The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 9, 2014

Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: the mystical world of calling

By Larry Case
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — Do you think that calling wild turkeys into shotgun range is some sort of art form that can never be yours?

Or do you see yourself as a Master Caller, a being with special powers sent from above, because you have been successful in the turkey woods the past few years?

I have come to tell you, turkey pilgrim, neither one is true. Any hunter can learn to call turkeys with a little practice and perseverance. On the other hand, just because you have carried turkeys out of the woods the past few years does not mean that you are Ben Rogers Lee incarnate. (If you don’t know who that is you should!)

No part of turkey hunting has been more talked about, mystified, distorted, and downright lied about than the subject of calling. Beginners often look to it as some sort of magical gift that they can never learn, this fallacy is usually helped along by the older hunters who want to maintain their throne in the hierarchy. When I started hunting turkeys, right after the last ice age, old turkey hunters were famous for not sharing knowledge about this world with young converts to the sport. I am not a competition caller, and I don’t play one on TV. Yet in the past forty some odd years of chasing these crazy birds around, I have called in the occasional tom turkey. You can, too, if you follow a few simple steps.  

1. Get your hands on the best call you can find and practice with it until you feel comfortable. I would start with a friction type call, either a box call or a glass or slate call and learn to make a passable yelp. Part of the fun here is watching the other members of your household as you practice for hours on end, they will love it! (OK, maybe not.) Don’t worry about any other call until you have a good yelp. The wild turkey has an extensive vocabulary, but often this is the only call that you will need.

2. Practice in the woods. Your calling will always sound better outdoors. Take a buddy and have him positioned forty yards away while you do the calling, then one hundred yards away. Now trade and let him call while you sit off at a distance. I think you will be amazed how much better the call will sound when you are not right on top of it. This should give you some confidence while actually hunting, when you are playing for keeps.

3. Practice, practice, practice, get comfortable and confident with your call. Learn to use it in different situations and weather conditions. Most friction type calls, (boxes and slate calls) must be kept dry. You will need a large zip lock bag or even a bread bag to carry your calls in when it rains on you out there.

4. Once you master the yelp call, I would move on to the simple cluck of the turkey. After that you might try the excited cutting of a hen turkey. All of these calls and many others are now available on videos, discs, and many sites on the internet. The modern turkey hunter has a wealth of resources out there. Back in the day you had to shadow a grouchy old turkey man and hope against hope that he would show you something.

As you enter the world of the wild turkey with a call in your hand, you will come up with more questions. Should I call more or less? Do I call every time he gobbles? Do I call back to hens? Most of this you will learn on your own, but I would offer a few suggestions.

In general, try “less instead of more” when calling. If a gobbler is really fired up and seems to be approaching, don’t fire back a call to him every time he gobbles. Have patience; play it coy, give him a call now and then. If he is responding, give him time to come in. If you call too much, he may go into a frenzy of gobbling and strutting and you will have the dreaded “hung up” turkey. He is out there out of sight and may never come into range. Don’t call too much to a turkey that is still on the roost! If he is gobbling when you call to him, he heard you the first time! He knows exactly (and I mean exactly), where you are. Wait until he has flown down before you call to him more.

That is all we have time for boys and girls. Get those calls out and start driving everybody in your house crazy!