As was the case last year, March 20 signals the first day of spring 2019 for inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere. Otherwise known as the vernal equinox, this annual calendar event documents the annual movement of the sun’s most direct rays from the southern to the northern clines. On the equinox the fiery celestial orb will sit directly over the equator, giving northerners precisely 12 hours of daylight balanced by 12 hours of darkness.
But from that day forward, the sun’s most intense radiation will track slowly northward, eventually arriving at the Tropic of Cancer (23 1/2 degrees north latitude) on June 21. This solar positioning establishes our first day of the summer season, which as you know, maintains the greatest number of daylight hours for the entire year.
Since their life cycles are well tuned to these celestial events, these changes have not gone unnoticed by the wild critters. In fact, just yesterday my older brother, Bob, called to let me know that the big Merriam toms that haunt his northern Idaho home are ramping up on their gobbling and strutting, anxious to attract some of the local ladies for some loving.
Earlier this week, I got a call from my younger brother, Dave, located in the Big Sky country of Montana. He was phoning to let me know that the Richardson ground squirrel hordes that excavate his pastures were just starting to emerge from their dens; a sure sign that the Land of Lewis and Clark is just beginning to thaw from this winter’s mini-Ice Age up there.
Folks, nature’s also calling and she’s letting us know that it’s high time to gather up our hunting gear and head to the range. In today’s column, let’s talk about preparing ourselves and our equipment so that we can up the ante on putting a big strutting spring tom in the gravy.
First, let me qualify this essay by saying that I am, at best, a novice turkey hunter and that I have the good fortune of being able to hunt what many consider to be some of the best turkey hunting real estate in the Intermountain West: the forested lake country of northern Idaho (the Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille region). There, Merriam turkey densities are extremely high and the birds are uncharacteristically calm, having grown accustomed to lots of human activities in their midst; a hunter couldn’t ask for a better scenario!
But even under the best of circumstances, it is always wise to prepare carefully for each hunt. Let me lay out what I do to prepare myself to chase the big, beautiful and tasty gobblers. For convenience, I’ll segment this piece into the following categories: license/tag requirements, guns and ammo, sighting in (patterning process) and hunt strategies.
The last thing that any sportsman wants is to be checked by a warden and find that their paperwork is not in order. This is, at once, an embarrassing, unnecessary, and usually very costly way to end your adventure. To avoid this avoidable mishap, go online or to your local sporting goods store to get a copy of the regulations regarding your particular hunt area. Purchase the necessary licenses and tags and be sure to store them where you’ll have ready access to them throughout your hunt(s). Become familiar with the legal shooting times, bag limits, as well as the proper tagging and transportation requirements of your state, and finally keep a copy of the regulations handy for easy reference for the duration of your hunt(s).
GUNS AND AMMUNITION
Much like clothing preferences, your choice of gun and ammunition should be based on combinations that have worked for you in the past. Although manufacturers would love for you to run out and purchase an expensive, new specialty turkey gun (and who wouldn’t want to), the expense is not always justified. A more reasonable and economic approach would be to modify your existing shotgun’s performance envelope by finding the choke/ammunition combo that will increase your current gun’s turkey-taking potential. This procedure will work fine with older fixed choke guns, but your gun’s performance-potential will really be enhanced if its muzzle is threaded for removable choke tubes.
The testing procedure, though time-consuming and labor-intensive, is fairly straightforward. Check out several YouTube sites for detailed instructions on how to pattern your shotgun to identify the choke/ammunition combo that will turn your favorite duck/goose gun into a primo turkey slayer. Most authorities will recommend that you screw in a tightly constricted (full or extra full) choke tube, and purchase 2-3 different brands of shot shells for the testing. A solid bench and shooting rest are “musts.” NOTE: BE PREPARED TO ENDURE A POUNDING; modern high velocity turkey loads kick like a mule team, especially when you’re strapped to a bench.
As miserable as the patterning process is, you really need to carry the process out deliberately because this is the only way that you’ll know — for sure — how your gun will perform in the field at known distances. Remember: everything is theoretical until you put pellets on paper!
Like all of God’s creations, turkeys are creatures of both habit and habitat. If you’re hunting a new area, I’ve found that local Game and Fish offices and gun shops are good places to pick up area-relevant information. If you get a chance to try your luck out on turkeys this spring or fall, please take the opportunity. You’ll discover why Ben Franklin admired the fowl enough to promote it as our national symbol. It didn’t happen, of course, but maybe Ben has found some consolation in the fact that some many members of his favored species are now living and working in our nation’s capital.