I have to admit; I am addicted to buying turkey calls. This is no secret among my family and friends, who are used to me going nuts every time I enter the turkey hunting section at a sporting goods store. If you happen to see me, you will find me drooling at the wide assortment of turkey calls. My addiction doesn’t end there either. I’m constantly using my laptop or phone to gaze at them. Do I have a problem? Well, I guess they say the first step is to admit to having one, so yes – I do.
As I write this, it’s the middle of winter; however, thoughts of turkey hunting quickly replace the winter doldrums, and soon I find myself thinking about turkey calls. With that said, it’s time to pick one up and start practicing; spring season is here.
Whether it is a box, slate, or push-pull call, something about them fascinates me. Maybe it is their design, craftsmanship, style, allure, or sole purpose to call in a thunder chicken within shooting range. The beauty of it is you can never own too many turkey calls. However, having a wide variety of calls in your turkey hunting arsenal is just one small ingredient to filling your spring tag. Owning all of the turkey calls in the world is no guarantee that a longbeard will buy the gig and come waltzing to you. You have to pull out your bag of tricks if you want to walk out of the turkey woods with a gobbler draped over your shoulder. On the turkey’s turf, various factors need to be considered. Unfortunately, the following mistakes have left many turkey hunters scratching their heads and heading home empty-handed.
Mistake number one is using only one call, not switching calls, sticking with the same one season after season. Being complacent with your old stand-by call can be detrimental if you want to succeed in the turkey woods. If hunting pressure is high in the area you’re hunting, a wise old turkey will run in the other direction if you keep throwing the same sound at him. Switch it up! This is where my addiction isn’t all that bad. Owning numerous turkey calls allows you to sound like more than one hen. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were set up in a tent blind along the edge of a field when two toms approached us. I did my best to imitate a hen on my slate call, but they ignored me and kept walking. I quickly switched to a glass call; they turned 180 degrees and came to within shooting range, allowing my wife to take her first turkey.
Maintain Your Calls
Nothing annoys me more than a screeching turkey call because the chalk wore off or it hasn’t been sanded in a while. However, this can be easily avoided with a few simple steps. For the sound of your calls to remain crisp and sharp, you need to maintain them throughout turkey season to be ready to use during each hunt. This only takes a few minutes and is well worth your time.
To prevent this from happening, apply chalk to the striking surface of your box and push-pull calls. Also, rub your slate and peg calls with either fine-grit drywall paper or a small Scotch-Brite pad for glass or slate calls, respectively. When hunting, you should inspect your calls periodically for any signs of wear.
To maintain your diaphragm calls, simply clean them off using mouthwash and then store them in a small clean case. This will allow them to be easily accessible for use.
Calling Too Loud
Many hunters think they need to call real loud to grab a gobbler’s attention. However, when you set up first thing in the morning, it’s better to call softly just in case the birds are roosting nearby. Once you find out that they’re further away, you can increase your calling volume.
Once a gobbler reaches that magical seventy-yard mark, you need to really tone down your volume. Turkeys will seldom call very loudly unless they are a long distance away from other birds and attempting to locate each other. However, based on my observations, turkeys usually make only subtle purrs, clucks, and yelps once they are close. Therefore, when you set up near a field or opening and a gobbler is in view, let out a few soft yelps and see his reaction. If you’re using decoys and he continues to waltz in closer, stop calling and let him close the distance at his own will.
Calling softly when a gobbler is hung up with some hens is a great tactic that will occasionally help pull him away from his harem. This fools the tom into believing that the so-called hen is moving in the opposite direction.
Most turkey hunters will wait until the night before the turkey opener to get all of their turkey calls out and start practicing. However, if you want to convince a gobbler that you’re the real thing and sound as close to a real hen as possible, you need to improve your turkey calling skills. By no means do you have to be a turkey contest caller to get the job done either. If your rhythm and pitch are close to how a real turkey sounds, you should have no problem being successful in the turkey woods. There are numerous sources that will help you improve your calling. Last year I found a page dedicated to calling on the National Wild Turkey Federation’s website. There’s a written explanation of what the call consists of, when the bird uses this call and what situations to use it. There is also a tab where you can play each individual turkey sound. These included a cluck, purr, tree call, fly-down cackle, assembly calls, yelp, cut, and gobble. Other excellent sources include turkey hunting DVDs, turkey calling seminars, and calling contests.
Calling Too Long
A gobbler was hot on the roost, and now the woods have gone silent. If this occurs, you need to ask yourself two things. Is the bird henned up, or is he on his way?
Continuing to call to a gobbler that is uninterested doesn’t do you any good. You’re better off hitting the road and trying your luck elsewhere. However, there is a fine line on the waiting period. One spring morning, it was clear to my wife and me that a longbeard, gobbling his head off at sunrise, didn’t buy into my best attempt to sound like a hen. About two hours had passed, and the gobbler finally decided to appear in the field before us. Sometimes you need to roll the dice and give him more time or run and gun.