We have 9 days left until the final night of sleep before turkey season and I can’t contain my excitement this year. I was able to scout my new hunting property for a full year since last turkey season and I’m about as ready as I can be. I’ve created a checklist that I follow every night and morning before I start my hunt to be sure that I have everything I need and it’s where it’s supposed to be. Today, I’m offering my checklist and tips that I have to start this turkey season out the right way; with a bird in hand on opening day. Good luck and happy hunting!
Training With Your Gear
As a former warfighter, I was always taught to train with the gear I’ll be wearing in combat to have a better feel and develop muscle memory. I’m not equating turkey hunting to war, but the principles are the same for hunters and warfighters, alike. Developing a muscle memory with your gear allows you to work through the level of excitement you get when you hear your Tom calling back to you.
This excitement will cause people to forget to load their gun, stumble through their turkey calls, forget which pocket in your vest you left extra ammo, and many other mishaps that can be avoided with proper planning. It’s best for hunters to practice while wearing your full camo, turkey vest, shotgun, and boots at the range and in the woods. I train an hour or 2 every week with my hunting gear in the offseason to keep myself fresh and my muscle memory intact. The last thing any of us wants is to see a 27 lbs. turkey with 2″ spurs walk in front of us and we’re too excited to get an accurate shot without spooking the bird.
Spring Turkey Hunting Checklist
Turkey hunting is something that I’ve only taken up a couple of years ago, but it’s been the most frustrating, defeating, and exhilarating animal that I’ve hunted. The first time I struck my slate call and a Tom finally called back to me was a sense of accomplishment that I didn’t expect. It’s kind of like the first time you walk up to your first deer and feel that energy, both good and bad. After my first 2 years hunting turkey’s and the many, many mistakes that I’ve made, I created a checklist to make sure that I prepare at the same level of intensity and precision as I did in my military service. This checklist is something that has worked really well for me and has ensured that my probability of success is much higher than without the list. Take what you like and disregard anything that doesn’t work for you.
- Are they clean?
- Did I treat with Permethrin? (Normally 1 week before (April 3rd)
- Camo pants, shirts, balaclava, jacket, and boots? (Turkeys have incredible vision and you must be covered for increased probability)
- Insulated boots or warm weather boots? (Figure out the weather and adapt accordingly)
- All outer layers, including boots waterproof? Springtime is rainy in many places, be prepared by having waterproof clothing on all outer layers
- Do I have spare socks and underwear? (For me, this is an absolute must when I hunt by myself deep into National Forest.
- Did I Clean, lube, and inspect my shotgun?
- Did I dry my gun after cleaning? (So important to avoid debris, mud, and dirt from clogging up the chamber or barrel)
- Do I Have my shotgun? (Yes, I’ve forgotten my gun at the house before)
- Is my shotgun unloaded and cleared for transport to the woods? (legal issue to always follow, no matter what)
- Did I pattern my shotgun?
- Is my turkey choke installed?
- Are my sights good after the drive? ( I always make sure my gun hasn’t rattled around too much with the rough terrain I have to take to get to my property)
- Do I have my ammo?
- Do I have my turkey shells (I shoot both 3″ and 3.5″ shells)
- Is my ammo in good condition and dry?
- Do I have my decoys?
- Which decoys do I have? (I only use Hen decoys on public land for Spring Hunting)
- What kind of condition are my decoys in? (a Tom can really wreck a decoy, so make sure they’re ok after each use)
- Do I have each call? (I use a box, slate, and diaphragm mouth call)
- Did I wash my mouth call? (if you practice a lot, you need to keep it clean so it doesn’t get bacteria on it)
- Are my calls working?
- Are they in the designated pockets?
- Do I have my vest?
- Is my vest treated?
- Is everything in the correct pockets?
- Is my vest functional for the day? (Vests can take a beating too, make sure you inspect your gear before you leave)
- Are my snacks packed?
- Did I bring bug spray? (Turkeys don’t have a great sense of smell)
- Did I bring baby wipes? (a must for a day out in the woods, personally at least)
- Body Powder? ( I always put body powder on my feet and other squishy spots for comfort)
- Did I brush or use mouth wash? ( this sounds juvenile, but these are important things to consider for your day)
- Do I have enough gas for the drive? ( I’ve had to stop for gas at 4 AM and missed sunrise because of my poor planning)
- Is my car packed with everything, but weapons? I only put my guns in the car once I’m driving
- Do I know exactly where I’m going? ( I’m awful with directions and get lost easily in pitch-black darkness in the middle of the National Forest)
- Do I have my knives?
- Did I sharpen my knives before I left?
- Do I have my portable knife sharpener?
- Are my knives in good condition?
How Do I Choose the Right Turkey Vest?
I don’t think I know the answer to this question because everything is so personal. For example, my brother loves his Mossy Oak vest, but I don’t like the sizing and use a couple of different vests. My best advice is to try on different vests at stores, such as Sportsman’s Warehouse, Dicks Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Cabelas. I know Dicks and Cabelas will be expensive, but I love shopping at my Sportsman’s Warehouse in Roanoke, VA.
As far as choosing the right vest for you, try to consider how much you’re comfortable with carrying into the woods. I use 3 separate calls, carry snacks, extra ammo, a knife, multi-tool, and normally a pocket for an airplane bottle of bourbon (Just to stay warm, lol). This adds up to a lot of pockets, but if you’re not needing that many pockets, don’t get a vest that will have more than you need. I believe in being as minimalistic as possible because it reduces noise as you walk through the woods, and keeps you light on your feet for longer. Make sure you get a vest with durable, thick shoulder straps that feel strong and sturdy. Most vests will come with a level of padding on the straps to add comfort, I really like them, but some wear out really quick.
How Do I Choose the Right Shotgun?
Choosing the right shotgun can be an exhausting or exhilarating experience, based on your previous knowledge and budget. I currently have 2 shotguns, a Mossberg 500 and a Stoeger M3500. One is a gas blowback-operated shotgun (Mossberg) and the Stoeger is made with the same inertia-driven system that Benelli made so famous (Benelli owns Stoeger). I love both of my shotguns, but I prefer to hunt with my Stoeger because I can use it for anything I’d ever hunt with a shotgun.
My best advice for choosing the right shotgun is to figure out what you want out of it and what you’ll use it for. For example, if you’re only going to hunt turkey, you don’t need a Stoeger M3500; Mossberg will do great for you. However, I prefer to hunt duck, turkey, dove, and grouse, so my Stoeger can chamber all the different loads I need for each animal. If you’re choosing a turkey hunting gun, I highly recommend getting a chamber that holds a 3.5″ shell because they’re better for shooting a turkey at 40+ yards than a 3″ shell. You’ll get more pellets, which means more opportunity for a kill shot. If you can get a shotgun that has a camo design, that would be great, but if not, at least make sure it’s matte black and not satin.
When it comes to turkey hunting, you need to be on your p’s and q’s because they’re already really paranoid and have near 360-degree full-color spectrum vision. Turkey can see and hear really well, so you need to focus on noise discipline every time you take a step. Never call a turkey if you’re not ready to shoot the bird because they are normally much closer than what they appear. If you’re not ready to shoot, you’ll spook the bird by the time you raise your gun if it surprises you. Follow my checklist and add to it or take what applies to your and your traditions. Good Luck and happy hunting, friends.
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