I saw the first flights of returning robins coming through Central Georgia yesterday, so Turkey season is not far away. Simultaneously, I received notice that I had been drawn for a hunt on some state lands that has a nice population of birds. I have hunted there before. I know the ground, I know where the turkeys are and now is the time to get guns and gear ready.
In Georgia shotguns and muzzleloading rifles are legal for turkeys. On some hunts you are also allowed to take any wild hogs you see, which makes using a muzzleloading rifle very attractive. Wild hogs as well as coyotes will sometimes come to turkey calling, particularly to the “lost bird” call. If you are going to use a muzzleloader, you need to make sure that it is sighted in at 20 yards or so.
A caution is that you do not shoot a turkey as it approaches. If you hit in the chest, the bullet (even a .50-caliber round ball) may pass through breast meat and wing feathers which will have the bird fly off and be lost. Take your bird when the tom is facing sideways and aim low enough to go through the lungs and backbone.
Largely unappreciated is that even fast-twist muzzleloaders will shoot patched round balls very accurately provided that the powder charge is reduced to about 50 grains of FFg in .50-caliber rifles. This charge is sufficient to nail any turkey and can also take hogs with good shot placement. This is a more potent load that the .45 Long Colt or .44 Special; although a little on the light side for deer hunting.
Crossbows with X-shaped cutting blades that are up to 2-inches long can work too. These will cleanly take the head off the bird which does not make for very attractive photos, but is instantly disabling. The deal here is that there must be absolutely nothing between you and the bird that might deflect the arrow.
If you use either muzzleloading or cartridge shotguns, PATTERN YOUR SHOTGUN AND KNOW WHERE IT SHOOTS. This is something
everyone has been told to do, but many do not. Heavy turkey loads very often shoot below the point of aim. It is better to choose a 1 1/4-ounce load that shoots to the point of aim than a 2-ounce load that does not. If you use the heavy turkey loads you will often be forced into using a scope or adjustable sights so that you can shoot to the point of aim.
Turkey cooking instructions are in both Crossbow Hunting and Backyard Deer Hunting converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound while I will have load information for muzzleloading smoothbores in the 2011 Gun Digest and in my forthcoming book Xtreme muzzleloading: Fur, fowl and dangerous game with muzzleloading rifles, smoothbores and pistols.