Long ago, turkey hunters didn't have any place to put their stuff. Truth is, though, they really didn't need anything. A box call in a coat pocket and a couple of shotgun shells, and it was time to hit the trail.
Today, turkey hunting is anything but simple. Sure, some folks, myself included, try each season to go back to a less equipment-intensive time. And, thank goodness, some folks, myself not included, succeed. Armed only with a box call and a couple diaphragms, these enterprising hunters go forth to do battle.
Still, the fact remains. The modern turkey hunter carries an array of equipment and gear into the field that rivals the field pack of even the most well-equipped World War II foot shoulder. But short of a wheelbarrow or a camouflaged lawn and leaf bag, how does all this gear, not to mention the person packing the load, get into the field? Better yet, how does a body keep all this gear organized and ready for action at the slightest notice?
Enter - The Turkey Vest. While I have no concrete evidence, I'm certain that it was a manufacturer of turkey hunting-related items who first conceived the notion of a turkey vest. The thought, I'm sure, was that given more pockets, even the most disciplined turkey addict could not resist the temptation to fill each and every fabric-rimmed orifice with the latest field technology.
But for all the sales and marketing know-how that went into the creation and evolution of the turkey vest, there is a definite plus to having what can perhaps be best described as a camouflaged filing cabinet. A junk drawer with shoulder straps. Whatever you call it, though, a glimpse into the interior of a woodsman's turkey vest is as revealing an experience as you can have. If, as some say, the eyes are the windows to a man's soul, then the turkey vest is the portal to a turkey hunter's mind. Or what there is of it.
That said, I thought it might prove interesting to take a look and see what folks actually do carry with them into the field. Some of these things you'll recognize. Chances are, many of these things you'll even have or currently pack into the field yourself. Some though, like Ernie Calandrelli's red-socked jake decoy, might make you sit up and take notice. If nothing else, it may serve simply as another addition to an already bulging at the seams item of hunting paraphernalia, a piece of clothing known affectionately as The Turkey Vest.
Ernie Calandrelli - public relation/sales, Quaker Boy Game Calls
- Innertube seat
- Three Delta decoys: one jake with a red sock on his neck, one Alert hen, one Feeding hen with a MotoMagnet
- Alligator clips zip-tied to vest straps to hold diaphragm calls
- Two pair of gloves
- Two face masks
- Push Pin Easy Yelper
- Walnut Masters Series slate call
- Three strikers: heavy maple, carbon, carbon with tape added on end for weight
- Tube call
- Crow call
- 100-grit sandpaper and one large piece of scrubbing pad
- Insect repellent
- Twenty to 50 mouth calls
- Pruning shears
- Small camera
- On the way out, sometimes a dead gobbler
The red sock, says Caladrelli, often works to infuriate a gobbler. He learned this trick from friend and fellow Turkey Trot Acres guide, Mark Zizzi, and claims that color "plays everything in bringing a gobbler to a decoy." Calandrelli also adds that he rarely uses a decoy in tight or thick cover, but rather wants the gobbler to come looking for the hen that's making all the racket. A bird that gobbles in thick cover, he says, gives away his location with every sound, and this helps a hunter keep track of the bird's movements.
- Noted turkey caller, TV personality
- Bucklick Creek vest
- Headnet and gloves
- Flagging tape
- Pad and pen
- Two hen decoys and one jake decoy from Feather Flex
- Selection of nylon zip-ties
- Two-gallon bag
- Variety of Lohman and MAD mouth calls
- Thunderdome aluminum call (Lohman)
- H.S. Strut Cutter Deuce Box Turkey Call
- Crow call and coyote howler
- Spit-N-Drum call
- The Wing Thing
One recent spring in the Missouri Ozarks, Harris proved to me that coyote howling is without question one of the most effective ways of locating a gobbler, morning or evening. "I'll typically wait in the evening until I think the birds have flown up," said Harris, who continued by saying that while coyotes are a proven predator of wild turkeys, coyote howls don't seem to frighten the birds into silence as some might think.
Glenn Sapir - outdoor writer and author of "Secrets of the Turkey Pros".
- Hunter's Specialties Strut and Rut Dual Season vest
- Two hen decoys and one jake decoy by Feather Flex
- Mossy Oak rain suit
- Three sets of decoy stakes
- Toilet paper, surgical gloves, soap, wet-wipes, bandaids, antibacterial cream
- Gallon-size bags to cover box or slate calls in rain
- Trail Mix, Peach Rings, Rice Krispie treats, pouch drinks
- Bug repellent
- Camo gloves
- Lohman Wing Thing
- Chemical handwarmers
- Five Winchester Supreme shotshells - 3", #5
- Crow call, goose call, owl hooter, gobble shaker
- Woods Wise Mystic™ Wet Woods Slate and Crystal Turkey Calls
- Quaker Boy's Walnut Masters Series slate-style call
- Two wooden and one plastic striker
- Note pad, pen, knife, pocket knife, Cabela's XPG Rechargeable LED Flashlight, camo handkerchief
Sapir says of his choice of a goose call as a locator call. "We often have geese fly overhead in the Hudson (New York) Valley, even if no bodies of water are nearby. They feed in many of the same fields the toms strut in, and they fly over the same woodlands that the turkeys inhabit. Goose calls are very loud and abrupt, and on a few occasions, especially when other geese are calling, I've aroused a gobble with one."
- owner, Burnham Brothers Game Calls
- Bucklick Creek Turkey Lounger with built-in seat
- Burnham Brothers DTC-4 diaphragm
- Cody slate call
- "Hustling Hen" box call by Billy White or a Burnham Brothers box
- Mini Coyote Howler by Burnham Brothers
Along with his Mini Coyote Howler, Roberson wouldn't think of leaving for the field without his Bucklick Creek vest. "If you've never hunted with one," he says, "you don't know what you're missing. With this, I can be comfortable sitting flat on the ground without any back support. This is very important when hunting my country for a lot of my turkey hunting is done in areas where there are no large trees to hide under or sit against."
As for me, I typically start out each season with my vest weighing in the neighborhood of 14.23 tons; however, by season's end, that weight has diminished considerably to the point that vest can be comfortably carried by three small children, a Saint Bernard, and an old man with a ox cart. My list goes something like this:
- Old-style Hunter's Specialties vest in X-tra Brown
- Two pair of gloves, one mesh and one cotton (fingertips removed)
- Two headnets, one mesh and one cotton
- Four strikers - rosewood, hickory, Knight & Hale's Super Striker, acrylic
- Extra rosewood and hickory strikers
- Four shotshells - Winchester 3" High Velocity #6
- M.A.D. Cherry Bomb box call
- M.A.D. Cherry coyote howler
- Pruning shears
- Two compasses, one pin-on bubble style and one military
- An assortment of diaphragms
- Compact binoculars in camo pouch on right vest/chest strap
- Primos® Power Crystal™ Friction Turkey Call in camo pouch on left vest/chest strap
- Call conditioner, chalk, sandpaper, scrubbing pads
- Owl hooter and crow call
- One jake and two hen decoys by Feather-Flex, with stakes
- Bag containing length of rawhide, bandaids, safety pin, Q-tips
- Temple Fork flexible canteen
- 35mm SLR camera with built-in flash and film in waterproof pouch
- Cabela's Classic Bug Suit
- Small Flashlight on my belt
I carry a lot of stuff into the field, so it's incredibly important that I know where everything is at all times. Each item or items have their place in the vest, and are returned to that place every time they're used. That way I can find anything, big or small, without having to search or dig or even turn my head to look. Eyes closed, pitch dark - it doesn't matter. Over the years, this type of organization, although seeming excessive, has been instrumental in allowing me to quickly get into position and set up correctly with little or no fumbling around. If that gobbler's on his way immediately after his first response, he's not going to wait for me to rifle through my vest to find this call or that glove.