Spring turkey seasons will open soon and hunters around the country will be testing their skills against one of nature’s most wily game birds. Calling is the primary turkey hunting method used in the spring, when male turkeys respond to hen calls during the breeding season. Turkey hunters mimic various hen sounds like yelps, clucks, and purrs, to convince a male, or tom, turkey to come into shotgun or bow range. Many new turkey hunters are intimidated by the wide range of turkey sounds and the different types of man-made calls on the market. But the fact is, whether you’re chasing eastern turkeys in Vermont, Osceolas in Florida, Rio Grandes in Texas or Merriam’s in South Dakota, you can regularly kill gobblers with just one or two calls in your pocket. To put it simply, calling turkeys isn’t as complicated as some people would like you to believe.
When I started hunting turkeys, I was overwhelmed by all of the seemingly contradictory information about turkey calls and calling tactics that can be found on Youtube and elsewhere. Instead of diving and in and buying a dozen different turkey calls, I decided to keep things simple and learned how to make a few basic but effective turkey sounds with a pot call. That year, in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge, I killed my first spring gobbler. Since then, I’ve gone and experimented with several varieties of turkey calls, but I still find myself reaching again and again for my pot call. To be totally fair, I’m going to give a quick rundown of the most common forms of turkey calls, along with some pros and cons-and pointers-for each. But, as you’ll see, I’m gonna make the case that pot calls are far and away the best choice for beginner turkey hunters.
Locator calls aren’t meant to make turkey sounds but they do fall into the general category of turkey calls because you use them to kill the birds. In the springtime, breeding activity gets toms fired up and territorial. They will often respond with a gobble to any loud noise that they hear.. Hunters can use this behavior to locate distant toms. I know of one turkey expert who intentionally slams his car door when he reaches his hunting location. Coyotes howling, owls hooting, crows cawing, thunder clapping, rabbits squealing, even sonic booms from military aircraft, can all elicit loud gobbles. Locator calls mimic some of these sounds. A hunter can imitate certain locator noises by voice alone or by blowing into calls manufactured for the purpose. I’ve even used elk calls to locate gobblers. While I don’t personally believe in toting around a ton of turkey calls, it is smart to have a couple of different types of locator calls on hand. Some sounds will excite a turkey and others won’t. It’s good to have options.
Here are a couple of effective locator calls:
Push button calls are sometimes maligned by serious turkey hunters who are ashamed to admit that something so simple will actually call in a mature gobbler. Push button calls really can be an effective tool for rookie turkey hunters because they are the easiest way for beginners to make simple, lifelike hen noises. These calls are operated by pushing a spring-loaded plunger that strikes a piece of wood inside a small box. By varying the speed and pressure on the plunger, a few different hen sounds are easily made. Push-button calls do not make a wide range of hen sounds, nor do they work for making a variety of raspy or smooth tones. But they can be operated with a single hand or even mounted to the side of a shotgun, which is convenient when you’re caught off guard by a gobbler. They’re great to have in your vest if you are taking a youngster without turkey calling experience along on a spring gobbler hunt, because kids can enjoy the experience of making a good turkey noise without a lot of dexterity. And they do honestly work. I have a beard from a dead gobbler to prove it.
Here’s a link to a good push-button call:
The box call resembles a small wooden casket with a handle attached to the lid. In no time, a beginner can master a basic hen yelp. Clucks and cuts are also easy to learn. Box calls can be very loud, which is ideal for locating distant gobblers or cutting through a noisy wind. The box call is good for beginners because they’re easy to operate and make realistic noises. And box calls can be manipulated to change the tone or volume of your calling. A drawback is that a hunter must move to operate a box call. Turkeys have incredibly keen eyesight and will flee at the slightest sign of danger. Another drawback is that box calls sometimes lack nuance. They all tend to sound basically the same, and some hunters believe that pressured turkeys wise up to the sounds of box calls when they’re hearing from a lot of different hunters all making basically the same noises. One of the best beginner turkey hunting tactics is to sound off a few yelps with a box call, place it on the ground and wait patiently, silently and motionless for a tom to appear.
Here’s a good box call link:
Diaphragm or Mouth Calls
This is the favored choice of turkey-calling purists. Diaphragm calls consist of a small plastic frame surrounding a pliable reed or diaphragm. By placing the call inside your mouth and forcing air over a thin reed, it is possible to accurately mimic many hen turkey vocalizations. The advantage of diaphragm calls is that they be used without any movement that might give away a hunter’s position to a wary gobbler. Accomplished turkey callers often prefer diaphragm calls because, with a fair bit of practice, it’s possible to make a wide range of very realistic hen sounds with different tones and volumes. But, they’re also the hardest turkey call to master and I’m still learning how to make them sound good after several years of trying. Many hunters use a diaphragm call in conjunction with a pot or box call to make a variety of turkey noises. First, they’ll use a hand-operated call to get a gobbler moving in their direction and then, when the bird is in sight, they will switch to the mouth call to avoid detection while still pulling the tom into shooting range.
Here are some of our favorite diaphragm calls:
A pot call gives you the greatest range of sounds with the least amount of learning time, without altogether eliminating the need to learn anything. After all, hunting is about education, right? If I had to hit the turkey woods with a single call, I would choose a pot call every time. Pot calls are my favorite call because they are extremely versatile. Most pot calls consist of a shallow, circular wooden pot that holds a round disc of slate, glass or aluminum. The caller holds a striker about the diameter of a pencil and rubs or scratches the disc to make various hen sounds. By changing the pressure and pattern of your striker on a pot call, you can make just about every hen noise sound like the real thing. It’s also easy to quickly make different hen noises to mimic more than one hen talking. Pot calls can make loud, raspy tones for long-range location calling or very quiet, subtle purrs to fool a gobbler into taking one more step. Different gobblers will often react better to a certain tone and it’s easy to make adjustments with a pot call. Of the different styles of pot calls, I prefer slate because I think it sounds the most like real hen turkeys. Pot calls do require some small movements to operate so hunters should be very careful to hide their calling motion in their lap. A pot call forces me to put the call down and get my shotgun lined up when a gobbler is closing in, which is a good thing. Many gobblers are killed because their curiosity drives them to search for a hen that suddenly went quiet. Even expert turkey hunters frequently use pot calls to kill gobblers in this manner.
Here is a great all-purpose pot call:
This spring remember calling a spooky gobbler into range is more about persistence and stealth than imitating perfect hen talk. More toms are fooled by a patient, motionless hunter making the occasional series of quiet hen noises than the restless hunter who fidgets, changes location often and calls too much. By mastering just a few key hen sounds and developing your woodsmanship skills, you’ll become a better turkey hunter.
Brody Henderson is a hunter, fly fishing guide, writer, wilderness production assistant for the MeatEater television show and MeatEater’s editorial contributor.