When I heard my first wild turkey gobble while sitting in the woods awaiting first light, I was hooked on the sport.
Since then, I’ve traveled throughout the U.S., Mexico, deep into the Yucatan jungle and more recently, to the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, all in pursuit of this magnificent bird.
Every year, I eagerly await the May 1 opening of our spring turkey season. Thank goodness, Ben Franklin didn’t get his way and have the wild turkey be the country’s national bird.
But for the first time in years, I won’t spend opening day in Saratoga County, but rather in the turkey woods of Madison County. The reason is that on the evening of April 30, I’ll be attending the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremony in Canastota. So rather than miss the opening day the next morning, I’ve arranged to stay in Canastota and hunt there the next morning. My plan is to hunt until I get a tom or the clock hits noon, then head to my next turkey hunt in Bangor, Pa. In New York, you can only hunt turkeys until noon during the spring season.
Several years ago, at a New York State Outdoor Writers spring outing, I met Jerry Wilson of Pennsylvania, owner of Wilson Game Calls. For the past seven years, I’ve hunted both of that state’s spring and fall turkey seasons with him. Since our first hunt together, I’ve been successfully using his box and slate calls, both of which have helped me complete most of my National Wild Turkey Federation Slams.
Come May 4, with or without a Pennsylvania tom, I’ll be heading home to hunt my own turkey woods the next morning.
A week later, I’ll be on the road again, headed for this year’s New York State Outdoor Writers Association Safari in Letchworth State Park, another area I’ve never hunted. This 14,350-acre, 17-mile-long park is known as the Grand Canyon of the East because of its 600-foot-deep gorge. At the bottom, the Genesee River flows over 20 waterfalls, including three main ones. I’ll hunt turkeys in the morning and fish the river and nearby lakes in the afternoon for four days. It’s why I love May, the feathers-and-fins month.
Most of the outdoor magazines and television shows have been introducing a number of new turkey toys for us to play with, and after careful review, these are my top seven choices to help us bring wise old gobblers to the gun and oven.
This year, I will be leaving the big shoulder-pounding 31⁄2-inch magnum, semi-auto turkey gun at home. In its place will be a
6.5-pound Stoeger Industries Coach Gun Supreme. I’ve wanted one of these for several years, primarily for small-game hunting. But this year, when I saw and touched their new model at the Shot Show, with its single trigger and screw-in choke (improved cylinder and modified) tubes, I knew it would also make a good turkey gun.
All I had to do was to add a pair of extended turkey tubes. With its four choke tubes, this little
20-inch-barreled, lightweight side-by-side becomes a very versatile and easy-carry small-game/turkey gun. Its ability to handle both
23⁄4- and 3-inch shot shells makes it even better.
Other favorable features include a corrosion-resistant stainless-steel receiver, brass bead front sight, and soft recoil-reducing rubber butt plate. Usually, I don’t let the appearance of a gun influence my choice, but this Supreme model with its AA grade, American walnut with border point checkering is really nice to look at. There’s also a single-trigger A-grade model Coach Gun.
The single-trigger Stoeger Coach Guns offer both 12- and 20-gauge models and they have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $399 for the A-grade, $479 for the Supreme (www.stoegerindustries.-com).
My shotshell choice for this year’s turkey hunts with the Coach Gun is the Federal Premium three-inch, Wing-Shok magnum in No. 4 copper-plated lead. This round will launch a little over 250 pellets at a velocity of 1,210 feet per second. Turkeys are fast, but not that fast. Suggested retail price for a box of 25 is $30 (www.federalcartridge.-com).
To keep these pellets in a nice, tight turkey hunting pattern, I’ve also ordered a pair of HS Strut Undertaker Ported Turkey choke tubes. These are specially designed for shot loads and the muzzle break helps reduce felt recoil, while the ports are designed to separate the shot cups from the shot string. These features all add up to a very consistent shot pattern — exactly what you want for turkey hunting. Suggested retail price is about $30 (www.hunterspec.com).
WILSON GAME CALLS
Since I first hunted with Wilson, I’ve been a user of his handmade calls. I carry both his custom Dominator slate and box calls on all my turkey hunts. Jerry uses quality slate from a local mine. He polishes it, then surrounds with either a cherry or walnut base. Using either a wooden or graphite striker on the slate surface of his slate call will produce amazingly realistic soft and loud turkey calls.
His box calls, which I use most often, are equally effective and actually produce trilingual turkey sounds which have allowed me to fool turkeys in America, Mexico and Canada. The box calls offer wood choices of walnut, red cedar and purple heart/popular.
And the one I am going to try this year is his new Walnut push-button call. The first turkey I ever shot, I called in with an old push-button call.
The Dominator slate call is about $25, the box, $30, the button call $25 (www.wilsongamecalls.com).
And while on his website, check out the Warrior four-in-one call and the new Ed Noonan Signature Series box call.
Now that you’ve fooled a Tom’s hearing with your sweet calls and his sharp eyes with your seductive hen decoy, what you don’t want him to see is YOU.
Most hunters today sit on the ground with their backs against a tree to break up their outline, but this setup really leaves a chance of the bird coming in from behind, quite often without the hunter seeing or hearing him until it’s too late. The best way I’ve found to eliminate getting busted by an incoming turkey is to blind him. Ameristep’s All-Pro Tent Chair Blind is an excellent tool for the job. Not only will it keep a hunter hidden, but it will keep him or her comfortable and allow enough freedom of movement to shoot in all directions. There are six shooting windows in this blind, and the Realtree AP HD camouflage material blends in with all wooded surroundings.
The overall size is 36 inches wide, 48 inches deep and 54 inches tall, and it goes up and down very quickly. It weighs just 15 pounds, and folds neatly into a small package that fits in a case with shoulder carrying straps. I know from experience that these blinds don’t spook turkeys and work for deer. There are also two other versions available. Suggested retail price for the All-Pro is $99 (www.ameristep.-com).
Being in the turkey woods and set up well before sunup is a “must,” but it requires getting there quickly and quietly so you don’t alert roosting birds. Walking in dark woods isn’t always that easy. Every year, I see flashlight beams making their way through the woods, and if I see the light, so do any turkeys. That’s why I’ve added a new item to my hunting hat, the Energizer 360-degree LED Cap Light.
Unlike other cap lights, this one swivels a full 360 degrees to direct the light where you need it. It has three settings, a high white beam, a low white beam and night vision (red) beam. The night vision beam is actually the least detected by turkeys, but it can also be seen by the other hunters in the woods.
In addition to the 360-degree swivel capability, there’s a set screw that can be tightened to keep the light beam focused securely — perfect for loading a shotgun, getting gear situated or setting up a ground blind. Suggested retail price is $32 (www.energizer.com).