One of the most asked questions about hunting the wild turkey is, "When do I call and how often?" I feel there is an art to calling turkeys. It’s all based on assessing a gobbler's mood and serving him the right calls in the proper sequence to seize his attention and lure him to your position.
Get To Know Your Quarry
I've worked toms in a variety of different circumstances, including right off the roost, mid morning with hens, without hens, and just about every situation inbetween. I've worked birds on both public and private grounds. Whether I'm calling a hot-to-trot 2-year-old or an educated 4-year-old that has seen every gun in the county, it’s a matter of getting his attention and keeping his interest just enough to get him to investigate. Hard-earned time in the field is the only true way to learn the intricacies of stubborn longbeards ... but you can never expect that all their secrets will be revealed.
If you call too much to a tom, typically he will stand his ground and wait for the hot hen (you) to meet him for a rendezvous. If you don't call enough, he will move off to the next hot item. Take into consideration what time of the season it is; it's possible the bird you’re working has been called to before. Early season toms that haven't seen much pressure will generally be more workable than late-season birds that have heard every call in the book. That’s not to say a late-season gobbler can’t be called in, especially after his harem has been bred and is nesting.
Becoming proficient with more than one type of call is the first step toward consistently calling spring gobblers into shooting range. Learn to use box, pot-style and air-driven (diaphragm and tube) calls efficiently.
Learn the main turkey vocalizations and be able to reproduce these calls on demand. The more calls you have in your repertoire, the better chance you’ll have to coax him in. You never know what particular tone or rasp will seal the deal. Obtain recordings of wild hens and pay attention to rhythm—not necessarily tone. Remember, every wild turkey hen has a different voice.
Practice calling and gain confidence in your ability, so you'll know when to cluck, purr, cutt, yelp, etc. Don't let your fear of talking turkey become your demise in the field.
The Workable Bird
When first engaging this type of tom, feel him out and see how responsive he is. Begin your conversation with some yelping. If he starts making his way toward your position, then stop! Over calling is probably one of the main reasons hunters don't harvest gobblers. If he doesn't answer very frequently, and doesn't seem to be getting closer, then it's time to get more aggressive and try to fire him up. Try some light cutting, mixed with yelping, to try and change his mood.
Always remember, a wild turkey’s No. 1 means of communication is through vocalizations. I truly believe that a gobbler can be influenced with the right sounds at the right times. This is why it's imperative to only start your conversation with basic hen talk, and then increase the excitement level as needed.
If you've grabbed the bird's attention and he's moving in, try “checking" him. Give a soft yelp or cluck to elicit a gobble so you can find his position and verify he's still closing the distance. If you think you lost his attention and his gobbles are farther away, then it's time to get even more aggressive. Regain his attention with a cutting sequence. If this works, and he starts moving toward you again, then keep the pace with the excited stuff and keep him working to you. When he's closing on that last 20 yards or so, tone it down and let him work his way to you. At this point I like to throw a series of clucks and purrs at him just to seal the deal. A good rule of thumb: Less is often more. With that being said, don’t lose his attention, but don’t call every breath simply to hear him gobble.
Mr. Call Shy
If your're hunting late in the season in areas that you know have received hunting pressure, then you could encounter a “call-shy” bird. This is the gobbler that will really put your skills and patience to the test. The tactics I will mention can work on either a blind setup or a gobbler that's answering half-heartedly and won't close the distance.
This gobbler will be influenced by very soft, subtle hen talk. Clucking, purring and whining, along with soft, short yelps is the medicine to cure this type of illness. Use that series of calls every 15-20 minutes. Also incorporate turkey noises, such as scratching in the leaves while simulating clucking and purring.
Several years back, while hunting the third weekend of the central-Florida season, I bagged a great bird on public land using those very tactics. The tom would gobble on his own every 3-4 minutes after my yelp sequences, but wouldn't close the distance. I opted to quiet down my calling and only cluck, purr and whine, while rustling the leaves as a turkey would when scratching. About 40 minutes later, the bird slipped in ever so cautiously, never strutting or gobbling. He weighed 17 pounds, had an 11-inch beard and 1 1/2-inch spurs. He was an old gobbler that had played the game before.
Rule The Roost
When working a bird off the roost, you may want to try a fly-down with only wing beats, minus the cackle. I carry a turkey wing in my vest just for this type of occasion. I simulate a hen flying down by slapping the wing on my arm.
Knowing where the bird is going after fly-down can be priceless information. Setting up where he's going, such as a hen feeding area or strut zone, along with the described soft calling, can prove to be successful. Bear in mind, more times than not, this bird is going to come in quiet and won't alert you to his presence. If you know this type of tom is using the area and know he isn’t vocal, simply set up, call softly and wait. Keep movement to a minimum and scan for his arrival.
The author is on the Woodhaven Custom Calls Sting Team. He's a professional turkey caller with more than 40 competition titles and 30 years of hunting experience. He's also a videographer and freelance outdoor writer. Learn more by visiting his website.