The Fine Art of Working a Turkey


Don’t just randomly start yelping and hope for the best. Follow a multi-dimensional strategy to lure gobblers to the gun

There's a huge difference between calling to a gobbler and actually working him. Photo by Kerry B. Wix

One morning, a turkey double-gobbles on a sun-splashed ridge. You sneak toward the bird, flop down beside the closest tree, pull out an arsenal of calls, and begin yelping like crazy. Man, you’re working that turkey now.

Or are you?

Actually, no, because there is a big difference between calling to a gobbler and working him. The caller moves in on a gobbler and tosses out a mother lode of clucks, yelps, cackles, and cutts. Sometimes, a few of those calls stick and a longbeard comes running, but I wouldn’t bet your 401(k) on it.

The working hunter has a plan. He sneaks toward a gobbling bird, reads the terrain, takes a sitrep, and then sets into motion a multi-dimensional strategy. Follow the plan and you’ll fill more tags.

Step 1: The Setup

I don’t care if you just won the Grand National Calling Championship. You won’t fool many gobblers if you sit and yelp at poor locations. The setup lays the foundation for working a turkey.

As you move in on a gobbling bird, and before you call to him, look for the perfect spot to sit. The goal is to make it natural and easy for a gobbler to work to your calls. Avoid overly thick ridges or bottoms. Circle around and set up against a wide tree where a gobbler can strut to your calls through an open chute in the brush or woods. If a turkey gobbles on the other side of a creek or fence that might hang him up, maneuver and get on the same side of the obstacle with him before you sit and yelp.

It’s easier to call a turkey uphill rather than down. Sneak above a bird, or call to him from the same elevational plane. Whenever possible, select a tree that sits slightly above an open flat or bottom where you think a strutter might eventually commit. Gaining just a few extra feet of elevation increases your visibility as you call to a bird and watch for him working in.

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Set up at an ideal calling position before you start yelping. Poor setups save many turkeys every spring. Photo by Bill Konway

Step 2: Read A Turkey

When you’re set up in good position, chill out, sit back, and listen to the sounds of the woods. Amid a turkey’s booming gobbles, do you hear hens clucking? If so, that will affect the way you work a gobbler. When hens are in the game, you generally have to call more aggressively to have a shot at piquing a bird’s interest and pulling him your way.

Whether he has hens or not, every gobbler is different. Some birds bellow long and hard, but others gobble more sporadically. Some toms move around a lot. Others are more aloof, strutting in one spot and waiting for girls to come to them. All turkeys are individuals. Read each bird, and tailor your calls accordingly.

Most gobblers need a little coaxing those final yards into gun range. Call softly, and be discreet.

Step 3: Calling Tips

I like to set up and start a turkey with a little running cutt on a mouth call, and back that up with a couple of fairly aggressive yelps. I read the bird. If he gobbles back and cuts me off, I believe I can get pretty aggressive with him. But if he doesn’t respond to that first call, or if he hesitates a bit, I back off and call less loudly. Sometimes, I switch to a slate or box call to see if he likes the sounds of another call better.

Speaking of switching calls, one morning this past April, I set up on a roosted tom gobbling his head off and hit him with some tree clucks and yelps on a raspy diaphragm. The old devil not only failed to gobble back, he shut up altogether. I rolled into Plan B, changing to tinny clucks and yelps on an aluminum call. The turkey bellowed and flew down my way. I finessed the bird with one more metallic soft call and shot him at 15 steps.

One day, a gobbler might shun your favorite mouth call, but change to a box, pot, or even a tube and he might blow the camo cap off your head with gobbles. Learn to run a variety of air and friction calls, and use them in the woods. When a turkey gobbles hard at one call, work him with that one.

Generally, you can get a bit more aggressive with a turkey that gobbles a lot. Photo by Bill Konway

Step 4: Close the Sale

You’re set up and calling, and a bird is gobbling and coming. Now you’re working that turkey. Continue to read the frequency and intensity of the gobbles. As a rule, the more and harder a turkey gobbles, the more yelping and cutting you can get away with. But when a bird gobbles sporadically, tone it down. He could be an old, pressured bird, or simply one of those aloof 3-year-olds that takes his sweet time working to a call.

Most gobblers need a little coaxing those final yards into gun range. Call softly, and be discreet. Cluck, purr, and make soft yelps as a gobbler is walking. As a turkey shuffles leaves with its big feet or gobbles, it’s tough for him to pinpoint your finishing calls, so you can keep him guessing where you are and moving your way.

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