Those of us who go turkey hunting every year understand something that non-hunters never will: once you start, you can’t stop. The thrill of getting up in the pitch black, the hours spent mastering calls and searching for the perfect hunting spots, the thrill of hearing a Tom hammering off the roost at the break of day. Once you’ve experienced these things, giving it up just isn’t an option, which is what makes the wait for turkey season to start feel so long, and the moment it finally arrives so sweet.
Now that turkey season 2016 is about to start, we’re once again getting ready to hold our annual Strut Your Stuff contest. If you’re not familiar with it or need a refresher, it goes like this: anytime between March 26 and May 1st (the beginning and end of turkey season), bring any bearded turkey down to RMI Outdoors in Eureka, and we’ll score it according to the official NWTF guidelines. Each entry gets you a raffle ticket for a chance to win a Savage Mark 2 22lr, and at the end of the season the turkey with the biggest overall score will earn the hunter who brought it in a $50 gift certificate. There’s one bracket for adults and one for kids, and each participant can submit up to three entries.
Since we want lots of entries and lots of competition for the top prize, I figured this would also be a good place to give out some tips for helping local hunters maximize their chances of bringing down the biggest bird possible. When it comes to turkey hunting, it’s impossible to overemphasize how important your gear is. If you want to nab a bird and not spend a full day lying in the damp and cold with nothing to show for it, you need to know how your gear works, how to use it best, and that you can rely on it when it matters most.
- Some diehard turkey hunters go all out customizing their shotgun with everything from a pistol grip to a scope. While those kinds of additions certainly don’t hurt, they’re not strictly necessary, either. A 12-guage shotgun with a 26” or 28” barrel – I recommend either the Remmington 870 Winchester SXP or the Browning Maxus – will get the job done, as long as you’re using the right ammo. (I personally use the Browning Maxus, and it’s also worth mentioning that RMI is the only full-line Browning dealer in all of Humboldt County, which means we carry Browning products from every category of goods the company makes). Turkey shells like the Winchester Long Beard have a specially made wad to keep the pattern as tight as possible, which is crucial to bringing down a turkey cleanly. Even at 40 yards out, the pellets should mostly be contained to a circle one foot in diameter. If your pattern is wider than that, you need to switch ammo, or use a turkey choke to keep the pattern tight.
- It is extremely important that your gear be both light as possible, and that it provide you with total camouflage. That includes your gun. Don’t go for something shiny and fancy just because it looks nice. The best guns for turkey hunting are going to be matte black or camo.
- As for what to wear, be absolutely sure you’re covered in camo from head to toe. For spring season, Obsession from Mossy Oak, and Extra Green and Max One from Realtree are all the perfect shades of green for this time of year. If you’re looking for something that works year round, my personal favorite is Mountain Shadow by King’s.
- For decoys, I highly recommend the Avian X brand. They’re lightweight, inflatable, and they have the best painting of any decoys on the market, which means they look more realistic and they don’t wear out as fast. This is especially important for your Jake decoy, which is going to take a beating once you get a Tom to notice it.
- Box calls may be the most basic kind of turkey call, but that doesn’t mean that they stop being useful once you level up in skill. If you’ve want to move on to using pot calls or mouth diaphragms you certainly can, as long as you’ve put in the time it takes to really master using them. Mad brand calls are always great, as are Gobstopper and Zink.
- There’s one brand of knife I always recommend above all others, and that’s Outdoor Edge. Their flay knife works great on birds, and their Razor Pro line in particular have replaceable scalpel blades that are very easy to switch out.
- Just like there’s one brand of knife I always recommend, there’s one brand of binoculars that really stands out above the rest, and that’s Vortex. They come with an unconditional lifetime warranty; just to make that clear, if your pair breaks for any reason, you can get a replacement for free. On top of that, they’re excellent binoculars made from perfectly clear glass.
I’m sure the question you’re all really dying to know is, “where are the best places to find turkey in Humboldt County?” While I won’t give away my favorite personal hunting spots, I can give you some tips that will point you in the right direction. If you check the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF)’s website, you’ll find maps of where the local flocks were first planted in the 70s. Obviously they haven’t all stayed in one place over the last 40 years, but they do still tend to stick close to those areas. By referencing the info available from the NWTF against Google maps of the same area, you should be able to find routes to the areas where Humboldt’s turkey population tend to congregate. Once you’ve headed out to your hunting grounds, just look for the usual signs, whether that’s gravel and dust that the turkeys would want to stay near, or the presence of tracks and feathers.
Once you bag a Tom, remember to bring it in to RMI Outdoors in Eureka so that you can take part in the Strut Your Stuff contest. Whether you end up taking home one of the prizes or not, it’s a great chance to meet fellow local hunters, swap tips and stories, and talk to our staff about equipping yourself with the best gear possible.