Turkey hunting is a gear-oriented sport. You need the right equipment and
the skills to use it if you want to have a chance in the turkey woods this
Turkey gear falls into four main categories: guns and ammo, calls and
decoys, camouflage, and accessories.
Standard armament for turkey hunting is a 10- or 12-gauge shotgun, choked full,
and magnum loads of medium-size shot. Since you'll be shooting for the head,
which is a small target, but fairly easy to penetrate, a dense pellet pattern
shot accurately is more important than high per-pellet energy. My favorite load
for turkeys is Federal's 3-inch magnum copper-coated No. 6 shot.
I came to that conclusion by pattern testing, which is a crucial part of any
turkey hunter's preparation program. Each shotgun shoots each load differently,
so the only way to know which is the best combination is by testing different
guns and loads. You need a gun that shoots where you point, and gives the
densest pattern of hits with shot no smaller than No. 6.
Testing will also indicate your maximum shooting range. Shooting at vertical
rectangles 1-1/2 inches by 5 inches (approximating the turkey's head/neck vital
zone), keep backing up until you can no longer keep at least a half-dozen
pellets in that area every shot. That is your maximum range.
Turkey calls can be divided into two categories: air and friction operated.
Air-operated calls include the mouth diaphragm, now the most popular type of
turkey call. The benefits of the mouth call are that sounds can be manipulated
very subtlety, and no visible movement is necessary to operate them. The tube
call, which is a diaphragm inside a tube, is also gaining popularity.
Friction calls include the box call, an old design and still very popular.
It is basically a wooden box with a hinged lid; the lid is scraped against the
top edge of a side, which makes vibrations. Other friction calls include a peg
and slate, in which calls are produced by pushing a striker across a piece of
rough slate, and the pushbutton call -- a semi-automated peg and box that is
great for beginners, but limited in the range of calls it will produce.
I won't go into the way each call is supposed to sound or the intricacies of
operating each type of call. For this, you'll need the personal help of an
experienced turkey caller, or a tape and instructions for your particular call,
along with lots of practice.
Also in your collection calls should be one or two "shock gobbling
calls," calls that startle or annoy a tom into gobbling so you can
locate him. These commonly include crow, owl, and gobbler calls.
Exactly what calls to use is a matter of personal preference. My turkey call
arsenal includes a Lynch box call, Primos diaphragm calls, and a crow call and
gobbler made by Lohman. I've found that by employing good hunting tactics, I
can set up most of my shots with just a few yelps on my box call. When I
confront a wise old gobbler, it usually takes cackling on the mouth diaphragm
to convince him to come in.
After the basic gear for turkeys, the No. 1 item on my list would be a
decoy. Nothing will increase a hunter's chances of taking a gobbler more than
using a decoy that simulates a hen turkey. To a tom, seeing is believing. Gobblers always seem suspicious of calling, but in my experience, once they
spot a decoy, they come right in. Not only do decoys attract toms, but they
also direct the turkey's attention away from you so you are less likely to be
Another essential part of turkey hunting gear is camouflage. Turkeys are better
than any other game at visually detecting hunters. Pick a camo that blends with
the surroundings -- brown woodland in open woods, tree patterns in big timber,
green patterns for hunting later seasons. Even more important than the camo you
use is that you cover yourself completely. Especially important is covering
your hands and face. Headnets are generally more effective than makeup.
Other accessories used by turkey hunters include padded seats, shotgun slings,
and general woodsmanship gear such as compasses, flashlights, and the like.
Don't forget the "peripheral" stuff: a topo map can be your most
valuable tool. Water and snacks brought along may help keep you from cutting
your hunt short. Not surprisingly, one of the more popular accessories is a
special turkey hunting vest with specific features and many pockets to carry
all a hunter's turkey gear!
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a great selection of Turkey Hunting Gear!
Mike Strandlund is the late editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame. We continue to run his insights into bowhunting and firearm hunting to help others, which Mike would have loved.