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Are Optics and Sights Really Necessary For Turkey Hunting?

scopeOK, most of my buddies think I'm weird for always carrying binoculars and wanting to put a sight or scope on my turkey gun. What do you recommend? — Mark Thomas, St. Louis, Mo.

For me, the answer is simple: Binos are a must. Further, shooting a turkey gun has much more in common with shooting a rifle than wing-shooting with a shotgun. As such, I always recommend some type of sight. Here's a great article from staffer Jake Edson explaining the myriad optics options available today. — Brian Lovett

Mossy Oak pro-staffer Tracy Groves stomped the brakes on our boxy little rental and slid to a stop in the loose gravel of the country road.

“What’s that?” he hissed, gesturing gestured toward a distant island of hardwoods and a dilapidated barn far off the road.

Just in front of the barn, centered in the middle of the Richardson Farms Outfitters lease we had walked and called for shut-mouthed gobblers for more than eight hours, was a conspicuous black dot.

In unison, we each lifted a pair of 10X lenses to our eyes, and then turned toward the other and smiled.

“Gobbler.”

It was near sunset, and the air had already taken a golden hue. Through our magnified views, we watched the big black bird, paintbrush beard swinging in soft arcs, slowly striding through an already-green alfalfa field toward a narrow finger that sloped down into a block of timber.

“Watch that,” Groves said. “He’s going to use that old logging road at the end of the finger. He’ll walk down and in there a bit and fly up about where we heard him this morning.

“See that orange flagging on the edge there? That’s where we’ll set up.”
Just like that, we had a morning game plan to kill a gobbler we’d heard just once on the roost early that morning.

Of course, turkeys being turkeys, we didn’t kill him that next morning. But we set up in the right place. The bird was roosted 50 yards behind us and flew down toward our calling. Problem was, he sailed right over our heads and landed next to the hen that had already flown down and walked up the field out of range. And she, in typical turkey fashion, promptly led the gobbler as far away from Groves’ seductive calling as she could.

Yet had we not watched that bird’s evening path from the distant vantage, we would have never even gotten close. Our game plan would have had us set up on the opposite side of the timber trying to call him the wrong way a second consecutive morning. We would have heard him on the roost and again not have had a clue where he went.

And although we chose to play with other, more vocal turkeys the next day, I’m sure our surveillance had us on the right path to killing that tom.

Got Glass?

Ask any turkey hunter what his most important sense is when it comes to killing gobblers, and he’ll likely say sharp ears to locate distant gobbles. Heck, I might even say that if not given time to think about my answer.

Gobbling is the quintessence of the spring experience, and coursing a tom and then calling him down your gun barrel is what we dream about.
That said, it sure helps if you can see him. Right?

Predators — humans included — have evolved to be the most efficient killers possible. That evolution shows in each species’ features. In our case, our big brains are our most prominent and important tool. Yet look at our physiology and it’s fairly easy to see we rely much more on eyesight to find dinner than our ears. Forward-facing, binocular vision gives us the ability to locate our prey, track it and make the kill. Yet, though so important, our vision falls far short of that of many game animals — turkeys included. Again, our brains trump all, because we have figured out how to increase our visual acuity.

Welcome to the world of modern optics. There’s never been a better time to be a turkey hunter.

Three Handy Helpers

We use our eyes in three main ways to help kill turkeys. First, we use them to see turkeys. Obviously, optics can help. Just as in big-game hunting, turkey hunters can benefit from binoculars and even spotting scopes, in the case of wide-open prairie hunts.

After locating a turkey and gaining position for the shot, the next steps can occur in rapid succession or be spaced by time that seems to slip by like cold molasses. First, we must judge the range to the target using our eyes and brains, identifying that magical barrier where our shot pattern turns deadly. Then, we must line up our weapon to make an accurate shot on a small — often moving — target. Here, the optical helpers are range-finders and gun sights.

Obviously, just like binoculars, range-finders can perform a crossover role from the big-game world. Heck, for that matter, gun optics can, too. But turkey hunters also have their pick of some great tools tailored for their game.

More on those later. First, let’s examine binoculars, which might be the most important optical tools a turkey hunter can carry.

Spotting Turkeys

If you don’t chase anything but turkeys, binoculars are still a wise investment. In fact, owning two sets of binoculars isn’t going overboard. I like to have one pair of “truck” binoculars that feature a 10x42mm design and bright, high-contrast, high-resolution lenses built into a rugged, waterproof and fogproof body. Nikon’s new Monarch 3 models are a good example. They feature fully multi-coated Nikon Eco-Glass lenses and phase-corrected, high-reflective silver alloy multi-layer prism coatings for great light transmission and resolution for dawn-to-dusk glassing. At less than $300, they won’t break the bank. One other thing: Because I spend a lot of dash-time with my binoculars stuck to my face, comfortable rubber eyecups are a must.

My second set of binoculars never leaves my vest, except when in use. Space in my vest is at a premium, so these binoculars must be of the compact folding variety. I still like 10X magnification, however, because turkeys aren’t that big of a target to view. Like any other gear item, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of cheap compact binoculars, but technology has also produced quality optics that will slip into a vest pocket.
My current choice is the new Legend Ultra HD binoculars from Bushnell in 10x25mm. This compact folding model features fully multi-coated lenses, and is 100 percent waterproof and fogproof. It has a magnesium chassis and twist-up eyecups.
Whatever model you choose, train yourself to use them — often. If you’re not an active binocular user, make it a point to keep them at your fingertips. It’s really that easy. If they are already in your hands during your idle time, you’ll find yourself picking them up and using them. In turn, you’ll find yourself locating more turkeys.

Here’s another tip: The old adage “look near before you look far” applies to gobbler spotting. Glass the ground in front of you before you move to more distant areas.

Range-Finders: Smaller and Lighter

As mentioned, space is at a premium in my turkey vest. However, another item I’m never without is a quality electronic range-finder. Luckily, modern technology has created smaller units that are more accurate and easier to use than before. Harness systems have also come a long way, putting range-finders at our fingertips without using up valuable pocket space. I keep mine on a retractable tether that clips to the outside of my vest. In addition to space saving, this harness lets me quickly use my range-finder with minimal movement.

When it comes to choosing a range-finder, I tell most people to use their other hunting pursuits as a guide. The truth is, any of the modern models will be just fine. If turkeys are your only target, size and weather-proofing will probably be the deciding factors. In that regard, Opti-Logic has some of the smallest range-finders available.

Making Shots Easier

Some modern gun sights also incorporate range-finding features. During my hunt with Mossy Oak, we used Mossberg Turkey Thug shotguns outfitted with Nikon’s TurkeyPro scopes. The TurkeyPro features a Ballistic Turkey Reticle, which is designed to be a ranging tool along with an aiming device. The reticle is a circle-within-a-circle design that is precisely engineered to cover the turkey from head to wattles at 40 yards (small circle on low power, large circle on high power). The center circle is the aiming point.
Scopes and fiber-optic sights are great tools for turkey shooting, because although we use shotguns, hitting a gobbler in the noggin’ is more akin to rifle shooting than wing-shooting. Tight patterns and small targets make precise shot placement critical. With a standard shotgun bead, it’s simply too easy to move the rear sight — your eyeball.

Scopes provide the added advantage of magnification. This lets us more precisely pick a point to aim at.

Another option that is extremely well suited to turkey hunting is the reflex sight, sometimes called a red-dot. Most of these optics do not feature magnification, which is a plus for moving targets and really isn’t a limiting factor for shots closer than 50 yards. Many feature battery-powered aiming points. However, Trijicon’s Reflex and RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) use fiber-optics and a tritium lamp to provide illuminated sighting without batteries.

Of course, battery models have come a long way. Many of today’s models will run for hundreds of hours before needing a replacement battery (often just a watch battery).
TruGlo, Burris, Aimpoint and Zeiss offer illuminated reflex-style sights for turkey hunters.

Conclusion

I’ll gladly shell out the cash for several quality optical helpers that can perform double-duty in my other hunting pursuits.

After all, hearing a gobbler respond to calling and charge into your setup gets your blood pumping, but just as many gobblers can be killed using your eyes and powers of observation.

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