Category Archives: hunting gear

The List

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.

Gear Review: RNT Short Barrel Duck Call

The first duck call I ever ran was a wooden single reed Olt that my Dad gave me when I was eight.  I finished second in a youth calling contest with it in 1990, but then drifted away from duck calling and into other things during my juvenile and adolescent years.  When I dove headlong into waterfowl it was goose hunting that I fell in love with and while most of my disposable income has been funneling its way into goose calls (see the post previous to this for more on that), I’ve long been considering a solid, high quality single reed duck call for my lanyard.

The colours on this call are just gorgeous.
The colours on this call are just gorgeous.

For the last decade or so various average double reed polycarbonate duck calls have worked serviceably on my lanyard and names like Buck Gardner, Knight & Hale, Zink, and Haydel’s have had their chance.  They’ve been passable but not without limitations, and this week it was time to move into high-performance territory.

Now this is not to say the above brands were not good calls, and I’ve been particularly fond of my Red Leg mallard from Haydel’s and will likely keep it on my string, but after testing countless calls, I made the move to RNT, and specifically to a single reed Short Barrel in bocote wood.  The call is, in a word, impressive.  I tried other single reed calls in the RNT line in the lead up to this purchase and two weeks ago I found myself holding an acrylic Daisy Cutter and the bocote Short Barrel in my left and right hands respectively.  I was filling the local BassPro store with racket as I sawed away hail calls, single quacks, and feed calls on each one.  I ultimately settled on the Short Barrel for reasons I will explain below.  As always these are my personal findings and preferences and I’d encourage anyone to do what I did and try out as many calls from as many manufacturers until you find what sounds and works best for your style of calling.

As I said, RNT won the day on this one, and I’ll start by saying that their ‘brand’ definitely had a hand in this decision.  Located in the heart of (and some would the epicenter of) southern USA duck country, RNT operates out of Stuttgart, Arkansas which happens to be where the World Duck Calling Championships are held annually (in case you’ve been living under a rock for a while).  But more than their location, I’ve always respected their no-nonsense, non-gimmicky approach to waterfowling.  These guys just make duck calls and hunt ducks in a straightforward, no BS kind of way and that is appealing to me.

It doesn’t hurt that they churn out some of the purest-sounding duck calls on the market either, and the Short Barrel is no exception.

On first run, it was obvious that this was the call I had to have on my lanyard come this fall.  I have a lot of ‘loud’ duck calls so windy day range or aggressive hail calling was not something I was worried about; instead I wanted something a little more true sounding for close-in work and finesse, and that is something the Short Barrel has in spades.  The compact size and mellow sound of the wood puts a smooth edge on the mid-range and soft quacks, while feed calls roll out of this little call with ease.  It can still get loud, but not in that ringing, nasty-edged way that an acrylic call would be apt to.  The risk here is that when blown too hard, this call does seem to squeak and lock up.  In short it requires a lighter touch than I may be used to, so of course practice has been the key for the last few weeks.

The call is new but even now it is surprisingly responsive, so I’m chomping at the bit to hear how it sounds once I’ve broken bit in somewhat.  As it stands currently, this call descends down a five note scale cleanly, and changes speeds with only the most subtle variations in air pressure.  Speaking of pressure, absolutely no back pressure is required to run this call through all the sounds a hunter would require; the mellow tone of the bocote softens the feed calls and quacks nicely.  I have found that applying back pressure only muffles the resonance that the Short Barrel has naturally built into it.

The bottom-end sounds are mellow from the bocote wood, but the call can be charged up for aggressive calling as well.
The bottom-end sounds are mellow from the bocote wood, but the call can be charged up for aggressive calling as well.

Now of course, the sound is the key here, but it should be noted that the Short Barrel in bocote looks damn sexy as well.  The wood has a dark chocolate grain that runs through a caramel-colored body and the call is completed with a low-gloss band.  I have also always loved the smell of wooden duck calls and this one is no different; something about the smell of wood call takes me back to my childhood of learning to call ducks on Dad’s classic Olt call.

Since it is the off-season right now, the one part missing from this review is field performance, but that just means in a month or so I get to write about this call again, so that’s a plus.  In the meantime, I’ll just be sitting in the basement, practicing and rasping away on this new toy of mine and waiting for the October morning when I get to slide on my waders, find an out of the way spot in the long grass, and wait for the whistling of mallard wings.

When it happens, I think the Short Barrel will be ready for the spotlight.

On the Lanyard: Goose Call Edition

In the years since I became an “independent” (read: unaccompanied adult) hunter, I have accumulated goose calls at a near staggering rate.  I’m not on the level of calling myself a collector yet, only because I define a collector as someone who owns more of something than they could conceivable utilize.

I’ve conversed with goose call manufacturers and collectors, as well as men and women with dozens and dozens (and in a few cases, over a hundred) of goose calls, and even they admit that there is no way they could possibly hunt with them all.  Some are showpiece or limited edition calls, others just calls that look nice on a mantle, while others still are ‘working calls’ that sound exceptional and see their share of time in the blinds, fields, pits, and swamps that we waterfowlers frequently skulk about in.

To date, all my calls have been ‘working’ calls, and both through the expansion of my goose calling abilities, as well as through necessities of space and finances, I’ve been turning my inventory of calls over these past twenty years by selling or trading older calls for either newer calls themselves or more frequently, for the capital required to purchase more goose calls.  I’ve owned several styles, tried dozens more, and from my Dad’s wooden Olt call, through to my current tools I could tell stories and share tidbits about them all; many of the older calls that I have not traded or sold sit in my gun cabinets and ammo lockers, or hang dusty on lanyards in my closet.  With all that said, this piece is going to focus on the three calls that will be residing on my lanyard this coming September.  All opinions here are my own, and the companies listed below have not had any contact with me regarding their products with respect to these reviews.


Super Mag

The first truly ‘custom’ short reed goose call I ever owned was my Super Mag.  It has been the last thing a lot of geese have heard since I started using it in 2005.  For years before I made the plunge into the custom acrylic short-reed market, I had been honing my skills on a variety of goose calls, from polycarbonate short reeds bought for $25 at the local hardware store to more elaborate flute-style calls bought online.  Those calls were important in learning how to run a goose call and to make the requisite sounds needed for hunting, but they all lacked ‘something’.  Some did not have enough high-note snap to be effective on windy days, while others lacked precision and realistic tone on the low moans and lay-down calls needed to finish geese close in.


The second I took the Super Mag out of its package, I could tell it had three things going for it.  First, it was sexy looking, with a polished silver band wrapped around amber acrylic that shared its colour with a well-aged bourbon.  Second, I could tell that it was solidly made by someone who hunted geese; simple minimalist lines fit comfortably in the hand and it was well-balanced.  Third, and most important, it sounded like a real goose.  For the first time I had a call that could flat out scream on a windy day, but was subtle enough to work low end moans and growls for when the birds were just about to commit.

It took a lot of practice to re-learn how to blow a short-reed goose call, but luckily it also came with a cassette tape (it was 2005 after all) with instructions from Tim Grounds and his son, Hunter.  If it had a downfall, my only complaint about the Super Mag was that it took (and still does take) a lot of air to get it running correctly.  The reed is set up quite stiff, and while this does make for absolutely realistic low end calling and crisp, snappy honks and clucks, you need to work hard if you need to run it consistently for a long time. That said, Tim & Hunter Grounds will custom tune any call you send them, and I won’t ever forget the day I came home from work and found a message from Tim himself on my home answering machine.  I had sent my call to them because I had managed to crack the reed near the end of the 2010 hunting season. That evening I was like a star-eyed fanboy when I called him back and we talked for ten minutes about the call and how I wanted it tuned with the new reed.  The call has been money ever since, and I’m now obsessive about my reeds and ensuring they are taken of.

On a personal note, this call is still my go-to, both because you never forget your first and because it is just a blue-collar workaholic call.  I have had bloody hands on it, it has been scratched and worn, I’ve used it on freezing winter mornings, and I even slammed it in a car door once.  It has character and it still sounds great.

Tim Grounds Championship Calls

PO Box 359, 14331 Prosperity Road

Johnson City, Illinois


Phone:  (618) 983-5649


The Goose Noose

During the 2014 off-season, I resolved to get my hands on a nice wooden short reed goose call, primarily because we had taken to hunting water now and then and I felt that the acrylic Super Mag created an unwanted echo.  I tried calls from Zink, Buck Gardner, and RNT before I found this hidden gem at my local (and newly-opened) Cabela’s store.

From the second I started blaring on it in the aisles at the store, I noticed that it had a dimension that my Super Mag did not have.  It was mellow, smooth, a little bit understated but truly goosey, especially on the moans and low end calls.  It still could run at some pretty high volumes, but while the Super Mag could plead and scream with ease and only worked the nice low end calls with some serious back-pressure, this call moaned and barked with less air and less back pressure, and even though the spit-notes and hail calls came out with a more mellow tone, it took a fraction of the air that my Tim Grounds call used.


I had not heard of Lynch Mob Calls before that day, so I went home and did a bit of research.  Satisfied with what I found, the next day I was back buying the call, and I began obsessively practicing on it.  I found YouTube clips, I looked for articles, and I ran it nightly.  Lynch Mob Calls has since replaced this model with one they call the Game Over, so in a way I guess I do have a bit of a collector’s item on my hands.

What can I say about this call?  It has great mid-to-low end tone and on calm days or over water it is deadly.  After huffing for nearly a decade on my Super Mag it took some practice to scale back the airflow so that I did not overblow it on honk, clucks, or comeback calls, but once that was mastered this call runs slick, deep sounds that are ‘big goose’ all the way.  I had more success with it in the later October and early November hunts, but even in the early September season it fooled resident Canada geese often.

Lynch Mob Calls

9032 Bay Creek Road

Erie, Michigan


Phone: (734) 848-2501


Shorty Express SS (Signature Series)

I spend a lot of time in the local BassPro Shops store, and for a long time I had coveted this call.  It has clean, sharp lines, the polished band glows, and I flat out love the colour.  I did not love that it was priced in excess of $180, and I tried it over and over again on multiple trips to the store in attempts to convince my fiscally-responsible side to make the impulse purchase.  Every time I had to put it back. Then in 2014, I stopped in to BassPro on my way up to the early November deer hunt to pick up some scent eliminator for one of the guys in camp.  On a whim I cruised by the duck and goose showcase, and I was taken aback.

The call was marked down to $45.99.  I was sure it was a mistake.  I located the floor staff and asked them to take a look in their inventory system.  The price was correct, and they had one left.  So I bought it.  I was more or less done with waterfowl for the year and I was focusing on deer hunting from then out, but I noodled with it for the evenings in deer camp and then even more during the long cold lonely winter up here in Ontario.  It fell out of use for the bulk of turkey season, but I picked it up again recently and have actually been so focused on it that I have not even picked up and practiced my other two goose calls.


The Shorty SS is a dark “mallard” acrylic and it just looks downright sexy.  It has nice lines with a curvy, rounded barrel.  The insert is a little narrow in the hand for my liking but it is not uncomfortable.  In terms of its sound it falls in between the Super Mag and the Goose Noose for volume and tone.  It makes solid goose-talk from top end to bottom end requiring just slightly more air than the Goose Noose, but almost any sound can be made using less back-pressure and expenditure than with my Super Mag.  Being an acrylic call, I find that it has a tendency to slide into the ‘high’ end easily, so in the same fashion as the Goose Noose I have to use caution not to over blow it and cause it to ‘squeal’, but it barks and double-clucks like nobody’s business.  I am very much looking forward to running this call on some of the resident Bruce County geese in six weeks.

Sean Mann Outdoors

555 Marlan Drive

Trappe, Maryland


Phone: 1-800-345-4539

A November Gearhead-Gear to Take on a Deer

So just shy of one week out from the start of the open gun season here in many areas of Ontario, and my inbox is loaded (okay five messages…) with requests from across North America for a Gearhead post.  So here it is.  Same standard Gearhead disclaimer applies, but even more vigorously in this sense, since of all the types of hunter I profess to be, ‘deer hunter’ is the area in which I have had the least (statistical) success.  That is, I guess, if you are one of those people who measures success in body count.

Firearms & Ammunition
On the Thanksgiving weekend when I was fifteen my Dad took me back up to a hollow behind the farm in Lion’s Head.  In the early fall woods we walked to the forest’s edge with a piece of split firewood about twelve inches long and six inches wide; we sat the would-be target on its narrow end up against the base of a tree.  Then we walked sixty yards or so up the shallow grade of a hill and I sat down on an old tire.  With my legs crooked up and my elbows on my knees  I used my gangly , teenaged arms to line up the peepsight on Dad’s Model 14 .30 Remington pump-action rifle with a knot just right of center on the target.  Dad had put one shell in the gun; I clicked the safety off and tightened my finger around the trigger.  With a POW! the round-nosed bullet split the still fall afternoon and I watched the piece of wood all at once jump, shudder, and slowly fall forward.  With silky smoothness the recoil had already worked the pump action a quarter of the way back and I completed the motion, savouring the smell of burnt powder and the metallic “sna-chink!” of the gun’s action.  We went up and looked at the wood (which was almost split in two) and Dad remarked something pleasant like “If you can hit that from where you were, you ought to be able to hit a deer in the front shoulder.”  Then I got off the tire and Dad put a broken down cardboard box inside it.  He told me to go halfway down the hill, which I did, while Dad carried the tire to the top of the hill.  He arrived at a spot perpendicular to me and well out of my line of fire, at which point he called down for me to put three shells in the gun and that he was going to roll the tire down the hill.  I was to shoot for the piece of cardboard and keep shooting until the gun was empty.  Dad started it rolling with his hands and gave it a kick as it got away from him and at about thirty or forty yards I opened up, working the action smoothly and evenly…but again that action is so worked in that I think it leverages a lot of the recoil to do the lion’s share of the pumping for me.  I think I hit the tire once and the cardboard twice as the target hopped and bounded along unevenly down the hill.  With that Dad and I were satisfied that I could handle the power and kick of the gun.  A few weeks later, on the second hour of my first ever deer hunt, the .30 Remington swatted down a yearling doe and I was officially a deer hunter.
That Model 14 is all mine now, and it has come with me on every deer hunt I’ve made over the last seventeen years.  I have an unhealthy affection for that gun.  Its early 20th century vintage, smooth, glowing lines, and ease of maneuverability in the heavy brush I sometimes find myself in have never failed me.  I may be tempting fate to boast that it has always shot straight (even when I haven’t) and that it has never jammed or acted up on me.  Simply put, I love that gun, and the fact that ammunition for it has been off the market for many a year only means that the hand-loaded, 180-grain rounds I sift through it once in a while are all the more meaningful.  It is a brush-gun and it wields that title proudly and performs-as-billed with some aplomb.
I also have a synthetic camo-stocked, scoped, bolt action Stevens in .243WIN that I won at the Barrie District Anglers & Hunters annual wild game dinner and fundraiser in 2009, and this gun (alongside the .30REM) makes its way up to my second week of hunting in the Spence Township area, where there are a few more open hardwoods and moose meadows to hunt and the luxury of a scope is a welcome advantage.  95-grain Hornady SST Superformance fly out of the muzzle on this lean little number at some pretty high velocity (and it is a nice little crossover varmint rifle) but to date I’ve never had the safety off during deer season, let alone let slide with a shot bearing any kind of deadly intent at a white-tailed deer.  But maybe this year is the year I break that run.
Clothes and Outerwear
My outer layer is a Remington 4-in-1 coat (actually the same type of coat that I take waterfowling, just in the requisite blaze orange) that I picked up in 2008.  It does the trick nicely as it is plenty warm (even when only wearing the outer shell) and has plenty of deep, easy to access pockets.  For the last three deer seasons it has been reasonably dry and surprisingly burr-resistant (which where our group hunts is a nice luxury).
Under that I’ll usually have a hooded sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt, slung over a synthetic sports shirt (either from Under Armour, or a recycled soccer jersey) that wicks moisture nicely.  Unless it is unseasonably mild (as it was in 2008) I’ll also have on some long underwear; I prefer Stanfield’s two piece top & bottom ensemble, although my sister got me one of those thermal unitards (in fire engine red, no less!) with a rear flap for ‘evacuation’ for Christmas in 2008 and I used them the following year after my Stanfields got a bit damp in a rain…I was literally soaked the nuts!…but I digress.  I think she got that unitard for me as a ‘joke gift’…I’m okay with that because they were nicely comfortable, and I liked them so much I’ve continued to include them in the annual packing list.
I usually wear the same camo pants that I multi-purpose with all year long, although I also pack some ratty jeans that I don’t mind getting mud and blood on, and a pair of lined pants in case it gets extra-frosty some morning (and since 2011 boasts the absolute latest date that deer season can start in Ontario, it may actually happen when I’m hunting not far from Orrville on November 19th).
I double up on socks (since I don’t want my toes to freeze while I sit on stand…I do a lot of sitting) with a synthetic thermal sock underneath a wool sock.  I have two pairs of gloves, both in blaze orange; one pair is just light cotton for days when the temperature is nice, the other pair is Thinsulate lined for rain, snow or just a bitter November wind.  I likewise have a blaze orange baseball cap and a blaze orange Thinsulate toque, so that I can wear one or the other (or if the weather is changeable…both!)
The key to all these clothes is flexibility and layering.  But I’m sure your grandmother already told to dress in layers so I won’t belabor that point further.
Rubber boots.  (If you’ve been following these ‘gearhead’ posts this should come as little surprise.).  What can I say?  They’re comfortable, cost-effective, insulated, lightweight and they don’t carry much in the way bells and whistles.  My cousins and my brother have adopted the modified hiking boot style of hunting footwear (what with scent control on a molecular level, cutting edge waterproofing, and similar upgrades) and they all rave about it, so one is just as good as the other in my eyes.  I just like spending around $50 on my boots, while some more ‘advanced’ footwear can run to four times that much.
Just like it is for my wife when she goes shopping, deer hunting for me is all about accessories (again, no surprise to any loyal follower of this blog).
We party hunt in our camp so it is vital that we all keep in touch.  For that, we carry some short-wave handheld radios to keep in touch.  Mine are from Motorola, and although they came in a pair (I got them in 2001) one of them gave up the ghost last year and is completely non-functional.  Its mate is still going strong though!
I have a bag of sticks and plastic rods from Quaker Boy that I can use if I want to try to rattle up a buck, and I use a Knight and Hale doe bleat can.  This year I received the Quaker Boy Brawler buck grunt call in the mail for re-joining a conservation organization here in Ontario but before that I used the Knight & Hale E-Z Grunter Plus.  My cousin, and other hunting acquaintances have had success with calling deer.  Me, not so much.  But I keep trying though, maybe this will be year that an old bruiser buck comes galloping to the call.  I’m not brand loyal and accumulated these calls in a piecemeal fashion; I can’t pretend to be one of those highfalutin, corporate-sponsored types of writers…although I secretly long to be one.
I use the same combination of Buck 110 Folding lockback (with a clip point) and Gerber Magnum LST folding lockback (avec drop point) knives that I use year round.  Both are wicked sharp, but the classic look, feel, and weight of the Buck has made it my favourite go-to blade.  I almost cut the tip of my left thumb off with it a few seasons back, but that has more to do with operator stupidity than with any flaw in the knife.  The moral…don’t let me sharpen a knife unsupervised.
I have various and sundry other toys on my person during deer season including a compass, toilet paper, matches, a rope, a plastic bag to keep items dry (and to pack out a tasty deer heart if I’m so lucky), a little folding packet for my licenses and tags, another folding pack for extra rifle shells, a water bottle, a candy bar, a Heat-a-Seat, maybe and apple or two…
This year I bought a Rocky backpack for all this, as before I was always forgetting which pocket held certain items, and I tended to rattle a bit when I walked…which is never good for a deer hunter, whose primary aim should be a stealthy silence.
So there you have it…another Gearhead post in the books.  I recommend you try out any of these items that you feel like and if you want to adopt some of the same gear as me, go for it.  If not, that’s fine too.  As long as what you use is comfortable and leads to success (no matter how you define success in the deer woods) than that ought to be good enough.