Turkey Gear Guide: We test 20 new products for 2006

Ol' Tom Time and Motion ($119) Rating: The Lowdown: Boasting 40 pockets, the Ol' Tom is all about pocket placement. The compartments are easy to access left or right, and you won't move far reaching for them. Clever magnetic closures help keep your gear in the vertical pockets. The seat is living-room-sofa thick. Both the back and front shoulders are padded. It's the only vest with a cradle to hold your shouldered gun. The panel agreed that this vest was highly adjustable and had unique features. There also seemed to be no limit to the number of calls you could stuff into it. Hits: "Very original and I loved the front stretchy box call pockets,-¿ says John Pruett. "I could sit longer because the foam density did not cut off the circulation in my legs,-¿ says Dieter Kaboth. Misses: "The shoulder pads made some noise,-¿ says Kaboth. "The vest is pricey,-¿ says Dave Arnold. Contact: 866-521-5012; www.oltomgobbler.com The Vest Testers
These four panelists were asked to put personal preferences aside. Evaluations were based on comfort, innovation, durability, practicality, and price. Dieter Kaboth
Age: 44
Home woods: Pacific Northwest
Annual days in the turkey woods: 24 Mike Batcke**
Age: 27
Home woods: Mid-Michigan
Annual days in the turkey woods: 18 Dave Arnold**
Age: 51
Home woods: Southern Ohio
Annual days in the turkey woods: 16 John Pruett**
Age: 56
Home woods: Missouri's Ozark Mountains
Annual days in the turkey woods: 38
Spencer Jones
Primos Gobbler Vest ($79) Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars The Lowdown: There are plenty of deep, big pockets sewn with mesh construction for easy call identification. The outside will hold one box and two slate calls, 12 shells, and then some. There are shooting pads on both shoulders, but it's still easy to move quickly in this lightweight vest. The seat was the thinnest of the four vests tested, prompting some complaints. But everyone liked the Primos overall, giving high marks to the mesh construction and the quiet fabric. Hits: "This vest is made for a hard hunter. Bravo to Primos,-¿ says Dave Arnold. "Great zippers and quiet buttons,-¿ says Mike Batcke. Misses: "The material is a burr magnet,-¿ says Batcke. "I had to chalk my box call almost every time I pulled it out of the box call holster,-¿ says John Pruett. Contact: 601-879-9323; primos.comSpencer Jones
Mossy Oak Super Elite II ($75) Rating: 4 out of 5 stars The Lowdown: Built on a mesh frame with two deep inside pockets, this vest has an individual pocket for two of practically every call you own. The back has a thick spine pad, and the butt seat is the thickest of the bunch. Everyone liked the thick seat, though Mike Batcke couldn't access it and gave this vest the lowest mark of the group. Dave Arnold and Dieter Kaboth felt that the vest's suspension and pockets fit them perfectly. John Pruett didn't like the zippers and thought the pocket configuration was not very original. Hits "This vest holds everything I own. If you run out of room, then you just have too much stuff,-¿ says Dave Arnold. "I feel this vest will hold up better and longer than any other tested,-¿ says Dieter Kaboth. Misses: "Zippers were noisy and bound up,-¿ says John Pruett. "I couldn't release the seat cushion while I was wearing the vest,-¿ says Mike Batcke. Contact: 800-331-5624; mossyoakapparel.comSpencer Jones
Whitewater 3D RealLeaf Full Vest ($70) Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars The Lowdown: The Whitewater has 12 pockets on the outside and seven on the inside, and it's covered with three-dimensional leaves to help you conceal yourself. It has a gamebag that's large enough for a 25-pound gobbler, and the seat is thick, cushy, and removable. The back is vented to keep you cool in warmer weather. There were several criticisms of the purple-and-yellow zipper pulls. Batcke, Kaboth, and Arnold thought that the 3-D camouflage leaves, though valuable for concealment, were too noisy. The nice, thick seat was appreciated by all. Hits: "The leafy camouflage is great, and the seat is just awesome,-¿ says Mike Batcke. Misses: "The pockets were a little hard to find because of the leaves,-¿ says John Pruett. "I don't like the purple-and-yellow rope zipper pulls much,-¿ says Batcke. Contact: 920-564-2674; whitewateroutdoors.comSpencer Jones
Blind Reviews
Gear Editor Peter Mathiesen's take on four new turkey blinds.
Turkey hunters never have to search far for irony, but this paradox is worthy of consideration: Despite its legendary vision and incredible wariness, an adult gobbler will walk right up to a ground blind placed in the middle of a field. That's why blinds are invaluable turkey hunting tools. They not only allow you to set up where cover is sparse, but they're ideal for hunters who can't sit still for more than a half hour (that is, most of us). Commercially made blinds are easy to transport and set up. Seated on a stool inside, a hunter can call in comfort and draw a bow or shoulder a shotgun without spooking birds. Here's what to consider when you're shopping for one: Size This depends on your own size and whether you'll hunt with a partner. A bigger blind offers more room for hunter(s) and gear, of course, but it's going to be heavier. Weight This hinges mostly on your hunting style. If you tend to sit in one spot, a bigger, heavier blind is a fine choice that's likely to be more comfortable and quiet, and less affected by wind and weather. If you prefer to run and gun, though, anything over 15 pounds will probably be more than you want to lug. It's not a bad idea to buy two: one blind built for comfort and another for portability, then carry the one that best suits the day's strategy. Windows The more and bigger the better. Your blind should have at least four, and additional shooting ports are a plus. Extras Look for various features, such as handy gear pockets, a dark interior, a bow holder, and a carrying case, that will make your blind a more effective or convenient hunting tool. Of the five excellent portable blinds shown at left, I've hunted extensively from both the Double Bull T5 Prostaff and the Ameristep Bighouse TSC and know from personal experience that gobblers will walk right up to them.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Cabela's Lightning Set
(800-237-4444; cabelas.com)
Weight: 12 lb.
Dimensions:** 63 inches tall; 84x98-inch floor
Windows: 5
Price: $150
Comments: Roomy and lightweight, this blind is perfect for the mobile hunter, and the price is nice, too.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Double Bull T5 Prostaff
(888-464-0409; doublebullarchery.com)
Weight: 17.5 lb.
Dimensions: 67 inches tall; 60x60-inch floor
Windows: 4, plus 8 shooting ports
Price: $400
Comments: Comfy, quiet, and rock-solid, the T5 is the Cadillac of blinds. Its dark interior keeps you well hidden.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Eastman Outfitters Carbon Venture
(810-733-6360; eastmanoutfitters.com)
Weight: 16 lb.
Dimensions: 69 inches tall; 58x58-inch floor
Windows: 4, plus camera ports
Price: $200
Comments: The carbon-activated liner means this blind doubles nicely for deer in the fall.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Hunter's Specialties 10-10 Hideout Pop-Up
(319-395-0321; hunterspec.com)
Weight: 13.5 lb.
Dimensions: 75 inches tall; 84x84-inch floor
Windows: 4
Price: $100
Comments: A great one-person, run-and-gun blind, the 10-10 is a snap to set up and very portable.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Ameristep Bighouse TSC
(810-686-4035; ameristep.com)
Weight: 22 lb.
Dimensions: 84 inches tall; 70x70-inch floor
Windows: 8
Price: $220
Comments: Ideal for two hunters, this heavy but very comfortable blind has big windows and comes with lots of extras.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Combo Calls
It used to be that you had to fill nearly every pocket on your turkey vest with locator calls in order to pack a variety of sounds. But today's combination models let hunters do that with just one or two calls. What's more, unlike some of the early combos, the three shown here actually sound natural.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Primos Peacock
($10; 601-879-9323; primos.com)
Besides making the raucous call of the bird it's named for, the Peacock produces the high-pitched, far-reaching calls of woodpeckers and coyotes, too. A lightweight, durable, one-piece call, it is especially effective when tight-lipped birds need extra coaxing and when you're trying to locate birds in the big country of the West.
Field & Stream Online Editors
M.A.D. Calls Twist Tone Locator
($19; 877-956-5746; kolpin.com)
Replicating the sound of a barred owl, pileated woodpecker, or coyote is a piece of cake with this user-friendly locator call. All you have to do is turn the dial and blow to convincingly produce any one of these three vocalizations.
Spencer Jones
Lohman CrOwl
($16; 877-956-5746; kolpin.com)
As the name suggests, the CrOwl can reproduce both the antagonizing call of crows as well as the who-cooks-for-you? call of the barred owl. Blow on one end of this simple, one-piece model to produce caws, or turn it around and blow on the other end to produce realistic hoots. A twistable air-flow regulator lets you easily change the pitch of each vocalization.
Spencer Jones
Phil Bourjaily Tests Eight Slates
A friction call needs to sound good at high volume for the days you have to beat them over the head and soft for the days when they need sweet-talking. I took my calls outside and tape-recorded them at a distance of 20 yards. Starting at the edges where the pitch is high and working my way to the lower-pitched center of the call, I made loud and soft calls, then played them back and rated their sound at low and high volumes. -"Phil Bourjaily
Field & Stream Online Editors
Lohman Heirloom Slate ($23)
Description: Slate in an American ash pot with a purpleheart striker.
Sound: Fairly low and raspy, it's not as loud as some, but it's realistic.
****Comments:: A traditional-style call that mimics turkeys especially well at lower volumes.
Hits: Very natural soft sounds.
Misses: You can't crank up the volume.
Contact: 877-956-5746; kolpin.com
Spencer Jones
Cody Drop Dead Woodsman ($75)
Description: Slate in a walnut pot with an oak bottom and a hickory striker.
Sound: Medium-high pitch, warm and realistic, with a good range from high to low.
Comments: The surface seems to grab the peg, making it easy to run quietly.
Hits: Looks good, makes a range of sounds.
Misses: The most expensive call of the bunch.
Contact: 717-362-8413; codyturkeycalls.com
Spencer Jones
M.A.D. Heavy Metal ($23)
Description: Aluminum pot, crystal surface, graphite and purpleheart strikers.
Sound: Very high pitched with wood striker, higher with graphite; raspy, almost shrill.
Comments: Loudness and high pitch means it can reach out and touch distant birds.
Hits: Great sounds at any volume.
****Misses:: It's ugly; the metal glints in the sun.
Contact: 877-956-5746; kolpin.com
Spencer Jones
Primos Jackpot ($30)
Description: A smaller glass call set in a wooden pot with a hardwood striker.
Sound: Sharp, high pitched, with some rasp.
Comments: It's not as loud as the Heavy Metal, but you can feel pressure on your eardrums when you crank the volume.
Hits: Attractive, sounds as good as it looks.
Misses: I wish its volume setting went to 11.
Contact: 800-523-2395; primos.com
Spencer Jones
H.S. Strut Double Strike ($29)
Description: Glass with a plastic pot and a rosewood striker.
Sound: High pitched and scratchy.
Comments: The Double Strike is loud and sharp enough to make you wince, which is what you want in a long-range call. It also Sound:s good at low volumes. I found it to be a very easy call to cluck and purr with.
Hits: Great for attracting distant toms.
Misses: The directional sound ports seem a little gimmicky.
Contact: 800-728-0321; hunterspec.com
Spencer Jones
Knight & Hale Pocket Puppy ($15)
Description: Ceramic "Sla-tek-¿ surface and plastic pot, hickory striker with a plastic top.
Sound: High pitched and clear, with some raspy sweet spots.
Comments: The Pocket Puppy has the upper-level tone that turkeys often respond to, ranging from high to very high. It's a call to have when the turkeys want to hear a clear yelp.
Hits: Small and inexpensive but with excellent sound, this would make a great call for kids.
Misses: Not particularly versatile in its range.
Contact: 800-500-9357; www.knightandhale.com
Spencer Jones
Quaker Boy X-Pot ($22)
Description: Copper top with its center roughened over a plastic pot.
Sound: High and clear on the outside edges of the pot, raspier and deeper in the center.
Comments: Designed for beginners, the copper-topped, plastic-bottomed X-Pot has a textured area in the center. It made good, clear sounds with a little practice.
Hits: It produces a nice, high-low kee-yuk.
****Misses:: There were definite dead spots.
Contact: 800-544-1600; quakerboygamecalls.com
Spencer Jones