Over calling turkeys is not the best idea — but in some cases, it may be the only idea
Out the gate I feel it necessary to confess that I am a self-proclaimed over caller. My vice is duly noted, and reducing the amount of calling I do becomes a more relevant topic each season. There is a certain level of patience and confidence needed to not hit the call every five or 10 minutes. There is also a certain level of importance to the theory that less is more. But that’s for another article from those days I am far less restless than is usually the case.
We sat on top of a hill just above a field with a strutting tom in the state of Connecticut. Two hens were dragging him in endless strutting circles for what seemed like forever. We got to the spot late. My fault, as my gun jammed when loading it due to a simple error of not closing the action hard enough. But here we were watching, and in my head I already visualized how this particular Eastern wild turkey should have been on the ground had I loaded my gun correctly.
Jesse was a yard away from me with a camera. His presence bolstered my lagging patience as I had someone to kill the time with. The sounds emanating from my glass pot call hit at long intervals as we watched, hoping that the lay of the land would be our savior. Woodsmanship, after all, kills a lot of birds.
After some time another tom appeared on the other side of the hedgerow, making his way to the gobbling tom. The hens had been quiet this whole time (although I had not). They strutted to each other for awhile and the hens drifted farther and farther away from both them and us.
The first tom finally turned and walked away in a beeline for our car, which sat on a dirt road barely visible through the trees. For a moment, hope filled our veins as we thought he would come over the ridge through the open mature timber rather than the thick growth below. Instead, he just took the trail and called it a day.
Eventually the newcomer decided the silent hens (now a speck in the distance) wanted nothing to do with his dance moves, so he began strutting down the same path taken by the first tom. I’m sure he thought, “At least I’ll have a wingman . . .”
“What do we have to lose?” I thought. He is certainly leaving but maybe we can get him to come peak at the hen fight.
Jesse and I made the judgment call then and there. “Do you have a call?” I urged, hopefully. He knew exactly where my head was at, as I’m sure he arrived at it likely before I did. Our conspiracy was to be two hens getting a little aggressive with each other.
Aggressive hen calling has frequently been a go-to for me. Remember, I like to over call. Every time I get a tom to sound off, I wonder if it’s a shock gobble because I am so obnoxious or because he is actually interested. The times it works is usually when it pisses off an actual hen who comes in — tom in tow — to investigate the annoying racket disturbing the hens’ routine. Hens often call back to it or, at least hopefully, so as to not bust you only yards away with a silent approach. But back to that day in Connecticut.
We began our racket, back and forth with two distinctively sounding calls in aggressive hen chatter. “What do we have to lose?” I thought. He’s certainly leaving, but maybe we can get him to come peek at the hen fight.
He changed his course, forgetting about his wingman. He would tell him about this encounter later. He changed course again, then again as he strutted, walked fast, strutted. He questioned it more than once, but finally committed.
At about 35 yards coming up through the open woods, he busted Jesse while he shifted the camera. It happens to the best of us. Jesse whispered as the tom started to sound an alarm. I saw his body shift — that was the problem, I could only see his body. His head was behind a large pine tree only visible between the mutual eye contact between the tom and Jesse. As luck would have it, he stepped a few inches too far to the left and his head appeared as he began to walk away at a slightly alarmed pace. That was enough to get it done with my 20-gauge.
The moral of the “over calling” story is that sometimes it makes sense in turkey hunting. Mostly when you have nothing to lose. And as my tone probably noted, most of the time it’s better to be patient. Or at least it seems that the best turkey hunters I have learned from always called less. But just sometimes, a bit of experimentation can pay off.
We never learn new things if we do not take the chance to fail.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.