In the misty mountains of western Maryland, I’d been working a gobbler all morning. He was on the verge of coming in — I could just feel it — and the excitement was becoming unbearable.
Suddenly, … “Yap-yap-blap blap blap!”
“What the … !” I spat.
“Yap-yap-yap blap blap!”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d been working this bird all week, and just as success was about to be mine, some moronic amateur was marching in on me, calling his fool head off. And he didn’t even sound like a turkey!
I gathered up my stuff and, percolating with indignity, started up to confront my unworthy adversary. I headed toward the yelping and then out from the bushes stepped … a real live hen turkey! She let out a squawk that really didn’t sound like a turkey either, and beat feet straight in the direction of the gobbling, which immediately ended.
Among several lessons learned that morn is that you don’t have to sound like a turkey-calling champ because frankly, real turkeys only accidentally sound like that. You can succeed with reasonable facsimiles of turkey calls, but you do need to avoid a litany of other mistakes.
Over the years, and many trials and error, these are the main turkey calling mistakes I’ve learned to avoid.
This may sound contrary to my opening anecdote, but what I didn’t mention is that the gobbler would gobble at my conservative clucks, but not at the yapping and blapping real hen. Why? Probably because he knew she was a pushover, eager and coming in. Or maybe he was skeptical. Because while it’s true that some hens are yackety-yacks, most aren’t. Loudmouth turkeys have for eons attracted the drooling attention of coyotes and bobcats, and systematically been taken out of the gene pool.
2. Calling With Little Variation
I’ve noticed most callers get into a pattern, or rut. They call with the same sequence of yelps every time, or start with five yelps followed with three clucks, whatever. I have hunting buddies I can identify in the woods from their calling. If I can, so can a gobbler with nothing else to do but discriminate between real hen sounds and those that might get him killed.
3. Failing to Cop The Attitude
Many callers can’t help putting a human spin on their calling. Their calling seems to make a statement, or have a logical sequence, or an emotional appeal. If you consider turkeys are second cousins to the lizard, you will start to get the idea. Turkeys don’t call in sequences or tail off neatly — they are random and stop in “mid-sentence.” They don’t plead; they speak with a reptilian coldness. Cop that attitude.
4. Using The Wrong Volume
Calling too loudly or too softly can kill your chances. Too loud, and you can startle a close-range bird and he may not recover. Much more common is for a hunter to not realize he’s calling too softly and is never heard. Terrain, foliage, weather, other noise, wind direction, and call type all play a part. It’s typical for hunters using mouth diaphragms to think they’re calling louder than they are.
5. Fixing What Ain’t Broke
Don’t call to a bird that’s coming in, trying to persuade him of something he’s already convinced!
6. Calling When You’re Not Set Up
Lazy or reckless walking around and calling has done more for turkey conservation than the NWTF! Hunters who commit this offense occasionally know they’ve been caught off-guard, but gobblers often come in swiftly and silently, and can bust you and be gone without you ever knowing it. Always think that any call may attract a gobbler and be ready for it.
7. Lacking The Cackle
In my experience, the one thing that can motivate a lazy or skeptical tom is an excited, rapid-fire cackle that rises and falls in pitch. It’s known by different names, sometimes the breeding cackle or a variation of cutting. It works, so if it’s not in your arsenal, add it.
8. Failing To Employ A Variety Of Calling Devices
Each has its own sound, advantages, and pitfalls. Some birds just respond better to one than another. If you get stuck on one kind of call, you are handicapped. For examples, a diaphragm may not provide the volume you need in some situations, and, of course, a box call can be a liability in close work.
9. Poorly Working The Trees
Two calling scenarios most important for success is roosting birds in the evening, and calling to them the next morning. Experiment with shock calls to get gobblers to betray their locations. Practice your tree yelp to seal the deal at daybreak.
Among the lessons I learned in the opening anecdote is having some humility: Not thinking I knew everything, not jumping to conclusions, and realizing that things are not necessarily what they seem. Keep an open mind and use caution when entering the mysterious world of the wild turkey.
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