The tom turkeys are trying to get a hen to come to them, and you want the tom to come to you. So be a bit coy and don’t be too aggressive with those turkey calls. Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

The basic premise of spring turkey hunting is to call a male bird within the effective range by imitating a female; then having done so, dispatch it efficiently and expeditiously. It all sounds fairly simple and straightforward, though it seldom works out that way. You should start with a plan, but because so much of turkey hunting is reactionary, knowing how to respond is often the most critical element in a successful hunt.

Most hunts begin with a basic plan of calling a bird right out of the roost. Unfortunately, the birds don’t know the plan, and all too often instead of a suicide run to your decoy spread, the gobbler goes silent and heads straight away. Chances are you called too loudly or too much, or both.

There are days when hens are quite vocal, but more often it is hunters making the most and loudest turkey sounds. Tone it down. Start subtly, then wait and see how they react – what hunters call taking a turkey’s temperature.

Start with a few soft tree yelps, just to let them know you’re there. Old Tom will likely gobble to that, but in his excited state during the breeding season he’ll gobble to most any loud noise, including an owl hoot, a coyote yelp or a creaky farm gate. Don’t get overconfident in your calling. Let him fly down before you continue.

If you’re close enough you might hear the flapping of wings as he exits the roost. If not, listen for a change in volume of his gobbles. They’ll sound farther away when he’s on the ground. Now go to work. Give him a volley of calls and see how he reacts.

A long pause before a response might mean indifference. Perhaps he was going to gobble anyway. Give it another try and if the response is again delayed, wait and see if it sounds like he’s coming or going.

An immediate response is a better sign. Call again and wait for another response. If he booms right back or cuts you off, be a little more emphatic with your next round of calls, but still show restraint. Tease him a little. Remember, he’s trying to call a hen to him, not the other way around.

All is well. The bird seems interested. It’s responding to your every call and is coming closer, so you crank up the volume and intensity of your calling, right? Not so fast. Many’s the slip twixt a cup and a lip, and this bird is far from in the hand. If he’s coming, there’s no need to overcall. There’s a good chance he’ll hang up out of range and out of sight, and over-calling will only increase the odds.

Sometimes you can really fire up a gobbler with aggressive calling and he’ll run to the call, but restraint is more often the better tactic, especially if he hangs up. All is not lost but you have to be cautious about your next moves.

This is when you might switch to closer (rhymes with dozer) calls to seal the deal. Try a little soft purring rather than more yelping. Remind him you’re still there. Ask, don’t tell him to come on over. If that doesn’t work, you might even try scratching in the leaves. Not all hens call, but they all make noise when they move through the forest, so it’s a more natural and common sound. As you gain more experience, reading a bird and knowing how to react become easier, and after all, it’s the journey, not the destination that is most important.

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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