I can remember when I was in my mid-20s and decided I’d be a turkey hunter. I packed up that spring, headed off to my nearest public tract of land, set up before daylight and began some beautiful (at least to my ears) purring as the sun broke over the horizon.
And, believe it or not, I had a bird gobbling at me. Every time I’d hit the call, that tom would blow the woods up.
I never saw the danged bird.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt with a few died-in-the-wool turkey killers. But I’m now in my mid-40s and still haven’t killed a turkey.
Why? Obviously, I’m just not that good of a caller — a fact that my wife tried to hammer home when I’d pull out a call.
There’s also the fact that I pretty much gave up. Turkeys are apparently way smarter than deer.
And that latter point, I think, is what many newbie turkey killers fail to understand. Sure, they hear the old timers say it, but the bird has the brain the size of a pea — so how smart can they be, right?
So that’s one problem with beginners to the sport.
The other? Failing to understand that more is required than any old call and a shotgun.
To help turkey-hunting novices, we turned to the folks at Bowie Outfitters in Baton Rouge, La., to find out what should be on the list of every hunter.
Here’s a rundown:
1) Call — Joe Loupe, Bowie’s turkey hunting expert, said this is an obvious item that is critically important.
“Everyone needs a good call or two that he or she can use comfortably and well,” Loupe said.
Of course, there are a gazillion choices. Boxes. Slates. Diaphragms. Wingbones. But which one should you choose?
Loupe said he a box call is one of the easiest to learn.
“Because I started with a box call, it is what I often recommend,” Loupe said. “Usually a ‘single box cutter,’ meaning that you play or make hen sounds on only one of the two sides of the box.
“Almost anyone can learn to produce credible hen yelps within a few minutes.”
Good box calls can be found for as little as $30.
His second choice would be a slate or pot call.
“They are relatively easy for the beginner to use for yelping, and often easier than the box for making clucks and purs,” Loupe said.
Pot calls prices start at about $25.
Top choices: Lynch single box cutter, Danny’s little dlate nox, Talking the Talk ceramic pot
2) Turkey vest — OK, so you can use an Army surplus BDU jacket, but I’ll tell you from my limited experience that finding anything in those pockets can be maddening. That’s why vests made specifically for turkey hunting come with pockets of varying sizes; you can put the same equipment in the same pocket every time, so you can easily find it.
“A turkey-hunting vest can be a real advantage, since it adds storage areas for calls and gear in readily accessible compartments made for those items,” Loupe said. “They are camouflaged and can add a good bit of comfort, since they feature drop-down cushions allow you to plop down with some padding and protection.
“Some also have padding along the back that can make waiting against a tree a pleasant experience.”
And turkey vests also have built-in blaze orange panels that can be pulled out when you’re walking out with a gobbler — a necessary safety measure.
3) Camouflaged clothing — I’ve watched turkeys easing through the woods while sitting an elevated deer stand only to see one of the birds’ head pop up, look straight at me for a split second and take off running while sounding the alarm to its flockmates.
Invariably, I find that a small bit of my hunter-orange vest was hanging out of my pocket.
Turkey’s see color, folks. And they don’t stick around to second-guess what that strange color means. So full camouflage is even more important when turkey hunting than when deer hunting.
“You can use what you already own for deer hunting, but you need to have everything camouflaged, including hands and face,” Loupe said. “Since turkey season in Louisiana begins in March and ends in April, the woods and temperatures will change significantly during that time, and many hunters like to match their camo with their surroundings, be they early season grays and browns or late-season greens.”
4) Decoys — Sure, some gobblers will come straight on in to a calling hunter, but those are usually the young, inexperienced birds. Old veterans, however, can often hang up out of range — and decoys can be the one thing that convinces these toms to close the distance.
“Some hunters don’t use a decoy, but my experience is that the majority of them do,” Loupe said. “I certainly use them — usually a hen and jake.”
If he has to pick only one, he goes with the hen every time.
Decoys start in the $20 range, but move up in price depending on the realistic touches. There are even some with battery operated fans.
Top choice: Avien X Breeder Hen
5) Shotgun — Unless you’re going to shoot one with a sling shot, you need a shotgun in which you have confidence.
“Many people use what they already own, but some hunters want guns designed specifically for turkey hunting — in terms of camo, ergonomic design, chamber length and even weight,” Loupe said. “In the last few years, for example, there has been a move toward lighter, shorter 20-gauge guns that pack a lethal punch out past 30 yards but make the last couple of miles out of the woods or hills a lot less tiring.”
6) Turkey shells — Can you kill a turkey with the old No. 6 lead you’ve got laying around the house? Maybe, but these birds are tough. That’s why there are shells manufactured just for turkey hunting.
“There are an increasingly wide array of shotgun shells designed for turkey hunting,” Loupe said. “Typically, they attempt to achieve knock-down power at up to 40 yards. Although some hunters shoot and kill birds at greater distances, an ethical hunter needs to know the effective range limit for hit shotgun and shells.
That means you really have to pattern your shotgun, using the shells with which you plan to hunt.
“The best way to determine (knock-down power) is to pattern your shotgun at 20, 30 and 40 yards,” Loupe said.
Turkey guns usually come with chambers designed to accommodate at least 3-inch shells, but many even allow 3 1/2-inch shells — the better to reach out and knock that bird’s head clean off.
And there are options other than lead, like Hevi-Shots’s tungsten allow, that will really do some damage.