The College Student's Guide to Turkey Hunting

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Spring. The time for finals, frat parties, sight-seeing on the Quad, and especially turkey hunting. The best reason of all to stay in school.

Legs shake. Hands tremble. Your mind races wild. And it’s not even because of the chick in psychology class. No, it’s that longbeard gobbling every breath, no more than 60 yards away and just out of sight. He’s ripping your nervous system to shreds – particularly because you know that if you wait much longer, you’ll be late for class. Again.

There’s nothing better than chasing turkeys on two hours of sleep. Especially if it’s finals week. Here’s what you need to know.

Find a Place to Hunt

Public land is the easiest answer for a student wondering where to hunt. The best way to find a good public parcel is to go to your Department of Natural Resource’s website or call DNR officials. Be prepared, as no DNR employee in history has ever answered the phone on the first ring. But, when you do get someone, they're usually happy to help.

CLASS-CUTTING EXCUSES

General: “ I had the fever.”

Filled a Tag: "My uncle Tom died this morning."

Calling for a Friend: “My friend desperately needed help.”  

If you don’t like the idea of hunting public land, knocking on doors still works. Use Google Earth to find some likely country. Then get in the truck, be on your best behavior, and start asking. These tips can help you secure access.

  1. Get a jump on everyone else. The earlier you ask, the more likely you’ll gain access.
  2. Figure out whom you’re talking to before asking. Call the landowner by name and make a connection. You can usually find this information with some research at the county’s Property Value Administration office.
  3. If possible, provide a reference of a mutual, local friend. It helps when you know the same people.
  4. Offer your services to help out with something. Give and take – not just take.
  5. Landowners hate coyotes. Making contact by asking to predator hunt in the winter, and then turkey hunting once you’ve established yourself as trustworthy, usually works.
  6. Offer a portion of the meat, trimmed and prepared. Who doesn’t like fresh turkey breast, ready for the skillet?
  7. Some landowners worry about lawsuits. Make it apparent that you are willing to sign a waiver before you start hunting.

Three Ways to Tag Out Before Class

How do you get a turkey into the back of the truck with minimal time invested? These aggressive approaches will up your odds.

  • Roost and Wait: The best way to have a shot at a short hunt is to roost a bird the evening before your hunt. Slip in extra early the next morning and get as close as you can. Fifty or 60 yards isn't impossible. Once day breaks, call just enough that he knows you are there. If you call too much, it will keep him on the limb longer and give other hunters – and hens – time to move in.
  • Run and Gun: If you actually run, or even just walk too fast, you’ll spook more turkeys than you kill. Cover ground, but don’t get in a hurry. Move slowly, stick tight to cover, and call every 70 to 80 yards. Be prepared for a gobbler to sound off at any moment.  
  • Ninja Sneak: I used this method one afternoon last year to kill a bird after class. It was my second bird of the season and it took all of 17 minutes to kill him, from shutting the truck door to hoisting him over the tailgate. What did I do? I spotted the bird in a big field, saw where he was going and got there first. Most of the time it isn’t that simple. On that day, it was.  

Dorm Room Turkey Cookin'

Don’t clean your turkey in the dorm room. You’re asking for trouble. Instead, keep a kit with a cleaning knife, rubber gloves, water and a large Tupperware container ready to go to prepare your bird in the field. Once you get it back to the dorm, put it on ice and stick it in the refrigerator if a freezer isn’t available. You may have to repetitively apply ice if you can’t prepare it right away.

You probably can’t cook in your dorm room, but most dormitories have a small community kitchen area located somewhere in the building. Cook up your fresh kill there. You’re all but guaranteed to make new friends in the process. Turkey poppers sizzling on a George Foreman grill taste far better than Ramen noodles. Remember, most students who stop by will be curious, and will have probably never eaten wild game. Your willingness to share, hungry though you may be, just might reshape some crazy vegan’s outlook on hunting.  

5 BEST TURKEY HUNTING COLLEGES

Murray State University You’re in Kentucky, but 10 minutes from the Tennessee line. Public land opportunities within an hour’s drive are abundant.

University of Wisconsin Madison This is prime turkey real estate. Wisconsin has inexpensive non-resident licenses, too. While public land opportunity is a bit more limited, the turkey hunting culture isn’t as strong here as it is down south. Knocking on enough doors should produce plenty of places to hunt.

Clemson University The Deep South birds here are tough. But rumor has it some of the best turkey hunting in the state is found right near campus. And, how could you leave a South Carolina school out of the list? Nearby Edgefield is home of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nebraska turkey hunting can be a sight to behold. There’s not a lot of public land here. But there is so much farmland that getting access to private isn’t all that difficult. In this state you can chase Merriams, Rios, Easterns and hybrids.

Penn State Northeasterners, you weren’t forgotten. The Nittany Lions rounded off our list of top schools. Turkey populations are in good standing in the state – Steve Hickoff’s home woods, by the way.

Manage School, Work and Hunting

I was a college student myself. So I understand what it’s like to have a jacked-up schedule. But that’s not an excuse for skipping out on the best hobby in the world. It’s all about time management – something you’ll have to learn if you haven’t already. Time afield will depend on your schedule. The best thing to do is plan out your schedule a week at a time. Get a planner, then write down everything you have to do and note when you have to do it. Then see what free time you have left. If you have to skip out on Alpha Delta Pi’s party, so be it. Forget killing a 12-pack. You’ve got better things to do. You’ve got turkeys to kill instead.

Turkey Guns on Campus

Here is the touchy subject – shotguns. Most schools will not allow firearms on campus, anywhere (although, depending on the state, it’s often a violation of university policy, rather than state law). I was given the cold shoulder when calling around for this article to determine what policies colleges have in place.

Some schools are more accommodating. Some allow students to keep firearms locked away in their vehicles, and some campus police departments may even store your shotgun for you. The only thing you can do is ask ahead of time, learn the rules, and follow them to a T.

5 TOP SPRING BREAK STOPS

There are better things to do on spring break than getting lit on the beachfront. Here are the top trips to go on that coincide with traditional spring break dates.

1. Alabama has one of the country's biggest turkey populations and an early March opener.
2. Georgia has almost a million acres of public land to roam and a March opener.
3. Tennessee has endless public land options and birds are abundant.
4. Mississippi is excellent, especially in the southwestern region, where you won't be far from the beach.
5. Florida has more than 5 million public acres to roam and an earlier opener than most.

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Editor's note: This Realtree.com feature was first published April 29, 2014.