Every turkey hunter loves to yelp, cluck, cutt, cackle and kee-kee, but do you know what you’re saying, or are you just making noise? We asked some champion turkey callers and elite hunters how they communicate with gobblers.
1. Don’t Be Boring. Spice Things Up!
Ernie Calandrelli is the public relations manager for Quaker Boy, and he believes most turkey hunters often fall into boring, same-sequence calling patterns. However, realizing that is good because it prompts change.
“Think about your younger years when you were talking to girls,” he said. “The ones that seemed excited to talk to you took you up another level of confidence, and the ones that could have cared less made you want to go home and bury your head in a pillow. When I catch myself getting boring, I step it up to try to get a response.”
He also varies his calling sequences based on the terrain and his approach.
“If I’m at a field edge where I can hear for miles, I usually let it fly to try to get a response from somewhere,” he said. “If I’m in big woods on a saddle with a few great-looking ravines and there’s no wind, a soft, subtle call will carry for a great distance down through the hollows.
“When cutting and running, I always start soft because some gobblers will only gobble when you’re close. If you’ve moved 200 yards from your last calling position and a gobbler is heading your direction, but you don’t know it, you don’t want to blow him out of the area with your first call.”
Likewise, Calandrelli listens carefully to determine a bird’s mood, which will determine how he’ll respond.
“With henned-up turkeys, I try to fire the lead hen up with hard cutting and yelps,” he said. “If you can make her mad, you have a chance of her coming to run you out of her territory, and the gobbler will follow.”
“If a gobbler is responding hot to every call and is getting closer, I pour the coals to him until just before he’s in sight. If he gobbles occasionally to my calling, I back off the calling to try to tease him. I vary my calling to the bird according to his reactions, like if he started hot and then cooled down or started cool and is heating up.”
2. Strategy Is Key
Tad Brown from Flambeau Outdoors/M.A.D. Calls said he usually starts calling with basic, low-key sequences.
“I typically approach it with a minimum of calling and volume,” he said. “I only want to call as loud and often as I need to if the bird is responding. I’m also pretty simple in my calling sequences: typically whiny yelps with low-key cutting. When guiding another hunter … I’ll use slate-call purrs, but very seldom.”
But like Calandrelli, Brown often shifts tactics based on the situation.
“I call aggressively when cold-calling, preferring a blind to do this,” he said. “I simply cutt, yelp and gobble, and I do it often and loudly. I believe if there’s a bird in the area, he’ll eventually respond — if you have time to wait.
“When I’m cutting and running, I’m doing just that — covering ground and calling aggressively every 50 yards. Yes, 50 yards is not very far, but it’s like a gobbler that’s doing his own version of cutting and running. He’s on the move, gobbling every little bit.”
A longbeard’s reaction is critical to how Brown continues calling.
“With a henned-up turkey, I get aggressive with yelping and cutting to either pull the tom away or pull the hen in, hoping she’ll bring the tom,” he said.
“Hot turkeys are my favorite, but not all hot birds respond. Lots of turkeys we refer to as hot gobble their heads off but won’t come. Getting tight and letting him know where you’re at is the key.”
And for extra-tough gobblers, Brown reaches into his bag of calling tricks.
“I like scratching in the leaves,” he said. “It’s the best close call you can make if you can do it without being seen. Otherwise, I like to offer jake yelps or gobbles on a tube call, even stretching it a bit and full-roll gobbling if the situation dictates. This has broken a lot of gobblers for me.”
Related: What Are Those Blasted Birds Saying?
3. Go For The Real Deal
Steve Stoltz, a world champion caller and pro-staffer with Knight & Hale, said he always bases his calling on what he hears from real turkeys.
“I try to create calling sequences that are extremely real every time I make a sound,” he said. “That said, I gauge my excitement level toward a situation. Listen to what the turkeys are offering, and play to that level of excitement. A great example is when a gobbler is henned up. Normally, he does not respond well to aggressive, rapidly paced calling. So you tone it down and give him soft turkey talk, sending him the message that when he’s through with his harem, there’s a hen over here willing and ready for him.”
Stoltz believes every gobbler will provide clues for subsequent calling sequences.
“Believe me, most gobblers will let you know how much and how aggressive they want to be called to,” he said. “In fact, many gobblers — especially pressured birds — prefer no call at all. The basic rule of thumb is if he’s answering by cutting off your calling and coming closer each time, keep giving it to him till he’s dead. On the other hand, if his gobbles come back a few seconds or longer after you call, chances are he has a hen or isn’t quite in the killing mood yet. You might try calling far more sparingly and play on his ego. If he starts to get in the right mood, he will head your direction in a hurry.”
Try these expert calling tactics this spring. With practice and experience, you’ll soon be having regular chats with gobblers.
Featured image: iStock