Shooting Your First Turkey

Iowa Spring Turkey Hunting

The tom stepped from the timber 100 yards away and quickly went into full strut. My heart began to race as I clucked a few times in his direction. He slowly came closer before letting loose another gobble and strutting again, this time spinning in the open field. I called again, sure that I would be posing with a tom soon. He continued to strut off and on for the next thirty minutes and never came closer. My first photo with a tom would have to wait.

There are few things more exciting than listening to a gobbling tom closing the distance while turkey hunting. A bit of wonder comes over me every time I start to communicate with these animals. That said, turkeys can be one of the most frustrating animals to hunt as well. One day I will swear they are the dumbest animals in the woods and the next a tom will be more deceptive and timid than a mature buck. During my first years of turkey hunting I walked out of the woods wondering how a sure thing went up in smoke more times than I can count. Here are a few scenarios to avoid while turkey hunting.

Calling All Turkeys (or not)

The number one reason the beginner turkey hunter is unsuccessful is because they call too much. Many hunters watch a few turkey hunts on the internet and then replicate what they have watched in the field. On YouTube, the pros use so many different clucks, yelps, and purrs they sound like a whole flock of birds. These hunters have enough experience calling that they know what they can get away with. Also, the hunter on the video may be in a more complex situation than we realize; perhaps the tom has been stubborn or another hen is calling from somewhere else. Furthermore, hunters in videos produced by call-makers may want to emphasize the range of the call to sell their brand. Youtube can be a valuable tool to learn how to call but be aware that it is misleading.

It is a better idea to approach turkey hunting like duck hunting, you don’t need a twenty-one note high call to call in every duck. And you don’t need a complete cutting, yelping, and gobbling sequence to call in most turkeys.

If the tom is strutting and gobbling you don’t need to cluck at him between each gobble. Call enough to keep him interested but not so much that he stops to strut every five yards. It is likely that he will pinpoint your location and wait for a hen to come to him if you keep calling. After calling to a few turkeys you will realize signs of a tom becoming disinterested, but error on the side of caution with calls, often toms are more interested than you think.


Often times being quiet after a few clucks will agitate a tom more than any complex calling sequence. If you are certain the tom is hung up, turn your head away and call with decreasing volume to give the illusion you are a hen walking away. Also, bringing in an extra call to switch up the pitch or volume a little can also be useful in the situation of a hung up tom.

In conclusion, complex calling is not the answer and in the first few years long drawn-out sequences will do more harm than good. To start, you only need to sound like one or two hens and stick to clucks and yelps.


An easy way to limit the amount of calling you have to do is get to your hunting spot early and close to the trees the turkeys are roosted in. Don’t call too much while the tom is still on his roost, or he will wait for the hen to come to his tree before flying down. I will cluck once or twice so that he knows where I am and then I quit calling. Often times if there are several toms in the surrounding trees, a few clucks is all it takes to create a rivalry between the toms, and they will gobble at each other. If you have a jake decoy out in this situation it is all but over when the tom drops out of the tree. Last season the tom I shot jumped from branch to branch before dropping to the ground 10 yards from me.


If you are not certain of where the turkeys roosted the night before, there are a few setups to avoid. Creek Beds and fence lines are a turkey hunter’s nightmare especially if the turkey can see the decoy from the other side. If you realize the turkeys have landed on the opposite side of the creek than you it is a good idea to sneak across before you begin calling. I have had one Jake fly over a creek to get to my decoy, but many more toms strut in the field waiting for the hen to fly over to them. The same goes for a fence. Don’t set up where a tom could see your decoy through a fence line if possible, but if you have to, pull the wires down so the tom can make his way to the decoy.


The final set-up to avoid is too open of a stand. I have set my hen in a field with a straight line of timber and the tom I was after strutted for thirty minutes at 100 yards down the edge. Try to find a bend in the timber or a cove that keeps your hen out of view enough that tom’s don’t strut out in the open field.

Position your hen so it is walking into the woods. This is especially effective if you have a hen-jake combo, whatever you do you don’t want your hen to look like it is walking towards the tom or he will hang-up early.


Finally, if you have successfully brought the tom within range, take your time with the shot. Toms’ thick feathers and small heads make them deceptively hard to kill. Taking too far of a shot almost cost me my first turkey. I got excited and winged the tom at fifty yards. Now I let the tom get as close to the decoy as possible. You can be more patient than with a turkey in range than with a deer. A turkey is less likely to wind you than a deer but more likely to see you; so sit still and be wait for the turkey to focus on your decoy. If the tom’s head turns from a blue to a red color it is time to take the shot because the bird is getting anxious and will soon take off. If you can avoid the mistakes I have covered in this article you will be posing with your first turkey in no time. Aim small and good luck this season.


Harrison hunts in Southwest Iowa. He creates videos and writes blogs for Iowa Slam with his brother Stuart Hoegh. You can follow other articles he has written at and IowaSlam on Instagram.


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