Many, many years ago when my brother and I were bow hunting on the White River Refuge in Arkansas, we came upon a flock of wild turkeys foraging in the woods. We had grown up hunting ducks and doves and deer, but had no experience with these huge reptilian birds. We hunkered down and watched them scratching and pecking and meandering across the hillside. They seemed like mythical creatures: 20 pound birds with coppery feathers, long serpentine necks, able to fly like quail, run like racehorses, and see like eagles. We were pretty much transfixed.
We bought turkey calls and went back the following April with shotguns. On a dark logging road, we split up, having no idea where the birds might be. He went one way, I went the other. He sat down in one spot, scraped his box call a few times, and some minutes later a jake and gobbler walked up. He managed to shoot the jake. All I found was a pile of feathers where a bobcat or coyote had dined on a turkey. We went back the next morning, and he shot another one. Again, I saw nothing. As Jimmy Carter said, life is unfair.
I spent the next 20 years or so trying to kill a turkey. In my meek defense, work kept me from hunting more than a few days a year, some years none at all. And, more importantly, I spent too much time hunting places that had too many hunters and not enough turkeys. Anyway, I am well qualified to share with you all the mistakes I made along the way:
First of all, learn to use at least two different types of calls. For reasons known only to the birds, some days one will work better than another. When I set up, I like to have a diaphragm call in my mouth, and start calling with a slate call. If the slate doesn’t get a response, I try the diaphragm, then a box call. When a gob gets close, you can use the diaphragm without moving your hands.
Go to the source. There are lots of instructional tapes and websites with turkey sounds, but the best way to learn is to spend time around real birds. If at all possible, get out and find a flock of wild turkeys and get close enough to hear them well. Pay attention to the pitch and cadence of their sounds, not just vocal sounds, but all the noises they make: scratching leaves, wings flapping, all of it. If you can’t get among wild birds, find some tame turkeys and imitate their sounds.
Less is more. Call no more than absolutely necessary. Pretend that it’s costing you serious money every time you hit a lick on that call, and save them up. Some of the best turkey hunters I know seldom call at all, and will often kill smart old gobblers without a call. There is no substitute for knowing the terrain well. Figure out where the birds are and where they want to be, and put yourself where they will come to you. Which brings me to my next point… (more…)