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Turkey Hunting Tips and
Basic Information for the Turkey Hunter

Talking Turkey
Ethics and Safety
Evaluating Your Bird
Enjoying Your Turkey
Primary Turkey Range and Public Land in NJ
Principal Foods and Habitat
Patterning Target (pdf, 50kb)

Talking Turkey

The gobble of the male turkey, though often associated with Thanksgiving, is more of a spring phenomenon. Tom turkeys may gobble at any time of year, and often do so in response to a loud noise. It is in the spring, however, that gobbling begins in earnest.

Gobblers sound off to stake out a territory. The sound warns other males that the hens of a given area belong to the gobbling tom. More importantly, hens are attracted by the sound so that the business of breeding can be attended to.

Hens cannot gobble, but do have a repertoire of calls all their own. They communicate with each other through a series of yelps, whines, purrs, and whistles.

To let a gobbler know where she is, a hen will call to him in yelps. When she is really serious about mating, she emits a series of fast, high-pitched yelps called a cackle. The tom answers by gobbling and moving toward her. He fans his tail, puffs himself up and drags his wings in full strut. This display impresses the hen and puts her "in the mood" for breeding.

Gobblers are polygamous and collect a harem of hens. Interested in hens only for breeding, they do not take part in the rearing of young. Because one tom can easily inseminate seven or more hens, there are always surplus toms in the turkey population. These gobblers may be harvested without endangering the reproductive success in a given year.

The spring hunting season is timed carefully to coincide with the period when the hens are incubating. At this time, the gobblers are "excess baggage," having completed their portion of the reproductive process. They are, however, still interested in mating and will respond to a hen, or a person's imitation of a hen.

Some turkey hunters call using their own voices. In New Jersey, a call must be in one's possession. Most hunters use a handmade or commercial calling device. To be legal, such a caller must be manually operated; no electronic calls are legal.

Turkey calls come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are hand operated, using a lever or striker on a wood, slate or aluminum surface; friction between the surface and the striker produces the sound. Beginners would be wise to start with a box call. More hunters are successful with box calls than any other call. Other calls utilize air blown from the mouth or pulled into the call by mouth. The beginner should try a number of calls to determine which can be mastered.

Once a type of turkey call is selected, practice is the key to success. Many audio and video tapes, as well as CD-ROMs, featuring champion callers are available, and learning from these is almost as good-as rubbing elbows with a knowledgeable caller.

Turkey Hunting Ethics and Safety

You can help ensure that turkey hunting will be available to future generations by observing the following safety and ethical considerations:
l. Respect property rights of others. Obtain permission to hunt on private property and pay attention to "no trespass" signs.

2. Be positive of your target. After you pull the trigger, it's too late.

3. Make sure that the gobbler is within sure range of the shotgun and shoot at only the neck and head area. Body shots kill turkeys only a small percentage of the time.

4. Hens are not legal targets in the spring. Be sure you're shooting at a gobbler during the spring season.

5. Do your homework before season - scouting, practice calling, patterning your gun.

6. If another hunter is working a bird, don't spoil it by trying to call the bird to you or spooking the bird. This is very unsportsmanlike.

7. Never presume that what you hear is a turkey. Many turkey hunters sound just like turkeys. Never try to get too close. If your bird turns out to be another hunter, it could be very dangerous, and also embarrassing.

8. Never wear any red, white or blue clothing. These are the colors of the gobbler's head, the primary target of the hunter.

9. Don't attempt to stalk a turkey. By law, turkeys may be hunted only by calling with non-electronic devices. And that gobbler you're stalking may turn out to be another hunter.

10. Use a gobbler call with caution. This call can be productive but also dangerous. In areas with a high density of hunters, you will call many more hunters to you than turkeys. Use this call only when you're sure there are no other hunters nearby. Gobbling can also scare a subdominant bird away from you.

11. Remember that being fully camouflaged doesn't make you completely invisible. Movement is the greatest enemy of the turkey hunter. A turkey can detect and react to movement 10 times faster than a person.

12. Don't approach closer than 100 yards to a turkey. A turkey's eyes, ears and awareness are many times better than a person's, enabling it to spot you and be gone before you have a chance to call to it.

13. Select a tree that is wider than your shoulders and body to sit against. This protects you from any hunter who may come in from behind you, mistaking you for a real turkey. It also breaks up your silhouette. If you're a right-handed shooter, position yourself so that your left shoulder faces the bird.

14. Don't jump and turn at a turkey approaching your back. The chances of getting a good shot are very slim. At best, you may wound the bird. Be patient, remain still and let the bird pass.

15. Don't hide so well that you can't see what is happening. Blinds are a good tool, but where constructed so well that vision is obstructed, it becomes a hiding place.

Evaluating Your Bird

If you've successfully bagged a wild turkey, congratulations The success rate for New Jersey hunters is about 18%. Whether your bird is a jake, tom or a hen, you should be proud of your efforts.

The National Wild Turkey Federation has a standard measuring system for evaluating trophy qualities. Make the following calculations to see how your bird measures up:

weight + (2 x beard length) +
(10 x combined spur length)
For Example: A 19-pound gobbler with a 9-inch beard and one-inch spurs would score 57 points. (19+18+20=57)
A wild turkey which scores over 50 points is considered an outstanding bird.

Enjoying Your Turkey

The best way to guarantee that your wild turkey will be delectable is to start with proper field dressing. Clean the bird immediately upon killing. Don't be alarmed if when you're cleaning the bird you come across the spongy material at the base of the breast called breast sponge. This is a perfectly normal part of the bird's anatomy, and does not indicate a spoiled tom. The sponge should be removed before cooking, however.

Wild turkeys may be plucked or skinned with equally good results. To pluck, pour boiling water over the bird. and start pulling feathers. Skinning is much quicker, albeit somewhat less traditional.

You may wish to fillet the breast and leg muscles, removing the meat from the bone before cooking. Turkey breast fillets are delicious grilled or fried. Meat from the legs makes great soup stock. Plucked wild turkeys may be fried whole in peanut or other cooking oil with excellent results.

Hector's Roast Wild Turkey

1 tom turkey
1 c. butter
1 c. dry white wine
3 carrots, sliced
your favorite stuffing

Wash the bird well, inside and out and dry with paper towels. Brush the cavity with melted butter and stuff 2/3 full with chestnut stuffing, corn bread giblet stuffing or fruity stuffing. Sew up and truss the bird, tucking chunks of butter into the creases under the legs and wings. Rub all over with butter. Place on a bed of carrots in a roasting pan.

Melt butter and wine. Soak a piece of cheesecloth (large enough to cover the bird) in the mixture. Spread it over the bird and baste with remaining juices.

Preheat oven to 450o. Place turkey in hot oven. Turn heat to 350o after 10 minutes. Baste frequently with pan drippings. Place foil over bird if it browns too quickly.

Cook 20 to 25 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 190o. Don't overcook the bird. It is done when no pink shows in the juices, and when the meat is pierced with a fork the drumstick moves freely. Remove the foil and cheesecloth. Make pan gravy.


(Alternatives to using cheesecloth include a standard roaster pan with a tightly-fitting cover, or an oven brown bag roaster. Any method you choose to cook your turkey should retain moisture. Wild turkeys tend to dry out.)
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Last Updated: April 22, 2008