Something I’ve realized about myself as a hunter over the past two years is my reluctance to try tactics that stray too far from those I learned when starting out in this sport. My buddy Chad taught me to hunt elk with a rifle, spotting and stalking the animals to within 300 yards. We never used spotting scopes or calls. Chad’s had the same Leupold scope on his Ruger since the early 80s. He keeps thing old school, and since he always gets an elk, I’ve followed suit.
This year, though, I finally had success with some elk calls during a late-season cow hunt. That may not seem like a big deal for most hunters, but calling cow elk back into range with a calf call was a huge step forward in my own hunting game. And while I ended up not needing to call any elk in to fill that tag, I’m confident I could do so if needed.
With turkey season fast approaching here in Utah, I’m trying to force myself to take that same open mindset. I’ve gone 0-for-2 on back-to-back turkey hunts, including one where I had a limited-entry tag. Something needs to change, because what I’ve done in the past hasn’t worked.
I can – and will – change most of my approach this year, starting with my calls. From reading articles, listening to podcasts, talking with wildlife biologists, and getting advice from my successful turkey hunting buddies, I’ve learned the following about turkey calls.
This never crossed my mind before, but it makes sense. How you hunt turkeys has to play into what call you use. For example, if you’re using a strutting decoy to reap turkeys, you have to keep your hands free. A mouth call makes the most sense in that situation.
If you’re hunting from the ground or a blind, though, or even behind stationary decoys, then you have the flexibility of going with a box, pot, or push-and-pull call.
Also, bear in mind that a lot of turkey hunters like using “locator calls.” These calls are made to mimic the sounds of potential threats to turkeys – like owls, crows, and hawks. A good locator call will make a tom gobble, which is helpful if you’re stalking in thicker timber and can’t seem to find a roost.
You’ll also want to pick a call based on how much experience you have using them for other types of game. Even though there’s a big difference in sound from a cow elk call to a turkey call, the theory behind using a mouth reed to make those sounds isn’t all that different.
The consensus among all the folks I’ve spoken with is that box calls are the easiest to master for beginners. Friction calls – like a push-and-pull or pot call – aren’t that hard either, but a box call is about as simple as it gets.
I started out with a box call from my local Sportsman’s Warehouse, and I think I spent $7 or $8 on it. They’re cheap enough you can get a few to find one with a sound you like.
It’s almost impossible to say that one type of call is inherently better than the other, simply because what’s best for you may not be best for someone else. You may become a master of the box call, and never need to use anything else. But another hunter, just as successful with turkey calling and hunting, won’t be as adept at the box call as you are. It’s not a slight against either hunter; rather, it’s an example of how we all gravitate towards what works best for us and our experiences.
For me, mouth calls are better because I like both hands free while I’m hunting. Even if I’m not using decoys and I’m hunting from behind a blind, I’d rather have both hands ready to shoot than fiddling with a friction-style call. That’s just how I like to hunt.
The best turkey call for you is going to be whatever lets you hunt the way you want, while also effectively bringing birds within shooting range.
What calls have you used in the past? And do you have any extra advice for novice turkey hunters? Let us know in the comments.