While heading for the lake to get in on the walleye and white bass run, I nearly ran off the road when I saw three big tom turkeys all fanned out near several hens. It's a sight to see and would get any turkey hunter's adrenaline going, like finding a big bunch of morel mushrooms.
The spring season for the big bearded birds is just around the corner and it's time to start preparations for a successful hunt. The Missouri spring turkey hunting season starts April 10. The special Youth Weekend Hunt is coming up next weekend, April 10-11.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, Missouri is ranked as one of the top turkey hunting states in the country with the Show-Me State's population of the eastern species of this majestic bird at more than 500,000 birds. Other states in the top 10 are: Alabama, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, Mississippi, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Kentucky.
To many people, when the word turkey is mentioned, Thanksgiving or hunting comes to mind. According to Webster's Dictionary, however, the word turkey means several things, including a theatrical production that failed, successive strikes in a line of bowling, a stupid foolish person and a large North American bird that can be either domestic or wild.
The differences between a domestic and wild turkey are easily recognized. Although they are similar in looks, the wild turkey is as distant from the domestic as an athlete is from a couch potato.
One difference is survival, a wild turkey hen teaches her brood to react to predators and other dangers as well as how to get food, social behavior and flocking together. The domestic bird doesn't have the opportunity to learn these skills. A domestic tom will respond to any noise while a wild tom has learned that too much talking can be fatal. Domestic turkeys are incapable of flying or even running very fast. They make easy pickings for any predator. Wild birds are sleek, alert and built for speed and survival. Its senses are sharp in order to survive living in a harsh and unforgiving environment. This constant state of caution has made the wild turkey one of the toughest game animal in the world to hunt or even photograph.
The typical plan when hunting spring toms is to locate a gobbler, slip within a couple hundred yards and call sweetly to whip the tom into a state of excitement. If this plan works, the bird will thunder back, fly down and strut within 40 yards of the hunter. Plans like this often fail.
As the season moves along, gobblers often stop responding to calls. Sometimes, they are with real hens and unwilling to leave a sure thing, they've been pressured by other hunters and have become even more cautious. Rob Keck, former executive of NWTF, said, "Nobody knows why gobblers just hush up for periods of time in the spring. During this time hunters can either head home and wait until the gobblers get active again, or try something different and stay in the woods."
While not every hunter swears by using decoys, they can be a big asset in many situations like when taking youngsters, first time hunters or people who have disabilities. Decoys have worked for me many times. I started out carrying a full-bodied hen, but changed to a lightweight one that you can carry in your vest and can be set up fast. The decoys of today offer a good dose of reality and bring the toms up close.
Turkey hunting can be very addictive. I know this because I get just as excited getting ready for this spring's season as I was back in 1960 when the first modern-day turkey hunting opened.
After finding the first morels recently, catching a limit of crappie and then seeing those big toms strutting, for me, it doesn't get any better.