By Cole Daniels
With a light tug of the trigger and the boom of the Benelli, it was over. I pulled my facemask down and wiped the sweat off my brow. It wasn’t warm enough for mosquitos yet, but the trees were budding and the suspense of a 45 minute confrontation with this gobbler was enough to draw a few sweat beads from under my cap. There would be no fist pumping or squeals of joy on this morning. I was tired, relieved, and stiff. This old boy forced me to sit perfectly still for what seemed like hours. Blood flow was beginning to return to my feet and the shakes had set in. Thankfully, I have never been one to get the shakes before I pull the trigger… but afterwards is another story.
I felt I knew his gobble like life-long mortal enemies know each other‘s voice. We were arguing and bickering for much of the morning. I asked him to come visit. He insisted I visit him. We both edged a bit closer and did some more negotiating. I played hard to get and he just couldn’t handle it anymore.
One of the most exciting parts of turkey hunting is calling. Turkey hunting is all about the conversation. It’s almost like a date. The gobbler lets you know he’s interested and it’s up to you to know what to say and when to say it. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Most articles about turkey calling are about how to use a particular call. This one is about when and how to call birds while hunting.
If you are near the roosting area as the sun peaks over the horizon, wait to see what happens. If you are set up in the turkey’s favored strutting area, you may not need to call, especially if you are using a few decoys. On the other hand, if the birds seem to be hightailing in the opposite direction, I like to offer a few feeder clucks and I’ll use my hands to comb through last autumn’s fallen leaves. The goal here is to mimic a hen turkey feeding on her own. A gobbler may see this as an opportunity to mate without having to fight for dominance. If I still don’t get a response and I can no longer see birds, I’ll start yelping with a box or mouth call.
If there is still no response, you have to decide what kind of hunter you are. If you are the sit and wait kind of guy, get comfortable and do some yelping every 15 minutes or so. As hens start heading to their nests, gobblers get lonely and will start looking for love. I like to be mobile. Once the birds clear my area, I’ll continue yelping for about 30 minutes. If it looks like they have deserted me, it’s time to chase them down. Walk fence lines and use ridges to glass for their new location. Try a few yelps as you go to initiate a conversation with any stragglers.
Once a gobbler responds, ramp the calling way down. If it’s possible to set my decoy without being spotted, I will. Otherwise, just hunker down into cover and give him a few purrs or feeder clucks. If he responds to that, I shut the calling down. At this point, he knows there is a hen in the area. Give him five or ten minutes before you start purring again. If you get a response that seems closer than his last, let him walk into the trap. If he gets quiet, you may need to amp up the calling to fire him up again. If there is still no response, wait it out for a while longer. Sometimes a gobbler will go silent once he’s made the decision to seek a mate. If I see the bird approaching, I usually stop calling. At this point, I have visual contact and can see how he reacts to the setup. I can give him whatever medicine he needs. If the decoys are set, they will often do the job from this point.
As early afternoon sets in, hens begin looking for food. This is a good time to start calling hens. They will often times bring a gobbler right to your decoy set. Use clucks and purrs in conjunction with yelps. Yelps are the cheeseburgers of turkey calling. They do the job almost anytime even though most folks think they are too plain to satisfy. Almost every time a hen calls back to me she yelps. I simply copy her cadence. If it’s a five note yelp, I give her a five note yelp right back. As she changes her notes, I continue to mimic her. This is often enough to cause her to come check me out. This is the only legal way to use live decoys for turkey hunting. By this time, you’ve caused enough commotion to get the attention of some toms and she will lead them right to you. Girls can be so manipulative!
If my tag is still unfilled by the late afternoon, I’ll try to set up on a trail between the flock’s feeding grounds and their roost. Unless, weather is unstable or they have been under intense pressure, turkeys will roost in the same trees from night to night. If you know where they went during the day, there’s a good chance you will know where they will be coming from in the evening. I do not advocate setting up directly under their roost trees in the evening. By the time they get close enough to shoot, hunting hours may be over. Even worse, by shooting a turkey under their roost in the evening, you force the rest of the flock to find another roosting area. That may move them out of the area for several days or even weeks. Find an ambush point and wait for them there. Sometimes this is tough to do and I often miscalculate the route. However, just being set up at this time of day often allows me to see the trails they are using so that I can utilize that information during my next hunt.
As the sun sinks below the western sky, I’ll start using locator calls if I don’t have visual contact on any birds. Common locator calls include crow calls, owl calls, and gobble calls. While gobble calls can be effective in eliciting a gobble, they can also cause you to be mistaken for a turkey. For this reason, gobbles aren’t used widely. The goal at this point is just to find the birds and their roosting site for a morning hunt. I’m often gobbled at while walking back to the cabin or truck in the evening as well. The best advice would be to stop immediately, try to get a good location on the gobbling turkey’s tree, and take a different route out of the woods. You’ve just found a good spot to set up in the morning.
These tactics should provide a general understanding of how to call birds under typical hunting situations. Some people may have different experiences and advice. The best way to learn is to get into the turkey woods and try for yourself.
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