It is around this time of year, with just a single weekend standing between me and the opening of turkey season, that I make “The List”.
It is a somewhat redundant exercise, but it makes me feel better about myself.
For months now I’ve been writing about the preparations I’ve been making, the mental duress I’ve been experiencing, and the practice I’ve been doing. But “The List” brings closure, and likewise serves as the primer for the much- awaited start of Ontario’s wild turkey season. Every year the list gets longer, partly out of necessity, partly because packing and planning is an immensely fun part of the ritual.
I started all this with similar exercises for goose camp, and I came by it organically from my father and his numerous hand-written deer camp checklists that used to appear around our home in mid-October every year.
So, here’s some of what happens to be going to the Bruce Peninsula with me next week. Some of the items may duplicate things you’ve taken for years; other things might seem like surplus to requirements. Maybe you’ll even find a nugget or two in my list that you might start taking for yourself.
- Mouth Calls. I have a dozen or more of these stashed on my person or in my vehicle at any given time during the spring. Keep a ready supply, because they aren’t for sharing. My choice? Anything from the good folks at Woodhaven Custom Calls, but currently I’m running the Ninja Ghost more than any other call.
- Box Calls. Yes, I used the plural. The Real Hen from Woodhaven sounds exactly as it is named, but it is not waterproof. I also pack along a very serviceable Primos Wet Box because it runs in the rain and has never failed me yet.
- Friction Call & Strikers. Some hunters pack many pot & peg style calls or other manner of friction calls with them. I have one go-to in my Cherry Classic Crystal, but I have strikers from several companies to help sound like multiple hens. I also pack a push-pin friction call from Quaker Boy, because it is great for doing fighting purrs or soft yelping like tree calls.
- Locator Calls. I have owl, crow, hawk, and gobbler calls in my vest. Turkeys have answered all of them at one time or another.
- A weapon & Ammunition. My 870 is all I have, and it’s all I feel I’d ever need. In past years I’ve used Federal Mag Shok #6, but this year I couldn’t find it so I made the leap to Winchester Longbeard XR #5.
- For notching tags and cleaning gobblers, a good blade should always be handy. Just watch your thumbs.
- Pruning Shears. I love these for making shooting lanes or snipping twigs to construct a little makeshift blind if required.
- Sore feet and blister suck, so a pair of comfortable, properly-fitted boots is essential. Depending where you hunt this may mean hikers, rubber boots, or even snake boots. Both my pairs are from Rocky Boots and I use rubber boots in the early season and lighter hikers with the addition of external Gore Tex gaiters in the later, warmer parts of the year.
- A Turkey Vest. I was lucky enough to win some Cabela’s gift cards over the winter through a work function, and splurged them on a new turkey vest. My Primos Gobbler vest was on its last legs after serving dutifully for nearly a decade, and after doing the research I opted for a Cabela’s Tactical Tat’r 2 vest. I’ve tried other vests from Ol’ Tom and Under Armour, and all are equally solid. Anything with a comfy seat and abundance of pockets fits the bill in my opinion.
- Camo Outerwear. I always used to bring two sets of jackets. One that would handle rain and one that would handle warm spring weather. After last year, when my cousin Luke and I nearly caught a mild dose of hypothermia, I’ve resolved to also bring winter weather clothing as an insurance policy. Get the best, driest, most comfortable camo you can afford.
- Facemasks & Gloves. Again, I use the plural. I usually follow the warm-weather/cold-weather approach that I use for outerwear when it comes to facemasks and gloves, but I also have extras at the ready, because nothing is easier to lose than an absent-mindedly stashed pair of thin mesh gloves or an old facemask that gets hung up and left behind. I take three sets of each, minimum.
- I bring a good camo hat with a mesh back for the warm mornings, and a camo fleece beanie for the cold mornings.
- Because you never know when a poker game will break out or when you’ll make an ill-conceived bet with a fellow hunter and be required to pay off. Also, not every small-town business takes plastic, and there may come a time when you’ll be the one buying snacks at the local gas-station.
- Because once the guns go away, nothing makes your tales of turkey hunting glory (or comedic, flailing, abject failure) more grandiose than a dram or two of the good stuff. I suggest a good single malt, or if you’re into bourbon, the clichéd but still excellent Wild Turkey.
- Because nothing chases a whiskey like a beer. Duh.
- Water bottle. If you’re running & gunning birds in the mid-day sun & have been huffing on a mouth call for six hours, you will be thankful for even a single mouthful of water.
- A camera. From a basic cellphone camera right through to something too expensive to realistically be taken afield, make sure you have something to document your success with. Also, I’ve seen some wacky things in the spring woods, and more than once wished I had a camera close by to document the proof.
I have way more than the above on my personal list, but if I had to pare this down to the “essentials”, I think I could manage to hunt quite comfortably outfitted in camp with the above items.