wild turkey gobbler

Beards, Feathers and Snoods, Oh My! | Anatomy Of A Turkey

The wild turkey is a complex creature and has some anatomical features that are pretty peculiar. Many hunters may not know what some of these features are and how they help a turkey survive in nature.

So, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the wild turkey.

Eyes

If you are an avid turkey hunter, you are likely aware that this bird sports some powerful eyesight and can detect a turkey hunter with ease if they are not properly concealed and camouflaged.

Unlike us human hunters, the wild turkey possesses monocular periscope vision.

turkey eye

Turkeys have powerful eyesight, nearly a 360-degree field of vision, and each eye can move independently of the other.

Monocular periscope vision allows the eyes of the turkey to act independently from one another, allowing them to scan for potential threats in two different directions simultaneously.

Turkeys also have eyes situated on the sides of their head and not in a forward-facing direction. The positioning of the eyes and the independent operation they are capable of means that turkeys have nearly 360 degrees of viewing range.

turkey eyes and ears diagram

The ears of a turkey are located right behind the eyes.

The eyes being able to scan so much of the immediate area around them means they can pick up the slightest movements with ease and is one of the reasons they are so challenging to hunt.



Ears

Like all birds, the turkey doesn’t have any external ear features, and their ears are essential, just holes in their head directly behind their eyes.

The ears of the turkey feature pinpoint hearing, and if you have ever called in a turkey from a long distance, you will have observed how they can pinpoint the exact location of the sound and track directly to you.

a turkey's ears

Turkey’s have an uncanny ability to judge distance with their ears.

Despite not having external ears that serve as a sort of “radar dish” to detect noises from a wide range of directions like a deer, the turkey has hearing that can easily pinpoint the exact location of noise, and their brains will even register the distance of the sound from the bird.


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Snood

The snood is an anatomical feature that a turkey possesses that causes most hunters to scratch their heads and ask, “what is that thing for?”

The most noticeable feature which has the fitting name of a snood is the familiar bright red lumpy area located on the throats of male turkeys.

turkey snood

A turkey’s snood helps to regulate body temperature, and in males, help to attract female turkeys (hens).

The snood serves a few different purposes for male turkeys, with the biggest being attraction to the opposite sex, with the bright ornamentation helping attract females for breeding.

This weird anatomical feature also serves another critical role for tom turkeys. It helps dissipate excess heat and helps regulate the bird’s body temperature on those hot summer days.



Head Coloration

The colorations of the head of a male wild turkey are to this day not fully understood, and the colors can change depending on the bird’s mood.

The Coloration of the head can change from blue to white to red, and the bird can do so based on moods like agitation, excitement, irritation, fear, and others.

turkey head coloration

A turkey’s head colors can change, depending on factors like fear, anger and during mating.

When it comes to mating, there will often be a prominent white coloration at the top of the head, and this occurs when a tom is approaching hens or, in many cases, a hunter or decoy that the tom thinks is a hen.




Beard

The beard of a tom turkey serves the same purpose as the coloration and snood, to attract hens. The beard of a tom turkey isn’t actually a beard at all but a modified form of a feather.

While males use it to attract hens, hen turkeys are also known to sport a beard, albeit on a rare basis. This has led some experts to not definitely hold the beard as a definitive in terms of its’ role.

turkey gobblers with beards

The beard of a make turkey has a texture similar to a thick monofilament fishing line, and is used to attract hens.


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Spurs

One of the anatomical features of a turkey that is a trophy feature among hunters are the spurs.

turkey spurs

A turkey grows spurs on the back of each leg near the foot, and can be used for defense as well as for fighting.

The spurs serve two primary purposes for a tom turkey; it is the major form of defense for the bird, and hunters try to avoid them when retrieving a recently downed bird for this very reason.

Tom turkeys also use these spurs to fight other toms for the same reasons bucks or rams fight, to establish a hierarchy within the flock, as turkeys are social animals.

Just like the antlers of a buck, the spurs of a tom turkey can cause severe lacerations, cuts, and bruising, so be cautious when approaching a wounded tom.



Tail Feathers

The tail feathers are probably the most prized feature of a tom turkey among hunters, and both hunters and toms love to display them.

turkey tail feathers

A turkey’s tail feathers are the prize possession of turkey hunters.

The tail fan of a turkey serves a few purposes; it makes them look larger when they are fully displayed, which serves as a form of intimidation to other toms when fighting during the mating season and attracts hens.

The large tail feathers also serve as a rudder when flying, helping the bird control their direction of flight and helping them brake and slow down when they come in for a landing or when roosting in the trees at night.

turkey tail feathers rear view

Here’s a look at a turkey’s tail feathers from behind the bird.



Wings

Unlike other birds, a turkey will rarely use flight to simply get around due to being a relatively heavy bird and use flight for the purposes of getting up into trees for roosting and back down again.

But don’t be fooled, as a threatened turkey can kick into high gear and escape nearly any potential threat quickly by flying fast and low, albeit in relatively short bursts compared to other birds.

turkey profile shot showing wings

Although turkeys can fly, their wings are used primarily to fly up and down from their roosting locations.

The wings also serve a purpose in establishing dominance in the flock hierarchy, with “wing slapping” being a common way for toms to fight and work their way to the top of the pecking order.

turkey wings

during mating season, a male turkey will often “strut” with it’s tail feathers up and its wings pointed in a downward fashion

Wings also come in handy for dusting, which is when a turkey wallows down into dry dirt and ruffles its feathers to spread a fine powdery coat of dust on itself.

Dust baths keep the feathers of the turkey in optimum condition and are a part of their preening and plumbing maintenance, as the dust absorbs excess oils and moisture.

turkey feather dusting area

A turkey will “dust” its feathers, in an area like this, to keep their wings from being matted and to help prevent parasites and mites.

Dusting keeps the feathers of the bird from becoming matted and greasy and provides clean and aerodynamic feathers for maximum efficiency during flight, and also helps prevent feather mites and parasites.



Final Thoughts On Turkey Anatomy

The turkey is a very intriguing animal and a great resource for hunters.

Understanding details about the animals you pursue in the field will help you become a better hunter and will also give hunters a larger appreciation and understanding of the resources they enjoy.

So, whether you are a turkey hunter of just wanting to learn more about these amazing birds, we hope this article on the anatomy of a turkey helped you understand these amazing birds better!

hunting video gear

Start Filming Your Hunts | A Self-Filming Checklist

I sat there stunned at what just happened.

I had traveled 500 miles for this particular moment, only to sit and watch this big Kansas buck walk right out of my life.

And, it wasn’t because I didn’t have the opportunity to let an arrow fly.

I actually took aim, settled my pin, and painfully watched my arrow hit right in front of his body.

big kansas buck

When you film your own hunts, moments like this will be captured indefinitely to not only relive yourself, but share with others.

I could not believe my eyes! I’ve made that exact shot in my yard 10 out of 10 times.

As I sat there 20 feet up in that oak tree, trying to figure out what happened, I heard something behind me coming down the same trail. I turned to catch a glimpse of a wide Kansas buck heading my way.

I couldn’t believe this was happening so soon after I had missed the other deer.

This time, I was even more determined to settle my pins and connect on this nice Kansas buck! 

As I released the arrow, I watched intently as it found its mark and sent the buck bolting through the woods to certain death.



Finally, after two years of hunting in Kansas, I was able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. It was a very exciting moment for me, as I anxiously texted my hunting buddies… “Big Buck Down.”

What makes this hunt even more special is the fact that I got it all on video.

Videoing my hunts allow me the privilege to watch them anytime I want to.

With today’s technological advances, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get started filming your own hunts. Keep reading for two things that you will need to get started…

The scenario above happened almost a year ago. I went back and watched it five minutes before I wrote this article.

When I’m having a bad season and not seeing very many deer, I can always go back and watch the moment I killed my first Kansas buck.

Talk about a very rewarding experience.



First thing you need to film your hunts: Video Equipment

Choosing the right equipment is going to be a critical piece of the puzzle for creating quality footage of your hunts. This equipment can be as expensive or as cheap as you would like, depending on what you are after.

Let me just assume that most of us are on a limited budget but would still like pretty good equipment to capture our hunts.



The below list is certainly not all of the things that you could buy for filming your hunts. However, these are all of the things that you should buy for filming your hunts.

These pieces of equipment will help you be able to effectively tell your hunting story verbally and visually. 


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There are five pieces of video equipment that are critical to getting started filming your hunts… and they won’t break the bank. Read on for specifics of each…

  • Camera
  • Camera arm
  • External microphone
  • Fluid head
  • Remote control

Video Camera

video camera for filiming hunts

The Canon 6D Mark 2 is a good camera for capturing your primary video while filming your own hunts.

Obviously, you cannot film hunts without a camera, but what camera do you choose? That’s a great question that gets asked often.

First, It is very important that you choose a camera that is “High Definition” and has good low-light capabilities. The high definition will help you have clearer footage and the low light capabilities will help you get a few extra minutes of film time in the morning and the evenings. After all, you never know when you’re going to see something so rare that you’ll wish you had footage of it later on.



It is also important that you get a camera that has an external mic jack. If you are self-filming, it is important for you to choose a camera that has a good auto focus setting.

We currently use a Sony Ax-53 ($800) and a Canon 6D Mark 2 ($1500.)

Secondary cameras are also a big help to capture extra footage, such as GoPro, Spypoint or Tacticam.




Camera Arm

fourth arrow video camera arm for hunting videos

It’s important to be sure you have a camera arm with enough length to film in some of the awkward positions hunting can put you in.

It wasn’t until a recent hunt that I realized how important stabilization was for a camera.

We were on a hunt and managed to forget the arm plate, so I had to free-hand film the hunt. A doe came into our location and circled around the tree and put me in an awkward position while filming.

When we watched the footage back on the TV, I was shocked at how shaky I was. This one experience made me even more of a believer in good camera arm.



It’s important to choose a camera arm that has some length to it. This will help when the deer puts you in an awkward position of filming across your body or around the back of your tree.

Fourth Arrow has some amazing camera arms that are affordable, ($100-$300) adjustable, and easy to use. Muddy also has some great camera arms that are reasonably priced ($100-$300) and easy to use.


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External Microphone

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An external mic will help you capture sounds from farther away than if just using the mic on the video camera.

Every camera you buy comes with a built-in microphone, and they work decent most of the time. However, they are just not as clear or as sensitive as they need to be when capturing the sounds of the woods.

There’s just something special about being able to hear the leaves crunching under the deer’s feet when you are watching your hunt on TV or on social media. You will hear a lot less of those types of natural sounds without an external microphone.



Another problem with not having an external microphone is when you put distance between the camera man and the hunter. An external microphone will give you a lot more range of distance than your standard camera mic.

It is true, most people will watch bad footage with good audio before they will watch good footage with bad audio. Rode Mics offer a variety of microphones for most cameras.

Trust me when I say, you will want to get an external microphone!



Fluid Head

sony 4k video camera for filming hunts and fluid arm and remote

The fluid head, as seen here attached to the tripod, helps you make smooth, controlled camera movements. The remote allows you to operate the camera with one hand, freeing up the other for your bow or gun.

Yeah I know, I thought the same thing when I heard about “fluid heads.”

So, what is a fluid head?

It’s an attachment that fits onto your camera arm that works by hydraulic fluid. The hydraulic fluid head allows you to make smoother movements with your camera. This creates better, higher quality footage for your viewing.

Pro Am has some very good fluid heads at reasonable prices. ($100-$300)


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Remote Control

A remote control for your camera is very important, especially if you are self-filming. It enables you to basically do everything with one hand so you can use your other hand to grab you bow or your gun.

Most cameras have remote controls that can be purchased for them. I prefer to use the remote controls that are wired and plug directly into the camera.

Camera remotes are made to attach to your camera arm handle and can be a lifesaver when a deer walks into range. They help you minimize movement while your target animal is close.

Second Thing You Need: PASSION

hunting video equipment

Getting started videoing your hunts is not as expensive as you might think. There are many affordable options available for you to begin capturing those unforgettable outdoor moments.

Passion is nothing more than a strong desire for something. And, if you are going to film your hunts, you are going to need a strong desire to do so.

I promise you there are going to be moments when you will wake up and you are already late to your stand and taking time to get camera gear to the tree will make you even later.



Then, there will be times when you will forget pieces of equipment and the thought will run across your mind, “I don’t know why I even mess with this junk. I’m not doing this anymore.”

Possibly, even worse than that, you will have a big buck bust you because you were reaching for the camera instead of your bow. It’s during these moments that it will take passion to help you keep going.

To successfully film your hunts, the second thing you need is to have passion in the following three areas…

  • Passion for hunting: Passion for hunting is probably the most obvious one. You have to love the hunt! Passion for hunting is what is going to keep you in the woods experiencing all of the things that are film-worthy. If the idea of being perched up twenty feet in a tree with a bow in your hand anticipating a big buck coming near gets you excited, then congratulations, you have a passion for the hunt!
  • Passion for telling the story: I had a man tell me once, “You tell stories really good.” That’s because I have a passion about telling stories. When I tell a story, I want people to feel what I was feeling, hear what I was hearing and see what I was seeing. Being able to take your camera and video everything that you are experiencing in the woods is being able to tell your story. It gives the viewer an opportunity to see what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. You will need a passion for that in order to overcome the difficulties that come along with filming.
  • Passion for new challenges: It is an understatement to say that filming your hunts is a challenge. It is actually beyond a challenge to be able to put it all together and film a successful hunt, but it sure is fun trying. One of the hard parts is learning all of the new things that make you better at filming your hunts. Anything from positioning your camera to learning how to edit your videos. Each one of these things can provide its own set of challenges, so you will need to be excited about learning new things. If you have a passion for new challenges then you are going to love filming your hunts.



 Final Thoughts On Self-Filming Your Hunts

There are so many more things that can be written on the subject of filming hunts.

The further you dive into the process more questions will come about camera equipment, editing, producing episodes for social media, etc. However, if there was one more piece of advice I could give you on this subject, it would be to remind you to have fun.

The camera is just a great way to share the memories of the love of the hunt, it is never meant to replace the love of the hunt. Sometimes the pressure of trying to get it all to work out on film can rob you of the fun of the sport of hunting.

Make up your mind before you begin the journey that you will always love the hunt more than you love the camera.

Casey Johnson of Huntreal Outdoors
Casey Johnson is the founder of Huntreal Outdoors. Follow their Instagram and you can also follow Casey’s story on his YouTube channel.
turkey with N1 Outdoors logo

Turkey Hunting For Beginners | Starter Tips

Turkeys are a very popular animal to hunt, but even with the wild turkey’s rise in popularity, it still remains a very challenging animal for even the most experienced hunters to bag.

But even so, this guide should help beginner turkey hunters get on the path to bagging their first tom.

turkey and shotgun on truck tire

Turkeys can be an extremely tough animal to harvest, even for the seasoned hunter. Be committed to learning as much as you can before you go and in the seasons to come.

Turkey Hunting (before you go…)

Before we get to some basic turkey hunting tips, lets cover a few other important things first…

Know and Play By the Rules

Before you even bother with packing your hunting gear, take time to learn your state’s regulations on wild turkey hunting.

Can you shoot before sunrise?

Can you shoot after sunset?

sunrise over barley field

Knowing the hunting regulations in your state, like whether you can shoot before sunrise and after sunset, are important to know before you go turkey hunting.

If so, how long before sunrise and after sunset are you allowed to shoot?

Hunting seasons and bag limits in the state you are going to be hunting is also something to be aware of.

Each state declares its own seasons and bag limits for each game species. The state agency bases those decisions on science and harvest totals, as well as other factors.

Additionally, a hunter safety education may be required to buy hunting licenses, depending on the hunter’s age.



Apprentice licenses may be offered to first-time hunters in place of hunter safety education, but the new hunter must be accompanied by a properly licensed hunter before hitting the woods.

All of this type information should be answered by checking out your state’s department of natural resources website. 

Bottom line… always know the laws before you hit the woods!



Gearing Up

Wild turkeys have keen eyesight, so you will want to conceal your movements as much as possible while out hunting.

A good camo pattern for the terrain you are hunting is essential. So, make sure that whatever you wear conceals your hands, neck, and face, because a turkeys spook at the slightest movements.

n1 outdoors turkey hunter

Staying concealed on your turkey hunts is critical when turkey hunting and could be the difference between bagging a tom or coming home empty-handed.

Of course, unless you’re Chuck Norris, you won’t be bagging that turkey with your bare hands. So, you’ll need to have and be proficient with a bow or shotgun before heading to the turkey woods.

If you choose a bow, whether it be a compound, recurve, crossbow, or even a traditional archery bow, make your choice something you are comfortable shooting from a seated position, as most turkey hunts happen from the ground.


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Scout, Scout, Scout

Even if you have become an expert at harvesting trophy deer or other animals, you must realize that turkeys can still be a difficult animal to hunt and kill. Heading out on a scouting trip before the big hunt can be crucial to your success.

So when it comes to scouting, knowing what to look for can help you determine if turkeys are frequenting your property and if so, where they are the most active.



Types Of Turkey Sign

Knowing what turkey sign looks like is a great start for determining if turkeys are active on the property you will be hunting. After all, you can wear camo from head to toe, put on face paint, and be as still as a statue, but if you don’t have turkeys on the land you’re hunting, well, at least you enjoyed being outside.

Here are some types of sign to look for when scouting for turkeys:

  • Turkey tracks: Tracks can certainly help you identify where a turkey has been, but you also want to figure out where it went and when, so hopefully you can intercept one on the next trip there.
  • Feathers: It might seem obvious, but turkey feathers are a great indicator that there are, or have been, turkeys in the vicinity. So keep an eye out for the feathers, especially if roosting trees are in the vicinity. You may have turkeys nearby.
  • Turkey droppings: Turkey droppings can be J-shaped (often a tom) or in a spiral shape or a “blob” (usually indicating a hen) in a variety of . But, if you find fresh droppings, that’s a good sign that a turkey is nearby.
  • Scratching: Be sure to pay close attention to the ground as you walk through wooded areas, as turkeys will scratch the ground. They do this to look for insects as well as other types of food, like acorns. Scratching can be a great clue to whether turkeys are frequenting and feeding in wooded areas on the property you will be hunting.
  • Dusting Areas: Turkeys like to roll belly down in loose soil or sand to clean their feathers and will leave behind distinct areas of disturbed terrain along logging roads or under standing pines.



Turkey Calling (Tips For Beginners)

To be successful in turkey hunting, many hunters rely on calling to help bring the birds within shooting range.

Calls work by replicating a wild turkey’s natural vocalization. Turkeys of all ages and genders produce various types of yelps and calls.

Box, slate, mouth, diaphragm, and locator calls (like crow and owl calls) are all different options a hunter can choose from. However, beginners usually find a box calls as one of the easier ones to get consistent sounds.

A box call is used by scraping a paddle bottom along the side of the box panel’s lip. The hollow inside chamber provides a distinct note that appeals to the birds.

You can also use a wingbone turkey call to locate turkeys (not pictured).



Here are a few tips to remember when calling turkeys:

  • Practice, practice, practice: As a new turkey hunter, it’s important to learn basic calls like the cluck, cut and the yelp. Learn all you can about making these turkey vocalizations as life-like as possible.
  • Get real: Turkeys aren’t all that different from people in that they don’t always sound exactly the same. Mix in some varying cadences in your calling. There’s nothing more unnatural (or annoying) than a “turkey” that makes the exact same sound for the same amount of time, every single time it calls. Turkeys can be extremely wary, so don’t let your calling be one of the reasons. Mix things up.
  • Keep it short: Keep your call series brief. You won’t be able to hear a tom gobble in response in you are yelping your head off! Listening is as important as calling, so keep thing short and stayed tuned in.
  • That’s it, nice and soft: If you notice that you have a tom’s attention with your calling, don’t keep calling at the same volume. Change your calling to softer clucks and purrs and see if you can smooth-talk him into range.
  • Sometimes less is more: Turkeys will be wary if you call too much, so make sure not to call too often. Sometimes the best thing to do after calling is not to call again. A tom may get worried that his mate-in-waiting has decided to leave and he’ll want to find her!


Turkey Hunting With Decoys

Another way to attract turkeys is by using a decoy. Turkeys are territorial, so if a gobbler happens to see a hen decoy or another jake or tom infringing on their territory, he is sure to take notice.

turkey hunting decoys

There are many price ranges of turkey hunting decoys on the market. Spend the extra money to get the most realistic ones you can afford.

When turkey hunting with decoys, here are a few tips that are helpful to know:

  • Decoy transportation: Be sure to carry your decoys head down in a bag. In the event another hunter is in your area and thinks the decoys are real turkeys, it could lead to a terrible injury or even death. Safety first!
  • Use a hen and a jake decoy: A gobbler will be attracted to a hen, (and mad if it sees a young male turkey trying to steal his girl!)
  • Close but not too close: Be sure your decoys are close enough so that if a tom gets hung up on the far side of them, he is still close enough to shoot and kill. But, they also need to be far enough away so that your gun’s shot pattern can open up. Setting up decoys at about 15 yards is a good rule of thumb.
  • Placement is key: When setting up your decoys, ask yourself, “could a turkey see these from a long way off?” If the answer is no, then consider repositioning. The last thing you want is to call and have a tom come in and not see what he was looking for and leave… heartbreak city! Setting up your decoys in the open will also allow other hunters to identify them as decoys, so that they don’t attempt to shoot in your direction.
  • Don’t skimp: If you’ve walked the hunting aisles at your local sporting good store, you have probably noticed that there are are many different brands of turkey decoys (and several price points). Get the most realistic you can for your money. A life-like decoy could be the difference between getting that tom in close enough to shoot and watching him run off to be hunted another day. Spend the money and get good decoys.


Sit, hide or run…

There is more than one method of hunting for turkeys. Let’s briefly cover those.

Camp out at the base of a tree

If you have the ability to be very still, you might try sitting at the base of a tree as you wait for Mr. Tom Turkey to pay you a visit.

If so, try to find a large tree that is larger than shoulder width. A wider tree base will help conceal your shape better than a thinner tree.

two turkey hunters in camo

Believe it or not, you don’t have to hunt from a blind for turkeys. But, you do need to be concealed well with camo and natural cover and be able to stay very still.

Also, be sure you have appropriate camo for the area/habitat you are hunting. Wear a face mask as well. Turkeys can see very well, so take the extra effort to sit still and stay concealed.



Turkey Blind Hunting

Many hunters use blinds to hunt for deer, but you can turkey hunt from them too.

If you are fairly certain of a tom’s presence in the area, and have an idea of where he is going to be, and you want to sit moderately comfortably while you wait, a blind may be a good option.

ground box blind on sloped

Ground blind hunting can work well in clearings, field edges and ridges and is a good option if hunting with youngsters.

Turkey blinds are also a good option if you are hunting with kids. It’s a little easier to get away with movement if you are in a blind. So, if you or the youngsters are a little fidgety, a blind might be a good option.



Even if you are hunting from a blind, it’s still a good idea to wear dark clothing and a mask or face paint that will blend into the darkness of the inside of the blind.

You can set up your blind on a field edge or ridge. Blinds can work great when using decoys as well.




Run and Gun

When it comes to turkey hunting, “running and gunning” can be a very exciting and effective way to bag a gobbler.

Basically, it means that a hunter will not be stationary, as if he/she were in a blind or sitting at the base of a tree. Rather, the hunter will try to locate turkeys by walking short distances, watching, calling, and listening for turkeys.

So, if the hunter calls and hears a gobble, the next step is to try and pinpoint the location of the tom and get as close as possible and get set-up in order (at the base of a tree, for example) to make a good shot on the bird.

cameraman turkey hunting

“Running and gunning” for turkeys is quite the rush, but can leave you scrambling to find adequate cover that is close enough to get a shot on a tom.

Much like hunting from the base of a tree, you need to use the available natural cover and also be sure to wear as much camo clothing as possible, including face mask/paint, camo shoes/boots, etc.

Once you have located a tom, be sure to set up where you will have a shooting lane toward the bird’s expected travel path. It’s important to always be sure of where you are aiming and shooting.

If you cannot clearly identify the bird, do not shoot. Never shoot into brush or an area where you cannot clearly see the target. Safety first!




Get Out And Go!

Hopefully these turkey hunting tips will help you progress from a beginner into a seasoned and successful turkey hunter.

Best of luck in bagging a tom!

view while sighting in riflescope view
Richard Douglas, founder and editor of Scopes Field, and a columnist at The National Interest, 1945, Daily Caller and other publications.