Outdoors for Saturday, April 6, 2019
It’s spring, and the turkeys are on the move.
The bachelor group sightings will be fewer and fewer as the weeks go on.
Hens will be more vocal and they’ll be answered with gobbles from suitors.
You have just a couple weeks to get your turkey-calling chops up.
Calling turkeys is like riding a bike, you never quite lose the skill, but you can appear a little rough when you return to it.
My own fatal flaws after 15 years of calling are calling too fast and calling too often.
With all of the information that follows, slow down and use it sparingly.
There are three main types of turkey calls in four forms: Box calls, slate calls and diaphragm calls. The fourth form of these is really a box call, but it’s packaged and sold as a push-button call.
Each one has its place and its strengths. We’ll examine them in the order of their effective distance and then talk about what sounds work best for different hunting situations.
Box calls are the megaphone of turkey calls. They excel at yelps and purrs, but they require two hands to operate.
There are really two sound flavors when it comes to box calls — high and crispy and low and smooth.
Both work well in Michigan; it really depends on what the neighbors have been using.
If you’re calling turkeys near the Walmart or Meijer parking lot, it’s a good bet that the box calls stocked there won’t turn heads like something custom might.
I’ve owned a handful of box calls over the years and my favorite sound came from the Hurricane waterproof call.
However, this one had a coating that I quickly wore through while practicing. I do recommend them, but not for beginners.
If you’re a beginner, you might want to steer clear of this particular call, or pick up another to practice with.
However, this being Michigan, it’s not unlikely that it will rain during your turkey season, so having a waterproof option in your vest is a good idea.
My current favorite box call is a Cherry Bomb. It’s high and crisp, not unlike the Hurricane.
To create a yelp with a box call, you simply slide the lid over one edge of the box, bringing the lid back to center.
Then you repeat.
To create purrs with a box call, you give a slow slide of the lid over one edge of the call. If friction slows your drag, that’s even better because it makes your purrs more staccato.
You can also do a gobble or a fly-down cackle with a box call by turning it upside down or sideways and giving it a shake.
Some are set up to do this without a rubber band; others work better if you put a rubber band around them.
Box calls aren’t maintenance-free. You’ll want a little sandpaper and some chalk.
If you use your call sparingly, all you should ever need is chalk. If you are too firm with it and compress the grain of the wood or burn it, you’ll want to touch it up with sandpaper and then chalk it. Older hunters will tell you that a good box call can last you a lifetime, so find a secure place in your vest for yours.
Also called pot calls, peg-and-slate calls are almost as loud as box calls. They also require two-hand operation but allow for a little more finesse than a box call.
They are the hands-down winner when it comes to making good purrs.
Although most of us call them slate calls, the surface of these calls may be glass or some composite with a coating.
The key I found for these calls is to try different strikers. The striker or peg that comes with your slate call may or may not be the best one for it.
Spend $10 on a variety pack of strikers and practice with them all.
Slate calls can be inconsistent, which is OK because turkeys are really bad-sounding turkey callers.
Humans almost always sound crispier and cleaner.
Yelps and clucks will be made with short strokes of the peg, often in a “C” shape.
My best advice for learning to call with a slate is to practice with internet videos at home before you head to the field.
Don’t worry if your yelps aren’t perfect, but find a special place on your pot where you can always do a purr.
The purr is the deal-closer, so don’t let your peg skip or squeak when you need to do this call.
To my mind, slate calls are best when you’re behind another hunter and calling in a bird for them.
Mouth calls are the hardest to master.
They excel at yelps, but if you can’t roll your “Rs,” you’re going to struggle with making purrs on a mouth call.
But everyone should try to learn a passable purr on a mouth call because you want the ability to do a hands-free purr when that bird is at 40 yards and you want it at 30 or less for a shot.
To make a yelp with a mouth call, make a “sscholk” noise with the call wetted and pressed up against the roof of your mouth.
It takes some time to master and to get it sounding like a turkey.
I can’t recommend using internet videos of actual turkeys when you’re learning your mouth call. It’s easy to sound like a turkey caller, less so to sound like a turkey.
Once you’ve mastered the yelp, shorten up your sound to a “chalk” and you have a cluck.
Purrs are difficult. You can either roll your “Rs” while forcing air through the diaphragm or you can kind of gargle your saliva in the back of your throat to get a similar sound. One of my kids can’t roll their “Rs” so they can’t purr well on a diaphragm call.
There are many different reed constructions to diaphragm calls.
I suggest a simple two-reed call to start and then you can get the triples with cuts in them that sound like a raspier old hen or what-have-you.
My personal favorite calls are Primos Cuttin’ Hen diaphragm calls, which are tougher to find these days.
What call when
A turkey’s spring day includes these sounds: First, there are tree calls, which are clucks and purrs.
Then the turkeys leave the trees with a raucous fly-down cackle.
Then hens spread out and start yelping to attract a mate.
When the males get close, the hens slip into soft cuts and purrs to convince them to come closer.
And that’s the textbook day for a turkey.
How do you use this to your advantage? Well, you will want to listen for tree calls, assuming you’ve scouted your birds.
Then you’ll want to listen for a fly-down cackle to let you know that you should start your yelping — not right away, but before the other hens get to making too much noise.
Then you should continue to yelp sparingly until you hear a gobble answer your call.
A real hen won’t answer every gobble, so you shouldn’t either.
If you feel like the Tom or Jake is getting farther away, you should call to them.
Once the bird is in sight, tone it down to cuts and purrs. If the bird is with a hen, you really need to finesse them. If the hen is dragging them off, you can yelp more, but mostly it should be cuts and purrs.
If you’re pretty sure you’re losing that tug-of-war, a last-ditch trick can be to try a kee-kee run call, which is kind of a whistling call that poults make to their mothers. Sometimes that will turn a hen back your way and she’ll drag your gobbler back with her.
Less is more
As you can see, there’s more art than science to turkey calling.
Just keep telling yourself that less is more.
Remember that many old Toms come in quiet — that’s how they get to be old Toms.
Keep your head on a swivel and listen for the sound of feet in the leaves.
Other things you can do to help your cause include crunching up leaves while you do your cuts and purrs, so it sounds like you’re a turkey walking around looking for food.
You can’t call every turkey every day.
There will be days that they are just extra wary and you shouldn’t beat yourself up when that happens.
You’ll refine your approach over the years and find more success.
When you run into a tough bird that wastes an hour of your morning, don’t get despondent, just drive to the next spot and start calling.
Birds are shot every year as late as 4 p.m., so keep after them.