The Missouri turkey season begins Monday,  April 17. Thousands of turkey hunters fondly look forward to the arrival of the spring season each year.

However, many hunters fail in the field because of poor pre-season preparations.

Planning and preparing for an upcoming season is one of the most enjoyed activities associated with turkey hunting. It has been said that anticipation of an upcoming trip is the larger part of the excitement. 

Turkey hunting addicts spend a lot of time on their beloved sport. However, taking the time to properly plan a turkey hunting trip seems to be a subject that often gets shortchanged. Hunters tend to rely on past experiences to guide their current decisions about where to hunt, when and how to hunt wild turkeys.

Indeed, we do spend far more time thinking about turkey hunting than actually participating. The season is only three weeks each spring, unless you travel out-of-state to extend the season.

The remaining 49 weeks of the year leaves a turkey hunter ample time to think about turkeys, watch videos, read articles and attend sports shows. The lucky guys who own land also spend considerable time managing for wild turkeys through food plot plantings and forest management.

Past experience is certainly a valuable tool in planning a trip. On the other hand, circumstances change annually. Turkey numbers are down about 15 percent nationwide. However, numbers remain solid in some areas.

Good friends of mine recently reported that they have the largest number of turkeys on their property ever. Had I not checked with them, I would have missed a grand opportunity for the upcoming season.

Taking the time, before making a trip, to find out the condition of flocks in your intended hunting area is wise. Nothing is more disappointing than to arrive at a destination only to find that bird populations have plummeted, or that habitat conditions have changed and caused flocks to move altogether.

I recall a farm I had hunted for years. I had free run of the place and did not bother to scout before the season opener. A dismal surprise awaited when I arrived. Much of the farm had been bulldozed. At sunrise, I listened with disgust while gobblers bellowed on a neighboring farm, while I stood and stared at dozer piles.

Ray Eye, a distinguished turkey hunter and friend,  unabashedly tells every turkey hunter in the world that they have to hunt where there are turkeys.

“Unless you simply want to take a nice walk in the springtime woods, you had better know where the birds are,” Eye proclaims. “Just because they were in a given location last year, does not mean that they will be there this year. They are living creatures, which constantly make adjustments to meet their needs.

“They don’t take your desires into consideration. They operate only by instinct and may be gone. You must spend time finding them before the season begins.”

Alex Rutledge, another legendary Missouri turkey hunter, agrees.

“You not only have to know where turkeys are before the season,” Rutledge said, “you have to know their favorite roosting spots, the most likely direction they will fly down, their daily travel routines, favorite strutting zones and the location of favorite food sources. Planning ahead and doing your homework prior to opening day will greatly increase your odds for success.”

“I like to get right into their bedroom,” Eye said. “That takes a lot of practice. I want to know what tree a bird is roosted in. I usually go out the evening before I plan to hunt to roost a bird. I begin by setting up on a high point, which I call a listening point. I normally owl hoot to get a bird to gobble, thus giving away its location.

“I mentally mark the spot, or if I have ample time, I move in close enough to spot the bird on the roost limb. Great stealth is required to do this. I’ve done it for half a century. But, if you spook a bird, you have lost a grand opportunity for the next morning.”

Locating and scouting turkeys is only one stage of the turkey hunting planning process. Other things to consider include: choosing a shotgun, chokes, shotshells and camo. The market is full of very good products and much of what you use is a matter of personal choice.

Beginning turkey hunters would be wise to buddy up with an experienced hunter and take a close look at what they use. A lot of money can quickly be spent on gear. Gadgets are fun, but you don’t need all of them to kill a turkey.

I do like to recommend local products when feasible. This year I will be using Bean Creek Calls, which are made by the Adey boys from Licking, Missouri. They are long time turkey hunters and know how to produce quality calls.

Regardless of all the studying and planning you expend on a turkey hunt, the time you spend on the ground you intend to hunt finding turkeys and learning their habits will be the key factors in your success.

“I scout turkeys all year round,” Eye said. “I realize that the majority of hunters cannot do that. Still, they need to begin looking for birds no later than March. Once birds are found, guys need to keep tabs on them.

“A lot can happen between the first of March and opening day of turkey season. Flocks may still be together, or they may be broken up by opening day. It can happen fast, so hunters need to plan for both scenarios.”

One last pointer. There is a lot of discussion these days about calling to turkeys prior to the season. Some states are beginning to outlaw the practice, claiming that it ruins hunting opportunities for others.

Calling to gobblers before the season opener is hard to resist. If you can’t resist, call in moderation. It’s not particularly the calling that runs birds off of a property, but the pressure of your presence.

If you didn’t get your planning and preparation completed prior to the 2017 spring turkey season, save this article and read it again at the end of this year.

Your luck will then improve in 2018.

By Bill Cooper

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Planning well ahead and preparing for an upcoming turkey season greatly improves the odds for success.

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