Confessions of a Turkey Hunting Gearhead—Part Two

Having covered the apparel and outerwear aspects of what I take into the turkey woods, let’s talk about the fun stuff: equipment, ordnance, and accessories.
As I said in the earlier post on this topic, I take an unbelievable amount of equipment with me when I go turkey hunting; the challenge is deciding what to use and when.  Sometimes you have to just go with what is working on a given day, and other times I find that I need to switch tactics and be agile.
Shotgun, Choke, and Shells
The item I can say that I use the least is perhaps the most important; my shotgun.  I carry my first shotgun with me into the field every season.  It is a Remington 870 Express chambered for 3” shells.  I received it for Christmas many years ago when it became apparent that I was going to take up hunting.  It was the best Christmas ever.
Last year I broke down and bought a new aftermarket synthetic stock and fore-end from Remington in a Mossy Oak Break-Up pattern.  I had previously experimented with a variety of other camouflage options, including the no-mar gun stock tape that many retailers sell.  In my experience, even after following the package instructions meticulously the tape left residue on my gun.  Clean up of this residue was lengthy and at the expense of some very minor damage to the finish of the factory stock and fore-end, so I decided that in the name of convenience to make the switch.  I’ve attached a Rhino-Rib sling from Kolpin as well.
I find that my shotgun patterns Federal’s 3’ 1 ¾ ounce #6 Mag Shok shells with the Flitestopper wad the best.  Using BassPro Shops Redhead turkey pattern board I found that at 40 yards I still had slightly over 90% coverage in a 30” circle, with no major holes or gaps in the pattern.  This all comes out the business end of my 870 through a Hunter’s Specialties Undertaker extra-full choke tube.  I got lucky in a way because I chose this set up arbitrarily and it just so happened to work out.  Since I’m not a competition shooter and don’t really feel inclined to stretch my gun out past 40 yards at turkeys (although I’d have at least two more birds in the bag historically if I felt differently about that) I have not had to spend additional money on testing a variety of choke/ammunition combinations.
Calls
This is my favourite part of turkey hunting.  I love owning calls, practicing on them, becoming semi-proficient at them, and then using them in the field.  One thing that will become immediately apparent below is that I show no brand loyalty in my calls.  I own calls out of necessity, obsession, and based on what I think sounds the best.  Your choices may, and likely will, differ from mine.
I went about turkey calling all backwards when I decided to get into the sport.  Almost all turkey publications and turkey gurus (self-professed or otherwise) would recommend that a beginner start out on a box call, a simple push-pin style call, or a the most a single-reed mouth call.  I can say that I agree wholeheartedly, primarily because I, in true masochist style, suffered for a year of trying to master a raspy four-reed Old Boss Hen mouth call from Quaker Boy that barely fit in my mouth.  I ended up trimming the tape and finally found a good fit.  Luckily the year in question was the year before I went out and got my turkey licence, so by the first day I went afield I had gotten pretty good with it.  The year after that I bought a four pack from Hunter’s Specialties that also had to be trimmed to fit.  Once I had the sizing down, they worked really well, and I called my first turkey in to 25 yards with an HS clear double-reed.
Right now I carry four mouth diaphragms.  Three of them are from Knight & Hale because I find that those fit my palette most comfortably without requiring the tape to be trimmed.  I carry a clear double-reed, which I find is good for soft tree-yelping and plain yelps; it is also a call that I can crank the volume on indefinitely and this versatility makes it the one call that I most likely have between cheek and gum for most of the season.  I also carry one Knight & Hale triple-reed call and another four-reed, both with various cuts and notches.  The four-reed has a bat-wing cut and I like it for calm days when volume is not as much of a concern but long-distance cutting is my priority.  The triple reed has a V-cut and it has a higher pitch for slightly windier days.  I also find that I can purr like a fiend on this call, so when I want to switch things up and throw a fighting purr sequence in my calls, I pop this one in.
The fourth call is a M.A.D. calls Billy Yargus Signature Series four-reed cutter call that a friend won and subsequently donated to me, although I almost never use it.  It is plenty raspy, and I did use it in a competition in 2010, but it is just slightly too large for the roof of my mouth.  On the plus side, this call is ideal for gobbling on so I do carry it in my vest in case I find that one day when I need to gobble challengingly to a hung up gobbler (safely and on private land of course).
I carry a Primos Wet Box box call and cannot say enough good things about it.  I only have limited hunting days in a year, primarily because I don’t live in a rural area and the landowners immediately near my house in Cambridge, Ontario are not fussy on allowing permission to people who show up at their door in February or March.  This all means that I’m travelling to hunt so if it is raining, I’m still going out in basically any weather short of a full-on thunderstorm.  I’m not fussy on chalking box calls and then putting them in Wonderbread bags so I picked up this waterproof box call, and waterproof is an understatement.  This call has been so soaked that I thought it would float away, and through it all it has never slipped or squeaked once.  I’m not famous enough to have a binding endorsement deal with anyone (Hello, Primos?  Call me…) but I would certainly recommend this call to anyone.
In 2009 I finished second in the men’s open division at the Strathroy Great Canadian Turkey Call and won, as part of a large bag of swag, a Quaker Boy Trifecta friction call and a Quaker Boy Easy Yelper push pin call.   The push-pin is great for close in finishing work to any gobblers that I know can’t see me.  It took some off-season practice but I can now run this call in my left hand while having my shotgun ready.  If I was more mechanically inclined I’d probably rig up some pull-string contraption and affix it to my shotgun’s fore-end, but I’m not so I haven’t.
The Trifecta has three surfaces (aluminum, slate, and ‘cordy’) that all make different tones when played.  I found the factory striker that came with it was a bit of a uni-tasker so I picked up a three-pack of strikers from Primos.  I find that each works best with a specific surface (aluminum surface/acrylic striker, slate surface/purple heart striker, etc) but what I like best is the option to make many different turkey sounds with one call.  I lost the small square of conditioning paper that came with the call so I use a medium/fine-grit sand paper to rough up the surfaces of the strikers and the call.  In 2010 I finished third in the same contest (clearly my calling skills are on the decline) and only won Quaker Boy mouth calls, which as I said don’t really fit my mouth very well.  I used them as Christmas gifts for some hunting buddies…my wife refused to accept them as her stocking stuffers.
In terms of locator calls…let’s just say that I may have become a victim of marketing.  I have three locator calls, all of which have never worked once.  The HS Palmer’s Hoot Tube sounds just as it should.  Just for fun last year I used it on a squirrel that was puttering around my set up: the squirrel’s reaction was one of the funniest things I had ever seen and reinforced my knowledge that it in fact did sound like a barred owl.  No early morning turkeys have responded to my owling though.
My Primos Old Crow call does a great job of calling crows, but to date has not made a single turkey gobble, even when I know there is one nearby.  Most frustratingly, after I’ve called in crows, I’ve had turkeys shock gobble at the real thing, but not my imitations.  Can’t say my self-esteem wasn’t a bit dented by that.
I bought a Quaker Boy Screaming Hawk call that also has done nothing except call in Red-Tailed hawks.  I used it once on public land in the Simcoe County Forests near a Northern Goshawk nest.  Big mistake; I’m lucky to still have a scalp.
I have so far resisted the temptation to buy any gobble-shaker calls, gimmicky hen-calling contraptions, or anything so handcrafted and expensive (think very attractive exotic wood pot calls or box calls) that if I lost it I would need to consider filing an insurance claim on it  in order to recoup my financial losses.  But I’m still young, give it time.
Accessories
The following items all find their way into my turkey vest at one time or another throughout the season: water bottles, handheld pruners, camera, small headlamps, and sunglasses.  In terms of accessories I only have three mainstays.
The first is my knife, or more accurately, two knives.  I have a classic Buck 110 folding lockback knife that was a gift for my 15th birthday; just in time for deer season.  It is a timeless piece of cutlery and it has done everything for me from notching out tags and cleaning waterfowl to gutting and skinning deer to taking the beard and tail fan off a turkey.  It is as sharp as ever and a large scar on my left thumb from skinning a buck in 2008 is testament to that.  If it has one knock on it, it is that it is slightly too long for most turkey hunting applications.  With that in mind in 2009 I bought a Gerber LST drop point that is slick as all get out for precision jobs.  Like the Buck 110 it is also wickedly sharp, but I know that my clumsy hands will one day lose it in the forest because it is camouflage patterned.  At least I won’t be surprised at this eventuality.
The next is a small blaze orange wallet that holds all my necessary licenses, registrations, permits, tags, and identification.  I usually wrap this in a small zip-top baggie because I want to keep it dry before I bury it in some godforsaken pocket in my vest for the season.  This is obviously of vital importance, and the color reflects my fear of losing it.
Lastly are my decoys.  I bought a Flambeau Breeding Flock set in 2008 at the Toronto Sportsman’s Show consisting of two hens and one jake.  The hens are upright and feeding respectively, while the jake is frozen permanently into what is called an “Intruder” pose.  If I’m only carrying one of them I stuff it into the back “game pocket” of my turkey vest.  If I’m bringing the whole crew, as I am sometimes apt to do, then I have a Redhead decoy bag that they all fit quite nicely into.  I’ve had these decoys be completely ignored, and I’ve had them generate some interest, so I can’t make any claims at their efficacy.  What I will say is that relative to a strutting tom decoy (which I have never hunted over so I have no opinions on that front) they were a cost-effective, three-for-the-price-of-one kind of deal.  Which, based on the amount of calls I need to budget for, is a good thing.
So there you have it, as requested that (in two parts) is what I take with me into the forest and fields each spring.  I know I may have skirted the “what would Shawn recommend?” portion of your question on most fronts, but that is only because I can’t say my choices in gear are any better than your own or that what I say will lead to success or failure in your turkey hunting career, especially since I’ve failed far more often than I’ve succeeded.  But I looked good doing it.
Really, all I’ve done is find the things that work the best for me and then stuck with it, which is really my best advice for anyone doing any kind of hunting.  So this, in the end, is a bit of a cop-out cliché I guess.  Sorry…and good hunting.

NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet in the Barrie Area

The Barrie Boss Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 5th Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at the Army, Navy, Air Force Club in Barrie, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

This is my hometown banquet and I’ve been to a few of these in the last few years.  The Army, Navy, Air Force Auxiliary always hosts a great meal, there are some great prizes to be won, and it is a chance to share some stories and time with other hunters.  If you are in the Barrie and are interested in attending, details on pricing and how to get your tickets can be obtained by contacting Jim Terry via email.

The Pines Gobbler

I do not know how old the Pines Gobbler was in 2009, but three or four years might have been a safe guess.  I did not doubt that he has been chased by many hunters, a lot of whom were probably better than me, and for aperiod in 2009 he became my white whale.
I first saw him on the Saturday before the 2009 opener, while I was out scouting.  He crossed a road fifteen yards from my parked car, and I could tell than that he was better than average.  He was tall and his beard was thick and would push double digits; his spurs looked like they already had a good hook.  But most distinctive of all is his gobble.  After crossing the road that early April morning he began to sound off in a stand of hardwoods at every hen turkey, crow and blue jay.  His was a full, throaty holler that is unmistakable to me now.  He roosted in a stand of pines that no one I know had permission to hunt in.  After flying down he’d ramble around an area of a few square miles, but almost nightly he would return to roost in the fobidden pine stand.
I saw him again on the second day of the 2009 season while I was driving home from an afternoon hunt with my cousin.  The old tom was across the road from his roost pines and fifty yards out from a stand of trees in a field that my family owns.  When we slowed down to look he began walking towards the field edge and out of sight.  We devised a quick plan and looped the block to set up an ambush for him.  Things looked good, but when we got to our spot he was gone.  He did not gobble or putt, he had simply vanished.  We called and called but he remained mute.  I momentarily pondered whether or not we had been hallucinating.
Two weeks later I was in the same neck of the woods, this time with my brother.  It had rained throughout the morning and no one had seen a gobbler, which made for an early end to the morning hunt.  When the rain stopped we prepared to head out and our Dad told us that he had seen a big gobbler in the pasture immediately adjacent to that off-limits pine stand.  We double-timed it to a spot parallel but distant from where the gobbler had been seen and slowly walked to set up.  When we were not twenty yards into the woods he gobbled and seconds later he thundered again, closer.  We rushed to set up and as I faced west my brother faced east.  Webegan calling to him; every time he answered, he came closer and closer until only a single ridge stood between him and us.  If he came directly over the ridge or around it to the west, I would have had a thirty yard shot.  If he came around the east side, my brother would have had the same.  The gobbler foiled us both when he grew bored and walked straight away from our set up.  During his escape my brother had glimpsed a couple of hens with him.  A tense, silent hour later we gave up, and circling the block by car we saw no sign of him.  Again he had disappeared.  I was not sure quite what we had done wrong, but it was now abundantly clear that this gobbler was going to be very tough to kill.
That night was spent at a memorial celebration for a hunting companion who had died before turkey season but I heard through others at the event that the gobbler had roosted in the pine stand again.  I set my mind on harvesting him.  Three and a half hours of fitful sleep stood between me and the day that I was determined to make the one when I would get the Pines Gobbler.  The plan was to get in very early, get as close as I could without spooking the bird and then wait for him to fly down.  Despite being so wily, he was laughably predictable and almost every morning he walked out of the pines, crossed the narrowest point of the pasture, and went into the woods I had hunted the day before with my brother.  I made a promise to myself that I would not call once.
The morning began badly.  While getting dressed, the button broke off of the only pair of hunting pants I had brought, forcing me to wear my belt extra tight.  When I parked my car at 4:30am I accidentally set the car alarm off and it blared for twenty seconds while I fished for the keys that I had buried in my turkey vest.  I was now positive that every bird in the township was spooked and that I may as well go back to bed, but when he gobbled on the roost I knew I had to try him.  Ten minutes later, and well ahead of sunrise, I reached a finger of cedars that was directly south from his pine tree roost and I set to making myself invisible by hunkering back into the cedar edge so that only my gun barrel was poking out.  Just over 100 yards away he gobbled constantly until fly down and it took all my energy to not yelp ever so softly on my diaphragm.  I heard him hit the ground just before six and I steadied my shotgun on my knee.
For half an hour after fly down the woods were silent and nothing came into the pasture.  I worried that he had heard me or my car alarm and simply gone the other way.  A deep depression in the pasture stood between my set up and the gobbler’s roost, but it was the hen that I saw first.  Initially I could only see her head bobbing up and down, but within twenty minutes she had fed to within five yards of my set up.  I have never sat as as still as I did in that moment; if she busted me then it would have been game over early.  As she walked past me into the woods the gobbler started sounding off again. Obviously while I was watching her, he had crossed into the pasture.  At first I could only see the white of his head and the top of his tail fan as he came out of the low spot and up the hill in full strut.  He was walking right in the hen’s tracks and it looked as though he would finally make a fatal mistake.  Of course, that was the jinx.
At sixty yards he stopped and looked at me, or at least he looked in my direction.  While he stood stock still for ten minutes I tried not to blink or breathe; my heart hammered in my ears and my stomach was in a knot.  He took six more steps and stopped again, and again he stood as still and as silent as a statue for what seemed like an eternity.  The morning sun shone on him and he was all bronze, gold and green iridescence.  My legs cramped and my shoulders trembled at the strain of holding the gun at the ready; it had been almost two hours since this saga started and I had not moved more than six inches since I had sat down in the pre-dawn.  Suddenly, he hammered a huge triple gobble and began to trot away, cackling, gobbling and leaving me stunned and shaking my head.  I was emotionally gutted and as my two hour adrenaline rush subsided I realized I was physically exhausted.  For forty-five more minutes I could hear him walking away and gobbling, and I wracked my brain for what I had done to spook the bird.  Deep down though, I knew that there was nothing I could have done differently.  It was simply that the Pines Gobbler was better than me that day.  He intimately knew every stone, branch, and leaf in the area and even though I was hidden from the hen, I could not elude his wary stare.  I paced off roughly how far away I thought he had been before he left the scene and estimated him to be 50 yards away.  Should I have shot?  Maybe.  Does it matter now?  Not really.
Defeated, I snuck out of the area and to my car.  As I drove home I saw him one last time, standing on a hill a few lots north from where I had last seen him, and he looked as regal far out in the open as he did in the pasture.  Where he stood there was no way to get to him and although I am a little ashamed to admit it, part of me just did not want to hunt him any more that morning anyhow.  He had just beaten me soundly and my ego needed a rest.
My only hope was that he would make it through the rest of 2009 and the 2010 winter.  I should have been careful what I wished for.

NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet in the Halton Area

The Halton Hills Longspurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 1st Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at Granite Ridge Golf Club in Milton, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

For details on getting your tickets, please see the attached images for contact and ordering information.

This is the Halton Chapter’s inaugural Hunting Heritage Banquet and I encourage anyone in the Peel-Halton region to go on out and support them.  I’ve been to a few Hunting Heritage Banquets in my time and they are always a good time and a nice opportunity to have a nice meal with other hunters and their families, enter a few raffles, bid on some auction items, expand your hunting network, and share some stories and experiences.

This is a great chance to support this chapter in their very first banquet!

Hunting. Not Hype.