Having the right turkey gear may not bag your gobbler this spring, but the wrong gear can definitely send it packing before the trigger squeeze.
That lesson was slammed home on one of my first spring turkey hunts in southwest Washington, not far from the Oregon border. I arrived in the dark, picked my way down a powerline to a knoll and scrunched down behind a pile of brush to wait for daylight, hoping to see a big tom fly down from a night roost in a nearby stand of big-leaf maples.
Daylight came in an explosion of orange and pink sun spears, and a gobbler fired up from his roost. It was so loud chills ran up my back and I scrunched down further. I could hear the wing beats when it dropped to the ground downhill from my stand. I pulled down my face mask, picked up my slate and purred like the best looking hen on the hill. The tom responded with a thundering gobble that seemed to explode from everywhere. I pointed the shotgun barrel downhill and waited.
Two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes and then I saw the top of a wrinkled red head poke over a roll in the landscape about 35 yards away. I held my breath, didn’t move, didn’t breath. Two more steps and I’d have a head, neck and spine shot. The tom looked at my coy hen decoy, took one step, looked directly at me and flushed wildly before I could move the gun.
Only after I quit cussing and kicking dirt did I realize my mistake.
In the pre-dawn dark I looked great, just as I had the day before when I was hunting in a heavily shaded conifer forest. But in the morning daylight, in the treeless opening, the deep-woods, dark leafy green camouflage that I had worn the day before now stuck out like a black crow on white snow. I was a dark-green hulk on a hillside of muted grays, fallow grass and withered leaves of a winter barely departed.
The next morning I was back but wearing desert tan camo when that gobbler left the roost. He never saw what hit him.
Gearing up for spring gobblers isn’t always about the latest wowie-zowie techie accessories, but it’s always about having the right gear for the job. This is how I try to discipline myself when picking out gear, new or proven, and especially when I’m elbow deep in the latest turkey catalogs, starry-eyed from turning pages filled with gotta-haves and shiny new necessities.
Let’s take a look at the new and the proven and put together the right gear for the right gobbler.
Camo suits are examined on page 2
3-D Camo Suit
The best route to invisibility, for me, is a two-piece 3-dimensional leaf suit with the features found in the 3-D Leafy Bugmaster from Native Outdoors in Mossy Oak Break Up camo pattern. The cut leaf strips are long enough to break up and dissolve my outline into the surrounding cover and conceal small movements, but short enough to not interfere with gun handling or walking. The jacket is front-zippered with accessible pockets, which means I can quietly reach my “stuff” while sitting.
The floppy three-dimensional leaf strips are secured to lightweight mesh material with gaps small enough to repel most biting bugs, yet light and breathable, allowing me to hike for miles without sweating up. The jacket has an adjustable draw cord at the waist and the pants have an elastic waistband, features that allow the 3-D leaf camo to be worn over layered undergarments. The jacket has an attached visored head cover with adjustable face screen. The suit is around $40.
Many manufacturers offer similar 3-D leaf or Ghillie camo suits and they all work if matched to the color pattern of the hunting area. I favor ultra-light material because spring temperatures can soar during west coast turkey seasons. I sometimes need to cover miles of steep ground to find birds, and I can wear it over heavy clothing on cold mornings and later snow hunts.
I add a thin pair of tight-fitting, mesh, camo-colored gloves with PVC grip dots on the palm and long knit cuffs that cover my wrists and stay in place. Midwest Quality Gloves of Chillicothe, Mo. has them.
Facemasks are essential. I prefer a mesh hood mask, with stitched eye holes, that pulls down to my neck and covers my entire face, but I know hunters who favor sca
rf-style masks that pull up from collarbone but don’t cover eyes. Both have their pluses and minuses. Try each before selecting one.
Gobbler guns are looked at on page three
In our family, turkeys have been bagged with everything from a 16-gauge, break-action, single-shot, full-choke firing high-brass 6s to a semi-autoloader spitting out 3 1/2-inch turkey loads. Which is to say, buy the best turkey gun you can afford to shoot, find a load that patterns consistently on a gobbler’s head at 50 yards and then shoot it a lot. Good shooting beats great guns every time.
This year’s top turkey guns are composite-stocked, have 20- to 24-inch barrels with turkey super-full chokes, are chambered for 3- or 3 1/2-inch shells, come in camo finish, and have sights/scopes and a sling. Most are 12-gauge, although magnum 20-gauge loads have been developed with plenty of knockdown power for 40-yard headshots. At 7 to 7 1/2 pounds, 20-gauge turkey guns are mountain-friendly.
Mossberg has hit the turkey market in a big way, introducing the futuristically styled Tactical Turkey 835 Ulti-Mag for run-and-gun hunts, along with the conventionally styled Grand Slam Turkey series, and a tricked-out semi-autoloader.
The Tactical Turkey 835 has 20-inch “overbored” barrel chambered for 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-inch shells with a ventilated rib that is topped with adjustable fiber optic sights. It includes a ported turkey choke tube. The gun’s most distinctive feature is a tactical, high-tech, pistol-gripped polymer stock with six adjustments for 10 3/4- to 14-inch length-of-pull. It comes with a 5-round, side-saddle, nylon forearm strap and a full-length sling.
Their Grand Slam Turkey Series includes four pump-gun models: 835 Ulti-Mag — the original 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge; and the Model 500 12- and 20-gauge pump-actions. They have a six-shot capacity, 20-inch barrels, and synthetic stocks in camo green and Break-Up patterns, and weigh less than 7 pounds.
The Mossberg line of turkey thumpers also includes semi-autoloaders in the Grand Slam Turkey series. Offered only in 12-gauge, the 935 Magnum has 22-inch barrel, holds 5 rounds of 3 1/2-inch magnums, and is built on a camo synthetic stock, with sling, adjustable sights and ported tube.
Another top-of-the-line, turkey-specific gun is Remington’s popular pump, the 870 SPS ShurShot Synthetic Turkey, with a stock contoured to fit right- and left-handed hunters, and featuring Truglo fiber-optic sights. It also has a dense-patterning Wingmaster HD extended Rem turkey choke tailored for 3 1/2-inch magnum loads.
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