You can kill a turkey without making a call, but that’s like playing with yourself by throwing a tennis ball into the garage and hoping it bounces back. Hitting a gobbler while he’s walking, or not being able to get a single friend together to throw a ball, are kind of disappointing.
I can’t help you with the latter, but if you’re hesitant to call for any reason, there’s hope. Speaking turkey is a rocket science, but there are a few loose rules that will keep you in more productive conversations. The first begins with an old piece of advice that bears repeating.
too much too soon
I grew up hunting turkeys when the advice was to howl three times an hour and then shut up. It was terribly boring, and not entirely productive. It also pushed me into a counter kind of thinking, decidedly against the idea that less is more. That works on certain birds, but it’s not always the best move. As with most things in life, the best balance lies somewhere in the middle.
Tennessee native and outdoors writer Brodie Swisher also believes in that saying. “We all love to hear gobble,” Swisher said. “But if we call just to get a response, we often introduce a hen who is so excited the cat will think she’s on her way.”
This is the natural order of things and often results in a bird closing in and gobbling from one spot before losing interest. “The thing about this is if you’re paying too much, you’re just presenting too much emotion,” Swisher said. “So, I force myself to shut up more and more even though I desperately want to hear him respond.”
I said well?
Another mistake many turkey hunters make is not trusting that their turkey talk is working. Much has been said, but when a tom answers you, he knows where you are. Like, exactly where you are. He may be tied up right now with better prospects, but there’s a decent chance he’ll eventually pass.
“It’s so easy to talk yourself into moving too fast,” Swisher said. “When he does, he increases his chances of getting arrested, or ending up in a new place only to hear his bird gobble up right next to the last tree he had his back against.”
The best way to combat this common faux pas is to practice singing and learn to listen to real birds. The more confident you are in what you say, the easier it will be to wait for a passing bird that responded earlier but decided to stop gobbling.
One of the reasons social media sucks is because we’re all doing the same thing. There is nothing unique about 99.9% of posts, so they mean nothing to us. This might be a bad comparison, but the turkey call often falls into the same category. Of course, you can call many birds with verbatim sequences of howls, or technically perfect purrs, clucks, and cuts, but there is something intangible about turkey speech that goes beyond simply sounding like a bird.
“I try to find a call, usually a mouth call, that allows me to put my own spin on sounds,” Swisher said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love box calls and blackboards, but there’s a lot of versatility in a mouth call.”
This strategy is Swisher’s answer to hunting pressured birds, and it’s mine as well. There is something to be said for calling with a certain inflection, which a mouth call allows, compared to what you can create with other calls. I know there are some people who can play beautiful music with any call they answer, but most people can’t.
That makes a mouth call the best option for learning how to add your own sound to the mix. Not only does this allow you to put some emotion into your turkey’s speech, but you can create every vocalization a turkey makes with a single call.
Better yet, you can use a mouth call in conjunction with other calls. My personal favorite combo is to sound like two chickens about to get mad at each other through a mouth call and a whiteboard or box. Whether you’re mastering that multitasking sequence or just really good with your chosen calls, it’s a matter of sounding different than your competition.
Most hunters think bug calling is something simple like cutting off when you want to hear a scream or using a soft-sounding slate call when a loud, raspy box call would be better. The truth is that it is not so simple. Over-calling, under-calling, not trusting your abilities, and following the same rules as all your competitors are actually the biggest offenses.