Woodland Trails: Calling a wild turkey
The most exciting thing about turkey calling is calling in a wild turkey. The boss gobbler is the breeder, not necessarily the biggest, but he is the toughest.
He may not be the most vocal of the group. He usually travels with his subordinate toms as the boys travel woods, fields and pastures to run nature's springtime errand to propagate their species.
Mike Foster compares turkey hunting with elk hunting. "It's just like calling in a bull elk. He'll follow those cow elk everywhere." That is why Foster often tries to defeat or out call the dominant hen, break her spirit and take her down a notch or two. "Then the hen will want to come in and see the hen that just came into her neck of the woods. And the gobbler will follow her in right to you!"
Once again this week Mike Foster, Primos Pro staff, guide, speaker, hunter and family man from Arden Hills, will talk about speaking the language of old Tom Turkey!
"The most popular call in the industry by far is the box call. It's the easiest to use and sounds best. If you get 100 yards away from a good box call in the woods it sounds like a turkey. One of the problems with it is there's a little bit of movement, and it doesn't work in wet weather. You also have your slate calls. If you can draw with a pencil you can use a slate call. Natural slate works really good, but it still is not waterproof. But if you get a glass or aluminum friction call, like a Primos "Frictionite Call," it will be waterproof with a carbon striker or Plexiglass striker or pen."
Then there are mouth calls or diaphragms. They eliminate all movement and moister problems but some people have problems with the gagging reflex. The vibration can tickle your tongue, inner mouth and lips so bad that it might remind you of someone scratching a school blackboard with their fingernails! It is the toughest call to learn and requires lots of practice. But do it by yourself to maintain a happy home!
Mike told me, "The best way to learn how to call is with a CD. I like Primos 'Mastering the Art' series CD. You get a CD, three calls and maybe a call holder for $12 bucks. The more you practice the better you'll be.
"Every good turkey hunter I know will have a box call, some kind of scratcher or slate call and diaphragms. Turkey are like people. You never know what they'll be like on a particular day or what call they will respond to. You might have a favorite call but one day that call will not work for you and you'll have to use another call to get the bird to come in."
I asked Foster what his favorite season was. "My favorite season is whenever I can get a tag! Early in the season the big toms are all henned up yet, and you'll kill a lot of Jake birds and 2-year-old gobblers. You can kill some pretty good birds early in the year but they won't necessarily be the boss gobblers. Later in the season, say mid-May or so, when the hens are sitting on the nest they don't go to the tom's calling at all. That is when the biggest, wariest gobblers are most vulnerable. It's during this time when the boss gobbler will be out searching more for hens and gobbling more. That is the second peak of the gobbling season."
The use of blinds has skyrocketed in the hunting industry the last few years. I asked Foster to talk about hunting turkeys from a portable pop-up blind.
"Turkeys can't figure out blinds. Blinds are really great for kids and people who can't sit still. I can have a 13-year-old kid plus his parent or guardian in a blind and they can move around, eat their sandwich, even in bad weather.
They are an asset for the bow hunter. Turkeys have tremendous eyesight and they will pick up any movement. Drawing a bow on a turkey is really tricky without a blind. I do it every year with my friend down in Nebraska. He wants to go out with no blinds, no decoys! We go out and run and gun and kill birds that way!"
More and more people are hunting out of state. "There are a lot of great turkey states. Missouri is always in the top three states in the nation for top kill. Iowa is a great state for turkey. Nebraska and South Dakota are great states. The states out West hold Rio's and Merriams.
But the key is you can kill a lot of turkey on public land, Especially in Nebraska and Missouri because they have a lot great public land. You can just knock on doors, and people will let you hunt turkey on their land. It's not like deer hunting. They want you to kill all the turkeys on their land."
But before you kill a turkey, you have to find them. Foster told me that this is where woodsmanship comes into play.
"It's great if you can watch the turkey and see what they are doing every day or so before you hunt and collect MRI ... Most Recent Information. I want to know what they are doing two or three days before I hunt. I'll guarantee they're not doing the same thing May 15 that they were doing April 15. I'll get out there and listen.
"What are the turkeys gobbling at? It might be a whippoorwill, a crow, an owl. It might be a rainy, nasty day and they might not be gobbling much but they'll still be carrying on the same routine -- just like a whitetail deer does! If you know where he has been going I'd still go to that same spot and set up. You won't even have to gobble and he'll come in on his own."
And then there is the eating part of wild turkey hunting. Wild turkey can be turned into elegant meals or snacks. One of Mike's favorites are turkey nuggets.
"I was in Oklahoma when the guide from the next camp came over with breast chunks he had cut into inch squares and then seasoned and fried in oil. They just melted in your mouth. You can steak out the breast and deep fry them. You can bake them. Stir fry. It's all good.
Today, Foster's favorite hunts revolve around youth. He loves to take kids out and hopes someday to take his grand kids out into the turkey woods too.