Interview With Foster Bartholow, Hunting and Trap Shooting Extraordinaire
Interview With Foster Bartholow, Hunting and Trap Shooting Extraordinaire
- Tell us a little bit about yourself! How long have you been hunting? What are you currently doing in terms of shooting and hunting?
Hey T&K, first and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to get in the lights and talk a little about myself, what I do in the industry and my passion toward hunting and helping others.
I’ve been blessed to live in western South Dakota most of my life and got introduced to hunting at a very early age. I remember getting called out of elementary school to leave on a Friday afternoon so I could go hunting with my dad for the weekend, some of the best memories of my life. I was and still am completely ate up with that burning passion to be in the outdoors.
Myself and my brother are both world class target shooters with a long list of accolades. I’m very humble about my accomplishments, but in a brief overview, 2008 I shot 1,100x1,100 clay targets in the ATA Clay Target Championship to come home with the world title, as well as set a new long run record. My brother has won the world doubles championship in 2011 and 2021. What I am most proud of is the opportunity to give back to the sport, we have been able to help around 2500 kids a summer with free youth clinics, where we show a presentation followed by heading out to the range.
After the shooting season I will get home and head back to the woods (or prairie). I enjoy everything from archery, rifle and shotgun for big game, upland, waterfowl and turkey.
- How long have you been a Turkey hunter? If you could go-back to your first year, what game-changing advice would you give yourself?
I started turkey hunting when I was 12. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing... I shot my first turkey doing a spot and stalk, getting within range to make a successful shot on a beautiful tom. When I was 13, I decoyed my first bird. I actually had fallen asleep and woke up to him gobbling and on a sprint into the decoy at 25 yards away.
Since then I have been blessed to travel throughout the US hunting turkeys and completed my grand slam with my wife.
If I could go back to my younger self, I would give him advice to make him a bazillionaire so he could buy his own land and have a slew of turkeys to hunt in the spring.
For real though, I would tell him to not listen to the turkey hunting hype you see on TV. Turkey subspecies all act differently in different states, so the needs going out for SD Merriam’s birds is completely different than the needs of eastern hunters in GA.
I’ve seen more hunters miss turkeys (including myself) because I and others were sporting the x-tra full turkey chokes that have a 10’ pattern at 45 yards. Know the birds you hunt and the approximate range you’ll be shooting at. If you're average shot is 40-60, an x-tra full choke works well. However, when your average shot is 15-30 yards, you’d be much better off with a modified to improved modified choke tube.
In addition to this, go pattern your shotgun. Different ammo and different chokes will change your pattern in very noticeable ways. I’ve seen guys and gals that are deadly with their waterfowl setup, they change the ammo to a turkey load and miss completely off the target. Having the knowledge of where your gun is shooting and the pattern you get at a set distance is very beneficial knowledge. I would recommend looking into a red dot. I use the Aimpoint red dots, yes... they are more expensive than the competition, but as many of you know… you get what you pay for. Using a red dot gives me the flexibility to dial in your shotgun just like you would a rifle at the range.
The last bit of advice... when you shoot a turkey and have a group or multiple toms still in the decoys... don’t get up hooping and hollering like you see everyone over-acting on TV. Stay calm, lay your gun down slowly and give the birds 5-10 minutes to work off on their own. Spooking the birds can potentially wreck the group or make them move to a new area.
The turkeys have no clue what just happened, and when they work off, they will still be huntable down the road, if needed.
What states have you hunted? What was your favorite and why?
After college I went to work for Avian X/ Zink Calls in Port Clinton, OH. One of the greatest learning experiences of my life, and the fun part of the job was the ability to travel with the crew to several states as some great callers like Josh Grossenbacher and Hunter Wallis called in birds on camera throughout the US. I met more people and learned more about turkey hunting in those years than anytime before. I believe we hunted around 10-12 states that springtime, and since I’ve expanded my horizon and hunted another 5 states including Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming.
It’s honestly tough to put my finger on a “favorite” hunt. Every state, every experience is unforgettable and a blessing. From the Black Hills of SD to the flatland pinewoods and big woods of Georgia, and lush green fields in Virginia… every single state has its pro’s and con’s, but regardless of the state you're hunting, watching a strutting turkey coming to the decoys in all of them is wicked cool!
Calls, decoys, oh my! What are some of your favorites to use?
I’ve tried about everything when it comes to turkey hunting, and again, it comes to the state you’re hunting. I think a reliable decoy to use is that boss hen that will lock the tom’s attention. I helped design and develop the new SX aggressive jake and upright hen decoy, which is now available in both painted and fully flocked.
As far as calls go, I’ve used Woodhaven Calls for several years and love the sounds and quality of their products. They are hardcore turkey enthusiasts who live, breath and talk turkey 120%, and their calls show it.
I’ll go into more detail in the next question on what to use and why.
Like anything hunting it can be intimidating and we often overthink our gear and what to buy. What simplified kit (think first year hunter) would you recommend to new turkey hunters?
There is a ton of gear, and without a doubt you can get easily overwhelmed with gizmos and gadgets to use.
For a beginner, there’s a few essentials you want to have with you. First off, buy a turkey hunting vest which has pockets you can organize your gear and tags in to make things easier for yourself.
I always recommend having a good box call for locating birds in the mornings or in wind. For our birds in SD, they like a higher pitched sound and the Cherry Classic sounds great. Also, invest a good crystal or slate call (also called a friction call) you’ll primarily use for several years to a lifetime. Yes, it’s an investment as some of these calls are $100+, but like with anything American made, quality is key.
If you can start practicing, learn the basics on a mouth call which makes it much simpler to finish a turkey into shooting range. Turkeys have impeccable sight. If you move too much, they will see you and spook. Having a mouth call can help reduce the amount of movement you make.
Another key component to have, the T&K bino harness. It is great for your bino’s, rangefinder (more essential if archery hunting), and a gps or quick phone access for OnX maps. When I go light and don’t want to carry my turkey vest, I will put in a friction call in the side pocket and mouth calls in the back pouch.
If you’re going to use decoys, a good hen and jake decoy is always a go-to for me. I’ve noticed our birds really focus on the jake decoy when they come in. Having decoys typically will take the focus off everything else and directly onto the decoys.
What is a product that you feel gave you the most “edge,” while hunting?
I think every situation has its own reasons why things work and having a list of tactics in the arsenal is always beneficial... we have had very successful hunts with and without decoys and blinds, with or without calling, and sometimes its been an easy 100 yards away from the vehicle to walking 7 or 8 miles and finally getting on a bird. The best product, a pen and paper. Knowing the game, you hunt, taking notes on work from year to year and learning the tendencies of the game you're going after is the best knowledge in the world. We have had birds spook from decoys in one area where another group a couple miles down the road come burning into the decoys. Looking through notes has saved me from making mistakes on birds in an area that don’t respond well to certain tactics.
- Ahh, the thrill of the hunt going from field to table. Nothing better! What are your favorite ways to cook Turkey?
Yes, there are a lot of ways you can cook wild turkey and make it come out delicious. I made a bunch of turkey jerky last year that came out great. You can either cut it in strips or grind it all up, add seasoning and make turkey jerky strips.
Another favorite is to brine the turkey breast for a couple days and smoking the birds on your pellet grill, then taking that meat, slicing it to have for cold turkey sandwiches.
To save time, there are a ton of great recipes online for those who just killed their turkey and want to try something new that hit a home run with the tastebuds.
- Talking earlier, you said you enjoy getting kids out on turkey hunts... tell us more about that!
Yes! It’s always fun to pull the trigger on a longbeard, but it’s another rush to watch a first-time turkey hunter pull the trigger and shoot a bird of their own. That passion that we all have for hunting is ignited in others, there’s nothing better than paying it forward.
Over the years I’ve helped out more kids than I can count get on their own turkeys. This year alone I’ve helped 6 youth hunters get their first birds. In addition to some personal spots I have, I’m blessed to know some landowners that have given me exclusive access on their ground to take youth kids only. It’s been great as the birds don’t get pressured and allow the kids to have a tremendous first experience.
This year a few hunts stand out... One youth gal that shot her first tom strutting and gobbling his butt off at 12 yards as we had two hens 4 yards away yelping and making a lot of noise. The tom came over the hill once, but she didn’t have a good shot, so we waited and I started to do some hen calling... this brought the hens over, as well as the tom again. She got him lined up in the sight and squeezed the trigger. We sat watching the group for 15-20 minutes as they wanted to fight the dead bird for a while, then worked their way off over the hill giving us an opportunity to grab the bird and get out of the area saving the birds for another day. While sitting waiting for the birds, we worked on her turkey calling. She had never used a friction call and did AMAZING. She was getting the yelps like a pro.. I told her I wish I could call like that when I first started, so that afternoon she got to go home with her own new Woodhaven Cherry Classic crystal friction call. Again, paying it forward.. impacting and changing lives, that’s what it’s all about.
Another two boys’ hunts stand out. One we had the group come over the hill at 8 yards to the side of us, he shot his bird at 9 yards as they were working their way to the decoys to our left. He listened so well and kept still that the bird never saw us, giving him the opportunity to make a perfect shot.
The other hunt we sat up decoys on a ridge the birds usually use... after an hour and a half of sitting, I grabbed my binocs out of the T&K harness. There the birds were on the next ridge over hitting another common spot they like to strut. We loaded the gear in our packs and headed down and up the draw to get close. We set up the decoy just over the hill we knew they were at and with some soft calling brought the tom over to investigate. He saw the decoy and immediately puffed into full strut coming to that decoy on a string. With the bird at 18 yards, I told the kid to take his time and make a good shot... Boom, and the turkey folded!
Foster has always had a passion for shooting and outdoor sports. He continues his passion by helping others with shooting techniques, and getting kids into hunting.
If you ever get into a conversation with Foster about anything hunting, archery, or trapshooting related...you know that usually turns into an hour or two of a fireside chat with stories and hunting tales.
After the trapshooting season is over, Foster enjoys time in the field for dove, waterfowl, upland and big game hunting with friends and family. In the spring months, you can expect Foster to be in the field somewhere hunting snow geese or turkeys, or prepping for the upcoming trapshooting season.
Foster works at American Family Insurance selling home, auto, farm/ranch, and life insurance. He also guides turkey hunters for a few weeks in the spring at The Turkey Track Club located in the Black Hills of SD.
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