6 Turkey Locator Calls You Need to Try
Articles and photos by M.D. Johnson
In turkey hunting, the game begins when he gobbles. Best case scenario, he sounds off on his own. But, as all turkey hunters worth their salt know, there are those days when the wood — including every longbeard on the farm — goes quiet. Nothing. No gobbles. Not even those “Do I really want to walk that far?” gobbles.
Turn ’round and go home to watch Maury Povich and sulk? Not hardly. Oh, we have ways of making ol’ Mr. Tom let us know he’s around. How’s that?
The answer is turkey locator calls. They’re natural sounds that cause a tom to do what’s known in the vernacular as shock gobble. But what’s a shock gobble?
Imagine walking downstairs in the middle of the night, headed for the bathroom. Older guys, you know what I’m talking about. At the bottom of the stairs, you plant your foot squarely on your 8-year-old’s “Star Wars” action figure. Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber embeds itself right smartly in your flesh. “OWWWWW … @^%$#@@@!!***,” you holler, not even thinking about the others sleeping around you. That, my friends, is a shock gobble.
Ol’ Mr. Tom is so high-strung in the spring, what with girls … girls … girls on his mind, he’ll let loose with his best at every noise he hears. Not always, but often enough. And when he does, he reveals his presence.
NOW we can get to work — slipping around this way, cutting the distance, getting set down, gun up. That’s what I mean; now the game begins. But what are these sounds designed to get that gobbler to, well … gobble? Read on.
Hen turkey locator calls
Sure, he might gobble at your yelps and cutts and cackles, but are you ready for the game to begin? When you use a hen turkey call, you’re effectively saying to that tom, “I’m ready! I’m willing. You need to get your tail feathers over here. NOW!”
But … are you ready? You’re taking a chance here. It might work … often does … but eventually you’re going to get caught flat-footed when he rounds the corner on a dead run and you’re not the sweet-sounding little hen he envisioned. Best use something else.
The rhythmic Who cooks for you … who cooks for y’all! hooting of the barred owl is a traditional locator sound. And not only at daybreak and dusk, but all day long.
Doesn’t have to be perfect; in fact, a lot of barred owls I’ve heard sound pretty wild. Still, a little bit of practice would definitely be a good thing. Fortunately, there are plenty of owl hooters on the market, as well as an almost infinite number of YouTube shorts demonstrating what a barred owl should sound like.
Crow calls are probably tied for first place — if not in first place — with owl hooters as many a hunter’s GO TO turkey locator call. They’re easy to use, loud and really get toms worked up.
However, here’s where turkey hunters make their mistake with crow calls: We’re hunting turkeys, not crows. We don’t need a long, drawn-out, Emmy Award-winning rendition of a murder of blackbirds fighting a great horned owl. Too long a sequence, and you overrun that distant gobble; that is, you don’t hear it. Short and sweet — CAWWWW … CAW … CAW … CAW — and then listen.
I like coyote howls as turkey locator calls, especially in parts of the West where the distance between you and that tight-lipped gobbler might be across-the-canyon far.
Same here as with crow calls: Make it short and sweet — YIP! YIP! AWWWWOOOO! — and be done.
Reeded coyote howlers are the easiest to use; however, a more than decent version can be made using Slayer’s single- or double-reed elk diaphragms or Slayer’s Straight Double turkey mouth call. With practice, that is.
My wife and I spent 18 years chasing Hawkeye State turkeys, and it was AWESOME! Those Iowa gobblers heard Canada geese on a daily basis and often would gobble incessantly at the big birds’ territorial honking.
I put two and two together and started packing a short reed in my turkey vest, which worked a lot of times when nothing else did. Slayer’s short reed goose call might be just the ticket to yank a gobble out of those reluctant longbeards. Slayer’s Tar Belly speck call, with its high-pitched yelps and two-note yodels, also really reaches out there.
Elk bugles work, even where there aren’t any bulls; however, bugles fall in the same category as do crow calls and coyote howls. Don’t stretch a bugle out s-s-s-o-o-o-o long that you can’t hear your bird respond. Press those reeds tight and get that clear, high-volume rise, without the chuckles at the close.
Meet M.D. Johnson
Originally from Ohio, M.D. Johnson, and his wife/business partner, Julia, spent 18 years in Iowa before relocating to her native Washington state in 2015. A full-time freelance outdoor writer since 1992, Johnson, with the photographic assistance of his wife, has authored and illustrated six full-length books, including three on waterfowl hunting. Today, The Johnsons reside in Wahkiakum County, where they both enjoy a 107-day duck season, salmon fishing, and everything the wonderful Pacific Northwest has to offer. Oh, and if you ask, M.D. will tell you he prefers 16 gauge doubles to anything else.
Read more about turkey hunting from M.D. on Slayer’s Blog: Turkey calls 101: An introduction to hunting hens and toms