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Published Jan 7, 2023 12:23 PM
When it comes to gear, turkey hunting can be as minimal or maximal as you choose. Many of the early, fabled turkey hunters needed little more than basic camo, a call or two, and a shotgun. Today, a lot of turkey hunters don habitat-specific camo, shoulder turkey-specific shotguns, and set ultra-realistic decoys. Depending on who you ask, what constitutes a necessary piece of turkey hunting gear will vary wildly. Ultimately, the gear you need depends on your hunting strategy. If you prefer waiting a tom out, you might not mind lugging a ton of equipment into the woods. But if you plan to run and gun, packing light is the way to go.
Regardless of your approach, I’ve compiled a list of turkey hunting gear (some necessary, some luxury) that can make your time in the woods more efficient, enjoyable, and, hopefully, more successful. I’ll cover everything you’ll need or want this turkey season, including:
- Turkey Ammo
- Turkey Choke
- Turkey Calls
- Turkey Vest
- Red Dot Sight
- Insect repellant
- Ground Blind
- Turkey Hunting Boots
- Miscellaneous Gear
If you already have a shotgun, there’s no need buy a turkey-specific gun when you’re just starting out. But, if you’re like me and don’t need a good excuse to buy another gun, you can find the best turkey hunting shotguns to scratch that itch. There are plenty of options in this list to fit budgets, brand loyalties, and preferences. Here are a few options to consider:
Whether you prefer the Turkey Camo, a classic Express model, or RemArms’ latest rendition, the Fieldmaster, this shotgun has become the bane of gobblers everywhere. It’s the PBR of turkey guns—affordable, consistent, and it gets smoother the more you use it. I’ve been hunting with one for the past 15 years, and it still performs. The 870 also produced the most consistent patterns in Outdoor Life’s best turkey loads test. If you want a workhorse shotgun, this one tops them all.
This semi-auto has a ton of features that make it a serious turkey gun. The recess on the top of the receiver allows you to mount a red dot and maintain a snug cheek weld. It also comes in 18.5- and 24-inch barrel options, which makes it easy to maneuver in tight cover. And if you’re planning on running 3 1/2-inch loads, the weight and gas-driven design absorb a lot of the recoil without punishing your shoulder.
TSS loads have made the .410 (where legal) a deadly gun for dropping longbeards. The recoil pales in comparison to the 12 gauge, making it a more manageable option for new or youth hunters alike. I know several serious turkey hunters who have converted to the .410, the Stevens 301 in particular. This lightweight (about five pounds) break-action shotgun includes a one-piece rail, an extra-full choke, and a 26-inch barrel.
In the history of hunting ammo and cartridges, turkey loads are still relatively new. With the resurgence of turkey populations in the 90s, ammunition companies started releasing turkey-specific ammo. These shotshells with higher payloads, denser patterns, and flight wad control technology made killing turkeys more efficient than traditional lead loads. Today, there are plenty of options, and you can read our full review of the best turkey ammo here. It’s worth going with turkey-specific ammo, wether you choose lead or TSS. The higher load weights and increased number of pellets are worth the extra cost.
For any shots within 40 yards, Longbeard XR is incredibly effective. Patterned through a Remington 870, the XRs delivered 125 of 297 pellets within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards, the highest percentage (42 percent) within the OL turkey load test. And at roughly $2 per shell, the Longbeard XR’s price is a lot easier to stomach than TSS loads.
During the OL test, the GT-3s produced the best pattern, putting 270 No. 9s inside a 10-inch target at 40 yards. It also produced a raging 1,488 fps muzzle velocity. So, if you’re looking for the best load to put pellets in a turkey head, the Apex GT-3s will deliver plenty.
This TSS load from Federal makes an excellent option for long range shots. It performed as one of the hardest hitting loads in the turkey load test, driving 21 pellets through 27 pieces of cardboard in the Brister Box. At $75, these TSS loads aren’t cheap. Federal currently offers them in 7 or 9 shot, a blend of 7/9 for 12- and 20-gauge, and a blend of 8/10 shot for 20-gauge. You can also get No. 9s for the .410.
Tightening your pattern’s spread will give you more pellets in a concentrated area out to longer distances. This increases your range and your shot’s lethality. For this reason, turkey chokes are key. If you’re just getting started and planning shooting a lead turkey load, you can also go with your factory full choke. But the following turkey-specific chokes will give you better patterns.
I’ve been running this budget choke in my primary turkey gun for years, and I’m in no hurry to change it. In my 870 it produced the best patterns in the turkey load test. It works great with a variety of ammo, and they’re widely available.
Optimized for Winchester Long Beard XR, this choke is designed to make an already potent load even deadlier.
Not every super-full choke works great for TSS. Luckily, Carlson’s offers a variety of chokes specifically designed for TSS loads. You’ll need to know the best choke constriction for your TSS turkey load to get the most out of your pattern, but these are excellent options worth considering.
Turkeys have incredible eyesight, so some camoflauge is key. The pattern itself isn’t as important as the shades within it. For instance, vibrant green camo that’s meant for the late season will stand out considerably during the early portion of the season before leaf-out. Regardless of the pattern, even the best camo for turkey hunting won’t make up for ill-timed movement. The camo patterns below will cover most terrains and seasons. Just make sure to wear a facemask or use face paint to cover up your mug.
Leafy suits can help break up your outline more than regular camo. This leafy jacket from North Mountain Gear scored the highest in the ghillie suit test, and its versatility makes it great for bowhunting whitetails too.
This subtle camo pattern helps you blend in whether you’re turkey hunting or going to your kids soccer game. It’s one of the least traditional camo patterns but also one of the coolest. Its pattern and color make it a versatile piece of camo that should adapt to most areas and times of year.
Chasing longbeards can lead you to dark, damp creek bottoms or swamps. This is where Bottomland shines, especially if you have an early season opener before greenup.
This classic camo pattern fits a variety of terrain. Whether you’re hunting field edges, large tracts of timber, or a mix of hardwood and coniferous forests, Realtree Edge adapts well to them all.
An excellent option if your turkey opener includes snow. TrueTimber Tundra features gray and brown in this white pattern to help your turkey hunting gear blend in when there’s a good blanketing of snow.
Calling a gobbling tom into range is the thrilling part of turkey hunting. Having a variety of call options can be the difference in punching your tag verses eating it. On windy days when you’re trying to strike a distant gobbler, a box call will give you the volume and range you need. On the other hand, a mouth call will give you a handsfree advantage when you need your gun at the ready, especially if you’re dealing with a stubborn gobbler that’s hung up just out of range. The slate or glass call gives you a dynamic range of volume and sounds. And unless you can hoot like an owl, plan on buying a locator call, too. Since turkey calls are fairly cheap, you should get one of each type when you’re starting out. Then see which ones fit your style of hunting and sound most realistic when you run them.
Of course, none of these will do you much good without practice, so consider the following calls and then get to practicing.
The WoodHaven Ninja Ghost is a great mouth call for beginners or average callers. The three-reed design and ghost cut make it easy to run, and it produces crisp, realistic yelps. It’s not the most dynamic for expert mouth callers, but it requires minimal air pressure to make clean, consistent turkey sounds.
Shane Simpson offers a host of mouth calls with specific cuts, depending on your mouth’s air channel. Simpson also provides video instruction on how to determine which part of your mouth you consistently push air through, which is paramount to figuring out which call and cuts work best for you. He also designs every call, so quality remains consistent.
Fool proof for a reason, this box call is easy to run, and it’s forgiving if you happen to make a mistake. It’s hard to find a box call that doesn’t work, but I’ve been using this one from Lynch’s for almost two decades, and it still produces crisp, loud yelps.
With enough practice and care, you can make this call sound as beautiful as it looks. The Cherry Classic Crystal has a wide volume range, and as long as you give the surface and striker regular maintenance, it’ll sing. For soft purrs, clucks, and cuts, this call remains a staple in my turkey vest.
Not everyone can make a realistic owl call with their mouth. These locator calls from Hook’s Custom Calls make a great addition to your turkey hunting gear because they are easy to use, ultrarealistic, and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Decoys give a tom the visual confirmation he needs to close the distance to your calls, especially in open country. Decoys aren’t a necessity, and they’re no guarantee either, but they have advantages. When a tom comes into your setup, he’ll be focused on the decoy, which can allow you to move into position for the shot without drawing attention to yourself. And the best turkey decoys are lifelike enough to fool even the wariest gobbler into range. Unfortunately, they can fool other hunters as well. For that reason, it’s important that you transport decoys in a bag or pack when you hunt public or private ground with other hunters, and avoid using them in tight cover. Here are some of the most realistic decoys for turkey hunting in safe scenarios.
These realistic 3D targets easily fold for storage, and the tom includes the option to use a real fan with it. The hen also includes multiple stake positions for different body postures. For versatility these decoys are a pair of aces.
No one makes more realistic decoys than Dave Smith. While his lifelike decoys include a premium price tag, this pair offers a relatively affordable price for the exceptional quality.
A budget option decoy pack, these soft bodied decoys are easy to stow and deploy. Just don’t expect lifelike features.
Vests or Packs
Turkey vests include padded seats, more pockets than you’ll ever need, and (typically) a game bag to stuff decoys or a dead gobbler. Still, some turkey hunters are staunchly opposed to them. Maybe because the best turkey vests garner an obnoxious cult following, or these hunters prefer a minimalist approach. If this is you, consider a small fanny pack or bag to organize your calls, or repurpose your overbuilt bino harness and stuff it with gear. I’ve tested some of the best typical and not-so-typical turkey vests.
For run and gun turkey hunters, the Equinox turkey vest has everything you need—a small pack that holds up to a 3-liter water bladder, silent magnet pockets, and a quick deploy seat. At over $200, this is the Cadillac of turkey vests, but it does a great job of maximizing storage capacity without adding bulk.
If you don’t want the added weight or bulk of a vest, this fanny pack from ALPS OutdoorZ has plenty of room to hold your turkey hunting essentials.
A non-traditional option, this bino harness has plenty of storage space right at chest height, making it easy to access your gear without a ton of movement. And if you need a rig for your hunting binoculars anyway, this harness will pull double duty.
Red Dots or Optics
Red dot sights help you get on target quickly and they keep you from pulling your head off the gun at the shot. Adding a red dot to your shotgun will also help you be more accurate at longer ranges.
There are plenty of solid options that fit a variety of turkey hunting gear budgets. You don’t have to go for broke, but you don’t want to go the Cracker Jack route either. Here are a few options Outdoor Life editors have tested.
This solar powered red dot uses a small solar panel and CR2032 battery to conserve battery life. It produces a crisp dot with 10 brightness settings. The streamlined body won’t snag on brush, and the closed emitter design makes it extremely durable for the turkey woods. I used it to bag a longbeard last season, and it’s quickly become one of my go-to pieces of gear.
This versatile red dot is affordable and offers four different reticle options. The red dot isn’t super crisp, but offers excellent brightness settings, and the optional hood allows you to convert it to a closed emitter design.
This low profile, budget friendly red dot is a no-frills option for the business-only turkey hunter. The 1550’s small footprint blends into your shotgun’s receiver beautifully, and the 3 MOA offers good crispness and brightness for its price.
One of the most challenging feats in the turkey woods is keeping your composure (and sanity) while mosquitos swarm your face. They can suck the joy and blood right out of a turkey hunt. To fend against all biting insects including chiggers and ticks, insect repellant is a necessity.
While more clothing companies have started offering gear with built-in insect repellent, there are still solid options for traditional spray application products. A lot of turkey vests include pockets built specifically to hold a ThermaCell. Like other gear, it never hurts to have a few options to make sure you’re fully covered. If there’s any chink in your armor, the bugs will find it.
I hunted out of this clothing system this past season in the deep South and quickly became a fan. For the most part, it keeps the bugs away anywhere you’re covered, though I still had to apply repellent to my head and face area. It’s a great option if you don’t want to lug around a Thermacell or coat your body in DEET.
When you need to breakout the big guns for buggy swamps, the Thermacell MR450 uses a repellent mat that warms over an element to keep mosquitoes away. It doesn’t work great for active movement, but if you need to stay stone-still while waiting out a tom, the MR450 does an admirable job of keeping pesky bugs away.
Spray your clothes instead of yourself. A single application of Sawyer’s permethrin should last you an entire turkey season. Just be sure to only apply the recommended dosage.
You might not want to use questionable insect repellent, so if you prefer the natural route, this eucalyptus oil from Murphy’s does an adequate job of keeping you bug free, and it smells great. Expect to reapply religiously.
If you’re new to hunting, taking a youth hunter, or bowhunting turkeys, the best turkey blinds can shield your movement while a gobbler strolls into your decoys. Blinds work best if you can set them up well in advance of your hunt, as they can be a pain to drag around. Still, they have advantages that are worth considering if cover is sparse or you’re hunting wide open country.
This large blind offers plenty of interior space and ample shooting windows. The see-through blind provides plenty of viewing space without feeling like you’re pigeonholed in a setup, but these premium features include a premium price.
While it doesn’t have as much interior space as other blinds, the purposeful features (Silent-Slide windows) make it a great option for bowhunting turkeys.
Plenty of space, see-through mesh, and several large shooting windows make this affordable hunting blind a steal.
There’s a whole wide world of turkey hunting boots turkey hunting boots out there fit for a variety of environments. Snake boots will give you protection and peace of mind in the South, while a lightweight hiking boot will keep the weight down out west. Of course, a classic rubber hunting boot is hard to beat in most conditions. Here are a few options that should cover most turkey hunting terrain.
These lightweight snake boots offer plenty of protection, and their streamlined design gives you the advantages of a typical rubber boot with the nimbleness of lighter footwear options.
Waterproof hiking boots work great in steep hill country or for run and gun hunts. Unlike other low or mid-cut boots that claim to have waterproof capabilities, the Merrell Moab 3s will actually stay dry.
For budget hunters, the Muck Edgewater offers everything you’d expect from a typical rubber boot and nothing more. They’re delightfully simple.
With tons of insulation options, the Alphaburly pros are a versatile pair of rubber boots that you can wear from your whitetail bow opener to the last day of turkey season.
More Gear You Might Need
- Pocket knife for cleaning your bird
- Pruning shears for quietly clearing a shooting lane
- Rain gear since it’s rainy in the spring through most of turkey country
- Headlamp if you’re making long treks in the dark
- Binoculars if you’re hunting open country or farm fields
Final Thoughts on Turkey Hunting Gear
The right gear makes turkey hunting more fun, but don’t expect it to bail you out when you haven’t invested in your calling or woodsmanship. Buy the gear that’s necessary and make it your mission to learn everything you can about turkeys. Then let your time in the field and hunting strategies inform which additional turkey hunting gear you really need.