March 29, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
Years ago, when I started turkey hunting and lacked a mentor to show me the ropes and how to gain success on a wily old strutting tom, I'll ruefully admit that my path forward involved a lot of trial and error.
And truthfully, there was more error than not in some of those early years as I learned how to hunt properly for some pretty wise old gobblers in North Texas that acted more like tough Eastern longbeards than easy Lone Star State Rio Grandes—or so it seemed.
Over time (and without the benefit of YouTube how-to videos), I learned some hard-knock lessons like not getting too close to the roost tree in the early morning, not being too aggressive with my calling unless conditions dictated that, and even turning off my headlights on the drive into a friend's ranch where I was fortunate enough to hunt.
Eventually, just by the sheer volume of attempts at notching a turkey tag on my hunting license, I finally succeeded. And somewhere down the line, there was another longbeard that was invited to the dinner table, and then another. But my success didn't come as consistently or as rapidly as I wanted in those early seasons. In fact, even as my calling and woodsmanship improved, my success rate did not.
Why? Because if I'm painfully honest, I missed a bird more than once, naively assuming that the same shotgun that knocked down mallards in the wintertime and doves in the early fall was just about foolproof in the spring, when the wildflowers bloomed and the gobblers sounded off and strutted about like they owned the place. As such, they seemed like an easy, big, inviting target dancing their way into shotgun range.
Lessons Over the Years
Except, that wasn't always the case. Thankfully, over time, I met a couple of friends who were far more advanced in the turkey hunting game than I was, experts in the calling, strategies, and hunting techniques that consistently put gobblers on the dinner table.
One of those friends is Jim Lillis, a North Texas gentleman who retired a few years back after a lengthy career as a regional director for first the National Wild Turkey Federation, and then, Ducks Unlimited. Over the years, he has also been a successful guide, a tinkerer who built his own air boat, and a well-liked hunter who finds consistent success chasing mourning doves, mallards, Canada geese, big Pope and Young-caliber whitetails, and of course, wild turkeys.
Another of those friends was the late North Texas outfitter J.J. Kent, a Mossy Oak pro-staff manager who saw two or three dozen turkeys taken each spring out of his outfitting business. And on his days off, he typically filled a couple of his own tags, too. Both gentleman ended up teaching me much of what I know about turkey hunting in the spring, each quite capable of rolling a few jellyheads each year. Along the way, they showed me the way to better, more consistent efforts in the field, teaching me several key principles that are the foundation to spring turkey success.
The Principles of Turkey Hunting
- The first principle is to know your quarry and be a student of what wild turkeys do each spring. I was fortunate enough to hunt with both men over the years, and each trip into the woods was an education about turkeys. They read up on turkeys and their biology, talked to other successful hunters, knew their hunting properties inside and out, and took notes, written and otherwise, about what worked and what didn't.
- A second principle was to become adept at using various turkey calls. Regardless of the type of call—both men have liked different diaphragm calls, while Lillis also uses a Lamar Williams long box and Kent often liked softly working a striker over a Zink pot-style call—these two gentlemen practiced and made these calls sing at championship levels. Better yet, they figured out when to be loud and aggressive and when to back off and be soft and enticing.
- A third foundational skill I've learned from Lillis and Kent down through the years is woodsmanship, the art of knowing where turkeys roost, where they feed, the routes they use to get there, the daily habits they have on a particular piece of property, and being able to put it all together and be in the right spot at the right time more often than not. For this key principle, videos, books, and even articles like this are no substitute for time spent in the woods and real-world experience earned every spring.
- The fourth skill is the art of finding, using, and becoming highly proficient with the best equipment a hunter can find. From the right shotgun to the right turkey load to the right turkey choke screwed into the end of the barrel, getting gear right and making sure it worked properly has been a definite hallmark of these two gentleman's turkey-hunting success.
READ MORE: Game & Fish Regional Strut Update
Turkey Shotgun Setups
Keep in mind that neither hunter shot the same setup on their trips into the springtime woods, with Lillis shooting a Benelli shotgun, while Kent always shot a Browning. And both hunters have used different shotshells. But the one thing that both agreed on over the years is using a Patternmaster tube in their turkey guns and testing their setups to make sure that they knew how a preferred load would pattern on paper before turning it all loose in the woods.
Both men have made a believer out of others, too. In fact, when I asked a mutual friend recently why he shot Patternmaster tubes through his various shotguns, he responded it was because they came highly recommended from "the king of scatterguns himself, Mr. Lillis."
My late friend J.J. was also a big believer in his Browning shotgun and Patternmaster tubes during all seasons, including HEVI Shot turkey loads and his Patternmaster choke tubes in the spring. "That combination has proven to be deadly for me," he told me a few years before his untimely passing. "On one of my own hunts (one spring) I killed a tom at 67 yards. When I shot, I just rolled it. Unless you know what your gun, shotshell and choke combination will do through pre-season patterning, I'm not saying I recommend taking a shot like that. But it can be done. The key is to know what your gun does on paper beforehand."
It's a lesson that I've learned the hard way, and also through knowing both of these gobbler getting gurus with dozens of springtime longbeards to their credit.
Consistency with Choke Tubes
Why Patternmaster turkey tubes? Put simply, these American-made products are at the top of the market today and result in maximum durability and consistency for a hunter who has the shotgun bead aimed at a strutting longbeard that won't commit to trotting right on in.
One of the company's dedicated turkey products is the Patternmaster Code Black Turkey tube, which achieves its amazing downrange pattern performance thanks to a variety of technologies. To accomplish that, the Code Black Turkey tube uses the company's Separating Ring technology, as well as its proprietary canoe-porting, which shortens shot-strings by as much as 75 percent versus other constriction tubes.
Built from titanium infused 17-4ph stainless steel, not to mention being made by craftsmen with more than 100 years of combined experience, the Code Black Turkey tube uses the best aircraft-quality steel in the world and delivers unmatched performance and durability for hunters looking to fill an unused tag.
There's also Patternmaster's Anaconda Striker, which the company says gives a turkey hunter affordable versatility in the spring woods, thanks to Coil Zone gas over constriction technology, which has a U.S. patent. This tube provides the best bang-for-your-buck turkey tube on the market, featuring a design that delivers consistently tight full to extra-full patterns and at an effective range of up to 60 yards.
Also note that the Patternmaster Anaconda Striker tube also is made from 17-4ph stainless steel and is powder-coated with a military-spec Chemical Agent Resistant Coating (CARC), something that provides a lifetime of durability.
What does all of this mean for the turkey hunter needing to squeeze a few more yards out of a shotshell pattern as a gobbler struts around on the edge of a shotgun's effective range? These tubes deliver an RIP dinner-table invitation with downrange knockout power. And, I might add, at distances that few hunters thought were possible only a few years ago.
That includes both Lillis and the late Kent, and really, any hunter who believes that there's no substitute for getting out into the field on a fine spring day, playing a woodsy game of chess with a loud-mouthed longbeard, and coaxing him into shotgun range.
Really, I guess about the only thing that tops all of that for any spring turkey hunter is the satisfaction that comes after a foundation of success is carefully built one brick at a time over the years, a substrate of success that consistently provides a big smile and a filled turkey tag each time the trigger is pulled.
And trust me, as a graduate from the turkey-hunting school of hard knocks, that's what you want to happen each and every time you go into the woods. It's far more satisfying, it helps reduce the grocery bill, and we owe it to this incredible natural resource that likes to sound off and shatter the silence of the woods on a still spring morning.
Put a Patternmaster tube into your springtime turkey-hunting arsenal this year and see if you don't agree.