Rain and wind sucked heat from my core as the precipitation had super-saturated the bill of my hat forming a steady drip onto the stock of my shotgun. Ominous weather forced most hen turkeys to their nests shortly after pitching from the roost; which was what my father and I had wanted. Driving wind forced us to stress our call volumes to compensate for the lack of auditory clarity, however, the combination of strategy, weather and proper turkey hunting gear worked into our favor as multiple toms circled our position. We ate well that night.
Hunting the wild turkey is both exhilarating and maddening, futile and fruitful. How you use the hunting gear in your vest is what you can control within the pursuit. As you plan for your hunting trips this spring, what are you packing or need to pack in the truck for a week, a banzai weekend or just a quick hunt before work?
Essential Turkey Hunting Gear
Turkey hunting is a game of manipulation and your vest ought to have plenty of pockets for calls. You’re continually teasing the lustful insecurities of a creature whose brain is the size of a golf ball; which is why understanding the calls is a cornerstone part of turkey hunting. Mouth calls, slate calls, and box calls make up the majority of the standard hen turkey calls on the market today.
Mouth calls are the perfect hands-free call and produce much louder and raspier sounds than the slate or box call. However, the learning curve on a mouth call is steep. Slate and box calls fall into the friction call category which means they produce sounds caused by the striker or paddle. These are the easiest to learn and understand within a matter of a few days. Research brands such as Primos, Knight & Hale, and Hunters Specialties to find precisely what works best for you.
Building your turkey gun is as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Just remember the gun you choose is as only as good as your ability to stay calm under pressure. Do you need the fanciest gun on the market with the most expensive shells? No. However, picking the right gun which is most comfortable and allows you to aim down the barrel with ease is critical. What does this mean? Each person is built differently, and at times some shotgun stocks may not allow you to comfortably allow your cheek to bear down smoothly on the ramp and bead. Granted, there are accessories to help alleviate these issues such as different variations of scopes, peep sights, red dot scopes and stock modifications.
The gauge of the gun is also important to scrutinize. If you have a fear of the recoil, don’t over-gun yourself. While a 12-gauge shotgun is a bigger gun and can reach further than its little brother the 20-gauge, don’t be afraid to pick the smaller gun to avoid flinching. A turkey’s head is not big, and a fear-based muscle twitch can be the difference between success and tag soup. Spend time at the range understanding which gauge works most comfortably for you.
Turkey season weather can be as fickle as turkeys themselves and planning for the right mix of thermo-regulating clothing is essential. While we associate spring hunting with pleasant weather, some the best turkey hunting happens when the rain begins. Wear a moisture-wicking base layer with an insulation layer and light jacket and have rain gear in the back of the truck just in case. With tick problems at an epidemic level make sure to wash clothes in Sawyer Permethrin and tuck your pants into your socks. I’d suggest going as far as carrying electrical tape to seal own shirt and pants cuffs.
You’ll spend plenty of time scrunched against the base of a tree. Pick a comfortable seat or vest with quality lumbar support to stay patient. The HAWK Stealth Sling Chair is a perfect choice for hunting in blinds or even at the base of a tree and is affordable. The Alps Outdoorz Grand Slam Turkey Vest has a padded back and fold-up seat with adjustable legs with footpads and fast-locking technology to find the perfect angle when bearing down on your gun.
Footwear is a preference for everyone. Some hunters prefer or even require knee-high snake boots for portions of the country they hunt. Most of the country ought not to require that level of protection, and it is more than sufficient to use low cut hiking boots for traversing miles to find a gobble.
Make sure hiking boots you chose are not just waterproof but are paired with brush gaiters to keep the bottoms of your pants dry in the early morning dew or sloppy, rainy conditions.
Scanning open fields with the naked eye looking for tiny black dots is not the most efficient way to scout long distances. Your optics for hunting whitetails will be more than sufficient. 8×42 or 10×42 is sufficient for glassing fields and stands of timber. I carry a pair of Leupold Arcadias in an ALPS bino-carrier which sits snugly around my chest. Since my style of hunting turkeys involves hiking and calling, I enjoy the benefit to be able to glass a basin or a field first without having to walk through and potentially spook silent turkeys. Unless you plan on hunting turkeys in the Great Plains states where a spotting scope on a window helps you scout several miles. Phone Skope products attached to the eye lens of your spotting scope alleviate eye fatigue and give you the ability to film your gobbler.
The fake news of the turkey world come in the form of rubber or foam turkeys. If you spend enough money you can even use taxidermy as a decoy. Your choice in decoys ought to reflect the style of the hunting you choose. If you are electing to hunt from a set ground blind and can afford to carry additional decoys like full strutting decoys and multiple hens to create a fake flock; choosing decoys with less portability is a perfect option. If your strategy is to cover as many miles as possible, stay light with your choices and use with a foam decoy or a silhouette decoy from companies like the Montana Decoy Company which fold right into your pocket.
Trail camera use for turkey hunting is often overlooked since they are most associated with hunting big game. The principles of having a trail camera are the same, and you want to keep the camera about the same height as you would for a whitetail. Turkeys move in and out of areas every 2-3 days which is why checking and moving cameras periodically is crucial for obtaining the most updated information.
One of my favorite tactics is to use trail camera with time-lapse. Time-lapse options provide the ability to watch large fields for several days at a time to see what time and where mature toms are entering and exiting the fields. Information on the likely when and where a bird will be when the gobbling stops can turn a boring hunt into a successful hunt quickly. The Spypoint Force 10 trail camera has been a reliable tool in my gear for capturing this data.
Using a blind for turkeys is often best used when you know turkeys feed through a specific area regularly or you are hunting with a bow. Rainy days sitting on a field edge comfortably are how you can fill your tag. The most important element of a quality blind is to ensure there is enough space to maneuver your gun or bow comfortably. Most blinds built today also have the dark interiors which make it important to have a black coat or sweatshirt option visually render yourself invisible to the blind. The new Primos SurroundView blind is one of the most advanced blinds on the market utilizing one-way see-through mesh to eliminate the frustrations of traditional fabric used on blinds.
The additional accessory I highly recommend have a place in your turkey vest is hand pruners. Hand pruners tend to be left at home in the garden box, and this is a mistake. The Wicked Hand Pruner from Wicked Tree Gear is another staple item in my vest for clearing small sapling and other small limbs from potential shooting lanes. Using a quality hand pruner saves precious seconds when a gobbler is approaching rather than trying to break a small tree in half and creating additional noise.
The gear you choose for hunting turkeys can be as complicated or as simple as you choose. Build your turkey gear bag before the season to be able to jump at any chance to hunt in a split-second notice. Just don’t forget your shotgun shells when you leave the truck to chase those gobbles in the pre-dawn light.