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 and
muck to get within hearing distance of a flock of turkeys. I’d follow them all
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 morning.
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…

Copyright 2005 Eye on the Outdoors
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