They’re not just for Thanksgiving anymore! In fact, America’s wild turkeys are as much a sign that spring is here as the Easter bunny. With eyesight that puts an eagle to shame and an all-too-often reluctance to come within range despite the lively “conversation” between bird and a hunter’s slate call, spring turkey seasons are a challenge that see camo-clad, shotgunners head to the woods and fields in droves.
There are four subspecies in the Lower 48. The Eastern is the most prolific, having made a stunning comeback over the last decades—with lots of help from people like those at the National Wild Turkey Federation—after near decimation in the early 1900s. You’ll find it almost everywhere in the Eastern U.S. and even into Canada. The Osceola turkey is on the other end, with the most limited distribution and germane only to South Florida. North and west in the ponderosa pines of states from New Mexico to South Dakota you’ll find the Merriam’s subspecies with its distinguishing white bands of rump and tail end feathers, while the windy plains from Texas to Utah are the range of the Rio Grande.
For more information see our friends at the National Wild Turkey Federation.
When it comes to choosing a perfect pup for hunting that can also be a great family pet, pedigree is everything.People have a lot of methods for picking a puppy, but most of them involve trying to evaluate a litter of six-week olds to find the right temperament. This, essentially, is impossible. You can’t look at the behavior of a newborn puppy and accurately predict how it will be as an adult any more than you can with a newborn baby.No matter how timid a puppy seems, or how overtly aggressive a puppy is when compared to its littermates, you won’t be able to make a great call one way or another. By that point in the process, the only decision you’ll really be making is on looks.The true method for picking a perfect puppy is to start long before it’s born by studying its pedigree.
Bloodline RealitiesOne of the most common bird dog legends involves the shelter dog, or the accidental farmhouse Lab, that grew into a bird-hunting machine. We love those stories because they give us hope that any old dog can be amazing in the field. The truth is, those dogs are outliers and their field prowess likely benefits from a bit of storytelling license.To get an amazing hunting dog, or at least hedge your bets, you need to dig into bloodlines. Whether you’re looking for an English setter to hunt quail with, or maybe a golden retriever with a nose for roosters, you need to research not only the parents but the grandparents of the litter. This serves a couple of purposes, the first being health.[caption id="attachment_2519" align="aligncenter" width="650"] You can’t look at a puppy or play with it for a few minutes and determine anything about how it will turn out as a bird dog despite common belief to the contrary.[/caption]Dog breeding in America is an unchecked, unregulated business. That’s why so many breeds have reputations for coming down with cancer or developing debilitating joint issues. A well-bred dog will have all of its health checks in place, and that is a major reason for going this route.The same kind of dog, with pure lines and, hopefully, a history of hunt tests, will not only be healthy but will also be smarter than average. Any dog that comes from generations of hunt-test or field-trial winners has problem-solving skills built in, mostly because dimwits don’t excel at tests. This is a great way to hedge your bets with an easy-to-train dog whether you’ll ever run a field trial yourself or not.And any dog that sports a solid pedigree will likely possess plenty of drive and athleticism. These two assets are extremely important to hunting ability. If you want a dog that can hunt the big woods of northern Wisconsin for ruffed grouse all day, you want a dog that has some athleticism in his background.Quick tip: Unlike Europe, we really don't have any breed standards in the United States. This means there isn't any governing organization that polices breeds and ensures quality. The American Kennel Club is the closest organization we have.
Reading a PedigreeThis is the tricky part. The main focus of reading a pedigree will be to look at the parents and the grandparents of any prospective litter. Any generations beyond that are a bonus, but the biggest genetic contributors tend to be the latest two generations. Every reputable breeder will have a website, as well as the pedigrees of all sires and dams, so finding the base information should be easy.[caption id="attachment_2521" align="aligncenter" width="650"] We often focus on aesthetics in puppies, but not on intelligence. The best bloodlines out there will promise athletic, healthy dogs that also possess plenty of mental bandwidth.[/caption]When reading it, look for designations like MH (Master Hunter) or FC (Field Champion) after a dog’s name. Both are good.You may also see NFC (National Field Champion, AFC (Amateur Field Champion) or SH (Senior Hunter), which are all indicative of dogs that have titled and are likely to be passing on the right genes.If you see CH anywhere, pass. That is a show dog designation, and not what you’re looking for in a hunting dog. Show breeding is all about looks and has been disastrous to many of our once-popular sporting breeds.Keep in mind that it will be easier to find a good pedigree in a popular breed than it will be for a more obscure breed. The same goes for color. A lot of people want a chocolate, a red, or a silver Lab these days. The problem with many of these dogs is that they have been bred for color and nothing else, which is very similar to show breeding.Dig into the pedigree and look for the right field trial or hunt test designations before worrying about color — you won’t regret it.
- Health guarantees.
- What the parents or grandparents were used for if it’s not clear from the pedigree.
- How many litters did the parents produce a year?
Always Buy UpWell-bred dogs are worth a lot but convincing the average sporting-dog owner of that is not so easy. This is because they are usually more difficult to find than any run-of-the-mill dog, and they are more expensive.[caption id="attachment_2523" align="aligncenter" width="650"] A well-bred puppy is going to cost at least twice as much as an average dog, which is tough to swallow. The bright side is that it’s a one-time investment into many years of companionship at home and in the field.[/caption]These days, if you want a golden retriever that is field-bred (no show breeding) and boasts a pure pedigree and all of the health checks, you’ll spend at least $1000 and most likely, quite a bit more. You can find goldens all day long for half that price, but they’ll be a total gamble.Quick tip: If you’re unsure how to research quality bloodlines for your next bird dog, enlist the help of a professional trainer.Well-bred dogs are more expensive, and they are harder to find. However, look at it this way: you’re making a commitment that should hopefully last about a dozen years. Spending twice what you would for a questionable dog amortized over the lifespan of a dog you’re going to be very happy with is not much more of an additional investment. Factor in the likelihood that you’ll have a much better hunting dog and the idea of “buying up” is even easier to accept.A lot of people will still scoff at paying that much, and the typical justification is that they only hunt a couple of times each year, so who really needs an in-field rock star? The answer is, they do. And you do, too, probably; even if your days in the field are very limited.
Family MattersThe thing about bird dogs these days is that even when a diehard upland hunter or waterfowler owns them, they only spend a small amount of time actually hunting. Most of their lives consist of being house pets. This means that while hunting skills, instinct and drive are all important, overall trainability and temperament are even more critical.A well-bred dog that comes from a line of thinkers will be much easier to train.My current Lab, Luna, comes from a solid pedigree. She’s a machine in the field, but at home she is incredible as well. It took me two days to house train her, which was a relief because I’ve never had a dog take to that task so quickly. I also had her sitting the first day we got her as a puppy, which I wouldn’t have believed possible until I experienced it myself.None of this came from exceptional training ability on my part, but instead was the result of paying up for a dog that carried the right stuff in her genes.
ConclusionWell-bred puppies are expensive, but they’re worth it. If you’re paying for genetic potential you’re hedging your bets against a litany of issues that might crop up, not the least of which is health and overall abilities in the field and at home.Forget what you think you know about picking a puppy and start researching litters. If that task is too much, enlist the help of a professional trainer. If you do, you’ll most likely end up with a dog that exceeds your expectations at home, and in the field.And who can put a price on that?About the Author Tony J. Peterson has written hundreds of articles for over two dozen national and local publications. Although he covers topics related to all forms of hunting and fishing, his passion lies in do-it-yourself bowhunting for whitetail deer and western big game. Peterson is an accomplished outdoor photographer and currently serves as the Equipment Editor for Bowhunter magazine and Bowhunter TV.Special thanks to StepOutside.org for providing this insightful content.
https://youtu.be/jcZOO5Zqrjc?t=10In this video, Professional dog trainer Bev Millheim offers some sage advice for dog owners that are getting their young dog ready for its first hunting season. Tough the tips are focused on retrievers the substance can be applied to any breed. If Fido will see it on opening day he should see it first in training. Good luck on your first hunt!
Lots of AdvantagesHunting from a ground blind has a lot going for it. You can position them just about anywhere, eliminating the need to find a suitable tree for stand placement. Their varied camo patterns blend into any terrain, including standing corn, deep woods or brushy fields, and they are portable, making it much easier to pick up and relocate if your initial choice of hunting spot turns out to be a bust. Finally, ground blinds protect the hunter from the elements, making it easier to stay afield during inclement weather—and if just being out of the wind and keeping dry isn’t enough, you can easily warm them with a small propane heater, even on the coldest of days.All these pluses makes a ground blind especially perfect for young hunters. Add a couple of comfortable seats, something to keep them occupied during slow times, a few snacks and something to drink, and what would normally be a quick trip back to the house when the weather turns bad or they get bored and cranky can easily become an all-day hunt.
Hiding in Plain Sight—Safely[caption id="attachment_2036" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Even when the blind’s occupants are wearing a hunter orange hat and vest, the safety color is hidden from hunters on the outside.[/caption]As useful as they are, ground blind hunting does have a few drawbacks. Chief among them is the fact that you are hidden from other hunters. This can be particularly troublesome on crowded public hunting areas, where hunters may be unaware of who else is in the area. Too, even if the occupants of a blind are fully decked out in bright hunter orange, closed windows and camo screens can prevent other hunters from seeing them. Couple that with the blind’s ability to blend in with its surroundings, and another hunter can shoot your way without knowing you are around.The easiest way to remedy this situation is to place hunter orange on the outside of the blind. This works especially well when deer hunting, since it has been scientifically proven that deer don’t see bright hunter orange the same way humans do.Some blinds come with foldable patches of orange material built into their exteriors. Simply unzip or open the pocket holding the orange material and let it drape down onto the camo exterior of the blind. If your blind doesn’t have this built-in orange flap, most blind manufacturers offer orange drapes to snap over the roof of the blind. In a pinch, even a few extra hunter orange safety vests can be utilized by draping them over the exterior of the blind and tucking or tying the corners to the blinds frame or exterior straps.[caption id="attachment_2037" align="aligncenter" width="600"] If your blind doesn’t come with blaze orange panels, something as simple as hanging hunter-orange vests from each corner will alert other hunters in the area to your location.[/caption]For maximum visibility, place orange on all sides of the blind, so that no matter what direction another hunter may be, he or she will be able to pinpoint your location from a distance. Many public land areas, and a few states, require a certain number of square inches of orange material on the exterior of the blind for ground blinds to be legal.
Yes, Turkeys See Blaze OrangeWhile orange material on the exterior of the blind may not spook deer, it can be a factor when turkey hunting. Ask any hunter who has ever been picked out by a sharp-eyed old hen or gobbler, and they will tell you that turkeys see orange from an incredible distance.If you are turkey hunting on public land and want to alert other hunters to your location without spooking turkeys, try tying a hunter orange vest to a piece of string and tossing it over a high limb above your blind. Pull the vest as high into the tree above your blind as possible, hopefully raising it above a turkey’s common line of sight. Another alternative is to keep a hunter orange vest or piece of material inside the blind with you. When you see or hear another hunter close by, stick the orange out the window and wave it back and forth to alert them. Keep a whistle handy inside the blind to alert nearby hunters if you see them before they see you.Avoid using gobbler decoys near your blind or imitating gobbles with your calls on crowded public land. Either can cause a careless hunter to fire in your direction, so stick to hen calls.
Heating Things UpWhile propane heaters can keep a blind toasty warm, or at least tolerable, when the weather is cold and nasty, it’s important to keep a few windows open for cross ventilation. Carbon monoxide from propane heaters can build up in a closed blind, causing a dangerous situation for those inside. Venting windows for fresh air flow will prevent problems.[caption id="attachment_2038" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Propane heaters and stoves can keep a blind warm and heat up a midday meal, but they can also emit carbon monoxide, creating a potentially hazardous situation. When using heaters or stoves inside the blind, always leave windows cracked open for fresh air flow.[/caption]***Following these tips will help you have a fun and productive hunt from your ground blind. Who knows, it might just turn into your favorite way to hunt.-*-*-*-*-*Kentucky native Michael Pendley has been hunting since he was old enough to say the word “rifle.” He’s been writing in the outdoor industry for the past 15 years, and his work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, Modern Pioneer, Petersen’s Hunting and others, though he is perhaps best known for his “Timber 2 Table” column on Realtree.com. When he’s not in the kitchen whipping up something mouthwatering or sampling Kentucky’s fine bourbons, he, along with his wife and photographer, Cheryl, their daughter, Michaela, and their two sons, Hunter and Nathaniel (aka Potroast), along with their basset hound, Blanton, and bloodhound, Teddy, can be found traveling the country and enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer.
- A Good Turkey Shotgun—Sounds a little silly, as one might assume that a shotgun is a shotgun, but when it comes to turkeys, that simply isn’t the case. I’ve seen a tom take a full charge of 3-inch magnum 12-gauge and run off as if he’d been boinked by a slingshot. I’ve also seen them take a (properly placed) lighter load from a 20-gauge and crumple like a piece of paper. The simple fact of the matter is that you need a shotgun that you shoot well and will deliver the pattern of shot that will humanely and quickly kill your turkey.[caption id="attachment_1953" align="aligncenter" width="600"] A good turkey shotgun, with a nice tight choke, will definitely result in more trophy toms.[/caption]I like a pump-shotgun for its simplicity, though I’ve used auto-loaders that worked equally well. I do prefer a 12-gauge shotgun, as I feel it delivers the best blend of shot volume and manageable recoil. I have friends who swear by their 10-gauges, and others who insist that a 20-gauge is more than enough. The 12-gauge lies right in the middle.No matter what shotgun you decide on, interchangeable chokes will be a blessing. There are Full, Extra-Full and Super-Full chokes which will concentrate your shot pattern to best kill a turkey at extended distances. It may require a bit of experimentation to find the proper choke for your gun, but once you’ve got that blend of shotgun and choke, you’ve got a partner for life.
- Modern Turkey Shotshells—This is one area where technology has been a definite gamechanger. My dad and grandpa both looked at copper-plated shot as a revolutionary idea when turkeys were first open to hunting (many, many years ago), but when compared with modern shot design, those shells now seems archaic.The recent developments in turkey shotshells are perhaps the most important in the last decade. We have resin-locked shot columns, we have multiple shot shapes and sizes blended within the same shotshell and we have shot made of lead, copper and other dense metals that offer unprecedented performance. Your choice of turkey hunting shotshell is one area that will require some experimentation—trying various loads with various chokes to see how they pattern on paper—but I can promise you that you’ll be able to kill cleanly at ranges previously considered too far to shoot with today’s rounds.[caption id="attachment_1964" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Winchester’s Long Beard XR locks the shot column together with resin to keep the pattern tight, a big help with toms that won’t come too close. Federal’s 3rd Degree shotshells blend three different types of shot to give optimum performance at all ranges.[/caption]
- Turkey Calls—There are many ways to replicate the vocabulary of a hen turkey, and I’d suggest you carry more than one call of this type with you when you head afield. I’ve always had a preference for the friction calls—box calls and slate calls—but they do require two hands to operate (and that movement’s easy to spot by the eagle-eyed turkey), and their functionality can be compromised by wet weather. Mouth calls, of which there are many, work very well, if you can get used to the feel of them; they always tickled the roof of my mouth, but I must say that they sound great. You’ll have to try different models and take advice from experienced turkey hunters to find the call that works for you.[caption id="attachment_1956" align="aligncenter" width="600"] A variety of turkey calls is important, in order to have a backup in the field, as well as to create a variety of sounds.[/caption]Depending on local game laws, you may find an electronic call that suits your needs. There are other mechanical calls that will help you, too, like an owl hooter or crow call to help locate turkeys or a gobble call to lure in jealous toms. Dig into the lot of them and find a quiet place to practice!
- Camouflage Clothing—Turkeys have incredible eyesight, there’s no arguing that point. Additionally, they are hunted hard every season and equate the presence of man with danger. The better you can be camouflaged (and the least amount of movement you can make) the better your chances of success.[caption id="attachment_1957" align="aligncenter" width="424"] The author has used surplus military camo for many years, but there are many good patterns available to the turkey hunter.[/caption]Modern camo patterns are amazing, and there are enough choices to blend you into whatever habitat you’re hunting. If your budget is tight, any camouflage is better than no camouflage, and I’ve killed a boatload of turkeys wearing surplus army clothes. Keep any shiny objects like a wristwatch covered up, and I always wear a light pair of camo gloves and a face mask—seriously, turkeys will spook at the slightest little peek of human. I also swear by one more piece of clothing: my turkey vest. It has plenty of convenient pockets to hold my calls, my shells, my phone and all the other accoutrements I drag along on a turkey hunt, a bag to carry a turkey and, best of all, a fold-down seat to keep your tush dry and comfy when sitting for a big gobbler.
- Boots—I’m a stickler for good hunting footwear, as it has been the one item that has failed me most throughout my years in the field. Turkey season represents a multitude of challenges for footwear, as the heavy spring dew of the pre-dawn hours will work its way to hot and muggy conditions as midday approaches. You’ll be caught in the rain, wading through tall grass, hiking in deep woods, crossing streams and swamps, and possibly be exposed to snakes as the weather gets warmer. In addition to keeping you protected in all those scenarios, your boots will also need to be quiet, yet comfortable enough to chase those birds over hill and dale. I prefer my turkey boots to come up over the ankle, at least seven to eight inches, and 10 inches can sometimes be better. They don’t need to be camouflage, but it won’t hurt either.
- Bonus advice!— I hate bugs, and will take any steps to keep them away. Take along bug spray and a bug head net. The mosquitoes and black flies can get downright terrible during turkey season in many parts of the country, and a head net can turn an intolerable situation into an opportunity at a trophy turkey. Bug spray—especially in those areas where ticks are prevalent—will keep you happy both long and short term.