I can remember listening to a chorus of gobbles ringing down a hardwood ridge in north-central, Missouri. I was sitting back to an oak tree on Union Ridge Conservation Area hoping to kill a public-land bird.
It was my first out-of-state hunting trip ever and the birds, while vocal, weren’t much interested in my calls. My hunting buddy was having similar luck, and while it was fun, it also was frustrating.
During our last day, as the 1-o’clock opener closed in, he and I moved to a new spot and decided on a new strategy. Instead of calling sparingly and shutting up as soon as we got an answer, we decided go all-out and call back-and-forth to one-another. Thirty seconds in we got a distant response, so we kept going. Soon enough it was clear the gobbler was hot and he was on his way.
We readied our shotguns, kept calling and when the bird sounded like he was in our neighborhood we both nearly wet ourselves when a shotgun boomed just below us. Someone had heard the conversation we were having and snuck in to intercept our bird. Other than that, it was a pretty awesome experience.
Since then, I’ve decided pressured birds don’t always follow the rules we think they should. We often decide they’ve heard all the calls out there, and have developed a discriminating ear. I’m of the opinion that might be a bunch of bunk.
After all, if you listen to hens call, they often sound terrible. They make sounds that don’t have names, and they call whenever their little turkey-brain synapses fire. For a tom to know what is a real hen and what is a good caller, is a stretch, even on the most pressured ground.
I do believe they approach more cautiously on pressured ground and that often leads us to believe they are call-shy. I think they are just cautious in general, especially on public land, but they aren’t call-shy in a lot of cases. If you’re camoed up, or your blind is truly brushed in, I think you can call a lot more than most would assume.
In fact, I think they might like it better in a lot of cases. I spend a lot of time on public land chasing turkeys, and I call a lot. A lot. I’ve got buddies who aren’t as confident in their calling skills, so they go the cautious route, and they rarely get the opportunities I do. I know part of it is just due to general experience, but I also think they don’t offer turkeys a convincing enough argument to join the party.
I think about it this way: I’ve watched a lot of hen turkeys randomly scratching their way through the woods that will yelp three or four times and then shut up. They may purr a little, throw out a doo-whit, or a few more yelps, but they aren’t excited. You can tell.
Other birds, when they get separated from the flock, or feel like an interloper hen is in their turf, will get vocal. Really vocal. When that happens, you almost always know a gobbler will respond. It’s almost a guarantee.
Because of this, I think it’s a good bet to get after them with the calls. If you’ve got a hot longbeard, you can back off and kill him because he is coming either way (thank goodness for two-year olds), but for other birds that aren’t so sure, give them something persuasive.
I know it doesn’t always work, but if you try it you’ll find out those birds you’re scared to call to, might just want you to tell them something sweet, in a loud, aggressive manner, over and over. Try it.