Passive or aggressive: the great calling debate

If you spend a lot of seasons in the turkey woods, you’ll
develop your own opinions on calling. And you’ll get into some
dandy conversations with other hunters who don’t share your
opinions.

It’s a long-standing issue that essentially comes down to two
camps: Those who believe in calling soft and sparingly; and those
who call often and more aggressively.

The details surrounding any given hunt and even moments within
an encounter can beg for different styles of calling. So can the
quality of each hunter’s turkey imitations.

How can two hunters have opposing views on this subject, and
both also have impressive photo albums showing themselves grinning
behind fanned-out tail feathers?

I should worry about more pressing issues than this, but I’ve
spent way too much time trying to broker a peace agreement between
the two sides. Despite their meager value, here are my
conclusions.

Turkeys are gregarious, vocal birds. They also are very good at
staying alive even though numerous enemies lurk, hoping to eat
them. They can go quiet if they sense danger, even though they were
yelping up a storm or gobbling a few moments earlier. “But when one
turkey wants to get with another turkey,” says hunting legend Ray
Eye, “They call loud and a lot.”

I can vouch for that. I’ve been in the woods many times when the
real turkeys were calling in loud, raucous sequences, and have put
myself in pitch battles with real hens for the attention of a
gobbling tom. When turkeys want something, they are not shy about
asking for it.

For those who claim you should always call softly and sparingly,
that seems to be a reality to either ignore or dismiss. Turkeys are
not quiet little peepers all the time; they get in the mood to
gobble their heads off, and yelp, cut, and carry on.

If they hear what they believe is another real turkey calling,
it can absolutely cause them to start calling when they had been
silent. Also, even if a tom is not in the mood to gobble, he very
well might come over to aggressive, realistic-sounding turkey
talk.

Here’s where the calling ability of each hunter enters the
equation. If you don’t sound like a real turkey, calling louder and
more frequently is only going to hurt your chances. But if you
sound like a real turkey, calling like a turkey who wants company
will put the odds in your favor more often than calling softly
will.

After all, isn’t all hunting and fishing an odds game? We fish
structural elements because they are collection points for fish. We
should call like a turkey who wants company if we can sound
realistic while doing it.

When deciding how much and how aggressively to call (I hate the
term “loud”), be brutally honest with yourself about how good your
calling sounds. Take to the woods packing only the calls you
operate best. Keep practicing with every style of turkey call, but
only hunt with the ones you use to fool turkeys.

Also consider the details of the situation. If you have
patterned a big tom and know he visits a certain little pasture
every day at about the same time, and are sitting there in a blind
waiting for him, there is no need to sound like you’re trying to
win the Grand National calling championship.

He’s going to be there soon enough. Call every once in a while,
and sound eager for company, and you should do well.

But let’s say you drove all night from your house out to the
Black Hills. You wake up and start “hunting,” even though you’re
really scouting as you hunt. Chances are, you won’t sit down in one
spot and wait for a turkey to pass. You are going to be walking and
calling (I also hate the term “run-and-gun” because you rarely
break into a trot). In this situation, why would it be better to
emit soft clucks and purrs? You have to find birds, let them know
where you are, and tell them you want to get together.

Let’s now say you’ve been walking and calling all over the Black
Hills for several hours, when after 154 yelps you finally get an
answer. Assuming you sound like a real turkey, why not let the real
turkey believe you’re in the mood to get together? Yelp and cut at
him like you’re ready right now. When his gobbles have trailing
rattle sounds behind them, things are getting close. At that point,
you can temper your calling approach if you want.

Let’s say that two weeks later you’re down in southeastern
Minnesota hunting on the farm where you grew up. You know most of
the traditionally good spots and could walk to them in the dark
without a flashlight.

In that case, you probably don’t have to call much. If you can
put yourself in the right spot a place you know a turkey will
approach it can be enough to just let him know you’re there. Many
of the most ardent advocates of sparse calling do most of their
hunting on ground they know intimately. They cluck once or twice an
hour, and peer with disdain at anyone who would utter a complete
turkey sentence.

Turkeys are individuals. Much has been written about this, and
it’s true in my experience. They also seem capable of being
boisterous one day and quiet the next. They can be in different
moods. Who knows why for sure? It also seems to be true that you
can gauge a tom’s response to your calling and adjust for it. If he
loves loud cutting, give it to him. Why deprive him of what turns
him on?

But weird stuff can happen, even in the middle of an encounter,
and you have to pick up on it. For example, it’s often an advantage
to team up on a turkey with another caller, sounding like two
different hens. Or, sound like two hens yourself by using a mouth
call and slate at the same time.

But pay attention to the turkey and what he likes. If he’s
gobbling good to your mouth call, then you introduce the slate call
and assume he’s going to climb all over it. Notice if he doesn’t
answer. If he’s locked into your mouth call, or your aluminum call,
or your box, keep giving that to him.

Sometimes, they’ll shut up and melt away if you do something
they don’t like.

It’s not a simple subject. It’s not a cut-and-dried argument
where you can plant yourself firmly in one philosophical
region.

There are those who are really good callers who subscribe to the
minimalist point of view, and kill lots of turkeys. They are all
very good at choosing a setup spot, walking quietly in the woods,
and scouting.

On the other hand, lousy callers who call aggressively kill very
few turkeys.

If you’re a good caller, you have the option of calling
sparingly or aggressively. It comes down to choosing what you like
and listening to your instincts as you work each bird.

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