Getting into any new hunting endeavor can be a little daunting and walking into any larger hunting outfitter will only make it more so.
There are dozens of calls, camo gear, various shotgun loads, broadheads, and about everything else. But it doesn’t have to be that hard folks. This simple guide will tip you off on what to get and what to miss for the upcoming turkey season.
Before you dive in, you need to make the decision on your weapon of choice. Where I live, bow hunting is king but a good shotgun is a very effective tool when it comes to turkey. This is a matter of taste.
Check your local regs before taking any advice and be aware that most states no longer allow rifles for turkey hunting.
Shotguns & Loads
When you walk into your sporting shop you are likely to see a wide variety of turkey specific loads. Most of these are decent options but not necessary. Often, I use generic shotgun loads that are a little more affordable than specifically designed shells.
The 12 gauge is king when it comes to turkey and I prefer to use a large, heavy shot. Most turkey specific loads are between a #4 and #7 shot. Personally, I recommend the heavier #4s or at #6 at the smallest. I would avoid any of the shells that have various shot sizes. This can make the shot very hard to get out of the bird.
For a 20gauge, I want more shot volume so I am willing to go a little smaller. A #6 or #7 is your best bet. These will penetrate deep enough and have enough mass to get a good kill.
If it is permissible where you hunt, stick with lead. If not, go with the densest and heaviest shot you can. The feathers on a turkey can be tough to get through. That mass is very helpful. Steel shot and bismuth can fail to penetrate entirely.
With your ammo in hand, you do need a shotgun. The easy answer is that any shotgun will do just fine as long as it has a good pattern. Occasionally you may find you want more than one shot so at least a double barrel is a good idea. I have used the same cheap pump gun for over 20 years with no problems.
Bows and Broadheads
First lets dispel a couple of myths. You don’t need some ultra-fast, heavy draw bow and you don’t need some advanced space age broadhead. I have taken multiple turkey with a 28lb long bow using the cheapest broadheads I could get more than once.
If you are new, a compound bow is the way to go but you don’t need something expensive. If you match it to your arrow weight, a 40 pound bow is more than sufficient. If you go low draw weight, a lighter, faster arrow will be helpful to you but not necessary.
And that leads nicely into arrows. These need to be matched to your bow and broadhead. Getting this right really takes special attention and would require an article on its own. Talk this over with an experienced hunter or your local outfitter.
My biggest pet peeve is the broadhead market. There are dozens of new, mechanical, high-speed broadheads out there. You don’t need them. In the last 10 years I have taken at least 15 turkey with a bow and none were with anything complicated.
I use broadheads by either Kudu or Zwicky but prefer the latter. These points have two blades and are nothing special. They need to be matched to your bow and arrows. The same advice applies, see your local outfitter.
Probably the most popular turkey hunting accessory sold is one of the many calls out there. Most have their uses and will do well but some are just easier to use than others. Rather than getting a bunch of calls, you are much better off getting a couple of good calls and learning to use them well.
These are probably the easiest calls to use and are very affordable. I started with a box call and it did its job but they aren’t the most versatile call. The sound variety is low and using them too much will eventually give you away. Starting out, these are fine but I no longer use a box call.
This is where I graduated to and probably my favorite call. They are a little more challenging to use and can be somewhat expensive. If I had only one call this would be it and I would get it well ahead of season to practice. Even take it out in the non-season times to see if you can get a response.
I have seen people do wonders with mouth calls. Unfortunately, my gag reflex will not let me use them. These calls can be very cheap but have a steep learning curve. Take your time and head to Youtube for some good advice. They are worth a try, hopefully you can use them.
Also called trigger calls, these mouth blown calls come in a variety of animals, none of which are turkey. The goal is to make a sound that shocks a turkey into a gobble. I have used these effectively but they are often over used. I would pass on these when starting out. There is a time and place for them but they are not as useful as other calls.
There are many hunters that go with these calls but I have never had any real luck with them. There are too many things that can go wrong. Batteries run dead, electronics get wet, and before you know it you don’t have a working call. Besides, where is the challenge?
Almost as popular as calls are decoys. There are hunters that invest hundreds in huge flocks of decoys. While this can work for you, there is little need. You need a couple of decoys, especially for spring season but don’t waste your valuable staring funds on a dozen fake turkeys.
My favorite setup is 3 decoys. I use a single jake and a couple of hens. This is often enough to bring in a territorial tom in spring or a hungry tom in fall. Its much easier to carry this setup than larger setups.
With decoys, I don’t recommend the cardboard kind. They only work from two directions and turkey are unpredictable. There are a number of companies that make collapsible rubber decoys that are very realistic and fit in a small shoulder bag.
Here is a good turkey fact to keep in mind: They have exceptional vision, often better than birds of prey. They can see into the UV spectrum. This makes clothing choice very important.
For turkey, I like to use natural materials as much as possible and stay away from nylon, rayon, and other manufactured fabrics. Some of these just aren’t as effective and can actually stand out to a turkey. Natural fibers will not have this issue.
Here is a valuable tip: Never wash your hunting clothing in detergent that is brightening or has color guard. This will cause them to reflect UV light and a to a turkey it will make you shine blue. I use Purex on all of my hunting attire. Its unscented and preserves color.
Be sure to use camo that accurately reflects the environment that you’re hunting it. In the Midwestern US, Realtree is usually a good bet.
Don’t forget about gloves and your gun or bow. A bright flash of a hand or the shiny barrel of a gun could easily giveaway your position.
Cold and Wet Weather Hunting Wear
The cold can cut your trip short if you’re not prepared. Make sure you have adequate insulation to keep warm. Thermal underwear is a great way to layer your outfit. I have polypropylene thermals that can keep me warm on the coldest days.
Don’t forget your feet. I highly recommend Merino wool socks. The great thing about Merino wool is that it will keep your feet warm and wick away any moisture so they stay dry as well. Learn more about Merino Wool here.
As you layer up, remember that many camouflage clothing manufacturers make excellent coats. Coats and jackets intended for hunting will also help with storage of hunting essentials.
Your shoes will play a big role in your comfort level. Gore-tex boots will keep your feet dry when you’re slogging muddy terrain in search of elusive turkey.
Often times boots intended for hiking can be stiff. So, make sure you get footwear that will keep you comfortable for the long haul.
I have hunted for years without a blind but starting out, they can be a very handy addition. Get one that is easier to transport for a preference. Make sure it has plenty of room, especially if you are bowhunting. You want something large enough you can move around in and doesn’t require you to stick your weapon out the window.
If you choose not to go with a blind, make sure you scout your location well and find a good hiding spot. This is much easier in spring than fall. For fall, a blind is far more useful but not necessary.
Provided you have your shotgun or bow, you can get into turkey hunting for fairly cheap. Even if you pick up every recommended product, its not going to be a fortune. I have spent thousands on turkey hunting equipment over the hears but only really uses a few pieces. Minus the weapon, my full kit list is probably less than $500.00.
Remember to start small. There is no need to invest a fortune on your first trip out. Nature is tricky and where you hunt will have its own nuance. Get the basic stuff and build on your kit slowly after you see what works. While you are at it, get with your local hunting club or find a mentor. They can be a great source of local advice.