Turkey Calling Myths
By Ray Eye
As a boy I went to great lengths to learn how to talk with the turkeys.
During late fall and early winter, I’d belly-crawl through wet leaves
muck to get within hearing distance of a flock of turkeys. I’d follow
day and then go home and mimic those sound night and day.
Back in the early 1960s there were very few hunters in the Ozarks that
would share information about calling turkeys. In fact, there weren’t
that many turkey hunters, and little if any other information available
about hunting turkeys.
Just hearing a rumor about someone in my area bagging a gobbler would
have me begging for a ride to hear every last detail of the hunt, especially
how that hunter called the turkey. The problem, turkey hunters were a
very secretive group, and when they would talk, hunting stories were cloaked
in myth and tall tales of super intelligent mystical birds.
There was no doubt a boy my age, with little experience, would have a
chance against the "Ghost gobbler" of Clinton ridge or "ole
long spur of Dry fork holler, and heaven forbid if I tried to call "ole
broken toe", the king of Beauford mountain. I heard that if you even
lit a lantern right before daylight in the cabin up there, that ole bronze
back turkey wouldn’t gobble for a month.
Turkey calling was considered a fine art form, and those that were superior
callers were kings of the barbershops and country stores. Those were the
places I heard phrases like, "That ole boy makes a hen ashamed of
herself" or " Ole Jimmy could call a hen off her nest,"
and my all time favorite, " Robby Dale could call a ole gobbler right
off the back of a hen."
However, I learned early on that the first step to calling a wild turkey
is basically being able to sound like one. Time and time again while hunting
spring turkeys, I’d hear a gobbler that had ignored my best calls all
morning open up to the first calls of a wild hen. It was at that time
I wanted to make those sounds I heard hens making more than anything else
in the world.
Sometime in the late 1960’s during turkey season, I came upon an outdoor
magazine out in my grandparents’ outhouse that contained an article on
turkey hunting. After reading the article I knew what I was doing wrong,
it said the only way to call in a gobbler was to yelp three times, wait
ten minutes, by the watch, yelp three more times and wait ten more minutes,
then get your gun up and wait him out. Turkey hunting experts wrote this,
it said so right on the front page.
The next morning I slipped up to a ridge where I knew my gobbler was roosted
for the last time. At daybreak the tom gobbled and I closed the distance.
I pulled a borrowed pocket watch out of my old faded overalls and my turkey
call out of another. I carefully made three yelps soft yelps. The tom
rifled back a reply but I sat silently and stared at that watch. As the
Tom gobbled again, I heard several yelps down the ridge. After a very
long ten minutes passed I yelped three more times and the bird gobbled
harder, but the yelps and cuts of a real hen turkey were much closer now.
The more that hen called, the more the tom gobbled. The more the tom gobbled,
the more excited she became. Within minutes the hen was calling almost
nonstop. The tom flew from the roost and ran right toward the hen. They
met out in front of me just under the ridge and that hen was still yelping
as she ran away with my gobbler, even before my ten minutes were up. I
would assume you know how I was calling on that ridge the next day.
There is no way to express how I felt later that second morning
as I made my way off the mountain carrying a big gobbler. Later, back
at the farm I introduced that tom to my grandma, where she in turn, introduced
him to her wood cook stove.
A hunter just really doesn’t know what a gobbler wants or will respond
to, until you spend a little time feeling him out. I usually advise hunters
to start off calling simple and short. If you make a couple of soft yelps,
the bird runs in gobbling non stop and you have to shoot him off your
leg, then you obviously didn’t need to use anything else.
One of the most important things to remember is that each turkey has its
own feelings and personality. I’ve never seen or heard two turkeys call
or react to calling exactly the same, nor have I ever found any calling
methods that work each and every time. You have to be able to recognize
what it takes to turn on different turkeys in different situations.
A good guideline or rule of thumb, make your first series of calls very
soft, increase in intensity as needed. A turkey can hear even the softest
tree yelps from an amazing distance if the woods are quiet in the early
If a gobbler is either not responding or responding but not moving closer,
then start increase your intensity and excitement, not necessarily louder.
Try a longer and snappier string of yelps. If that doesn’t work, add cutting
to your yelps. You may have to call with long strings of excited cutting
to get a bird to come in. How often should you call? That’s a good question
and one that’s impossible to answer. Every calling situation is different,
you may keep a gobbler interested with well-spaced calls, and then again,
you may not.
I’ve always been an aggressive caller. There are times when Pouring it
on hot and heavy is the only way to bring a bird into range. I have always
had better success calling and killing gobblers if I get them really worked
up and excited.
Another calling tip, try not to use the same exact sounding call time
after time. Stay away from, three yelps, pause three yelps, pause and
so on. Vary it a yelp or two each time to make it more authentic. Try
to convey feeling and inflection in your calling. Each time you call back
to a tom, call with a little more excitement. Quite simply, become a turkey.
Changing the mechanical call you’re using can sometimes get a bird turned
on. Change positions on the bird, pull out a box call and you may have
the bird eating out of your hand; sometimes one small variation can make
a big difference.
Here’s an example of a calling scenario I may use while turkey hunting.
A gobbler responds to my owl hoot from about three hundred yards away.
Depending on the terrain, I’ll move to within about two hundred yards,
set up, and let out a few clucks and yelps. Listen to the gobbler, he
response right back.
If the bird responds I’ll move a little closer and use a few more yelps
to imply a hen that’s cutting the distance. Sometimes hat may be all it
takes. If the gobbler acts as if he’s coming in, I may use the same series
of calls to keep him coming.
If the gobbler is not moving toward me or shows some hesitation, I step
up the yelps and perhaps preface them with cutting. My next series is
some very aggressive loud yelping and excited cutting.
Many hunters I have hunted with tell me I call to loud, but what is too
loud? I cannot help but wonder, whom or what decides what is to loud,
turkeys call to be heard by other turkeys and calling volume is dependent
on their mood. Calling volume also depends on the conditions, terrain
and time of day you are hunting.
Extremely loud yelps and cutting work well in stiff winds, but also may
be the only thing that works on calm days. You just never know, so try
different calling techniques until something works
I encourage hunters to learn how to use every type of turkey call and
all the sounds of the wild turkey. The last decade or so, a lot of things
have changed in the turkey woods. Today there is more competition from
hunters and turkeys; those turkeys are the many hen turkeys after your
gobbler. Another growing problem are so many of today’s hunting areas
are exposed to much more human activity than ever before.
This would explain the large number of complaints from hunters regarding
silent mornings, "henned up" gobblers, and "their call
shy" just to mention a few. Yet many of these hunters do not try
to improve or change their calling.
I think part of this problem is that spring turkey hunting is considered
only good when everything is just right; gobblers run to anything that
half way resembles a hen sound. It seems that all turkey seasons are compared
with this and any season that is not this way, is "off" or the
"season is over," or my favorite, " what’s wrong with the
turkeys." These very same hunters tell me all the time that calling
is just a small percentage of success and you do not have to call like
an "expert" or "champion" caller to kill turkeys.
Yes, there are many spring seasons and times when you don’t have to be
an "expert" or "Champion" caller. When the season
is just right, most of the hens are on the nest, the weather fair and
the hunting pressure light, a few yelps and clucks may be all it takes.
But when the weather is off, spring is late, hunters are behind every
tree, or hens are clinging nymphomaniacs, it will take good calling to
work birds into range.
Many, many, times, I’ve seen good callers consistently take turkeys under
different situations and weather conditions, while less experienced hunters
with little calling experience emerge from the woods without success time
and time again. Ask a hundred different turkey hunters and you’ll probably
get a hundred different theories on calling turkeys.
The main thing to remember is to approach calling with an open mind and
to be prepared for anything. If the hunt isn’t going well, try some of
the more excited calls, such as aggressive cutting and gobbler or Jake
yelps. You have nothing to lose but much to gain.
Today’s turkey hunter has a wealth of information to draw from, audiotapes,
CD’s, calling videos, seminars, and television shows. Outdoor magazines,
calling contest, sporting goods stores and thousands of turkey hunters
or other great sources of information.
However I continue to believe the best way to learn how to call effectively
is to actually get in the woods with them and call turkeys. Locating turkeys
with turkey calling prior to the season will teach you a lot about calling
and give you a accurate count of turkeys in your hunting area. Calling
does not spook birds, but too much activity will. Do not walk thru your
hunting area, in fact, it’s probably best to simply call and listen from
a distance the last week before the season. Calling after the season is
also good practice.
Make sure you don’t go to the same place every day to call the turkeys,
especially on public ground. Your presence walking into and around the
area may spook the birds. Go often enough to get your confidence up, but
again, use common sense.
If you have a problem with calling prior to the season and you still believe
the myth that calling spooks birds, maybe you should practice calling
to turkeys where all your buddies are hunting.
Until next time…