#1 Safety for Turkey Hunters

Col. Brad Young isn’t just the Chief of Law Enforcement for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. He is a die-hard hunter who was introduced to the turkey forests by his grandfather when he was 7 years old.

For more than 30 years in the turkey forests, he learned quite a bit by trial and error, and saw many people get frustrated when they put on a turkey vest for the first time. While he’s not about to drop the goods at his favorite turkey hunting spots, Young has some great advice for everyone as people start heading into the woods in search of their Arkansas’ first gobbler. And this from the start of the season today and Sunday for a youth hunt and April 18 for the general public.


Before giving some solid advice for beginners, the first thing Young talks about is the importance of safety in turkey forests.

“Turkey hunting, in particular, requires people to really pay attention to their target and follow all the safety rules taught in Hunter Education,” Young said.

“Hunters are camouflaged and sit on the ground at the same level as the game you are chasing. Some throw decoys which can look quite realistic. In the end we all want to go home with good hunting stories and hopefully a bird, so I always have to start with safety.”

Young said the practice of “fanning” has become more common, making it even more imperative to see every bit of that gobbler before pulling the trigger.

Hunters will take a bird fan and hold it directly in front of them while lying on the ground, approaching a bird.

“It works well, but puts the hunter directly behind the fan,” he said.


Getting ready for the season isn’t just about practicing on your calls. Take the time to get to know the equipment you will be using, so that it is ready for use at all times.

When that bird is fighting back at your sweet cries, now is not the time to figure out how to fold down the seat of your new turkey vest or find out your mask was never put in your pocket.

“You also want to know exactly how your shotgun is going to perform and what your effective range really is,” Young said.

“With all the work you put into getting within range of a bird, you don’t want to shoot and end up with a cripple. You owe it to yourself and the bird to get a quick shot and effective that anchors it in place.”


Google Earth, onX and a host of other online scouting tools are available to really know the area where you plan to hunt; Use them.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website even has interactive maps that show the boundaries of the WMA as well as wildlife openings that may be worth considering as possible parade areas.

“When you go out into an area to listen to birds, you want to know where things are around you,” Young said.

“If you hear a bird, but know there’s a creek, road, or other obstacle that will cause it to hang up, you want to know where it is and how you can get around it and settle in without scaring the bird away. bird the same day of the hunt.”

Don’t rely solely on aerial images and topographic maps to tell you the lay of the land. Take a few mornings to take a leisurely walk through the woods and learn a bit about where the birds want to be. You can’t do all the scouting from the couch if you want to see success.


One of the worst things hunters can do when preparing for turkey season is to let the cat out of the bag before the season even begins.

Ideally, you should have already been scouting for promising spots before the season is a week or two away, but if you’re still in scouting mode, it’s time to shut up.

The sooner the turkeys realize that people are in the woods, the sooner they shut up and become difficult to hunt.

“Sometimes it can feel like a hootfest out there with all the owl calls people are making trying to locate a gobbler,” Young said.

“But if you go out just before sunrise, find a good place to sit and listen, and let the woods wake up on their own, you’ll learn where the birds are and where they want to be without ever telling them. know. you’re in the area. I’m not even bringing a locator call with me. There’s a lot of things that will ring a gobbler without me adding more and maybe telling him that something don’t go into the woods.


While the subject of the call is being discussed just because you bought a new call or practiced for hours to get the right volume with that new split reed diaphragm doesn’t mean the turkey is going to be impressed by more noise.

Young stresses the importance of taking it easy with the number of calls you make once the season opens. Just like in life, looking a little too impatient is a dead sign that there’s a red flag lurking just out of sight.

“You really have to start slow and take this bird’s temperature with a few soft yelps or clucks. Let the gobbler’s response dictate how you handle the hunt,” Young said. “If he responds quickly, he might come on a chain with aggressive screams, but if he has hens roosting with him or has been pressured by hunters, he can startle if you yell too much. “


If you locate a bird and know where it roosts, it can be tempting to get close to the idea that you will be able to catch it even if other hunters hear it swallowing. Young advises keeping a little distance between the perch tree and where you set up in the morning.

“Rarely do I set up within 80 yards of where I think this bird is roosting,” Young said.

“This gobbler can roost with nearby hens, who can spot you sneaking around and ruining the day. You also need to give the birds a chance to fly and walk towards you. Even if you don’t drop birds from the roost, they can glide right over you, not allowing you to make any adjustments until they are past It is always easier to get the bird to where it wants to go than to try to turn him back to where he was.


Another area where many hunters fail is abandoning a bird as soon as it stops swallowing. Young said just because a bird doesn’t respond to every call you make doesn’t mean it’s gone.

“He might be headed your way, or he might be distracted right now, but he knows where those sounds are coming from and if that’s going to happen, you don’t want to give up too soon,” Young said.

Patience doesn’t just mean waiting 10 more minutes before abandoning a bird that has calmed down early in the morning, it means coming back after a bird that you know is there another time and giving it another chance.

This turkey may be with a group of hens one morning and not want to come to you, but they may leave to nest the next day or even this afternoon, leaving him alone and watching.

“Patience has probably killed more turkeys than anything else,” Young said.

“When things are good this bird will come running, but more often than not you’ll have to wait and know when to stay put. On a recent hunt I set up at 6 a.m. and didn’t seal on until 2:30 that afternoon.It was an extreme case, but I knew there were birds in the area and it was a matter of timing.


Turkey hunting can be a solitary pursuit, and Young always enjoys solo hunts when chasing a trophy bird, but he also takes time to share his experiences with his family.

“Everyone in my family loves to go out and hunt turkeys; it’s a real family tradition,” Young said.

“My wife and daughter are really enjoying it and had some great turkeys, and my son can’t wait to be old enough to join us.”

Along with the added benefit of company on those sometimes long journeys, having family and friends around can really create those moments that you will cherish for years to come. Hunting stories are always better when there is someone to share the story.

Randy Zellers is deputy chief, communications, at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

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