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.
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.
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.