A quick turkey gear review from a die-hard deer hunter.
It’s been more than 15 years since I did any serious turkey hunting, but with both my kids now done with school, it felt like a good time to get back out after some winged prey. Before I go any further, I should make it clear that my turkey hunting passion has always eclipsed my skill. As such, I’ve relied on the generosity of true turkey addicts who can’t stay out of the woods even after they’ve tagged a bird. That’s why I gladly accepted the invitation of Buckmasters sales rep Si Colley when he asked if I’d like to join him for the 2017 Alabama turkey season.
Si wanted to make sure I was ready, so we began planning several months before the March opener. One thing we realized pretty quickly was my gear was in serious need of an update. With the goal to eventually be able to do this on my own, Si helped me pick out a few things that every aspiring tom chaser needs.
We started with a shotgun. I coincidentally had received an invitation from TriStar Arms to give their new Viper Max Camo shotgun ($730) a test run. With the versatility to shoot 3 1/2-inch shells and a semi-auto system to help absorb recoil, the chance to run it through its paces in the woods seemed like fate.
Si pointed out that I’d need a good turkey choke, so I reached out to the folks at TruLock Choke Tubes. They recommended their Optima Plus Precision Hunter ($46.99) or the Long Beard XR ($55.99) designed specifically for the ammo I’d be using. Yes, TruLock makes chokes specifically for Winchester and Federal turkey loads and shot size!
To be honest, the difference between the two chokes was minimal. While the goal is to pull in the birds as close as possible, Si correctly pointed out that every turkey hunter should know how their gun performs at various distances to establish reasonable limits for ethical shots.
Shooting Winchester Long Beard XR in #6 shot from a bench rest, both chokes destroyed the turkey target at 25 yards, and both killed the target bird deader than a hammer at 50. I know this because the Birchwood Casey patterning targets not only highlight hits in yellow, they highlight fatal hits in red. Since I shot the OP Precision Hunter last, I left it on the gun.
Next on the agenda was calls. After I made a few yelps on my old slate, Si said not to worry about getting new calls because he’d be doing all the calling. Go figure.
Moving down the list, the question of decoys came up next. No other turkey gear has changed more during my hiatus than decoys. The realism of these things is scary good.
Which, and how many, decoys you use depends largely on your dedication, hunting style and budget. Si often heads afield with just his Avian-X LCD Lookout hen, but said there are times when it’s helpful to make a tom jealous with a jake or even strutting gobbler decoy.
You have to take stock of where you’re hunting, how far you expect to walk and what you can carry. Since there would be two of us to shoulder the load, we went all out on decoys.
Si raved about the Avian-X LCD Strutter ($119.99), and I had fallen in love with the Montana Decoy Miss Purr-Fect ($49.99) collapsible hen when I saw it the ATA Show. I ordered both, and added a Flextone Thunder Creeper ($49.99) at the last minute at the recommendation of another friend.
Each of these decoys stands out in different situations. When hunting on my own, I will carry the Avian-X Strutter and pair it up with one or more Montana Decoy Miss Purr-Fects. The Flextone Thunder Creeper will come along in my back vest pocket.
The Miss Purr-Fect hen folds almost flat and compact for transport but still looks amazing and is fully 3-D when deployed, making it a great companion to any of the 3-D toms like the Avian-X, or as a solo decoy for running and gunning.
Both the Avian-X and Thunder Creeper are beautiful representations of a tom in strut. The Avian-X is fully 3-D, while the Thunder Creeper has a handle in the back so it can be used as a shield when a bird gets really close, or for crawling closer to a stubborn tom.
The last item I wanted was a good turkey chair. I chose the Alps Outdoorz Turkey Chair MC ($49.99), which is a little wider than their standard chair. It also has a few pockets built into the fabric, which is handy since my vest is so outdated. Alps also makes turkey vests, so that will be at the top of the list to replace next year.
Finally, although I didn’t technically need new camo, Sitka Gear asked if I’d like to try some of their warm-weather deer clothing, which would double nicely for turkey season. Sitka is releasing a new big game line and camouflage pattern called Subalpine that is going to be a big hit with turkey hunters, but it won’t be available until later this summer. I was decked out in an Equinox set (pants $189, jacket $199, gloves $49), finished off with a Core Lightweight Crew ($69), hat and facemask.
Of course Alabama’s opening day turned out to be one of the coldest on record at 32 degrees, but the Sitka gear was up to the challenge, thanks to an extra base layer I put on before Si and I headed out.
While turkey hunting etiquette calls for the novice (that’s me) to invite the experienced assassin to hunt on his ground, Si graciously took me to his favorite spot since I didn’t have access to turkey land. What’s more, he even took me with him on opening day, something quite unheard of, even for the most generous of turkey veterans.
I should also mention Si had taken several kids out the previous week during the state’s special youth season. This is one young man who is doing his part to make sure the next generation gets fired up about hunting. I guess he’s doing his part to ensure the previous generation stays fired up, too.
Unfortunately, the turkeys weren’t fired up that morning, and we didn’t hear so much as a yelp, let alone a gobble.
Si hunted on his own the next few days but asked if I’d be available on the 21st. You know the answer.
We struck out at the first location, and Si called in a hen to within 5 yards at the second. She had been with a gobbler, but he wasn’t budging, much to our surprise and disappointment. When that hen crested the rise in front of us, we were sure the tom was going to be right behind her. Nope.
We didn’t get a shot, but things were looking up, so Si said, “Let’s go check out my cousin’s place. We didn’t get many birds on trail camera there, but it’s not far.”
What was I going to say, “No, I want to go to work”? Don’t bet on it.
After a short drive and a pit stop for some caffeine, we arrived at the new location.
Leaving all the gear in Si’s wife Abigail’s car (it’s a long story), we moved 50 yards up a logging road before Si tested the waters with some sexy yelps.
I thought we were done for the morning, but we returned to the car, got out our chairs and headed along a freshly cut bush-hog trail.
We had gone approximately 150 yards when Si stopped to call once again. Before he even finished, a gobble rang out nearby.
We were so stunned that our heads snapped around to look at one another. We stood that way for a few seconds before spontaneously scrambling into action. This bird was close, and obviously receptive to some romantic discourse.
Si pointed to a cluster of pines just off a small green clearing and whispered, “You set up there. I’ll be just off to your right.”
When he called again, an immediate gobble answered. “This is going to happen,” he said. “Be ready.”
As Si called and the tom got closer, it became apparent there was more than one. Then we distinctly heard three separate gobbles. I have to confess my heart started to pound like I was looking at a handsome buck.
We had been joking before the season how fun it would be to accomplish a double, and if we had let things play out long enough that might have been possible. But Si is a believer in the “bird in the hand” philosophy, and when our bird got to within 30 yards with neither of the other two gobblers in sight, he whispered, “Take him whenever you can.”
I didn’t need any urging and pulled the trigger. Confession number two: I punched it a bit. I’m confident I hit the bird, but when it didn’t roll on the spot, Si immediately yelled, “Shoot again!” He took his own advice, and moments later we were left with two smoking but empty shotguns.
Si was on the bird before I even got out of the turkey chair, and then the high-fives commenced. Every hunt doesn’t go perfectly, but all’s well that ends with a bird for the fryer.
And don’t think the gun or ammo didn’t perform. Si has taken two awesome toms with it since our hunt (Alabama has a five-bird limit), and the two of us will be heading out again soon to see if we can put a few more virtual notches in the stock.
In fact, all the gear performed flawlessly and contributed to the success and comfort of our hunt.
The items used on this hunt are but a small sampling of the great turkey hunting products out there, and, as with my favorite pastime of bowhunting, what works for me might not be what’s best for you. What I can say with confidence is that whether you’re just getting started or you’re a veteran looking to add to or upgrade your gear, you should give these manufacturers a good look.
I’m officially hooked and will start saving my pennies to purchase the Viper Max, but in the meantime there’s still a month of Alabama turkey hunting to be enjoyed.
TriStar Arms | TruLock Chokes | Winchester | Birchwood Casey | Avian - X | Montana Decoy | Flextone Game Calls | Alps Outdoorz | Sitka Gear