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Hunters need repertoire for calling turkeys

Spring is the turkey mating season, causing tom turkeys to strut, gobble and fight for the opposite sex. (Associated Press)
Spring is the turkey mating season, causing tom turkeys to strut, gobble and fight for the opposite sex. (Associated Press)

With the general spring gobbler hunting season opening Friday in Washington and Idaho, here are some timely tips on talking turkey from Matt Van Cise of Pennsylvania, a 2008 National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Calling Champion and pro-staffer for several turkey hunting equipment companies.

The most common problem in calling a gobbler within shotgun range, he said, is that most hunters call the same way, making it easy for wary longbeards to tell the difference between you and a real hen.

He cites two reasons for the lack of variety in hunters’ calling:

• Most hunters focus on yelping, because it’s the most common turkey sound people hear and one of the easiest to reproduce with a call.

“But I probably kill more turkeys because of cutting and knowing how to do it. I do a lot of short, quick bursts.”

• Far too little time is invested in listening to wild turkeys in the woods and learning to reproduce the varied sounds the birds make.

To become more effective, practice and be proficient with several styles of calls.

A box call, for instance, is a loud call that works great to help locate gobblers, while a glass or slate call is perfect for making soft clucks and purrs to a tom that’s only a short distance away.

“I prefer to use a (mouth call), because it keeps my hands free,” Van Cise said. “But I use it all. Without a doubt, a mouth call carries the least distance. A box call has a tone that’s very similar to a wild turkey, and the farther away you get from it, the better is sounds. A mouth call is just the opposite. In close, it sounds great. Farther away, it loses something.”

On gobblers that respond to virtually every call he makes, Van Cise will use the bird’s eagerness to his advantage by using the gobbling to keep track of its location while he quickly closes the distance between himself and the bird.

“I am going to go straight at him,” Van Cise said. “I want him to think I am a hen and I am coming. And once I am at a certain point, I am going to sit down and let him close the distance.”

When trying to lure a heavily hunted gobbler, Van Cise often tries a different strategy by calling infrequently and approaching from a direction other hunters aren’t likely to attempt.

In the case of birds that gobble regularly on their own but seem to shut up when called to, he’ll make a patient approach toward the bird’s own gobbles and then set up and call very lightly once he is as close as he can get without the possibility of spooking the bird.

Once a gobbler is close, Van Cise prefers to limit his calling to soft clucks and purrs. “And maybe the most deadly call,” he added, “is scratching in the leaves” to imitate the sound made by a turkey searching for food on the forest floor.”