It is the doldrums of winter here and in the midst of February I cannot recall the last time I saw sunshine. Dreary grey days followed by gloomy nights followed by more dreary gray days have become the norm as we hit the mid-point of winter.
To pass the time and to give myself the illusion that spring is really coming I have taken to the internet in search of turkey hunting equipment. I do not really require anything in this area, but it is nice to look and fantasize about guns, turkey calls, vests, and ammunition; in undertaking this exercise I can say with some certainty that there is an absolute glut of frivolous gear on the market.
But two items that have become ubiquitous in modern turkey hunting are the ‘turkey-specific” choke tube and specialized ‘turkey loads’. I’m completely fine with these pieces of equipment because they ‘tick all the boxes’ I look for in effective pieces of gear. A choke is generally easy to install, both pieces are simple to use in tandem, and they promote clean ethical kills when used in appropriate situations.
However it is that last caveat that, ironically, makes an ideal tool for some modern turkey hunters an absolute nightmare in the hands of others.
Are extra-full, aftermarket turkey chokes and super-charged shells mandatory equipment to kill gobblers? Of course they aren’t. Many gobblers have fallen to hunters in the years before custom chokes were de rigueur, and countless hunters in the modern age shoot fixed-choke shotguns by necessity or personal choice. The broad, bronze tailfans of many, many wily gobblers adorn my father’s garage walls alone, and he has only ever shot them with simple copper-plated lead from the improved cylinder choke in his glossy, 1960’s vintage Remington 1100. For him it is at least, in part, a fundamental belief that he does not need to buy species-specific shotguns. I’m sure he’s not alone in this.
Hunters on a budget or with a traditionalist aesthetic aside, new loads and chokes are effective, without a doubt. At extended ranges (a nebulous concept I’ll attempt to define below) they deliver more shot on a turkey’s head and neck, and thus by extension more opportunity for a quick, ethical kill with minimal suffering to the bird.
I’m all for that.
But what of the nonsense I’m now seeing about regular and consistent 70 yard kills? I saw someone online actually admit to killing a turkey at 110 yards using a certain choke/ammo combination; a feat made all the more miraculous given that this person was fortunate enough to actually witness a gobbler having a massive stroke simultaneous to their shot, because that is the only way I can connect the two events which are so obviously unrelated.
Or this person is a stinking, filthy liar. The hunting community has its share of those too.
But overall that seems to be the mantra now. Longer is better. Take the long shot. If he hangs up, bust him. Extend your capabilities, yada, yada, yada. At the risk of being more unpopular than I already am, this is a generally stupid and occasionally dangerous. Of course the entities marketing this all have their own disclaimers either stated explicitly or through their sponsored mouthpieces in the industry.
“Know your gun’s capabilities and practice often.”
“Know your ranges accurately.”
“If you’re unsure, don’t take the shot.”
“Don’t take borderline or risky shots.”
And other palliative pabulums meant to absolve them from any liability for actually manufacturing a product that emboldens hunters everywhere to practice less, take longer shots, and rely less on accurate ranging of their birds.
Now, I’m far from perfect and I’m well aware that errors in judgment happen, we are all fallible beings after all. I once underestimated my range on a hard-gobbling jake by more than ten yards and without a doubt having an extra full choke bought me the margin for error that made that bird flop. But my self-imposed threshold was 35 yards, when I paced off 44 steps I quietly swore at myself for having made an error. Likewise, I was thankful for the wiggle room afforded me by the shotgun’s extra-tight constriction and the swarm of lead #6 pellets that went downrange.
But super-full aftermarket chokes and ultra-long range loads are not being marketed as ‘insurance’ against misjudged distances. They are being actively sold and touted as a way to kill gobblers once considered hung-up, henned up, or stubborn. All this to the detriment, in my mind, of the concept of ethical distances and ethical kills.
There’s a grace to calling longbeards in close. There are nuances in turkey hunting that can be learned from having birds near you. I would argue for all my days that the thrill of having a bird at ten steps outweighs the thrill of using aerospace-grade material to smash his brains in from another (figurative) zip code.
So is it the many-headed hydra of consumerism driving this? Is it simple laziness? Is there an element of chest-thumping machismo at reaching out like Thor himself and hammering a gobbler dead from over half a football field away? Is it merely a fashion trend? In truth it is all of the above to a degree. So what can you do, other than just piss and moan on the internet like I’m doing?
Have some integrity. Be patient. Watch the gobblers and call them in close. Shooting, wounding, and possibly not recovering a bird at unheard of distances is a far worse alternative than letting him walk and hunting him another day. Shooting, missing, and educating a bird is not much better and just makes them more prone to hanging up at extended ranges in the future, creating a vicious cycle of warier birds and the perceived requirement for even longer range ballistics.
Frustration can make a hunter prone to wishful thinking around distances, skills, and equipment capabilities.
There is nothing to lose at holding yourself to a hard 40 yard threshold. It cannot be legislated and it cannot be mandated, but it can be idealized and celebrated.
And it should be.