Call of the Wild…Turkey
I hunted turkeys for the first time in 1995. Dad and I had no idea what we were doing but he wanted me to try it anyway. I had a call but really didn’t know how to use. I had enough military surplus camo to get by but dad had none; he wore an old pair of brown slacks and a green hooded sweatshirt. We build a crude blind out of sticks that we found and sat for about and hour and a half without seeing or hearing anything. We weren’t surprised.
It wasn’t until Spring of 1998 that I shot my first turkey. I had added on some better camouflage by that time and learned how to use a box and mouth calls well enough to make a good yelp. I was in the woods before sunrise and got set up in a good location. I hadn’t sat long when I heard a gobble a few hundred yards away. I moved closer to him and got settled before I started calling. I never heard him call a second time when I saw his head pop up from a small drop in the terrain 30 yards away. But the time he made it to 20 yards I had the bead of the Remington over his head and down he went.
The real key to my first turkey was calling and almost every other turkey I’ve since shot has also succumbed to a call. I started on a box call and have come to favor that style over all others. I find boxes very easy to use and they offer lots of volume control. Maybe some folks can belt out a yelp or cackle with a mouth or slate but I certainly can’t. I also think they have the most natural sound. I still use slates and mouth calls frequently but will never head for the woods without a box.
I only own two box calls. I like to have an assortment of different calls for use in different situations and to add variety. After all, like people, it is rare to find two turkeys that sound alike. But I don’t see the utility in collecting a whole slew of calls. It just adds to more equipment to keep track of and maintain. My Dick Kirby signature Boat Paddle Field Grade by Quaker Boy is my favorite. It was my first call and I have had it with me on nearly every turkey hunt. Beyond sentimentality I really like the call’s feel. Maybe it’s simply because I’ve used it so much but the proportions just feel right. I don’t have to struggle to use it or contort my hands into awkward positions. The only down side is it’s length. At almost a foot long it is not always easy to carry in a pocket and on occasion I have had to resort to carrying a pack just so I could comfortably bring it along.
My other box is made by Sweet Cedar Turkey Calls which is a small company in New York’s Capitol Region. They started with box and slate calls several years ago and have also added mouth calls. The Sweet Cedar is more compact than my Quaker Boy and it is very user-friendly. The screw securing the paddle to the box is fairly snug and also has a modest spring wrapped around it. This results in little play between the paddle and box. This took some getting used to but with some practice it is quite comfortable and has a natural feel. I don’t think it has quite the same capability for volume as the Quaker Boy but it has a wide range of tones and make soft, subtle tree yelps and purrs as well as raspy yelps and cackles. A real advantage of calls made by small companies is that every hunter in the woods won’t have one.
I also use slate calls but not as heavily as the boxes. I find them a little more susceptible to moisture when they are used in wet weather and they seem to wear a bit as they are transported in my pocket- the fabric seems to smooth off the sanding on the surface. When this happens I find it tough to get any sound out of them at all. But I do like slates for calling birds that are in close. It’s easy to hide the slate in the palm of my hand an manipulate the peg with minimal movement. I heavily favor actual slate to other materials. I’ll admit I have not used a wide range of slate alternatives but the ones I have used don’t seem to be able to produce the raspy sound of an old, dominant hen.
Mouth calls have never really appealed to me. I have several and try to bring one every time I go out because they are completely hands-free. This makes it easy to get your gun to your shoulder if you’re caught off guard while still calling a bird in. I have met a number of hunters who can do amazing things with mouth calls but I have never been able to manage anything more than a yelp.
I have managed to hunt turkeys strictly by patterning and being in the right place at a time when I was confidant that turkeys would be moving through. This is a common method for fall hunting and I have even managed to make it work in the spring. But calling makes turkey hunting special. It affords an opportunity to not simply study, wait, and see what comes down the trail but truly interact with the animal and try to out-wit it at it’s own game.