Turkey calling has been an important part of the hunt ever since man discovered he could talk turkey. Before the white man arrived in North America the Native Indians would imitate different turkey sounds to lure toms into an ambush. The native Indians even made calling devises from wood, turtle shells, bones and corncobs. These calls where later taken over by the first European settlers and modified. Many diviations of this first game calls are still used today, such as the wing bone call and the wooden friction calls.
A lot has been written about the different calling techniques. Today, there are many different calls in use from the simple wooden friction box to the mouth call and right up to modern electronic calls operated by remote control and turkey sounds burned onto a CD or microchip. This time of year, with the turkey hunting season only weeks away, you can’t open a hunting magazine that does not devote at least one article to turkey calling.
Most articles will tell you how to call turkeys on private land where birds experience very little hunting pressure. So I decided that I would turn the gobbler around and write about how to call turkeys on public land, or Crown Land for Canadians, afte allr that is where the majority of hunters in North America hunt, including yours truly. Is there a difference between public land and private land turkeys? You bet! Public land turkeys are called to a lot, and mostly badly too. They have heard it all, the good the bad and the ugly. This has made these birds educated and smart they know when you are fake from a mile away. As many public land hunters will tell you these turkeys are some of the toughest birds to hunt. These birds are so paranoid that they often not even will follow a real turkey hen call or just shut up and come sneaking in to your position quietly and hidding behind every tree on the way while inspecting carefully the surounding. Turkeys have an eyesight only equalled by that of an eagle nothing escapes their eyes, not even a tiny ant crawling over a leaf 20 yards away.
So how on earth then can you call such a highly suspicious bird to you? Well, it’s not that difficult, if you stick to basics and keep it simple. When I hunt on public land, and I do that often, then I stick to the simple easy to master calling devices like the wooden friction box call and one or two Slate-and-Peg Calls, one of which usually has a slate top and the other a glass top. The glass call is waterproof when used with a glass or modern composite stricker. I use this call when it rains, which by the way is often the best weather to hunt public land toms because everybody else is staying home and turkreys know that too. The strikers for the slate calls are made of wood, glass and composite materials each gives a slightly different sound from high pitched to low and raspy. Another call I often use for close in calling when I need the turkey to make a couple more steps to me with my gun at the ready, is a push-and-pull friction call. This call I can easily hold and operate with one hand and still aim the gun at the bird at the same time.
Like the calling devices, my calls are simple too. One of the biggest mistakes hunters make on public land is to call too aggressive, to often and use to many different call segments. Remember public land turkeys shut up as soon as the hunting season opens and there is no better way to let a big old tom know that you are not a love sick hen then when you are a "chatterbox" and wont shut up. Don’t talk to much but talk quality. Oh, and by the way don't shout at the tom either he does not like it when he is yelled at by females. Toms are male chauvinists, they like the submissive types, so try to sound not to bossy.
Once I am set up I let the woods around me settle down a bit for about 15 minutes and then I start a short series of soft hen clucks followed by three or four soft yelps after that I wait a few seconds and end my calling with a few soft purrs. After this I put my calls away for about 20 minutes. During the waiting period I am not just sitting under the tree and dream. I look all around me and listen carefully for the faintest sound or movement. Often toms sneak in to calling never making as much as one gobble. Paranoid as they are they take their sweet time, ever so often standing still and looking for the hen. Remember they are paranoid and expect to see a hunter under every tree and bush, so they are very careful. Once I watched a tom approaching me so cautiously that it took him a full hour to cover about 80 yards. Every two steps he stood still and bent his neck in every which direction in an effort to investigate every inch of land for possible danger and at the ready to run. It was quite amazing to watch him hiding behind every tree and using the structure of the land to stay undetected. Often he would disappear for a long time and then emerge again peeking from behind a fallen log or a tree trunk.
When you call try to put some emotion in your calling. Imagine that you are a turkey hen wanting to be desperately visited by a tom. Observe turkeys and listen to them and then try and copy what you observed. A turkey hen does not just stand around and go “yelp-yelp-yelp-cluck-cluck-purr-purr.” Here is how a turkey hen does it. She walks a bit then stands still and clucks, then she scratches the leaves on the ground and clucks again. Now she walks another few steps tilts her head to the side and maybe softly yelps a few times. Then she may walk a bit bored back and forth looking over her shoulder to where she expects the tom to come from and purrs to her hearths content like she wants to say “Here I am honey come to me now, I need you.”
Try to replicate this in your calling sequence by scratching the ground a bit with a twig or your hand. As you call move the call from one side to the other of your body to give the tom the impression that there is a hen walking back and forth. The worst sin hunters can do, next to talking to much to loud and using the wrong calls, is to sound mechanical like robots.
Remember these points when you go to the woods for a shot at a big public land gobbler and you might very well succed in the mission impossible.
1. Use calls that you can master easily. Especially if you are a beginner stay away from mouth calls, they require a lot of practise to sound natural in the time you learn to make one sound with them you can learn all turkey calls in half the time with a box call the slate call and the push-and-pull-call.
2. Use soft yelps, clucks and purrs. Keep the calls nice and friendly not loud and aggressive. Keep the calling sequence short and simple. Don’t call to much and to long. A typical sequence should not be longer than five minutes and then pause for 20 minutes. While you wait look and listen for the slightest movement and sound.
3. Be patient and prepared to sit for an hour or more absolutly still. Don't give up just because you heard a gobbler and then he shut. This does not necerssary mean he wont come in to you, he might be on his way tight lipped and eagle eyed. The longest time I have ever sat at the same spot to wait for a tom, which I knew was on his way in, was over an hour. By the time he finally came to within shooting range my rear end was so numb you could have poked a nail into it and I wouldn't have felt a thing, but that is another story for another time.
In my next article we will look at the different weapons for turkey hunting and which one of these in my opinion is the best gobbler medicine.