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So What Happened to Turkey Hunting?

Of all the different groups of hunters, from deer hunters to duck hunters, rabbit chasers, and upland bird disciples, maybe none are as opinionated and hard headed as turkey hunters. I think they get this way from the nature of the bird that we pursue, but that is another rant for another day. The point here is that turkey hunters believe what they believe and good luck getting them to change their mind, and don’t confuse them with facts.

Now I am fully aware there are some of you in the great wide world that if I say black, you are going to say white….that is just the nature of some turkey hunters out there and that is OK. But I really think there will not be much argument if I say that turkeys and turkey hunting is different these days. By “these days” let’s say different from ten years ago, and most certainly from twenty years ago. How are things different? Well, I am so glad you asked! 

Turkeys don’t act like they used to. Anyone over the age of 45 may be known for talking about “the way it used to be”. This goes double for many hunters and triple for turkey hunters. Things were different in the past, and we want everyone to know about it, it’s human nature. Having said that I don’t think many turkey hunters today would argue that today’s turkeys act a lot different.

I hear from hunters over much of the country who say the same thing: turkeys don’t gobble near as much as they used to. They don’t gobble as much on the roost and they don’t gobble as much on the ground.


Well, my friends if we really knew that we would know a lot. I have said for a long time that coyotes have to play a part in this, when a turkey gobbles on the roost, then flies down and gobbles on the ground if he is often attacked by a coyote then this gobbler is going to soon learn not to make so much noise on the ground. I’m not a wildlife biologist, but this makes sense and I have heard it from hunters in other states for many years. Also turkeys do not gobble as early in the morning like they did years ago. It was not unusual for a gobbler to be sounding off in the pitch dark, long before any hint of sunrise or any tweety birds started to sing. Why would that be? I really don’t know, is it the making too much noise thing and attracting the attention of predators? I wish I knew, but I haven’t heard a turkey gobble really early like that for years.

In the same vein I have not heard a turkey gobble on the roost in the evening very much for a long time. In fact, I have just about given up roosting turkeys in the evening. This used to be a very common activity for us, go out before dark, locate a gobbler on the roost, “put him to bed” and be there the next morning. I can’t remember the last time I did this.

Guns and ammo are certainly different. I have talked about this before. Time was when many of us had one shotgun; it was our duck gun, rabbit gun, turkey gun, and so on. Almost all serious turkey hunters now have a dedicated turkey shotgun, or three. Somewhere along the line turkey hunters started insisting on very tight shotgun patterns at farther and farther ranges. Screw in after-market chokes helped with this, but shotgun ammo started to change as well. Several years ago, Winchester ammunition changed things in a big way with the advent of their Longbeard XR shotshell technology. Winchester engineers either through genius or witchcraft, I’m not sure which, developed a system of applying a resinous like material to the shot load in the shell, which then hardens. When the shell is fired the material immediately shatters and provides a buffering that keeps the pellets together for longer distances, which means turkeys could be shot at farther away. The Longbeard XR revolutionized the lead shotshell and still has many fans today. But something new was coming along that would turn many heads away from Winchesters pride and joy.

Shot made from the metal tungsten had been hand loaded for many years and turkey hunters began hearing about this mysterious load in whispered tones. Because of the density of tungsten is many times that of lead, it allows the shells to be loaded with much smaller shot, which in turn gives the hunter incredible numbers of shot in a hunting load. Most shotgun ballisticians figure that a #9 size pellet is equal in performance to a #5 pellet of lead. Overall patterns densities are increased, so there are more hits on the target. The difference in loading #9’s compared to #5 shot is phenomenal, a 3”, 1 ¾ ounce load of #9 shot will contain about 637 pellets, while the same load of #5’s will give you about 256. Someone named this shot Tungsten Super Shot, or TSS and the turkey shotshell world has never been same. Federal Ammunition and Apex started loading it commercially a few years ago, and now several companies carry TSS shotshells, including Browning, Nitro, Pendleton, Hevi Shot, and others.

Most TTS shooters want at least 100 pellets in a 10” circle at 40 yards to ensure clean kills on turkeys. Think that is pretty tight? Many 12 and 20 gauge loads, properly choked, often exceed 400 pellets in that 10” circle now. That’s right 400 pellets in a 10” circle. It’s probably enough to kill a turkey.  

TSS has changed the landscape of turkey hunting somewhat, as you will hear of hunters taking turkeys at ranges with a shotgun which were not thought possible. Some argue that the true turkey hunter wants to call his turkeys into normal shotgun ranges (40 yards and less) while others say you should embrace the new technology to help you all it can. It does make for some lively conversation on internet forums and at the barbershop.

Do you think turkey hunting has changed much? Let me know where you are on this. Soon will have to get up in the ghastly pre-dawn hours to go see if turkeys still gobble sometimes, I am beginning to wonder!