How to kill a Thanksgiving turkey

Josh Rouse

Thanksgiving has traditionally been centered on one main dish: turkey.

Today’s main course is far from the original hunted species that graced the plates of Puritans and natives alike during that initial feast.

However, for those fine souls who wish to add a little chance to their holiday meal, the option is still available to pursue a turkey in the wild. Fall turkey hunting season runs from Oct. 1 through Nov. 27, leaving ample time for hunters to bag a bird of their own.

For the amateur sportsman, the world of turkey hunting may seem a bizarre series of events, filled with the odd noises of nature that attract birds to each other. The most important thing to remember is that getting a mature male turkey (a tom) to come to you has everything to do with sex.

This is where decoys come in. Hen decoys can be used as a tool to draw turkeys in. They are infinitely important if the hunter isn’t using a food source, such as a pile of corn, to draw them in. Tom decoys can also be used as a challenger to the male’s harem of hens. Remember, a tom is just like any other male. We all enjoy the three F’s: food, fighting and… fornication.

Once the tom has been located and the hunter is in a good position with 3-4 hen decoys spread out in shooting distance, it is time to pick a spot to hide. Camouflage is the most important tool a turkey hunter has. Turkeys have very keen eyesight, and can notice even the slightest wardrobe malfunction. Even with camouflage clothing on, the hunter should hide behind brush or sit against a tree.

After picking out a good shooting spot, it’s usually good to wait for a while and let things settle down. Turkeys are also well known for having great hearing, and even the stealthiest hunter makes some noise while finding a spot. During the early morning, turkeys will still be up in trees roosting. Using either a mouth call, box call or slate call, begin by producing slow, soft tones. This signifies a waking turkey in the tree.

As the turkeys start to respond, gradually begin to become more enthusiastic with the call. When the turkey is ready to fly down, it will make quick, short “putts.” It is easy to tell when the bird has left the tree, because in the quiet of the morning the huge wings seem insanely loud.

Continue calling the turkey using different cadences with calls. It’s important to listen carefully to turkeys in the wild before attempting to produce calls on a hunt. If the hunter’s calls don’t sound realistic enough, a turkey will not come. Practice makes perfect, as it sometimes takes years for hunters to accurately impersonate a hen well enough to draw a tom in.

Once the turkey is within about 50 yards, stillness is key. By then, the hunter should have their gun in firing position (with the safety on) and should rarely produce a call. If the tom is interested, he will come in. Overcalling a bird is an easy way to walk away empty handed.

Once the turkey is within firing distance, the best spot to aim with a shotgun is at the neck, about six inches below the beak. However, when bowhunting, the best place to aim is below the tail when the bird is facing away from the hunter. Shooting the bird through the rear is the most efficient way for an arrow to hit the vital organs. While it sounds kind of strange, it works.

For more information on turkey hunting, visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks website at