It's that time of year again: Spring Turkey Season. The cool, quiet mornings are starting to be punctuated by the unmistakable gobbles of the wild turkey.
Calling is the most popular turkey hunting method used in the spring. Spring is the time of year when male turkeys (Toms) respond to hens calling during the breeding season. Turkey hunters use a variety of calls to mimic various sounds a hen makes; like yelps, clucks, and purrs to convince that old Tom Turkey to come into range for a clean shot.
If you're relatively new to turkey calling, you may be intimidated by the huge vocabulary of sounds that wild turkeys can make. And, you might be even more intimidated by the wide range of turkey calls online and at your local sporting goods store.
The simple fact of the matter is that whether you're chasing Easterns in Pennsylvania, Osceolas in Florida, Rios in Texas, or Merriams in Nebraska - you can regularly kill mature gobblers with just one or two calls in your pocket. In short - calling turkeys just isn't as complicated as some would have you believe.
Now, that seems to be at odds with a lot of the information out there. You can find all kinds of contradictory information about calling and the different kinds of calls on the market. And everyone has an opinion on the "right" calling tactics. Just take a look over on YouTube and see all of the crazy information out there.
With a bit of practice, you can grab a turkey call or two, learn a few basic sounds, and get to the woods this year for an encounter and a fantastic time.
Probably the simplest and most versatile turkey call is the pot call. A good pot call or two is our favorite go-to calling tactic. Below, we'll run through several different kinds of calls and give some pros and cons - along with some pointers - for each.
In the end, the right call for you is the call that you can get to produce consistent sounds that make turkeys respond. It's really that simple.
A pot call gives you the greatest range of sounds with the least amount of learning time, without altogether eliminating the need to learn anything. After all, hunting is about education, right? If I had to hit the turkey woods with a single call, I would choose a pot call every time. Pot calls are my favorite call because they are extremely versatile.
Most pot calls consist of a shallow, circular wooden pot that holds a round disc of slate, glass, or aluminum. The caller holds a striker about the diameter of a pencil and rubs or scratches the disc to make various hen sounds. By changing the pressure and pattern of your striker on a pot call, you can make just about every hen noise sound like the real thing. It’s also easy to quickly make different hen noises to mimic more than one hen talking. Pot calls can make loud, raspy tones for long-range location calling or very quiet, subtle purrs to fool a gobbler into taking one more step.
Different gobblers will often react better to a certain tone and it’s easy to make adjustments with a pot call. Of the different styles of pot calls, I prefer slate because I think it sounds the most like real hen turkeys. Pot calls do require some small movements to operate so hunters should be very careful to hide their calling motion in their lap.
A pot call forces me to put the call down and get my shotgun lined up when a gobbler is closing in, which is a good thing. Many gobblers are killed because their curiosity drives them to search for a hen that suddenly went quiet. Even expert turkey hunters frequently use pot calls to kill gobblers in this manner.
The box call looks a bit like a small wooden casket with a handle attached to the top. In almost no time, even a beginner can master a basic hen yelp. Clucks and cuts take just a bit of practice but are also easy to learn. Box calls can be very loud, which is ideal for locating distant gobblers or cutting through a noisy wind. The box call is good for beginners because they’re easy to operate and make realistic noises. And box calls can be "tuned" to change the tone or volume of your calling.
A drawback is that a hunter must move to operate a box call. Turkeys have incredible eyesight and will head for the hills at the slightest sign of danger. And, who can blame them? Almost everything in the woods is looking to kill a turkey. Another drawback is that they can lack "nuance." They all tend to sound basically the same, and some hunters believe that pressured turkeys can get educated to the sound of box calls when they’re hearing from a lot of different hunters all making basically the same noises. One of the best beginner turkey hunting tactics is to sound off a few yelps with a box call, place it on the ground and wait patiently, silently and motionless for a tom to appear.
All that said, we always pack a box call in our vests before we head out. It's a good call if you're fighting a bit of wind, or if that Tom is hanging out over on the neighbor's property - you know you'll have the volume to reach out and speak to him.
Diaphragm or Mouth Calls
This is the choice of turkey-calling machines and experts everywhere. Diaphragm calls are made of a small plastic or metal frame that holds a pliable reed, or diaphragm. A hunter can use these calls by using tongue pressure to force air over the thin reed. Good callers can accurately mimic almost every hen turkey vocalization there is. The biggest advantage of diaphragm calls is that they be used without any movement that might give away your position to a sly gobbler.
Accomplished turkey callers often prefer diaphragm calls because, with a lot of practice, it’s absolutely possible for nearly anyone to make a wide range of very realistic hen sounds with different tones and volumes. But, make no mistake: they’re the hardest turkey call to master and you never really get done learning how to use them.
Many hunters use a diaphragm call in conjunction with a pot or box call to make a variety of turkey noises. First, they’ll use a hand-operated call to get a gobbler moving in their direction, and then, when the bird is closing in, they'll switch to a mouth call to avoid detection while still pulling the Tom into shooting range.
Locator calls aren’t meant to make turkey sounds but they do fall into the general category of turkey calls because you use them to kill the birds. In the springtime, the breeding activity gets toms fired up and territorial. They will often respond with a gobble to any loud noise that they hear. Hunters can use this behavior to locate distant Toms. There are several expert turkey hunters we know who intentionally slam the truck door when they reach their hunting location.
Coyotes howling, owls hooting, crows cawing, thunder clapping, rabbits squealing, even sonic booms from military aircraft, can all elicit loud gobbles. Locator calls mimic some of these sounds. A hunter can imitate certain locator noises by voice alone or by blowing into calls manufactured for the purpose. Some even use elk calls to locate gobblers. While you don't necessarily need a ton of turkey calls in your vest, it can be smart to have a couple of different types of locator calls on hand. Some sounds will excite a turkey and others won’t. It’s good to have options.
As you head to the field this spring, remember that calling a spooky gobbler into range is more about persistence and stealth than imitating perfect hen talk. More Toms are fooled by a patient, motionless hunter making the occasional series of quiet hen noises than the restless hunter who fidgets, changes location often, and calls too much. By mastering just a few key hen sounds on your chosen calling instrument and developing your woodsmanship skills, you’ll become a better and more successful turkey hunter.