How to Guide a New Turkey Hunter

How to Guide a New Turkey Hunter

Posted 2022-02-07T23:40:00Z

Tips from a veteran gobbler chaser and occasional guide

Anonymity is what guides share quietly at those side tables off from the main dining area in hunting camps around the country. They're free to trade smiles, grins, polite whispers, and jokes punctuated by rowdy laughter, plus tales of commiseration. A delicate dynamic of respect ensures that stories are kept tight within an inner guiding circle — and that hunters, often new or at least inexperienced, can enjoy their time, something they've likely paid money for.

I've sat at the main dining area plenty of times as a guest, guided by guys who know the land and its birds. And I've guided hunters, enjoying time over at the little side tables nearby, or in the adjacent room, with the camp crew, under the guise of putting visiting hunters into turkeys.

And that's why what you are about to read is shared without any names attached.

Share the pre-hunt basics of turkey hunting. Image by Bill Konway

Mistakes Were Made

The Florida guide assumed the shotgun was unloaded, an easy assumption, but one that in certain circumstances might prove deadly. The inexperienced hunter, caught up in the moment, failed to shuck out and pocket his shotgun's shells before entering the vehicle. And his safety was off.

So, when a gun blast shattered a window like some scene out of a Hollywood action movie, deafening everyone inside the truck cab, the guide assumed the worst. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

But the ride back to camp sure was quiet.

The Fix: If you're guiding a hunter, new or experienced, insist on safety checks each time you get in and out of the vehicle. Safety on? Gun unloaded? The same double-checks go for live hunts when the firearm should be loaded, of course. Unfortunately, not all new turkey hunters have been grounded in gun (or bow) safety essentials, and if they have been, it's possible to forget. Remind them.

[Read More: 10 Dumb Turkey Hunting Mistakes]

New Gun in Town

You can usually get a read on an inexperienced hunter in the first few minutes of meeting them.

She had never killed a turkey, though several times she'd tried, always with a guide. At the patterning session, the little loaner 20-gauge looked big in her arms. But she nailed the turkey target sure enough and seemed versed in the basics of gun safety.

Still, the gun was new to her, and I should've cued in on that. One of the media reps suggested she try one of the modern .410s designed for turkey action. She'd have none of it.

Over three days I put multiple cooperative Rio Grande longbeards in front of her and that loaner 20.

The first time, first day, right off the roost, and the gobbler strutted in. Waiting for the boom, I heard a click from her seated position just to my right. The shotgun load hadn't been chambered. The second time, I watched as the gun barrel wavered up, down, left, right, and her shot hit branches and Texas dirt on its way to the standing turkey. The third time, she whiffed on another gobbler, again peppering dirt in front of the bird. Mercy.

Does the hunter know to aim for the turkey's head and neck for a clean, decisive kill? Body shots are out, unless of course the new gobbler chaser is a skilled bowhunter.

Misty-eyed and legitimately miffed by then, she was hurting, for sure. Hey, it happens, I said. We'll get another turkey in, no worries. And when two gobblers came running in to the calls not an hour later, she decisively drilled it like an old pro.

Go get your turkey, I said with a grin. Then she excitedly called her husband and her dad, and texted everyone else she could. Man, I've never seen a happier turkey hunter. And although the story she told back at camp included nothing about the gun click and two misses, the tale of success was full of pure joy.

And now you know what other parts of the story guides discreetly whisper about at their table.

The Fix: We should've politely encouraged her to try out a smaller, lighter, more suitable .410. Then again, a dose of frustration punctuated by success is pretty much how turkey hunting goes for all of us. And then again, we've all missed turkeys and had trigger pull issues. It happens.

Does your hunter fit the run-and-gun, hunt-all-day mold or maybe a scenario closer to a long sit in a blind? Image by Bill Konway

Gear Gaffes

The Wyoming weather forecast said sunny and pleasant, but if you've ever turkey hunted that beautiful wild country, you know spring snow is always a possibility. So, when purple clouds with slanting thunder snow eased into the distance, I was glad to have overpacked.

In a matter of minutes, the temperature dropped as if we'd just walked into a meat locker.

The guy next to me hadn't prepped for such a wavering forecast. Sure, he'd killed a few turkeys. That wasn't the issue. He'd underpacked. More specifically, he had no seat cushion. So as the distant flock flew down into those mountains with us and eased toward the calls, he began to shake to the core. You OK? I whispered. Forgot my seat, he chattered.

Well, you know turkeys. The lead hens — dragging an eye-catching line of strutting gobblers behind them — all turned into statues and studied me and my shivering, hypothermic buddy.

Off. They. Went. And in a hurry. We never did see those birds again. He did kill a turkey on the hunt's final day. Sun out, temperature warming nicely, crawling to a hung-up gobbler on his belly like a snake. I reckon the stealth move kept him plenty warm.

The Fix: Gun safety and firearm fit: Both are essentials for folks you guide to turkeys, including the new hunters. But are they also wearing appropriate apparel for the hunting conditions? Does their turkey vest have a drop-down seat? You can confirm it with a few easygoing questions. And while guiding, I always carry the appropriate shotgun shells for the hunter's gun. And toilet paper, for that matter. That's the thing new hunters seem to borrow the most.

The Checklist

  • Does your new hunter know the basics of turkey hunting? Short of this, a pre-hunt talk on safety and tactics often covers some of this ground. And time hunting can teach them even more, especially when they see the hunt unfold.
  • Does your hunter have the proper licensing and permits for the hunt?
  • Does the hunter know to aim for the turkey's head and neck for a clean, decisive kill? Body shots are out, unless of course the new gobbler chaser is a skilled bowhunter. Even then — with an arrow-through-wing-butt, or Texas heart shot — some bow kill anatomy review is in order.
  • Does your hunter fit the run-and-gun, hunt-all-day mold or maybe a scenario closer to a long sit in a blind? Any medical issues you should know about?
  • Does your hunter have a good idea of what they want out of the experience? Are they OK with killing a legal jake rather than a longbeard? Do they have personal hunt expectations you can help them meet to make their hunt better?
Listen to the Realtree Outpost Podcast on guiding new turkey hunters:

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