The turkey world is pretty relaxed compared to the whitetail arena. People just don’t get as worked up about differences of opinions and tactics when it comes to longbeards. Turkey hunters are like the folks at a concert who sway to the music in unison, gently brushing shoulders, while holding their phones up (because nobody carries a lighter these days).
Whitetail hunters are a different breed—one that is ready to fight at the slightest disagreement. They are more likely to smear their guyliner while swinging hammer fists in the mosh pit, as the bowel-quivering bass of a German death metal band delivers a fresh dose of low-grade tinnitus to their ears.
As different as they are, there is one turkey hunting topic that does ruffle some feathers (get it?) —calling. Or, to be more specific, the frequency of calling. Old-school hunters say less is more. New school hunters say, more is maybe better. But the truth lies beyond whether you learned to turkey hunt from 75-year-old books and VHS tapes, or YouTube and TikTok.
It lies in your confidence.
If you suck at calling, you definitely shouldn’t call a whole lot. Because every time you do, you give the birds a chance to hear something that will cause a little synapse to fire in their brains that tells them something isn’t right. It’s the turkey uncanny valley, and when they think something isn’t right, they bug out.
They aren’t curious like deer or elk can be. They are survivalists who fully trust their instincts. The wrong cadence during your yelps is a deal breaker. Anything squeaky sounding during a round of cutting, and you’re in trouble. Anything that sounds forced or unnatural, and your odds drop instantly.
Inexperienced callers often make unnatural calls. Think about it like learning a second language. The less familiar you are with the basics, the rougher your conversations will be with someone who is truly fluent. I’m of the opinion that spending time working with a few calls and figuring out how to, at the very least, yelp proficiently with them, is a huge start. Later you can work in the complementary turkey sounds that really round out calling skills.
I know plenty of hunters who will disagree with me on this, but I don’t think you can overcall if you know what you’re doing. I’ve hunted turkeys in a pile of different states, mostly on public land, and the one thing I know is that turkeys talk a lot. Even if they don’t talk a lot at the moment when you’re hunting, they are usually very receptive to listening to someone else talk a lot.
As long as you’re saying what turkeys would typically say, then they’re going to accept it. This is especially true when the birds are flocked up in the earlier season. Those birds often talk to each other all day long, and there’s nothing to lose by giving them a lively conversation.
They won’t always come in, but that’s the nature of turkey hunting. They also don’t sit there and decide that a certain hen in their neighborhood is squawking too much, so it must be a hunter. They aren’t that smart.
Even with late-season birds, these rules roughly apply. They generally aren’t flocked up in May, but they will talk a lot. They’ll accept a lot of talk, too. Just as long as you know what you’re saying, and how loudly to say it.
Plenty of skilled hunters will tell you that the best way to decide on calling frequency and inflection is to listen to the real birds. This is a great idea if the real birds are talking. If they aren’t, should you just not call?
I ran into this quite a bit earlier this season while hunting for myself, and while trying to call in birds for my daughters. I could get hens into the decoys, but I couldn’t get them to say a whole lot. And believe me, I tried.
The first gobbler that I called in didn’t say much either. He did, from his body language (since we watched him for nearly two hours), want to hear me blabber away. He needed it, and every time he started to lose interest, I had to beg and plead for him to keep coming. He eventually did, and one of my eleven-year-olds made him pay for it.
That hunt was full of silent birds, but it took a lot of calling to make it happen. Remember that, because as long as you know what you’re saying, and can say it over and over without making a big mistake, you’re doing just fine.