[su_dropcap style=”light”]T[/su_dropcap]he wild turkey is an American bird right down to his red, white and blue head. You may recall that shortly after we had that little scuffle with the British a few hundred years ago, Ben Franklin himself wanted to make the wild turkey our national bird. Thank heaven ol’ Ben was outvoted on this particular idea. Imagine the wild turkey as a completely protected species. We would be forced to hunt something else, like maybe the bald eagle. Hunting eagles wouldn’t be much fun, and I sincerely doubt they are anywhere near as tasty.
But even if it had never ﬂirted with a highfalutin yet largely ceremonial government title, the wild turkey would remain unique among game birds. We don’t hunt any other feathered creature the way we hunt turkeys, with the basic premise being sitting and attempting to call them into shotgun range. Their habits and wariness, coupled with ultra-keen eyesight and hearing create a need for the use of hunting tactics and equipment that we apply to no other type or breed of fowl. Herewith are some strategies and gobblerappropriate gear for you to consider for your next feathered frenzy.
CALLING TURKEYS HAS BECOME the most overrated, mystifying, and downright lied about phase of turkey hunting. Some supposed experts claim that calling comprises only about 30 percent of what is needed to seal the deal with a gobbler, maybe less. I could argue with that ﬁgure, but if you are a beginner, you will need to ﬁnd a call that you are comfortable with. I would go with a box call or a slate friction-type call. Learn to make the simple yelp of a hen turkey and maybe the cluck to begin with, and that will give you a strong start.
Don’t worry about doing 14 different calls like the guys on TV. If a turkey is ready to be called in, sometimes a couple yelps and a cluck or two is all that is necessary. Let the guys at the calling contests do all the fancy stuff; you are out in the woods to shoot turkeys. Give the gobbler just enough to keep him interested. If he is coming toward you, quit calling. Less is sometimes better than more.
Whether you call more or less, you still need a call. And, friends, there are a lot of turkey calls out there. There are many good ones that will call turkeys most days. Prices run from really cheap to what you might shell out on the down payment of a nice truck. HS Strut offers several moderately priced box calls that work; they sound like a turkey. What I like about the Undertaker box call is it features an abrasive, waterproof surface on the paddle and the striking surfaces of the call. If you have ever been aﬁeld and have your favorite box call get soaked and rendered useless, you know what a great feature this is. MSRP is $39.99. The new Triple Trauma box call has an adjustable lid that allows you to change the tone of the call and mimic three different hens. MSRP is $29.99, and you can contact them via their website (hunterspec.com).
Finally, the new Hensanity call from Primos offers a couple new twists to a tried-and-true form of turkey call. (Editor’s note: This was featured in last month’s News column.) The body of the call or “pot” has four sound ports that you control with your hand and allows you to make a wide array of variations in your calling. The frictionite surface means you don’t have to worry about losing your sandpaper to rough up the call. MSRP is $29.99, and you can ﬁnd more information from Primos (primos.com).
WHEN TURKEYS HAVE SEEMINGLY quit talking (they will do this often during any given season), sometimes the best thing to do is to get really aggressive. Cinch up your boots, call like you mean it, and cover as much real estate as possible. Go to your listening place and use your locator crow or owl call; if you hear nothing, try the turkey calls. Get assertive with a lot of loud calling, cuts and cackles. If no gobbler responds, move on to the next spot. One down side of this method, of course, is sometimes the gobbler shows up for a date after you leave. You can deal with it; if you hear him gobble at your last stop, get back over there.
The opposite of the marathon runner with a shotgun technique is to simply wait them out. If you know the place you are hunting well and you know the turkeys are there, maybe you just want to sit tight. Find a good spot to call from and set up camp. Get comfortable, call every 15 or 20 minutes, and by all means take a nap if you want to. A word of caution on the nap thing: You need to be ready for the dreaded “come in silent” gobbler. These are the turkeys that never say a word, slip in on you and don’t gobble. And a turkey with these antisocial tendencies needs to be taken out of the gene pool.
But no matter if you run and gun or sit on your hindquarters all day, you still need durable camouﬂage clothing that is functional for turkey hunting. Nomad performance hunting apparel has partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation to create a line of premium performance fabrics that feature the NWTF logo and the new NWTF Mossy Oak Obsession camouﬂage pattern. A collection featuring the Bottomland pattern (one of my favorites) is also available. A portion of all proﬁts from this line will go to the NWTF for conservation-based projects.
Although I have hunted spring gobblers in the snow (notice that I didn’t say I liked it), most spring hunts are in warmer weather. The Nomad/NWTF collection should have you covered from early to late season. Their woven long-sleeve shirt and pant features rugged, lightweight Rip-Stop Technology with secured cargo pockets – designed speciﬁcally for the turkey woods. For warm-weather hunts, the company offers a quarter-zip and cooling T-shirt option built from breathable materials that feature vented back/underarms and offers moisture transport. To round out the collection, Nomad also offers hats, gaiters and gloves. Their website is nomad.com.
EXPERIENCED TURKEY HUNTERS KNOW that the last several yards of a turkey’s approach toward you are the most critical. Make a mistake after he crosses the 50-yard line and you will not be partaking of fried turkey breast. The key here is just to be ready. Sit at the base of the largest tree you can ﬁnd and face the direction the gobbler will approach from. If you are a right-handed shooter, point your left shoulder at the place you think he will appear; do the opposite if you are a lefty. This allows you to swing the gun in order to cover as much area as possible. As you sit with your knees up, the shotgun is on one knee. Get as comfortable as you can, because you’ll need to be able to sit like this for some time.
When the gobbler comes into view, you cannot move. Let me repeat that sentence and add an exclamation point for emphasis: You cannot move!
As the moment of truth draws near, you may need to make a very slight adjustment in aiming at the turkey. This is accomplished by carefully watching the bird and waiting until his head goes behind something big, usually a tree (and the tree has to be pretty large for this to work). Keep in mind the turkey must be within a few feet of this tree if you are to go undetected. Remember the old turkey hunter adage: “A turkey can see through a thin rock.”
Ask any experienced turkey hunter; the scenario of sitting at the base of a tree while the gobbler approaches can be torture. The gobbler may take his own sweet time in getting to you, longer if you’re sitting on a rock, tree root or other sharp object, all while you are trying to hold the shotgun on your knee without moving! (Did I mention you cannot move?) Through the years, I have sat and watched the barrel of more than one companion’s gun start to wobble in increasingly larger circles. Turkey shotguns can be heavy, and so something to help relieve the weight of that gun may be in order. The Primos Trigger Stick Gen 3 series can really help with this.
The best feature of this product to me is it will adjust to the desired height with one hand. Simply grab the “trigger” and boom, it’s right where you need it to be. The Gen 3 series has added improved features such as locking leg angles to provide more stability, and the gun rest rotates so you can easily adjust your aim. These sticks come in monopod, bipod and tripod models, and in short and tall lengths.
ONCE TURKEY DECOYS FINALLY MADE their debut, I began to see some hunters get away with movement near an approaching gobbler that would previously have been impossible. The reason is simple. The turkey has his eyes on the decoy and is less likely to see the hunter. However, until recently, I’ve been discouraged from carrying decoys because they are too bulky and heavy, and some early versions of light, packable decoys were often lacking in the appearance department, resembling a mutant ostrich as much as anything else.
But I’m beginning to change my opinion on that, because HS Strut’s new Strut Lite decoys look and feel great. They have a ﬂake-resistant paint job and have a foldable, hollow body construction for easy storage in your vest. They are available in a three-pack with a semistrutting jake, a feeding hen and a breeding hen, and individually. MSRP for the ﬂock is $99.99; singles range from $34.99 to $44.99. See hunterspec.com.
ALTHOUGH SOME STATES ALLOW RIFLES for taking turkeys, it is generally thought of as a shotgun sport. The choices for turkey shotguns out there are wide and varied, and choosing just one or two shotguns to discuss with you here is not easy. I’ve gone back to my roots a bit with the choice of two pump guns, but I may have balanced that out with decidedly new and improved ammo.
With more than 12 million models sold since it appeared in 1951, what can you say about the Remington 870 that has not already been said? I will stick my neck out (pun intended) and say more turkeys have been shot with a Remington 870 than any other shotgun. It has the rock-solid dependability and functionality that turkey and waterfowl hunters demand, and I’m sure that many of you out there are still hunting with your dad’s or granddad’s 870 Wingmaster. I am not sure I can even count the number of variations of the 870, but the Super Magnum Turkey/ Waterfowl model will do most anything you need a shotgun for. The “Super” in the name designates it will handle 2¾- to 3½-inch shells for those days when you want a little extra punch for turkeys, or Canada geese. Another good reason to choose this one is because it comes in Mossy Oak Bottomland. MSRP for this model is $629.00.
If for some reason you’d like another brand or ﬂavor of pump gun, the 612 Magnum Turkey from CZ-USA may be the one for you. And, although this smoothbore was designed for turkey hunting, you won’t have any trouble taking it to the duck blind or pheasant ﬁelds. It weighs in at an amazing 6.8 pounds, a big bonus that you are going to appreciate if you need to lug it though the turkey woods. The 612 Magnum Turkey is hydrodipped in Realtree Xtra Green, shoots everything up to 3½-inch ammo and comes with an extra-full choke for turkeys and a modiﬁed for upland game and steel shot. This pump gun has an action reminiscent of the Model 12, and with an MSRP of $429 it is hard to beat.
As with the countless calls, there are various and sundry shotgun shells out there for turkeys these days. Winchester seems to be ruling the roost in this area with their Long Beard XR ammo. The boys at Winchester made shot shell history when they perfected the Shot-Lok technology, which allowed them to load shot in a liqueﬁed resin. This resin hardens, and upon ignition in the chamber of the shotgun it shatters and produces a super-effective buffering compound. All of this translates into the tight downrange patterns today’s turkey hunters want. New this year will be 20-gauge rounds in the Long Beard XR line, so stay tuned for news about this. MSRP is $18.99 for a box of 10 3-inch shells for 12-gauge shotguns, and $22.99 for 3½-inch shells.
FINALLY, AND FOR BETTER OR worse, turkey hunting has become a game of tightshooting shotguns, and to many turkey hunters the tighter the better. Today’s gobbler hunters want effective killing patterns on turkeys at 50 yards and beyond. George Trulock in Whigham, Ga., has been making choke tubes for many years and he is good at it. Mr. Trulock has forgotten more about choke tubes on shotguns than most of us will ever know. Currently TruLock Chokes (trulockchokes.com) has an inventory of over 2,000 choke tubes in stock, so take your pic. Trulock went so far as to not only make a choke tube speciﬁcally to be used with the Winchester Long Beard XR ammo, but he is making choke tubes speciﬁc to the shot size you want to use. He’s said, “If you shoot different shot sizes through the same choke, you could see a big difference in the pattern for each size. That’s why we decided to make each choke model speciﬁc to the Longbeard XR No. 4, 5 and 6 shot, and to tell you the truth, the results were quite impressive.”
PERSONALLY, I’M VERY THANKFUL that Mr. Franklin lost out on his bid to make the wild turkey our national bird. I would hate to think about the redbuds blooming and all of those old gobblers ﬁlling the spring air with their racket and we couldn’t be out there pursuing them. Not only do we get to match wits with this most American of birds, but we also get to justify the purchase of some really cool guns and gear. I love turkey hunting. Don’t you? ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light”]W[/su_dropcap]hether you prefer a 20-, 12- or even a 10-gauge shotgun to go after your spring gobbler, the time is now to pick the right load for maximum effectiveness. You might only get one chance at that trophy bird, so why not give yourself the best opportunity at a quick clean and ethical harvest?
There are many turkey choke tubes on the market, and folks often ask me which one is best. I always tell them to pick a choke designed for your gun and the load you plan to shoot. But whatever you do, choose something, because you shouldn’t head into the woods without a turkey choke. Trust me, you are not doing yourself any favors by not having one.
Choke tubes come in four standard sizes, commonly known as cylinder choke (C), improved cylinder choke (IC), modiﬁed choke (M), and full choke (F). Essentially, turkey chokes are extra full. Once upon a time, the standard for shotgun patterns was the 30-inch circle and what percentage of the pellets in a shotgun shell was delivered inside that area. The idea was to have an evenly distributed pattern inside the circle, but modern turkey hunters want something tighter than that.
TURKEY CHOKES ARE DESIGNED speciﬁcally to keep your pattern tight at various distances. Turkey shells have more of a powder charge than a typical shotgun load, and this is where this distinctive choke will pay dividends. The general rule of thumb is that it takes three pellets to break a clay target and six pellets to take down a small game bird.
Of course, as the size of the game bird increases, so does the number of pellets that are needed for a successful shot. In other words, it takes more pellets to kill a turkey than it does to bag a quail! Shot size is also important, as a larger shot will be needed to take down a turkey. In order to choose your chokes, you want to predict how far away your shot is going to be.
Hunters go after spring turkeys using a variety of methods; so one load won’t be perfect for everybody. But everyone can pick the perfect load to match his or her style of hunting. First, determine which size shot you like best – 2¾-, 3- or 3½-inch shells loaded with size 3, 4, 5 or 6 shot? Again, you need to shoot several through your gun and see which one patterns best on paper. There are even pelleted blends with specially designed wads for greater distance. Last year I hunted with Federal 3rd Degree Turkey Loads, copper-plated lead pellets in size 4, 5 and 6 shot. I was impressed with the effectiveness through my gun prior to season, especially at intermediate ranges.
There are old ﬁxed-choke guns that will shoot certain loads better regardless of other factors. I like to start out with standard No. 6s and see what the pattern looks like before trying something different. My father has an old Remington 870 ﬁxed full choke, and he seems to shoot size 6 loads through it best. Newer 20-gauge shotguns will shoot size 7s at 1,100 feet per second, and these are great for a young hunter or beginning sportsmen or -women.
FOR HUNTERS ON THE MOVE, lighter guns with good loads chambered in 3- and 3½-inch size 4 or 5 shot with velocity over 1,100 fps are more desirable. Regardless, a hunter needs to practice with several loads and determine which one works best. I like to ﬁnd at least two that pattern well, choose one that I prefer and have another on standby. Why have two, you may ask? Well, I have found that not all loads are readily available especially during season, so this way I don’t ﬁnd myself running out of shells halfway through the month of May and have to scramble to ﬁnd another type that I’m comfortable with. Does that sound like planning ahead? It sure does.
The bottom line is, you want the largest possible percentage of pellets in the vitals as possible. Pattern your gun according to the type of terrain you’ve chosen to hunt. For example, if you are hunting thick brushy country, make sure to pattern for 30 yards or less, and in a more open environment pattern out to 40 yards. Counting your pellets at each range and ﬁguring out your kill percentage provides valuable information.
You will be very surprised at the different performance of various loads at the similar ranges. The ideal pattern for a turkey gun is 100 pellets within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Achieving this density essentially means that there should be a large enough percentage of pellets in the vitals to ethically harvest your turkey.
WHEN PATTERNING YOUR GUN, remember to always shoot from a stable rest,
bench or sled. I like to use my Bullseye camera system (bullseyecamera.com) or other digital range ﬁnder to help simplify the process. This also helps save time running up and down range and changing targets. No matter what shot size you choose, the pattern should equate to 25 to 35 percent (on average) of pellets in the vitals or 10-inch diameter. Density is the key ingredient in determining which load you prefer and works best.
You can make your own targets out of butcher paper or print out your own. Several outdoor companies sell high-quality shoot-n-see style targets that can be found at Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and other sporting goods retailers. A general rule and helpful reminder is that most turkey guns are patterned for 40 yards or less, since this distance is universally considered “ethical” to shoot and harvest a bird.
But spring is nearly upon us, so now is the time to quit reading about turkeys and get out there to burn some powder in preparation for a great season. ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]F[/su_dropcap]ebruary is here, and with it, excitement and so much to do. Winter projects are wrapping up, spring is around the corner, and love is in the air. The second month of the year graciously provides us with an entire day to honor our special someone, and if you’re looking for something extraordinary to get your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, consider a hunting adventure you’ll remember forever.
I’m not talking hard-core hunts in foul weather for trophy class animals, where freezing temperatures and extreme terrain prevail. I’m referring to fun hunts to share where game abounds, the weather is mild, the action fast-paced, the terrain is easily managed and the days aﬁeld not overly long. Of course, you need to set aside time for some relaxed sightseeing and romantic dinners, which may come over a campﬁre, but if you’re together, it’s just that much more special.
Throughout our 26 years of marriage, living in Alaska and overseas, my wife, Tiffany, and I have been fortunate to hunt many places together. Here’s a list of some of the most memorable hunting experiences we have enjoyed together. I believe you will enjoy them as well.
1. BEAR BOUND
Spring is one of the most productive times to hunt black bear in North America. Be it over bait in the states that allow it, or spot-and-stalk-style hunting in the lush, grassy meadows of the Paciﬁc Northwest, there’s no shortage of great bear hunting opportunities.
Idaho allows bear hunting over bait, and color phase bears run high in some areas. Sleeping in and hunting the evening hours will make it feel more like a vacation than a hunt. Spotand-stalk hunts can be had in multiple Canadian provinces, too, where bear densities are mind boggling and the terrain is easy to negotiate. Just be sure to bring mosquito repellent.
Bear meat is some of the best eating wild game out there. Get the hide off fast; remove the fat from the muscle and get the meat quickly cooling, and you’ll be enjoying it for months to come.
2. TURKEY TIME
There’s nothing quite like being in the spring turkey woods: warm days, wild ﬂowers blooming, birds singing and lovesick toms gobbling like crazy. Turkeys can be hunted in every state but Alaska.
One epic turkey hunt for you and your sweetheart is in Hawaii, where the birds thrive. Florida is another wonderful option for a couples hunt. Texas, South Dakota and western Oregon are also great places to hunt turkeys, and see some beautiful sights along the way.
Wherever you go, make sure to hit the state or states where multiple tags are available. If you have the time, driving to and hunting different states can be easy to do, and may offer great side attractions in the form of museums, historical points of interest and, of course, restaurants. Don’t overlook fall turkey hunting, which can be exciting, especially with a dog!
3. HOG HEAVEN
Ask my wife what her most memorable hunt was, and she’ll likely reply hunting hogs in Florida. Our whole family was along on this unforgettable trip, and atop a monster truck-like swamp buggy, we pounded bacon with ARs, shotguns and riﬂes. It was a thrilling way to hunt, and an effective way to put a dent in the overpopulation of pigs on the land we hunted. It also yielded a couple coolers full of some of our favorite wild game to eat.
Texas has high pig populations, and baiting and spot-and-stalk approaches can be employed there. Sitting in a blind over bait offers a level of addicting anticipation that needs to be experienced to be appreciated.
California has great, year-round hunting for wild hogs. Spring and fall are favorite times, as the pigs are actively feeding and the weather is very comfortable. Of course, California swine often resides near vineyards, making it easy to ﬁnd something to do in the evening together as well.
4. QUACK ATTACK
Be it an early-season teal hunt, a midseason outing for local birds or a late-season adventure for migratory fowl, spending time in the duck blind together is relaxing. Of course, the earlier it is in the season, the more comfortable the weather will be. Then again, late-season, high-volume hunts in the cold can offer unmatched shooting action that can keep you warm.
With a dozen decoys, a call and some basic gear, getting equipped for hunting waterfowl is easy.
If you don’t have access to good public lands, gaining permission to hunt on private property is much easier than getting the green light to hunt deer or elk. Don’t overlook your goose hunting options either, for these can offer great action around the country, be it for Canadas or snows.
5. PRONGHORN HITS
The perfect couples hunt for big game has to be pronghorn. The weather is nice, animals are plentiful, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to start the day, and if you blow an opportunity on a buck, you’ll soon be commencing a stalk on another.
While some states only offer pronghorn tags through a lottery system, others have over-the-counter options. Parts of Wyoming offer overthe-counter tags for nonresidents, for both buck and doe, making it the top state for such a hunt. Consider putting a bipod on the riﬂe, or at the very least, use shooting sticks, and practice out to 300 yards, as shots can be long in this open country of the West. These hunts are big hits among couples and families.
6. VARMINT MASTER
Varmint hunting offers high-volume, fast-paced shooting action to couples eager to head aﬁeld. Be it prairie dogs in the spring, summer, early fall, or ground squirrels farther West, there is a lot of great shooting to be had.
Prairie dogs occupy many of the Rocky Mountain states and open plains, and the fact they do so much property damage means ﬁnding a place to hunt isn’t that difficult. The last prairie dog town my wife and I hunted in Montana, stretched for more than 7 miles and was over a mile wide. Needless to say, we experienced a lot of shooting.
In eastern Oregon and northern California, Belding’s ground squirrels abound, and ﬁring more than a thousand rounds per person, per day, is common in some of the alfalfa ﬁelds overrun by these varmints.
7. PLEASANT PHEASANT
While the season for wild pheasants has come to a close, there are numerous bird preserves that offer outstanding hunting opportunities around the country, even in Alaska. In most states, preserves are open through March, and reopen again in August or September.
Not only are these high-percentage hunts, but the accommodations can be as fancy as you want to get, which can be appealing to couples. Then again, you can ﬁnd affordable operations, allowing more bangs for your bucks in the form of pheasant, chukar, quail and occasionally more exotic species.
8. DOVE LOVE
My wife and I gone dove hunting together for nearly two decades. Early in the September season, when the weather is hot, we enjoy ﬂoating rivers and hunting birds off gravel bars. Later in the season, we move to ﬁelds and travel routes connecting feeding and roosting areas.
While early-season hunts are warm and comfortable, many states have extended their seasons into October, and the shooting for migratory doves in large ﬂocks can be exceptional. These are some of the best eating birds out there.
9. WHITETAIL QUEST
One of the country’s best deer hunts to experience with your sweetheart is for whitetails. Blacktail deer hunting is physically demanding, often taking place in wet, brushy country. Mule deer habitat can be rugged and the weather less than hospitable. But when it comes to whitetails, North America’s most hunted big game animal, the options are many.
Since whitetails occupy so much river bottom and farmland habitats, the terrain is easy to negotiate. They can be hunted from late summer into winter, and with high densities, seeing deer is almost guaranteed and the chances of punching a tag are high. Whitetails can often be hunted from ground blinds, making it comfortable for both of you when temperatures drop. If looking to put meat in the freezer, there are some good over-the-counter options, and easy-to-draw tags in many states.
10. ADVENTURES ABROAD
Don’t overlook the joy of traveling abroad to hunt with your loved one. This is also a great opportunity to combine a hunt with a vacation.
New Zealand is tops when it comes to hunting prized red stag, and more, and the people and the country are simply wonderful. Australia also offers some good deer hunting in its southern and western states.
Africa is a place that offers a lot, both in terms of species to hunt and sites to see. Plains game hunts are affordable, with kudu and gemsbok topping the wish list of many hunters.
This Valentine’s Day, consider giving your spouse a hunt as a way to say “I love you!” With this gift you’ll both be able to spend time in the ﬁeld together, and travel through some great parts of North America, even the world. ASJ
Editor’s note: Scott Haugen is a fulltime freelance writer of 20 years. He recently began a booking service geared to help others enjoy hunting and ﬁshing adventures around the world. Learn more at scotthaugen.com.
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]O[/su_dropcap]K, I confess: I may not be the best traveler in the world. To be honest, I’ve never traveled much until recently when I started down the outdoorwriting trail. What I ﬁnd now is that while I may enjoy the destination once I get there, usually for hunting or a gun-related activity, getting there is not my cup of tea. Airports and ﬂying don’t seem to be on my list of favorite things, but it is all part of traveling and what we have to endure. Sometimes I just want to stay home, work at being my usual grouchy self and hunt on my home turf in West Virginia. When I get home from a trip, I usually vow that it will be a long time before I leave again. But before I know it, I am looking at the horizon and dreaming.
This is what happened a few months ago when I ventured west to the Show Me State for some turkey hunting. I had been discussing this for a while with Dave Miller, the shotgun product manager at CZ-USA, a ﬁrearm manufacturer headquartered next door to Missouri in Kansas City, Kan. CZ-USA is the US-based subsidiary of the Czech Republic company that makes a long list of ﬁrearms, including riﬂes, pistols, submachine guns and some very ﬁne shotguns. Many of their scatterguns are made in Turkey, which, if you didn’t know, has a long history of making ﬁrearms. CZ-USA also owns Dan Wesson Firearms, which has produced excellent revolvers and pistols for years, including some very nice 1911s.
I have talked to you about Miller in these pages before. Last year I reported on a feat he accomplished that I do not expect to be equaled anytime soon. Miller broke no less than 3,653 clay targets in one hour, squarely putting him in the Guinness Book of World Records. I was there, I saw it and, to say the least, it was impressive.
Miller is what I would call a rabid shotgun shooter. He lives and breathes it. Besides handling the shotgun product line for CZ-USA, he is also their demonstration and exhibition shooter. I don’t know how many days a year he spends on the road shooting shotguns, but it is way more than I want to be away from home. Saying that Dave Miller shoots a shotgun is like saying Michelangelo painted a few pictures.
So, when Miller called me last spring and invited me to go hunt some Missouri turkeys, I was all for it. But secretly I was a little nervous. If this guy went after turkeys the way he does clay targets, I wasn’t sure I could keep up with him, but there was only one way to ﬁnd out.
When it comes to hospitality, Miller takes the cake, or in this case, the turkey. He secured an absolutely beautiful piece of property for us to hunt – many thanks to J.W. Page, the owner – not far from Kansas City. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Miller found a stunning bed and breakfast a mile from there: the Laurel Brooke Farm B&B. We were set!
THE DAY I ARRIVED Miller drove me out to the hunting area to check it out and unlimber the shotguns we would be using. We elected to use the CZ 612 Magnum Turkey Shotgun, and by the end of our shooting session I was glad we did. Any shotgunner needs at least one good pump gun and the CZ 612 may be perfect. This shotgun only weighs an amazing 6.8 pounds – that’s light. It has a 3½-inch chamber for those who want to shoot the big shells, and it also takes 3- and 2¾-inch shells. What I appreciated was an action that is not equaled by any shotgun in the same price range.
“This is the smoothest, most reliable action on a pump shotgun since the Model 12,” Miller told me. “It is very durable and easy to operate.”
After carrying and hunting with it for ﬁve days, I had to agree. The shotgun is hydro-dipped in Realtree Xtra Green camo and comes with an extra-full choke just for turkey hunting. I would have no problem taking this shotgun upland-bird hunting or waterfowl hunting, for that matter.
When you take all of this into consideration, as well as the retail price of $429, this shotgun is hard to beat. If you can ﬁnd a better made pump shotgun at this price – you won’t – you should buy it!
I DECIDED TO PUT AN OPTIC on one of the shotguns we carried and chose the Trijicon MRO red-dot sight. You have heard me talk about the MRO before, and I believe this is an excellent optic for a turkey gun. This sight allows for lightning-fast target acquisition, has a ﬁve-year battery life and is extremely rugged, as Trijicon optics are built to military specs. Miller and I did not baby the shotguns or the optic on this trip, and they came through it just ﬁne.
While the hospitality of all the people in Missouri I met was wonderful, the Missouri turkeys I came across were not as friendly. They were acting a bit snobbish and did not want to just walk in and be shot like a respectable bird. On the ﬁrst morning, after a very long ordeal with a particularly uppity gobbler, Miller pulled a rabbit out of his hat. We spent over an hour crawling on our bellies like reptiles, watching a typical ﬁeld turkey march around out of range. With a strategic decoy placement Miller coaxed the old reprobate gobbler to come right in.
I would be lying if I said that I was not afraid I might miss in front of a shotgunner like Miller, but the Trijicon MRO really helped on a shot that was closer to 50 than 40 yards. I was also glad to have a Winchester Longbeard XR load in the chamber, as I have seen these shells excel when a hunter stretches the yardage. The CZ 612 spoke and the turkey went down as if struck by lightning (whew!). I think Miller was as happy as I was.
Good friends, beautiful country, a good shotgun and some turkeys to talk to – it doesn’t get much better. Think about Missouri if you are considering a road trip for turkeys. I think the annual harvest is something like 45,000 per year.
Me? I’m glad to be home, but you know, I have been thinking about a little trip somewhere. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more on the products mentioned in this story, see cz-usa.com, trijicon.com and winchester.com.
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]t’s that time of year again, when grown men (and, yes, women!) begin a strange and wonderful ritual of late arrivals to work and practicing bird calls. I have to confess, I am a spring turkey addict; I simply love to hunt them. From my first experience in 1964 to this day, hunting spring gobblers is my favorite pastime.
THERE HAVE BEEN SOME WONDERFUL advances in the shotgun and shotgun-ammo world for the turkey hunter, thanks to the sport’s great popularity. A shotgun for turkey hunting differs from the standard field scattergun in that we’re looking for a gun that delivers a consistent, small, concentrated pattern of shot at a nominal 40-yard range. The premise may seem simple, but the engineering that has to take place to build such a gun is complicated, and is made further so by the construction of the ammunition. In the old days, before the overshot polymer wad cup, the shotgun shell contained powder, a couple of cushion wads and the shot – end of story. Now we have found that the genius invention of interchangeable choke tubes (versus the fixed-choke barrel) may spin or strip the wad, causing wide dispersion of the shot column. This may be perfect for quail on the wing, but not what we want for wild turkey.
SINCE I HUNT with traditional single- or double-barrel guns, one of the best innovations, in my opinion, has been the invention of the new Flitecontrol wad, (which defies traditional wisdom and breaks at the rear first) and Heavyweight shot from Federal, which have given some of my old shotguns new life. If you have a traditional 12- or 20-gauge single-shot shotgun with a fixed choke, or any shotgun where the choke does not strip the wad, you should give this ammo a look. Hornady followed Federal with their version of this new wad technology, and also now makes loads that are, in some guns, a turkey’s worst nightmare. A turkey gun is only as good as the pattern it will consistently produce, and our ammunition manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with this new thinking.
There have been some wonderful advances in the shotgun and shotgun-ammo world for the turkey hunter
FINDING THE GUN/AMMO TURKEY combination is complicated because it’s nearly impossible to get a smooth-barrel gun to pattern multi-projectile ammunition consistently. It’s not like a rifle where we can reasonably expect some consistency in groups; indeed, I have yet to see any shotgun/shotgun shell combination that would 100 percent of the time shoot the exact same number of pellets into a 3-inch circle at 40 yards. We have to set a number that we will deem acceptable for the killing shot at a standardized distance (40 yards) and work towards it, trying different choke constrictions, pellet sizes and power combinations. In a nutshell, we are looking for repeatable center density and killing power in the form of penetration.
MY WORK WITH FACTORY AMMUNITION indicates that if your gun, regardless of gauge, will put at least 10 pellets – and the more, the better – into a 3-inch circle at 40 yards every time, and those pellets at 40 yards will penetrate a plastic 20-ounce soft-drink bottle, you have a 40-yard turkey gun. Here is where things get sticky. There are more No. 6 shot in an ounce than larger shot sizes, so the pattern of No. 6 should provide a higher density on the paper, but that is not always the case. I’ve seen some guns shoot No. 4 or No. 5 shot (I really like No. 5, by the way) with much better pattern density than No. 6. Also, the relatively new mixed-alloy shot like Hevi-Shot, Bismuth or Heavyweight in like sizes will outpenetrate lead. The question is, if it won’t pattern well in your gun, should you use it?
Let’s assume you have a turkey gun. Sight your gun in at about 20 feet with a low-brass shell to get a sense of where you will hit with a repeatable sight picture. If you have adjustable sights – all turkey guns should have them – you can sight in your gun here, and know that you are getting the same sight picture with each shot. You should then shoot the shot sizes you wish to test at the 25- and 40-yard range on standard pattern targets with a 3-inch circle aiming point. This will tell you, or should, what your gun prefers. You should shoot at least five shots on different targets with each shot size, and 10 is better to get a real picture of what your gun is doing. You want tight, even patterns with no holes in them. The guy who fires one round at a turkey-silhouette target and pronounces his gun patterned has no business being allowed to buy camouflage. Pattern your damn gun before you shoot at a turkey.
Once you have settled on a shot size, you can try the short or long magnum shell loadings in lead or nontoxic shot if your gun is chambered for them. I’ve seen some guns pattern great with a standard load of one shot size, but with magnum loads another shot size will pattern better. In almost every case I’ve seen the most consistent patterns with nonmagnum loads, and some of the new wad technology ammunition will pattern better from nonfull-choke guns – this was certainly true for my Savage 24V in 20 gauge, with its 24-inch modified fixed-choke barrel.
Fire a shot with each shot size and pellet type (copper plated, pure lead, alloy combination, etc.) at a plastic 20-ounce soft-drink bottle at 40 yards. You will see that some shot sizes and pellet types will penetrate the front of the bottle and not go all the way through, and some (like Hevi-Shot, Bismuth or Heavyweight) will go all the way through the bottle and keep on trucking. Remember, the pattern is worthless if the shot bounces off the turkey. You should test the penetration of your chosen load at your maximum shooting range.
What is important is the consistent delivery of no less than 10 pellets into the 3-inch circle at 40 yards. If pure lead will do it in your gun, then that is what you should shoot. If only lead-free shells will work, then there is your answer.
We want that gobbler dead before he hits the ground. Before you plop down your hard-earned dough for a new turkey cannon, give that old clunker in the closet a try with some of the new ammo technology; it might just surprise you. ASJ
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: Ammuntion, Double barrel, Federal Ammunition, Flitewad Control, Heavyweight, Hornady Ammunition, Hunting, Salvage your gun, Single barrel, Spring season, turkey, Walt Hampton
Story and photographs by Dana Farrell
When I received an invitation from a friend to hunt spring turkeys in the pine hills of northwest Nebraska, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try out some new gear, and having previously only hunted easterns in my home state of Michigan, possibly put a Merriam’s turkey fan on my wall. Every couple of years, I look forward to making my way west to hunt big game, and this time, turkey hunting in the Cornhusker State would be the first stop on a trip to Idaho for black bear – not a bad way to spend two weeks in the springtime, and a lot more fun than sitting at my desk.
During this hunt, I would be field testing CZ-USA’s 612 Waterfowl, a 3½-inch 12-gauge pump shotgun with a synthetic, camo-clad stock. This, along with one of Hevi-Shot’s special heavier-than-lead turkey loads, would be an enjoyable litmus test of two leading-edge products. My experience with CZ has been very positive. I think they’re doing a lot of great things with their product line and I wanted to try their waterfowl pump-gun on turkey. I’ve been a fan of Hevi-Shot’s denser-than-lead products for some time, having used them on Michigan turkeys and decoyed waterfowl, but this would be my first experience using their Magnum Blend; a 3-inch, 2-ounce triplex payload of No. 5, 6 and 7 shot. A pretrip pattern-testing session, using an extra-full choke, produced concentrated, dense patterns on paper at 30 yards. This left me anxious to try this hard-hitting combo on a Nebraska gobbler.
The area where I hunted looks like the Black Hills of South Dakota. In fact, the Black Hills are only a short hop, skip and jump across the state line about 75 miles to the north. Like the Black Hills, the northwest corner of Nebraska is timbered with tall pines separated by large rolling grasslands interspersed with hardwood draws, laced with small winding streams. Elk, mulies and pronghorn roam the hillsides, along with a burgeoning population of Merriam’s turkeys. It is beautiful country, and with a mixture of public and private land holdings and a local community very welcoming to the economic bonus traveling turkey hunters bring to their area, access is not hard. The nearby 22,000-acre Fort Robinson State Park is open to public hunting and has a variety of camping and cabin rental options well suited to the needs of the traveling sportsman. Other private holdings provide combination hunting access and on-site accommodations as well.
I was hunting a steep river gully that was maybe 100 feet from top to bottom, all full of hardwoods and surrounded by gently sloping meadows on both sides. A lazy stream wound its way through this break in the land and grassy patches. This looked like prime strutting arenas for love-hungry toms. Springtime was in full swing when I visited in late April, with trees leafing out and colorful wildflowers making their annual appearance. Nights were cool with daytime temperatures approaching a pleasant 70 degrees.
This would prove to be a most interesting turkey hunt, and one that required a good measure of woodsmanship to pull off. I set up on a small meadow, near the lip of a gully just before daybreak, and put out a pair of decoys, a hen and jake then settled against a tree while several toms sounded off from their roosts. Gobbles came from different directions, enthusiastically answering my soft yelps as the sun edged over the horizon. Ninety minutes after sunrise, when no toms had followed through with their chest-beating promises, it was time for me to make a move. Judging by his gobbles, one bird had moved into the open field behind me but was playing hard to get and resisted the urge of my mournful yelps. Moving carefully to avoid skylining, I got up and crept to the edge of the rise behind me to peer out into the adjacent meadow. Over the ridge I spied a strutting gobbler about 75 yards away. He held a commanding view of his surroundings and was anxiously awaiting a lady friend to take him up on his unabashed invitations. Slowly backing down behind the hill, I weighed my options and made a plan to belly crawl towards the bird’s position, closing the distance by about 25 yards and putting me just out of range for a comfortable shot. At the top of the draw within view of the bird was a yucca, which I crawled up to and behind for cover. Reaching the end of the draw I attempted a call to bring the bird within a shootable range. It was a stretch, but I had nothing to lose.
Lying down flat on the ground, I army-crawled my way towards the spiky plant positioned at the crest of the ridge. A few minutes later while peering through the yucca towards the end of the depression, I could see the bird at around 50 yards, still struttin’ his stuff. I yelped softly on my slate call, immediately gaining his attention and coaxing him in my direction another 10 yards. At that point he was a comfortable 40 yards away and close enough for a confident shot; I didn’t wait. One poke from the CZ 612 and the Magnum Blend rolled him over and closed the deal. You’ve got to love it when a good plan comes together.
His fan looks really great on my wall, and contrasts nicely with a Michigan eastern I took a few years back. ASJ
Nebraska turkey tags are $23 for residents
and $90 for nonresidents, and a $20
habitat stamp is required. Crawford, Neb.,
is the nearest town and has all the needed
essentials. A place worth checking out is
the High Plains Homestead, a throwback
to the 19th century American West.
Rooms are $68.50 single occupancy per
night and good steaks, grilled over a wood
fire, are available at their Cookshack. Visit
them at highplainshomestead.com.
For camping options, Fort Robinson
State Park is only a few miles from
Crawford and offers an assortment of
camping facilities and cabins for rent. –DF
Story and photos by Larry Case
My brothers in camo, maybe you know by now, that I always try to be honest with you. I say this, because I was just a little nervous to start this month’s offering. One reason being, I think I have probably talked to you before about the importance of being prepared, knowing where your shotgun hits and having it sighted in (yes, I said “sighted in” for a shotgun).
The second reason is we have a new editor at Western Shooting Journal and after hearing about her background and experience I thought if I didn’t get this right, well, she might just whip my butt. Oh well, it has been whipped before, so here it goes.
As we are speeding into the month of March, many of us “shot-gunners” are thinking about (or should be) preparing for the spring turkey season. I want to caution you about merely grabbing the shotgun off the wall, and heading off to the woods. Success comes from having confidence in your weapon, and we achieve this by doing some shooting and knowing what the gun will do.
First, remember that this turkey shooting deal, in the spring, has evolved into something more like rifle shooting than “shot-gunning.” Ideally we are aiming, not pointing the gun, at a small, stationary target (the turkeys head and neck). Almost any kind of sights we put on the shotgun, more than just a standard bead, will help us.
The first level of improvement is installing an additional bead, about halfway down the rib. This gives you a “rear sight.” The shooter puts the rear bead on the front bead, front bead on the target and squeezes the trigger. A bead or rear sight, is meant to keep us from making the big mistake, the blunder, that saves more turkeys lives, than any other factor in our shooting. Ready? Here it is.
When we do not put our head on the gun and look squarely down a level rib, we shoot high and miss. I know, I’ve done it more than once. The front bead, is in fact, on the target, but your cheek is not fully down on the stock. The gun is tilted up and you sit there with your teeth in your mouth watching your turkey fly away. No amount of cursing and/or praying will bring him back.
Next level of improvement is rifle sights (check out what HizViz or Dead Ringer have to offer). An open, rear sight gives you a more precise way to aim the shotgun. Red Dot style scopes and other optics are an even more sophisticated way to aim. Even an inexpensive Red Dot scope can make a shotgun very deadly and the reason is simple. If the Red Dot style optic is properly sighted in, and the dot is on the target when the shooter pulls the trigger, you will hit the target. This takes the cardinal sin, of not keeping our head down, out of the picture. Now remember, we are talking about aiming the shotgun at a mostly stationary target. Any wing or clay shooting instructor will have a stroke, if you ask him about putting these sights on your gun.
Alright, now that we have an accurate way to aim, let’s talk about point of impact. One of the hardest things for some people to learn, is that all shotguns, do not shoot-where-they-look. If we fire the shotgun from a bench rest, the target may tell us the gun is shooting right, left, high, low, or whatever. Let me make it even clearer. Many shotguns will shoot differently with different loads or chokes. You have to put them on paper, folks!
Basically, what we are talking about here, is sighting in your shotgun, and you knew I would have some pointers on this. First, do this on a day when you are not in a hurry. If you are pressed for time, go home, and watch “swamp folks” or something else on television. To do this right, you need a large target holder (30 inches or better), a bench rest, sandbags or comparable, ammo, targets, and a stapler.
Have the loads, you are going to hunt with, on hand, but we are not going to start with them. To begin, let’s shoot any low brass, target loads that you have. Your first shot will be from 10 yard line (that’s right, 10 yards). You don’t need a turkey head target for this. A large piece of blank paper is better. Darken in a 4 inch circle, in the middle, to give you an aiming point and mark a straight line, vertical and horizontal, through your aiming point. All we are doing, is seeing where the pattern is going. Is the pattern evenly placed on either side of the lines? Is there about 50 percent of the pattern above the horizontal line and 50 percent below? Now, do this at the 20, 30 and 40 yard lines. Use a new piece of paper every time and if it looks like you are Ok and the gun is shooting-where-it-looks, you should then try your hunting loads at the same intervals. Now, you know where your gun is shooting, no question.
If the pattern is significantly off and you cannot adjust it with your sights, you are getting into an area where you need to speak to a qualified gunsmith. We are talking about straightening or bending a barrel here. Don’t let that scare you; a good gunsmith can do this in his sleep.
Well that’s about it till next time folks. Hope this is OK with the new editor. Man! That woman scares me!
Mossberg 535 Shotgun
You know my theory, about how many shotguns one needs? My answer is all you can get! So, I wanted to give you a peek, at a shotgun, that you can lust after.
Mossberg came out with something new, for 2015, on their 835 Ulti Mag and 535 ATS pump shotguns. The Marble Arms Bullseye sight system. If you don’t know about these sights, they have been around since Davy Crockett tracked his first bear.
I looked at these guns at SHOT Show; the shotgunis the same, functional, dependable, Mossberg pump gun with dual extractors, twin action bars, an anti-jam elevator, and that great ambidextrous top mounted safety. The Marble Bullseye, is a double ring design on the rear sight, and a light gathering fiber optic on the front. It allows the shooter to get on target quickly, and stay on target. The instant the front sight drifts out of the center ring, the shooter can see they are not on target. This sight is ideal for a turkey hunter.
The minute I picked this shotgun up and looked through the Marble sight, I liked it, and you will too. I have always thought that Mossberg shotguns are tough as a pine knot, and from what I can see the Marble Bullseye sight is as well. – Larry Case
(Photo: Linda Powell – Mossberg Director of Media Relations, with a Mossberg 535 at SHOT 2015)