Bagging a Tom: Tips for a Successful Turkey Hunt

While gun shopping is loads of fun, there’s more to a successful turkey hunt than simply having the latest and greatest boomstick. Here are a few tips from to help with bagging that beard-dragging boss gobbler — from gun and ammo selection to closing the distance on those wily birds, as well as what to do once the trigger has been pulled.

Select the Correct Gun and Ammo Combination

Model 301

The Stevens-by-Savage 301 Turkey single shot wears a 26” carbon steel barrel that is topped with an extended extra-full turkey choke, all optimized for the Federal Premium TSS 410 specialty turkey loads. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Whether it’s a baby bore or a 10-gauge Magnum, the right gun is out there. For the former, partner Stevens-by-Savage Model 301 single shot with Federal Premium TSS ammunition for a low-recoil, surprisingly well-patterning companion. Options for the latter big-bore are limited in new guns, but Browning’s Gold 10 in camo is a solid choice. In semi-autos, TriStar has expanded its Viper G2 Camo Turkey line, as has Stoeger with the M3500 Predator/Turkey, or perhaps most interesting of all, the new Savage Renegauge Turkey.

Those are all solid options in newer guns but don’t discount the used rack where savvy hunters are likely to find the most deeply discounted and often very capable old standby models like the Mossberg 500/835 or Remington 870 pumps. Turkey hunting can be as much fun with a lever-action Henry .410 as it is with a CZ Reaper Magnum O/U Magnum 12. It’s not the action or chambering, but rather, the key to success is finding a gun that fits well and makes you feel comfortable. Then, practice until you’re completely confident.

Hit the Patterning Board

A 25-yard pattern with Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS #9 shot fired through the Stevens Model 301’s extra full choke is devastating. That gobbler would not have taken a step. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

It doesn’t matter if you spend $1,000 or $100 on your turkey gun, there is nothing that will make or break your hunt like the patterning board. You can cleanly harvest the largest turkey with everything from .410 bore up to the biggest 10-gauge. The key is patterning the gun to know how well your shot string holds together and at which distances.

At the end of the day, all of us hunters should strive to make clean, one-shot harvests. Plan on spending ample time on the shooting range shooting paper turkey targets from a variety of distances. This is the time to experiment with different chokes and turkey loads, as well as noting your maximum ethical shooting range. Last, but not least, don’t shoot only from the bench. Get down into the actual positions from which you plant to hunt — be that sitting under a tree, from a bipod or even prone.

Get Close Instead of Going Long

Mossberg 500 Turkey 410

(Photo: Kristin Alberts/

While many gun and ammo companies emphasize being able to shoot greater distances with lethal shot patterns, there’s no replacement for honing your skills as a hunter getting those birds in close. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as getting a trophy-sized Tom in close enough to hear the spit-and-drum or gobble that rattles your insides.

To that end, learning to use a variety of turkey calls — from box to mouth to slates — will be a rewarding practice and make you a better hunter to boot. Know the effective range of your scattergun from the patterning board, but never forget some of the most exciting hunts you’ll do are up close and personal.



Vista Outdoor’s JJ Reich ready to pull the trigger on a gobbler from behind a Surroundview Stakeout blind. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Put those turkeys to bed, as we hunters like to say. Translation: if you spend your time scouting, especially close to the season–or ideally the evening before opening day–you’ll get to pattern their movements. When you put them to bed, you know where those birds have roosted and can ideally move into that same area under cover of darkness the next morning.

Be careful not to push your luck and try to get too close, because all those turkey eyeballs will bust a hunter. The key lies in getting close enough to set up your decoys in an area to which the birds will feel comfortable coming down, and then a handy turkey caller can lure them into range on opening morning.

Mix Up the Tactics

turkey hunting

Alps Outdoorz’s new Impact turkey vest packs flat for easy travel and still has plenty of call-specific pockets and a game bag big enough to fit this sweet pair of trophy toms. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Sometimes getting close to turkeys is not as simple as it sounds, and even the best-laid plans go awry. Plan to use multiple tactics for success. If the birds are hung up, you may have to be mobile. Traveling light and having a quality turkey vest like those from Alps Outdoorz can help you carry the essentials silently as you run-and-gun. Just remember to move slowly and look more than you walk, because those birds will see you before you see them.

Other times, the open terrain may be better suited to set up behind some strategically placed decoys. Both Primos and Montana Decoy make realistic, packable options. I find my greatest success with one or two hen dekes alongside a juvenile jake. Toms always seem to enjoy intervening in that spread, even when it means traveling across a field to challenge the pretend interloper. No matter your style of hunting, keep an open mind about trying new tactics and you’re most likely to find success in the turkey woods and field edges.

Snap Some Pics

Turkey gauges

The author stops for a quick photo after a hunt. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of cleaning and butchering your bird, be sure to preserve those memories in the field. Wild turkeys of every species are beautiful birds with rich colors, so why not show that off?

Cell phone cameras work wonders for setting up pics that both honor the harvest and serve as reminders of a memorable hunt. If you have a hunting partner, staging clean photos is a snap, but even solo hunters can use the camera’s self-timer for natural, in-the-field shots, which always look better than snaps taken later in a driveway or garage. Looking at that natural setting years down the road will take you back to the place and time of the hunt.

Transform from Hunter to Butcher to Chef

Canned Meat

Canning is a good way to preserve meat for later recipes. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Tips for a successful turkey hunt don’t even end when the bird is on the ground. In fact, that should be when the real work begins. Not only have you just punched a tag, but you’ve also harvested a culinary treat that deserves to be treated as such. Save the fan, beard, and spurs, but also take care with the meat.

Too many hunters only “breast” a turkey—that is, remove the most tender meat—and discard the rest. Not only is that a crime of wanton waste in many states, but with a more attentive eye to slow cooking, the rest of the bird, even the darkest meat of an old boss gobbler, can be made tender and flavorful. I like to remove the drumsticks and cube the rest of the meat from the carcass. With the meat ready to chill, I turn my attention to other details, like retaining the wing feathers for arrow fletching and the bones for yelpers. Learn to make full use of all your game and I promise you’ll find hunting an even more rewarding endeavor.

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