Getting your Firearms Safety Certificate
In Minnesota, where I reside, a Firearms Safety Certificate is required for anyone who is under 35 years old. There are three ways to get your certificate.
1. Online course
2. Independent study guide and workbook
3. Firearms safety classroom course
Minnesota also has an Apprentice Hunter Validation option. This can be used twice in a person’s lifetime. If you are between the ages of 12 and 35 and don’t have a Safety Certificate, and are hunting with an adult who has his or her Safety Certificate, you can receive an Apprentice Hunter Validation and go hunting. This is a great option for new comers who just want to give hunting a try.
For youths ages 11 to 17, there are two options: classroom or online. The recommended option is taking a firearms safety class. The classes consist of a minimum of 12 hours of classroom and field experience in the safe handling of firearms and hunter responsibility. Sign up early and get the classes completed well before you are planning on hunting. There is a field day at the end of class where students demonstrate what they have learned. The classes are listed on the Minnesota DNR web site, http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/firearms/index.html.
The second option is taking an online course. This provides basic information for youth as well as a study guide for the 12-hour classroom course. Youths choosing this option must complete a written test in the presence of a DNR instructor and complete the field day.
The Minnesota DNR has a fantastic web site that has a bunch of information about hunting and the outdoors. I encourage you to check it out at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Getting a Turkey License in Minnesota
The spring turkey hunting season runs from mid-April until the end of May. Each season is either five or seven days long. Currently, youth 17 and younger (there is no minimum age limit) can purchase a license online or over the counter, which is valid for any area in the state for the entire season. This is fantastic for youths and gives them the most opportunity. For example, if your neighbor at your cabin is a hunter and was drawn for an early season, that will leave the rest of the seasons, open. I have found that landowners are usually very willing to allow youths to hunt turkeys on their land.
For adults 18 and older, you must apply by the second Friday in January to enter the lottery for a license in seasons A-C, which are the most popular. You can buy a license online or over the counter for seasons D-H.
There is also a fall turkey hunting season in October. This is not as popular, since the turkeys are not as active as they are during the spring breeding season. In addition, the fall turkey season coincides with archery deer, grouse and duck seasons, so finding private land to hunt is harder. But make no mistake: the fall can still be a great time to go after a turkey.
Clothing and Gear
The nice thing about spring turkey hunting is that the weather is usually mild. Now I say usually, because the 2013 spring opener packed a punch. We woke up to -2 degrees and a foot of snow in central Minnesota. I don’t expect to see that again in my lifetime.
The spring season in Minnesota opens in the middle of April which means we plan on 35-40 degrees in the morning, with temps warming up to the 50s.
1. A pair of hiking boots is ideal. (If the conditions are warm and dry, regular shoes can work.)
2. Camo pants are ideal; blue jeans can work. (Especially if the alternative is not going because of pants!)
3. Ideally, a non-cotton base layer with a sweatshirt or something like it over top. (Cotton works, too; if it's cold, add more layers.)
4. A light- to medium-weight camo jacket is nice. Another option is wearing any jacket, with a cheap large camo shirt over the top.
5. A mesh camo face net is nice, or use camo face paint. (Kids especially love face paint!)
6. A hat that is camo or a drab color.
7. Lightweight pair of dark color gloves.
Typical Gear for Turkey Hunting, if You’re Going with a Mentor who Has the Stuff
1. A shotgun; 20 gauge or 12 gauge work great.
2. A full choke if possible, although any choke will get the job done.
3. A seat cushion is nice, especially if it’s wet out.
4. About 6-10 shotgun shells. They come in boxes of 10. Shot size 4, 5, or 6 is legally allowed. The 3” shells are nice, but 2-3/4” work fine. Look for boxes that say “Turkey Loads.”
6. Small flashlight or headlamp.
7. Garbage bag for putting turkey in.
8. Cooler for putting turkey in.
9. Camera or cell phone for taking lots of pictures.
10. Compass and map.
11. Water bottle for drinking, and cleaning blood off turkey for good pictures.
12. Binoculars are optional, but I love using them to see across fields.
Typical Gear for Turkey Hunting, if You’re Going on Your Own
1. All the gear from the list above.
2. 1–3 hen decoys. Starting with one is just fine. There are many brands to choose from.
3. A hen turkey call.
Again, there are many to choose from. For a beginner I recommend a push, box style. You simply push a small rod attached to a spring into the call and it makes a hen sound. Other options are a Box, Slate, or Diaphragm mouth call. The Diaphragm is probably used the most by advanced hunters, but definitely the hardest to master. My “go to” set is one slate call and one mouth call.
4. A pop-up ground blind with chairs (optional).
Spring turkey hunting methods
There are three common ways to hunt turkeys in the spring. Set up a blind on the edge of a field, sit by a tree, or walk around and look for a gobbling or strutting turkey. There are many advantages and disadvantages to each of these strategies, but for this article I will stick to the basics. The goal is to get you out turkey hunting and not muddy the subject with too many options.
The basic rule of thumb is that toms gobble in the spring to get the hens to come to them for breeding. Our goal is to trick the tom by pretending we are a hen and get him to come to us. The toms will start gobbling very early (one hour before sunrise is typical) while they are still up in a tree roosting. Hearing a gobble is the first magical thing about spring hunting. You know a turkey is nearby and that’s exciting by itself. Once the turkeys fly out of their roost, the game is on. With luck, the tom will head right to your decoys thinking they are real. What usually happens is the real hens wander by and head into the woods, and the gobbling tom follows them. This is still very exciting, but can be frustrating to watch or hear your tom fade away. But be patient, because that tom could well make his way back to you later in the morning.
Using a ground blind for turkey hunting can be very effective. You pick out your spot, usually on the side of a field or on the edge of an opening in the woods. Setting up the blind the day or night before is ideal. Blinds are loud to set up, and if the turkeys are roosting nearby, you may spook them out of their roost. You sneak out in the morning, about an hour before sunrise (legal shooting is half an hour before sunrise). Then you place one to three hen decoys within 15 steps of the blind. You can add a jake or tom decoy but at this point it's just one of many options. I like to keep things simple and usually only put out one hen decoy. Once it’s half an hour before sunrise and now legal shooting time, I do a quiet hen call to see if a tom responds with a gobble. By this time I really hope you have heard a few gobbles. If a tom responds, you will feel like a hero, and now he knows where you are. At this point, it’s time to make some decisions, and the good news is that none are wrong if you end up calling in the turkey. One option is to call every two to three minutes. Or you can call once and hope that is enough to spark his interest. For a more active approach, you can call and if he responds, keep calling and hope he runs in. Every approach you try will teach you something, so have fun and enjoy the moment.
There are some definite advantages to using a ground blind. First, kids can move around and the turkeys won’t see them. Two, you can sit on chairs, which is just more comfortable. Three, if it’s raining, you're dry!
There are also some disadvantages to using a ground blind. First, you have to set them up the day before. Second, if the turkeys are not there, it’s not easy to move. Third, it's harder to hear gobbles from inside a blind.
The second strategy is to sit by a tree. I use this option the most, first thing in the morning. I walk to an area where I believe turkeys are roosting and listen for a gobble. If I hear one, I sneak within 80-100 yards of the turkey and put my hen decoy out. A good spot to put the decoy is on a trail, in a natural opening or in a field. I like to find a spot that is elevated so the hen can be seen from a distance. I sit by a tree within 20 yards of the decoy, but even closer is fine. I rest my gun on my knee and begin to call. Just like hunting from the blind, this is where the “trying” comes in. If a turkey gobbles right away, I usually wait a minute or two before calling back. If the turkey is getting closer (the gobble is getting louder, YES!), wait it out and see what happens. There is a good chance he will walk right up to your decoy to check it out and WHAMMO, you get your bird.
The third strategy is to walk around until you find a gobbling turkey or a strutting tom. I like to do a hen call about every five to ten minutes as I am walking. When you locate a bird, shift to strategy two with your setup. Several times while out walking around, looking for turkeys, I have spotted a tom strutting with some hens in a field or on a field edge. I have been able to belly crawl within 20-30 yards and take a shot. This is not as exciting as calling in a turkey but is very rewarding if you can pull it off.
There are several advantages to being outside of a blind. First, you get to hear the turkeys better. Second, there is nothing more exciting than having a hen or tom walk within feet of you while you are blended into the environment. And frankly, I enjoy moving around and find it to be a more enjoyable way of looking for a turkey.
One problem with moving around and searching for birds is that they tend to see you before you see them. Patience can pay off when turkey hunting and sometimes staying put can be your best option.
Some Miscellaneous Tips
1. Turkeys are tough birds. Your best bet is to shoot them in the head. I recommend aiming at the neck to give your pattern a chance to hit the vitals.
2. It is only legal to shoot toms in the spring. To be a legal tom it must have a visible beard. The bigger the beard, the older the tom. In the fall, there is not a beard requirement, so you can shoot any turkey.
3. Another telltale sign of a turkey’s age is the size of their spurs. The spurs are spikes on the back of their lower legs. They use them for fighting.
4. Turkeys have very good eyesight, so remain very still when they are approaching.
Where to Hunt Turkeys
The turkey population has exploded in most states. Finding a place to hunt is not that difficult. If you go to the Minnesota DNR web site you will find a wealth of information on public hunting areas. And turkey hunting is very good on public hunting land, especially in the southeastern part of Minnesota. In additions, do not hesitate to make some phone calls or stop by farms in the area you would like to hunt. Again, I have found that farmers and landowners are fairly open to allowing hunters to bring kids on their land. Farmers don’t like the turkeys eating their crops, so one less turkey is just as good for them as it is for you.
I hope this article encourages you to give turkey hunting a try. You now have the knowledge of what it takes to get a hunting license, what clothes you will need, what gear to use, what strategies to try, and where to hunt. Turkey hunting is fantastic, exciting and challenging. And I almost forgot to mention, turkeys are great eating!
Lucky Luke’s Hunting Adventures Book Series