In just a few short days, we can finally take part in the opening day of our Pennsylvania spring gobbler season — Saturday, April 29th to be exact. It is the day many of us have been daydreaming about for weeks, so let’s take a look at a few opening day tactics that may insure success in the turkey woods.
First, there are two things you still have a little time to do before opening morning, and both are extremely important. The first is to pattern your shotgun. It is amazing how often this critical step is overlooked and it can be the one reason that will insure failure in insuring a clean kill on a turkey you may have worked very hard to get in range. Whether on a paper target with a turkey silhouette, or on a flat patterning board — it only takes one or two shots to verify that your shotgun is shooting exactly where you want it to. Secondly, have you located your setup spot for your predawn entry in the woods? Hopefully, while you have been scouting to locate a gobbler or two, you also determined exactly where you plan to sit once you have arrived on opening morning. If you have not, there is still time to do so, but it would be best to do so in mid-afternoon, when any turkeys in the area have long since left the roost area and are out feeding. As the eastern sky is beginning to become light on opening morning is not the time to be walking around aimlessly looking for a spot to hunt from!
During the opening day and throughout the early season, the turkeys in the area you plan to hunt should be relatively undisturbed. They will generally accept some tactics that later in the season they will have been educated to. I refer to decoys, calling and positioning. Most of the turkeys may never have seen a decoy before (in the previous spring or fall season), thus it may be the best time to try using a decoy setup to help lure in a bird. In a woods setting, where you may not want to carry multiple decoys, a single hen decoy placed along a logging road or other opening in the woods will help draw the interest of a gobbler. If setting up in a field edge or other large openings, it would be better to use multiple decoys. Two hen decoys and a jake decoy make an ideal setup to bring in a mature gobbler who is looking to defend his territory and his hens.
When it comes to calling, simply don’t overcall. Too often, we ‘learn’ our techniques by watching videos or TV shows, where aggressive and continual calling seems to be the norm. What they don’t depict are the long periods of silence that occur in real life as they patiently wait for a response from a nearby bird. A period of 15 to 30 minutes between calls will be much more realistic in the woods, and then a single cluck or two, or a short series of yelps will sound much more like a live hen. Continual and aggressive calling will best serve to educate nearby turkeys that there is a hunter in the area!
Choosing an exact position from which to hunt, hopefully well before the season opens, can be a key factor in a successful hunt. Choose a large tree near a roost area or in the area where the turkeys travel or feed, and make sure there are clear areas through which to shoot and that there is no brush to obstruct a clear view and clear shot. The ideal tree will be at least shoulder width in size. Ideally, there will be several sites in the area where you will be hunting that you can use as your setup location. It is easy for the turkeys to pattern you when they hear calling coming from the same exact location day after day.
Remember to carry more calls than you think you need. You should have a box call, or two, and a slate call, or two and several mouth calls as well. You can never know ahead of time just which call will work best on a given day. By having multiple calls that offer different tone and pitch, you will have a much better chance of interesting a passing gobbler.
Good luck, and remember, it is critical to positively identify your target and the surroundings before you pull the trigger!