild turkeys fly into trees or tall bushes at night to evade predators. This is their roost site.

Run and gun — Run and gun is an alternate style of hunting wild turkeys that is the opposite of sitting and calling. As the name implies, this style requires hunters be on the move as they call, attempting to close the distance between themselves and the gobbler. Be careful, though. One wrong move within a turkey’s eyesight, and your hunt could be over.

Royal Slam — To achieve a Royal Slam, a hunter must have completed their Grand Slam and have harvested a Gould’s wild turkey. 

S

Safety — Safety should be every hunter’s top priority. Always treat the gun as if it were loaded. Keep it pointed in a safe direction. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. 

Shooting sticks — Shooting sticks are a piece of equipment many hunters rely on, particularly those new to shooting, to help steady their shots.  

Spurs — Spurs are the talons that typically grow on male turkeys. 

Scoring — Scoring refers to the measurements taken by a hunter on a wild turkey (beard length, spur length, weight). The National Wild Turkey Federation Wild Turkey Records keep standing records for comparison. 

Strut — A strut is an instinctive behavior that allows a male turkey to show off his plumage and colors in hopes of suitably impressing a female turkey.

Snood — A snood is the dangling flap of skin above a wild turkey’s beak on its forehead.

Spitting and drumming — Spitting and drumming is a soft, guttural sound wild turkeys make by forcing air up from their bodies. Gobblers almost always spit and drum when strutting. 

T

Targets — Targets are used for practicing with a bow or firearm. They can be made of paper, foam or a variety of other materials. 

Tom — A tom is an adult male turkey.

Turkey records — Turkey records are kept by the NWTF and are submitted by members. Searching through the turkey records can provide data about local turkey populations.

U

U.S. Super Slam — To achieve a U.S. Super Slam, a hunter must harvest one wild turkey subspecies in every state except Alaska, which doesn’t have a wild turkey population. 

V

Vest — A vest is a piece of equipment many turkey hunters use while on a hunt. They vary in size and features, so finding the right one is a personal choice. Most vests have many pockets for calls and other gear, plus a padded seat. 

W

Wingbone call — A wingbone call is a turkey call made from the wing bones of a wild turkey. The bones are cleaned, joined, glued, sanded and smoothed before being used to call in another gobbler. 

World Slam — To achieve a World Slam, a hunter must have taken the Royal Slam plus the Ocellated turkey.

Wattles — A wattle is the fleshy caruncle hanging from the head of a wild turkey.

Y

Yelp — A yelp is a call made by a wild turkey. It is the most common sound from turkeys, and both male and female turkey can yelp. It is a series of notes that tells other turkeys they are in the area. A hen will likely yelp when she is on the lookout for a tom.

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