I have been hunting turkeys for over 30 springs now. That may or may not mean that I have learned anything about spring turkey hunting. You will have to decide that. I do know that I have some ideas about what I would consider to be critical equipment, “must haves”, for every spring turkey hunter. Let me show you a picture of my Tom from last year, four of those 5 important pieces of equipment are included in this picture.
If you want to make a game of this, you can guess what 4 of the 5 critical turkey hunting items are included in that picture. You might get them all, but then again I bet I have some surprises for you. . . .
Let me start with the most obvious, a good butt pad.
I like to stay mobile while I am chasing spring gobblers; sometimes you have to go after them. But, the more I hunt, the older I get, the more I am convinced of the importance of just planting your butt in a spot and sitting still. I will always tell you that the key to successful spring turkey hunting is to scout, scout and then scout some more. If you have done that, you will know spots where if you sit long enough a turkey will be along and you can punch a tag even if all you do is just sit. My partners and I have taken a darned lot of spring toms by staying put; sometimes it literally takes hours for a bird to work in. If you are comfortable, it is a lot easier to sit and wait.
My old butt pad is one I picked up in Wal-Mart years ago; it is actually a small inner tube with a durable cordura covering. Yes, it is a little bulkier than other butt pads on the market, but it clips onto my belt and I know I can sit on it for hours (I have). I am on about the second replacement tube and if I could still find these on the market, I would tell you where. I am having my handy, sewing daughter make our own covers now for inner tubes we can get at any tire shop.
Speaking of patience, here is the one piece of essential equipment that you cannot see in the first photo:
It is contradictory to sit in the field and watch the time while hunting. I absolutely love the time away from schedules, meetings, and the time stressors of our modern lives. It is therapeutic to be a part of the rhythms of spring, to adjust to “turkey time”. A person needs to be reminded to slow down and appreciate life, and I know of no better way to do that than spending every minute possible chasing spring gobblers. However, I consider a watch to be an indispensable piece of equipment not only because you need to know legal shooting times, but because it is easy to lose track of time.
Let me give you an example. Last week in a blog post I told you that the way turkey mating season really works is the toms gobble to attract hens to them. You can call a tom, reverse the situation, especially if you catch him at the right time–when he is alone. A mature tom by himself in the spring is likely to be gobbling, trying to attract hens. If you call to a bird like that, he likely will gobble right back at you. Now, if you keep calling to that bird, you might hear him gobble his head off, but he might not come your way. That is he might not come your way as long as you keep calling to him. BUT, if you can shut up for awhile, that lonely tom may think that mouthy hen is wandering off and he will come looking for her. Many times I have worked a bird like that, made sure I had his attention, had him answering me, and then just shut up. It is really hard to do that when the tom keeps gobbling, but I will tell myself to shut up for 20 or 30 minutes and see what happens. How do you know if it has been 20 or 30 minutes? At those times, time stands still, and unless you have a watch, it is hard to make yourself wait for a period of time.
I do NOT use the watch to keep any kind of schedule while I am chasing spring toms. I let the birds dictate the schedule unless I have something really, really important to do. But, I DO use the watch to be a more effective turkey hunter.
Back to the first picture, right in the middle:
Every spring turkey hunter should have a good pair of binoculars. I use a couple of Nikon binocs. If I am carrying a shotgun, trying to punch my own tag, I have a compact, light pair of binoculars that I use. I save a little weight by carrying that compact pair. On the other hand, if I am “guiding”, assisting someone else get a turkey, I carry my full-size pair of binoculars. You might think that a person does not need binoculars to hunt turkeys because they are taken at relatively close range–plenty close enough to see without binoculars. That may be true, but the binoculars are worth their weight when trying to spot turkeys at a distance, determine if they are birds you want to pursue, or make position changes without spooking birds (scan carefully with the binocs before moving, sometimes there is a turkey “periscope” that you did not know about up in the air watching you). Turkeys roost in trees and might be close to trees much of the day, but Nebraska is a prairie state and we hunt turkeys in relatively open areas. I use binoculars ALL THE TIME in a day of spring turkey hunting.
Of course you can see the gun, my trusty ole Browning 16 gauge. Every turkey I have ever taken has been shot with that gun.
You might notice the gun is camouflaged, completely. You might also note the carrying strap, something I highly recommend for turkey hunting, but what I really want to point out about the gun is going to require a closer look.
Fiber optic sights! My old Browning does not have a ventilated rib, but I have found a way to install fiber optic sights. If you think you cannot miss a turkey shooting a shotgun at a bird standing in front of you, you have not hunted long enough yet. Looking back over the years, the turkeys I have missed have been because I was peaking up over the gun instead of keeping my cheek down on the stock and aiming. At times I have peaked because I was trying to see over grass, but at other times I have just been peaking up over the gun watching the show when I should have been concentrating on aiming. By installing sights on my shotgun, I make myself aim. You may be shooting a shotgun at spring toms, but you need to be shooting that shotgun like you are shooting a rifle–keep your head down, close your non-dominant eye, and AIM! The sights do not guarantee that I will not peak and miss, but they do make it a lot less likely.
If you have a shotgun with a ventilated rib, installation of fiber optic sights is easy and there are lots of products available. For non-ventilated rib shotguns it is not as easy, but it can still be done. My front sight is taped to the barrel, just in front of the bead. My rear sights are pieces of fiber optic sticks that I glued onto my shotgun. Shoe Goo works for me. Call that a redneck way of doing things, I do not care (in fact I would consider that to be a compliment!).
Lastly, notice my old turkey vest.
I will tell you how old that vest is; some of you might remember when there was a “Jumbo Sports” store in north Lincoln. It is an H.S. Strut vest that was on close-out after the spring season one year. It is old, it has been patched and repaired in many places. All of the snaps ripped out a long time ago. I suppose I should get a new vest, but this one and I have been through so much together. If that vest could talk. . . .
I will tell you why I bought a turkey vest years ago–I wanted a vest to carry a bird back after putting in miles to get him. I am not allergic to walking and working for a bird; take birds on public land almost every year, and consider it important to work harder, walk farther, than the crowd in order to accomplish that. When I do, a good turkey vest makes it so much easier to haul that 20+-pounder back to the pickup! I am betting my old vest has hauled over a quarter ton of turkeys back to the pickup over the years!
The vest was purchased to be a turkey hauler. Over the years it also has become the hauler of all my spring turkey hunting gear. There are locator calls in there, gloves, face mask, a couple of slate calls and more strikers than I ever need, an old Lynch box call and my treasured Dick Turpin box call, some rosin for the box calls, sandpaper patches for the slate calls, permit, some cord, and of course a handful of shotgun shells. All I pretty much have to do is grab that vest and I am ready to hunt–it’s in there.
Now you might have noticed some things that I did NOT mention as being essential to spring turkey hunting. Most notably I did NOT mention turkey calls. Do not get me wrong, I hit the field for spring toms with no less than half a dozen turkey calls on my person or in my vest. I believe you absolutely should be proficient with at least a couple, three different turkey calls. But, let me tell you that the best turkey caller in the world cannot call a turkey where it does not want to go. Hunting skills, and as I said earlier, scouting, are way more important than being a champion turkey caller. Master a couple of calls, but more importantly learn how to hunt spring toms. Calling is just part of the ball game.
I also did not mention decoys. Again, yes, I am usually carrying at least a couple of decoys with me, but I do not consider them essential to killing spring toms. I have killed a lot of turkeys in the spring with the use of decoys; have killed a lot without decoys. It all depends, depends on the hunting situation; especially where I am hunting. If I am on the edge of an open field, then I likely will be using a decoy of some type. On the other hand, if I am in a spot where it is open “woods”, where there is less visibility, not using a decoy can better. Sometimes you can get an ole tom to come closer by playing “hide and seek” with him. He knows there is a hen there someplace, he could hear your calling, but if he does not see her, he may keep right on a-coming, looking for her.
I did not think I needed to mention camouflage; I assumed that went without saying. Make sure you are head-to-toe camouflaged! Especially make sure your face and hands are covered. I always wear camo gloves of some type; used to paint my face, but now go with a mask (I got tired of removing make-up at the end of the hunt). With complete camo I usually do not hunt with a blind (remember I like to stay mobile); however, if you are archery hunting, I would consider a blind to be essential. In many other hunting situations, a blind is really helpful if you want to haul it into the field. For instance, if you are taking young kids into the field, a blind is a really good idea.
There you go, now you know what I am packing into the spring turkey “woods”. Do not forget head to toe camouflage, oh, and a lot of patience. My kids and I have had some frustrations so far, we do every spring turkey season, but we are not giving up, and there will be more toms going down! Stay tuned.