Turkey Hunting: Beating the Bugs

Without a doubt, one of the biggest problems we face during the course of a spring turkey season is mosquitoes.  They pester, irritate, bother and, yes, they bite.  What could be more miserable than their constant harassment?  What is more difficult than sitting perfectly still with a gobbler in sight at 60 yards with a mosquito chewing off your neck or drilling into your temple?  Modern insect repellent liquid or spray is pretty effective, but there always seem to be a few bugs that are resistant, and the smell and caustic powers of the stuff is a definite downside.  Ever accidently spray too near your truck and take some paint off?
Fortunately there are two great products on the market, which, when used in tandem, establish a solid fortress against the bothersome bugs, and almost eliminate the need for insect repellent.  I say almost because ticks, chiggers and other crawling pests need to be dissuaded with a quick spray around the openings to your clothing: the top of your boots; waist of your pants; cuff of your sleaves; and around your shirt collar.  However, these days it is no longer necessary to take a bath in 100% deet before heading out in the spring turkey woods.
The first weapon in my war against mosquitoes is a Bug Tamer® suit, made by Shannon Outdoors of Louisville, Georgia (www.shannonoutdoors.com).  There are several models, available from most of the major mail order outfits and from many local sporting goods stores.  The model I’ve been using for several years is the Bug Tamer Plus in a Mossy Oak® pattern. It consists of a hooded jacket and a roomy pair of trousers.  The suit is constructed of two layers of mesh.  The inner layer is very thick and open, the outer layer very fine and tight.  The outer layer is kept far enough away from your skin by the thickness of the inner layer so that the longest mosquito proboscis can’t reach you.  The outer layer is fine enough to stop no-see-ums, bull gnats, and other enemies in the springtime woods and fields.
The Bug Tamer is very lightweight, and by wearing just an undershirt and shorts underneath it, you can stay cool and comfortable, both on hot spring afternoons and on cool mornings.  The camouflage value is fabulous.  The Bug Tamer Plus includes random pieces of fine mesh material sewn on for a 3D effect.  Although the predominant color is brown, in thick greenery the hunter is almost invisible.  Up against a tree, you look like a pile of leaves.
Here’s one of the best parts:  attached to the hood is a black mesh face mask that is so well designed, at first light you can see through it well enough to identify a target.  I normally wear a regular face mask, but until the other product we’ll discuss below kicks in, or in particularly heavy infestations of mosquitoes, the built in black-net facemask will keep every mosquito out.
A lot of people ask, “What about briars?”  The Bug Tamer is very tear resistant, but after a few seasons heavy use can become fairly torn and hence no use.  Obtaining another jacket or pants is just a cost of doing business with Meleagris Gallopavo.  If you’re on a tight budget, consider just getting the jacket, and let a thick pair of regular trousers keep the biting insects away from your legs.
Which leads us to the second weapon: the ThermaCell® mosquito repellent appliance, manufactured by The Schwabel Corporation of Bedford, Massachusetts (www.thermacell.com).  ThermaCell has made my life complete.  The approximately 7oz,  8” x 3” x 1.5” device holds a small butane canister which supplies fuel to heat a metal heat transfer grill, which in turn warms a replaceable insecticide mat to release its active ingredients.  Lightweight, easy to carry and easy to operate, the ThermaCell is a must when you’re going to be sitting in one spot for any length of time.  Before I start building a blind, I fire up the ThermaCell and set it next to my tree.  By the time I have the blind built and am settled in, the area is practically mosquito free.  Five more minutes and there is not a mosquito in sight.  The ThermaCell will keep a radius of about eight feet completely clear of mosquitoes, even in the low swampy places I used to avoid.
Each butane canister lasts about nine hours and each insecticide mat about three hours, so I keep a couple of spare canisters and half a dozen mats in my turkey vest.  It’s easy to see when the mat needs changing – they start out blue and turn white when used up.  There is a window on the back to let you judge the volume of butane left but it’s hard to see in low light.  If I hear a mosquito while sitting next to my tree, I know that one or the other needs changing.
The ThermaCell is extremely effective on windless days at a stationary position.  It’s really not designed to repel mosquitoes while you walk.  It also does not work well at altitudes over 4500 feet.  But aside from these limitations, I have found it to be far superior to mosquito spray or Deet lotion.   A couple of words of caution:  don’t inhale the fumes, and never use a ThermaCell indoors, in a tent or in any enclosed space.  According to the manufacturer, the chemical used is allethrin, a copy of a repellent that naturally occurs in chrysanthemum flowers and it is EPA approved.
When you slide the switch to on, thus opening the butane valve, and press the piezo-electric igniter, there is a viewport at the top of the unit where you can see if the butane has lit.  It may take several tries to light it.  On very stubborn units, I have found that shaking it a little while pressing the igniter may help.  Although the click can be rather loud, it doesn’t seem to bother the turkeys.
So my routine is to suit up in the BugTamer, and I’m protected while I listen for that first gobbler and as I make my way to him.  As I set up on the gobbler, I light the ThermaCell.  During the fifteen minutes or so that the ThermaCell takes to clear out the little monsters, I use the BugTamer mask.  When the buzzing stops, a regular face mask takes over, and I’m not bothered by a thing.  Then I can focus on the hunt in hand, which is a dangerous thing for the turkeys!
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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