How effective are gobble calls for luring in call-shy birds?
The short answer is “effective,” but to truly answer this question requires for me to take a step back and give you some background information on my experience with hunting turkeys with some of the nation’s top callers and huntsmen.
BY TAD BROWN
It was a hot spring day in May, back in the late ‘80s, and I was turkey hunting with the legendary Dick Kirby of Quaker Boy Game Calls. Dick and I were hunting a 4,100-acre Missouri Ozarks ranch and things were slow. We could only hunt till 1:00 p.m. and it was already close to noon. We hadn’t heard a gobble since the roost gobbling right at dawn. So, we turned down an old logging road that ran for about a mile and a half down a huge timbered ridge. Walking and calling with no luck, Dick started digging through his vest. He finally came up with a small can-looking contraption, and as if preparing for his finale at a calling contest, he let out the most realistic mechanical gobble that I had ever heard! The hair stood up on the back of my neck — I was utterly impressed.
The most impressive part was that the gobbler answered him from such a long distance away. We ended up killing that gobbler before the 1:00 deadline, and I learned a valuable lesson about hunting turkeys that would stick with me for the rest of my life.
A turkey gobbles to attract hens in the spring, right? Well, yes he does, but he gobbles for many more reasons, too Most of those reasons are pretty important for us turkey hunters to know.
It’s no secret that turkeys gobble at high-pitch noises of natural and man-made origin. Turkeys gobble at crows, owls, coyotes and thunder, as well as train whistles, sirens, jets and even gun shots, to name a few. They gobble in response to these sounds for various reasons. In the spring when gobblers are looking for love, they think they are the king of the hill and gobble in response to these high-pitched sounds. We call them shock gobbles, and that’s how we usually locate and keep track of a gobbler’s location.
Gobblers with hens don’t gobble much because they don’t have to, since they already have hens. That’s their primary reason to gobble, to attract those hens. But, even when in the company of hens, males will gobble at those high-pitched noises and disclose their location. As hunters, we can take advantage of those sounds by utilizing crow calls, owl hooters and coyote howlers. Experienced turkey hunters will pause at every real crow call, owl hoot and coyote howl they hear while out hunting in hopes of catching a responding shock gobble. If turkeys didn’t gobble in the spring it would make hunting them pretty tough — and boring.
Gobblers also use gobbles for other reasons, for one, they gobble to keep track of each other. They also gobble to challenge each other, and they gobble to tell the world where they are, establish their territory and tell all other gobblers to stay out. But they mainly gobble to let hens know where they are.
All turkeys — males, females and juveniles — have a pecking order. There is a boss gobbler in an area, as well as a boss jake and a boss hen. This pecking order is an ongoing cycle, as other turkeys become weak or are killed, it starts all over again. They recognize the voice of other gobblers and know how they stack up in the pecking order with that particular gobbler. I don’t think turkeys are real smart, rather just wary, but they do gobble to other toms to challenge them. Sometimes this seems deliberate, as they will do anything to separate a dominant bird from his hens. I think they understand the disruptive nature of it and then when the chaos resumes they try to steal away a hen or two, or at least separate them. I have seen them stop at a distance all alone and gobble and strut to entice the dominant bird away.
During the fall adult gobblers will gobble to regroup with each other, as do young-of-the-year jake flocks, they kee-kee then gobble to regroup with their brothers. I have seen them come in during the fall gobbling and strutting just like spring. How many spring mornings have you heard three or four birds gobbling on the roost, only to fly down and continue to gobble until they eventually get together and go quiet? It happens enough that it’s evident gobbling can be an important tool. One of these days I’m going to do nothing but gobble all morning, just to see how effective it might be. I’m guessing it just might work.
The small can device that Dick gobbled on that day so long ago was a snuff can gobble tube, produced by Quaker Boy. I think its origin was an Appalachian mountain thing? Anyway, Dick opened my eyes to the technique, when to employ it, and how to blow the call. Since then I have owned and tried many different gobble tubes. Unfortunately, not everyone can run one. It’s sort of like a diaphragm call — some people just can’t blow one.
Not to worry though, since there are several other gobble devices available to turkey hunters looking to employ the deadly gobble into their bags of tricks. Tube calls come in many varieties. I have made decent ones from 35 mm film canisters, snuff cans, and used several handmade models from custom call makers. My current favorite is a hand-turned tube made by Phil Petka of Turkey Leg Turkey Calls.
Although they come in all shapes and sizes, they all must have a rubber reed to make them work. Again, I have used everything from prophylactics to balloons, dental dams and every other form of latex or rubber that I think might work. Rubber and latex gloves work, too.
For hunters that want to try a tube call, several custom call makers offer them, as do many game call companies like Quaker Boy. They usually come with a spare latex, cut especially for the tube that you buy, plus they offer replacement latex. You not only can gobble on a tube call — but cluck, cut and yelp. They also do a killer fighting purr; skilled tube users can create quite a gobbler fight, sharp gobbler clucks combined with aggressive purring and a few gobbles thrown in is more than some gobblers can stand.
Other gobble devices available are the rubber-bellows-type shaker tubes. I’m fond of H.S. Strut’s “Twister” Gobble Call with its open-close feature for silent carry. Just like with the gobble tube, practice makes perfect, although the “Twister” Gobble Call is near foolproof. If you can shake it — you can make it gobble.
Remember, there is a technique to perfect it. You must manipulate the rubber bellows that push air across a latex diaphragm to get the gobble you want. They sound pretty realistic, especially at a little distance.
Box calls will also gobble and I am not as paranoid as I once was to use one. Again, certain box calls will gobble better than others, and every hunter will develop their own unique method. Dick had a method that he used with a boat-paddle box that was really impressive. Instead of shaking the box and allowing the paddle to swing back and forth to create the gobble, Dick held the box still with one hand and manually ran the paddle back and forth with the other. With the right cadence, it made one fine gobble. Some callers are talented enough to gobble with mouth calls, and some, like Preston Pitman and Mark Drury, can even gobble with their natural voices.
THE GOBBLE TECHNIQUE
I had always heard about turkey hunters who would shake a box call to make a gobble, and would have gobblers break and come running. I was so obsessed with the actual calling and strived to sound the best that I could, but also afraid of making a mistake and emitting an awful sound. I personally never thought the box sounded that good, so I was afraid to try it. I understood the thinking and the tactic behind it, but until Dick gobbled on that snuff can I had never heard what I thought was a good gobble.
The most common use for a gobble in a hunting situation is when you have a gobbler that hangs up and won’t come any closer. Often, a gobble is all it takes to move that bird your way. It can work because a gobbler fears another bird has already moved in on the love-sick hen that he has been communicating with. The tactic has been the demise of many gobblers.
This past spring I was moving toward a gobbler that was in a bad spot, but I could not advance any farther. The problem was that the gobbler was close, too close for me to advance, yet there was a cedar-choked fence line between us. I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me. He was only about 75 yards away. After some hen talk I gobbled to him. He answered immediately and went silent. I had experienced this before, so I got ready. Sure enough, he popped out of the fence row, head outstretched, looking for the contender. Unfortunately I made a rookie mistake and adjusted my gun at the wrong time and spooked him away. He made his escape, gobbling all of the way out of hearing, not sure of what he saw, but still convinced there was a rival gobbler there somewhere.
Many times over the years while turkey hunting with friends and dealing with a fruity-acting bird, someone will say, “Hey Tad — hit that gobble call.” Even my old buddy, Mark Drury, will on occasion. Mark typically makes fun of my gobble call, but his brother Terry has pulled the trigger on more than one gobbler that was fooled by my gobble.
On days when nothing is going on or after the morning gobbling has ceased, one of my favorite tactics is to raise a little Cain. A blind works best, but otherwise be watchful of your movement. I will start out yelping on a box call, then I cut and yelp on a pot call, then let out a couple of gobbles. I continually repeat this series every five to 10 minutes. I know some guys don’t like to call that much and think that I over-call, but I swear at times that an old gobbler will come in to see what all of the commotion is about.
Think about it, if you’re in good turkey country, you most likely are in a gobbler’s core area, if he hears all of this calling, yelping cutting and gobbling, it sounds like a party in his own backyard that he wasn’t invited to. That gobbler, in many cases, shows up to see who has invaded his space, or in the case of a 2-year-old satellite gobbler, he might sneak in to see if he can get in on some of the action. Whatever the reason is — as long as he shows up, he will definitely be the life of the party.
Another favorite tactic of mine is to use a jake gobble. It’s a well-known fact that jake yelps have pulled a few gobblers in that thought the hen let a jake sneak in on the party. A gobble tube allows me to do a half-gobble, immediately followed by a few yolky jake yelps. That always gets a gobble back in response, and oftentimes will break a gobbler from his location.
Just like with the gobbler this past spring that I coaxed through the cedar fence row, a gobble is always available as a last resource. I like to think of it as my ace in the hole. One spring here on my farm, I hunted a particular gobbler for several days that was henned up pretty good, and also had a group of four jakes hanging around. Since he was constantly tending to the hens and continually chasing off the jakes, I wasn’t having much luck with him. I tried to cut him off one morning, but was not in good shooting range when he came strutting down the old trail following his hens out to a large open pasture.
The next morning, I was there within gun range of the trail well before fly-down, only to have him sail off the roost away from me across the creek and out into the big field. The last time that I heard him gobble he sounded like he was headed for town
So, I sat there on the hillside all disgusted, letting the morning sun warm me up while contemplating my next move. I gobbled at him a couple of times with no response. I was about to fall asleep and decided that it was time to leave, but gobbled to him just one last time. He immediately thundered back at me from 100 yards across the creek. Soon I saw red heads running up out of the creek toward my decoys. It was the jakes. I glanced back at the creek just in time to see the tip of a fan coming up out of the creek bottom, as the old gobbler came strutting in and locked in to my decoys. I brought my gun up but could not see my red dot. I had it on a low setting from earlier that morning and since the sun had come up, I couldn’t see the dot. So, I centered the gobbler’s head in the scope and fired. I missed him clean! After quickly cycling another shell in my 870, I reached up and spun the dial a bit to brighten the scope’s dot. Luckily, he hung around just long enough to allow a second shot.
Select a gobbling device that works best for you, practice with it, and start gobbling up those otherwise stubborn ol’ gobblers that drive us all crazy.