I got a chance to do a little turkey tutoring last night. My son Andy’s friend, Jake Druffner, spent the night and I was able to help him learn the art of turkey calling.
Jake is a very serious outdoorsman and he will go on his first spring turkey hunt this year on his family’s land near Hudson, Wis. I demonstrated a variety of turkey calls and was able to help him develop his technique.
Over the last 20 years of turkey hunting in Minnesota and other states, I have become somewhat of a call freak. I carry about eight or 10 turkey calls in my vest when I’m out in the woods and I like to use many of them. Sometimes, a turkey won’t respond to one call and will go nuts over another. Don’t ask me why, but I have witnessed this phenomenon firsthand and other hunters have, too.
That, in fact, is what makes the game so intriguing. And, it’s what makes variety so important, not just in terms of having different types of calls, but also in terms of being able to make all of the different turkey sounds.
Every hunter will hear from the experts how important the basic yelp of a hen turkey is. But, other calls, especially the softer ones like clucks and purrs, can be just as important, especially when turkeys are close or if they’re not responding to yelps. I remember the first Minnesota longbeard I shot back in 2004. He would gobble intermittently, but never right after I yelped.
He was getting closer, but I could not tell if he was coming to my call or not. He only gobbled three or four times on his way in and always at least a minute or more after I called.
Finally, he started gobbling like crazy behind me and to my left. He was only about 40 or 50 yards away from me, but out of view. He was walking back and forth and gobbling continuosly, but he wouldn’t come any closer. Finally, I picked up my slate call and did some soft clucks and purrs. He went nuts at the sounds and walked to the edge of the field in front of me. I saw him in full strut to my left and he started walking to the right toward my decoys.
Just when he was just about straight in front of me, he came out of strut for a brief moment and lifted his head up slightly. I fired quickly and brought down him down. He ended up being the largest bird I have ever shot. He weighed 24.98 pounds and is only the second bird over 20 pounds that I have taken. Last year, I got a Wisconsin gobbler that weighed 20.5 pounds.
I’ll never forget that Minnesota bird and how I was able to pull him into range with the soft calls. I don’t think enough turkey hunters realize the effectiveness of softer calls. They also can fall into the trap of over calling.
Hunters should remember two things about gobblers: 1. Their hearing is so good that they can pick up even the softest of calls most of the time, except on windy days, and, 2. Gobblers are used to the hens coming to them and hens usually yelp so they can find out where the gobbler is and come to him to breed. So, when you shut up, it can make the gobbler think the hen has lost interest, which may make him come over to investigate and check out what happened to that hen.
The tricky part about this is it can take a long time for the gobbler to get curious enough to leave where he is — sometimes an hour, or two, or even three. My brother, Paul, is very patient when it comes to sitting and waiting for a turkey to come in. Consequently, he has shot more birds than anyone else in our family. In fact, he rarely gets skunked. I used to wonder why he always did so well. Then, it finally occurred to me that he is willing to wait as long as it takes for a turkey to come in.
Nearly every hunting season, his patience is rewarded. Sadly for him, he did not get drawn in the Minnesota lottery this year, so he will not be going turkey hunting, even though he has a chance to buy a surplus license, which go on sale today at 5 p.m. for those who did not get picked in the lottery. Although Paul will not be out in the woods this spring, I hope to bring some of his patience with me as I attempt to pursue gobblers in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.