As the snow dwindles and the gobblers become more visible, proudly strutting their stuff out in the open, we hunters get the turkey bug quickly. Most diehard hunters are looking to fill a void this time of year. We’ve been out of the field for three or four months and we need to get chasing something before we go crazy. What better way to curb our craving than to go chase some gobblers?
As noted in one of my other articles, titled “Picking your shot when bowhunting for wild turkey,” turkeys can be rather difficult to bag. They are finicky sometimes: They operate on their own schedule, have hawk-like vision, and always seem to know something is up before it’s too late. Other times, though, when the conditions are just right, it’s hard to not kill a turkey: They will come running in, practically asking to get blasted.
Bringing that strutter in is a joy, particularly because of the calling back and forth between hunter and prey. Turkeys are also referred to as “thunder chickens” for their booming gobbles, and when a big Tom really lets one out, it causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. Here’s how to get started going after these birds.
Blind or no blind?
Many hunters prefer to “run and gun” turkeys, meaning you sneak around calling until you get a response, then you set up with your decoys (sometimes without) and lean against a tree, hoping you can call them into range. Others set up with their blind in a likely turkey spot (perhaps they’ve seen them in that location before or they’ve killed one from that spot). This offers more concealment, but you’re also immobile.
The primary factor to consider when making this decision is what type of weapon you’re using. Bow? Use a blind. Gun? No blind. I wouldn’t overthink it beyond that, except in the case of hunting with a youngster—then a blind might prove a better option, even with a firearm. I have seen guys successfully harvest turkeys outside of a blind with a bow, but it is a dicey way to do it because the shots are typically farther and taken at turkeys leaving the hunter’s setup. Personally, I use the blind, but I’m also always using a bow. I plan to throw a challenge at myself this year and try a couple of sets without a blind.
What call should I use?
Turkeys have a very extensive vocabulary and there are multiple means of calling them in. Even an owl call (hooter owl call) can help you locate gobblers in the mornings while they are on roost. The turkey-calling world is vast, so let’s focus on the basics that work in most situations.
- Diaphragm calls: The biggest benefit to these is you can put them in your mouth, leaving your hands free. This is my preference, as I can call and draw my bow simultaneously. They are a little more challenging to master and definitely take some practice. They’re also inexpensive enough that I buy a new set every year; they seem to get saturated and nasty after a year in storage.
- Slate calls: These are two-part calls. They come with a “striker” which looks like a peg with a handle, and a “pot,” which is a circular piece the circumference of a small appetizer plate. This one takes a little practice to master, but can be very effective. You place your hands in different positions on the pot and stroke the slate at different angles and with different force to produce unique sounds. This call might be my top choice, assuming you don’t mind your hands being tied up.
- Box call: Maybe I am just not good at using these or I’ve had poor-quality box calls, but I could never get consistent results with them. There’s a hinged top that rubs against another piece of wood (where chalk is applied) and it produces different types of calls. This variant of call has been around forever and I know for a fact a number of long-beards have been killed using them.
Pick up these calls and play with them—see what feels right. Every call is going to be a little different. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for when it comes to calls.
“Mirror and match”—don’t over-call
You may have heard the term “mirror and match” when it comes to speaking with clients in the business world. I believe this can be applied to calling turkeys, too. If the birds are silent, don’t call repeatedly unless you want to blow them out of your hunting spot. You want to be as lifelike as possible, so what better way to do that than to match what you hear?
Say it’s a quiet morning in the woods and you’re blind calling. If you are trying to locate the flock or wandering Toms, you shouldn’t just hammer on your call every 90 seconds because, again, that’s not realistic. Most of the time turkeys aren’t just walking around sounding off. You need to space your calling out until you get a response. I like calling once every 15 minutes or so until I get a response back. At that time you can start to hear how the bird is responding—then match them from there. Of course, if the Tom is sounding off with a big gobble or cutting back with every hit of your call, keep those calls fired up.
Every time I get to talking about hunting turkeys I get a big smile on my face. I’ve had so much fun out in the woods chasing them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a successful hunt or a total botch, every hunt has still been memorable. Don’t get discouraged when they outsmart, bust, or beat you out in the field, because they will. I’ve been beaten by turkeys so many times it’s hard to even count. I don’t care what anyone says, they are hard to harvest. But don’t give up because knocking a gobbler down is worth every ounce of effort put in and it’ll get the heart pumping.