John's Journal...

Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys

Day 3: Learn How to Call and Shoot Turkeys with Lovett Williams

Editor’s Note: With turkey season starting in many sections of the South within 1-2 weeks, I want to cover basic information you need to be successful. I’ve often asked Lovett Williams, who has a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology and was a wildlife biologist with the Florida Game and Fish Commission for more than two decades, for helpful turkey information. He’s spent many years studying the wild turkey and has written two books on the subject – “The Wild Turkey” and “The Voice and Vocabulary of the Wild Turkey.”

Click for Larger ViewMany turkey hunters find one skill at which they are really good. Some are endowed with especially sensitive ears and rely on their hearing more than any other sense when they hunt. Others are master woodsmen – able to read and understand sign quickly and to predict where a turkey will show up without ever hearing or calling him. Hunters who are musically inclined may admire a turkey caller and imitate him the way some musicians admire and imitate concert soloists. A good turkey caller has an ear for music and a knack for playing an instrument, even though that instrument may be a diaphragm caller, a cedar box, or a slate and peg. But once they perfect their skill with it, they depend more heavily on their calling ability than any other skill.

Many master turkey hunters say that calling is only 10 or 20 percent of what is required to take a turkey. That may be true some of the time. However, I’ve found that often my ability to call is 100 percent of the reason I take a turkey, especially when I hunt an unfamiliar area and don’t have time to study the signs or the turkeys there. Then I depend 100 percent on my calling ability. On the other hand, a hunter who scouts more, reads sign better or knows what turkeys do in a region needs to depend on his calling as little as 10 or 15 percent. To become an effective caller, listen to cassettes of actual turkey calls or of expert callers. Next, visit with some experts, and let them show you the finer points of calling. Go to turkey-calling contests, and listen to the calls the contestants make. Once you have learned to make the basic calls, the next stage is to develop confidence in your calling. To do that, you have to go out into the woods and begin to call. Remember that a turkey doesn’t walk around thinking, “Is that a man or a turkey making that call?” Turkeys just don’t reason that way. If they hear a noise that sounds like another turkey, they may go to it. So, there’s no reason not to go into the woods and try your calling as soon as you have the chance. You’re not going to scare the turkey. Turkeys are not paranoid about calls. And, as soon as you see a turkey come to your call, even if the call isn’t just right, then you’ll work more and more on your calling and develop more confidence in your ability.

Learning to Shoot:

Click for Larger ViewLearning how to shoot is the last skill that a turkey hunter needs to develop. The other skills I’ve discussed on Day 1 and Day 2 should be developed first. A common mistake is not having a good gun for hunting. When a person spends as much time, money and effort as most turkey hunters do in learning the sport, not spending the extra money to buy the kind of gun he needs is foolish. The right gun may not be the same for every person. The gun you use needs to be the one in which you have confidence. There’s no point in using a gun that throws a 65-percent pattern at 40 yards, when you can buy one that throws an 85-percent pattern. A good gun may cost several hundred dollars. If you miss three turkeys, however, turning those three bad experiences into good ones will have been worth many hundreds of dollars more.

Another mistake is to use shot of improper size. In my opinion, there’s some terrible misinformation about the shot sizes best for killing turkeys. Most turkey hunters use shot that’s too large. Don’t use any shot larger than No. 6. No. 7 1/2s in a high velocity shell are effective, but No. 8s are best. All that’s required to kill a turkey is a single No. 8 shot in the brain. When you use bigger shot, you reduce the number of shot that can kill the bird. With a smaller size you have more shot directed at the turkey’s head. And, since the smaller shot can kill just as effectively, I’d choose a denser shot pattern instead of the larger shot.

Click for Larger ViewIt’s also important to know the capabilities of your gun at various ranges, so you won’t try to shoot farther than it can carry a tight pattern. I hunt with a gun that has both a shotgun barrel and a rifle barrel in states that permit this type of weapon. If a turkey is close, I can blast him with the shotgun barrel. But if he’s hung up out there at 50 yards, I can take him with the rifle barrel. The rifle barrel I want under my 12 gauge is a .222. In my opinion, the .222 cartridge as it comes from the factory is too fast to kill effectively. If you hunt with a .222, shoot hand-loaded cartridges that are loaded down, so that the bullets won’t travel so fast. Use soft-nose bullets, and load your shells, so the bullets will travel at about 2400 feet per second.

Before you squeeze the trigger on either the rifle or the shotgun, you’ve got to know if you’re close enough to the turkey to make a kill. I recommend getting a turkey silhouette or decoy, placing it in the woods, walking away from it and trying to judge the distance. Check your accuracy with either a range finder or a tape measure. Finally, practice shooting from awkward positions on the ground. As master turkey hunters know, a turkey often will walk up, so you have to shoot from a strange position, off balance or screwed around, so you barely can hold your shotgun, let alone shoot. If you practice in unorthodox positions, you’ll be better prepared for whatever shot a turkey presents.

Click for Larger ViewThe more you practice all the skills of the sport, the more consistently you’ll take turkeys. If you’re a beginner, the best advice I can give you is to start hunting. Sure, you’ll make some mistakes, but you’ll also learn from them. A turkey has no magic powers. If you hunt him, you can take him. If you don’t get out into the woods enough, you’ll never become a successful turkey hunter.

To get these Kindle ebooks by John E. Phillips, including: “The Turkey Hunter's Bible, click here; “PhD Gobblers; click here; and “Turkey Hunting Tactics, click here, or go to, type in the names of the books, and download them to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.

Check back at this website after March 10th for John E. Phillips’ latest Kindle ebook, “Outdoor Life’s Complete Turkey Hunting” and a reprint of his popular, sold-out book, “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible” 2nd edition.

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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Where Does Turkey Hunting Patience Begin and End with the Late Charles Elliott

Check back each day this week for more about Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys"

Day 1: Develop Your Hunting Skills by Knowing Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 2: Learning to Read Turkey Sign with Lovett Williams
Day 3: Learn to How to Call and Shoot Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 4: Where Does Turkey Hunting Patience Begin and End with the Late Charles Elliott
Day 5: How Charles Elliott Learned the Patience to Take Tough Turkeys

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Entry 759, Day 3