Pursuit Of the Eastern Wild Turkey Can Be A Thrilling, Rewarding Hunt…But You’ll Need Patience
story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information
Many hunters just don’t get it. Though they love being in the outdoors, chasing their preferred prey and enjoying the thrill of the harvest, turkey hunting is a bird of a different feather to many.
Some believe going after the eastern wild turkey involves more effort than it is worth.
But when you talk to longtime turkey hunters their faces light up and you feel the passion. You will not, they say, get a better adrenaline rush than bagging a big bird after toiling for hours, sometimes days, while pursuing a gobbler. And even during the hunts when you come up empty, the interaction with a turkey, trying to lure it into your sight, is like no other hunt.
Cody Cedotal was bitten by the bug when he was 13 and he is still infected.
“I went out (turkey hunting) two or three times prior to my first harvest,” said Cedotal, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Small Game and Wild Turkey Program Manager. “I was able to harvest a jake (male juvenile) that first year and I’ve been hooked ever since.
“I think the big difference, and what makes it so enticing, is the interaction and confrontations you have with turkeys. It is unlike any other chase. There are so many facets to turkey hunting that makes it addictive. Scouting is key. Woodsmanship and knowledge of the terrain and hunting area is essential. Calling is a major part of it. And these are pretty intelligent birds with keen eyesight. They’re difficult to harvest. But when you do, it’s so rewarding.”
Hunting turkey can be frustrating and off-putting to a novice. Like playing golf or tennis, it can be a difficult sport to master and requires a good deal of patience. That’s why if you decide to take up the sport, the first thing you should do is find a mentor, someone experienced in turkey hunting who can shepherd you in the right direction.
Cedotal said that’s how he learned the sport. Another member of his hunting club took him on his first few hunts, including the first time he bagged a turkey.
“A lot of turkey hunters will be happy to do that,” Cedotal said. “Most enjoy passing their love of the sport to someone else, young or old. I’ve taken several people (turkey) hunting for the first time and they enjoy the experience. It’s best to learn from a veteran hunter who can show you some of the nuances of the sport.”
The best gun to use is a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun that patterns well out to 40 yards, Cedotal said. Normally a youth would begin with a 20-gauge. The 12-gauge is the most common firearm for turkey hunting.
“A 3-inch magnum gun that shoots relatively high powered shells is ideal,” Cedotal said. “You want a gun that has a nice consistent pattern to about 35-40 yards. The key is to find a gun, choke and shell combination that patterns well at that range. The most common shot sizes used are 4, 5 or 6 shot sizes.”
Where to Hunt
Though coastal Louisiana is abundant with many game species, you won’t find turkeys there. The central and northern parts of the state as well as the Florida Parishes in southeast Louisiana offer good turkey hunting opportunity. It’s important to find out, though, where the turkeys are.
“The worst thing you can do starting out turkey hunting is to go to a place that doesn’t have any,” Cedotal said. “You can find squirrel or rabbits in just about every corner of our state. Not so for turkey.
“When I’m searching out spots, I’m looking for well-maintained habitat. This may include areas with large hardwood bottoms and/or upland areas that have been burned frequently.”
Cedotal said it’s important to watch and listen when scouting. He said to look for turkey scratching signs.
“Sometimes when they’re feeding in those hardwood bottoms or pine stands, they’ll walk along and scratch for acorns and insects,” Cedotal said. “They’ll leave a pretty distinct sign if there is a large group of turkeys. If it’s only a few, it won’t be as obvious.”
Prior to the season, or maybe a few days before the hunt, Cedotal said he likes to go out in the mornings to a possible hunting spot to listen for the birds to gobble while on the roost. Sometimes on a clear, crisp morning you can hear birds from quite a distance depending on the terrain. You can also hear them occasionally late in the evenings once they have roosted for the night.
Good turkey hunting private land can be difficult to access as private leases aren’t getting any cheaper. Many clubs also are strict on rules about who can come and who can bring guests.
“But we’re fortunate in Louisiana in that we have good quality habitat on public lands,” Cedotal said.
Some of the better LDWF Wildlife Management Areas to turkey hunt include Fort Polk WMA, Peason Ridge WMA, Clearcreek WMA and West Bay WMA in west central Louisiana, Big Lake WMA, J.C. Sonny Gilbert WMA and Bodcau WMA in north Louisiana and Tunica Hills WMA in southeast Louisiana .
“And some of our finest hunting is on Kisatchie National Forest (in central and north Louisiana),” Cedotal said. “All the ranger districts have some really good spots and good quality habitat.”
On the Hunt
As Cedotal mentioned, turkeys have excellent eyesight. So, like other hunting pursuits, concealment is important. But it’s even more important in turkey hunting. You’ll need to wear camouflage clothing on your face and hands too.
Calling is another major part of turkey hunting, and it’s where having a mentor will pay off. Hunting with a skilled partner gives a newcomer a chance to observe his or her surroundings while the experienced hunter calls from behind. That can give the new hunter a chance for a better shot up closer.
Cedotal said it takes practice to become competent in calling. But you don’t necessarily have to be a champion caller to have success bringing in a bird.
“You want to find one or two calls that you’re comfortable with and that you’re confident that you can make turkey sounds with,” Cedotal said. Box calls are typically easiest to get started with. And it’s best to know what sounds to make at certain points, depending on how that turkey is gobbling or responding to you or not responding. The only thing you can go by is whether they’re answering you with a gobble and how frequent their reply is. That’s hard to describe and explain without being there and experiencing it.”
In Louisiana, the turkey hunting season is in the spring during mating season. And, unlike the fall and winter, the woods are denser with new growth. There are also more sounds. Couple that with the elusive nature of turkeys and it is part of the reason why they can be difficult to harvest.
“Being in the spring, it’s so much more an interactive style of hunting,” Cedotal said. “Because they’re in their mating season males are gobbling. It’s not like squirrel hunting where you see a squirrel roaming through the top of a tree, slip up on it and harvest it. You won’t typically do that with a turkey.”
Cedotal said the basic game plan is to find a location in which you’ve scouted, be patient, listen and make a few calls. He said you’ll want to be set up in more of a stationary position and call the gobbler into you. He also said it can pay to be in an area that the turkey likes to travel.
“If you happen to get in on a good hunt or two where there’s a lot of gobbling activity, it’s just so much fun,” Cedotal said. “Even if you don’t harvest a bird, I’ve known some people who get hooked because there is a lot of interaction between the hunter and the bird.
“Turkey hunts can run the gamut of being very poor/borderline boring to extremely exciting when you have an adrenaline rush the entire time. It all depends on how that individual turkey is responding to you or if there are multiple turkeys in the area.”
For every exciting hunt, there are many more times where you will leave the field dazed and confused over the lack of gobbling activity, the way a turkey reacted to something, or as a result of something that just went wrong during the hunt. This is quite common. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it just reaffirms that turkeys are turkeys (wild animals) and makes you appreciate the good hunts even more.
Rules and Regulations
There are three designated areas for turkey hunting in Louisiana and all three begin April 6. Area A runs from April 6-May 5, Area B from April 6-28 and Area C from April 6-21. These dates may be different on LDWF’s WMAs and National Forests.
Prior to hunting turkey, you must obtain turkey tags and they must be in possession when hunting. This is vital to LDWF’s research and management of the wild turkey.
Only bearded males may be harvested, no females. The bag limit is one gobbler per day and two per season. It is illegal to bait turkey and they may be harvested only with a shotgun or bow. Louisiana prohibits the use of dogs, electronic calling devices or live decoys in turkey hunting.
For complete regulations on turkey season, go to www.eregulations.com/louisiana/hunting/2019-turkey-hunting-regulations/
For more information, go to: www.wlf.la.gov/turkey
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