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Quality Gear For Public-land Longbeards

Run-and-gun public-land turkey hunting in the backcountry requires the right gear to notch a tag.

Quality Gear For Public-land Longbeards
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I tend to wander, and my desire to go walkabout intensifies with spring's arrival. I've found, in several states, public-land tracts loaded with wild turkeys—birds that, at the time, acted as if they'd never heard a hen call or seen a decoy. It's rare, sure, but I've found it enough that, each spring, I go looking for my next great off-the-beaten-path turkey locale. Over the years, I've biked, hiked, and ridden horseback into areas told to me by old-timers and those I've pinned on a Hunt Stand map. No distance is too far when the thought of gobbling toms is at the forefront of my mind.

Naturally, my gear selection has evolved to match these backcountry bird excursions. We will cover most of my run-and-gun Western turkey tools, but let's start with the shotgun.

wild-turkey_goulds_00381d

GO SUB-GAUGE

There was a time when I'd let you pull out my toenails before surrendering my 12-gauge turkey slayer loaded with Winchester's 3-inch, 1 7/8-ounce Super-X #5s. That time has passed.

Four years ago, a trip with my son into a canyon that will remain nameless changed my thinking. He was young—a small-framed shooter that didn't like recoil. I put a lighter-weight 20 gauge, but not so light it would rock his shoulder, in his hand and loaded it with Federal's HeavyWeight TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) shotshells. He killed a massive Merriam’s tom at 43 yards using open sights with the #9 TSS payload. On the trip out, I carried his gun and shells, and the weight of what was in my hands got my attention. For six miles, I thought about switching to a sub-gauge, and then when I factored in how far turkey shotshell ammo had come, I opted to give it a try.

8-mile-0

Last season, while roaming the Rockies for a pure Merriam's gobbler, I toted Rossi's SS Poly Tuffy Gray .410 single-shot. The break-action shotgun has an overall length of just 31 inches and weighs 2.95 pounds. It's ultralight and highly maneuverable, and the thumbhole/pistol-grip stock provides a great fit and feel. I topped the shotgun with Aimpoint's 4.6-ounce Micro T-2 red dot, which takes up no room on the shotgun and is simple to operate. The sight promises 50,000 hours of constant operation, and I loved the single-off position and eight daylight brightness settings. Dot clarity was remarkable, and the optic ensures maximum clarity no matter the lighting condition.

rossi

My go-to choke was Jebs .410 Head Hunter. This extended choke, with Fiocchi's Golden Turkey TSS #9's, was lethal to 60 yards. The patterns were remarkable, and though the .410 gave me fewer pellets, the load of #9 TSS uses 18 g/cc tungsten, which patterned remarkably well at distances near and far. The total weight of my 2022 turkey shotgun was less than 3.5 pounds with a shotshell in the chamber. It was an absolute joy to tote around the woods. At 9,200 feet in a grassy meadow filled with bug life, I killed my gobbler, a large Merriam's. It was midday, and a decoy setup was impossible when I saw the tom. I knew the shot would be longer as I was out in the open, and the bird would hang up when he came around the bend in the meadow and didn't see what he believed to be a sexy hen. I was right, but at 37 yards, the combination of my Rossi, Aimpoint, Jebs, and Fiocchi dropped the bird in his tracks. He didn't even flop.

I will only head into the turkey woods again with a sub-gauge shotgun. They are lighter to tote, easier on the shoulder, more of a challenge to hunt with, and—most importantly—they kill.

aimpoint

Often, I head into the turkey woods with archery tackle, and as with my new sub-gauge fascination, I go light. Hoyt's RX Series of carbon bows are hard to beat. Last season, I went with the RX-7 that measures 30 inches between the axles, making it highly maneuverable and easy to pack around the hills. The bow weighed 3.9 pounds, and after outfitting it with sight, rest, quiver, and stabilizer, the total weight was still under six pounds.

A bow-mounted decoy from Ultimate Predator Gear is necessary if you go the bow route. I only use the decoy during bow-only seasons. This fold-up fake weighs nothing, and you can have it mounted to your bow in seconds.

alps-turkey

MORE BACKCOUNTRY TURKEY MUST-HAVES

This isn't a sales pitch, and I don't want to spin a load of crap about things you don't need. I'm a backcountry turkey hunter, and it has taken me years, but I've tested and tinkered with loads of gear. These items are must-haves for the backcountry turkey wanderer: I've used a pile of turkey vests, but when chasing toms in far-flung locations, only two will do: Sitka's Equinox Turkey Vest and Alps' Ambush Sling Pack will both serve the backcountry enthusiast.

sitka

The Equinox is light, comfortable, quiet, and ultradurable. I love the drop-down seat and the purposeful pocket assembly that keeps a box call, slate call, strikers, mouth calls, and other gear at the ready. The vest also has inner mesh pockets. Even better is that the pack has a large, zippered back pocket that is hydration compatible and has room for additional gear. A pair of blaze-orange flags can be deployed when packing out a tom via the removable fowl slip noose or by lashing the bird to the vest with straps.

alps

The Ambush Sling Pack will cost you a little less coin, and for a lightweight run-and-gun sling pack, it holds more gear than meets the eye. With a fighting weight of one pound, this 12x10.5x2.5-inch pack has a MOLLE system on both sides for added gear attachment points, and I love the interior mesh pockets. The pack will hold a duo of pots and three strikers, a box call, and plenty of other gear via the exterior zippered mesh pocket. I was worried the sling-style design would slide around on my body recklessly, but the multi-position shoulder strap makes a just-right carry possible.

Recommended


leupold

Optics get overlooked by plenty of turkey hunters, but when roaming the West, they may be your most essential tool. My go-to is Leupold's compact and crystal-clear BX-5 Santiam HD 10x42s. Toss these ergonomic binos in a trusty harness, and you'll have no trouble distinguishing if that "black blob" you're looking at is a turkey, newborn calf, or a burnt stump. These binoculars have a smooth focus wheel, twist-up eyecups, and an easy-to-operate open-bridge design, which cuts down on weight and unnecessary bulk.

There you have it, all the need-to-know intel to wander the woods this spring. Don't be afraid to toss a pack on your back (I recommend Alps Elite Frame +3800) and stay a few days in turkey country. If you're willing to cover the country, and that county is known to hold birds, you will soon find turkey nirvana.




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