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Talkin' with Tom at Cabela's

Talkin' with Tom

Author: Mark Strand

It is probably the oldest debate in spring turkey hunting. How loud should you call? How often? How aggressively?

Ray Eye calls from behind a tree, concealed by Cabela's camo.
It is probably the oldest debate in spring turkey hunting. How loud should you call? How often? How aggressively?

The classic old-school notion is that you should yelp three times on a box call and then put it down, far enough away that you won't be able to reach it for about a half-hour. That approach works, certainly, as the beard and spur collections of numerous old-schoolers will attest.

But there is another school, started by people who would have worn loud colors at Wimbledon even before it was half accepted, that argues you will have more consistent success ­and you'll find out whether anything's going to happen sooner­ by being the most receptive and bossy hen in the harem.

Ray Eye, who has been making audio tapes and videos and writing books about turkey hunting for many years, grew up in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. He's been a turkey fanatic since he was too young to lift a shotgun, and get this, his father and even grandfather were among the original aggressive callers.

Here's a quick Q&A with Ray that will outline a calling mindset that I have personally come to believe in wholeheartedly.

Q: This topic gets debated constantly, with even seasoned hunters disagreeing on it. How loud, and often, should you call to a tom turkey as you work him? Some say that you can call too much to a gobbler and get him gobbling so hard that it actually causes him to hang up? Do you think the "hen" can sound too eager?

Ray Eye: Try to eliminate hang-ups before they happen, by setting up in a spot the bird is willing to come to. And in my calling, I want him excited. I want to get him all worked up. I want him in a frenzy, because he makes mistakes when he's in a frenzy. He comes to you. He wants to get with that hen.

Just listen to the turkeys. You know which hen the tom goes to? The one that's doing all the yelpin' and cuttin'.

Q: And yet, some people will say that, as long as that tom is coming to you, when he's getting closer with each gobble, that you should stop calling, or at least don't call as much.

Ray Eye: You can (stop calling) and let 'em look for you if you want. It's a judgement call. But I call all the time. I was asked one time when I stop calling, and I said "when I pull the trigger."

Q: Do you think there's any difference in which calling approach would work best, depending on how many real hens are in the area when you're trying to work a tom? Some people admit that they call more, and louder, when they're competing directly with a real hen.

Ray Eye: Oh, absolutely. Always call a lot when you're competing with another hen. You have to be a hen, too, and you have to be the one that tom is going to choose to go to.

Q: So, is it possible that the strategy of easing up on the calling might work better, or be more likely to work, if there aren't any real hens around?

Ray Eye: It's possible. But every situation I'm in, I call a lot and I call aggressive and I keep 'em going. The reason I do that is because the real hens do it. A hen that really wants to get with a gobbler doesn't stop calling and let him look for her. And yeah, she can come to him, but a gobbler will come to her, too.

Q: Have you ever seen a tom actually shy away from a loud, aggressive hen?

Ray Eye: No, why would he? He's a turkey. In the spring, he wants to get with those hens.

Q: You're telling us to call loud, and aggressively. But what if we're just not that good on our calls?

Ray Eye: Anybody can sound like a turkey if they quit thinking it's so hard to do.

Q: In the real world of the average hunter is there a huge difference in talent and experience level between callers.

Ray Eye: I can take a little kid or an old lady out of the crowd at my seminars, people who have never had a call in their hands before, and have them sounding like a turkey in five minutes. It's not hard. You just have to learn to listen to the turkeys.

The average hunter gets it in his mind that it's so hard to sound like a turkey on a call, and it's not. It's just the rhythm, and you can learn how to make it in a few minutes. Listen to the good quality tapes and CDs we have nowadays, and learn what real turkeys sound like when they yelp and cut. In the spring, those are about all you need to do.

Learn to yelp and cut, either on a box call or slate call. And then do it out in the woods with emotion. Sound like you're ready to get with that old tom, and be insistent about it. You'll kill turkeys doing that, I guarantee you.

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