Getting Started With Turkeys: What Do You Actually Need?


Like all outdoor pursuits, turkey hunting requires some specialized equipment. But, if you hunt for other game species, you may have just about everything that you need already. This article addresses specifically the required equipment and not the tactics of turkey hunting. It is widely recognized that the best equipped hunter in the woods will be ineffective without the right knowledge. Therefore, the first thing that you need is an understanding of the popular tactics employed while pursuing turkeys and a location to start looking for turkeys to hunt.

There is a ton of good information out there to quickly educate you on the basics of turkey behavior and modern hunting tactics. Start at your local hunting shop where you will likely find an enthusiastic individual who can steer you in the right direction. The well studied hunter can more than make up for shortfalls in equipment and budget with the right knowledge. When I asked my archery teacher what fancy, expensive bow I needed, he told me:  “The archer who is familiar with the fundamentals of form and technique will beat you with a stick and a string.”

That said, there are some items that you will need to try turkey hunting. Depending on what you already have, getting started with turkey hunting does not need to be too expensive. For the purpose of this article, we will compile your needs into three categories:

  1. Clothing
  2. Weapon
  3. Turkey specific hunting accessories

Turkeys have incredible vision, and an uncanny ability to detect the slightest motion. The best camouflage outfit in the world will do you little good if you cannot sit still. Although turkeys are harvested by hunters without any camouflage clothing, an outfit of spring appropriate camouflage is a big advantage. Spring temperatures can fluctuate wildly from dawn to mid afternoon, so a layering system of some kind is also a good idea to stay comfortable.

If you have light layers that you use for other types of hunting, than you are probably all set. Just plan to carry a warmer layer underneath the light outer layer that can be removed as the day warms up. If you are going to purchase some turkey hunting clothing, a great option is a leafy suit. Available from several manufacturers, these ‘3-D camo’ suits are built on a layer of mesh that can be worn over just about anything. This allows you to change layers throughout the day while keeping the leafy suit as your outer layer.

If you have no warm weather camo at all, and are working with a tight budget look for a cheap long sleeved camo T-shirt and wear some earth toned pants (that you already own). If you purchase the long sleeved T-shirt one size too big, it could be worn over multiple types of layers, and could likely be purchased for under $20 at your local sporting goods retailer. In addition to the top, you will need some gloves and a facemask of some kind. Human skin is very visible in the woods and should be covered up if possible. These items could both be purchased for less than $10 each.

The 12 gauge shotgun is the most common weapon associated with turkey hunting. Although a tight choke (full or extra full) can extend your range out to 40 yards or more, many choke types can be used if you recognize that your range will be more limited. First, get a good understanding of your guns pattern, or how the shot pellets are distributed onto a target. Shooting at a sheet of cardboard or paper will give you a good idea of what your shotgun is delivering down range. Shoot a paper target at 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards to determine your effective range. Some hunters choose to go through an extensive patterning process in order to determine the most effective shot size/choke configuration for their gun.  While this is clearly a good idea and will absolutely extend your effective range, it is likely that your current shotgun will effectively harvest turkeys -only at a more limited range. If you chose to go the simple route, purchase some shells in shot size 5 or 6 and see how your gun performs at 10 and 20 yards. Most shotguns will deliver a lethal payload inside of 20 yards. A lethal payload is generally considered to be in the area of 25 pellets in a 10 inch circle (that represents the turkeys head and neck). Since you aim a turkeys head and neck when hunting, the ability to deliver that many pellets into these vital areas will result in a clean, ethical kill. If you choose to go the simple route with your current gun, please keep your effective range in mind. Shooting at a bird that is outside of your effective range will often result in a wounded or crippled animal and that makes for a fairly unpleasant overall experience for all parties involved.

If you have a light layer of camo and a shotgun, you already have almost everything that you need to try chasing turkeys. Like any other sport, the list of turkey-specific products on the market is staggering. Many of these products are great and having a fancy vest full of expensive calls and detailed, lifelike decoys may make you a more effective hunter in the future, but let’s start with the basics.

1. A locator call is handy in many cases to locate a gobbler without effecting his movement. A tom will often gobble back at the sound of a crow or owl. This will alert you of the tom’s position without influencing him to move closer to your position. This allows you to find a nice location to setup before using your turkey call to bring him closer. There are plenty of choices at your local shop, many for under $10.

2. A turkey call of some kind is almost essential when chasing spring turkeys. Making the sounds associated with hen turkeys is a very effective way to bring a tom into shooting range. Although whole books have been written about the wide variety of calls that can be made and when to use them, our choice for one all purpose simple call is a slate friction call. Basically a piece of slate that you hold in one hand while rubbing a wooden dowel (striker) against it with the other hand This easy to learn call can produce a variety of turkey sounds from loud yelps to subtle purrs and is fairly easy to master. There are many, many options out there and many of them can be found in the $20 range.

3. A Turkey decoy. A decoy is a useful item to carry with you when turkey hunting.  The decoy serves both as a visual lure, that once spotted by the turkey, can help bring him into range, and as a distraction. When the turkey is more focused on the decoy, he is less focused on you. Although there are some very expensive decoys on the market these days, a simple hen decoy can be purchased for less than $20.

If you have, or have access to a shotgun and some appropriate under layers, you should be able to get the bare essentials put together for less than $70. This will get you into the field to experience turkey season for the first time, but consider yourself warned – one decent day in the spring turkey woods may turn you into a lifelong turkey hunting junkie.

Photo: University of Missouri Extension (top)