Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Picking the Right Shotgun for New Duck Hunters

Consider comfort first when gearing up a new hunter


by Aaron Fraser Pass

If location is the key element in real estate value, comfort is the critical aspect of successfully starting a new shooter into the world of waterfowling. The comfort factor mostly falls into three categories: comfort with the gun, comfort with the recoil, and comfort in the overall situation.

This pretty much applies to any beginner, but for adult males, things are somewhat simplified. Most waterfowling guns are built to suit a grown man's dimensions. This doesn't mean that all guns are automatically perfect for any given guy who wants to give waterfowling a try, but at least they are closer to a good fit.

A recent issue of DU Magazine focused on the growing number of female waterfowlers, and waterfowling dads have always tried to introduce their sons to the sport. (So maybe now they will deal with their daughters, too?) With women and youngsters, the waterfowling mentor has more of a challenge, beginning with gun fit. Most factory shotguns come with about 14 inches of stock behind the trigger. That's about right for the theoretical "average guy" standing about 5 feet, 10 inches. For taller men, or those with very long arms, adding a bit of pull is as easy as adding a thicker recoil pad.

Women and young people tend to be smaller and have less upper body strength. Both factors should be considered. Trying to shoot with a too-long stock is a real exercise in frustration. The gun is hard to mount, requires excessive and uncomfortable adjustment when it is mounted, and pretty much prohibits the development of a good shooting form. Typically, shooters with a too-long stock let the butt drift down onto the upper arm rather than mounting it solidly into the "pocket" of the shoulder. With bad form, the beginning shooter will not shoot successfully and will suffer more recoil than necessary.

Many shotgun manufacturers offer "Ladies and Youth" models. These have stocks that are about one-inch shorter than their standard models and are a good starting place. Remember, though, that cold-weather hunting means bulky coats, and that may demand an even shorter stock.

Most Ladies and Youth models are in 20-gauge. Within reasonable range, the 20-gauge can be a good waterfowl gun, particularly with some of the premium nontoxic pellets such as Bismuth, Federal Tungsten Iron, Kent Impact, and Remington Hevi-Shot. With steel pellets, the 20-gauge is more range-restricted, but with a beginner, that's not necessarily a bad thing. With a 12-gauge gun of the correct dimensions, the lighter steel loads work just fine and don't produce excessive recoil.

Most adult women remain the same size, but kids grow. Take that into account when shopping for a "starter" waterfowl gun for a youngster. It would be smart to select a model for which adult-sized stocks are also available from the manufacturer.

As mentioned, gun fit is an important aspect of the recoil issue. Gun weight also affects recoil because heavier guns absorb more of the jolt. However, this must be balanced with the fact that some female and most young shooters have less arm and shoulder strength. Light guns firing light loads are a tried-and-true solution. Also, there are several recoil-reducing devices available. Some are inserted into the stock and some go in the magazine. (Some of these replace the three-shot plug—but you should check to be sure.) The magazine devices have the added benefit of putting more weight out front, which promotes a smoother swing and better follow-through.

One of the most effective recoil-reducing measures is the development of good shooting form through lots of practice. Proper gun mounting and a good shooting stance help deal with recoil. Much recoil can be caught in the hands before it hits the shoulder. No one can teach a new shooter to do all this automatically and consistently; it has to be learned and ingrained by practice.

Practice-shooting at clay targets also adds greatly to the "comfort in the situation" part of the equation for all beginning waterfowlers, regardless of size, sex, or age. Having a degree of confidence in one's shooting ability is a great way to begin the first actual waterfowl hunt. There are enough new challenges in the real hunting experience that comfort with the gun shouldn't be one of them. Actually bagging a few birds is one heck of a good start. There's nothing like a bit of success to encourage beginners to want to go waterfowling again.

Turkey Decoys: Do's and Don'ts

The use of turkey decoys is probably at an all-time high these days. I can remember the first decoy I used many years ago when they first came out. It was UGLY. But I killed a lot of birds with it in front of me. Beginners luck? Were the turkeys in a mood where they would make a beeline to anything remotely resembling a hen? Who knows, but in those days, while I found some success, a turkey decoy worked against me as much as it worked for me. Today though, decoys are more realistic than ever, strutting tom decoys are growing in popularity and we learn more about how to use a turkey decoy effectively each year.

Setting Up Montana Turkey Decoy

Yet, there are still times when a turkey decoy seems to be the reason for a spoiled hunt. They're easy to blame, but I think it's more operator's error than the decoy's fault. Let's take a look at some common errors and what we can do to avoid them.

1. Be Sure your Turkey Decoy Setup isn't a Turnoff

Male Tom Turkey Breeding Female Hen Decoy

As turkey season progresses, so does a gobbler's desires. In the early season, they are looking to secure their status on the pecking order. The strutting tom decoy that worked so well on opening weekend is now scaring sub-dominant birds away. They have been whipped a few too many times and don't want to scrap with a dominant tom again. Now's the time to switch to a single jake decoy with a hen or two. They will see your setup as a chance to redeem themselves.

Once a longbeard shifts his focus from fighting to breeding, a jake decoy (or strutting tom decoy if I know the bird I have targeted is a boss tom) placed over a hen in breeding pose is my go-to setup. Later, when hens start nesting, I will use a single hen decoy in a feeding pose around strut zones after the morning flocks disperse.

For help with choosing the right setup based on the phase of the season, download this free turkey decoy setup guide from Montana Decoy. It will get you on the right track, but you still may want to experiment or finely tune your setups based on the hunting pressure and personality of the birds in the area you are hunting. Just be sure to give a longbeard a representation of what is motivating his actions.

2. Take Yourself out of the Scene

For some reason, many hunters like to place their decoy directly in front of them, and in-line with the direction a bird is likely to come from. Big mistake. While the decoy will distract him, if you are in the background, there's a good chance you will be busted.

Based on your scouting information or the direction of the tom's responses to your calls, make an educated guess as to where he will approach from. Place yourself between the bird and the decoy. This way, his vision will be "locked" on the decoy and he will be pulled past your location. Quit calling once the bird is committed to checking out your fakes and get ready to shoot.

3. Don't Hide your Decoy(s)

For a decoy to work, the turkey needs to see it. Use them in open areas such as field edges, logging roads and sparse timber. If I am working a bird in heavy cover, it's probably one of the few times I will not put a decoy out. In these situations, the longbeard is searching for my calls and we are in close quarters. If he stumbles on a decoy, he may get spooked. Decoys work best when toms can see them from a distance. Use the terrain to your advantage, whether it's a high spot in a field or the top of a gently sloping wooded ridge.

4. Set your Decoy System Close

This is a common mistake. Let's say your maximum range is 35 yards, so that is where you place your decoys. But sometimes, stubborn gobblers hang up, strut and wait for hens to come to him, leaving you with no shot if your decoy is set up at the limit of your shooting range. It's disheartening to watch the decoys do their job and still not have a shot.

Set your decoys up at 15-20 yards, and even closer if you are using a bow. This way if the bird does hang up, he is still in range. And if he doesn't, well, I'll take a 20-yard shot over a 35-yard shot any day.

5. Secure Your Decoys on Windy Days

A light breeze will give a decoy some subtle movement and really increases the realism of a set up. However, heavy winds can cause decoys to spin like a top, and that is not natural. The solution is easy. Carry some extra stakes, cut down some old arrows, or even use sticks to prevent a decoy from whirling in the wind. Prop the turkey decoy in place on both sides of the decoy as shown in the photo above.

6. Don't Attract Other Hunters

Turkey decoys don't just attract turkeys. They will bring in predators and other hunters, too. Safety is my first thought when I decide whether to put a decoy out or not. Today's decoys are so realistic, that I leave them at home when hunting public land. Even hen decoys can cause problems on public land. So limit your decoy tactics to private land where you know the other hunters, and are aware that decoys are being used.

Turkey decoys work. There's no doubt about that. But success is not as easy as setting up a decoy, calling a few times and pulling the trigger. Put some thought into your setup and you will find that decoys will do the job more times than not. And most of all, be safe.

There's nothing like the feeling of seeing a longbeard storm your setup!  I hope these tips help you bag a limb hanger this spring.

How to Improve Your Turkey Game This Season

Spring is the time of year we turkey hunting fanatics look forward to most. We make sure we have our tags in hand long before opening day, we practice our calls so we can sound like the reigning Grand National Champion, and we might even do a bit of preseason scouting.

But in preparing for our favorite day of the year, there are some things we often forget to consider. Here are a few tips that will help make your turkey season more successful, or at least more enjoyable.

Pattern Your Combo

Knowing where the center mass of your shot will hit at varying distances can be the difference between a notched tag and tag soup. This has always been the case, but it is even more critical today thanks to improved cartridge performance, prevalent use of choke tubes, quality camo and concealment, and the fact that turkey hunters are just getting better at closing the distance for the shot.

These closer distances also mean that knowing your shotgun/cartridge point-of-impact is more vital than ever. Set up a target at 40 yards. You're looking for a pattern that delivers around 100 pellets into a ten-inch circle at this distance. Once you have a choke/cartridge combination that delivers this performance, shoot at 30, 20, and ten yards and note the point-of-impact of the cluster center. With this information, you'll know exactly where to aim out to your shotgun's maximum lethal range.

Use Proper Gun Care

Next to our turkey tags, our gun is the most important thing in our hands when in the field. But, it isn't always treated as such. Even when cleaned and stored away at the end of each season, shotguns should be given a once-over to make sure all moving parts are properly lubricated.

For preseason maintenance or for those hunters who travel around the country each season and need to care for their gun on the road, Birchwood Casey's 2-Pack of Gun Scrubber & Synthetic Gun Oil Aerosol is a simple solution.

And, if you are swapping out chokes from fall to spring hunting seasons, apply some choke tube lube to ensure your chokes doesn't seize up after exposure to the elements.

Match Your Gear to Your Terrain

No matter how the general public views turkey hunting, our spring pursuits do not solely take place in hardwood forests. Osceola and Eastern turkeys, for example, can be chased through swamps or pine plantations across the South. Rios can be found from the scrub-brush landscapes of Texas to the river bottoms of the Great Plains, and Merriam's occupy much of the Rocky Mountains.

Depending on the terrain you hunt, you may require different features from your turkey-hunting vest.

The typical hunting vest is made for hunters posting up at the base of a tree wider than their backs, and it requires pockets to carry numerous pot, box, and mouth calls. Vests like the Super Elite 4.0, the NWTF's heritage piece from ALPS OutdoorZ, offer more than 20 pockets as well as a removable padded seat for the more mobile hunter.

In recent years, vests have become more versatile, offering back support and the ability to set up on turkeys even in areas with few or no mature trees for back rests. The Grand Slam Vest features a convenient kickstand frame for such occasions. This year, the Grand Slam boasts a slew of new upgrades and is one of the more popular vests on the market.

The western hunter and the hunter who likes to run-and-gun often settles for a backpack to tote their turkey gear. For this style of hunting, consider the Long Spur, also from ALPS OutdoorZ. This innovative harness-style vest provides front facing chest pockets for box and pot calls, a small waist pack, and a removable and protective diaphragm call case.

Free Yourself of Bugs

Turkeys have some of the most acute hearing and eyesight in the animal kingdom, meaning you cannot spend your time in the woods swatting at pesky flies and mosquitos—at least not if you hope to see any gobblers.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past decade, you already know of the easiest solution—ThermaCELL portable mosquito repellers. It may seem like magic, but ThermaCELL units really do work, and they work well.

New for 2017 is the MR450 repeller. This beefed-up version of the ThermaCELL appliance is rubber coated, starts more quietly, is better ventilated, and features a blue light to alert users to when the heating element has reached optimal temperatures.

Give Back to the Organization That Gives You Turkeys

If you hunt turkeys, logically, you should be a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation. No other conservation organization does more for this cherished game bird than the NWTF.

While populations are quite stable, with hunting seasons in 49 states, the work of the NWTF is far from over.

Today, the organization dedicates its efforts to the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative, a 10-year plan to conserve or enhance four million acres of habitat, recruit 1.5 million hunters, and open access to 500,000 acres for hunting and shooting enjoyment.

Help preserve the future of hunting by becoming a member today.


National Wild Turkey Federation

Article copyright © 2017 by HuntDaily.com; promoted by National Wild Turkey Federation

Top 5 Turkey Hunting States

Spring is upon us!  Chirping birds now compliment the early morning cup of coffee, fresh scented rains wash away winter's paleness, temperatures begin to warm, and best of all, the rising sun acts as an orchestra conductor, sounding off thunderous toms and yelping hens!  Ahhh, another hunting season has arrived.

The restoration of wild turkey populations across the country is one of the greatest feats of modern conservation.  They currently exist in all 50 states, yup, you can actually book a turkey hunt while vacationing in Hawaii!  While so many states offer great turkey hunting opportunities, I set out to ask some of the leaders in the field to give me a list of their Top 5 Turkey Hunting States.  The results were clear, and they indicate the abundance of turkeys throughout the U.S., as 18 separate states were listed out of a possible 30 different choices from the six "seasoned" turkey hunters.  Take a look and see how your state faired.  However, don't be discouraged if it's not listed, it's probably just because they haven't hunted there yet.

The Top 5 Turkey Hunting Destinations:

  1. Florida - Having the earliest season in the U.S. and only place to chase Osceolas, it's no surprise that Florida stood apart as a must-hunt destination on 5 out of the 6 hunter's lists.
  2. Missouri - The heart of the Eastern Turkey range and source of many transplanted birds that contributed to population restoration success across many states, especially in the Great Lakes Region.  The abundant population and generous two bird limit ranked Missouri high on 3 out of the 6 lists.
  3. Kansas - It's as good of a turkey hunting state as it is a deer hunting state.  Kansas offers the chance to chase 3 subspecies within state lines: Easterns, Hybrids, and Rios…no wonder it ranked within the Top 5 on 3 out of the 6 hunter's lists.
  4. Nebraska - A premiere destination to chase Merriams' and Hybrids.  Tags are over-the-counter for residents and non-residents alike, and they offer a special early archery season, which put Nebraska in the Top 5 on 3 out of the 6 hunters' lists.
  5. South Dakota - Narrowly edging out Kentucky for the final spot in the Top 5, South Dakota's strong Merriam's population makes it a popular destination for those chasing a grand slam.  The diverse landscape and multiple subspecies allowed South Dakota to crack the Top 5 on 2 out of the 6 hunter's lists.

What You Absolutely MUST Do to Be Safe When You Use a Bolt Action Rifle

bolt action

by David Smith

Here's a procedure for loading and unloading your bolt action rifle safely. Know your weapon and make firearm safety a habit.

Janis Putelis has a custom Weaver rifle built on a Remington model 700 bolt action. He takes us through his loading and unloading procedure to illustrate and emphasize firearm safety with a bolt action rifle.

This is foundational stuff here. While the loading and unloading procedure may be different for different types of firearm actions, the basic safety rules apply across the board:

  • Always make sure that the muzzle of your weapon is pointed in a safe direction.
  • Visually and, if possible, tactilely (by feel), check the chamber of the firearm to make sure it's unloaded.
  • Treat the weapon as though it were loaded until you're positive that it's not.


The only difference between Putelis' gun and your typical Remington 700 action is that he had a three-position safety added to replace the standard safety.

If you want to carry the rifle with rounds in the magazine but none in the chamber, then you simply load the rounds into the magazine, place the fingers of your non-bolt hand on top of those rounds and move the bolt forward with the other hand until it covers the rear end of the topmost round. Remove your fingers and continue to push the bolt forward and lock it in place.

Now you've got a full magazine and an empty chamber. Put the gun safety on the 'safe' position. This is the way that Putelis normally carries his rifle in the field.

If you want to carry a loaded gun with a cartridge in the chamber, simply push the bolt forward without depressing the topmost cartridge with your fingers. The bolt will grab that top cartridge and push it into the chamber. Once again, make sure your gun safety is switched to the 'safe' position.

To unload, you first remove the chambered round and, if you want to avoid picking up a loaded cartridge from the ground or if you want to save a spent cartridge, you will catch the cartridge that is ejected when the bolt is pulled back. Place the fingers of your non-bolt hand over the ejection port and pull the bolt back with your other hand.

When pulled back the bolt action is meant to throw the cartridge out and away from the gun, but you catch the cartridge in your fingers and remove it.

Now, you simply repeat the first action we talked about by placing your fingers on top of the cartridge in the magazine and press down a bit. Push the bolt forward until it passes over the rear end of the cartridge, remove your fingers and close the bolt. You now have an unchambered rifle.

Now you can depress the floor plate release button and empty the rifle of the remaining cartridges, or, if your rifle has a removable magazine, simply remove the mag and cartridges together.

You now have an empty rifle. Your next step is to make sure it's empty.

With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, cycle the bolt action once or twice to make sure no rounds are present in the gun. With the bolt open, visually inspect the chamber and stick your pinky finger into the chamber to make doubly sure that no round is unintentionally still in the gun.

It took a lot longer to read this procedure than it takes to actually do it. The whole process takes only a few seconds, but remember, safety is never an accident.

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