Turkey Tune-Up: Essential Gear List

When I first jumped into the world of turkey hunting, several decades ago, I couldn’t get enough of all the cool gear that came with being an avid turkey hunter.  Growing up in the south, the standard turkey gear included: a cheap foam hen decoy, turkey vest, at least one of every style of call imaginable, OD green LaCrosse rubber knee-boots (with yellow-trim top), and a big can of Off mosquito repellant.  These were the must-have items that serious turkey hunters wouldn’t leave the house without. 

In those days I chased gobblers with a shotgun. I spent plenty of time trying to find the best shotgun load for killing a bird stone-cold dead at the standard turkey killin’ distance….40 yards. However, I honestly don’t remember the last time I toted a shotgun to the woods in the spring; nowadays, I bowhunt for these ugly-headed birds. And when bowhunting for turkeys, everything changes. Forty-yard shots at birds are no longer my goal. I now like them standing at less than ten when I drop the string. This month we’ll look at the “must have” tools of trade for the bowhunting turkey hunter as we get tuned up for opening day. 

The Setup
These days my turkey setup looks much different than it was in the early years. I quickly saw that the turkey vest seemed to become more of a hindrance than a handy tool. I learned early on that the multitude of obnoxious pockets on many of the vests were quick to get in the way of my bowstring upon release. The butt cushion became of little value as I preferred to post up on my knees for greater mobility at full draw when the shot opportunities came. And while I loved the unique challenge of bowhunting without the use of a blind, my experiences led me to believe that the use of a portable pop-up ground blind was a much deadlier method.

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The author drew on this bird while he was facing the blind at just 4 yards, thanks to the concealment of a Double Bull blind.

When I swapped the turkey vest for the Double Bull blind, my tags began to get punched every spring. The Primos Double Bull Double Wide Door (primos.com) ground blind offers ample room and easier access than anything else I’ve found.  Last spring, while blacked out in the Double Bull blind, I came to full draw on four different birds facing the blind at less than eight yards.  It blows me away each season when I rediscover how much movement you can get away with while hunting from the blind. 

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Quick and quiet access in and out of the blind is now possible with the Primos Double Bull Doube Wide Door blind.



Decoys
The evolution of life-like turkey decoys over the years is pretty remarkable. Lousy paint schemes and cartoon-like imposters were the standard twenty years ago.  Now things have changed…and they changed fast. Decoys that move, spin, and strut are standard equipment now. While some use real turkey stuffers, mounted by a taxidermist, other use incredibly life-like decoys that look nearly as good, and withstand the weather and abuse far better than real feathers. 

There are two main drives that I want my decoy presentations to play on at various times throughout the spring. 

1) The Sex Drive – For this I use a breeder hen decoy, or standard hen with a male turkey  decoy standing behind it, as if he’s about to mount the hen. A gobbler will seldom tolerate the sight of another bird tending his hens.  For this scenario, I like to use the Avian-X Breeder Hen and Jake decoys 

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Bring your bird closer with life-like decoys like the Avian-X Jake decoy.

2) The Dominance Drive – Bringing the bully out of any longbeard can be as effective, sometimes more, than playing on gobblers desire to breed. There’s a bully in every bunch.  Sometimes a whole gang of punk toms will be quick to pick on an intruder in their area.  A strutting tom decoy plays well on their instinct to run off the new bird in the woods. Because a strutting tom decoy will sometimes intimidate approaching birds, I typically default to a life-like jake decoy. The new Dirty B Injured Gobbler decoy from Primos brings out the bully in a bird as it mimics a wounded or dying turkey. With just the pull of a handle, the decoy becomes a flopping, injured bird that brings other gobblers running. The strange phenomenon of gobblers attacking their own has piqued the curiosity of hunters for years. Now the decoy that paints that very picture is available on the store shelf.

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A ground blind and well-placed decoy brought this longbeard to within 8 yards.

On hunts where I bail out of the ground blind and go with a “run-n-gun” style of bowhunting for turkeys, “packability” becomes of the utmost importance for me. One decoy that works perfect for this style of approach is the Tom Turkey Decoy from Heads Up Decoys (headsupdecoy.com). The decoy is small, yet by adding your own real fantail, it becomes a great ultra-light decoy presentation. The Heads Up turkey decoy also offers a bow mount accessory allowing the hunter to mount the decoy directly to the bow’s riser, making for the ultimate decoy/concealment combination.

The Bow
My actual bow setup changes very little from what I use on black bear, hogs, deer, or elk. In year’s past, I would crank the draw weight down in order to better handle the bow at full draw for longer periods of time. I no longer do that. I now roll with the same setup as for any other critter.  However, because I spend so much time hunting turkeys from the ground blind, I prefer a black finish on my bow. The bow is the closest thing to the window and can easily cause a bird-spooking flash as it’s waved about in preparation for the shot and when coming to full draw.

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With their compact design and smooth draw, Mathews bows are hard to beat when coming to full draw on gobblers.

Camo is not the best concealment when hunting from within the black hole of a ground blind. Be the ninja! Go with black. The smooth drawing performance of a Mathews bow is hard to beat when drawing on turkeys. The 2013 Mathews Creed (mathewsinc.com) is available in a black finish, as well as the tactical edition; both are ideal choices for ground blind hunting. With its short axle to axle design, the Creed is perfect for the tight confines of a blind, or for shooting birds from your knees or backside. 

Broadheads for Turkey Hunting

There is an ever-growing supply of large cutting broadheads that are perfectly suited for turkeys. I love a mechanical head when it comes to doing damage on a gobbler. A turkey’s vitals are tiny, making precision shot placement a must.

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Most mechanicals fly like darts and cut big holes. Pictured here is the all new NAP Killzone MaXX; a 2 blade rear-deploying broadhead that packs a devastating 2 3/8″ cutting diameter.

I like the extra cutting diameter that comes from a head that cuts 2”+. Mechanical heads such as those found in NAP’s Killzone lineup are deadly on turkeys. The new Toxic broadhead from Flying Arrow Archery is also sure to be the death of many birds this spring with its unique blade design and ability to unplug a massive hole in any critter (flyingarrowarchery.com). 

Turkey Calls

The name of the game is to find a variety of calls that allow you to broadcast a plethora of turkey sounds, regardless of weather or terrain. Find the ones that allow you to most accurately paint a picture in the mind of a gobbler. Tell him the story through calls, and then let the decoys finish the deal.

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Mad Masters Triple Threat mouth calls are made by some of the best turkey callers in the business.

Hot new calls for 2013 include Zink’s new Z-yelper and Z-Cutter mouth calls (zinkcalls.com), Primos Bombshell push-style hen call (primos.com), Mad Masters Triple Threat mouth calls (flambeauoutdoors.com), Smokin’ Gun box call from Hunter Specialties (hunterspec.com), and the Flextone Thunder Calls (flextonegamecalls.com).

Don’t Forget
One of the slickest tools to keep you in the woods longer is the ThermaCELL (thermacell.com).  Gone are the days of packing a bottle of skin-burning mosquito spray with you to the turkey woods. The ThermaCELL is worth its weight in gold when it comes to repelling the little blood suckers. Few skeptics remain as to the benefit of having this unit with you while on any warm weather trips to the woods. Don’t leave home without your ThermaCELL!

Closing
Spring turkey hunting can be one of the most exciting ways to usher in a new season. Get your gear tuned up and try turkey hunting with a bow this spring.  It’s one of the best ways I know to keep you slingin’ arrows throughout the season. 

Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, and seminar speaker. Check out his website at www.thrutheseason.com.

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