Hunting wild turkey

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Wild turkey hunting how-to guide

Pheasant huntersWild turkey hunting is very popular in Minnesota. Its elements – setting decoys, listening for gobbles and calling to birds – make unforgettable experiences.

Wild turkeys exist throughout the state except in the deep forests north of U.S. Highway 2. If you have not yet tried turkey hunting you should. It’s a great way to start spring and enjoy the fall.

When to huntWhere to hunt

You can hunt wild turkey on many types of public land including state Wildlife Management Areas and state and national forests. You can hunt private land too if you have permission from the landowner or if the land is forested and not posted closed to hunting. To view the location of various types of public hunting land go to Recreation Compass. To learn about hunting on private property go to trespass law.

The best wild turkey hunting 30 and 40 years ago was in farm-and-forest country of extreme southeast Minnesota. This remains an excellent place to hunt. Yet today most of the state’s turkey harvest occurs in the mixed forest and farm country that starts on the northwest edge of the Twin Cities metro area and extends northwesterly beyond Bemidji. This habitat, commonly referred to as the transition zone, holds higher concentrations of turkeys than the more conifer-dominated forests of the north and the more prairie and agriculturally intensive lands to the west.

Wild Turkey Permit Areas vary greatly in size. Permit Area 508, for example, covers virtually all of east-central and north central Minnesota. Permit Area 511, on the other hand, is only the 24,000-acre Carlos Avery Wildlife Management. So, give serious thought to where you want hunt. You will want to make the most of your seven-day opportunity.

Specifically, the best place to hunt is in habitat that offers the food, cover, open fields and roosting trees that turkeys need. Good locations to place a blind or lean one’s back against the trunk of a broad-bottomed tree include:

  • Near the wooded edge of an alfalfa field or pasture that abuts forest or woodland.
  • Near the wooded edge of a picked or newly planted grain field.
  • Along traditional travel corridors, places where you or others have seen turkey flocks moving from here to there.
  • Near known “display areas,” the open fields where toms and jakes strut during the spring mating season.
  • In oak, mixed hardwood and other timbered landscapes, especially if farm fields or livestock operations are nearby.
  • Within 100 yards of evening roosting sites, the tall trees in which turkeys spend the night.

How to hunt

The National Wild Turkey Federation and many ordinary turkey hunters have produced many excellent “how to” articles, blogs and videos. An online search will provide you with hours of helpful information on scouting, calling, decoy setting and more. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers free turkey hunting clinics in spring. Click here to learn if a hunting clinic will be held in your area.

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What follows is general advice for a successful spring hunt:

  • Pattern your shotgun: In Minnesota you are required to hunt with a .410 shotgun or larger. Most hunters use a 12 gauge shotgun. Also, you must use fine shot size No. 4 or smaller in diameter. Most hunters use No. 4, 5, or 6 shot, or a load designed specifically for turkeys that contains a combination of shot sizes. Before you hunt you will want to “pattern” your shotgun by firing into a paper turkey target or large sheet of butcher paper. Do this at varying distances – say 25 to 45 yards – so you can see the density and size of your pattern. This will help you determine the effective killing range of your gun. You can enhance the density of your pattern by experimenting with different types of shotgun shell brands, shell lengths, shot sizes and choke tubes.
  • Practice calling: Calling is a big part of spring turkey hunting. You’ll want to feel confident in your ability to make purrs, putts, yelps and other calls before the hunting season begins. So, start practicing prior to your hunting season. Turkey calls come in a variety of types such as box calls, slate calls and mouth calls. Some are easier to master than others. Experiment with different types until you find what you like. For many, the easiest call to use is a push pin friction box. If you can click the top of a ballpoint pen you can master the friction box.
  • Buy camouflage: Turkey camouflage pants and tops because a turkey’s eyesight is its primary defense. You will want to wear camouflage from head to toe, including your face and hands. Make sure metal surfaces of your gun are camouflaged, too, so it doesn’t glint or shine at an inopportune time. If you hunt the early spring seasons you may want to select camouflage patterns that feature browns and greys to match the not-yet-green surroundings. Those who hunt later in the spring may want to wear camouflage that has more green in it.
  • Scout: The more you know about the wild turkeys in your hunting area the more likely you are to succeed. Therefore, take time to scout in the weeks and days leading up to your hunting season. It is a huge advantage to know where birds are roosting, feeding, displaying and moving. Some scouting can be done from the comfort of your car or truck. The repeated viewing of fields and forest edges during mornings and evenings is an excellent way to zero-in on flock locations. That done, you can start scouting specific locations on foot to further find the best places to set up a blind or hide for an ambush. When scouting on foot look for turkey tracks in bare soil, scratches in leaf litter, turned over cow pies, wing impressions in sandy dusting areas and waste droppings.
  • Plan your hunt: Once you have decided where to hunt the step is to plan your hunt in more detail. Where will you park? Where will you set the blind? What will you sit on? What route will you take into Where will you place your decoys? All of these questions and more need to asked and answered. Also, now is a good time to seek additional counsel from friends and others. Most turkey hunters gladly share tips and tactics. One helpful tip for beginners, for example, is to walk from your blind to the known maximum killing range of your shotgun, and then insert an easy-to-see stick into the ground. This visual marker will help you determine if a turkey is or isn’t in range.
  • Be patient: Patience kills turkeys. Impatience doesn’t. Patience is critical because you cannot predict what a turkey will do in response to your call. Sometimes toms gobble loud and often, and strut straight into range. Other times they don’t gobble at all even though drawn to your call. There is no rule of thumb on how long to wait when nothing seems to be happening but “staying put for just a little bit longer” is often a smart thing to do.
  • Be ready to shoot: Though slowly raising your shotgun to your cheek can work in some instances in other instances you may need to shoot quickly. The perfect time to squeeze the trigger is when the bird’s head is high and its neck elongated. Sometimes you can trigger this pose with a cluck from your turkey call. Aim for the head and neck as shots to the body are not as lethal.
  • Register your bird: Once you have shot a turkey you must tag it immediately with the tag that was provided to you when you purchased your license. In fact, you will want to have a short piece of string with you because that’s what you will need to secure the tag to the bird’s leg. You will also need to register your bird with 24 hours. The easiest way to do this is to call the DNR registration number: 888-706-6376 or register your bird online at
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Turkey hunting can be done cost effectively. Though a blind and decoys are nice to have the following items is all you really need.

  • Shotgun: It must be .410 gauge or larger. You can use a semi-automatic, pump or over-and-under shotgun. The style doesn’t matter. Muzzleloading shotguns are legal too.
  • Shells: Turkey hunting loads are typically sold in a box that contains five shells, and most often the shells are 3 or even 3.5 inches in length. Prices vary greatly based on the type of pellets and other factors.
  • Call: Turkey calls come in many types and price ranges. A good mouth call can be purchased for less than $10. A reasonable box call runs about $30. It would be a mistake to think that more expensive calls will produce more success.
  • Camouflage clothing: You can spend as much or as little as you like. A very thin pair of camouflage gloves is a good thing to buy. So too is a thin face mask that eliminates glare from your face.
  • Nice to have: a backpack or turkey hunting vest (you will appreciate the many pockets in a turkey vest and its pad for your butt), a sling for your gun (a sling makes it easier to carry decoys while walking), and the usual: compass, knife and first aid kit.

What’s important to know

  • Red dot scopes and range finders are legal.
  • Archers must use bows that have a pull of no less than 30 pounds.
  • A licensed turkey hunter may assist another turkey hunter but may not shoot or tag a turkey for another hunter.
  • Harvesting turkey over bait is prohibited.
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Basic biology

  • The wild turkey is a big black or gray bird with a round body and tiny head. Males, called gobblers, have a tail that, when spread, looks like a large fan.
  • Males are mostly dark brown and black, and have a red head, neck, and wattle (the fleshy growth that hangs beneath the chin). Hens are brownish gray.
  • Adult wild turkeys are about 3 feet long, with a 4-foot wingspan. They weigh up to about 25 pounds.
  • Wild turkeys make an assortment of sounds, including yelps, gobbles, purrs, putts, and other calls.
  • Turkeys mate from April to May. Hens lay 10 to 12 eggs, which hatch in about 28 days. The young, called poults, are able to fly in three or four weeks but they stay with their mother up to four months.
  • Turkeys eat many things, including ferns, grasses, grain, buds, berries, insects, acorns, and even frogs and snakes.
  • Turkey predators include great-horned owls, eagles, coyotes and foxes.

Helpful information

  • Download a map of turkey permit area boundaries, application materials and more.
  • Helpful videos and articles from the National Wild Turkey Federation.
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>