It’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
Having been raised as a hunter, I am guilty of forgetting how important that simple pleasure is to my life. What defines my personality is the ability to take up a weapon and go to the woods to enjoy the sport with never a thought of what it would mean to lose that privilege, or what it would take to regain that part of me if, God forbid, I was so challenged.
Hunting has always been an integral part of my life; it is my connection to God, the land and to those who over the years have meant the most to me. It is a concept that many men far more articulate than I have tried to define over the years. I can only offer my belief that it is the hunt itself and not the kill that adds character to our lives, but the kill necessarily punctuates the act with the finality that completes the experience. When this activity is something you do well, imagine the struggle it would take to regain your soul if it was lost.
There are folks out there who have never been exposed to hunting, never considered taking it up or participated. What I have enjoyed over the years is watching when an introduction to the sport is done correctly and in the company of people with similar backgrounds and values – we gain another good soul to our ranks. Now, when you take men who already have focus and intelligence, such as our special operations personnel, and put them into this scenario, you see a transformation that is smooth and seamless from warrior to hunter; after all, these are just two different words for the same thing.
Bobby Dove was a Green Beret medic who lost his right arm and leg in Afghanistan in 2012; his road to recovery revolved around adapting to his situation so he could get back into the woods. Hunting was that one thing that would define being normal again. Three months after his medevac he was on Buck Mountain in Virginia with us, and I watched him focus on the task at hand with repeated failures as he worked to regain what he thought he had lost. When he was eventually successful in completing his hunt by fair chase and on his own, you could see the transformation. He is a part of my family so I was there to see it, and it was the pinnacle of my hunting career.
Not long after that hunt, Dove was selected to participate in an event put together by an organization called Special Operations Wounded Warriors (SOWW) for their flagship event called Takin’ Bacon 2014. This is where wounded special operations personnel are teamed up with some of the finest dog men in the South just to hunt feral hogs.
When Dove and I initially arrived at the event, I was happily surprised to see Chris, an Army Special Forces wounded veteran who I had met in Dove’s hospital room when he first returned from overseas. Chris, a double amputee, was attending the event as one of the hunters. Chris had never hunted before this event, but ended up taking the most hogs – four all together – as well as the largest: 285 pounds. If you are one of those folks who likes to keep score, here is the breakdown of that weekend: eight special operations Purple Heart recipients took 24 hogs in three days. Oh, did I forget to mention that there were no guns allowed on this hunt – it was conducted solely with knives.
This was not meant as a stunt. The knife was one of the first human weapons, and is often the weapon of last resort. It is a symbol of the level of commitment that each special ops person makes to ensure the job gets done – simply put, to never quit. A specialized knife was designed for this event by Mil-Tac Knives and Tools, and each of the hunters were presented with one of their own. It is a serious tool for men who understand the importance and value.
If you look at many special ops logos – Green Berets, Rangers, Navy SEALs, even the center of the Purple Heart – you will find the bladed weapon.
The hunt was purposely made to be difficult. It was imperative that these intensely committed individuals were challenged. If you were to take this group to a canned-hunt area and sit them in a box blind over a bait pile so they could pull a trigger on a released pig, they would laugh in your face. To be worthy, a thing must be earned.
I have attended several charity events over the years. The most remarkable impression I have from this experience was SOWW’s approach with these hunters; they were not going to be able to blend into the surroundings. Each was given a blaze-orange cap and told the only requirement of the weekend was that they wear them, so the focus of all other participants and visitors would be on them. Once the hunt began, they would be turned over to the dog-handler guides. The rest was easy; they were here to enjoy themselves. I also found that the warm family atmosphere represented by the presence of some very respectful kids made it feel as if I was attending a family reunion more than a charity function.
If you are going to do something, you should do it right. It was no coincidence that SOWW masterfully orchestrated this event by pairing the hunters with dedicated dog men who know what they are doing. The low-country swamp is no place for amateurs, be they man or dog, and to watch the performance of both at the top of their game was a rare privilege for me. These dogs are not pets; they are just as dedicated and professional as the operators who followed them into the impenetrable brush and waist-deep muck. The demonstration of their singularity of purpose was, in a word, magnificent. Doing what their kind has done for man for thousands of years, these animals made the connection of swamp, man and dog to represent the very essence of hunting. For a moment this changed the focus of a wounded man from what he thought he couldn’t do to what he can.
The swamp does not care how many legs you have or who you are; you must earn your place here and when you have done this, in the company of men and dogs that must prove themselves every single time they face these obstacles, you become accepted into their circle, and the accomplishment makes an indelible mark on your soul.
For me the purpose of the entire event was captured in this example: One of the hunters, a veteran of Mogadishu – yes, that Mogadishu – who was reluctant to participate in the event at all and initially held back, eventually hit the swamp behind the dogs in the dark of night. He emerged from that experience wet to the waist, briar-cut and bruised, his hands stained with the blood of his quarry, and started immediately texting one of his wounded teammates to tell him how he should come to the swamp with him for next year’s event.
Each step in the process of a wounded soldier’s recovery has its place and meaning. No one thinks that a single hunt is a cure-all, but there are wounded operators out there who sustain both the physical and mental effects of war, and who we must reach. We have to let them know what could be the most important message of their lives – you are not alone.
Having had this opportunity to meet and come to know these exceptional individuals has made an impression on me that is hard to articulate. I can only say that my pride in my country and love for our way of life has been reinforced. For those of you looking for what being an American truly means, I know some men who can show you. You can bet that I will be back amongst them next year.
With the camaraderie of other wounded operators on that hunt, Dove was so impressed that he became a SOWW board member. Please help support this organization, their events and the fine work they do. ASJ
* Bobby Dove and his Green Beret teammate Cliff Beard operate Hooligan Charters out of Destin, Fla., and provide inshore fishing adventures.
* Clint McDaniel, one of the dog handlers who volunteered his time and effort to the SOWW charity hunt, is a top-shelf taxidermist with Candler’s Taxidermy Studio in Pelzer, S.C.
* Mil-Tac Knife and Tool created the knives that were presented to each of the hunters. Visit them at mil-tac.com.
Editor’s note: At the request of the author and SOWW, the names and exact location of this event has not been shared.
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: 501(c)3, Bobby Dove, Candler's Taxidermy, Charity, Cliff Beard, Clint McDaniel, Feral Hog hunt, fishing, Hogs, Hooligan Charters, Hunting, Hunting with knives, Mil-tac Knife and Tool, Military, SOWW, Special Forces, Special operations Wounded Warriors, Walt Hampton
Story and photographs by Walt HamptonShe was a big old doe, with that long head and thick, squared-up body; she conducted herself with a caution and attention not seen in the younger deer. She was alone with no trailing fawns; they had been weaned and were off seeking their own way, and she was only concerned with the white oak acorns at her feet. Hidden in a pile of brush, just an odd-shaped stump, nothing to worry about here, I watched her, had been watching her, as she had first appeared and while she worked the thicket, first out of range, now closer, now close enough. I had hoped for a shot that she would never detect, but of that I was disappointed; at the moment of truth she suddenly turned her head toward me and the arrow was away and that was that.
The first deer of the year is always for me a jolt back in time to the very first one, decades ago— the nerves, the concentration, the frost on my boots, the first crows of the morning, the sun just painting the tops of the trees. I do not expect anyone else to understand why I am here and what I am doing — if you do not hunt, you cannot conceive the concept. This is one human endeavor that must be experienced, that cannot be told in words. It is life. It is my life.
She wheeled and smashed her way through the brush that was impenetrable, through the blackberry and catclaw that would stop a tractor, and in an instant she was gone, but the crashing I could still hear — then the last crash and silence. I played it over in my mind, seeing it all again and I knew I had done it right. I fished a cigar from my pocket and gave her the time that she, and I, needed.
When the cigar was done I gathered my things and found the blood where she had disappeared. With care I worked out the trail as so many I have worked out in the past, slowly, listening and watching. She left the thicket and crossed the heavily frosted broomsage corner, down, always down, toward the creek. It was in the creek I found her and relief washed over me, and joy and yes, a moment’s regret — but just a moment. She was living and beautiful and now she was meat and it wasn’t really pride I felt so much as accomplishment and gratitude — that’s as close as I can get you to where I was this morning, standing beside 2015s first deer, in frosted grass to my knees, and the sun just hitting my shoulders and two chickadees greedily pecking the blood on the dead leaves.
That is a deer hunt. ASJ