Turkey hunting season is just around the corner, but Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Chris Sargent fears some hunters are relying too much on expensive toys and not honing their craft. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

It’s been 10 years since I aimed my shotgun on the wattles of my first tom.

Two hours earlier, I’d spotted a couple of nice early season toms sunning themselves on the south-facing bank of a shallow gravel pit. After ditching my truck, I snuck down the old dirt road and hit them with a barrage of every single beginner call I knew.

I didn’t get a single response.

My inexperience was no match for these savvy fellas and I figured an old-fashioned stalk was my only chance. I circled my way around the duo, and 30 minutes later I settled into the base of a birch tree roughly 60 yards from the birds. My only play was to hope they decided to work their way into range.

Since that day, I’ve come a long way as a turkey hunter. A few seasons was all it took to send my love for it coursing through my veins and I can’t imagine a world without it. I live for those cold spring mornings when the sound of a roosted tom firing off less than 100 yards away breaks the silence. An almost unsettling anxiety sets in as I prepare to make my first call and once the game is on, there’s nothing else in the entire world that matters.

Over the years, I’ve chosen to invest far more in time, attention and learning than gimmicks and gear.  

A few days ago while having coffee, I typed “How to hunt turkeys” into Google. I’m not too proud to find myself above brushing up on the fundamentals. But the results were less than I’d hoped for. I wanted a flood of information from turkey hunting experts armed with years of experience and full of useful tips and tactics.

Instead, the first thing that came up was an article from a popular, high-priced hunting clothing brand. I read the first three paragraphs of the article, which focused more on their newest brand of camo pattern than actual turkey hunting. I scrolled to the end of the article. Instead of turkey hunting insight, the remainder of the article plugged the clothing line’s latest products, guaranteeing success in any situation by way of $100 “technical” shirts, $150 pants and a $600 rain gear set. Yikes.

I racked my brain to recall how much 20 gauge turkey hunting ammunition I had stockpiled. After a few minutes, I was certain I had enough for the upcoming season. I knew I had a couple boxes of number five Winchester Long Beard XR, which had fallen out of favor with me after some recent poor performances on birds. But I knew of at least two full boxes of number five Remington Nitro Turkey, which has served me well over the years.

Still, I couldn’t resist looking up this year’s must-have turkey hunting loads, and I nearly choked on my coffee as I looked at the prices. The newest fad in turkey shot technology is tungsten super shot, which is promoted as being able to hit harder at much farther ranges than traditional lead shot. Ammo brands tout successful patterns out to 50, 60 and even 70 yards. All that technology will cost you though. Depending on brand and gauge, a box of five shotshells runs anywhere from about $40 to $70 or more. I think those Remingtons were about $8 for a box of 10 last year, if I recall.

I next wondered how much it would cost to upgrade my turkey call arsenal. I’m nowhere near an expert turkey caller but I do well enough to get the job done on most days and in most situations. I run box and slate calls primarily but back them up with a couple different diaphragm calls. A “nice” box call these days goes for more than $100. A “good” slate call can set you back $60 or so and a pack of three to five “decent” diaphragm calls is anywhere from $20 to $50. Three soft tree yelps from my $25 Quaker Boy slate call and a few cuts on a $20 box call fooled one of my best gobblers to date last spring on a cool, foggy morning.  

Like too many things in the world today, turkey hunting has largely become commercialized. There’s far more emphasis on gear, camo, and looking the part, than the actual nuts and bolts of it all.

There’s no invisible camo pattern or magic call that can guarantee you’ll sling a bird over your shoulder. Turkey hunting is about trial and error, honing your skills and hoping a little luck will tip the scales in your favor. It’s about woodsmanship, persistence and patience, the latter of which served me well on that first gobbler I mentioned earlier.

After nearly an hour in the sweltering sun, he marched to 28 yards then found himself on the wrong end of my Remington 870 20 gauge and a cheap number five Nitro Turkey load. It was nowhere near the most exciting, most nail biting or most heart pounding turkey hunt I’ve ever had.

However, I think of it often and in doing so, I remind myself that the name of the game isn’t the one on your shirt, ammo, call or shotgun — it’s the hunt itself.

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Chris Sargent, Outdoors Contributor

Chris Sargent is an avid outdoorsman, a former Maine Game Warden and lover of anything wild and tasty. Chris’ passion and appreciation for hunting, processing and preparing wild game has become more...