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Turkey season gear review: Hits and misses from the sporting goods aisle

by Bryan Hendricks | May 8, 2022 at 2:19 a.m.
The author’s Itasca Brush Hunter disintegrated two hours into its first hunt, but soldiers on thanks to being bound in postal tape. The Irish Setter MudTrek is an excellent boot that got more comfortable with continued wear. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)


Today is the last day of spring turkey season, and while I have not yet killed a gobbler, I have amassed valuable insight into the year's hunting gear.

Here's what we like, and a little of what we don't like.

Footwear

Our experience with hunting boots has covered the entire breadth of the satisfaction scale this year.

Let's start with the bad, namely the Itasca Brush Hunter boot. This lousy product deserves a lousy review. The entire sole came off the starboard boot the first time I wore it. Like, within two hours.

Fortunately, a hunting partner had a roll of packing tape handy to fully Arkansize the boot. I dare say it is now as indestructible as it is unsightly. It is so ugly that I cannot bear to throw it away. I shall continue to wear it as a testament to my own dogged perseverance and as a monument to shoddy production standards.

Forget the boot. I am curious about how long the packing tape patch job holds up. It's the kind that's reinforced with parallel fibers. It's really stout stuff, and we believe it will withstand the most abusive treatment in a postal distribution center. When Itasca gets this thing back, it will take them awhile to unshackle it from the tape. We certainly hope it wastes as much of their time as it did ours.

Now for the good. We thoroughly put the Irish Setter MudTrek 4846 boot through the wringer this season, and it earned our seal of approval.

Admittedly, we were not impressed at first. The boot has a heel that collapses onto and binds to your heel. An aerobic workout follows as you pull the top of the pipe with all your might to actually get your foot down inside the tube. When it finally does, it fits exquisitely.

After a few wearings, the boot becomes increasingly supple, so it goes on and off a lot easier with time until eventually it feels like a glove.

We walked through a lot of mud and water over the season, including water that came near the top of the pipe. It did not even hint of a leak.

The MudTrek has 400 grams of Thinsulate insulation, so you do not need to wear thick socks to keep your feet warm. More importantly, the boot foots so snugly that a thick sock presses hard against the top of your foot and is very uncomfortable. High, thin cowboy boot socks are the perfect compromise.

We have used a lot of mud boots over the years, including models made by Rocky and Muck. The Irish Setter MudTrek will be our go-to for the foreseeable future.

Shotgun/Choke

With the continued development of Tungsten Super Shot, many turkey hunters have drydocked their 12-gauge shotguns in favor of sub-gauge models.

Having not killed a turkey this year, this review is actually one year old, but it is still relevant. My preferred turkey gun is a Winchester SX3 20-gauge with a cantilever barrel and an electronic Truglo dot sight. It killed three gobblers in 2021, including two in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma. One was ridiculously far. One was ridiculously close, and one was right in the middle. All were stone-dead kills.

Choosing the right choke is essential for turkey hunting. All of my shotguns pattern TSS and HeviShot best with Trulock turkey chokes. I use them in my SX3 12- and 20-gauge, in my Remington V3 12-gauge, and also in my Browning Auto-5 16-gauge. I have only fired lead shot from the 16-gauge, but the Trulock choke gives a wicked pattern with No. 6 heavy pheasant loads.

I came to the Trulock solution in 2021 after extensively testing many different brands of choke tubes.

Turkey Calls

A periodic character in this space continually amazes me with his choice of really bad gear. He gets all the same catalogs that we all get, but he has a knack for selecting the worst products made.

His latest affront was a balsa wood turkey call that bears a prominent brand. This thing is truly awful. It does not belong to Joe Volpe of Little Rock, but he gets high marks for being the only one of us that could make it sound remotely like a turkey.

I use Arkansas-made callers for Arkansas gobblers. My preferred box calls are made by Bill Rhodes of Sheridan and Eddie Horton of Camden. My favorite slate calls are made by Premium Game Calls of Dierks, David Taylor of Sheridan, Grant Westmoreland of Sheridan and the exquisite Mayhem slate made by Havoc Game Calls of DeWitt.

We can't decide on a favorite, so we carry some of each whenever we venture into the turkey woods. We eschewed this habit early in the season, but the elusiveness of gobblers this year gave us a severe inferiority complex and forced us to revert to our tried and true disguise as a sporting goods aisle.

We have high hopes that a gobbler will stroll through on a shopping trip before the sun goes down on this fine day.

Decoys

I've tried a lot of decoys over the years. All of them have worked at one time or another, but the ones we like best are made by AvianX. These inflatable shells are the right size, and their paint schemes are lifelike. They rest on stakes that enable them to move in a breeze, but their weight prevents them from spinning too fast.

When the hunt is finished, you can deflate the decoys, fold them over and secure them with Velcro straps for easy storage in their bags.

We don't know if they work better than other decoys, but they look so good that we feel better about carrying and using them. It is very important to feel good about your stuff.

Keep all of this in mind as you begin assembling your shopping list for the 2023 spring turkey season.


  photo  The author’s Itasca Brush Hunter disintegrated two hours into its first hunt, but soldiers on thanks to being bound in postal tape. The Irish Setter MudTrek is an excellent boot that got more comfortable with continued wear. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
 
 


  photo  The author always has Rhodes box calls in his vest and in his truck. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
 
 


  photo  A custom box call from Eddie Horton of Camden has helped the author tag several gobblers. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
 
 


  photo  The author shelved his 12-gauge in favor of a Winchester SX3 20- gauge with a Truglo sight with excellent results. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
 
 


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