Owl Hooting for Spring Turkeys

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John Murray recommends that you add an owl call to your arsenal this spring turkey season, as it will up your odds of bagging a bird, and also enhance your hunting skills.

The predawn mist hung low to the woodland ground as the turkey hunter settled in for the morning hunt. This hunter shuddered for a moment, not because the misty fog resembled the Scottish moors in an old spooky classic werewolf film, but because the fog enveloped him like a cold, wet blanket. Although movement would most certainly aid in warming his chilled body, the hunter dared not to even flinch.

Somewhere along the tree line, the roosting turkeys are present, maybe close by, maybe far, but they are there; unnecessary movement would announce his presence to the keen-eyed birds. At this moment, the hunter did not know the location of the turkeys, so the turkeys had a distinct advantage in the playing field.

The spring turkey hunter is a major player in hopefully disrupting the love affair between the tom and hen. In the spring season, the male tom turkey has just one important task weighing on his mind, and that is to find his mate. The first, most important step is that the hunter must determine where the tom is located.

We have ways of making you talk

After days of heavy hunting pressure, the educated tom turkey learns the negative consequences of uttering a gobble, and intentionally becomes cautiously mute.

But, as they used to say in the old movies when interrogating a prisoner, “We have ways of making you talk.” And sure enough, the turkey hunter also has a method to get the tom to gobble, even when the turkey really doesn’t want to.

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Tom can’t keep silent

The reason for being able to prompt instinctive gobbles from a tom turkey isn’t exactly known, but there is a particular noise which seems to make male turkeys suddenly blurt out a response; that is otherwise known as a shock gobble. Owls are a natural potential predator for turkeys, so when a male turkey hears an owl hooting—in this case a barred owl—the male turkey will instinctively gobble. In theory, perhaps the male turkey is announcing his presence to let the owl know it’s his territory, and that he doesn’t want a surprise encounter with the raptor. Especially considering that the barred owl is a raptor that focuses their sharp talons on movement.

Another possibility is that the male turkey is so frightened to hear an owl nearby, that it abruptly gobbles almost as if it was suddenly hit with an electric shock. To further complicate any potential theories, only male turkeys respond with a vocal noise upon hearing the barred owl. The female hen turkeys do not make a sound when a barred owl hoots, so it isn’t a trait that is shared between genders.

Make noise like an owl

Barred owls have a rather distinctive hooting sound that resembles the words, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you, all?” With practice, this hooting can be mimicked with the human voice. If you cannot master the hooting, commercial owl blow tube calls are available for retail sale. Even the commercial blow tube calls should be practiced and mastered before heading out to hunt. And it is very wise to listen to a recording of a barred owl, so you know exactly what the hoots sound like.

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To start the calling process, wait for at least a glimmer of sunlight, because male turkeys are unlikely to respond with a gobble in the dark. Blow a single, lengthy hoot and then listen carefully for a response. If there is no response after a couple minutes, blow the nine-note hooting pattern “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you, all?” and draw out the “all” with a longer tongue rolling note. Once again, listen carefully for a response gobble from a turkey. If there’s no response after about five minutes, do the single lengthy hoot again, wait a couple minutes, then blow the nine-note hooting pattern again.

Real barred owls won’t hoot much more than that, so you shouldn’t either. Use the owl call sparingly to make it sound natural. If other barred owls are in the area, they may likely respond to the owl call with their own vocalizations. Some barred owls might also fly in for a closer look to check out what they perceive to be the new owl in the neighborhood.

Remember, if the tom gobbles too much, he will ultimately attract hens, and once he gathers the hens, he’s less likely to approach you. Once you do get a shock gobble response from the tom, you have now determined his location. You can move carefully closer to the turkey, if necessary, if he should be a considerable distance from your location. Either way, it is a tremendous advantage to know where the tom turkey is, and now the hunter can seal the deal by pulling the tom in close with the standard turkey calls.

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Act like an owl, and make those toms talk—even when they don’t want to.

Looking for tips on bagging a fine turkey this spring? You’ll find useful insight in the spring issues of MidWest Outdoors, available by subscribing on our website.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>