Hunting Call Shy Turkeys

by Cole Daniels

The term “call shy” is often used by hunters trying to make sense of turkeys that won’t budge no matter what we do to entice them. The only thing more frustrating than not seeing any turkeys is seeing turkeys that won’t respond. Gobblers usually get call shy later in the season after they have had a few experiences with turkey hunters. Wild animals may not fully understand what is going on but they do know when danger exists. Their success as a species depends on it.

call shy gobblersHowever, even birds that haven’t been pressured can become call shy. If the dominant gobbler is still ruling the roost, subordinate toms may be reluctant to come to a call. The big boy may have beaten them up a few times when they tried to respond to hen talk. I’ve also witnessed jakes gang up on gobblers. After a few fights some toms will crawl into a shell. Later in the season, gobblers will also become more reluctant to respond to calling because breeding season is coming to an end. If there is no payoff, there is no reason to pursue a hen.

Turkey hunting isn’t easy. Even the best turkey hunters fail more than they succeed. Try the following techniques the next time a gobbler gives you the cold shoulder. There is a good chance these tips will help. But keep in mind turkeys have their own agenda and sometimes it really doesn’t matter what you do.

Stop Calling
I’m a big advocate of probing calls. If there are no turkeys around, rake some leaves around with your hands and rip some loud yelping and cutting. If it’s windy, the leaf trick doesn’t work and you will need to amp up your yelping. A box call is best in windy situations. Try to sound like several hens feeding by switching up the paddle and pointing the box call in different directions while calling. Do this for two or three minutes every 15 minutes until you get a response.

If a tom gobbles at your calling, hush up for a while. Let him make the next move. Most hunters get impatient and try to talk a gobbler in. Playing hard to get is the way to go. If you don’t see or hear him in another 15 to 20 minutes, try another set of probing calls to see if he’s still interested. If he’s moving closer, let him. If there is no response continue with the probing calls every 15 minutes. Once you get a visual, let him do his thing. He believes there is a hen in the area and will eventually come to the decoy if he doesn’t see you. Sometimes a gobbler will come running and sometimes he will take his time. In many cases it really doesn’t matter if you call to him or not at this point. If turkeys seem to be call shy, your best bet is to put the call down and get your gun ready.

Be In The Right Spot
The best way to kill a call shy gobbler is to be where you don’t need to call. Hunt spring gobblers like they are fall turkeys. Look for their travel routes and be where they want to be. Use all those failures to your advantage. When you see turkeys but can’t talk them into visiting your decoys, watch where they go. I’m not talking in general. Be specific. Watch for the exact spot in a field they strut in. Pinpoint the location in a barbed wire fence they duck under. They use that spot for a reason and will use it again. Turkeys are just as predictable as deer, if not more. If you are where the turkeys want to be, you won’t need a call.

Sometimes it will take awhile for a gobbler to come back to a spot like that, particularly a strutting zone. If weather conditions change or birds get pressured they may alter their activity but will eventually come back to their favored haunts. A fence line crossing is one of the best places to hunt because several flocks will use that same spot. But you can’t hunt it if you’re not there. Invest in a quality turkey seat that you can sit on all day long. If you know you’re in the right spot, hunt out of a blind. A blind will allow you to hunt comfortably all day. You can bring a cooler or browse the net on your smart phone to fight boredom. Better yet, bring a kid along. Turkey hunting is great for kids because you don’t have to be totally silent and scent isn’t a problem. Nothing wrong with a quiet conversation in the turkey woods.

I’m still not convinced turkeys ever become call shy. They just become harder to hunt. Switching up tactics is usually all it takes to increase success. Don’t be afraid to call a timeout. I’ve often found myself trying things during a hunt that in retrospect I realize were bad ideas. Slow down and think out the situation. With some thought, solutions become simple… after all, we’re hunting turkeys. How smart can they be?

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Meet Cole Daniels:

Cole cut his teeth hunting whitetails in Southwest Wisconsin and mulies in western states.  He also enjoys waterfowling, upland bird hunting, and fishing.  When Cole isn't pursuing game, he fits in some time to work at a major manufacturing firm as human resource manager.