Florida Turkey Hunting: Setting the Mood

Inside notes on talking turkey this spring.
Understanding the dialogue of a gobbler and hens is a key to bagging Osceolas and other turkey species, in Florida and beyond.


You’ve learned the basic calls, roosted some birds on scouting trips. You’ve patterned your loads, marked off dates on the calendar. But if you think Florida turkey hunting is as easy as connecting the dots, think again. Whether it’s a homegrown Osceola or a wide-ranging Eastern, these birds are predictable only to a certain point. Vocalizations are the wild turkey’s number one means of communication. To get in on the conversation, you’ll need to account for subtle shades in the birds’ mood. That goes for toms and hens alike.

In my years of hunting, I’ve seen countless examples of how a turkey’s mood can be influenced by certain styles of calling. Knowing how to identify those moods and call accordingly is a vital part in bringing turkeys consistently into your setup.

Employing well-timed calling sequences can be the key difference in a close encounter or a distant pass by.

Throughout the spring, a gobbler is a bundle of pure testosterone-driven emotion, or at least what looks like emotion.

Once you’ve made initial contact with your tom, observe what type of mood he is in. Is he gobbling at crows, hawks, owls and other shock-type calls? Is he already in a heightened emotional state or is he relaxed but answering your calls sporadically? Quickly make this assessment at the beginning of your hunt. This is the first step in identifying which calling tactics to employ.

Excite Him

Although basic hen yelping has probably harvested more Florida turkeys than any other call, there are times when it is just not enough to seal the deal. When you’re engaging your tom, if he seems bored or non-responsive it’s time to become aggressive. Begin your calling sequences with some cutting and then speed up the rhythm of your yelping to create an excited yelp. This will sometimes increase his breeding urge. Remember, you’re conveying that the hen the gobbler is hearing is ready to breed and if he closes the distance he will be rewarded with a mate.

The key is to always start with the basics and then pick up the excitement level as needed. If you bombard him with everything you have at the start of the engagement you will have nothing left in your repertoire to entice him into shotgun range.

The Silent Treatment

There comes a time when the silent approach is the medicine needed to cool down a super hot tom. A bird that’s initially excited by aggressive calling may suddenly stand his ground. If that happens, stop calling. Imagine that a hen has lost interest and given up on the rendezvous. Do not utter a sound for 15 to 20 minutes. If the tom begins gobbling on his own, it’s a sign he is getting anxious and is trying to elicit a response from a potential mate. This is often the last stage as the bird begins to close the distance to your blind.

If a gobbler ceases to gobble, are two scenarios that will generally occur. He will either close the distance without making a sound, or he will lose interest and move on. If a silent gobbler has not slipped in within 15 to 20 minutes, you should attempt to locate him with a loud burst from your crow or hawk locator call. If he responds but has moved away, it’s time for you to reposition. Identify his position only with your locator call as you move on him. This will enable
you to course his direction and set up on his travel route without using hen sounds. At this point I would not call to the gobbler; simply allow him pass by in gun range.

Fire Him Up and Shut It Down

Another tactic I’ve enjoyed great success with involves both aggressive, excited calling and the coy, timid approach. Many gobblers have met their demise because of the “fire him up and shut him down” calling tactic. Begin your excited calling sequences and take note as the gobbling begins to increase in frequency. Once you’ve hooked him, give him about ten minutes of silence. Be wary of his rapid approach, as this sometimes is all it takes to seal the deal. If the short period of silence does not bear fruit, start clucking and purring. If possible, simulate scratching in the leaves. But be cognizant of any movement that could spook the tom. More times than not, the gobbler cannot stand the fact that his once hot and excited girlfriend has lost interest in his majesty’s gobbling and strutting. You have set the mood for love, but then retracted your invitation to meet.

Box call,friction call and mouth call.

Talking to the Hens

When a gobbler is courting his harem of hens, they too can play a role in setting the mood of the hunt. Two factors that can lead  to your success hinge on a hen turkey’s gregarious or aggressive nature. Once I have identified that a gobbler is in the presence of the ladies and that he is not going to leave his company, the game begins.

The first step in utilizing this strategy is to begin initial contact with the boss hen in the flock. As a rule of thumb, never
challenge her initially with aggressive calling. Begin your conversation with a few clucks followed by a 5- or 6-note yelp. This is just an attempt to say, “Hello, how are you doing?” You are capitalizing on her gregarious nature and simply announcing your presence. Hopefully, she will wander over with the tom in tow, just to visit the newcomer.

If this is not successful after two or three attempts, it’s time to announce a challenge.b In this scenario, you become aggressive with your calling in an attempt to question the boss hen’s dominance. I generally begin with a 10- to 15-second cutting sequence followed by a 6- to 8-note yelp with a more rapid cadence. Once you’ve completed your series, await her response. If she answers with a similar response, you’ve piqued her interest and success could be in your future. Again, respond with another sequence, imitating her as closely as possible. After two or three sets of calling with responses, begin calling over top of her calling. This should stimulate her into a dominant mode. You’ve set the mood for confrontation. Now watch as that hen approaches your setup, infuriated by a newcomer challenging her dominance. The tom will usually follow her right into gun range.

Simulate an Intruder

Hen calling not moving that tom? Here’s a last resort that can lead to success. Assume for the moment you’re engaged in battle with the dominant bird in the area. There is no foolproof way of determining his status, but when all else fails this strategy is worth a try. Challenging the gobbler and imitating the presence of another male can sometimes change the gobbler’s mood from love to anger.

I generally begin announcing the intrusion of the other longbeard by spitting and drumming. I will produce this sound in a couple of series of three and then await the gobbler’s reaction.The bird may perceive that another gobbler has approached the hens, threatening its status. You’re conveying that another tom has snuck in the back door and is attempting to win the ladies’ love. If we could read the dominant gobbler’s mind, we’d probably see that he views this as under-handed. I’ve had many birds charge a setup once I’ve simulated this sound.

If you do not get a reaction from spitting and drumming, try a throaty gobble. I use my natural voice but there are many companies who manufacture gobble calls. If he answers I continue to gobble back at him and even gobble over the top of his gobble. Gobble as much as needed to bring him into range. Keep in mind that he could gobble all the way in to your setup, or he could sneak in quietly.

If he was gobbling at your hen calling prior to your gobbling and he then goes silent, scan for his arrival. I’ve had many toms slip in quietly once I have begun challenging them. The flipside to this tactic is sometimes the bird will feel challenged but avoid confrontation. He could very easily cease gobbling and head the other direction.

Just remember this is a last-ditch effort and there is nothing lost at this point.

Also: Take great caution when employing the gobble, as it could attract other hunters and key them in on your exact position. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman March 2011