When I was a kid, I was obsessed with turkey hunting. I used to dream about it, plan for it, and look forward to the coming of opening day with almost as much as enthusiasm as I did Christmas morning. Now, this wasn’t because I liked shooting turkeys any more than I liked shooting anything else. Nor was it because I was particularly fond of turkey meat, nor because I found them any easier or more challenging to hunt than any other animal. No, I loved turkey hunting because, unlike when I sat in frozen tranquility in a deer stand, or snuck silently with all the speed of frozen molasses through the trees, turkey hunting was the one time when I didn’t have to be quiet while hunting. To a hyperactive 10-year-old, that’s about the greatest thing in the world. In fact, when done right, making a bunch of noise with your calls can be just the ticket to entice that rope-dragging tom to come running in for a closer look.
Picking your calls
There are four primary types of turkey calls: diaphragm, slate, box, and voice. All four have unique attributes and weaknesses. Most turkey hunters only bring one or perhaps two calls into the woods with them—calls that they’ve mastered and are confident in. I am not one of those hunters. When I go turkey hunting, I go fully armed with not only all four types of calls, but different brands and sizes of those calls that make different sounds and pitches. I want to be able to mimic whatever sounds I feel the birds are in the mood for and will respond to, from an aggressive, raspy yelp to a soft, cat-like purr.
Making your call
For louder, more aggressive stuff, I prefer a double-reed diaphragm call. The deeper and raspier, the better. This is my go-to, first-thing-in-the-morning call when I’m trying to locate a bird. I start by unleashing a heavy and hearty cackle followed by a long series of sharp yelps. It’s a response call. A, “Hey, I’m over here!” sound that will often have big toms gobbling in response very quickly and giving away their location. Once I have a potential target picked out, I’ll switch over to a cheaper single-reed diaphragm to hold in my mouth while I walk. As I move toward the bird and it moves toward me, I’ll yelp a few times with it, more softly and gently than before, just to get the bird to call back and let me know its location. Often enough I’ll have another, less dominant tom sound off when I’m doing this, and he’ll move in faster than the initial bird I called, hoping to get to the hen I’m mimicking sooner than his competition does.
Once I’ve found a good position to wait on the approaching birds, I’ll set up a decoy or two and then switch to a slate or box call, though I prefer a slate. Of all the calls out there, I believe that I can make the softest and most gentle feeding yelps and purrs with these calls, communicating to the approaching tom that this is as far as I’m going to come with a few flicking scratches. Once I’m sitting and getting ready to shoot an oncoming bird, I’ll switch back to the cheaper diaphragm and make gentle yelps and purrs down in the back of my throat. This serves to eliminate any movement I would otherwise make working the box or slate call and it reassures the birds, getting them to come in even if they suddenly decide to clam up.
Using your voice
While the man-made turkey calls are fantastic tools, there is no better one to use then your own voice. Though it takes a lot of practice to master, and though it’s best to practice alone to avoid being committed to a mental health institution, once you figure it out, your voice will sound better at making the natural sounds of the forest than just about anything you can buy in the store. And I’m not just talking about turkey sounds, either.
One of the most important calls in the woods a turkey hunter can make is the hoot of a barred owl. Nothing shocks gobblers into sounding off at first light better. You’ve probably heard it before, a long “Hoo hoo hoo (pause). Hoo hoo hoo HOOOOOO!” that drops in pitch on the long “hoo” at the end. It’s an easy call to mimic with practice, and it is a fantastic early morning weapon to have in your arsenal. Listen to recordings of it, listen for it when you’re in the woods, and start doing your best to emulate it to get birds to respond back. It not only helps in finding roosting gobblers at first light, but it gives you a lot of street cred with the turkey-hunting fraternity.
Aside from turkey calls and owl hoots, learning to impersonate other natural sounds with your voice can do a lot to help bag your bird. The bark of a squirrel, the cooing of a dove, or the caw of a crow are all sounds found in nature that can be heard when humans aren’t around. They’re sounds made when the forest is in a relaxed state, and by making them you can reassure an approaching tom that there is no danger where he’s headed.
Mixing and matching
Everyone has a preferred approach when it comes to turkey hunting: sounds and methods that they rely on and have a lot of confidence in. But by expanding your arsenal of calls and learning to master and mix your calls on the good and easy days, you can better increase your odds on the tough ones, helping to guarantee you’ll bag a bird on whatever day of the season you choose.