DULUTH, Minn. – Turkey hunters can be like any other breed of outdoorsmen, running the gamut from bare-bones minimalists to gadget-crazed trend setters.
Of course, “spending up” is everywhere in the great outdoors these days. You see it in the range of ice-fishing campers or boat electronics or even in fishing rods. You can buy a nice fishing rod for $50. Or you can spend $500 or even $5,000.
But in recent years, it’s been turkey hunting that’s barreling headlong (some would say off the rails) toward more and more expensive gear, including $11 apiece shotgun shells and $200 decoys.
Yes, $11 shotgun shells. Federal Premium’s Heavyweight TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) Turkey Loads are available at national sporting goods retailers for between $38 for a box of five 3-inch 12-gauge loads to $48 for a box of five 3.5 inch loads. The same retailers sell Browning TSS Tungsten Turkey Shot for $40 for a box of five 3-inch 12-gauge load and $55 for 3.5-inch shells. That’s $11 each shell. Plus tax. (For comparison, for those of you who don’t shoot, the average shotgun shell for trap shooting or grouse hunting is about 25 cents. Duck and pheasant loads are a little over 50 cents each. Until now, high-end turkey loads cost about $1 to $1.50 each.)
Will turkey hunters cross the $11-per-shell price point, as they say in the retail business?
“Federal Premium’s are the ultimate in turkey loads. The incredibly high pellet count in both 7 and 9 shot, along with the ability to carry energy further, makes them ideal for 12 and 20 gauge and .410 bore,” the company said in a product description. “Tungsten Super Shot has a 22 percent heavier density than heavyweight shot and a 56 percent heavier density than traditional lead shot. It puts the maximum amount of pellets possible in a 10-inches circle at 40 yards. Long-range turkeys don’t stand a chance.”
Do they work? Probably. According to the stories in some hunting publications, the new long-range shells hold dense patterns at all ranges and retain energy well beyond 40 yards, once considered the general limit for a sure shot. The literature says 60 yards “is the new 40,” and some claim the shells can cleanly kill turkeys at 70 yards or more. (Know that you must hit a turkey in the head or neck with several pellets for a clean kill because their heavy feathers protect their body.)
Are the new shells worth it? I dunno. I’ve never spent more than $1.50 on a turkey load and don’t plan to anytime soon. I’ve shot more than a dozen turkeys over the past 30 years – from 10 to 50 yards away – and never thought I needed better shells. I might suggest hunters become better at camouflage, sitting still and calling before trying to bag birds traditionally thought of as out of range.
The last few years also have seen a huge increase in the availability of extremely detailed turkey decoys made of all sorts of material – simulating hens resting, hens calling and hens ready to mate. There’s also a trend for full-sized Tom and Jake decoys in various states of strutting. (When I first started turkey hunting, using Tom decoys was taboo for fear another hunter might try to shoot it and hit you. Apparently, that’s no longer a concern.)
The same national outdoor retailer sells a single Jake Strutter decoy by Oregon-based Dave Smith Decoys for $199. A mating pair costs $299. Or buy a flock of four decoys for $489.
“Crafted of a sprayed, pigmented and ultradurable version of DSD’s exclusive A.C.E. resin, the specialized bodies actually reseal their own surfaces for an entirely worry-free, no-hesitation shooting experience,” the decoy’s description reads in the catalog. “Lightweight, compact and quiet, these field-proven decoys are equipped with highly detailed, nature-accurate appearances and poses.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the foam decoy I purchased at Fleet Farm last week for $7.99 (on sale). It looks pretty good. Folds up in your turkey vest or jacket pocket. I’ve killed most of my turkeys near foam decoys that never cost more than $15. They eventually start to fall apart after a few years, so I replace them on occasion. Would more realistic and expensive decoys work better? Probably. Are they necessary? Of course not.
Sometimes it seems in a world of rushed outdoor opportunities shoe-horned between work and family life, we are lured into trying to buy our woodsmanship points rather than earn them. Of course, if you have the extra cash, spend it. Have fun. But if I had one wish for turkey season this year, it wouldn’t be for a fancy new decoy, an $11 shotgun shell or an electronic scope on my shotgun. It would be to have a lot more free time to spend in the turkey woods.
But that’s something money can’t buy. At least not yet.
Washington’s spring turkey season closes Friday and northern Idaho’s closed Saturday.
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