TEXAS IS HOME TO THE LARGEST population of wild turkeys in America. This is due to an enormous population of Rio Grandes (500,000) along with scattered easterns and a handful of Merriam’s out in the remote Trans Pecos.
Turkeys are one of the most challenging animals to hunt and also one of the most exciting.
Much of that challenges is because of their incredible vision and hearing which is why hunter sometimes need to try some unusual techniques.
According to the Scientific American, wild turkeys have “the most complex retina of any vertebrate”.
“The retinas of turkeys have seven different types of photoreceptors including one rod and six different types of cones, two of which are actually ‘double cones.’ Human retinas have only four different types of photoreceptors consisting of one rod and three single cones. One of a tom’s single cone photoreceptors has a spectral sensitivity to wavelengths near 400 nm which is in the UVA light range.”
This allows turkeys to see into the ultra violet spectrum. Many modern laundry detergents contain chemicals that essentially make us glow to a turkey.
So, before you hit the field head to toe in camo or go ninja-style, use one of the detergents that counteract the UV issue.
The turkey’s vision, in particular their ability to see into this spectrum, can be a disadvantage for them if you use the latest in hunting technology.
The MAD Smoky Baby turkey decoy is a smoke white/gray color, which at first might seem strange. The fact is there are turkeys this color (a recessive genetic anomaly) and that the color will draw in wild turkeys.
Ranchers with domestic turkey stock are familiar with wild birds coming in to breed their white hens. This color can also be picked out at greater distances, helping to lure in those birds that are on the outer edge.
On top of that the decoy has a realistic shape and pattern and is coated with Uvision paint to give it a natural UV signature. Birds can learn a threat response if decoys do not have a proper signature. Uvision replicates the reflection of live turkey plumage so incoming birds can no longer tell the difference between colors on the Smoky Baby or the real thing.
One big mistake that turkey hunters make is that they call too often and much too loud. I would recommend you listen to the pros call on YouTube or on a turkey hunting DVD. You will learn the many different calls the birds use. Better yet, go hide in the woods and just listen. The vocalization of a turkey is soft except for the gobble.
The yelp is the most used call during this time of year. It’s super easy to do on a box call. You cannot miss with this call. It may be the only one you can master, but it will be all you need.
The cluck is the sound of a relaxed turkey. You must be careful, however, so you do not sound like a put, which, as I said earlier, is their warning call. The cackle is the sound of an excited hen. Sometimes they use this call when the birds fly down from the tree in the early morning hours.
The purr is followed by a soft cluck. It lets the tom know that the hen is ready—come find me! The kee-kee run or lost turkey call is not usually used in the spring.
There are many different artificial calls to try—the box call, push button calls, wing bone calls and also diaphragm calls with different configurations. Some have two or three latex pieces. Some have split latex and some have the latex cut in a v shape. They all sound different. You can sound like a young hen or a raspy old boss hen. These calls can be a little difficult to use and require some practice (away from the wife).
Here is a little trick to remember. If the tom turkey is already with a group of hens, you will not be able to call him into your set-up. However, you may be able to call the hens to you, and the tom will follow.
Most of the time, when you try to call the hens in, the boss hen will purposely lead the flock away from you, and they will follow her. She will be the call that sounds raspy and will be easily distinguishable from the other turkeys. When you hear her call, interrupt her with a call of your own and make it sound raspy and that you mean business.
She will probably call over and over, and you should interrupt her every time. Nine times out of 10 she will seek out this intruder to give her a piece of her mind!
The important thing is that she will also drag that tom along with her—game over.
If everyone in the area is doing the same kinds of calls or using the exact same decoy strategies simply changing things up as we have noted here can make a big difference. I have taken turkeys in Texas, New York and the Dakotas and can honestly say they are not only a challenge, but a genuinely exciting animal to hunt.
Are you up for the challenge? If so give these off-the-wall strategies a try.
Can you hunt turkeys in urban areas? What is the best gear to use? We answer these questions in this bonus video for the Texas Fish & Game Magazine March 2019 digital issue.
—by Dustin Vaughn Warncke
What IS the Witty-Wha-Too turkey call?
—story by LOU MARULLO