Locator calls, used to trick a gobbler into betraying his position, could become your deadliest weapon yet in the spring turkey woods.
The basic idea behind spring turkey hunting is to duplicate the sounds of turkey hens with any one of a variety of calling devices to lure a male turkey into range for a shot with either a shotgun or bow and arrow. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the fun is in the trying.
Just as a fisherman's tackle box contains a variety of lures to fool fish, a typical turkey hunter's vest is stuffed with different calls to trick gobblers. But, as it is with fishing, there's more to turkey hunting than merely and somewhat routinely calling in a bird.
One of the wrinkles of turkey hunting that is often left unexplored in any depth is the use of calls that do not make turkey sounds or at least calls that make noises no self-respecting turkey would ever think of making on purpose. It's a widely recognized but little understood peculiarity of gobblers that during the spring breeding period, when they are lusty, they will often respond spontaneously to non-turkey sounds. Everything from the sound of a slammed truck door to howling coyotes to an abrasive crow cawing in the distance to the hoot of an owl can, for reasons known only to the gobblers themselves, elicit gobbles from tom turkeys.
Types of shock calls
Capitalizing on this weakness, hunters have learned to locate toms by making odd noises in the woods with an assortment of manmade products referred to as locator or shock calls. The most popular are crow calls and owl hooters.
Owl calls are often used to locate a gobbler in a tree before dawn or in the evening while putting a tom or two to bed on a scouting expedition. In the west, great horned owl sounds are most often used for authenticity, while hunters east of the Rockies usually rely on the more vibrant barred owl call.
Nearly every experienced turkey hunter I know carries a crow and/or owl call all the time during spring turkey hunting. Some hunters add others, such as coyote, predator or pleated woodpecker calls. In short, anything goes that is capable of making a sharp sound that might shock a tom turkey into responding.
Many are the tales of toms that gobbled back to the slamming of car doors and thunder, and I assure you they will also answer to helicopters, sirens, peacock shrieks, horn honks, the occasional Banty rooster, coyotes and even geese in flight.
In fact, when I hear any odd noise while I’m in the turkey woods, I stop everything and listen just in case a tom sounds off and lets me know where he is.
Tom turkeys, bless their little bird-sized brains, are susceptible to mood swings they probably aren't even aware of. Some days they’ll gobble at practically anything and some days they might as well be rocks on the moon.
Why use locator calls?
We cannot overlook the use of turkey calls as locators. A few yelps with a loud boat paddle box call, or any high-volume turkey call, will sometimes raise birds on distant hillsides or across canyons. So why do you also need calls that are simply for shocking and not also for calling a wary old tom to the gun?
Here's the basic theory: The advantage of using a shock call is that when you get a tom to sound off because of some artificially triggered response, it let's you know a tom's approximate location without prompting him to move in your direction when you least expect it.
For example, if he's in a roost tree, he’ll stay there, relaxed; if he's on the ground, even with a bevy of hens or a few buddies, he won't react to the noise like he might an unexpected turkey call.
In this way, a shock gobble or two allows you the opportunity to locate a tom that will continue going about his business as usual. True, you may not be able to work the bird effectively - some days turkeys just don't play fair - but at least you know where he lives and you can go back later and try again.
By contrast, if you are using a turkey call to locate a gobbler, there's a much greater chance that you’ll bump a bird when you least expect it. For instance, a tom that's close and hears your calls might be in your lap before the echoes die away.
Or a distant bird might start coming to your calls quietly while you move in his direction without a clue.
There are other scenarios, of course, but you get the basic idea. Whenever you attempt to locate a gobbler with a turkey call, look around first to pick out a potential calling position before you make any noise.
You don't have to get all set up, but you should be ready in case a nearby bird gobbles practically in your ear when you least expect it.
To shock or not
I do not recommend using a shock call just to hear the noise. When I’m unsure of the location of turkeys in a certain area, I will sometimes use a series of owl hoots, crow calls or coyote howls in the dark of early morning to get the ball rolling. But there are also mornings, especially in places I’m thoroughly familiar with, when I just sit quietly and listen for the toms to open up on their roosts naturally.
At times, I use a shock call during evening scouting trips just to verify the presence of a gobbler or two in a place I plan to hunt the following morning. But the best use of a shock call, in my opinion, is to keep track of a distant vocal tom while moving into practical calling range.
As is the case with anything in this game of turkey hunting, shock calls are only part of the whole picture. Over the years shock calls have been very helpful to me and through trial and error they have become a valued tool to use when nothing else seems to fit the job requirements. They do not always work, of course, but they definitely help on certain occasions, and as such they are one more key to consistent success in the spring turkey woods. So pick out a shock call of your choice and take it with you on your next hunt. Someday you’ll be mighty glad you did.
What's my favorite shock call? I really don't have a favorite. To me it's what ever is the favorite one of the day for the gobbler that sounds off to it. I’ll start off with an owl hooter, the old “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all,” after that maybe a barred owl. Later in the morning lets try a crow, if that doesn't work how about a pileated woodpecker, followed by a screaming red tailed hawk or a peacock squeal and finish up with a coyote pup howl. Now that's what ya call locatin’ and… if all else fails, just before noon, you can slam your truck door in sheer disgust which will inevitably induce a gobble out of the biggest tom in all the woods. But since you only have minutes left on the high noon quitin’ clock you might as well bid him adduce until another day.
Remember, pass it on or it will surely pass on.