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Geared Up & Down For Toms

One new piece of gear can be the difference, but collectively gear can complicate your hunt. Deciding which to bring and which to leave at home can be tough.

If an item ever helped me bag a turkey it tends to remain in my turkey kit for eternity. For example, a few years ago an ole’ boy at a gun show sold me a “turkey whistle.” He said it was like a dog whistle in that humans can’t hear it, but he guaranteed me that it’d shock a gobble right out of an old tom.

Having absolutely no success one afternoon with my traditional tricks, I patted myself down like an agent of the law, fumbled, frolicked and finally produced the turkey whistle. I sucked in a deep breath and blew that shiny little soundless pipe for all it was worth. I felt a little ridiculous when the only sound I heard as a result of almost $15 worth of my own breath was the blood pounding in my ears from head strain—no piercing whistle sound, no gobble, no nothing. Undeterred, I rocked back on my heels, pulled in another mammoth breath and exhaled like a warm-winded Jack Frost. I was looking at the whistle in my hand unbelievingly—much like an outfielder looks at his glove after he completely misses a pop fly—when I heard the distant rumblings of a gobbler. I never heard the turkey again, nor has my “magic turkey flute” worked since, but that’s beside the point. It worked once, and therefore it earned tenure in my vest, where it remains … somewhere.

And so it goes, collecting a gadget here, buying a new call there and stashing them in my vest until the burdensome amount of gear makes me feel like a WWII paratrooper in full combat gear. I trudge, hot as all get-out, amid the springtime woods, rattling and squawking with each heavy step. Soon my gear begins dictating my hunting style. There is something about a thick foam seat strapped to my backside that makes this once mobile turkey hunter want to take up a roost and make a bird come to me. A new decoy often makes me want to find the perfect place to set up a decoy (not necessarily the best place to take a real turkey); a call that sounds especially good makes me want to blow it even when I know I shouldn’t overcall. Realizing these temptations, I go back to the basics the following season.

On opening morning last year I stuffed a mere slate call in my pocket and a fistful of No. 6’s up a scattergun’s magazine. With liberated feet and a minimalist mind-set, I headed out before sunrise. But then I dropped my keys and needed a flashlight to find them. After a lot of crawling around I found them. I then stepped gingerly into the dark woods—and directly into a creek. I later used my hands and mouth, naturally, to hoot like an owl. But a fat gobbler—any gobbler—didn’t respond, likely because it wasn’t shocked by anything except how frail the owl sounded.

So I tried a yelp. A box call is much better for penetrating the woods over the stiff spring breeze than my slate call, but my high-volume paddle handle was resting quietly at home. No matter, I figured I’d use my wood-smarts to ambush a turkey on its own turf. I found a field where I knew turkeys to frequent, and I spotted three birds on the far, far end. During a 30-minute belly crawl,
I spooked three buzzards. These particular buzzards looked a heck of a lot like turkeys though.

Had I brought my dangly, pain-in-the-neck binocular I might’ve spotted their hideous, telltale buzzard beaks from afar. Thank gosh I didn’t encounter a copperhead while belly crawling, for I’d left my snakebite kit in the same pouch as my insect repellent. Yes, the insects had a field day on me that morning. And after following a forlorn sound of a lonely hen for hours, any chance of finding north—or more importantly the truck—without my compass was even less than the chance of me calling in a turkey when I noticed my pot call was a cauldron of boggy water. You guessed it: no sandpaper had I!

The next morning, I altered my strategy again. I vowed to take the things that I had a reasonably good chance of needing during the course of a hunt. But then I had trouble keeping my pants up with only my leather belt. So reluctantly I strapped on my vest, and I began transferring “just the essentials” from my person to its pockets. It is truly amazing what soon becomes labeled “essential” when you have a pocket that’s designed specifically for it.

Before long, I had come full circle. I shimmied off the drooping tailgate of my transport vehicle and sank into ground that wasn’t even that soft. But at least all my stuff was together and halfway organized, and I was prepared for whatever those treacherous turkeys slung at me, including machine gun fire. As I fumbled for my flashlight to find my GPS to find my way, I took comfort in knowing that I would not have to do another full circle to find the truck. Now if I could only find a turkey.

Nothin’ But the Essentials

License: You absolutely must have a state game license to hunt turkeys. I know this because every time I’ve hunted turkeys I’ve had a license on me. Since I hate to lose a good luck charm, I make copies of it and keep one in my pocket and one in my truck.

Shotgun: Whoever said they’d rather leave their gun than their binocular has obviously never had to shoot a turkey with a binocular. Any shotgun will work for turkeys, as long as you know its limitations. With that said, I prefer a 12-gauge, Benelli Super Black Eagle II ComforTech 3½-inch Advantage Max-4 HD camo with a full choke tube, a sling and fiber-optic sights. Please note that I have, at times, been accused of taking this stuff too seriously.

Shells: I’m a longtime fan of No. 6’s, but others prefer No. 4’s. Delivered directly to the face of a tom turkey, No. 5’s just might be perfect. When I get out of the truck, I load my gun, then I don’t have to worry about losing my shells.

Turkey Call: Pick one of umpteen different kinds and learn to scratch out a few sounds on it that will trick a turkey, then drop a mouth call in your shirt pocket, because if you have one people assume you know what you’re doing, and they don’t weigh anything anyway.

Camo Clothes
It is very likely that birds can see in color, scientists hypothesize. But I know they can. Movement—or lack thereof—plays a bigger role in bagging a tom than the color of your clothes, but I believe clothes that are the same color as trees, leaves and sticks look less like clothes to a turkey and more like trees, leaves and sticks. Camo helps to conceal movement from a bird that is actually looking for you to make sweet turkey love. This should be motivation enough for wearing camo. But if it’s not, there is also the humility aspect: If you’re a turkey hunter and you dress in blaze orange, your turkey-hunting friends will laugh at you.

Face mask: For Caucasians, those without facial hair or for those who are just plain ugly, a facemask conceals a glaring mug. It also hides movement from mouth calling, and, perhaps more importantly, guards against bugs. If only camo masks were socially acceptable ....

Camo gloves: Often my hands are the only things moving when I am calling a bird, or preparing to shoot. Therefore they should blend in with the woods. Buy a pair of camo gloves and wear them. I like to cut the thumb and first two fingertips off the glove so I can better feel the striker of my slate call. The only problem with camo gloves is that I’m always losing one in the woods, and then I have to buy two more of them.

Knife: You can’t call yourself a hunter if you don’t carry a knife. Trust me, the one time you don’t bring a knife is the time you’ll need it for notching your tag.

The Essentials-Plus
Vest/Cushion: If you do not plan on purchasing a vest, cease reading the rest of this gear list, as you will never be able to carry it all. Plus, vests store your gear and your bum-saver in one place—otherwise you wouldn’t be able to find it all before daylight to save your bum.

Extra Shells: I load my gun as much as the law will allow, then I throw three more shells in my vest. Last year, like an idiot, I forgot to load my gun when I got out of the truck. After hearing a turkey gobble and checking the chamber to discover it was empty, you can imagine my joy when I remembered the three reserve shells I had stashed in my vest for just such an occasion. Then imagine my disappointment when I didn’t get to fire any of them.

Additional Calls
In Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson National Forest I was half hunting, half scouting an area I’d never been to before and listening for a turkey to answer me. After wearing my trusty slate call thin, I’d just about crossed the area off my map with a big, rubber, “hopelessly devoid of turkeys” stamp, when, like Robert Redford in “The Natural,” I unsheathed my Moss’ double-tone box call, and after the first series of yelps, a turkey answered. This didn’t surprise me. It is a fact that certain turkeys in certain moods prefer certain calls. It is also a fact that I haven’t a clue when, why or how these certainties coincide. I was surprised, however, that the answer I received was in English: “Ain’t no use JJ,” yelled my estranged hunting partner, Lazy Eddie, as he rose from his sleep-still roost under an oak tree. “I believe we’s the only turkeys in these here woods!”

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1 Response to Geared Up & Down For Toms

Michael wrote:
January 23, 2013

ummmmm, should we trust somebody that actually bought a "Turkey Whistle"?