THE EVERYDAY HUNTER: So, you’re not a great caller?
That’s OK. You don’t need to be.
For a long time, waterfowl and predators were popular targets of the game caller’s skills. In those cases, game calling was about one of two things. It was saying “Hey, everybody, head over here – it’s party time!” Or it was about making sounds that drew a Pavlovian response from a hungry fox or coyote.
Then along came the 60’s and 70’s. When spring turkey seasons were created in the north, hunters became entranced with communicating one-on-one with a game animal.
That’s what makes calling spring gobblers different. It’s a fascinating interaction with a wild animal. It’s sending a message in the vocabulary of the wild turkey. It’s a conversation – comments and responses.
Back in the days when turkey hunters were feeling our way along, so-called experts gave us advice that seemed to make sense. I remember reading that a turkey caller should give three yelps and shut up, that if you scared a gobbler one day he’d probably stay scared for the rest of the season, and that if you made a bad sound you might as well give up – your hunt was over.
Now we know none of that is true. Three yelps will work, but often one yelp works, or a dozen. And not just yelps. We’ve learned to make contented purrs, loud cackles and several other calls. All of them have variations in tone, clarity and volume. And they have meaning.
If you scare a gobbler, he might be difficult to call in for the rest of that day, but he’ll still respond. You can shoot at him, even sting him with shotgun pellets, and he’ll come to the call as soon as the next day, if not sooner. So, scaring a gobbler does not mean game over.
And if you make a bad sound, that’s not the end of the rodeo. In fact, bad sounds are characteristic of turkeys. Most seasoned turkey hunters have heard some unspeakable sounds come from turkeys, but do we really know if they are bad sounds? They might actually sound pretty good to other turkeys.
So, the lesson is this: practice your calling. It can make a big difference. It’s no accident that the best callers bring home the most gobblers. But it’s also true that relatively unskilled callers can do well too, if they do the other things right.
What are those “other things”? You learn them by going hunting as often as you can. What you learn one day may help you kill that gobbler another day. It’s called “woodsmanship,” and woodsmanship has killed turkeys when calling couldn’t.
Specific to calling, I offer only two bits of advice:
1. Don’t be anxious. The voice is a billboard for anxiety. You know that because you’ve seen anxious speakers stand up before a crowd and you’ve heard the nervousness in their voices. If your calls sound anxious you’ll get less response from gobblers. Turkeys aren’t tense when they’re calling to other turkeys. You shouldn’t be either.
2. Don’t worry about calling mistakes. For every turkey that makes the clean, clear yelps you strive for, four others will make a sound that would make you say “Uh-oh” if you made it. When you make one of those “bad” sounds, come right back with something better. What you think sounds bad doesn’t necessarily sound bad to the turkey.
Even a squeaky hinge on a pasture gate can call in a turkey.
Calling turkeys is a con game. Turkey callers are con artists. “Con” is short for “confidence.” You’re attempting to fool the gobbler, to scam him, to hustle him. Your counterfeit sweet talk creates confidence, but you also exploit his weaknesses – his vanity, his lust, his desire for companionship. You’re trying to make the turkey comfortable with the situation – so you get the opportunity to pull the trigger.
To do that, you don’t have to be an especially good caller. If a squeaky gate can give a gobbler what he wants to year, you can too.