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So you want to kill a turkey. You might ask yourself, “Do I really need to drop another chunk of change on a specially-designed turkey vest?”
The answer is a resounding “yes!”
My passion for hunting turkeys started some forty years ago, when my father took me to a local sport store. It was an old fashioned gun shop with a lot of vintage taxidermy. One of the mounts that fascinated me was that of a strutting gobbler. Back then, there weren’t many turkeys in my part of New York State, and I had never seen one up close.
That day my father bought me a turkey call– a Lynch box call. And so began my life-long obsession with hunting turkeys.
In those times, there were no DVD how-to references, so a lot of my learning came from in-the-field experience. I attended workshops by industry legends, like Dick Kirby, and read any magazine article or book I could find on the subject of turkey hunting. I soon discovered woodsmanship was equally as important as turkey calling.
I paid close attention to any hunter who regularly bagged birds. I was later fortunate to learn from and hunt with a local legend, my buddy Mike. He could call in gobblers like no one I’ve ever known. His turkey calls sounded more like a turkey than a real turkey.
My work with the National Wild Turkey Federation connected me with many experts in the field. Being involved with a game call company gave me further experience hunting with professionals. I’ve learned many strategies from hunting in several states with some nationally-known pros.
However, there’s nothing like learning from the real thing. For over 10 years, I have raised heritage breed turkeys and studied their behavior, their numerous calls, and their sounds of communication.
Through this lifelong study, and having called in hundreds of turkeys, I’ve learned the true art of turkey hunting. I would like to share some key pointers that will help you be more successful, one of which, is the importance of a turkey vest.
The Importance of a Turkey Vest
Today’s turkey vest is manufactured with specifically-designed pockets and compartments. It allows you to carry all your necessary equipment and distribute the weight of those items in a comfortable article of clothing. Quality vests sport stiffer canvas type material, which supports anything you carry more comfortably. Shoulder support straps even out the weight distribution.
More importantly, a vest keeps your turkey hunting calls and equipment organized, and once your vest is “loaded,” you’ll know you’ve got everything along. This preload comes in handy when you’re leaving for the hunt blurry-eyed and foggy-minded in the early morning hours. While you can overdo the amount you carry, a quality vest will allow you to carry everything easily for a half day hunt.
It’s important to know which pockets hold what stuff. Keeping each item ready will increase your odds of success. By fidgeting around too much while searching through pockets, I’ve bumped gobblers who had roosted closer than I thought. So always put your gear in the same place and know where everything is. That way, in the predawn setup, you won’t be fumbling around digging for stuff and scaring birds off the roost.
Your turkey vest will allow you to slip in and sit down quietly, reaching slowly into your pockets and drawing out exactly what you need with minimum movement.
Try to purchase a vest with all the features noted below.
Turkey Vest Features
When selecting a vest consider the camouflage pattern, try to match the area that you most commonly hunt in order to best blend in to nature.
Really important in selecting a turkey vest is the feature of a drop-down cushion seat with a waterproof liner. If a gobbler sounds off unexpectedly nearby, the attached seat allows you to plunk down quick for the set up. Not only that, but you’ll appreciate that foam padding the older you get. If your turkey vest doesn’t have a seat, you can carry one separately. But that’s another thing you’ll have to carry. Turkey hunting and cushioned pads go cheek to cheek. Don’t leave home without one.
Purchase your turkey vest a size larger than you normally wear. Bigger is better. This is especially true with a turkey vest. You’ll want it to fit comfortably over an insulated coat or rain gear. The extra roominess allows you to pivot easily when you’re sitting at the base of a tree. You may have to twist to make the shot on a gobbler that suddenly appears at an unexpected angle. Wearing tight-fitting, binding clothing will definitely restrict your ability to mount your gun properly.
Some turkey vests feature a back game pouch to carry out your bird. Select a vest with a deep pouch, as I’ve found most of these don’t work very well. A better function of the game pouch is to tote your collapsible decoys. Hard-body decoys may not fit in your vest, but if you prefer this style, tote them in a small duffle bag. More to carry, but you’ll slip through the woods and set up quieter with the hard-bodied decoys in a bag.
What’s In My Turkey Vest
Most turkey vests have a pocket with elastic bands for holding turkey shells. I usually carry three extra shells, along with the three in the chamber of my shotgun. You seldom need more than one shot on a hunt.
In another front pocket, I carry several mouth calls in a small plastic container.
Here’s a tip to make mouth calls last longer and work better: after every trip, rinse them in mouth wash, then in cool water. Break off pieces of tooth picks and carefully insert them between the latex layers. Store them in the refrigerator between trips. I learned this from my turkey hunting mentor, Mike, over 30 years ago.
On the side of most turkey vests is a specially-designed pocket to hold a box call. I’d put my box call in a plastic bag before it goes in the pocket. Since it’s a wood friction call, moisture is bad. You can also keep a small piece of felt between the paddle and box of the call and a rubber band around the whole thing to keep it from making awkward squawks as you travel through the woods.
Larger side pockets are generally designed for a couple of slate calls. These may also have separate pouches within them to hold the calls in place, along with elastic bands to secure strikers. In a Ziploc bag, I carry a stick of friction chalk, a scrubby, and a small piece of rough sandpaper. These are used to refresh the pot and friction calls during the hunt.
Zipties, a pen, and small pocket knife go in one pocket for tagging the bird. If your state requires it, be sure to have your license displayed in a license holder pinned in the center of your back most hunting vests feature grommet holes for the license holder pin so that you don’t keep punching holes through the cloth.
Besides the standard calls and shells, a few extras may include a simple first aid kit, binoculars, pruning shears, and of course your cell phone (set on silent). Don’t forget that part. It’s uncanny how at the precise moment game appears, my cellphone goes off. A few times, I’ve forgotten to silence it. I’ve learned that it’s extremely difficult to muffle the phone’s ringing with one arm and raise the gun at the same time.
Speaking of cellphones, be sure to grab my exclusive free gobbler ringtone. You can download it here.
A small flashlight is very handy when slipping in the woods during those early dark hours of predawn. However, bear in mind that turkeys flush out of the trees readily when they see flash lights. Use your flashlight sparingly and only when you need to.
A stowed granola bar and bottle of water is really nice to find midmorning, especially if you’ve skipped breakfast.
Pack all this stuff, and your vest, like mine, will weigh about thirty pounds, so you’ll want to carry only what you need. I guess you’ll just have to let common sense be your guide. As for me, I’ve always been told I don’t have any, so that probably explains why I usually carry everything but the kitchen sink.
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