Tree Talk: Strategies for Calling Turkeys at First Light

During early morning hunts when gobblers are vocal, sometimes the best call to make is the silent treatment

Tree Talk: Strategies for Calling Turkeys at First Light
At morning's first light, few soft calls to let a roosted gobbler know a hen is nearby is often all that is needed. Too much calling can make a gobbler stay on the roost longer. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Burkhead)

Living in the land of Texas' famed Rio Grande turkeys, few things get me as fired up as chasing loudmouthed longbeards across the vast reaches of my home state.

Especially at first light when a Lone Star State river bottom or creek bed filled with oak trees, pecans and cottonwoods suddenly lights up with dozens of raucous gobbles.

As it turns out, I'm not alone in my love of these chatty toms that just can't seem to keep their beaks shut.

In fact, Texas is one of the nation's most popular states to spring turkey hunt in, annually drawing many outside visitors who are eager to tote a shotgun into the arid terrain as the bluebonnets pop into full bloom.


And that includes a number of outdoor television programs with producers intent on trying to make a lovesick Lone Star State longbeard into a bona fide TV star.


"I love hunting Rio Grandes," said Jimmy Primos, cousin to call maker Will Primos and one of the co-hosts of Outdoor Channel's television show Primos Truth About Hunting.

"(When we've hunted in Texas), it (often) seems like everything I've used has worked."

The problem is the noisy nature of the state's Rios can lead hunters to make a serious mistake, one that hunters of Eastern gobblers, Merriam’s toms and Osceola longbeards are prone to make too.

And that's the mistake of calling too much at a gobbler who has yet to hit the ground as the sun prepares to peak over the eastern horizon.


"If there is one time that you can definitely call too much on any bird, it's while that turkey is still up in the roost tree," said Primos.

"Lots of hunters – especially beginners – love hearing those gobblers gobble."

Especially before the sun has even come up.


But the goal isn't just to hear a wild tom sound off often and early on a given morning, it's to eventually cause some feathered floppage as the trigger is pulled and a tag gets utilized.

"The reason that you don't want to call too much while a gobbler is still in a tree is that the longer he stays there and hears you calling, the more he thinks that a hen is going to be coming his way," said Primos.

So what's the remedy for this potential early morning error, whether in Texas or elsewhere in wild turkey country?

"I try to get in as close as I can to the roost tree," said Primos. "And then I call very, very little. All that does – calling too much – is to encourage him to stay up in that tree."

And wait for a hen that is never going to be coming his way.

Which helps shine light upon a common mistake for those who live and hunt back east have about Texas and its population of nearly 600,000 Rio Grandes, that they're easy-peasy birds who will fall for just about anything.

"I think the Rio Grande's in Texas are as sharp as the Easterns are that we hunt elsewhere," said Will Primos, fellow co-host of the Primos Truth About Hunting TV program.

"They're just not as exposed to the hunting pressure that Easterns are."

Having hunted Rio Grandes in my home state since the early 1990s, I can attest to what Will Primos said above.

In fact, the turkeys I started hunting were on a ranch that received a decent amount of hunting pressure. As a result, those North Texas Rios were about as cagey as any wild turkey can be and they taught me a number of hard-earned lessons.

Especially early in the morning when there is no shortage of hens ready and willing to sound off and keep the annual breeding cycle going for another year.

Come mid-morning however, after the gobbling waltz had slowed down a bit from the first light frenzy, and it's then many a tom turkey has met his demise in the Lone Star State as he goes on the prowl to look for love again.

And that's when a lot of great Outdoor Channel television footage gets filmed as Texas Rio Grandes start lining up for mid-day auditions.

"It's a little bit different style of hunting than what we're used to back East," said Jimmy. "Texas Rio Grandes seem to range a little bit more and call more during the day than Easterns do."

Which is a casting call that any turkey hunter has got to like as a big old dusty tom saunters in, voices his well-rehearsed line and looks for the camera.

In a wild and riveting performance that practically demands an outdoor TV award be given for the spring's best supporting role in a hunter's hot oven.

Even if it is comes with a curtain call under the high and bright late morning sun of a gorgeous springtime day deep in the heart of Rio Grande turkey-rich Texas.

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