Talking Turkey Part 1 – Tony Ruffing's Gear List, Tips, and Tricks
When Allen reached out to me about putting together a gear list and a few tips for turkey hunting, I was a bit hesitant. I don't claim to be an expert by any means, and there are far more talented folks in this arena. I'm just a guy who has had some success, both for myself and folks I've guided in the past, and who loves chasing birds. What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone, but it might help someone new get started.
It should also be noted that nothing about my set up is fancy, or has any of the new gadgets for turkey hunting you see on tv. It’s a system that has taken me years to build and familiarize myself with, but it’s honed in for my specifications.
Gear - here's my basic set-up:
1. Vest- Tenzing BV15 Upland Game Vest Backpack (or check out the new BV16 version) The biggest game changer for me was the vest versus a backpack. Having everything in arms reach with minimal movement does wonders when you get into tight quarters. Realizing it’s an upland game vest the deep pockets and game bag work well for carrying a variety of calls, and decoys. With the backpack on it as well I can carry extra water, food and layers to keep me in the field longer if need be. Plus the orange fly provides an extra safety feature if you shoot a bird and your walking back to the truck.
2. Gun-Remington 870 Super Mag chambered for 3.5” shells. Nothing fancy, just a classic, and it’s killed more shit than the plague.
3. Choke tube- Carlson Long Beard XR turkey choke tube
4. Ammo- Hornady heavy magnum #6 turkey load or HEVI-metal turkey #5 shot
5. Camo- First Lite Cipher. Typically I stack the light weight base layers for chilly mornings and shed as the day warms. I also have an old mossy oak hoody I wear often, 1. Because it’s warm, 2. Because it’s drab and absorbs light vs reflects it. Be careful with synthetics that have any kind of a sheen to it. The last thing you want is to glow in the woods
6. Boots- I hate rubber boots. They’re uncomfortable my feet sweat terrible. Flat out don’t like them. Especially for a run and gun style of hunt. Currently running Irish Setter Pinnacles, last pair was Irish setter Ravines. Love both. They dry moderately fast if they get wet. More comfortable for climbing hills and chasing birds
7. Calls- I prefer diaphragm calls. I just bought a triple-reed Ghost Cut that I’m very excited about. I prefer to buy my calls from smaller manufacturers. Typically they’re made with more attention to detail in the cuts, and usually don’t cost much more if any. Plus you can rest assured the money for a smaller maker means more than a big company. That said just starting out don’t be afraid to buy a two-reed Quaker Boy or Primos to get the feel for it. Start slow and learn a basic cluck and yelp. Most birds are killed with those two sounds. Listen to actual hens and try to mimic their vocalization. I also like to run a combo cut, and a batwing style cut. Bat wings are great for yelping and keekee runs, and are typically higher pitch so their sound will carry a further. Combo cuts and ghost cuts are great for clucks, yelps, purrs, keekee runs, and are usually a little raspier to sound like an older mature hen.
I also have a slate call with a wood striker that I bought at a sportsmens show years ago. I couldn't tell you who made it if you paid me. Slates are great as long as it’s dry. If it’s a wet morning, leave it in the truck. Glass and aluminum work well when it’s wet. I personally don’t own either
8. Decoys- I have an H&S Strut inflatable rubber jake and a styrofoam hen. I’ve had mixed results with decoys. When they work, they work great. When they don’t, they can ruin a morning. I killed a Tom a few years ago in the Hocking state forest that came in so hot as soon as he saw my Jake decoy he attacked. I still have holes in it from him spurring the heck out of it. I’ve also had birds come in, see my spread, and bugger out.
Decoys don’t need to be elaborate. Just something to intrigue a bird. That said if you’re in a thicker area versus a field edge I wouldn’t bother with a decoy.
Tips and Tricks:
Trial and error is going to be your best teacher in the turkey woods, probably more so than anything else you’ll hunt, but here are a few things I've picked up in my hunts.
1. Calling- the biggest mistake folks make, myself included, is overcalling. Many times I’ll get a turkey gobbling off the roost and it’s exciting to get them going. Then they fly down and all the sudden it’s crickets. You’ve got to know when to call and when to be quiet. In the morning, locate your bird, move in within 100yds if you can, then wait for fly down. At that point sporadic soft calling and leaf scratching can be your best friend. If you’re hunting blind move and call. I like to run ridges to locate birds. I’ll stop, call listen wait and periodically call for 10-20 minutes, move a couple hundred yards and repeat. Find a bird that wants to play the game.
2. Be mobile- Sometimes birds don’t want to talk. There’s a variety of reasons why, including bad weather conditions, barometric pressure, but mostly because they have a brain the size of a peanut so they’ll make any reason they want. The best thing you can do is quietly move through the woods, call periodically and look for sign. Fresh tracks, scratching, poop, anything. If you find a concentration of sign, set up and call.
Keep your head on a swivel- If birds aren’t talking, that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. I’ve killed more than one bird that never made a peep on the way in. Keep your eyes scanning and look for movement!
3. Chase storms out- I’ve never seen a more miserable looking animal in the world than a wet turkey. Seemingly, they hate the rain. That said if you're socked in with rain, keep an eye on the radar and make your way to the woods as the storms are moving out. It’s a great way to scout for birds too. As the sun comes out, they’re going to want to sun themselves dry. Catch them in open fields and make a move from there.
4. Sleep in- This tip will roll some eyes, but I’ve never killed a bird off the roost. Any bird I’ve shot or called in for people has been in the mid to late morning or late afternoon. So if you missed your alarm or hit snooze too many times don’t panic. Go to your local greasy spoon diner, get a cup of coffee, biscuits and gravy, then go hunt.
The most important tip of all…
5. Enjoy yourself- This sounds very kumbaya, and I even have to remind myself often, but it’s supposed to be fun. Worst case scenario, a bad day turkey hunting you got to enjoy a beautiful spring morning outside. The spring songbirds are declaring new life after a long dreary winter. There’s mushroom and ramp foraging, sheds to find, scouting can be done. Be adventurous, go to new ground, and enjoy the moment. Spring turkey comes once a year and it never lasts as long as we want it to.
About: Tony is a resident of Seneca County in North West Ohio with his wife and daughter. He is the former board chair for the Ohio chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and currently serves on their policy and advocacy committee. Professionally he runs a residential construction company and raises beef cattle on the family farm. He is a lifelong hunter who’s pursued everything from raccoons to elk, and has been hunting turkeys since the age of 12.