Turkey Medicine. Plain and Simple.
At just under 3,000 turkeys killed, I understand that I’ve been responsible for more turkeys meeting their demise than any human since those records have been kept. (Actually that record isn’t kept anywhere) Still, that’s a lot of turkeys. I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to turkey hunting. When I get old and crippled up, so that I can’t be outside any time I want, I’ll sit looking out a window with a view of a river bottom and write a book covering as much as I can remember.
Now before you call me a game hog, a liar or a poacher, let me qualify the above record. First, I did it as an outfitter, not as a hunter. As a hunter I’ve probably only taken 50 or so and as a guide maybe 400-500. Neither of those two numbers are any kind of record, but only a small fraction of what I’ve learned about turkey hunting came from the field. Most of the lessons came from the statistics I paid attention to as an outfitter responsible for making sure 300 or so birds per year hit the ground (and didn’t get up).
Many of those lessons were about land management and adapting your land to create everything a turkey needs to stick around. Some were about the percentage of birds in your flock that represent each age group and how many you can harvest. About how many of each age group you can harvest given each year’s nesting success and still enjoy near-perfect harvest success in ensuing years, even as the population flounders on the unmanaged land around you. Also, there were interesting statistics such as how much an entire county’s turkey population can grow per one million hunter dollars spent in the area. But, the one glaring statistical lesson I learned that was the easiest to control was the missed bird.
It was Butch, one of my camp managers, and also my uncle, who came to me one day and laid the cold hard truth out there. “Dammit James”, he said after a long day of guiding, “These guys show up with their fancy turkey guns, with their fancy chokes and sights and even if they could hit something with it, the bird would get up and run off anyway.” Out of that conversation a couple of management changes were made. First, we started keeping track of the hits and misses along with the dead birds on each property. Second, in our orientation for each group, we started telling everyone to stay seated after they kill the bird and let it “flop out.” Stay loaded and focused until you know the bird isn’t getting up. Too many times hunters jumped up to get their bird without a gun in hand, and that bird popped up and left the scene of the crime.
Before the advent of “turkey guns” I can honestly say that I never missed, nor witnessed a turkey missed, let alone get up after being shot. That said, back then it was a small, unscientific sample of shots. Probably 20 or 30 birds that either I shot myself, or called in for someone, before I was a professional guide/outfitter. But, that’s still zero “getaways” out of 20 or 30. Fast forward 10 years and we were consistently killing 250-300 birds each spring in about 45 days and missing another 40-50. That’s one out of 5-6 birds being called in and missed. I bought one of those fancy turkey guns myself and missed the first three birds I shot at. That had never happened even once in my life prior to that.
So that’s the long dissertation on why for a couple of years now, I’ve wanted to build what I would consider the ultimate turkey killing machine, a “secret sauce” if you will. Now I know that some of the 10+ million “turkey hunting experts” out there will have an opinion on how you need to put the right choke, or the right shot size, or combination of shot sizes into those fancy turkey guns, and that you need to only shoot a certain load and stick with that load. And you need to pattern at a number of distances and limit your shots to within the sweet spot for your fancy turkey gun. Just set your decoy out at your gun’s best range and call to that decoy before shooting.
Well that’s great for some, but for me, I say hogwash. I want a turkey gun that I can pick up from one year to the next, grab whatever shell is rolling around under the seat of my truck, go kill a damn turkey and eat it. And I want to kill it clean whether I’ve belly crawled 60 yards to a henned-up Tom, or whether I called it in to a 30 yard decoy, or whether it snuck around behind me and ended up 10 yards away putting at me. Dead turkey in every instance. That’s what I want.
So here goes, my first vintage turkey build:
I figure out of the 50 or so misses we had at camp each year, a certain amount, maybe as high as 25-50% came from sheer excitement. There isn’t much you can do about that. Most of the other misses, though, I attribute to short barreled, ammo finicky guns that are having a hard time managing the wad, weight of load, and shot presentation when having only about three inches at the end of the barrel to do it.
So, I started my build with a long, 28” barreled 1978 model Remington 1100 in exceptional condition. I went with a 3” magnum because that is definitely one “turkey gun” improvement that I agree with. 3.5” however, I have not found to be necessary, but then I don’t take shots over 60 yards.
I do like a scope on my turkey gun but I don’t like any magnification, so I went with an old, mint condition Weaver K1 with a crosshair and dot. The dot just feels like it will be really neat on the neck of a tom. The 1100 shotgun mount from Weaver was used, but I drilled and tapped new holes with a base not provided with the kit because the K1 is shorter than the K2.5 that comes with the kit. Of course, just for fun, I put some color case hardened accents on the scope and mounted it with our Weaver color case hardened rings.
Now that it’s finally spring here in Montana and the turkeys are gobbling, I can go test my theories, and my “new” vintage turkey gun.