When speaking of the perfect turkey hunt, most hunters would describe hunting gobblers off the roost. The boss tom flies off his perch and into the view of this hunter and his decoy. After a few calls on his trusty box or pot call, the big gobbler struts over to the decoy and meets his maker. Hunts like this are a lot of fun and they sure feed a hunter’s ego. But alas, this is not the typical performance.
More often than not, the big gobbler finds interest in something else or simply walks off in another direction. The hunter is left calling in desperation as his hopes for filling a tag this morning strut over a hillside and vanish over the horizon. At this point a hunter can get tough or get going. Those who choose the woods over the diner or inviting bed have a real challenge on their hands.
An even worse scenario is not finding birds at all. If you haven’t scouted an area, the scouting is flawed, or the turkeys just decided to disappear, locator calls may be the most important tool in your turkey hunting arsenal. Locator calls include owl hoots, crow calls, coyote howls, and turkey gobbles. Often times very loud yelping also does the trick. The idea is to create an abrupt, loud sound to generate a reflex gobble from a tom. Once you get a gobble from him, you can close the distance and hunt him down.
First off, locator calls are run and gun tools. If you plan to sit the day in a particular area and wait out a gobbler, hen talk is probably going to be more effective. When using locator calls, you should be on the move and keep your eyes and ears open for any sign of turkeys.
How often should you call? That depends on the cover and the conditions. On clear, calm days locator calls will travel a long way and so will a gobbler’s answer. Every 200 yards should suffice. Calling every 100 yards is advisable on windy days. Sound is often covered up and doesn’t carry well during windy conditions. In heavy cover, spend more time calling. In open areas, not as much calling is necessary since you can often spot turkeys from long distances.
Early in the morning an owl hoot is probably the most effective and natural sounding locator call. Owls often hoot as they return to their roost after a night of hunting. An amped up tom can’t stop himself from gobbling back at an early morning hoot. After the sun has been up for an hour, switch to crow calling. If you see or hear real crows begin to call, you know it’s time to start crow calling. Don’t be afraid to use the real crows as your calling partner. If the turkey you are hunting is focused on them, your chances of sneaking up on him are far better. A few years ago, I killed a gobbler who continuously gobbled at geese roosted on a nearby pond. Every time they honked, he would let them have it. He was so focused on those geese he didn’t realize there was a hunter sneaking in on him. Trains, garbage trucks, and barking dogs have also helped me locate turkeys.
A crow call can be effective all day long but the golden hours are usually from 8 to 11 in the morning. After that switch to a coyote howl or very loud turkey calling. A box call works very well as a locator call. It’s loud and easy to use. However, I have been busted more than once using a loud yelps to locate toms. Sometimes they will just come running without sounding off and catch you when you’re not ready. A shock gobble is also a great way to get a turkey to sound off. Some hunters can gobble using only their voice, others use gobble calls. Keep in mind that sounding like a gobbler may not be advisable in heavily hunted areas. A lot of shooting incidents are caused by hunters who claim they thought their victim was a turkey. I’ve never seen a hunter that looked like a turkey, but if I’m around people who may make a mistake like that, I’d rather not sound like a turkey too.
There is nothing subtle about using locator calls. Be loud and aggressive. You are attempting to illicit a primal response from a testosterone filled gobbler. He is more than up for the challenge… are you?