Don’t Fall for the Call-Shy Turkey Myth

Put us down as people who don’t believe there is such a thing as a “call-shy” turkey. Belief in this common misconception will lead you down the path to all sorts of problems, yet the myth persists.

by HuntStand


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There is no such thing as a call-shy gobbler.

Don’t fall for the call-shy turkey myth. Belief in this common misconception will lead you down the path to all sorts of problems, yet the myth persists. And sadly, it didn’t require logging too many hours of hunting and observation for us to arrive at what some might find a sobering conclusion: Turkeys are simply not capable of conceptualizing a situation where anything—or anyone—would be imitating their language, in order to lure them into harm’s way.

Understanding Wild Turkeys

Turkeys are social creatures with a well-developed flocking instinct, and a method of communication that maintains cohesion and unity within the flock—a “language,” if you will. This language consists of a limited variety of distinctive sounds used in varying degrees of volume and sequence, to convey information and communicate their most-basic emotions and desires, to their flock mates.  For a turkey to voluntarily quit using or responding to his or her “language,” would be a counter-productive (and totally unnatural) occurrence. Not calling or responding to calling would, in effect, exile the turkey from the rest of the flock. The result would be one miserable bird.

So how do you effectively hunt birds that have suddenly gone silent? One response is to get out your smartphone and consult your HuntStand app, and keep moving and calling, using the app’s detailed “satellite” views to ensure you’re covering the far reaches of your hunting area, to locate “receptive” birds. Another plan would be to change up your calling techniques to deal with birds that aren’t responsive to standard, aggressive strategies. Before we delve into these specific strategies, it might be helpful to consider some common turkey behavior.

How to Use Turkey Locator Calls

Not Call-Shy. Just Fickle and Flighty.

Turkeys’ behavioral tendencies can best be described as fickle and flighty. Joe Smith, journeyman guide and turkey caller from Alabama, calls them “Sometimesy.” Some days they talk, some days they don’t, but they always listen. For whatever reasons, they may not answer back, but they are listening. If the artificial calling is anywhere close to accurate, and in the proper sequence, they are listening. They get more cautious about how they respond when they get “beat up” with inconsistent calling, but they surely listen, and will respond if it fits their agenda.

Bashful spring gobblers may sneak in quietly to investigate vocal hens, but they are seeking female companionship, so they will come. They may answer your call and go the other way, but if they answer, they are listening. I have called-in whole flocks of turkeys in the fall that never made a sound while approaching, but they were, without doubt, coming to my calls. They were listening. Turkeys will not forsake their language for any reason. Their response might not be as “direct” or as “animated” as expected, but they are listening and they will respond—if they want to.

Sending a good set of hen yelps floating off into the ether with no audible response is, in a word, disheartening. We’ve all been there. Questions and doubts start filling your mind. Where are the turkeys? They were here last night, how could they disappear? Have I done something wrong? Did the calls sound bad or was the sequence wrong? You keep firing off these rhetorical questions to yourself, until you finally settle on the most ego-soothing conclusion: You have gotten yourself into a flock of “call-shy” turkeys. Right? Wrong.

The Correct Logic

If you believe your calling is as good as the turkeys’, and you know they wouldn’t answer another turkey if they won’t answer you, then know they just don’t feel like talking. If you are calling to gobblers in the spring and they aren’t answering, they have their reasons for their lack of response. They could be too busy courting. They might be able to see or hear coyotes or yard dogs, or school kids, prowling around. The slightest distraction, or hint of danger, will often keep turkey lips sealed. When things get back to normal, they will start talking again.

At times, turkeys may get a little more particular about call accuracy, and they might be suspicious of truly bad calling, but then again, this is all part of their nature. If the road hunters are constantly hounding them with “machine-gun” cutts on diaphragm calls, the turkeys might get a little desensitized or otherwise unresponsive, to cutts made with diaphragm calls. Continuous yelping with no real sequence also doesn’t seem to compute with turkeys, and it has been known to make them nervous. So you should be mindful of your calling cadence, since nervous turkeys don’t talk much.

Even if your calling doesn’t come close to resembling turkey talk, don’t believe you are running anything off. Even if it doesn’t sound just right or you make a mistake, there is no negative reaction. Turkeys can’t afford to react to every accidental squawk or squeak on a turkey call in a world full of anomalous noises. If you don’t get an answer to your calling, check HuntStand for a smart, or logical travel route, and keep moving and calling. You never know when the local birds will decide to talk.

Top HuntStand Pro Features for Spring Turkey Hunting

Try the Passive Approach

No matter how boogered-up your local turkeys get, they are social creatures. They will always be interested in others of their kind. And as long as the interest is there, it can be exploited. When aggressive calling isn’t working, passive calling is always worth a try. Use the soft clucks and purrs and occasional soft yelps turkeys use while feeding or loafing, to reassure and pique the interest of any turkeys within hearing range. These social sounds are not conversational, so you shouldn’t expect an answer; just remember you are talking to yourself, and possibly another hen that is close by.

You might have to exercise some self-discipline to keep from busting out yelping and cutting—and sounding just like the reason the turkeys aren’t acting right in the first place—but the sounds you are making mark your location and say you are a hen and everything is alright. What you are and where you are is all the information a lonesome gobbler needs.

This passive calling approach sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? Of course it is much more fun to run and gun and find a gobbler that wants to play, but these turkeys are the real challenge. If they are the only game in town, hunt them happily. Just remember: Your local turkeys may not be talking, but they are always listening.




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