Perhaps the biggest mistake novice turkey hunters make is calling too much. The second-biggest is not calling enough. The rub then, is figuring out the right amount. Fortunately you can sometimes let the turkeys tell you.

Let’s start with preseason, a common area for mistakes. The answer to how much you should call is: Not at all. Don’t call to turkeys before the season, period. All you’ll do is educate and desensitize them. You should practice your calling but not where you or anyone else is going to hunt.

Now, the first morning hunt. You roosted a flock the night before, slipped in under cover of the pre-dawn darkness and as daylight breaks, the birds are gobbling from the nearby treetops. It’s tempting to offer a few loud yelps and tell them, “I’m over here; come on over.”

That might work but you’re far better off listening to what’s going on over at the roost. Hens are starting to wake and may be uttering a few soft tree yelps. Do the same; try to sound like a hen that is just stirring and may be a bit anxious about leaving the safety of the limb. What you should do next again depends on what happens first.

If you’re close enough, you might be able to hear the flapping of wings and breaking of branches as turkeys launch from the limb and sail to the ground. This is a critical period; it’s when both gobblers and hens are most vocal. You should be too, but don’t overcall.

If the gobbler is alone, he’s already heard your tree calling and may be inclined to come your way. Give him a few yelps – to let him know you’ve flown from the roost – and see how he reacts. If he gobbles back, it’s a good sign. Make sure he’s gobbling at you, though, and not just because he feels like it. You still want to play it cool; too much calling might discourage him. But if he answers your every call, you can get a little more aggressive until you’re sure he’s headed your way. Then go silent.

If he’s with hens, he already has what he wants and you won’t call him away. Instead, turn your attention to the hens. Start by mimicking them. If they call softly, you call softly. If they’re loud and aggressive, follow suit. Let them know, “Over here is as good as where you are, maybe better.”

If the hens respond aggressively to your calling, give it right back. If you rile them, they might come over to investigate or drive off the perceived intruder. But you also run the risk of them taking the gobbler away from you in the opposite direction. Sometimes you have to roll the dice.

You’ll probably find out pretty soon whether your calling worked or not. If it didn’t, you can try to flank the flock and get ahead or go elsewhere in search of a more receptive gobbler.

As morning fades, the hens have gone off to do their thing while the toms, suddenly finding themselves alone, sometimes redouble their efforts at finding a mate. Stroll along and call occasionally to see if you can raise a gobble. If you can get a response, then the game begins again.

Now you do what turkey hunters sometimes refer to as taking a bird’s temperature. Start calling modestly and see how the gobbler reacts. If he seems indifferent, you can continue to call sparingly in hopes of firing him up, but be subtle and play it coy. If he hammers back, you can get more aggressive. Try to sound like an excited, agitated hen and again, listen to how he responds. If he’s obviously headed your way, scale back your calling gradually. Make him find you.

Every situation is a little different so it’s difficult to go into too much more detail. The key is listening to the turkeys and being able to interpret what’s going on. And remember that calling is not the end-all to turkey hunting. Sometimes even the best caller can’t bring a bird in. How sweet and seductively you call is far less important than saying the right thing at the right time.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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