I was 15 and couldn’t get enough of the three toms thundering in the distance. Every time the symphony would stop, I did what I’d seen the pros do on outdoor television and hammered on my crow call. The simple, loud cawing sound created magic, and I wanted to keep it going. So, as a young, inexperienced turkey hunter, I got closer and closer to the toms on the roost until the call was no longer magic.
I wasn’t sure what had happened, and even after light cloaked the landscape and the birds flew off the roost away from me and started marching toward the neighbors, the magnitude of my mistake didn’t fully set in.
Locator calls aren’t Harry Potter’s magic wand but essential turkey tools if you understand when and where to use them.
I learned to hunt turkeys from the School of Hard Knocks. My father wasn’t a hunter, and no one in my family was a hunter, and it took me a few years to realize those birds saw me off the roost and shut up.
Honestly, the entire event scarred me, and for some time, locator calls didn’t have a place in my turkey vest, which also turned out to be a massive mistake. Hunting is a learning curve; if you’re not learning, you’re not growing.
Here’s the truth about locator calls: They aren’t Harry Potter’s magic wand but essential turkey tools if you understand when and where to use them.
For those unfamiliar with shock gobbling, and why locator calls spark this reaction, it’s when gobblers sound off at the sudden loud sound. While science doesn’t fully explain why, we know that male turkeys do this. Playing to that helps locate them.
My Favorite Locator Call
Let’s not keep you in suspense. My No. 1 go-to locator call, which I’ve used in several places across the country, is a Hawk Screamer Call. This high-pitched screech can be made with an elk diaphragm like the Single Reed Tone Trough Elk Diaphragm from Hunter Specialties, but several handheld calls are available and work great.
What I like most about a hawk screamer call is that it’s not an owl hoot or a crow call. Not to say that either of these calls are wrong — both have their place — but it’s a locator sound that is natural and isn’t used by every turkey hunter in the woods.
My favorite time of day to use a hawk screamer locator is from two hours after the birds fly down until about two hours before they fly up. Sure, the call will work to get the birds to hammer on the roost, but I’ve learned that in the turkey woods, keeping sounds natural is essential, and though most species of hawks are active during dawn and dusk, I don’t hear a lot of early mornings or late evening screaming. Hawks typically call to assert hunting dominance over an area and when their young start making their first flights during the fledging season.
A piercing screech used at the right time — when the woods are quiet — can shake even the most tight-lipped tom in the woods.
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Like the hawks, owls are prevalent in many turkey locales, so the owl hoot is a winner locator call. I prefer to hoot with my mouth, but this took me years and lots of practice to perfect. If you want a quality handheld owl call the Big Hooter Owl Call from HS Strut is a great one to have in your vest. The call is crisp, clean, and takes very little air to blow. You can make the call raspy and craft your sounds with some practice.
My go-to timeframe for an owl hooter is during dawn’s glow in areas where I’m unsure where a tom might be roosted. Do me a favor; keep the locator calls in your vest if you know where a tom is roosted.
I will stay with the owl hoot for about an hour after fly down, then switch back to the call during the evening. The owl hoot is a highly effective after-hunting-hours call, and during my turkey tenure, it has been my most effective locator call for getting birds to gobble from the roost.
Another Midday Beak Cracker
The purpose of any locator call is to get a boy bird to shock gobble, and another call I had found that works great, especially when hunting pressured public-land birds, is a peacock call. The piercing, haunting cry of a male peacock shatters the woods, and the peacock is not a threat to turkeys, which boosts the chances of a bird sounding off.
Like the hawk screamer, I prefer to use the peacock call during the midday hours, and like the hawk screamer, it’s an excellent locator call to use on windy days. The shrill sound cuts through the wind like butter and will ring the ears of a distant tom.
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I don’t own a crow locator call, and I realize some turkey goers swear by them, but not me. I’ve spent thousands of hours in the turkey woods and listened to thousands of live crows caw, and rarely have I heard a tom respond. The call was also my go-to choice during my early turkey hunting years, and I never had good luck with it during midday hours.
HS Strut does make a good one if you’re leaning toward the crow locator. It’s branded the Hammerin’ Crow Call, and I have several turkey-hunting amigos that use this call, especially out West, and swear by it. Like the hawk and peacock calls, if you do opt to huff air into a crow call, do it during the middle portion of the day when a tom is walkabout looking for a hen.
Yes, a coyote howl is easy to replicate on a diaphragm call or a reed-style howler, and it can crack a stubborn bird’s beak, but I never like to sound like a toothy predator when I’m hunting feathered butterballs. Like the crow call, I know turkey hunters, especially western turkey hunters that cover miles, not acres, in search of Merriam’s, swear by it. Not me.
Remember, locator calls are designed to get a tom to shock gobble. You won’t call a bird in with a locator call, but they have great value in the turkey woods. More than once, especially when hunting henned-up or birds that have gone call-shy to girl talk, I have stayed put and kept a tom talking with a locator call while a buddy slipped shotgun-close and jellied a head.
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Key Locator Call Tips
The above aside, there are other things to consider when using turkey locator calls. Numerous rules and best practices surround the use of these effective tools.
Terrain, Wind, and Humidity: This trio will affect how sound travels, and you need to have a firm grasp of all three while you’re in the turkey woods. Rolling terrain can block sound. How wind affects sound takes only common sense, but I like to combat the wind by using my HuntStand HuntZone wind map and approaching downwind from where I believe the birds to be. Turkeys have way better hearing than we do, and I’d rather send my locator notes into the wind. Why? Because I bank on the fact that the bird will hear my locator, and then the wind will carry his gobble to my ears. I also like to use my HuntStand Topo layer and Terrain layer to better understand landscape.
Drop Pins for Gobbling Birds: When a bird gobbles, drop a HuntStand pin to mark its location. Keeping track of it can help monitor its whereabouts as you work into position. Accurate orientation can be difficult to keep track when moving across the landscape. The app helps mitigate this.
Don’t Go Nuts: Sometimes locator calls don’t work, and you don’t want to drive yourself crazy trying to make a turkey gobble. Remember, these calls can feel like magic one day and a paperweight the next. If the locator calls aren’t working and you have no idea where a bird is, gain some elevation, sit, and listen. Often, a bird will gobble on his own and give you a jumping-off point if you can sit in silence.
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