Spring turkey season is open in the state of Kansas and with it many of us are venturing into the woods. This season marks my twentieth year turkey hunting, the last ten of which, I would consider serious. At first, I did what everyone does when they first start calling turkey, a standard four or five-note yelp on a box call. It’s what every single turkey hunter is taught, or learns when they first enter the woods. It’s simple, it’s easy, and guess what, it works. However, it isn’t always effective, and of course, no technique or call is, but there are some things I’ve learned through the years that will expand your calling ability and make you a better turkey hunter.
First and foremost, be versatile. Learn to make more than one sound. Take some time to learn how to cut, purr, cluck, and putt. Learn how to talk like a turkey. The best way to do this is to spend time in the woods listening to and observing turkeys. You don’t hear these added sounds all that often, but you will hear them, and you can use them.
Add some cutts to your yelps to help add a little more excitement to your series, and hopefully entice that stubborn tom that stops just outside of gun range, or help break loose a henned up male. Learn how to use soft purrs with either a diaphragm or slate call. Purring can be deadly in finishing off a bird that is slowly working its way in.
Putts are simple on either a diaphragm or slate, and will add realism to your turkey vocabulary. Keep them soft when working a bird; it helps tell a tom that all is well and is more of a reassurance call. Use putts when you think a bird is getting a little leery or jumpy. Learning to be versatile won’t guarantee a bird on the ground every time, but I can guarantee you’ll be a better caller, which in turn, will increase your success rate dramatically.
Secondly, keep an open mind. Don’t get stuck using one type of call. So many of us fall in love with one specific call, or type of call. While that call probably helped you shoot plenty of birds in the past, you may be limiting your success using the same call time after time. Teach yourself to use the different types of calls that are available.
Most people start on a simple box call, while it isn’t the call I use the most, it is the first call I reach to when nothing else is working. Often when working a bird to no avail with a slate or mouth call, you can get a response with a box. It’s almost become an ace in the hole for me.
I run a slate most often. The slate is very versatile and can easily vary the volume of a sound. When using the slate, I prefer a glass surface to slate, because, in my opinion, glass sounds better. Mouth calls are the most difficult to master, but they also give you the most freedom. Switch to the mouth call to avoid detection when birds can see you.
Finally, don’t get in a rut. Don’t use the same series over and over again. Mix it up. Add some clucks, putts, or purrs to your yelp series and make it more realistic. Keep your volume down when you can see birds. Kick your volume up when trying to locate birds, or on windy days. If things are slow, use some fighting purrs to stir things up.
In the last several years, I’ve started using two different calls together to mimic two different hens chatting with each other. I prefer using a diaphragm and slate, but any combo would do. It often works on toms that are grouped with hens. Sometimes it draws hens, which in turn can drag the tom with them, but it may also break off a tom or two in a group of hens.
The four or five note yelp will always be the staple of turkey hunting and will always be the call we use the most, but don’t limit your vocabulary. Learn to talk more like a turkey and you’re going to be a more successful hunter. Challenge yourself to learn a couple of new sounds and use them in your next hunt.
Keep an open mind to different calls. Don’t reach for the same old worn out slate or mouth call every time you leave the truck. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or two the first time you use a new call. You’ll work out the kinks. Call with confidence, have fun, and you will put more birds on the ground.