Turkey Hunting: Make Calling Turkeys Simple

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Have you ever been to a turkey calling contest before?  Some of these callers are so good they actually sound better than a hen turkey. OK, now… have you ever listened to live hens for a period of time? Honestly, the hens actually make mistakes! Their voices might crack and they don't annunciate the proper utterance all the time. It’s a good thing for me that you don’t have to be an expert caller to consistently harvest gobblers. Even hunters who think they're lousy callers can successfully seduce a gobbler if they use the right calls, do a little home work and concentrate on the rhythm of calling.
I don't consider myself to be a great turkey caller, but I harvest my fair share of toms. I'm good enough to be in demand for turkey hunting seminars, to answer questions and to demonstrate calls, but, if you get a chance to listen to someone who's really good, they blow me away. So I can attest - you don't have to be a great caller to get long-beards to come-a-runnin'.
To me, the epitome of turkey hunting is actually the "calling."  So, obviously you need to resemble turkey sounds well enough to fool a turkey. However, in my opinion, rhythm is the most important part of calling turkeys. You need to make the sound somewhat technically correct, but getting the cadence or pulse to resemble a hen turkey is more important than being able to yelp pristine and crisp.
With all of the calls on the market where do you begin? It's agreed upon by most that friction calls are the easiest to learn on. A "friction call" is any call where two things are rubbed together to make the sound. The most popular types are box calls and slate calls.
A box is probably the easiest to learn on but a box call is by no means a call that is only used by a novice. A savvy tom-taker will often have up to three or four different sounding box calls in their turkey vest. Box calls are usually made of wood but can also be made out of graphite or other materials.
There are spin-offs of a box calls where basically two pieces of wood are rubbed together to make turkey sounds. The easiest to use is undoubtedly the push button. These where originally designed to be mounted on a gun and operated by pulling the button with a string. This way a hunter can operate a friction call but still have their gun up and ready for an approaching tom. Most of these calls will work by either pushing or pulling on the piece attached to the striker.
A slate call takes a bit more practice but is still very easy to use. Slates come in a variety of sounding surfaces like glass, aluminum, titanium and actual slate. Each produces a unique sound. Along with the different slate surfaces there are a number of different types of slate strikers - among them being glass, plastic, carbon and the most popular, wood. Here again, each produces an original tone. Some knowledge of how to hold the slate and striker is required, but most calls come with ample instruction to get you on your way.
Mouth calls or diaphragms scare some callers away. They've heard that they're difficult to use so new hunters shy away from trying. If you plan to hunt turkey with your bow I suggest mastering a diaphragm, simply because it leaves both your hands free to draw your bow. They really aren't that difficult to learn. And, with a mouth call you have more control over the sounds produced than with any other type of call and they are the least expensive. The best place to practice is in your vehicle when you're alone. Most other types of calls require two hands to operate, so driving in your car is probably a bad place to practice those.
There are a number of other types of calls that produce their own distinctive sounds. Tubes and wing-bones are two fairly popular examples. With all of the various calls no matter which you choose "practice" is important. Once you master one type of call, I suggest learning another. You can sometimes work a box call until your arm feels like it's going to fall off without a response and then you change to a slate or diaphragm and it drives them wild (or visa-versa). Sometimes changing the tone is all it takes. A simple hen "yelp" is all you need to know to call in gobblers. But once you learn that, I also suggest that you become versed in a wide variety of other turkey sounds, like a cackle, cutting, a cluck, putt, purr, fly-down cackle, kee-kee and more. In some situations you really will have a better chance if you know a number of different turkey vocalizations.
In my opinion, scouting and set up are much more important than calling when it comes to filling your turkey tag. Here's where doing your "home work" comes to play. Knowing roost locations, travel corridors, preferred strutting zones and favored food sources is much more valuable than being able to yelp cleaner than the other hunters. If you have a chance during pre-season, get out and do some leg-work scouting. Find out where they are, where they like to travel and where they like to spend their time.
"Set up" is along these same lines. If you've done your scouting it's much easier to pick an ambush site. You need to set up in a spot that's easy for the birds to access. If you set up across a creek, fence or bunch of blow-downs, you can be the best caller in the world and you'll probably come back with an unused tag.
It needs to be easy for the birds to get to you, but it also helps to set up in a spot where the birds have been before. Reading the sign or seeing birds while out scouting pays off big. If turkeys have been there before, in all likelihood they'll be less apprehensive about going back to the same spot again.  If they spend time in an area they become much more comfortable with the surroundings. If you see fresh sign, there's apparently something about that spot that draws turkeys to it. It's much easier to call birds to a spot like this, than one where they've never been to before.
My best advice is to listen to an audio recording of an actual turkey making the sounds, and then practice them back with your call of choice. Even better than that is being able to spend as much time as possible around live turkeys. Listen close and mimic the sounds back. Listening to live turkeys is your best teacher.
Todd Amenrud
Todd Amenrud is currently the Editor in Chief for GameKeepers-Farming for Wildlife magazine. In addition he writes columns in over 60 outdoor and general circulation publications as well as taking on numerous assignments each year for several larger outdoor magazines. A noted authority on both whitetails and wild turkeys, he conducts over 80 seminars annually.
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