Sounding The Call Wild Turkeys Growing As Hunters’ Quarry
Want to drive the guys wild? Just make like a hen.
Cluck, flutter, putt, purr, cackle.
Of course, the guys already are more than a little wild. They’re turkeys. Transplanted to the Inland Northwest, they’ve gone native and are passionately pursued by a growing number of hunters every spring.
The monthlong turkey season doesn’t open for several weeks. That meant some woodsy types were free on Saturday to enter the first Turkey-rama calling contest sponsored by Cast-n-Blast sporting goods.
“The sounds can be a little off in pitch,” explained emcee Kevin Collins. “The birds are interested in a rhythm more than anything else.”
One by one, contestants disappeared behind a camouflage blind in the parking lot. Three judges seated in front cocked their ears. They had to sort out the eerily natural calls from the rumble of car traffic.
They heard gobs of gobbles, but also some intricate and subtle cadences such as the flydown cackle. That’s the noise a hen might make as she flutters from her nightly roost in a tree.
The sounds are made with the help of tiny mouth devices made of aluminum and latex, or with plastic strikers rubbed across slate. To imitate wing beats, Dan McKinley beats his hat against his leg.
The Spokane hunter walked away with the first-place prize, a shotgun. McKinley also hoped to snag new members for the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He helped form the group after moving from Mississippi last year.
In that state, there are 20 hunters for every wild turkey. Washington had about eight birds for every turkey hunter last year, McKinley said. That means birds are less wary in the Inland Northwest.
“Here, the birds are learning as the hunters are learning. It evens the odds,” he said.
McKinley expects the sport to boom in the next five years. It gives hunters a reason to be in the field when they can’t hunt deer and other game.
Another appeal is the hide-andseek of the hunt, McKinley said.
“We call it ‘Advanced Cowboys and Indians.”’
On a spring evening, a hunter will locate a gobbler - it’s only legal to kill males - and wait for dawn. The trick then is to imitate a female. That riles the real hens, which take out after the hunter. The males aren’t far behind.
In the brushy habitat of Eastern Washington and North Idaho, the hunter may not see the birds until they get within 40 yards, McKinley said. If the wary birds spot the hunter, it’s all over.
“A gobbler can hear you from close to a mile away. When he sees you, he can spot any movement as small as the blink of an eye,” McKinley said. “If you just barely flinch, he’s gone.”
Turkeys offer the most challenging hunt for 18-year-old outdoorsman Jeremiah White of Spokane.
“There’s nothing like calling a bird,” said White. “You’ve gotta talk to the birds to call them in.”
White bagged a 25-pound Merriam’s turkey a few years back, setting an unofficial Washington record. He took second place in Saturday’s Turkey-rama; John Neudorfer placed third.
Winners in the children’s division were Joe Peterson, first; James Goodwin second; and Bryan Anderson, third.