How to Smoke a Wild Turkey

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

To smoke a wild turkey, start with one muzzleloading shotgun. Add 100 grains of Hodgdon Triple 7, drop in a fiber wad and add 1-1/4 ounces of number 5 lead shot. Then tamp down another fiber wad to keep the load tight and dry. Garnish with a 209 shotgun primer and serve.

At the end of Fall Turkey season I used my new 12-gauge muzzleloader, an Austin & Halleck 520. It is 1840s technology blended with in-line ignition, a match-grade trigger and a vented-rib single barrel in a curly maple stock.

Lee Sandberg, Wade Stone and I picked the wettest day in the last 10 years for the final hunt of the season in the oak savannah west of Roseburg. We hunted on property leased by Black Oak Outfitters for the Columbia Whitetail Deer Hunt and saw several of these interesting animals feeding out in the rain.

The Umpqua was close to flood stage. Every driveway a creek, every ditch a torrent, every creek a river. Culverts were jammed with debris. Muddy water flowed inches deep over the road. If it rained any harder we would need scuba gear. A perfect day to put a new smoke-pole to the test.

With the moisture, the hills were in green-up. We spotted groups of hens, gangs of jakes and flocks of big shiny toms with beards that dragged the ground. Our first stalks came to naught.

After lunch, we headed out into the weather again. A flock of 15 glossy black gobblers moved uphill away from us. We were 200 yards apart when they began to run. In a few minutes, the turkeys were strung out along the fence.

Lee turned to me. "Head back down the trail and get out of sight. Then work up to the fence and hide behind a tree. Those turkeys will run the fence right to you."

I trotted back the way we'd come then, out of sight of the turkeys, hooked a sharp left into a shallow draw. Ahead of me was a grove of trees at the fence.

Lee and Wade continued down the trail in the direction we'd been traveling. The birds walked and ran in the opposite direction. Right toward me.

The fence ran the edge of the trees, down into little washes and up grassy slopes. The birds would have to run almost 250 yards to get from where I'd last seen them to me, tucked up between the fence and the trunk of a big oak tree.

From where I sat, only 15 yards of fence were visible to the crest of a grassy rise. The birds were on the move. I could hear them in the distance.

I steadied the shotgun against the tree and snugged the butt into my shoulder. With my cheek against the wood, I laid my finger along the outside of the trigger guard, aware of two sounds: the alarm squawks of the turkeys, closer now, and the pounding of my heart.

There. The first gobbler crested the rise. Now another and another. This was no time to measure beard length. It was time to shoot.

With a muzzleloader, you get one shot. You wait for your very best opportunity before you make smoke.

15 yards. The bird on the left. I centered the red bead on top of his head and squeezed the trigger.

Through the cloud of white smoke I saw a dozen birds in the air and the spray of water from sodden feathers.

One bird was on the ground. Before I could reload, he had circled, fallen, regained his feet and then his wings. I reloaded.

For the next ten minutes, we followed, looking for a follow-up shot through the oak trees.

While we walked, I refined the recipe. I'd been using 90 grains of powder. Next time I'd use 100 grains. And I thought number 6 shot would be sufficient for a big tom out to 40 yards, but in a slower-burning muzzleloader, I suppose number 4 or 5 shot might have been a better choice.

In the mossy oak trees across the narrow valley, we found him. When the smoke cleared, the bird was down for good. The gobbler weighed 16-1/2 pounds, sported one-inch spurs and wore an eight-inch beard.

As for hunting turkey with a muzzleloading shotgun, I'll do it again. Even in the storm, I had no trouble keeping the powder dry. With larger shot and a little more propellant, the recipe should prove sufficient to smoke my next wild turkey.

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