It’s hard to imagine, but spring turkey season is almost upon us. I can’t believe it myself, looking outside at the three-plus feet of snow still sitting on my lawn. But it’s here and it’s time to gear up for turkey camp.
Even if you’re asleep, you can still prep for gobbler hunting—it’s a frame of mind more than anything. The most important part of it is getting ready to go out and enjoy the spring air, the greening grass, and the budding leaves. Oh, and shooting a turkey in the face. I know, I’m supposed to say it’s the act of going that is important, and that taking the game is secondary. Anyone who knows me, however, knows that I have a slight issue with turkeys. When I think of the toms running around my farm, I channel Robert De Niro from The Untouchables—“I want him dead!”
Let’s start off with the essentials for just hunting turkeys. You need a gun and some way to hide from them. In most states, you have to use a shotgun. There are a few states in the West that allow rifles. So if you’re out in Wyoming, and you want to load up the rifle, go for it. Heck, I’d like to come with you. But for most of us, we’re talking scatterguns.
You’ve probably heard time and time again that you must pattern your shotgun. I’m not going to walk you though how to do this. There are plenty of articles that will tell you how. I will, however, say that if you can, it’s not a bad idea to pattern it again in camp, if you’re traveling to hunt. Any time you travel, there is the possibility that something can happen to mess with your gun and change your point of impact. As an added bonus, there isn’t much more of a confidence-inspiring thing to do the day before a hunt than to take a target shot and know that you’re on.
Getting to this point means you brought your gun and ammo. That’s a start. I find it best to start packing for camp well before season gets there. Make sure you have all the gear you’ll need. M wife suggested years ago that I make a list. She sends me to the grocery store with one all the time, and I guess it does help me not forget things. So make a list of all the gear you’ll need and double-check it. I can tell you horror stories of guys forgetting ammo, shotguns, camo—you name it.
You need a hen decoy, as they seem to be the most important decoy to have in your arsenal. I favor the Hard Core Widow Maker hen decoy, it is one of the more life-like decoys on the market. For jake decoys, there are a lot of good ones out there. The Flextone Funky Chicken is great because there is nothing intimidating about the decoy, so a tom will come in to push it around, but it doesn’t flare other birds. The full-strut tom decoys are awesome when used in the right scenario.
Hen decoys are best used along with a jake or a strutter to drive a tom crazy. I’ll often use mine on the edge of a field when I know there are toms on the other side. I’m strongly thinking of using the Mojo Shake-N-Jake motorized decoy for open field scenarios. I think the movement of a strutting jake with a hen decoy would be deadly on toms popping out of the hardwoods on the other side of the field, which often happens on my farm.
If I move into the woods, I’ll often just use the hen decoy alone, if at all. I was given some great advice a few years ago about decoy use in tight quarters. In thicker woods, if you’re calling and the birds are coming in, it’s better to not let them see a decoy and keep searching for the source of the calls. I saw this firsthand a few years ago when I had put out a hen and a jake on the edge of a tiny clearing in the middle of some thick mixed woods. I started calling and had a thunder chicken start gobbling back at me. Before long, I realized that the bird was coming at me from the opposite direction I had planned, a hazard when hunting in thick cover. Before I knew it, the tom had locked on the decoy and had me pinned down with no shot. Two days later, I tried it again with no decoy. The tom came running in and kept searching for the hen, which led him straight into my sights. Lucky for him, he didn’t live long enough to regret that choice.
The best part of doing a turkey camp? Being in turkey camp. Fellow writer and adventurer Rick Sosabee, from Dawsonville, Georgia, has been in a few turkey camps.
“The thing I always liked best was being in the company of other hunters and good friends,” he said. “After a long winter, there’s nothing like getting out there and going after a turkey, and doing so in the company of a bunch of buddies.”
Turkey camp can be a way to dry-run deer camp stuff. If you’re in an area that has them, you can look for mushrooms, chase steelhead in the river, or just kick back and relax after the snow finally melts.
For camping gear, there are some essential items I look for. I use a tent, a Browning Big Horn two-room, instead of a larger camper. It’s big enough for me and a few others to sleep comfortably and still have enough room for gear and other stuff. I had a smaller Browning tent before, and really liked how well it stood up to rain and wind—and the occasional snowstorm.
Another essential piece of equipment is a canopy. A canopy can help keep those April showers off you when you and the guys are sitting around after the hunt joking about why Rick missed the easy shot on the tom or how Josh was able to leave home and forget his shotgun—again. I’ve tried several, but you should take a look at the Coleman Swingwall instant canopies. They are really nice, having an extra 10-by-10-foot wall that can swing up and be used as shelter too.
The most important piece of gear to take and have with you is a camera to capture the memories and a mind free of the worries you’re leaving behind. Hunting camp is supposed to be fun. It’s a time to share laughs and time with buddies, and to shoot gobblers. I like turkeys, I really do. They are a great bird and so very much fun to hunt.