Silence of the Toms
Throw boss gobblers a calling curveball or two this spring
For Texas turkey guide J.J. Kent, there are few things better than calling in a spring gobbler, especially when he has a favored turkey call in his hand, either a custom built wooden slate call with a peg striker or one of his preferred mouth diaphragm calls.
On some days in the often windy springtime woods of the Lone Star State, the truth is that either style of call – or a sweet-sounding box call – can be used to get a boss gobbler to betray his whereabouts.
After that, with a little more calling magic and some good old fashioned woodsmanship, the final result can often be a longbeard with sharp spurs that gets an invite to the guide's dinner table, particularly on those wonderful days when it all works like an Outdoor Channel television show does.
You know, the ones where a TV rock star hunter calls loudly and the birds gobble their everlasting heads off and come sailing right on in as the hunting world watches.
When it all works like that and a big old longbeard gobbler comes waltzing in on springtime’s greatest dance, there are few things better in the outdoors world.
Thanks to changes in weather, the presence of predators, the various portions of the spring's breeding cycle or just the particular moody flavor of the day, gobblers can sometimes be a bit on the kinder and gentler side of things, so to speak, and turkeys aren’t nearly as aggressive with their vocal chords or their antics.
At times, they can be even on the church mouse quiet side of things, coming into a hunter’s shooting position with nary a sound being made.
In a movie not quite fit for outdoors television, a production known as Silence of the Toms.
On such days when gobblers have a serious case of “shut-mouth” disease, a hunter needs to leave the loud, aggressive calls and run-and-gun hunting tactics tucked away in the backside of their turkey hunting vest, or even parked back at the pick-up truck.
When those days show up on the hunting calendar, Kent has learned that it pays to back off a little bit, or even a lot, as both a caller and a springtime turkey hunter.
(Lynn Burkhead photo)
Instead of pulling a page from the modern DVD or television turkey hunting playbook, the Mossy Oak pro-staffer reverts to the ways of the sport's legendary old-timers who used to hunt carefully, call quietly and sparingly and barely move a muscle for an hour or more.
Sometimes that’s more than an old gobbler can stand, even if it takes him awhile to figure it all out.
“As for the calling, actually, this might not be the best sales tactic out there, but less is sometimes the better approach when it comes to calling turkeys,” said Kent, a pro-staffer for Zink Calls and Avian-X Decoys.
That’s because wild turkeys are just that, wild game, and not a bunch of birds strutting around on an electronic video game. One day they’ll be hot and gobbling their heads off at virtually any sound that is made. And the very next day, they can be just the opposite and utter nary a peep.
The trick is figuring out which mood they are in on any given day and then adjusting your calling and hunting strategy accordingly.
When you do so, you match the gobbler’s mood, or you take the so-called temperature of the bird as legendary turkey call maker Will Primos likes to say.
Sometimes, that’s going to be when a caller is as cool as a cucumber and not as hot as the noon-day sun high up in the springtime sky.
“Lots of times, new turkey hunters will call too much and the gobblers will come in without making any noise,” said Kent. “If you call at them too much, a lot of times, the gobbler will bust you.”
This can be because sometimes a hunter is so focused on making racket that he fails to even realize that the king and his court have quietly arrived on scene.
While it would seem that everyone, on TV at least, is always using a loud cutting-style diaphragm call, Kent often likes to tone things down with the softer calling slate call.
“The Zink slate calls are really easy to use and they are a great call for a beginning turkey caller to work,” said Kent, a Pottsboro, Texas, resident. “The noises can be quieter and softer and that is often what a turkey is looking for.”
If less is sometimes more when calling difficult gobblers, another way of dealing with moody turkeys in the springtime is to throw them a complete curveball with your calling tactics.
So says Primos, who as you might expect, eagerly recommends his own company's turkey calls for a hunter's day off in the woods.
Such calls helped Primos himself turn the tables on a couple of North Texas longbeards a few years back when they hung up just outside of the Mississippi turkey call manufacturer's effective shooting range.
(Photo courtesy of Primos)
“There was no reason for them to not come, but they wouldn’t,” Primos recalled. “I had seen those turkeys and they were big boys! I tried everything that I could and nothing happened.”
Primos eventually solved the springtime riddle by simply throwing the gobblers a woodsy pitch that they were not expecting, in the springtime, at least.
“I got quiet for 10 minutes and then kee-keed to them, trying to tell them I was a young turkey and they came right on in," said Primos with a smile.
Leading the Primos Truth About Hunting television show host on Outdoor Channel to face a dilemma that only resourceful, and successful, spring turkey hunters face each hunting campaign.
And that is which favored recipe to use for another springtime gobbler that has finally responded to a dinner table invitation.