I typically hunt heavily pressured areas around home, and one particular morning it seemed I just couldn’t shake this guy, who by the sound of his feeble attempts at imitating a hen had obviously just taken up the sport. I’d set up, start calling, and within 10 minutes or so could hear him coming toward me, “scratch-scratch-scratch.” After three or four attempts to get shy of him, I finally decided to wait it out and give him a stern lesson on turkey hunting etiquette, and perhaps calling, depending on how he responded to my admonishment. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a she, a real live hen who literally sat down amid my decoy spread.

While the basis of spring turkey hunting involves calling birds into bow or gun range by imitating the female of the species, the tone, tenor and technique used in the field are often quite different than those wielded in competition calling. Fooling a live turkey is far easier than convincing a judge of your calling prowess, so you have a little more margin for error. All the same, in both cases, it’s often the subtleties and attention to detail that make the difference.

It’s usually not difficult to separate novice turkey hunters from veterans. The former will tell you that calling in a turkey is easy. That may well have been their (extremely limited) experience. Those are the birds we live for, the naive two-year-old longbeards, often satellite toms who orbit around the boss tom and his harem of hens, hoping for a little love. Their amorous maneuvers are usually rebuffed, so they’re eagerly enticed by the possibility of a little something on the side. Enjoy it when it happens, because far more often, it doesn’t.

Similarly, you don’t need to speak fluent turkey to kill the occasional kamikaze bird. If you can yelp three to five times on a box call with even a reasonably accurate cadence you’ve got a chance. If you get a response, wait 5-10 seconds and try again. If you get another reply, you should probably start looking for a place to park your carcass and get ready.

The next phase involves what veteran hunters refer to as taking a turkey’s temperature. Test him with some more calling and see how he reacts. If he fails to respond, shut up and wait. If he responds politely, be subtle with your calling. If he fires back with double and triple gobbles, get aggressive. Now you can start to dress your calls with some cutting and louder yelping. Simply stated, match his intensity.

Now comes the hard part. Just as most fish are lost at the boat, most turkeys are lost in the final 100 yards. If you heard the bird, he heard you; and if he heard you, he knows exactly where you are. Turkeys have an uncanny ability to pinpoint your location from a long ways off simply by sound. If he’s so inclined, he will come to you, so no matter how aggressive his calling is, it’s time for you to ease up.

Several things could happen next. One is that he marches right in, you feel like a hero and end up bragging about how easy it is to call in a turkey. Or, he might take his sweet time, possibly even going silent while he closes the final distance. It can be very unnerving for the hunter, causing him to make mistakes. You think he’s not coming, so you move, only to hear rapidly retreating alarm putts. Or you get anxious and start calling more aggressively, intimidating the bird and sending him on his way. Sit still, be quiet and wait.

If he hangs up or starts to slip away, you might slip out a few soft, seductive purrs to change his mind or just remind him you’re still there. Keep it subtle. Being aggressive now will almost certainly do more harm than good.

If the bird fails to materialize, which, as I mentioned, is far more often the case, try to figure out what went wrong. Maybe he had hens and wasn’t going to leave them anyway. Maybe you moved your hand to scratch a mosquito, and his keen eyes picked up the motion. The list of possibilities goes on ad infinitum, but each loss provides a lesson, and over time, those lessons add up to experience that could one day tip the odds in your direction when dueling with a less cooperative adversary.

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

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