Spring Hunting Season Brings
Loads Of Opportunity
By Tim Barker
It was early November and deer season was fast approaching in the state of Missouri. Which explains why Denny Dennis Sporting Goods in Fenton, Mo., was open on a Monday — a day when the family-owned operation is typically closed.
“Deer season and Christmas are what keep us in business,” said Owner Denis Dennis, who took a break to talk turkey (hunting season) with Shooting Industry even though it was still months away.
In the midst of deer season, spring turkey hunting was still in the back of Dennis’ mind — partly because there’s a different level of intensity between the two events. Some of this may have to do with duration of the seasons. Missouri’s 2016 regular firearms deer season was reduced to just nine days, compared with three weeks of turkey hunting in April. And there’s the timing of deer season, falling around busy holidays.
“Turkey season isn’t as crazy as deer season. It’s more drawn out. With turkey season, it seems like the guys are out patterning their shotguns a month early,” said Dennis, whose father opened the store in 1957.
When it comes to those shotguns, turkey hunters tend to have a broad spectrum of favorites. But hunters looking for new guns might be interested in Benelli’s 25th anniversary version of the popular Super Black Eagle semi-auto. Or even better, he said, is the Beretta A400 Xtreme with its recoil dampening system.
“The felt recoil is just reduced unbelievably,” Dennis said. “The stock actually gives before it gets to the shoulder.”
Strong Sellers In Ammo
When it comes to ammo, Dennis is expecting another strong year for last season’s best-selling load — Winchester Long Beard XR: “They shoot extremely tight,” he relayed.
Other popular options include Remington’s Nitro and various Federal turkey loads.
Several states away, Mark Rutan, a salesman at Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park, Fla., expects a lot of interest in his own favorite, Remington’s Premier Magnum Copper-Plated Turkey Load, along with HEVI-Shot’s offerings for longer distances.
Rutan and Dennis, both avid turkey hunters, say the clear majority of sales will be 12-gauge, primarily in the #4–6 shot range.
Of course, it’s not to say other gauges won’t work. In fact, Rutan recommends .410-gauge for younger shooters. But for most hunters, the goal is to send as many pellets as possible toward a bird.
“You’re going to get more pellets in the 3.5-inch magnum turkey loads,” Rutan said.
Shotguns, however, aren’t the only options open to Florida hunters who have access to private leases, where rifles also are allowed. “It’s not the most ethical thing in my opinion,” Rutan added.
He prefers hunting in line with the rules set forth by the state’s game regulators: “They literally want you to call the bird right in instead of shooting it from 100 yards.”
Denis Dennis, owner of Denny Dennis Sporting Goods, keeps a variety of shotguns
in stock for turkey hunters. Dennis reports the Benelli Super Black Eagle and
Beretta A400 Xtreme (pictured) are strong sellers at his store.
Browning Cynergy Composite Ultimate Turkey Gun
Accessory Options Abound
And what would turkey hunting be without the calls?
Electronic calls are illegal in both Missouri and Florida — which leaves slate and box calls as the most popular options in Rutan’s eyes. Though, he adds, the mouth call still has a place in a hunter’s toolbox.
“Almost everybody has a mouth call so when you get the bird in close, you don’t have to make any sudden movements with your hands,” he said. “If you make any motion that’s not normal, they’re gone.”
Rutan has no brand preference. There are many options out there, all with different tones and sounds. He carries four different calls when he hunts, allowing him to mix in some variety during a long hunt. But it doesn’t mean he recommends multiple calls whenever he’s dealing with a new turkey hunter.
“I sell them one call,” Rutan said. “I want them to master that call first.”
Dennis encourages a similar approach at his Missouri store, where they keep at least 40 different calls in inventory. Helping a novice hunter choose his or her first call depends largely on the person’s level of commitment: “How much time are they going to dedicate to learning how to use a call?”
If the answer is “not much,” then Dennis steers them toward a push button or box call.
The store also keeps a strong selection of decoys in stock, with at least five different brands, each offering a variety of poses. The decoys have become popular, with many hunters carrying two or three. And it’s an item whose sales might not pick up right away.
“We’ll probably sell more decoys during the season, than before the season starts,” Dennis noted.
Why? A week into the season, unlucky hunters start looking for any advantage they can find.
Zink Calls Z-Pak
Most Crucial Accessory?
Perhaps nothing is more important to spring turkey hunters than camouflage.
Back at Bill Jackson’s in Florida, limited retail space has forced the store to reconsider what’s carried in inventory. They no longer offer hunting clothes.
But Rutan, who has worked at the store for 15 years, said they carry a variety of three-color camo paint packs to help hunters with this critical need.
“You can go into the woods wearing a pair of jeans and kill a hog or deer. But when you’re turkey hunting, it’s completely different,” he said. “You have to go in wearing camo, head to toe. You better be able to blend in.”
At Denny Dennis in Missouri, they do carry a strong selection of camo gear, including gloves, head nets, hats and clothing. They offer five different patterns for turkey season, allowing hunters to tailor their appearance to match their hunting locations.
The problem is figuring out, in advance, what patterns to carry. And how much insulated gear to stock. No easy trend to predict, either.
“If it greens up early in the spring, we need more green in the pattern,” Dennis noted.
Back in November, he was already looking at excess inventory of cold-weather camo; it was a tough sell during the area’s warm winter. Dennis said he was counting on a nice, extended cold snap to create demand among local hunters.
“If not, there will be a lot of discounted insulated camo clothes come spring,” he concluded.