Learning Or Teaching The Finer Art Of Talking Turkey

As one that has been building turkey calls for decade, I have a love affair some would say with how turkeys communicate. I discovered long ago if you want to be successful in the spring woods you need to sound like a turkey. Notice I said “sound” like a turkey.

Some of the turkey hunters I know couldn’t win a turkey-calling contest. Heck, some of the live hens I have witnessed communicating in their natural habitat couldn’t win a turkey-calling contest. Now I am not saying that calling contests are bad, because they aren’t, but what I am attempting to relay is that one doesn’t have to be the best caller to call in and kill a wild turkey. What one needs is basic knowledge of how to call, the types of different calls to use, and when and where to use them. When I speak of different types of calls to use I am not speaking for the variety of turkey calls on the market but the sounds that turkeys make and when and where they make them.

Understanding the difference between a cluck, yelp and purr are good places to start. Once one knows what each call means we are beginning to talk turkey. I’ve heard a lot of hunting stories about what works and what doesn’t, and seen and heard a lot of different types of calls. But at the end of the day, what really makes or breaks a turkey calling approach is patience and discipline. If you don’t know how to effectively call in a turkey, your best bet at harvesting one would be to abandon the call altogether. If you aren’t well-versed in the art, you’ll probably just end up doing more damage than anything, as subpar sounds, or a misunderstanding of how much to call can completely blow your cover. With that said, a little practice will make you a better caller. The key is to only bring your turkey calls into the woods with a substantial amount of preparation, meaning you shouldn’t go light on research or practice.

Before you get started, though, the first thing you must decide is what kind of call you want to use, as turkey hunting presents an embarrassing number of options. Perhaps the easiest calls for beginners to learn on are push-button calls and box calls, which are very simple to operate, but limit you to fewer sounds.

If you want a little more versatility, you can move up to a pot call. These aren’t that much harder to use and allow you to make just about any sound you want, which attracts both beginners and experts. As with any call, only after you’ve mastered both sounds and cadence — notice I mentioned cadence here — will you want to advance to a diaphragm call, as these aren’t the easiest to learn. However, once you do get the hang of them, you don’t have to use your hands, which will enhance your ability to remain stealthy.

As soon as you’ve selected your call, you can start focusing on mastering the craft. Here are some of the best things to do to improve your ability to call in a big gobbler. First and foremost you have to practice your turkey calling. If you’re an archery hunter, you would think of heading to the woods opening day with a lot of practice, at least if you’re an ethical one. Then why would a turkey wait until the day before the spring season opening to work on your calling?

You wouldn’t.

I believe calling turkey is truly an art form, which I personally work on year-round. A turkey hunt is like a play or concert where we don’t know the ending to. As turkey hunters, I feel like a conductor, using all the instruments — turkey calls — at my disposal to get to the end. Now oftentimes the conductor makes a mistake and, hopefully, they can fix it or play right through it. Either way, they are in charge, and their ending is either going to be a good one or not.

I know this might sound like something you expect to hear from a callmaker, but variation really is a key part of turkey hunting, especially if you only have a small area to hunt in. Turkeys are very smart, and they will get used to the sound of your calls. If you only have one call and use it over and over, the turkey will stop responding, and eventually run the other way when they hear you calling.

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: If you haven’t learned it yet, variation can be one of the keys to your success. Variation can be as simple as using a different type of wood as a striker on a pot call. Different woods or striker types give a different sound on the same pot call. This one thing will make that same pot call you when working for seasons sound totally different.

Or, you can be like me and thousands of other hunters and carry a large selection of different types of calls, hence the need for a good turkey vest. Either way, by varying your calling and getting different tones out of your call, you can increase your success this spring. While this can get heavy and cumbersome, it can also lead to great results if you know how to use all of the calls together.

Hunters sometimes get the wrong impression about using turkey calls. You don’t have to call every 30 seconds. I think this comes from a lack of patience and from seeing hunting shows where it appears that is what they are doing, but you must remember, they tend to edit out the boring parts. We have a general rule of calling no more than every 15 minutes if the gobblers are not talking. Have you all ever heard a hen just stand in the woods and yelp continuously, so why would that be what I imitate?

Sometimes you will need to use your calls as loud as possible. For example, if you are trying to locate turkeys, or if it’s a windy day and you can see them at a distance would both be good times to try to get full volume from your turkey calls?

Recently we experienced an example of this very situation. Earlier this year I received a call from a longtime client, and he shared with me a planned upcoming hunt he is going on in the Midwest. I’m fortunate enough to have hunted the same state he was going to and knew a little about the lay of land and type of hunting he would be doing. He was looking for a pot call that would carry, but one that would be good for close also. Knowing exactly what he needed, we set out to build one for him. What we built was a pot call that he had just dreamed of. This custom pot call sported a hand-turned padauk pot with a crystal surface over black carbon fiber sounding board. This call will sing loud and soft. Well, as luck would have it, I too will be doing some traveling this spring to chase Rio’s and Merriam. After hearing the call, I figured that would work well in some of the situations once my hunts begin, so I built one for myself.

One evening a couple weeks back while eating dinner staring out the back picture window watching the deer and birds, I noticed a black spot out by the gas wellhead. Being kind of crazy about black spots at a distance, I jumped up and grabbed my binos, which happened to be sitting on the dining room table (told you I’m not right). The single black spot turned into several turkeys feeding in a field a few hundred yards out.

The old me would’ve immediately grabbed a call to see if I could get a response. The older version of me finished the meal that RJ had spent time preparing, helped pick up dinner dishes, then jumped up, grabbed a call and asked RJ to look through the binoculars at the turkeys as I called to see if they would react to my new fancy call. As I let loose with a few loud yelps and cuts, I could see with the naked eye that the birds were not feeding separately, but looked like they were getting together.. After a short series of yelps, RJ responded that they looked like they were heading to the ravine between us and them. After confirming the same through the binos, I called once more while we stood and waited. Nothing happened and the birds went out of our sight. We went back inside and continued with post-dinner chores.

Something told me to go look again. At this point I spotted four heads in the field behind the house as the birds cut the distance in half. Tapping on the kitchen window, RJ quietly came outside to stand beside me as we watched four redheads working through into our backyard a mere 20 yards from where I originally called from.

While this was a really cool watch, I learned several things from this little situation. I designed and built a pot call that in the right situation will call turkeys a few hundred yards out. Those birds knew exactly where the sound from the call — made only for a few seconds from within a few yards — was coming from. More importantly, the smile on RJ’s face was priceless as those birds came within yards of her, as another gobbler sounded off down the road.

But when you are actively calling a turkey and getting a response, soften up. Remember, most of your calling is as a hen that is supposed to be enticing a gobbler to come towards her. Soft yelps, clucks and purrs tend to get the job done a lot better than just yelping as loud as possible. Not only will friction/pot calls get the job done, working with different striker calls will give your pot call a different tone.

The last piece of advice I have is to know when to stop calling. If you have a longbeard coming across a field directly towards you, you don’t need to keep calling. Put down your calls and just wait.

Years of hunting and studying the wild turkey have taught me many things, but the one that stands out the most is the word “patience.” Being patient and waiting for the right time to call to move to shoot will do more to help your success than anything. Try using a little more patience this spring. I’ll bet you it pays off. Plus, what else do you have to lose? You really don’t want to go home and the mow yard anyway.


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