Let's Talk Turkey Hunting and Gear
Turkey is delicious. Most Americans know and love this bird as the featured dish on Thanksgiving Day. Did you know many states host a spring turkey hunting season? Participating in spring turkey season is a great way to get involved in hunting while the weather is warming up. Turkey in the spring may be a strange idea for some, but really, do you need an excuse to have two Thanksgiving dinners a year? Yum.
The best thing I did to get started turkey hunting was find a buddy who has "been there done that". I am fortunate to have several resources of friends and family who hunt, and I was able to work with a friend to prepare for opening day. My turkey hunting buddy was there for me to answer my questions, help me scout out locations, and call in a bird. So even though they aren't a piece of gear, a turkey hunting buddy is a great "thing" to have!
In addition to a hunting buddy, there are a few pieces of gear to consider picking up before going turkey hunting.
1. Hunting license and turkey tags
The most important part of your turkey hunting gear is your hunting license and tags in the state you'll be hunting in (unless you are an apprentice hunter - read more about that here). If this is your first time hunting, you'll want to sign up for a hunter's education class a few months in advance of the season. Here in New Hampshire the turkey season starts May 3rd every year. I recommend signing up for a course one to two months prior to the opening day, which for me was in March or April. New Hampshire Fish and Game offers several options for Hunter Ed. Personally, I took the online course that offered a field day option and found the field day to be a really valuable experience. The instructors were seasoned hunters with a huge amount of knowledge to share, and I had all my questions answered and then some. The course I took was for both firearm and bow hunting, also known as a combined hunter education.
Taking (and passing) the Hunter Education course qualified me to buy a hunting license, which is typically available at a few places around the state like gun shops and outdoor stores. I found out where I could buy a hunting license by looking at the list of deer and turkey "check stations", though hunting licenses are available in more than just these locations - that's when it helps to ask around with the hunters in your area. In some states hunting licenses and tags are also available for purchase online, once you've shown proof of passing Hunter Ed.
In addition to the hunting license, you'll need a tag. What is a tag? In New Hampshire, it is a piece of paper. My hunting license came with a fall firearms antlered deer tag and I also purchased a set of turkey tags. These tags were lines of text that indicate one tag for a spring male turkey and a fall any-gender turkey. When you are fortunate enough to get a bird, you'll need to record your info (stuff like your name, location and time of kill) on the tag. Then you separate the tag from the rest of the piece of paper and wrap it around the animal - for a turkey it works well to secure it around the turkey's leg with a rubber band.
2. Shotgun or bow
To hunt a turkey, depending on your license and your state, you might need either a shotgun or a bow. Two things of note here:
- Make sure your bow meets the minimum draw weight for your state. In 2015 in New Hampshire that minimum draw weight was 40 pounds for deer and 30 pounds for turkey. There are also regulations about arrows and broadheads - definitely read up on these for your state before hunting.
- Make sure you have the right size cartridge for the chamber size and gauge of shotgun if you are shooting turkey loads. This may seem obvious to some, but when I was new to shotgun sports I accidentally bought and coincidentally had to return a box of ammo that was for a 20 gauge with a 3 inch chamber. The shotgun I was using was a 12 gauge with a 3 inch chamber. For tips and tricks on how to decipher a box of ammo, check out my post on "How to Read an Ammo Box".
3. Camo Camo Camo
Turkeys have notoriously good eyesight. Camo is a necessity! Camo hat, camo facemask, camo gloves are all pretty helpful in addition to a camo jacket and trousers. I read a bunch of Amazon reviews before purchasing my facemask and gloves. Camo clothing is up to personal choice and there are some great options out there at all price points. My first camo was from Wal-mart, and I'm slowly upgrading to more functional (windproof, waterproof, etc.) apparel as I can afford it. Whatever you end up with, make sure it is comfortable to sit in. You may be sitting for a while waiting for a tom or jake to strut by!
4. Turkey Vest
A turkey vest is not a necessity, but it is helpful! I did some research before picking a vest and decided that since I am a lady with a short torso and wider hips, I should probably search out a woman-specific fit. For some this isn't critically important, but my vest is so comfortable that I'm glad I did it. What I looked for in a turkey vest was that it be affordable (less than $100), have storage for calls and shells, fit my body type, and have a decently comfortable seat pad. Luckily, most ladies' turkey vests that I encountered fit these criteria!
- Cabela's Women's Tat'r (R) Turkey Vest - this is the one I bought and I really like it. You can read more about it in this review by Michelle Whitney Bodenheimer.
- Bass Pro Shops Redhead For Her Turkey Vest - You can read a review of this vest here by Barbara Baird.
- Cabela's Tactical Tat'r Kickstand Turkey Vest - Read a mini-review here by Marti Davis
5. Turkey Calls and Decoys
There are so many options out there, and I'm relatively new to the turkey-calling world. My turkey hunting buddy recommended the Primos Super Freak pot call and Lynch's Fool Proof box call. Both of these calls are intended to simulate a hen. And if you are good at calling, you can bring all the (turkey) boys to the yard more effectively than Kelis' milkshake.
Decoys are also pretty important to a successful turkey hunt. I will defer to the body of literature that exists for advice on exactly which decoys to buy and use, since I have borrowed decoys in the past. Some popular decoy strategies seem to be to have a lady hen or two and a "rival" tom, or a hen and an upstart jake. The general idea is to draw in a tom who is ready to impress a lady.