Wisconsin’s Brian Lovett is a longtime turkey hunting addict who loves to share both his passion, and accumulated wisdom, with aspiring and veteran turkey hunters alike.
Lovett, 49, has written several books on the subject, and has become somewhat of an expert when it comes to maximizing success while traveling the nation—and beyond—in search of his favorite game bird. A meticulous record-keeper, Lovett has hunted turkeys for 27 years, during which time he has chased the birds in 20 different states and Mexico, and bagged 136 birds, including several “Grand Slams” of the four major U.S. subspecies (Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s) and he’s also taken a Gould’s turkey in Mexico.
“I’ve even counted my misses,” Lovett says, “but we’ll leave that number to the imagination.”
Through it all, Lovett has amassed several travel tips for aspiring turkey-crazed travelers. Here are his top five:
1. Smart Planning Helps Deliver More Success
“The Number-One tip for any traveling hunter is smart planning in advance of any trip,” Lovett says. “It’s easy to read about chasing Merriam’s turkeys near Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, but once you’re out there, the new and different terrain can intimidate people. Well before a trip I try to talk to state biologists and get an idea of what I might expect; information on bird numbers, preferred habitat. I also like to talk to local hunters, learn what they advise. The season opens in mid-April but is that the best time to go? Also, I try to get all licenses in advance, to make sure everything is legal and ready. If I’m going with an outfitter, I make sure to get references, and especially, for the clients who didn’t score.”
2. Use Your Knowledge Of Local Birds
“Be sure to remember that turkeys are pretty much turkeys wherever you go,” Lovett advises. “The places they inhabit might change, but by and large they still behave like turkeys. It’s all about keeping an open mind, and learning how you need to adapt your tactics to the unique conditions you might be facing. In my home state of Wisconsin, you’re mostly hopping from small wooded property to small wooded property, where the birds aren’t moving very far over the course of a day. But in Texas, once they fly down they can hit the ground running and might not stop, ranging over a huge area.”
3. Prepare For Multi-State Success
“Make sure your calls, guns, and other gear is tuned and ready to go,” Lovett says. “It’s one thing to go out hunting on your back 40, but if your calls aren’t conditioned, or if you have some type of gear malfunction, you’ll be wasting valuable time. Also make sure you’re prepared with the right clothing and boots; I always over-prepare, bringing both heavy clothing and light stuff, to meet most any conditions.”
4. Check (And Respect) Your Effective Range
“Always pattern your gun to determine your effective range,” Lovett advises. “I usually draw a 10-inch circle on a turkey target, and as long as I’m putting 100 pellets in that circle, I’m confident at that range. My favorite shot size, the one I always fall back on, is Heavier Than Lead 6 shot, which equates to a Lead 5 shot. Lead No. 4s will carry more down-range energy, but you will sacrifice some pattern density with those. My favorite turkey gun is a Remington 870 I’ve had for about 16 years, and I also have a Mossberg 835 that has been a great gun for me, but that old 870 is my fall-back.”
5. Change Decoy Tactics As Needed
“Remember to change your decoy tactics as the season progresses,” Lovett says. “I always bring and use the most-realistic decoys I can afford, and I will start in early spring using two or three hens, with a jake or a strutter. Usually I will have one feeding hen, and maybe a “looker hen” and a breeder hen, with a jake or strutter behind them. If for some reason there is a really big jake crop, I will leave out the strutter. As the season progresses, I might take the strutter out of there and use just a few hens, and then late in the season, I will use just a single hen. Especially during the late season in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in May, it’s natural for those hens to be out by themselves. I set my decoys about 25 yards away, close enough that if a bird hangs up, you can still take it with an ethical shot, say, 45 yards and in.”