A turkey vest is essential to being a versatile turkey hunter. A good vest can organize and carry the calls, tools and other gear you’ll need for success in any scenario a spring gobbler may put you in.
Some hunters take a minimalistic approach to turkey hunting, saying you don't need to take a bunch of gear out into the field to kill a turkey. These hunters argue that taking a gun, a few shells, and a couple of calls is all they need to get the job done. That may be true in some circumstances, but turkey hunting is a game where the turkeys make the rules – and often change them. Fishing provides a helpful parallel. Does an angler go out on the water with one rod and one or two lures? No, the successful ones have multiple rods rigged for different situations, and their tackle boxes include multiple lures of different shapes, colors, types, and sizes. The fish are going to bite some of them and ignore the rest. The prepared angler is equipped to quickly figure out the pattern the fish are biting best in the particular conditions of the day. The same goes for the successful turkey hunter. A tom may not answer a diaphragm or slate call on any particular morning, while a box call might get him talking. Each type of call has its own unique sound, and the only way to know what ol’ tom likes best is to have several of your favorite calls within reach.
A turkey vest also makes it easier to carry other gear like decoys, blinds, facemasks, gloves, shells and a rangefinder. And if the hunt goes as planned, it can also make carrying a bird out of the woods easier and safer. Many vests are equipped with a turkey pocket and a hunter-orange flag that provides additional utility and safety when toting a gobbler out of public lands with other hunters in the area.
When turkey vests were first being used in the early '90s, I can recall them being referred to as a turkey hunter's file cabinet because of their ability to keep gear organized. Today's turkey vests are now made with better-quality materials and have even more functions. For example, the Blocker Outdoors Shield Series Finisher Pro Turkey Vest is designed with over 15 pockets to keep different kinds of calls and gear extremely well organized, accessible with minimal movement, and ready for use. Plus, it is made for all-day comfort with a detachable seat cushion with a water-resistant bottom. Its generous rear pouch is designed to hold decoys or a harvested bird, and has a stowable, hunter-orange safety flag that alerts any nearby hunters that you’re a human being, not a target.
Now that we’ve established the reasons why a quality turkey vest like the Blocker Outdoors Finisher can help hunters earn more success, let’s talk about what should be carried inside.
POT CALLS AND STRIKERS
Pot Calls have friction surfaces typically made of slate, glass, or aluminum. Each has a different sound. Some, like glass, work better in wet conditions. Aluminum calls are often higher-pitched and louder, making them a good option in windy conditions. Slate calls have a very natural sound and are often quieter. Strikers are typically made of different kinds of wood, but specialized strikers made of carbon and other materials are also available. Different call/striker combinations produce different sounds that can be useful or appealing to turkeys in different conditions. Prepared hunters usually carry at least two different pot calls and two or three different strikers, along with sandpaper or other abrasive materials used to keep the surfaces tuned.
Box calls produce different pitches and volumes depending on their shape, size, and construction materials. A box call is best known as a loud, locater call and can be particularly useful on windy days. Consider carrying at least one box call with you at all times, and don’t forget the chalk to keep it sounding great.
Diaphragm calls, or mouth calls, are extremely popular because they are small, easy to carry, and allow hunters to talk with the birds without any movement. Like other styles of calls, each particular diaphragm call makes a slightly different sound, depending on its design. Each call has a different pattern of cuts made into the latex reeds. Single reed diaphragm calls are the easiest to use, but most have two and sometimes three reeds. Some create more rasp like that of an older hen, and some may be higher pitched like a younger hen. These are great choices for close-in finishing work when hunters must remain absolutely still. More advanced hunters often use a mouth call and a pot call at the same time – a technique that can really light up a single tom, or get the entire woods talking. Find at least two or three diaphragm calls you can master, and carry them with you at all times.
Locator calls produce natural sounds that shock a tom into gobbling. It's called a locator call because of its ability to locate a tom without making sounds of a hen. The hunter can locate a tom then move in closer to make a setup. An owl call is a great locator call to carry and use in the pre-dawn darkness to locate toms on the roost. A crow call is another popular locator call. The crow call is commonly used later in the mornings and afternoons to shock a stubborn or otherwise silent tom into gobbling, thereby revealing his location. A coyote howler call isn’t as popular as the owl and crow calls for locating birds, but can work mid-mornings when a tom might not gobble at other locator calls. The coyote howl also works great during the evenings when trying to locate roosted birds for the next morning’s hunt.
PRUNER OR SAW
A pruner or hand-held saw is a must in a turkey vest. They work great when setting up if the hunter needs to cut a few branches or obstacles that might be interfering with a clear shot on a tom. They also work great to make a ground blind out of branches or brush out a hub blind.
DECOYS AND STAKES
I carry decoys on 99% of my turkey hunts. Most generally, I carry a hen and a jake decoy with stakes. I also carry an extra stake in my vest in case I lose or break one. Carrying decoys in a turkey vest is a good practice, as it increases safety.
EXTRA GLOVES AND FACEMASK
A turkey's most prominent defense is its incredible eyesight, so it’s vital to conceal all exposed skin when setting up on a tom. I always carry two pairs of gloves and two facemasks, as these essential items are commonly lost.
Mosquitos and other common biting insects represent a health risk during the spring season. Also, a hunter doesn't want to be swatting mosquitos while hunting, so always carry a quality repellant. Aerosols and topical liquids work, but I’ve had excellent results with compact and easy-to-use ThermaCell appliance. It’s always with me in the turkey woods, and I don’t need to worry about messy liquids or aerosol cans accidentally discharging inside my vest. A separate tick repellant is also advised. Carry it inside a small Ziploc bag to contain any leaks.
Ammunition is an obvious must for any turkey hunter. I always try to carry a few more rounds than what my gun will hold. The great thing about carrying them in a turkey vest is that there are usually built-in shell holders to keep them organized and quiet when walking.
Anytime you hunt, it’s important to let someone know where you will be and what time you expect to be back, and it’s critical to have some form of communication in case of an emergency. Thankfully, almost every hunter owns and carries a phone these days. They can also be helpful for navigation in the field, as well as taking photos after a successful hunt!
As you can see, the amount of gear and equipment needed to adapt to changing conditions and earn success in the turkey woods adds up quickly. Thanks to modern turkey vests, it’s easier than ever to carry all the gear you need in an organized fashion while retaining the mobility necessary to stay a step ahead of ol’ tom. Every hunt is different, so you’ll carry more or less gear on any given day, but having a versatile vest is the most convenient and safest way to be prepared and earn success in the turkey woods.