I was three days into the opening of the spring turkey season. I had roosted a nice Tom the evening before, so the anticipation had already started building for the next morning. There’s something about those spring mornings, sitting in the dark, waiting for the woods to come to life, which is just peaceful. I head to my blind at 5:15 a.m. and set up a few decoys about 35 yards out in the open field in front of me.
As it gets closer to sunrise, I hear an owl hoot, then the woods explode; there are gobbles from all directions. Then, out of nowhere, it sounds like a gobble is right above me. Once the birds start gobbling, they continue on until they pitch down from the roost.
Once I figured out that there was a bird close by and that he was responding to my calls, I started hitting light yelps. After every series of yelps, that bird hammered off a gobble. I think to myself, “This is hunting at its finest.” I practiced all winter long working on my yelps, clucks, and purrs. Now, this is it, as I hear the Tom pitch down behind me in the woods. Hopefully, my decoys get his attention. I offer a few more light yelps, but nothing. I hear some shuffling behind me. With another series of my light yelps, he starts to gobble his head off.
Then, out of nowhere, he charges into my decoys. He starts to strut around my hen decoy. I recognize that now is my chance, and I level the red dot on his head and apply pressure to the trigger of my Mossberg 12-gauge. “Boom!” The gun goes off and sends the turkey load screaming out of the barrel. I see the Tom drop in his tracks.
In my opinion, when turkey hunting, turkey calls are just as important as your gun or bow. You wouldn’t head to the woods without making sure your bow wasn’t hitting the target. If you are anything like me, you spend many hours each year shooting your bow. It’s done so you form that muscle memory so when the moment of truth presents itself, you’re prepared.
The same goes with turkey calling. The more you practice, the better you become. The last thing you want to do is blow a hunt because of your calling.
Four Types of Calls
There are four basic types of calls to master. Once you learn these, you should be able to locate and call in a turkey. The types are mouth calls, pot calls, box calls, and locator calls. Each of these calls has its place in turkey hunting. There are other types of calls, but these are the basics you need to call in a turkey. I will touch on these basic calls along with the turkey sounds to have you ready to hit the woods this spring.
Let’s start with mouth calls. They are not the easiest to learn, but once mastered, they will become one of the most-used calls in your repertoire. Mouth calls are made of one piece of latex or more, sandwiched between some sort of hard plastic. They have different cuts on the latex to give them different sounds.
The way they work is that as air passes over the latex, it creates a sound (such as a cluck or a yelp). My favorite mouth call is the Turkey Ninja, by Woodhaven Calls, although they make several styles, including ones for beginners.
This is the most realistic mouth call I have used. Mouth calls can be one of the hardest to learn, and they do take a lot of practice. The best way to learn is to find a video on the internet and practice until you get a sound. Once you get a good sound, practice using videos of turkey calls until you sound like they do. The biggest benefit of mouth calls is that they are hands-free. This is an important aspect at close ranges. It allows you to work the call with no movement, keeping the bird’s attention while still being able to take the shot.
Next up is the box call. These can be made out of several different kinds of wood, but they all basically work the same. They consist of a hollow box with a sliding lid. You slide the lid over the box, either fast or slow, to create your sound. These are one of the easiest calls to learn to use, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to yelp very well.
Box calls can be loud and they can be heard from a distance. This is a good thing since you can try to get a gobble from off in the distance while trying to locate a Tom. However, it is hard to control the sound. This is one of the downfalls of box calls. The other is that they take two hands to operate. That’s a situation that can get you busted in the moment of truth when that Tom is 20 yards away. Here is one box call, with a video on how to use it.
The pot call is probably my favorite call of all. While it’s not a hands-free call, it’s hard to put it down. The sounds can be second-to-none, plus they are the coolest looking of all the calls.
They are all made somewhat the same, consisting of a material like slate or glass, and a striker. The strikers can be made from several distinct types of wood. Each makes a different sound. Most of the higher-end pot calls are assessed by someone experienced in the proper sounds before they even leave the manufacturer. This is called “match striking,” where the producers match the pot with the right wood to get the best sound.
My go-to pot call is Woodhaven’s Cherry Crystal. Like mouth calls, these can be a little more difficult to learn, but once mastered, they can be one of the best ways to get a Tom’s attention, whether a long way off or at close range. With practice, you can get several different sounds from one call. You can even change the angle to sound like different birds. With this call, the farther from the center out, the higher the pitch. You can also control the sound with the pressure of the striker. The less pressure you place on it, the lighter the sound. The only downfall is that these calls require two hands to use.
Once you have a good grasp on one or more of these calls, the next kind you want to look into is the last kind, a locator call. With one of the above calls and a good locator call, you should be all set for turkey season.
The two main types of locator calls are the owl call and the crow call. Both are a lot like a goose call or a grunt tube. They are made of a barrel and a reed. You get your sound by blowing air over the reed to create the sound.
These calls are pretty easy to use, and they are only designed to get a shock gobble out of a turkey. They are best used in the evening once birds are roosted, or in the middle of the afternoon when you are trying to locate birds.
I prefer the Woodhaven Ninja Owl for my locator call. It is extremely easy to use and it sounds just like an owl. These calls are used blindly when trying to pinpoint a bird. The sound can be controlled with your hands. If you have a Tom that is in the mood to gobble, it will definitely get a response.
Now, let’s review some basic ways to get proficient with these various calls. I’ve found that the best way to master any of them is to pick one sound to mimic, like a cut or a yelp, and then practice over the sound.
Once you decide on the sound, there are lots of great resources to find the sound you want to mimic, such as the NWTF website or YouTube. When I research these, I spend about 10 to 20 minutes listening to the sound, then longer trying to recreate the sound. Once I get close, I try to mimic the sound as the recording is playing. In about a week’s time, you should have that call down and be able to move on to the next.
There are lots of different sounds a turkey can make. Some calls are limited to only recreating certain sounds. The pot call and mouth call are the most versatile since they can recreate most of the turkey’s sounds. The box call is limited to only a few basic calls. Whatever call or calls you decide to go with, have fun, because that is what this activity is all about.
And, if you start practicing now you should have plenty of time before season to get proficient.