To Call or Not to Call

I wrapped a tag on my first spring gobbler in 1980. A high-school student of mine, from a long line of turkey hunters, and woods-wise far beyond his years, called in the 22-pound tom. That hunt spawned an obsession. Every year since I have hunted almost every day of both spring and fall seasons, until my tags were filled or the seasons came to a close. Even with only 45 minutes or so to hunt before work, I’d be in full camouflage somewhere, in hopes of luring in a longbeard.

I’ve chronicled every turkey hunt in a journal, recording both successes and failures. Failures predominated in my early hunts, but I made a point of learning from my errors. Over the years, I also made a point of listening when veteran turkey hunters talked turkey. I learned much.

Part of what I learned concerns calling. You don’t have to call like a competition caller to consistently fool turkeys, but you do have to know when and when not to call. Here’s a summary of what close to three decades has taught me concerning this facet of turkey hunting.

Don’t Call …

At first light when nothing gobbles. I will always remember the hunt when I learned this lesson. The morning broke clear with still winds, perfect for toms to sound off, but none gobbled. Having spent long hours gaining proficiency with turkey calls, I was eager to put my calling skills to practice. At first light, I made some light tree calls on my diaphragm caller—clucks and soft yelps. They sounded good to me! Minutes later, I increased the volume. Then I moved to my box call in an attempt to sound like two hens. At flydown time I cut a few times on my diaphragm, then made a fly-down cackle. I finished with a series of calls meant to sound as if the two hens were getting together on the ground. I thought I had produced a turkey-call symphony. What I had really done was wise up three gobblers roosted 50 yards behind me in large white oak. They had listened to every call—and watched me make them.

I first became aware of these toms when one sailed out and flew directly away from me. The other two soon followed. They learned well, because I failed to work any of them into shotgun range that season. They gobbled in the roost on other days, but