Gearing Up For Gobblers

Here are both the tried-and-true and the latest guns, loads, clothes and accessories available for the well-equipped turkey hunter.

Photo by Terry W. Sheely

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.

READ: Tactics For Windy Weather Gobblers

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 Leafy Bugmaster

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.

READ: Pro Tips For Public Land Toms

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

Gobbler Gun

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 Tactical Turkey 835 Ulti-Mag

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.

Remington the 870 SPS ShurShot Synthetic Turkey

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.

READ: How To Minimize Turkey Misses

The less exotic 870 turkey model has an ergonomic, synthetic pistol-grip stock contoured to fit both right- and left-handed shooters for a steadier aiming platform. The addition of a Turkey Extra Full Rem Choke produces extra-tight patterns, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for optics. It comes with sling swivel studs, shucks 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells and comes in Mossy Oak Obsession camo.

Winchester Super X3 Turkey

Semi-autoloader lovers will appreciate Winchester's Super X3 Turkey model with "Extreme Turkey" 24-inch barrel, 3 1/2 inch chamber, extra-full extended turkey choke tube, Truglo electronic red dot scope and weather-resistant Mossy Oak New Break-Up camo composite stock.

Ithaca Turkey Slayer

Ithaca's 7-pound Turkey Slayer, built on the venerable Model 37 pump-action, is available with camo, synthetic or thumbhole stocks and a 22-inch barrel. The barrel is threaded for a Winchoke system. The gun holds five 3-inch shells and is available in two camouflage patterns. The Turkey Slayer has adjustable rear rifle sights, and the familiar fluorescent Raybar tube front bead.

Take a look at turkey loads on page four

Turkey Loads

When patterning a new gun, I want serious holes in a turkey head-size target at 50 and 15 yards. If I can lay my two fingers side-by-side between pellet holes, the pattern is too thin. One big mistake that many hunters make is selecting shot loads that pattern perfectly in their gun at mid-range 35 yards without going that extra step to check patterning on turkey targets near and far. A load that blows away a mid-range target may be too tight at 15 yards and too thin at 50. A hunting buddy missed two turkeys at 10 and 16 yards before he figured out that his super-tight pattern shot slightly to the left at close range, but by 40 yards -- where he had patterned it -- it would widen enough to compensate for the slight sighting flaw.

No two shotgun barrels pattern the same, and most factory turkey loads will pattern differently in different guns. With a dozen shotshell manufacturers out there, the choices and combinations are almost bewildering. The gun manufacturers' recommendations are a good pl

ace to start sorting through loads.

Turkey shot sizes run from No. 4 to No. 6, with sixes holding the tightest pattern density in most guns. The advantage of 3 1/2-inch shells is primarily increased pellet count and better density at the far end of turkey ranges, somewhere around 310 pellets in a 30-inch circle

The heavy pellet, non-toxic alternatives are deadly for dropping gobblers under 40 yards but are typically slower, lose energy faster, and lack the range of lead and copper-clad pellets. Most of this year's top copper-jacketed turkey loads are designed to kill at 50 yards.

Remington Premier Duplex

I really like Remington's hot turkey load, the Premier Duplex, a combination of copper-plated No. 4 shot layered on top of No. 6 pellets. It was developed to drop turkeys at varying ranges by combining retained energy and penetration from the larger pellets with pattern density from the smaller ones.

READ: Five Tips For Early Toms

Remington's standard Nitro Turkey magnum load is available in 4, 5 and 6 shot pushed with a blended powder recipe. The Nitro Turkey Load delivers a whopping 1-ounce load of pellets at 1,210 fps with 80 percent pattern densities.

Federal MagShot Heavyweight Turkey Load

In the heavy pellet category, Federal's MagShot Heavyweight Turkey load also has a 1-ounce 3 1/2-inch tom thumper. Its beefy 53 grams of powder produces a muzzle-velocity of 1,300 fps. According to Federal, the MagShot turkey load produces tight, lethal patterns "a little bit beyond typical range." They recommend using No. 7 shot for more pellets on target, claiming "it matches the density of No. 5 lead pellets out to 40 yards."

Rangefinders, calls, vests, and more on page five

Simmons LRF600 Laser Rangefinder


Right behind camo, gun and shells in turkey-hunting importance should be a rangefinder. The first time you take a 50-yard hold on a 60-yard gobbler, with a gun patterned for 40 yards, you'll understand why.

When I blind-up and before I start calling, I "range" my surroundings. That mossy log is 37 yards, that stump 20, the fencerow 62. When an incoming tom struts past one of my "pre-ranged" marks I know exactly how far he is.

Turkeys are shot at bow range and rangefinders designed for archery, with 400-yard ranges and declination adjustments, are excellent. Nikon's Archer's Choice is a good example, and I've used an inexpensive Brunton Echo 440 for several years with excellent results. The Nikon has the features turkey hunters want. It's water- and fogproof, and has Incline/Decline Technology for steep uphill or downhill shots, 100-yard range and uses long-life CR2 lithium batteries.

The new Simmons LRF600 Laser Rangefinder goes the extra yard and measures from 10 to 600 yards, has 4x magnification for quick target acquisition and the in-view liquid crystal display gives a clear sight picture. The unit has one button operation and is powered by one 9-volt alkaline battery.

Bushnell is getting a lot of attention with its Fusion 1600, a combination unit of a 10x42 binocular and built-in rangefinder with angle of declination compensator.

Hunter's Specialties Squealing Hen

Talk Tom

Among the requisite selections of slate, box, shake, plunge, rattle, shock, twist, push and diagram calls that every fluent turkey talker has tucked into the bag of tricks, we can now add the lever-action Squealing Hen from Hunters Specialties. Blowing into a mouthpiece while holding down a small lever creates the high-pitch sound of a hen being bred. More versatility comes from Primos with a three-pack of diaphram cutter calls, varying from crisp sharp cuts to rolling raspy yelps. Quaker Boy has removed pallet tickle from nine of its diaphragm calls. Foam Fit Diaphram Calls feature a soft, cushioning material that rims the edge of the call, forms a seal to the pallet, and enhances call control.

READ: How Many Turkey Calls Are Enough?

Primos Gobbler Vest

Vest In Time

A good turkey vest has pockets inside of pockets, wide front-loading pouch for calls, sports a padded sit-upon, closes with quiet buckles instead of noisy Velcro and is light enough to not notice. Primos Gobbler Vest was designed as a super-sized turkey hunting holster -- to hold calls, gloves, mask, clippers, water bottle and shells, with a deep back pocket to carry out the gobbler. The pockets are in specific places designed to hold specific styles of calls, and it is made with a combination of mesh and TreeHide, molded waterproof foam with shoulder pads to reduce recoil impact, and the inside pockets are mesh, allowing a hunter to see what is stored in them at a glance.

More Turkey Stuff

And that's just the major stuff we'll need this year. I'll also add binoculars, decoys, a blind, a turkey choke (if your gun's isn't right for your situation), an LED headlamp with blue or green light for that pre-dawn hike-in, no-mar camo-tape or Snakeskin camo wrap to make the old pump gun invisible, short shooting sticks, a strap-on shooting kneepad, camo water bottle, quart coffee Thermos, face paint, snake-proof gaiters, compass, GPS, mosquito/tick repellents, cleaning knife, three-legged stool, chalk for the box call . . .

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