Calling All Turkeys!

posted on December 17, 2013

To get closer to a turkey, you might build a ground blind. You might wake up at five a.m. You might dress head-to-toe in camouflage and sit still in a bush for hours.

But what about getting a turkey closer to you?

It’s hard to approach such experts of evasion as wild turkeys without being spotted or heard, and no matter how early the hunter gets up there’s always a chance that the birds just won’t drop by.

But the advantages they hold in alertness and caution can be countered by one single weakness—curiosity. The call of a fellow hen or tom will often bring your just-out-of-range flock a few crucial steps closer, or, with patience, far out from a distant roost. The trick, then, is to make the sound yourself, whether it’s with a modern glass “slate-and-striker” call or a Stone Age-proven bone noisemaker. These and many other types are worth understanding and practicing before waking up at five.

The Wingbone:
Shortly after early human hunters began pursuing the turkey, they began perfecting the call. From sucking on hollowed-out wingbones of the animal itself, the “yelp” of a communicative hen could be replicated. It was quite an effective lure over 4,000 years ago, but wingbones are still used to this day. In fact, they’re the most basic call and make the most universally useful sound in that “yelp.” Quickly inhaling on one end produces it, and some minutes’ of practice can nearly master it; but of course it could be argued that your first wingbone should come from your first turkey.

The Box Call:
For that, you’ll need a different starting point, like the loud, versatile, and equally simplistic “box” call. One of the first improvements on the bone design, the wooden box makes both high and low-pitched yelps, covering the calls of each gender, by dragging one polished edge across another. The angle and speed of that dragging motion alters the yelp so slightly that the possibilities to fine-tune it can seem daunting. See it instead as a chance to practice, though, and the box will make you a better caller with each strike.

The Slate Call:
Offering the same aural range as the box but at certain, tailored pitches and volumes is the “slate.” Basically just a striking surface and a striker, this call has an advantage in that it’s available in multiple materials—from aluminum to glass—that are said to appeal even to certain birds at certain times of day. Complicated, but all the better for one well-versed in turkey talk. Known as a type of “friction call” for the source of its noise (striker/surface contact vibration), this is one for the more experienced hunters.

The Tube Call:
Now one for the most experienced hunters: the tube call. With this plastic or rubber evolution of the wingbone, a caller’s vocabulary is opened up to “putts,” “cackles,” “gobbles,” and other sounds limited to the birds with the use of friction calls. As varieties of the tube differ by the model, the only common factor being their wind power as opposed to vibration, research and trials are best ways to pick one. Just be ready to find yourself in a fluent conversation with nearby flocks once you’ve mastered this technique.

The Diaphragm Call:
Imagine, as the ultimate turkey hunting skill, to be able to call without a call. That’s what those experienced in the diaphragm call’s use appear to do, for as they open their mouths an accurate yelp emerges, or even a soft purr or cackle. This is made possible by a plastic or latex flap held above the tongue and exhaled through for a necessary vibration noise. This offers exceptional versatility, but while it’s convenient to carry only something the size of a bottlecap instead of a wooden box or metal slate, remember that the diaphragm works best in the hands—or mouth—of a true expert. Lots of practice will be necessary to make this call work for you.

Turkey calling is a delicate and sometimes frustrating activity, and requires real effort to produce results. But as a responsibility of the hunter it makes the chase all the more trying and fulfilling—even if the point is to avoid a literal “chase” and bring the quarry in. Attempting it at least as a way to minimize time spent freezing stationary in a thicket, however, can be a worthwhile endeavor and ignite a desire to improve until the day when you no longer struggle to get closer to a turkey, but the turkey comes to you.


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