I like to watch turkey hunting videos and listen to how those hunters talk to the toms. The video always shows them constantly talking to these birds, and they come running in, but I understand too much calling is bad. I have called in a few toms where I have made them come looking for me, but I have always wondered if I have been too passive on the birds that stay out of reach. So when does calling to these toms become too much or too little? — Michael, via email
Excellent question, Michael. First, let’s discuss videos. I love turkey hunting footage as much as anyone, but even videographers will tell you those scenes do not accurately represent most turkey hunts. Birds don’t always scream their way to the gun or work in perfectly. You’ll work and kill many turkeys between those video-star birds.
Your question about calling is an age-old dilemma. My standard advice is to take a bird’s temperature. If a gobbler cuts off your yelping or hammers back at aggressive cutting, keep the heat on him. As long as he’s gobbling and moving toward you, everything’s going well. Conversely, if a bird gobbles at every third or fourth series of calls you throw out, you’ll want to pull in the reins a bit and use softer, infrequent calling. Play coy and disinterested, hopefully sparking a gobbler’s sense of machismo or curiosity.
If a bird is staying out of reach and not responding to the make-him-search-for-the-hen strategy, try something different. Ratchet up the intensity of your calling with excited yelps and cutting. If he still doesn’t respond, throw in some kee-kees or kee-kee runs. If that doesn’t work, challenge him with a jake yelp, jake gobble or gobble. If a bird gobbles but hangs up and won’t come closer, shut up for at least 30 minutes. This doesn’t always do the trick, but I’ve seen it work many times. The bird’s curiosity eventually gets the best of him, and he’ll break and come in for a look.
Two final notes: Your calling always sounds better when you’re where a gobbler wants to go anyway. You might whip a gobbler into a froth with sweet yelping, but if he doesn’t want to walk to your calling position, you’ve accomplished nothing. Likewise, I’ve heard some awfully bad calling — and lots of it — from great setups that resulted in dead birds. Scout hard to find where gobblers like to travel, loaf, strut and hang out.
Also, work hard to identify what I call ideal calling positions or what writer Mark Strand terms “kill spots.” Basically, look for areas where a gobbler cannot see the source of the calling (you) until he’s within range. I always like to set up 25 to 35 yards from small terrain rises, bends in logging roads, large clumps of foliage or similar features that prevent a gobbler from looking at the source of the calling. When you’re hidden by such features, it’s natural that a gobbler cannot see the hen he’s hearing, and he’ll have no reservations about approaching. When he reaches a spot where he instinctively knows he should see the hen, he’ll almost always stop and periscope his neck. If you’re 30 yards away, the hunt is done.
Conversely, if you call from the edge of an open field or through open woods, a gobbler can look at you from 200 yards and determine there is no bird there, which is not natural. He might gobble, but he won’t come in range. The exception, of course, occurs when you use a decoy to provide visual reassurance. But even that is no cure-all.
Take a gobbler’s temperature, try something different if nothing seems to work, and scout hard for gobbler hangouts and ideal calling spots. You’ll find more gobblers seem to love your yelping this spring.
— Brian Lovett