Calling wild turkeys is a key part of the hunt. The effective shooting range for most of us with a shotgun is about 30 yards. In most cases, you can’t sit and wait for a gobbler to wander by.
You have to lure him in, be it with the plaintive cluck of a hen or the high-pitched squeal of an upstart tom invading his territory.
Choosing A Turkey Call
There are countless options for turkey calls. Choosing the best turkey call for your hunt depends on several factors:
- Your skill level at calling wild turkeys
- The month and hunting season (spring or fall)
- Whether you’re scouting or actively hunting
- The sex and dominant status of your target turkey
- The terrain and type of land you’ll hunt (public or private)
- Your state’s hunting regulations. In Missouri, for example, electronic calls are not permitted.
Turkey Call Types
There are several different forms of turkey call, but they can be broadly classified into two categories: those that use friction to create sound and those that use air to create sound.
The box call is one of the most common and versatile types of turkey calls. It creates sound with use of a wooden paddle that rasps along the side of an acoustic chamber. Important features:
One drawback to box turkey calls is that most don’t work if they get wet (no friction). One exception is the Primos Wet Box call, which is coated with a proprietary waterproofing resin.
The slate call is another friction call, this one with two pieces: a “pot” which has a sounding board (slate, glass, aluminum, or another material) over a sounding chamber, and a striker usually made of wood. The Ol’ Betsy slate call by Primos is a prime example: the sounding board is Pennsylvania slate, and the striker is hardwood.
Though a bit harder to master, slate calls tend to have a more diverse calling range. Hold the striker as you would a pencil, and:
Slate calls tend to be small and portable, which is useful, but don’t lose the striker! Without that specially-made wooden peg, the call is fairly useless. I found this out the hard way in my teenage years.
Push-button Turkey Calls
This type of friction call features a box-like sounding chamber and integrated striker that you push with a finger or thumb. It’s especially useful for one-handed operation, reducing the hunter’s movement and letting him hold the gun or bow. Some important things to note:
I happen to own the Knight & Hale Tom Coffin pushbutton call. It’s portable and lightweight, perfect for throwing in the day pack during my fall turkey hunts. Clucks and yelps are pretty routine to make, but for other types of sounds you’ll want a different call.
Diaphragm Turkey Calls
And then there are the mouth-operated turkey calls, which usually consist of a hard cardboard-like frame and a latex diaphragm. The hunter uses his breath and mouth to shape calls, using the diaphragm’s vibration to accomplish this.
The obvious advantage to diaphragm calls is that you work them with your mouth, so you keep both hands free and can really control the sound. There’s little movement, too, so many turkey hunters use these to bring the tom in those last few critical yards.
Hunter’s Specialties Infinity line of diaphram calls has 5-6 different models to choose from. The Raspy Old Hen is still my favorite, both in name and use.
Gobbler Shaker Calls
This is a dangerous type of call to use, so much that I’m reluctant to mention it. It’s a hand-operated shaker call that produces the thunderous gobble of a male turkey. It’s loud, it’s easy to use. In some situations, it may be the right “challenge” call to bring a dominant gobbler to you. Side note: if you’re pursuing subdominant toms, this might drive them off.
Using a gobbler call is dangerous, however, mostly because it’s likely to draw any turkey hunters within hearing range toward you. Here are some safety guidelines
Incidentally, the Primos Gobbler shaker call will produce a “jake” gobble with one-handed operation; making the mature-tom gobble requires both hands.
Turkey Locator Calls
There are times when you want to locate gobblers — during preseason scouting, for example, or once they’re on the roost the night before a hunt — without bringing them to you. To do this, you’re looking to elicit a “shock gobble” from a turkey nearby. It’s the turkey equivalent of shouting “Ah!” if someone sneaks up behind and startles you.
Interestingly, barred owls and other owl species sometimes prey on turkey young or even small hens, but a gobbler’s out of their class. This may be part of why a tom instinctively gobbles when he hears an owl hoot; it’s almost letting the owl know not to mess with him.
If you have to pick one locator call, go with an owl hooter. My favorite is Knight & Hale’s alumium locator call because it’s small and light, and comes with a lanyard to hang around your neck.
Another advantage to locator calls during your hunt is to find an area that holds gobblers without drawing them toward you, at least until you have time to set up. You can also keep tabs on a tom that’s moving, in hopes of figuring out his destination and sneaking ahead to set an ambush.
Get Ready for Turkey Hunting
One thing that I really like about turkey hunting is that it requires relatively little equipment other than camouflage, a gun, and a turkey call. If you wanted to stuff your pockets a bit further and have some variety, do this:
- Bring a locator call to find the gobbler
- Bring a slate call for long-distance, loud yelping and cutting
- Bring a box call for medium range clucks and yelps
- Bring a mouth call to bring him into gun range.