10 tips for a successful turkey hunting road trip
By M.D. Johnson
Many turkey hunters around the nation — myself very much included — stick relatively close to home during the spring season. Work keeps me local; so, too, do finances, two black labs, crappies and morel mushrooms.
However, there have been times over the years when Julia Carol and I have packed our gear into the F-150 and pointed her away from home for a few days, figuring that a little new ground under our boots might be just the thing. A massive undertaking? Not necessarily, but these turkey hunting road trips do involve some pre-planning. Preparations made in advance alleviate a lot of headaches along the way, and even help put a longbeard or two in the vest.
What do you need to know if you’re thinking about a hunt away from home this spring? Here’s a crash course in taking your turkey hunting game on the road.
How to take a turkey hunting road trip
Pick a dot on the map
Where do you want to go on your turkey hunting road trip? Are you going to drive? Fly? If you’re driving, maybe you want to limit the distance from home to, say, 600 miles to make it easier on yourself. Flying carries with it a different set of circumstances involving firearms, ammunition transportation and what you can and cannot take with you — or for that matter, what you can bring home.
Read the regulations
Iowa, for instance, requires non-residents to apply for turkey tags in January, with the drawing taking place in early February. Some states have similar requirements; others do not. Fortunately, it’s a simple matter to go online and peruse state hunting regulations prior to actually determining where you want to go.
Decide on a date
Do you want to be there for the opener, or is mid-season a better option for you? What about work and scheduling vacation time? The web and the National Wild Turkey Federation’s site can be quite helpful, not only in determining the season dates, but what portion of the season best suits your personal schedule.
Guide or no guide?
Personally, I’m a non-guided kind of guy. That said, it may be in your best interest (particularly if time is an issue) to pony up for a guide — one who already has access to properties, knows those properties well and has a handle on the birds. If that feels like too much, many outfitters offer semi-guided hunts in which they provide access and scouting information, and you do the rest.
Get the paperwork
This one’s simple. Once you’ve decided where and when you’re going, get connected and purchase your licenses and any necessary permits well in advance of your trip. Even a short-distance turkey hunting road trip involves considerable logistical considerations, and anything you can take care of before you leave the driveway is one less thing you have to worry about enroute.
Find some ground
Several years ago, my wife and I road-tripped from our home in eastern Iowa to South Dakota’s Black Hills. Prior to leaving, we obtained detailed maps of the national forest and scrutinized satellite imagery of potential jumping-off points. We made a plan for where we wanted to start on the 1.25 million acres of turkey opportunity. Our task was made simpler due to the fact that the Black Hills are public; private ground, while admittedly nice to have, does involve the asking for and receipt of permission — which can only occur after it’s located. The bottom line is this: Do your homework.
Organize your gear
Lay out each and every item you plan to take on this turkey hunting road trip. Better yet, make a checklist, and as each item is packed, check it off. Some items justify spares (headnets, gloves, batteries, prescription eyeglasses and medications, to name a few). On most road trips, I’ll include a spare shotgun and an extra box of ammunition, especially if that ammunition is specifically suited to my firearm.
Locate room and board
Are you going to camp? Drive your motorhome? Or maybe stay in a motel nearby? Regardless of your intentions, advance preparations regarding room and board are vitally important to the psychological success of the outing. Trust me here; don’t wait until you’re there to start looking for accommodations. Sometimes they just don’t exist.
Let someone know your plans
Finally, be sure to leave cell phone numbers, lodging information, departure and return schedules and any other pertinent details with a trusted colleague. You never know what’s going to happen back at home in your absence. Or to you in the field, for that matter.
Check your camera
A hunt away from home is an opportunity for adventure. These are memories worth sharing, so whether you bring home a bird or not, take a few pictures to document the trip. It might be an experience you’ll want to look back on fondly for years to come.
Meet M.D. Johnson
Originally from Ohio, M.D. Johnson, and his wife/business partner, Julia, spent 18 years in Iowa before relocating to her native Washington state in 2015. A full-time freelance outdoor writer since 1992, Johnson, with the photographic assistance of his wife, has authored and illustrated six full-length books, including three on waterfowl hunting. Today, The Johnsons reside in Wahkiakum County, where they both enjoy a 107-day duck season, salmon fishing, and everything the wonderful Pacific Northwest has to offer. Oh, and if you ask, M.D. will tell you he prefers 16 gauge doubles to anything else.
Read more about turkey hunting from M.D. on Slayer’s Blog: