When seeking advice about turkey hunting, among other things, it’s sometimes advisable to consider the source. I was largely, though not entirely, self-taught, my calling lessons coming from a cassette that played tirelessly in my truck, usually with the windows up so as not to draw strange looks from pedestrians. It was very helpful in learning tone, cadence and different calls for different applications, and with lots of practice I eventually got good enough to call in a turkey or two.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned my aggressive technique could use some refinement. I was discussing turkey-calling techniques with a seasoned veteran and pro staffer for one of the more familiar call companies, the anonymity of which shall remain intact.
“I’m in the business of selling turkey calls,” he candidly admitted. “Naturally I’m going to tell people to call a lot.”
However, he didn’t always practice what he preached.
Somewhat the same applies to tournament callers. Most are as good as or better than the birds they mimic. But they’re far more intent on impressing a panel of judges concealed behind a curtain than the ultimate judge hidden in the underbrush. Many I’ve met are also accomplished turkey hunters and woodsmen, and they call far less in the field than they do on the stage.
In New England, we’re only about a generation and a half into the sport. That means most locals learned their calling and hunting tactics in the age of calling contests, hunting videos and the fairly modern practice of run-and-gun hunting. If you want to know how it was done before the days of decimation and restoration, you need to go to the Deep South where there have always been turkeys and turkey hunters, and some folks still practice the “old ways.”
Or you can simply pick up a book on the subject, and there is none better than “America’s Greatest Game Bird: Archibald Rutledge’s Turkey-Hunting Tales,” edited by Jim Casada.
In stories written before most of us were born, Rutledge weaves sound advice into a fabric so enjoyable that you’ll smile and sometimes even chuckle under your breath as you read.
Describing the importance of patience and stealth, he wrote, “The man who knows how to be silent in the woods, who, for an hour or so, can make himself an excellent imitation of a stump, is in a fair way toward getting turkeys.” He noted if a turkey should ever see a hunter, “he’ll quit the country; he’ll quit the world.”
As for calling, Rutledge was a proponent of what we now refer to as the old-school style of calling once, then waiting an excruciatingly long time.
“There is a psychology about turkey-calling that the hunter should do well to heed. The old gobbler is an aristocrat, a patrician. When he hears a call, what stirs him is exactly what stirs a man. He envisions some wildwood princess, some enchantress, demure and elusive. If ever I get an answer, however faint and far away, I stop calling. That silence intrigues the gobbler’s soul. He just has to see what kind of wonderful creature shows indifference toward him. If I call too much he will not come; not because he is afraid but because he is disgusted. He says to himself, ‘That girl must be a common sort after all; she’s too eager.’ ”
Modern hunters would do well to heed Rutledge’s advice. Stealth, woodsmanship and patience are far greater attributes to possess than any calling acumen. And one needn’t work a box call until the sparks fly in order to lure in the “old bearded men,” as Rutledge respectfully refers to America’s greatest gamebird.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: