Two dead gobblers on an old wooden fence – a classic photo
The Hero shots
10 tips on getting terrific photos on your next turkey hunt
Photos and story by Brandon Ray
Pictures are my favorite trophies. Feathered mounts gather dust and my dogs like to eat turkey beards, so I cherish good photographs. Considering the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, stale honey bun for breakfast, biting flies and exhausting effort it often takes to finally wrap a tag around a gobbler’s leg, it’s smart to spend extra time behind the lens. With a little thought, quality pictures of your dead bird can bring memories to life. Here are 10 tips on setting up your own memorable shots.
1. The basics
The first and last hour of the day, when the sun is slanting low across the landscape, creates the best light for photos. Put the sun at the photographer’s back. Use fill flash for photos at midday to lighten harsh shadows under ball caps. Take lots of pictures. I’ve taken 50 or more pictures of one dead gobbler. Even with that many shots, a few will stand out as better than the rest.
2. Classic over-the-shoulder
Some pictures are timeless. A mature gobbler draped over the hunter’s shoulder is a memorable pose. Put the hunter in an interesting setting, like crossing a log over a creek or standing in front of vegetation unique to the area.
Brandon Ray with a big spring Rio Grande in Texas. This photo was taken using a tripod and remote control on a solo hunt.
3. Fan spread
Big spurs and long beards get all the attention, but my money is on a big tail for the best photos. Kneel behind the bird and spread your fingers between individual tail feather quills to fan the tail out as wide as possible.
4. Extreme close-up
Details make photographs interesting. On each bird I kill, I take close-up photos of the gobbler’s spurs and beard. A tight shot of an individual feather or track in the mud is also interesting. Place a tape measure next to a beard or spur to give it a sense of scale. The tape measure keeps you honest when recounting how big that bird was years later! A macro lens that is capable of sharp focus on minute details is best. I use a Canon 100mm macro f/2.8 lens.
5. Gear to remember
Set up all the relevant gear — an old box call, the gun and shotgun shells complete with the box showing the exact load and shot size used — to fool a wise old tom next to the dead bird for a few still photos. I set up similar photos of the gun, target and load when I pattern my shotgun. It’s an easy way to remember what calls or load I used to bag that specific bird.
6. Live photos
Ray snapped this strutter’s picture from a ground blind while bowhunting turkeys. He used a hand-held 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
This takes a little more work and an investment in good lenses, but photographs of live birds standing among decoys are always memorable. The go-to lens for this kind of work is a pricey 300mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a tripod, but for really close birds you can get away with a smaller lens and hold it in your hands. Last spring, hunting from a pop-up blind, I used a hand-held Canon 60D camera and a 70-200mm, f/2.8 lens to snap photos of multiple big gobblers spinning around my decoys at 10 yards. After I got enough photos, I set my camera down in the blind and shot one of the big toms with my bow. Before and after photos!
7. Hanging bird
Hanging a dead turkey on a fence is another classic pose. I use wire or leather string to tie the bird’s foot to the top post. Drape the gobbler so his beard is visible and the wings flare out. Old corrals, a rusted gate, wooden wagon, barn door or similar weathered western tack makes an interesting backdrop. On a hunt last spring in Florida, I got some cool pictures of my dead bird on an old moss-covered corral with large oaks draped in Spanish moss in the background.
8. Hunting solo
I take a lot of my turkeys on solo hunts. To get good photos, I carry a small tripod in my backpack and a remote control. I usually pose the dead gobbler over a stump or log, get behind the camera and tripod to frame the shot, and use the small remote to trigger the shutter as I spread out the bird’s tail fan with the other hand. I add flowers and anything colorful from spring around the bird for more vibrant pictures.
Ray washing his hands next to a dead gobbler.
9. Scout locations
The best photos rarely happen by accident. Scout for scenic places to take pictures. An open meadow exploding with colorful spring flowers is an easy spot to remember. I’ve taken multiple turkey photos over the same weathered wooden corral. Pay attention to which light conditions will work best for that spot. Make sure things like power lines, roads or rooftops won’t distract from the setting.
10. People and places
Besides dead bird pictures, take a little time to document where you hunt and with whom. I like pictures of my guide using a box call or a group picture of the whole camp smiling with a dead turkey. Take a picture of the population sign at the edge of town. Document things unique to where you hunt.