Mar 10, 2014

The Call of the Turkey

By: Greg Lasko

The year was 1995, I was headed on my first out of state turkey hunt. Destination Montana.

I was filled with the high expectations of bagging my first Merriam gobbler. As the sun came over the Big Sky horizon, I heard a gobbler sounding off in the distance. I set off in pursuit. By the time I had reached his location, he was on the ground and feeding away from me. He was within 100 yards of me, but his back was turned. After several calling efforts, I could not persuade him to turn around. He gobbled and strutted in response to every call I made, but was determined to stay facing the other way. After several futile attempts to get closer and turn this bird around, I decided that a new plan had to be made if I had any chance of taking this bird home to Wisconsin. I decided to work my way around the back side of a hill to get in front of this big gobbler. I got around the hill and into position and with one call from my slate, the bird came on a dead run and stopped at 10 yards. I dropped the hammer.

           Rethinking my strategy helped me have a successful hunt. Today there are more hunters in the woods, with the extra hunting pressure the birds don't respond as aggressively as they once did. I'm not saying that from time to time that a group won't come running in, it just doesn't happen nearly as much as in the past. It seems the birds have adapted to the hunting pressure, and as hunters we need to learn to adapt our approach to their pattern.

           Scouting and patterning the birds is one of the most important keys to my success in hunting turkeys. In my twenties and early thirties, I had plenty of time to dedicate to scouting turkeys. As I have grown older life has become busy with the demands of family and career, and it is sometimes difficult to find the time to scout and pattern the birds. I keep a note pad in my truck so that I can quickly stop and jot down when I see birds in the field, noting the time and the location of the birds as I drive near my hunting grounds when on my way to work, with my son, or even when making a run to the store. You will find that reviewing your notes will make a huge difference when deciding where to set up in the morning versus setting up for an afternoon hunt. This is an ongoing process as the season progresses and the patterns of the birds change. My mentor instructed me to make additional notes of the hunting day's events, recording what you tried that didn't work and note what worked for you.   Reviewing your notes will help you understand how that gobbler beat you and help you adapt your method so you can bag him.

           Turkey calling is an exciting topic among turkey hunters. Hunters new to the turkey woods have many questions about turkey calls. What are the different calls on the market? What call is the best? Should I call loud or soft? How many calls do I need? The answers to these questions are simple. It is up to each individual. Some hunters prefer a slate call opposed to a box call, and yet another person may prefer a mouth call. I buy a few different calls each year to give them a try. Although I usually end up taking the same ones to the woods each season. If you find a call that works for you, stick with it.   Once you find a call that you like, practice, practice, practice. The best calls are the calls that you use well and that you have confidence in. I carry two slate calls, one that is water proof, and one box call. I have found that it is not as important for the call to sound great, as it is to make the correct calls and have the right rhythm. Think about your last turkey hunt, you probably heard some horrible sounding hens in the woods. Now think about the rhythm of her sound. The rhythms of her yelp, cut, or purr are comparable to all the other hens. When it comes to how often to call and how loud and aggressive to make your calls, let the tom be the judge. I usually start off with a few soft purrs and clucks. As I observe his response, if he is interested I will call louder and more aggressively. If he stops responding to the calls, I will stop and listen. If he gobbles again but is going away from my position, I will try to get between where he is and where he wants to go. Good scouting beforehand will help you know his destination. Although many times a hunt will be successful if you stay in your original site because the gobbler will frequently work his way back to find the hen he heard in the morning. Stay alert, because he will often silently approach.

           Knowing about your quarry and learning to adapt to different situations in the turkey woods takes patience and practice to build the skills to successfully hunt these challenging game birds.