Calling all turkeys

Several years back through a unique twist of fate I had an opportunity to hunt with a well-known turkey expert. He lived in north Florida and I was going to take advantage of what he and the Sunshine state had to offer, as far as birds go anyway.

His vest was so full of calls the pockets bulged out like they were going to pop at any minute. Each time we’d set up he’d lay dozens of calls on the ground and take inventory before firing them up. One time we had a gobbler close and he insisted on checking every call before trying to work him in. For me it was a bit frustrating.

It was also a complete contrast from my normal routine. Sure most turkey hunters carry several which normally consist of a box call, slate and a few mouth calls.

I recently had an opportunity to take part in south Alabama’s wild turkey hunting season, which in reality wasn’t too far up the road from my excursion traipsing around the woods of north Florida. On the drive south I couldn’t help but think about how some hunters represent opposite ends of the spectrum, like the guys who carry too many calls and those who don’t take enough.

While roughly 30 turkey calling sounds can be heard in the wild, fewer than half of those vocalizations are usually used while hunting. Many spring gobbler hunters make just two basic calls: the plain cluck and hen yelp. Those two calls have taken plenty of turkeys. But other good sounds to learn include roost clucks and tree yelps (a.k.a. "tree calling"); fly-down cackles; cutting (loud and fast clucks); purrs and even the kee-kee sounds of young birds. Some hunters also use a gobble, but those scare me. They have been known to call in other hunters as well.

These days I tend to carry a few mouth calls ranging from the high-pitched to the truly low and raspy. I also carry one pot call, also called a slate, and one box call. This arrangement gives options for everything from soft tree-yelps as daylight breaks all the way to an all-out hen fight.

While in Alabama I met a guy who showed me dozens of pictures of birds he’s taken with archery equipment. He told me he carries one box call and that’s it. I found that especially interesting since that type of call requires two hands to operate. I’d figured he’d opt for mouth calls to keep his hands free. I can only imagine how good he is with that one box.

If you’re starting to think about our state’s wild turkey hunting season, which begins April 27, start thinking about which calls you really want to carry with you. I personally favor mouth calls, also called diaphragms, but they definitely take some practice to use properly. Nothing is more convenient and offers such little movement to use. But I also love a good slate or box because how sweet they sound.

Regardless of which calls you prefer, start working with them now. As spring approaches I tend to keep a few mouth calls in my truck. When driving, alone, I sometimes practice with them. Then there are times when I suffer from severe writers block and stare at the computer screen wishing for some type of inspiration. This is when I’ll pick up the pot call sitting on my desk.

Contrary to what some may think, it does not take a lot of practice to get good, but it does take some practice. If you start now I promise you’ll be better when opening day gets here.