Call soft and sparingly as turkey season wanes

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

A number of years ago, my Missouri friend Steve Lewandowski lived here in North Texas and was my regular spring turkey hunting partner.

One late spring morning as the weather heated up, summertime approached, and the turkeys were moving away from the heart of the breeding season, we spent a May dawn hearing nothing but silence of the toms.

Such is life as the spring gobbler getting season approaches the finish line like it is doing right now on both sides of the Red River. Finally, by staying patient and calling softly deep into the morning hours, we finally struck up a distant bird that sounded off a time or two.

But in the half-hour that followed his last woodsy salute, Steve and yours truly heard not another peep as the bird silently approached our position under the shade of an oak tree. We didn’t know for sure if he was coming our way or not, but we kept up an occasional diet of soft clucks, purrs, and yelps as we hoped for the best.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we spied the red, white, and blue color combination of the longbeard’s head as he slowly bobbed in our direction, albeit still a 100 yards away and on the other side of a plowed field.

Somehow, calling with the idea that less was more on that late spring day, the gobbler finally walked into shotgun range. When the trigger was pulled, that Rio Grande tom went down for the count a few miles outside of Coleman, providing a memory and a lesson that lingers to this very day.

And that lesson is that despite magazine stories, TV shows, and YouTube videos that suggest otherwise, sometimes, less is more when it comes to spring turkey hunting. While we all like to hunt on days when gobblers can’t keep quiet, reality sometimes delivers woods that are eerily still.

But the turkeys are still there, and for hunters willing to adjust their tactics accordingly, old wise guy longbeards can still be lured into shotgun range, even if they never gobble once.

My late friend J.J. Kent, who operated a highly successful guiding business here in North Texas for ducks, deer, and turkeys before his untimely death a few years ago, understood this truth of the late season turkey woods.

“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,” Kent told me once, despite being a rock-star pro-staffer for companies such as Mossy Oak camouflage, Zink Game Calls, and Avian-X decoys.

While Kent certainly understood trying to find action that was exciting and loud — he was featured on a number of outdoor television shows over the years — he also valued doing what was necessary for a client to fill out the unused turkey tag in the back of their pocket too.

That’s because wild turkeys are just that, wild game, and not a bunch of birds strutting around on a video game. One day, the gobbling is hot and heavy and longbeards will sound off to virtually any natural sound they hear in the woods. And the very next day, they might be silent as a church mouse and make nary a peep.

The key to tagging such a quiet, late season turkey — whether it’s a solo DIY effort on a private lease, getting an outfitter’s client a Grand Slam clinching bird that he has dreamed of his whole life, or even recording some exciting video content — is all about figuring out which mood the gobblers are in from one day to the next.

Will Primos, the renowned Mississippi call maker and outdoor television star, has understood that idea for many years, calling it “taking the turkey’s temperature” in numerous magazine articles, TV shows, and Truth hunting videos that he has starred in down through the years.

Even though my friend J.J. worked for a different call making company, he understood that idea too.

“Lots of times, new turkey hunters will call too much and the gobblers will come in without making any noise,” said Kent in our interview several years ago. “If you call at them too much, a lot of times, the gobbler will bust you.”

In fact, Kent said that many times, when a turkey hunter calls too much, the bird will actually show up, get tipped off, and leave with the caller having no idea that they were ever even there.

While it would seem that everyone — on TV at least — is always using a loud, cutting style mouth diaphragm call or a box call that can scream across the howling wind, Kent recommended that hunters opt for softer sounds in the late going.

That’s especially true when the wind will allow the gentle turkey music that spills from a slate call like the Zink Wicked Series model that is laying a few feet away from me as this story gets written. Kent loved that call and so do I. Sometimes, the turkeys I call at even like it too.

“The noises can be quieter and softer and that is often what a turkey is looking for,” said Kent.

Especially at the end of spring turkey season, when the birds are tired, the breeding is winding down, and the heat of summer is coming.

When that happens, if you want to put a longbeard in the oven, sometimes, less is more, just like J.J. said.