The sun has yet to show itself, but its rays have already illuminated the woods enough for turkeys to soon leave their night-time roost.

One, not far away, has been serenading the dawn for 20 minutes. The decision is made to start calling, so I reach into my vest searching for the right call. I’ve had this vest long enough that I pretty much know where everything is, but that hasn’t always been the case. Breaking in a new vest is always a challenge, mostly because of the numerous and varied items turkey hunters carry.

Let’s start with the basics, like turkey calls. In the long, narrow pocket on the front of my vest, I carry my box call. I can run a box call fairly well. I use mine largely as a locator call, to strike a bird, or for long-distance calls. Once the bird enters my area code, I generally switch to something that can sound more seductive.

That might be one of my slate or pot calls. My vest has a nice, round pocket with separate compartments for two slates. One – my “go-to” call – is a natural wood pot with a real slate surface. To my ear, there’s nothing sweeter than real slate. The other has a synthetic surface. I rarely use it, but carry it in case of inclement weather because it still works when wet.

Next are my mouth calls. I may have anywhere from three to six or more in my vest, and there are reasons for that. One is for variety. Sometimes birds respond better to one call.

I typically carry my diaphragms in small plastic containers that hold three or four. While I’m hunting, I carry those containers in my shirt or pants pocket, where they often remain after the hunt. When I wear a different shirt or pants on the next hunt, I forget my primary calls. Not to worry, because I’ve got three more backups in a small pouch attached to my vest.

Most turkey hunting days begin long before dawn, so you need a flashlight. I carry two. I prefer the lithium battery type, because one the size of a good cigar will shine like a spotlight in the dark. But lithium batteries don’t last long, so it’s good to have a backup. It’s also nice sometimes to have a headlamp.

Do turkeys see light? Yes, but I’m not sure they know what it is. They do know the sound of thrashing in the dark, so you’re far better off using some kind of light to make your way into the woods.

Then there’s my compass. Never go into the woods without one, even in an area you know intimately. Sure, your smart phone functions as a GPS, as long as you have a signal and the battery remains alive.

Back to calls for a moment. I also carry a locator call. Some folks use an owl hooter. I don’t carry one, because I use my voice to hoot like an owl – not bragging, just saying. Either way, it’s a good tactic to get a roosted bird to give away its location. After the sun comes up, I’ll switch to a crow or woodpecker call. It often will make a turkey gobble without drawing his interest to you. If I want to do that, I’ll use my box call.

A few more items I carry in the side pockets of my vest are a call care kit, ratchet snippers and a multi-tool. The former includes a small square of sandpaper and another of Scotch-Brite for conditioning slate calls and chalk for tuning up my box call. The snippers come in handy if I need to clear a quick shooting lane or set up an ad-lib ground blind. As its name implies, the multi-tool provides for plenty of possibilities.

Last, but by no means least, is the stuff I stuff in the game pouch on the rear of my vest. There’s usually a few decoys; I prefer the 2-D collapsible type for their portability. I typically carry an old turkey wing for simulating fly-down or for scratching in the leaves (when the birds get call shy), and my gobble call, when the sweet seduction of hen calling just won’t cut it.

That about covers it, at least for the regular, intentional stuff. By season’s end, there’s usually a half-pound or so of leaves, twigs, duff, and hopefully turkey feathers that need to be cleaned out, along with a few empty wrappers from bite-size Snickers bars and maybe a couple uneaten ones that are now thin as a nickel and hard as a rock. That’s my turkey vest.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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