Spring turkey primer

Preparation in March leads to success in April

Spring turkey season opens statewide on April 17, marking the first major hunting season of the year.

Hunters have been waiting impatiently for opening day since closing day of the 2022 season. Some hunters couldn't wait and got head starts in other states. Federal magistrate judge Joe Volpe of Little Rock killed his first Osceola gobbler Friday in Florida, completing his first royal slam, the feat of taking all five sub-species of North American wild turkeys.

Grant Westmoreland of Sheridan has already bagged gobblers in Hawaii and Texas.

For the many hunters who don't travel, Arkansas is a tough place to bag a gobbler. You have to work harder. You have to put in a lot more time in the woods. Mistakes will hurt you more in Arkansas than other states. For all those reasons, when you bag a gobbler in Arkansas, it is a special accomplishment.

Here is a short primer to help you actualize your turkey hunting dreams:

Map study

No matter where you hunt, your primary objective is to get away from other hunters, most of which tend to hunt close to roads. By outdistancing the competition, you will improve your chances of working a gobbler alone, and you will reduce the chances of another hunter picking off a gobbler that you are working.

If you are intimately familiar with your hunting property, you are already light years ahead of the game. You already know where turkeys most frequently inhabit, and you know their general patterns. You also know how many other hunters frequent your property and where they hunt.

If you're hunting a new property, you need to learn it fast. Studying a map is the best entry point. It will enable you to find the areas farthest from roads, as well as subtle topographic features that influence turkey movements. You can accomplish the same things with more modern apps like onX Hunt.

Turkey habitat

Gobblers like to roost over water. Look for remote, hard-to-access areas along big creeks and small rivers and plot potential routes into these places. In mountainous or hilly areas, beware of deep creek bottoms that appear to be far from roads. Hunters often sit along roadsides or creep about with windows open listening for gobbles. If they hear one, they will often bail off down a hill to intercept the gobbler. For many hunters, another hunter working a gobbler is a free locator service.

Experienced turkey hunters often have favorite spots on public areas where access is not controlled. Ample opportunities are available in the 1.5-million acre Ouachita National Forest, in the 1.5-million-acre Ozark National Forest and in a myriad other WMAs with open access. These areas are heavily hunted. You have to work harder to tilt the odds in your favor.

Call somebody

If you drew a coveted controlled hunt permit on a wildlife management area, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's WMA managers are usually helpful, especially if you frame your questions properly. A cold call to an area manager is kind of like a job interview. If you start a job interview asking about benefits, paid leave and other perks, you won't get far.

For example, don't ask, "Where can I kill a turkey on such-and-such WMA?"

Instead, ask questions like, "Where are some of your most consistent roosting areas? Are there any open areas near cutovers? Are there any places that have been recently burned? What parts of the area get the most hunting pressure?" Questions like these reveal that you have a working knowledge of turkeys breeding, feeding and nesting habits. You're telling a resource manager that you're competent and that you simply want to narrow options where you can put your turkey hunting knowledge to work.

The same is true if you are a newcomer to a private hunting club. Asking another member where to hunt will not generate any useful information. You have a key to your club. Use it. Get in the woods and scout.


Late March is a great time to begin scouting intensively for turkeys because they are generally doing what they'll be doing in April. Gobblers and hens are separated and there is no breeding activity occurring.

Survey the woods you intend to hunt and identify the most promising areas. Familiarize yourself with your area. Find the best routes into your woods in the dark, routes that enable you to skirt roosting areas and minimize the chances of spooking birds on your way in.

If you hunt on private land, it might help to install remote cameras at promising areas to tell you if turkeys frequent them or visit them. If you know turkeys are using an area, you can look closer to find out why.

Few things raise a turkey hunter's spirits more than game-cam photos of broom-bearded gobblers. Show them to friends only if there is no chance of them knowing where the photos are taken or if there is no chance of them hunting the property. A friend would never encroach on your area, but a friend of a friend will. Turkey hunters become notoriously unsociable this time of year, and nobody takes it personally. We'll all be buds again when the season is finished.


You should practice calling right now. Keep a diaphragm call in your vehicle and practice while driving to and from work or when running errands. It's best if you carpool. Non-hunters love to hear turkey calls in the close confines of a vehicle, which has great acoustics.

A diaphragm call is a hands-free device, so it's versatile and enables you to practice in any situation where the task at hand requires both hands.

The diaphragm is so versatile that many hunters have eschewed manual calls in its favor. I am not among them. Aside from being collectible and artistic, box calls and pot (slate) calls diversify a hunter's sonic palette. It might temporarily strain some domestic relationships, but the offended, if they truly love you, will get over it.

It is not enough to simply know how to make turkey sounds. You need to learn the art of conversation. You need to know what to say and when to say it. I learn a lot listening to live turkeys and by calling to my neighbor's turkeys.

If live birds are not available, there are many tutorials on YouTube that are very educational. As Will Primos says, "Speak the language."

When you fit all these pieces together, you will have solved most of the puzzle.

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