Doggone it, you’ve tried to play fair.
You’ve set peg to pot, run half-ovals across the surface and hammered sweet yelps into the hills. You’ve placed paddle to sound board and popped hair-raising cutting through the timber. Heck, you’ve even taken that little push-pin call and sent barely audible purring into the morning air.
And then he doesn’t respond or come in.
No doubt, it’s a rare day when Mr. Tom plays by the rules or follows the script. But other than belly-crawling or a feeder full of corn, what are your options for retaliation? This spring, try turning the tables on him by using some dirty tricks with your box and friction calls.
Before we get into details, I’ll give my standard disclaimer: Experience, woodsmanship, scouting and setups are more important than calling when it comes to killing turkeys. But if everything else is equal, a superior, more versatile caller will rack up more beards and spurs through the years.
Here’s how to expand your box- and friction-calling horizons and throw fair play out the window.
Friction calls typically come with one or several strikers, and most hunters stick with that factory pairing. Hey, they’ve been tuned for each other, right?
Sure, but it’s not a sacred bond. When I get a new friction call, I’ll usually run it with the associated striker. Then, I’ll run it with pretty much every other striker I’ve acquired through the years. The differences in sound are amazing.
I experiment until I find a favorite striker/call combination. Then, I switch to strikers made with other types of wood (rosewood to hickory, for example). Often, I’ll get a different yet equally good sound from the call.
Then, I note which strikers run particularly well with each call and keep switching them up during spring — often in the same day or even the same calling sequence. That way, I can sound like several turkeys instead of one and might find the exact sound or pitch that drives a gobbler mad. As an added bonus, it’s much easier to carry several strikers in your vest rather than numerous striker/call combos.
When the forecast calls for rain, I make two adjustments. First, I hedge my bets and shift my focus toward fields and other open areas. Second, I leave my good wooden calls and strikers in the truck and grab my rain vest.
My favorite wooden boxes, strikers and friction calls do not see rain. They’re too valuable. If a wooden striker gets soaked, it will never sound the same and is essentially ruined.
Of course, I rely heavily on mouth calls during rainy days, but I make sure to have a special vest loaded with good-sounding waterproof boxes, and synthetic strikers and friction calls. Typically, I’ll carry one or two boxes, one glass and one aluminum call, and several carbon or metal strikers I can use on each pot. I prefer louder models so my calling can cut through the rain, wind and other aural clutter in the woods.
Not only does this let me run several types of calls during poor weather, but it gets me out of a rut and forces me top throw different sounds at turkeys. Often, that change-up makes a big difference.
Knowledgeable callers always tell beginners to keep the striker on the calling surface of a pot, even during the backstroke of yelps, clucks, cackling and cutting. And they’re right — with one exception.
If you’re trying to strike turkeys in big country or hilly terrain, try lifting your striker off the surface of an aluminum or other synthetic call, and smack it down hard to cluck and cutt. The sound is louder and will have sort of a wooden knock. It’s not sweet, but it sure echoes off the hillsides and can prompt a shock-gobble.
Warning: Limit this to aluminum or similar synthetic-surface pots. If you smack your glass or slate call too hard, you might ruin it.
While trying to strike gobblers, you can also change up your yelps on a friction call.
Instead of running standard yelps with a technically perfect rhythm, bear down on the striker, and slowly pull it toward the center of the call, producing a long, loud, drawn-out “super yelp.”
Skeptical? I’ve seen it work from South Carolina to Texas. Sure, it’s not something you want to try when legitimately working a turkey, but if you’re desperate for a shock-gobble, it might do the trick.
Often, when folks run a new box call, they’ll scrape the paddle slowly over the sound board to hear the tone and find the call’s breaking point. Then, they speed up the motion to produce the familiar “kee-yawk” of a box. However, it’s not a bad idea to leave that extra-long whine prefix in your woods-calling repertoire.
Hens make all sorts of soft whines, whistles and other sounds beyond the standard yelp, cluck and cackle. Adding a bit of that to a calling sequence can elicit thunderous responses from gobblers.
Start with the paddle a bit farther back on the sounding board than if you were beginning a yelp. Then, slowly drag it forward, creating that squeaky, high-pitched whine. Continue the motion to transition into a yelp.
Some callers take that a step farther and make two or three whines (almost like a kee-kee) before going into a yelping sequence.
After a while, producing a whine or two on your box will become second nature. And it actually helps set your rhythm for a yelping sequence.
Most box-callers produce clucks, cutting and cackles by popping the paddle up from the sound board or smacking it swiftly onto the board. The latter produces loud, raucous clucks and cutting, and the former is softer and more subtle.
Trouble is, many folks forget about another time-honored method: tapping the paddle with one hand and controlling the paddle’s travel with the other. This allows for greater control and produces rich, full-sounding clucks, cutting and cackles. The sound is almost a happy medium between the soft clucks produced by lifting the paddle off the sound board and the loud, aggressive clucks made by smacking the paddle across the board.
Start by holding a box in your left hand, assuming you’re right-handed, and pull the paddle back to where you’d normally start a clucking sequence. Instead of grasping the paddle with your right hand, use your fingertips to slap it swiftly and firmly across the sound board, stopping the paddle with your left thumb. Then, quickly yet gently push the paddle back across the board — without lifting it off — to the starting position, and repeat the process.
This takes some practice at first. You don’t want to slap the paddle too hard and far, nor do you want to leave it short. Find the right length of travel that produces full clucks that aren’t too long. Also, your left thumb will sometimes return the paddle too aggressively, lifting it off the sound board. You’ll soon learn the right amount of return pressure.
After you get comfortable with the technique, you can rip off awesome roller-coaster cutting sequences yet transition immediately into soft clucks.
Don’t neglect one of the biggest advantages provided by boxes and friction calls: the ability to produce the illusion of movement.
Hens don’t typically sit in one place and yelp their heads off. Even if they’re vocal, they’re usually walking or feeding. The illusion of movement makes your calling seem more natural.
If you’re sitting, point your call left, right or even behind you to cast the sound and make it seem like the hen is moving. Fade your yelps to imitate a hen walking the other direction. If a gobbler is hung up, moving a few yards to a new setup can also make it seem like the hot little hen is on the move.
I don’t need to tell you that these dirty tricks won’t guarantee success. However, they give you more options in the woods and might just make the difference between a flopping gobbler and another long drive home.
That’s really all you can ask when birds start playing dirty.