A few days ago on a still spring morning, I was looking to catch a big largemouth bass when a nearby owl hooted their customary greeting call of Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all.
As if on cue, a wild turkey gobbled from a creek bottom that wasn’t too terribly far away from my spot.
Unusual? Hardly since such an occurrence happens every day out in the thick woods of North Texas and southern Oklahoma near where I live.
Except that I wasn’t out in the thick woods, I was right smack dab in the middle of a regional city, chasing bass on a small watershed lake as the hum of highway traffic roared by in several directions and emergency sirens sounded off in the distance.
Who gives a hoot I thought with a smile? The turkeys do, that’s who.
In fact, there are few other sounds that I know of – sometimes including the seductive yelps of winsome turkey hens – that can cause a wily old longbeard to give away his position like the hoot of an owl can.
Even in the middle of the day in the middle of a city where wild turkeys are few and far between.
It’s enough to make a gobbler getter grin, even if he has a graphite fishing rod in his hand and not a shotgun packed with a load of buffered #5 turkey shot.
Missouri hunter , a regular on Bass Pro Shops’ various sponsored hunting programs on Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel over the years, knows that smile very well.
As one of the greatest turkey callers in the history of the game – how else do you describe someone who has won five world championships, five Grand National championships, a Grand National Champion of Champions’ title and 16 U.S. Open turkey calling titles? – Parrott has won many a battle out in the woods by imitating an owl.
Why is that?
“A turkey will gobble at a lot of things, natural and unnatural,” said Parrott, a longtime member of Bill Jordan’s Team Realtree.
“But the owl is his (the gobbler’s) natural enemy. He’s been trying to scoop him up with his talons ever since the turkey has come out of the egg.”
So strong is the wild turkey’s contempt for the owl that a gobbler just can’t help but shock gobble and sound off when he hears one of his avowed enemies hooting on the spring wind.
What’s more, that same spring wind often carries the sound of more than one owl hooting since the season is also the owl’s mating season.
“There’s a good chance that (by giving an owl hoot) you’ll spark an owl’s interest and they’ll start calling back,” said Parrott.
“At that point, you can let them take over the hooting chores and go to work on pinpointing a gobbler’s location.”
And that’s really the whole point of this annual springtime exercise anyway.
“What you’re trying to do is to get the gobbler to give his location away to you,” said Parrott, who excels at chasing turkeys in the regular woods as surely as he mastered the contest calling stage. “That’s why you use an owl call.”
Keep in mind that making owl hoots can be accomplished either through the use of a commercial call or by use of a hunter’s vocal chords.
“I’ve used a reed owl call because I used to have to practice when I was doing it with my mouth,” said Parrott. “And not everyone can do it with their mouth.”
Whichever way a spring turkey hunter goes about giving a hoot in the woods, Parrott cautions them to use sound hunting strategy in the process.
“Use a single-note call first, you don’t want to miss his gobble if he only gobbles once,” said the Show Me State turkey calling legend. “You want to get a direction on him and you can always build up to the eight-note hoot.”
If a hunter has a partner with them out in the woods, even better says Parrott who urges that the extra set of ears be put to good use.
“If you have anyone hunting with you, have them step away from you a few yards,” he said.
“That’s a good idea whether you’re using an owl call or a locator call of any kind, because by separating, your hunting partner can hear a bird gobble better than you can while (you’re) working the call.”
Keep in mind that while hearing a bird gobble back is indeed exhilarating, the idea is to kill a longbeard, not just hear Mr. Johnny Longbeard gobble his head off.
“Less is more,” said Parrott. “You don’t want to overdo it because what you’re just trying to do is to get the turkey’s location.”
While most hunters think of owl hooting as a crack of dawn hunting tactic, the example I used to open this tale helps prove otherwise.
And Parrott agrees, noting that he uses the tactic successfully on up in the morning and even later in the afternoon hours to help pinpoint where a gobbler is roosting so he can have a starting point the next morning.
When using an owl hoot to get a gobbler’s attention, don’t forget to keep a healthy dose of sound hunting strategy and solid woodsmanship in your back pocket.
“Because the foliage is out, you’re not going to hear a turkey as far as if there is no foliage on the trees at all,” said Parrott. “A turkey can be just over the edge of a hill and still sound a mile away.”
Because of that, once the sun has risen and a gobbler responds to the hoot of an owl, caution is in order.
“If you’re within a couple of hundred yards of a gobbling turkey, you probably need to sit down,” said Parrott. “If you move in too close and scare him, chances are that you’ve ruined your hunt that morning for that particular bird.”
But do it just right and an owl hoot can lead to an unforgettable experience in the turkey woods.
Just ask my North Texas turkey hunting friend Doug Rodgers, who used an early morning owl hoot a few years back to tag one of his best longbeards ever.
“I hooted, located the gobbler on the roost and was actually able to move in towards him a little bit,” said Rodgers.
A little later that morning on his lease near Wichita Falls, Texas, the strutting tom was in front of Rodgers’ shotgun, a #5 turkey shot filled scattergun that he used to fill his tag.
“He had an 11-inch beard, he weighed in at over 20-pounds and he had spurs that were well in excess of an inch,” said Rodgers, a top auctioneer for National Wild Turkey Federation dinners in Texas and Oklahoma.
“He was a true limb hanger.”
So much so that the bird now hangs in my hunting pal’s office as one of the best gobblers he’s ever killed.
“He was really fired up that morning,” smiles Rodgers. “And it all started with a simple owl hoot.”