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Chapter 5 – May 4, 2023

Gearing up: An introduction to turkey vests

By Eric Braaten/WDFW

With Washington’s general spring turkey season in full swing, even new hunters likely have already accumulated a collection of gear. As with many outdoor pursuits, acquiring gear comes with a dilemma: What should you take and how will you haul it?

Enter the turkey vest. Turkey vests are purpose-built and optimized for carrying calls and other essential gear. They come in many different styles with novel features, such as integrated cushioned seat pads, decoy pouches, and pockets that are uniquely shaped to hold a variety of turkey calls, to name a few.

The turkey vest is a great addition to your hunting gear when afield chasing gobblers, but it’s not required to get started. In fact, many hunters, through trial and error, have moved away from using turkey vests and instead use a typical daypack-style hunting pack. Both work well so while we are focused on vests in this post, remember that personal preferences prevail in choosing gear. In this post, we’ll share some key insights and pro tips to help you decide if a turkey vest is right for you.

Turkey vests come in a variety of styles. Seen here from left to right are a traditional vest, a yoke-style vest, and a strap-style vest. (Eric Braaten/WDFW)

The options

The turkey vest was conceived as a result of the need to have gear easily accessible with minimal movement and providing hunters a means to set up on a bird quickly and comfortably. Two main styles you will find on the market are strap and shoulder-yoke. Strap styles have two shoulder straps, typically made of nylon webbing. This design provides adequate support for lightweight to medium gear while the shoulder-yoke styles have a padded shoulder yoke that provides better support for heavier loads.

A variety of storage pockets are arranged for convenience for the average turkey hunter. Pocket configurations vary by manufacturers, but many vests offer pockets for box calls, pot/friction calls, ammunition, and larger items. Padding on the back of the vest and an integrated seat cushion (some seats are detachable) make for a comfortable sit while set up leaning against the base of a tree.

Game bags at the rear of the vest allow for you to pack decoys, clothes, and a turkey, once harvested. Camo fabrics vary but help you blend into your surroundings. Be sure to choose a vest made from soft, quiet material. Swishing or shuffling sounds caused by noisy fabric will alert or even spook turkeys in close. Also consider pocket closures: Zippers, magnets, and snaps are quieter, while Velcro can be noisy.

Many turkey vests are “one size fits most,” but some manufacturers are now making sizes specifically for men, women, and youth.

Comfort is key

Hauling and storing your gear in a vest has benefits when hunting turkeys. Vests allow you to be more comfortable when sitting on the ground, and being comfortable is one of the most important parts of turkey hunting. Hunters who are comfy move less, and movement is typically what spooks birds.

As you hike through the woods, you can use your calls to locate a turkey and immediately sit down by a tree, and you have everything you need right there with easy access to your calls.

I have had several vests over the years. My favorite style is the shoulder yoke design because it is comfortable hauling gear all day, especially if I’m packing a 20-pound longbeard back to the truck!

A quality turkey vest will last several years, so they are a great investment. Some of the newer styles are made of better fabrics and include back rests, thicker cushions, or even built-in blinds, among other features.

There are turkey vests for every budget too. Many sporting goods stores in Washington carry a selection of turkey vests but not all makes and models. There are a lot of options out there, so do your research online and consider talking to other hunters before deciding. Finding used vests is also an option and can save you some money. OfferUp, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay auctions are good bets to find a pre-owned vest to get you started.

A turkey vest offers plenty of custom-fit storage for your calls and other gear. Some models have integrated seat cushions that can be deployed for quick, comfortable set-ups. (Eric Braaten/WDFW)

Eric’s turkey vest dump:

  • Mouth calls, call holders
  • Box calls (several types), chalk
  • Pot calls, extra strikers, sandpaper
  • Locator calls: crow, woodpecker
  • Turkey decoys, stakes
  • Masks, gloves, beanie, hoodie, coat
  • Handwarmers, toilet paper
  • First aid kit
  • Pruning shears, knife
  • Snacks, water
  • Binoculars
  • Ammo
  • Hunting license, tag, tag wallet
  • Mosquito/tick repellant (electronic, spray)
  • Flashlight, headlamp
  • Shooting sticks

You can see from my vest dump, I carry a lot of gear. A turkey vest helps me keep everything organized and accessible. Plus, it allows me to set up quickly and quietly against a tree with minimal movement, which is more challenging with a traditional hunting pack. (Eric Braaten/WDFW)

Turkey vest pro tips:

  • Carrying water in a vest can be heavy, so consider using a water bladder system to distribute weight evenly, especially on long-distance hunts.
  • Place car keys in a zippered vest pocket. Losing keys afield is not a pleasant experience.
  • Bring food for the day. Hunting burns calories. If hunting with kids, take plenty of snacks.
  • Put medication in a sealable sandwich bag and put it in a zippered vest pocket.
  • Bring extra battery chargers (banks or solar) for your cellphone. Battery consumption increases quickly when using GPS, hunting apps, and taking video/photos, etc.
  • Be sure to prepare for dealing with mosquitos and ticks. Wearing a head net and treating your clothing and gear with Permethrin is a common best-practice among turkey hunters.
  • Parachute cord, zip-ties, and tape have many uses in the field.
  • Extra ammo. Sometimes you go through it, sometimes you don’t. I keep a few extra rounds in my vest.
  • Tape measure and scales to score your turkey are sometimes nice to have.
  • Take a survival kit including matches, lighter, space blanket, compass, candle, etc.
  • Extra gloves, face mask, clothes. Sometimes you lose things afield or forget them at camp.
  • Clean/wash and store your vest at the end of the season.

For more information on a variety of turkey hunting topics, be sure to read through our 2022 Turkey Takeover blog series as well.

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