When you head the turkey woods this month, will you have everything you need to down a gobbler? These proven turkey killers share their equipment lists to help up your odds of success.
If it’s spring, Chad Newcomer is on the move, chasing gobblers from Mississippi to Nebraska — and several spots in between — with an intense passion and skilled precision.
The Geismer transplant originally from Indiana often hunts private land, but he prefers to set up shop deep in a section of public ground where he knows no one else will be.
That way, he knows it’s just him and the turkeys — no other hunters or distractions.
Whether on private or public land, however, as long as he’s got a few calls packed in his bag and he’s carrying a loaded gun, wary toms don’t stand a chance.
Newcomer, co-owner of Fat Lady Game Calls, is continuing his quest to complete a second grand slam, which entails harvesting all four U.S. subspecies of turkey: eastern, Osceola or Florida, Rio Grande and Merriam’s.
Countless hunting seasons spent in the woods, sitting at the base of a tree has given Newcomer a sort of sixth sense when it comes to the birds.
But, without the right equipment, Newcomer admitted it’s likely little of his success would be possible.
“Having the right gear is critical,” Newcomer said. “And quality is just as important as having the right gear.
“I’ve got to have equipment I can absolutely count on to go (hunting) with.”
Ron Newcomer, who with younger cousin Chad founded Fat Lady Game Calls, also is working on a second grand slam. And a glance at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s record books shows he’s harvested quality turkeys.
Those kills have proven the importance of having the right stuff in his bag.
“Every turkey you hunt is different,” Ron Newcomer said. “So you’ve got to have something in your arsenal that can handle any situation.”
The two Newcomers often hunt together in their travels around the country, and they’ve developed a skilled routine that’s proven to be a successful formula.
Chad likes to sit back with his trusty 12-gauge in hand — but he’s been known to carry a 20-gauge to lighten his carrying load — while Ron lures in the toms with a few trusty calls from not far behind.
Here’s a rundown of the equipment that can help you find consistent success.
The Newcomers are in the call business, so they’ve built calls to mimic virtually every turkey vocalization a hunter can make in the woods.
But there are a few Chad keeps in his hunting bag no matter where he goes — calls he said can handle most situations he’ll encounter when turkey hunting.
“I usually keep two pot calls at all times in my vest,” he said. “The reason I carry two calls is due to different weather conditions. If it’s windy and dry, I carry glass because of the immense volume from that call. I carry slate, too, because … just the feel of the wood on slate, to me, sounds right.
“If it’s raining, I’ll carry along (an) aluminum (pot) because (it) works when it’s wet, and glass will run wet, too, if you’ve got a glass rod striker.”
For Natchez, Miss., hunter Jonathan Smith, who chases turkeys around his hometown on private and public land, there’s only one type of call he’ll keep in his bag no matter where he’s hunting or the situation.
“Mouth calls are the most important,” said Smith, who has recorded one grand slam he began chasing gobblers in 1986. “They sound the most realistic and you can control the volume real easy, as well as the pitch.”
Smith said using a mouth call can not only aid in a hunter sounding more like a bird, but it can also help keep them concealed.
“You need to master the mouth call, because that’s the one you can use where you don’t have to move,” he said. “You don’t have to take that call out your pocket; you just keep it in your mouth when you are moving.”
Ron Newcomer is known to keep several types of calls in his hunting vest, but he said an aluminum pot call is his go-to because it’ll operate in any weather: wet, cold, dry or windy.
But he said it doesn’t matter how many calls a hunter has with them if they don’t know how to operate them correctly.
“Don’t take a call you don’t know how to run,” he said. “You’re going to cause more damage than you’ll help yourself.”
Jonathan Smith said he isn’t a stickler when it comes to shell brands. As long as his loads are 3-inch and No. 4 or 5 shot, he said they will work in most situations.
“For me, I rather make sure (the turkeys are) close rather than a 50- to 60-yard shot,” Smith said. “Idealistically, my shots are about 20 to 30 yards, max. I don’t shoot that far; if he’s not within 30 yards, I’m not going to shoot.
“I pass a couple up a year because they’re not close enough.”
Ron Newcomer said he sticks with Hevi-Shot loads because of tests of several of the most well-known shells. He has his gun and choke combination down to a science.
“I shot at paper to get a pattern,” Ron Newcomer said. “Then I took a steel plate and penetrate-tested the different combinations.”
After extensive testing, Ron discovered 3-inch Hevi-Shot with the Hevi-Shot tube worked best for him, and he said he’ll shoot either No. 2, 4 or even 6 shot.
“You really have to match that shell with the tube,” Ron Newcomer said. “Mach up with the shell that does best with your setup.”
Vests & bags
When the Newcomers first started hunting turkeys in the ’80s, hunting vests were crude and uncomfortable. Today, there are more quality vests on the market, Ron Newcomer said
And having the right vest is very important, especially when covering some serious ground on public land.
“A quality vest is a must,” Ron Newcomer said. “They make them today to disperse the weight … you are carrying.”
It’s nothing for the Newcomers to cover a few miles during a hunt, so keeping their gear lightweight and having a vest that distributes that weight effectively can save them sore backs at the end of the day.
Smith, however, said he doesn’t carry a vest while turkey hunting. Instead, he opts to tote as little as possible in a small backpack.
On some mornings, he won’t bring a bag at all.
“If I’m heading in for a morning hunt, I won’t carry (a bag),” Smith said. “I’ll just stuff things in my pockets. I’ll put a few calls — mouth calls or pot calls with strikers — in my pockets and go.
“I’m more of a simplest when it comes to that.”
Inside Ron Newcomer’s hunting vest, he’ll usually keep an inflatable hen decoy that he said is as lightweight as turkey decoys come.
But he said he usually uses a gobbler decoy only on private land, as hunting public land with a strutting tom decoy can be dangerous — and a decoy mimicking a mature, full-strutting tom isn’t always the best bet when hunting private land, anyway.
“That full-strutter can mess your hunt up quick if you’re hunting a 2-year-old bird by itself,” Ron said. “He’ll be nervous about that.
“An adult bird that’s more mature, like a 3-year-old, he’ll come into that (gobbler decoy).”
But most days, Ron sticks to a hen that’s in a feeding position. He said that decoy has provided the best results over the years.
Chad Newcomer said he prefers a submissive hen in tandem with a jake — and on private land he’ll use a strutting tom, which he admitted is a luxury.
On most of his hunts, carrying the extra weight of a big, strutting gobbler isn’t necessary.
“When hunting on public ground with Ron, we hunt as a pair because he has a hen decoy and I have one, too,” Chad said. “Sometimes one of us will have a jake.
“We’ll push as close as we dare to the gobbler and set the decoys up. Ron will be up front, and he gets the decoys set up and backs up 50 to 60 yards. He’s calling and I’m out front in gun range.
“That’s a strategy that works great on public ground.”
For Ron Newcomer, one of the most-important items in his hunting vest is a pair of binoculars. He said seeing turkeys before they see you is paramount, since the birds’ vision is so good.
Due to the big mileage he logs on public land, Ron said he also carries survival items such as a knife. Of course, he totes along a GPS to keep an accurate bearing.
“I only carry a compass when I’m hunting with Ron,” Chad Newcomer said with a laugh. “I know he has that GPS. But since we run in pretty crazy places, I’ll keep those survival items, too, like a snake bite kit, waterproof matches and a whistle.”
Natchez, Miss., hunter Jonathan Smith also said keeps some sort of fire source with him, in addition to a compass or GPS.
“I always keep survival items with me, especially if I’m hunting somewhere I’m not familiar with,” Smith said. “Hunting in places like South Dakota, it still gets cold during turkey season; you could freeze to death in those conditions, so I keep those few items for safety.”
Chad Newcomer said he also carries extra face masks and head nets, but he said nothing except his shotgun is more important than carrying a Thermacell when hunting in the South.
“If you don’t have that you’re not going to be in the woods long,” he said.
The Newcomers also have a homemade turkey hauler, a tool to help transport turkeys out of the woods after a successful hunt. Chad Newcomer said he’ll never carry a heavy gobbler out of the woods again without the hauler, which can save a sore back and arm.
“Ron made this turkey hauler that’s made from a deer antler, that goes up 5, 6 inches and is the width of fist,” Chad said. “There’s a rope drilled through it and a big loop at the end of that rope. You make a double loop over the turkey’s feet and sling it over your shoulder.
“That way, you can walk with the bird for a long way easily, because you don’t want your hand on the spurs and don’t want your hand behind your head. That thing is worth its weight in gold when it comes to hauling (a dead bird).”
Chad also said you’ll likely never catch him turkey hunting without a folding hunting chair — what he calls a turkey lounger.
While the item adds extra weight to his vest, he said it’s an item that aids in his success virtually every hunting season.
“I pack that turkey lounger no matter how rugged the terrain,” Chad said. “When we get set up on a bird, it can take hours to pull the bird to us. You’ve got to be patient because you’re on their time, not on people time. If you can’t sit still, it’s over. You can sit in those turkey loungers comfortably and won’t have to move for hours. You can just sit motionless.
“It really cuts your odds way down if you don’t carry one.”
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