We were seated at the kitchen table a good number of years ago, my best friend Bob, his wife, Marie, and my wife.
It was mid-April, the spring turkey season was closing in and Bob and I were making plans for four or five days at turkey camp. Marie spoke up:
“You know, what you do out there is really entrapment,” she said to me. I turned and looked at her somewhat perplexed. “What are you talking about?” I asked.
She said that, since we are making the sound of a hen, in an effort to attract a tom for breeding purposes, we were, in effect, tricking the tom into thinking we were the real thing. “That’s entrapment,” she said with a big smile.
Of course, Marie was correct. It is a form of entrapment. But I’ll tell you this much. If the only option we had when hunting turkeys was to sit and wait for one to walk by or, say, go out and stalk a wild turkey — a dangerous tactic, one which could end up by one hunter being shot by another hunter — the annual kill in Vermont would be in the low hundreds, rather than in the 5,500-bird range we see these days.
So, when May 1 rolls around, if you want to tag a tom turkey, you should have a good understanding about those calls that a hen makes in the spring, the calls she makes to attract a breeding tom.
So then, looking at the small assortment of calls on the kitchen table, Marie speaks up once more: “How many calls do you have, anyway?”
Fast-forward to today.
Six box calls. I took a count a week ago, and that is how many box calls I have in my possession. Two box calls are tucked in my turkey-hunting vest; the others are collecting dust in a cellar bin.
I am also in possession of at least four slate calls. Those little push-boxes that give off a great yelp? I have two. Then, counting what is sitting in a small box in the refrigerator, I own at least 20 diaphragm calls. (Keep all diaphragm calls stored in the refrigerator; otherwise, they will dry out.)
Every one of these calls is capable to getting the attention of and, if you are skilled or lucky, calling in and shooting, a mature gobbler.
But if one call stands out from the rest, at least for me, it is the diaphragm (or mouth) call. I know. This is not an easy call to master. In fact, I know that there are people out there who simply cannot make the right sounds with the call. I suspect it has something to do with how the tops of their mouths are shaped. No amount of work, for some people, can help them; they simply cannot come out with a good yelp.
Still, I should say that I have been in the May woods with several turkey hunters who used a mouth call and, how shall I put this gently — they sounded dreadful. Yet, these same hunters have managed to call and tag some nice gobblers. Perhaps it isn’t how well the call sounds to me; rather, it is that maybe we put a little too much emphasis on sounding exactly like a hen turkey. To a hot tom, a bad call is good enough, I guess.
Still, I have made it something of a calling to make my hen-sounding calls sound like the real thing. And here is where I have been extremely fortunate: Over the years, I have called in a good number of hens, hens that came to my calling either out of curiosity or because they were perturbed that another, competing hen was in their nesting range. I then immediately answer them with a call, including their cadence and volume, trying to imitate the sound they make as closely as I can.
But here is the main point that I wish to make: The greatest thing about the diaphragm call is that you can vocalize to a wild turkey constantly, without any movement on your part. And if anything betrays a spring turkey hunter more than any other factor, it is movement. Wild turkeys have a phenomenal ability to pick out even slight movement, make a determination that, hey pal, that is no turkey in front of me, and then vanish, just like that.
Over the years, I have taken new hunters — both youths and adults — into the woods for their first spring turkey hunt and have found the experience to be very rewarding. But it can also be frustrating.
Here’s why: If there is one aspect new turkey hunters find difficult to understand, it is the fact that, if you want to be a successful turkey hunter, you must learn how to remain statue-still when a tom approaches.
So, if you want to kill a spring tom this year, pick up a diaphragm call and try to master the thing. And if you cannot do that, then use the easiest call there is to master — that old standby, the box call. But know this: When that tom is coming in and his calls are getting louder, lay that call down and get ready. He’ll come in, especially if he’s covered a few hundred yards.
Now it is up to you. Steady. Don’t move. Make the shot count.
Dennis Jensen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org