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Turkey Hunting – Travel Hunting Tips

Planning for a travel hunt this spring or fall? It pays to adopt the old Boy Scout slogan of “Be Prepared”.  Follow these travel hunting tips for a successful turkey hunting trip.  Even what’s considered routine vacation or business airline travel can sometimes be more interesting than it needs to be if you don’t know the updated rules, how to navigate through the security gates, or what security measures are in place. Traveling with guns and gear creates additional considerations that must be allowed for. Knowing how and what to pack and how to plan your flights will make a difference. And although there’s never a good time to have your luggage lost or miss a connecting flight, you definitely don’t want to experience this kind of problem when traveling for a hunt. Getting into camp on time with your gun and all the essentials is crucial. The key is to know the basics involved, what to watch for, and do everything you can from a planning and packing standpoint to avoid issues.

Booking Flights

When airline travel is planned it usually involves a day of travel for each leg with a limited number of days for the hunt in between. Booking online is easy but it’s important that you follow a few basic practices.
Avoid connecting flights if possible but if you do have to connect make sure both legs are with the same airline. Changing planes increases the chance of lost baggage and changing actual airlines not only adds to the effect but can make for a more challenging recovery effort if they’re lost.

Try to have no less than an hour layover built in for connecting flights. Quick connects may sound good at first but if you experience any delays at all the stress begins and you increase the chances that you or your gear won’t be on the second leg. I prefer an hour at a minimum but an hour and a half is safer. Delays occur for all kinds of reasons including weather, waiting for a flight crew, mechanical issues, and even having to wait for a plane to back away from your arrival gate so yours can pull up. Even if you are running tight and can literally run to get on the next plane, your gun and gear can’t do the same.

Leave early. I always book early morning departures on the outward flight. I try to arrive in camp early enough that I can get to the hunting spot and do some scouting and get settled in. And this way if I do have delays I can still get in at a decent time even if I spend hours in an airport. I do just the opposite on the return leg to allow for a morning hunt if needed and accept that I’ll get home late.

Invest in Quality Luggage and Gun Case

Once you see how baggage is handled you’ll understand why you need to invest in good quality cases and luggage. Baggage gets thrown around, falls off conveyer belts, and goes through the equivalent of abuse. A good gun case is a must. For shotguns I prefer the shorter ones that allow you to break down your gun. The shorter case makes it easier to pack in a rented SUV and carry around at the airport. Double gun cases can save a bag fee if you’ve got a partner but again, invest in a good one because you’ll look like you’ve been doing this for years after just one trip as this stuff gets banged around.

Put an identification tag on all bags. Also mark your bags with something that makes it stand out. You can paint stencil GSN on your case or use a colored strap, duct tape, or anything that makes it easily recognizable when it hits the carrousel. Not only does this help you find it but it helps to keep others from mistakenly grabbing your bag. You’d be surprised at how many bags look alike.

Take photos of your baggage with your phone just in case they are lost. This will help when filing the claim at the office you hope you never have to visit.

If you have a gun case with separate locks…keep an extra set in your “carry on” just in case….Gun cases must be locked and they have to be TSA approved locks.

At smaller airports guns are dumped onto the regular baggage carousel so I advise making a beeline for it to make sure you’re the one that snags it. At larger airports it may be directed to a specialty type claim station and you present your baggage claim ticket. Ask an airport attendant as soon as you get off the plane if you don’t know the routine so you don’t waste time finding the location.

Pack Efficiently and with Weight in Mind

Aside from the gun case I travel with one carry on bag and a large piece of luggage. The checked bag can’t weight more than 50 lbs. unless you’re a frequent flyer or you’re some privileged member etc. It’s tricky to pack boots vest and all the gear you “might” need and stay below that. Tripods for video cameras make this even more challenging. Hunting in warmer areas like Texas and Oklahoma often don’t require the same clothing considerations that upper western states require due to colder temperatures. I’ve been snowed on more than once during May turkey hunts in the latter locations. The key is to just think it through in terms of gear so you stay at 50 lbs. or below. An option if you have a partner is to have him carry a second checked bag that you can both pack in and use the double gun case. This way you both pay for two checked bags but you get everything packed that you think you’ll need for the hunt.

I check my bag at home by weighing myself and then picking the bag up and weighing me holding it on bathroom scales. Just know that most airlines will charge you a premium if you go over. You should also know that based on previous field travel test I’ve performed that trying to fudge the scales by letting your bag hang over the edge while the attendant is weighing doesn’t work.

Packing the Vitals

Shotgun shells must be in the factory box. If not you’ll likely have to give them up. Believe me; I have donated several rounds of Hevi Shot to an airport because I left them in my vest. As far as actual packing goes, I arrange everything so that any thing that could get crunched is padded and protected from all sides. Vest is on the bottom, boots on the end, tripod in the middle with clothing packed all around. I use a small box that I put the shotgun shell box and other misc. gear in that keeps these items protected.

I carry a small backpack that I keep the video camera, regular camera, Ipad, and my best turkey calls in. Often this is placed in my carry on the flight out and removed and replaced with turkey capes on the way back. If you don’t use the backpack, pack GPS, cameras, and anything of real value…in your carry on both to protect from damage and risk of loss. You should also be aware that many connecting flights to smaller airports will not accommodate full size carry on in the overhead compartment and you’ll have to check it at the gate. It’s another reason I use the back pack.

At one point packing Therma cell cartridges was a problem. I’m not sure currently how that’s looked at.

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead when ever possible. Buying your license online saves time once you are on the ground. Research or call the state DNR so you’re sure what you’ll need to be legal. Look for deals on vehicle rentals as well as airfares online. SUVs don’t have to cost a fortune but they can if you wait until you’re off the plane.

I know some that prefer to ship some items ahead of time. If you’re planning to mount a bird go on line and know what you’ll need to have to pack and ship the bird or capes to your taxidermist.

Positive Experiences

In the 10 years I’ve traveled and numerous trips I’ve made, I’ve only had my gear lost twice and both were on the return trips. I have had two others with me that had their gear lost for the better part of a day but statistically the percentages are very good. My experience with airports especially smaller ones in regards to attendants and TSA has been good.

Air travel is the preferred way for me because I have limited time and can’t take the hours and effort to drive out west for 20-30 hours. And often when you factor in the real expense for driving, meals, and expenses, the savings may not be what you thought they’d be. Travel hunts planned properly do not have to be expensive or problematic. It comes down to air-fare, licenses, ground transportation, and food expense. It also involves planning and knowing the ropes.

By Bobby Parks
Grand Slam Network
Mossy Oak Pro Staff

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Turkey Hunting – Backwoods Campsites

I love the smell of Ponderosa Pine, wood smoke, and canvas. Backwoods camping adds a whole other element to turkey hunting. Living in the outdoors for several days helps me become more in tune with the woods. I can forget about the “real world” and just concentrate on my turkey hunting and enjoying the entire experience. The ability to just walk out the door and go hunting is more than a convenience; it is an engagement with in nature.…

When I first started traveling for my turkey hunting I slept in the back of my pickup truck fitted with a topper. Then I towed a camper trailer for several years. Now I finally have settled on a canvas wall tent as my main camp lodge. I’ve been hunting with one for 7 years now. The wall tent is roomy enough to easily stand up in and it has a woodstove for a source of heat. That heat is what makes the difference between just staying in a tent and having a comfortable abode. I can fit my whole camping outfit in my truck without having to tow a trailer. Not having to tow anything improves gas mileage and also allows me to get into areas I might not be able to get to otherwise. Over the years there have been a number of hunting areas I could not have reached due to muddy and snowy roads, had I been towing a trailer. Another advantage I like about a tent is when the weather gets hot a well ventilated tent set up in the shade can be cooler than a camper.

Backwoods camping in the area I hunt is an advantage because there is no driving time. Some motels can be a half hour or even an hour drive from a hunting area. This saves time at both ends of the day, not to mention money. During turkey season the more sleep I can get, the better. I also don’t have to fight sloppy difficult to navigate roads if the weather happens to be bad or turn bad while I’m out hunting. I might not have to “quit early” in order to “get out”.

I have refined my tent camping over the years and thought there may be some ideas that could be useful should you decide to try a tent camp for turkey hunting. My wall tent is 10’x12’ and has a frame made from conduit. The canvas is waterproof, mildew resistant and has a fire retardant on it. This type of canvas can be stored wet for a few days, but does need to be dried out before long term storage. There is no other maintenance involved other than storing the tent in a dry place. I keep my tent canvas in a large plastic container to prevent mice or other pests from accessing it. I also have a waterproof tarp specially fitted from the manufacturer to go over the tent. The tarp helps shed a hard rain or snow and also insulates the tent during cold weather. There is no floor in my tent; the woodstove quickly dries out any wet ground. If I happen to expect snow on the ground when I arrive, I bring a scoop shovel to clear the area where the tent will be set up.

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The woodstove is sized to the tent. Having a stove too large can easily overheat your living space, and too small of a stove may not provide enough heat if the weather turns cold and windy. Most of the wood I use to burn I bring with me, but in some areas you may be able to cut or collect your wood right there. Just be sure it is legal beforehand. Kindling is also brought along to ease the starting or restarting of a fire. Wood ash must be dealt with so I have a small ash shovel and I use a metal bucket to hold the ashes until they are cooled enough for disposal. The ash bucket also carries the tent stakes during transport. A spark arrester on top of the stovepipe is needed to keep sparks from flying out and landing on the ground, nearby trees or the roof of the tent. The woodstove is also used to do a lot of cooking.

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I have a couple of Roll-A-Cots® for beds. They get you off the ground for a good nights rest, are light, and pack up fairly small. A pad for the cot will help insulate you from cool air underneath and provide additional padding for comfort. My tent is designed for two hunters, but three hunters can be accommodated. I made a cloth and conduit shelf to go across the back of the tent to keep clothes and other clutter out of the way and off the ground. The shelf is supported by the tent frame and folds up for transport.

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I built food and kitchen boxes to organize the food and cooking utensils. Most of the items in these boxes are never unpacked. I use the items directly from the storage boxes. To get ready for a trip I just have to resupply some food. A hinged board that stores inside one box goes across the top and locks the two boxes together to make a handy countertop. For transport, the boxes each have a lid and they can be hauled in a horizontal position without disturbing things inside (Fig. 5). Most of the food in the grub box is kept in sealed plastic containers to keep any critters from helping themselves. I also built a box that holds all the woodstove parts (stovepipe, fire grate, etc), except the stove body itself. This box then converts into a table for use inside the tent.

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Below are the grub and kitchen boxes with lids on and ready to transport. The woodstove is on top of the stove parts box/table. A water jug with a spigot is a handy source of running water. I usually carry two of these 7-gallon water containers with me. A Coleman® lantern is used to supply the light at night. The lantern is hung form the center support in the tent and I always have an extra set of mantles on hand. A two burner Coleman® stove is used for cooking if the weather is too hot to have a fire going. A single burner stove can replace the bigger two burner if I don’t expect to do much cooking on it.

Camp slippers are very convenient. Mine are just a pair of rubber overshoes with some felt boot liners in them. The liners are cut short so they don’t stick up to far. It’s always nice to get out of the hunting boots, and these slippers are warm, comfy, and easy to get on and off. The rubber allows you to walk around outside if the ground is wet or there is some snow. An axe is always a handy item around camp. The scoop shovel is brought along to clear the ground of snow where the tent will be set up if that is necessary.

I use an Igloo® 5-day cooler to store any perishable food. Most of my hunts are about five days and there is usually still some ice left in the cooler on the fifth day, even in hot weather. Since I would rather hunt than cook, I make up three or four days worth of sandwiches already wrapped in cellophane. These are nice to just throw in your vest in the early morning, or have ready to eat when you get back to camp after a hunt. I also freeze some home-cooked dinners (e.g. lasagna, turkey and stuffing) in a vacuum -seal bag and drop them into boiling water to heat them up before unsealing.. The sealed bag dinners really cut down on dirty dishes since I can place the bag in a bowl or pan and cut the top open and eat directly from the open bag.

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If you think you might want to consider backwoods camping for turkeys, and happen by a wall tent in your travels…well come on in! It’s warm inside and there is a fresh pot of coffee on the woodstove.

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The Shepherd of the Flock – The Best Turkey Hunt Ever

I have been truly fortunate to have hunted with some great friends and family members in which many wonderful memories have been created. My dad and I have had many good hunts with a couple that are branded in our minds. I’ve experienced great hunts with Jim and Ryan Bates, Zach Thwaite and had some that enter the “adventure” category with Wesley Phelps. That said; the best turkey hunt ever for me occurred several years ago out west on an afternoon turkey hunt with my wife Mary.

I had already taken two birds and although Mary had bought a license she wasn’t sure if she was really ready to shoot a turkey. We headed out early that afternoon and I decided to just take pictures but brought my dads gun which had a red dot sight on it just in case she decided to try and take a bird. Although she had shot my Benelli several times in practice we thought that the red dot sight might be helpful on her first bird. We found a good set up spot that involved a tree with unique features. Two feet up the trunk there was a formation that created a seat with forks running out that provided both comfort and concealment. Knowing we had a long afternoon ahead of us Mary sat in this tree saddle, put a book in a camoed face mask, and began to read. I sat down against the tree between her knees and let things quiet down for a while and then started calling. I had my birds so I wasn’t stressing to kill anything and only wanted pictures if I had the opportunity unless she decided to shoot a bird.

About a half hour later we heard a gobble so she put the book down and I started working what turned out to be two gobblers. It wasn’t long before they were 25 yards in front of us along with a couple hens. They strutted around putting on a show and I started taking pictures. A few minutes later a pheasant walked by us and started feeding with the gobblers which were in no hurry to leave. About this time Mary says,” If I had the gun right now I think I’d shoot one of those gobblers”.

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I eased my head around and looked down and saw the gun lying on the ground to my left. I’m thinking there’s no way I can put the camera down, reach over and grab the gun, turn the red dot on, ease it up to her, and have any chance of getting a shot on one of the gobblers as close as they were. I whispered to her that the chances of us pulling this off were slim to none but I would try and work the gun up to her.

I kept watching all 4 turkey heads along with the pheasant as I slowly started trying to ease the camera down and reach for the gun. It must have taken a couple minutes just to put the camera down with me moving slowly, freezing when a head came up and continuing when I thought I could. The birds were busy feeding and strutting around so I started reaching around trying to find the gun which I began to think had crawled off when I finally located it. Surprised I’d made it this far I turned on the sight, and started slowly pulling the gun over and easing the stock up towards Mary. The gobblers kept strutting and turning their fans towards us and the hens were feeding along with the pheasant with their heads up and down. It took what seemed like forever before I had the gun that started out at 7 pounds now felt like it weighed 50 up to her. I whispered and let her know when to move and ease the gun up. She kept her cool and slowly worked the gun up to her shoulder, raised the barrel, and when one of the gobblers raised his head she squeezed off a shot.

She missed and as they ran off the Winchester 1300 with Winchester Supremes that had just about knocked Mary unconscious landed on my legs. She says I fussed at her but I believe I was just trying to help her understand that it’s not good to let go of a shotgun after you pull the trigger or anytime for that matter. She said she couldn’t help it and that it jumped out of her hands after it rattled her jaw and knocked her into the tree. This gun did tend to work the shooter over and I was impressed that she had taken it as she had.

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We settled down and decided to stay put as it was still early and I knew we were in a good spot. After about 30-45 minutes I heard another gobble and started calling. Within 5 minutes we had three gobblers literally running in and before I could figure out what to do all three gobblers ran up to within 10 yards of us. I could hear Mary whispering to herself, “Oh crap, oh crap,” as it did appear we were about to get trampled.

She had her gun up and was looking through the red dot when I see two other bigger gobblers top the rise just 30 yards away. She could not see them and just as I was about to whisper for her to swing over onto the other birds she fired. All 5 gobblers took off running all unscathed. Now I’m feeling bad for Mary and I tell her not to worry about it as it’s very difficult for anyone to hit a bird that close. She had shot well practicing with my Benelli but now had lost all confidence in trying to shoot a bird and was feeling pain in her shoulder, neck, and jaw.

We both sat there taking in what had happened. While we were talking I looked up and saw 4 gobblers along with several hens 200 yards away moving along the bottom edge of a long hill coming towards us. I was surprised as I’d never at that point or since saw so many gobblers in that location. While they were coming towards us a few hens were coming across a field to our right on an intersecting course with the other group and within 60 yards of us. We watched and I held off calling because the gobblers were already heading in our direction although I knew they were going towards the roost and could turn up hill at any moment.

What happened next was a big part of what made this the most memorable hunt. The group with the gobblers started turning to go up the hill so I began to call. They would gobble and drifted closer but would not come in. The other hens met up with them and they all started going up the coulees. This was a large steep climb going up 200’ that no Eastern bird would walk up. They were using a mule deer trail and as the group of hens started up the trail we realized one hen had not made it through the fence and was yelping to the others that had left her. She was 90-100 yards back and the hens she was with were already going up the hill. Two of the hens realized that the stranded hen was having problems and turned around, walked back down the hill, and back out to the fence talking with her all the way. They finally helped her through the fence and all three headed back towards the hill. It was touching to see them go back after her and guide her back into the group.

About this time two of the gobblers who were well up the hill by now started fighting and I mean they were going at it. Why they waited until they got on such difficult terrain to tangle I’ll never know but it was like fighting on a cliff. Wings were flapping and the fighting purrs were easy to hear. After this went on for a minute or two they both literally rolled several yards down the hill. I started to think the fall might have killed one of them and that we might be able to just go over and pick one of them up but they both survived and stopped fighting and one gobbler ran up the hill giving up.

The gobbler that won the fight strutted several yards up the trail and then turned and walked out on a little overlooking mound that was a few feet above the trail that all the other birds were walking. He locked into strut and stood there motionless like a statue for at least 10 minutes and until every bird had walked under and by him. Mary said he looked like a Shepherd watching and herding his flock. He really did look majestic and proud of himself and it was an amazing thing to see. Of course I immediately started thinking we needed to come back and try and kill him tomorrow but Mary for some reason said we should leave him alone. I believe she appreciated the beauty of the scene and event.

We did leave them alone and did not come back the next day although I really wanted to. In my mind he was a giant and bigger than all the other gobblers we had seen but I think the occasion made him seem bigger. In all we saw 11 gobblers, had 7 gobblers in range, missed two birds, had a pheasant feeding with the turkeys, got lots of good photos, saw the hens drop back to help the non Einstein hen get through the fence, and the fight with what truly looked like a proud Shepherd overlooking his flock.

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Second of the first two gobblers that came in and were missed

So as you can see now the hunt that stands out in my mind as the “best hunt ever’ didn’t even result in a dead turkey. It was an incredible and memorable hunting session though. For most of us it does come down to enjoying the outdoors, the wildlife, the encounters, and the memories created and shared. It doesn’t always require that a bird goes down. That afternoon with all the action packed into it made for the most memorable hunt ever for me and I’m sure for Mary. It would have been a shame to have seen all this alone.

We learned later that the red dot sight had been bumped off and the misses were not her fought. And the hunt ended on a great note when she killed her first bird ever the next morning on a run and gun prairie hunt using my Benelli. That’s a story for another day.

Bobby Parks
GrandSlamNetwork.com
Mossy Oak Pro Staff

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Wildlife Photography Basics

With the popularity of cameras and camera phones these days, it seems we are looking at or taking snapshots on a daily basis. I believe, armed with a few wildlife photography basics, we can go from snapshot to photograph. In my world a “snapshot“ is a picture that impacts the folks associated with it, where a photograph appeals to most everyone who views it. The biggest thing that differentiates the two is composition.

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As with any of the arts, whether musical arts, language arts, or the visual arts there needs to be a flow or rhythm. Deciding how to direct the viewer’s eye through the frame is your job for composition. You can have a poorly executed photo, with good composition, and it can be enjoyed by many. Whereas a perfectly exposed photo with poor composition, will be quickly looked over.

In photography, you can’t discuss composition without touching on The Rule of Thirds, The idea is not a new one. Painters have used this concept for hundreds of years. Basically, if you come in from the edges of your picture one third of the way and place a line, you will make a “Tic Tack Toe“ grid. Where the grid lines cross are considered Power Points. Placing your subject on one of these lines, and even better on a power point will give your photo more punch. The intent is to get the subject out of the center of the frame. Keeping things in the center will create a static type photo. With wildlife we can carry the idea a step further using vectors.

Vectors refer to implied directions. Is the subject moving or looking in a certain direction? If so, we want them to be moving into, or looking into the frame. If our animal is looking to the left, His eye should be on the right side third’s line. If we were to place the eye on the left side, the animal would be looking out of the frame, and the viewer would naturally follow the vector right off the page. That is not our goal, we want the viewer to gaze as long as possible.

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There will be times when we will have more than one subject in the photo. In these cases we need to think about balance. As the viewer of a photograph, we subconsciously place visual weight on each element in the frame. For instance, when photographing two subjects (hunter and game) they need to be placed as to balance each other. Not necessarily side by side, but in harmony, and not all on one side.

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Using a camera and not a phone there is an additional tool used to direct the viewer’s eye to the subject called selective focus. This is where you can make use of the aperture, to create a pleasingly blurred background. We automatically look to things in focus. With the background blurred; the viewer’s eye will go straight to the in focus subject. To achieve this simply set the camera’s f/stop to its smallest number and keep some open space behind your subject. This means you have to get the camera out of “Auto“ mode.

Getting out of auto is not as hard as it may seem. I suggest to start off in Av (For Cannon) or (A) for Nikon. This mode allows you to choose the f/stop, and the camera will calculate the shutter speed. I find this best in rapidly changing light, like at sun rise or set. In this mode you only need to decide if you wish for a blurred background (small f/ number) – it doesn’t matter background (f/8 plus or minus a stop or two) or a background that is sharp (f/12 on up). When photographing subjects like birds (turkeys, ducks, etc.) I always use full manual. This allows me to choose the highest shutter speed as possible. A fast shutter of around 1/1000 of a second or more will freeze motion a renders better fine feather detail.

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If you are using a DSLR, you will need to decide on what file format to save your captures in. My choice is RAW. You may choose jpeg or even both. I like to be in charge of how my art is processed, thus I use RAW. With JPEG the camera decides contrast, saturation, white balance ETC. With RAW you make the photo your art. It is my opinion that every digital photograph will need some optimization. Some type of photofinishing software will be needed. There are several good free software programs on the web. One popular today is Gimp. My choice though, is Photoshop.

In Summary

  1. With any live creatures, the focus needs to be on the eye.
  2. Use the Rule of Thirds to get the subject out of the center of the frame.
  3. Be sure the subject is looking or moving into the frame, so the viewer’s eye doesn’t move off the page.
  4. Level the horizon line, a mistake made by some advanced photographers too often.
  5. When you focus on your subject, but before you trip the shutter. Look around the viewfinder for anything out of place. Elements like trees growing out of heads, phone poles and power lines all can usually be removed by a step to one side or the other.
  6. Get out of AUTO; learn how the Exposure trio relates to each other.
  7. Use selective focus to your advantage. A pleasingly blurred back ground will make your subject pop.
  8. When photographing Birds, use the fastest shutter speed possible to freeze motion and achieve better fine feather detail.
  9. Get photo editing soft ware to optimize your photographs.
  10. Search out a way to receive good honest critique on your work.

All photographs are property of Clyde C Hopper.