Wild turkeys are one of the most popular game birds pursued by sportsmen. Their unrivaled eyesight and overall paranoia make them a tough target for hunters. A turkey’s sight isn’t its only strong sense in the woods, however. While there is a lot of emphasis on thwarting their vision with head-to-toe camouflage, their hearing needs to be fooled as well. This is why the ability to successfully call in turkeys is a highly-desired skill to have in your back pocket.
Before you go out and buy just any turkey call and start making some noise in the field, it’s best to understand the language of turkeys. In the wild, hens and gobblers can utter more than 30 distinct sounds to communicate with one another. Thankfully for hunters, there are only a few that you should need.
“The standard yelp would definitely be the first sound that you’d want to get down,” says avid hunter and Senior Hunting Buyer for DICK’S Sporting Goods Michael Scrip. This sound is usually three to eight notes long and is the “Where are you?” of the turkey dialect.
Scrip adds that the second most efficient sound to make while turkey hunting is a kind of cluck. This expert note sound is heard throughout the day in flocks of turkeys and can be very beneficial to hunters.
“A cluck is meant to impersonate a hen and to announce that she’s content,” he says. “She’s happy, she’s not nervous or worried, and that’s what you want to be communicating back to any gobblers out there.”
As you become more experienced in turkey calling, you can add other audio utterances to your repertoire, such as purring, cutting, “kee-kee”-ing and gobbling. It is also helpful to understand the vocal differences between hens and gobblers. Hens have a high-pitched vocal range, whereas gobblers will speak in a slower cadence with a deeper, coarser sound.
Once you understand which sounds you should aim your attention toward, it’s time to look at the variety of turkey calls available on the market today.
Box calls have a one-piece design made from wood. This call makes its sound when the top paddle portion is dragged across the hollow chamber bottom. Changing up the dragging cadence gives different sounds. Box calls are versatile, relatively easy to use and have great volume. The only downside to box calls is that they require more movement than most, which can potentially give up your location.
As one of the most popular call styles, pot calls use a striking surface made of either slate, glass or aluminum attached to a hollow pot with holes underneath for resonance. The hunter strokes the peg, made from materials such as wood, carbon, plastic, glass and even turkey wing bone, across the surface to create friction and, thus, the turkey sound. These calls take some time to master, but are easy to pick up and give a truly authentic call. Scrip recommends pot calls for beginners because of their versatility, strong volume and easy-to-use setup.
Diaphragm calls are placed in the mouth and are the most discrete turkey call to use. This small item is made from a stretched latex rubber reed laid over a horseshoe-shaped frame and is skirted in tape. Diaphragm calls are very popular because they are inexpensive, hands-free and produce an exceptionally authentic turkey sound. The problem lies in the needed skillset to properly use them, though. Diaphragm calls are challenging and require a lot of practice and getting used to. It is best for novice turkey hunters to begin with a box or pot call and slowly graduate to diaphragm calls.
Aside from turkey sounds, hunters can also use locator calls to get a gobbler’s attention. Locator calls can simulate a variety of sounds, with crow calls being the most popular and easiest to mimic. Owl calls are normally simple tube calls that could be very efficient in finding roosted toms in the morning. It is advised, though, to use either style sparingly. They are used to locate birds, not call them in, and overusing a locator call can ruin your prospects for success during your entire hunt.
These box-style calls are extremely simple to use and are a great way to get used to turkey calling. These calls have a button mechanism that is similar in nature to a box call. Push/pull calls are great for close range, but lack the volume needed for extended use. The sound quality is also less authentic than that of a pot call or box call.
One of the hardest calls to master, tube calls take the same setup as diaphragm calls with a latex rubber over some sort of frame. Simple in design, these calls can produce fantastic sound, but require a lot of practice to get successful results.
Gobbler calls produce what you would think: a gobble. These calls are made from a high-strength rubber and are shaken to produce their sound. They are best used as another locator call and can be very effective in early mornings.
No matter which call you choose, you will have to practice. You should not, however, try out your calling skills on wild turkeys. As you are learning your sounds, so are the birds, which can drive them away from hunting areas and squander your season and the seasons of other hunters before even stepping foot in the woods.
As a final tip to beginners, Scrip adds, “Don’t call so much. Call as little as possible. Once you get that bird to respond to your call, he knows exactly where you are and you don’t need to do extra work to get him to come into range. Any excess calling can potentially drive the gobbler away, ruining your chances.”
Turkey calling is one of the major keys to successful hunting excursions. Find the call that fits you best, practice your craft and you could be bagging that prized hen or tom in no time. Remember, you don’t have to be a champion caller, you just have to be proficient.