Author’s note: Matt Van Cise of Brookville, Pennsylvania has been setting the turkey calling world on fire. On March 9, 2013, Van Cise won the Senior Open Division of the World Turkey Calling Championship held in Stuttgart, Arkansas. The week before, he won the Wild Turkey Bourbon Grand National Championships in the Senior Open Division. Van Cise has won five World Open Championships, four Grand National Championships, three U.S. Open Championships, a World Friction Calling Championship, the Grand National Friction Calling Championship, the North American Championship, and the Mid-America Open Championship since 2000. He uses MAD calls and is a member of the Mossy Oak Pro Staff.
I know many hunters who use a gobble call very effectively. However, I rarely use it, just because I’m not very good at it. I’ve tried a wide variety of gobble calls, and I’m not very good with any of them. I’m pretty much limited to using a Quaker Boy tube. I always carry one in my turkey vest, but it’s the last call I use, if none of my other calls will make a turkey gobble. I’m not saying a gobble call isn’t a good call, because it is. I just haven’t learned to use it as effectively as I should. For a locator call, I prefer an owl hooter, a crow call, or a coyote howler. The coyote howler doesn’t seem to work as well in the Northeast to make a turkey shock gobble, but I use it quite a bit in the evening if I use it at all.
I’m often asked about the toughest turkey I’ve ever hunted. The truth is, I try not to hunt tough turkeys. I did have one old gobbler I tried to take with a friend of mine. He shot at the gobbler and missed him. I hunted that bird for four seasons and saw him several times, but I never could make him gobble, and he never would come to a call. I don’t spend much time with any one gobbler, but I’ve hunted some turkeys hard over several seasons, and I eventually have taken them.
My whole philosophy of turkey hunting is most of the time there will be two or three days in the season when a gobbler will come to a call. All you have to do is call to him on the day he wants to come in to you. There’s no way to know the day a turkey really wants to come in, so if you hunt several different turkeys every day of the season, often one of those turkeys will be ready to come in to the call. That’s why I suggest you have multiple gobblers to hunt and don’t fixate on one in specific.
I grew up hunting turkeys. Most of the property I hunted was hardwood timber, and we had very few fields in our region. In these areas, I rarely, if ever, saw a turkey out in the fields. The gobblers never seemed to roost in the same tree every night. Those turkeys were really hard to pattern. I found I was better off hunting many different areas and trying to hunt very little in the same place. In that type of hunting, I had to find a lot of turkeys and try and get to the one that wanted to come to the call, on the day I hunted him.
I’m a forester, so I can hunt almost every day, even if it’s only for an hour. Because my job involves being out in the woods every day, I consistently can find gobblers. In the section of Pennsylvania where I live, if the property isn’t posted, a hunter usually doesn’t have a problem getting permission to hunt there.
I’m often asked which of the four races of turkeys is the most difficult to hunt. I always answer the Osceola, because it’s difficult to get a place to hunt the Osceola gobbler. I love Merriam’s turkeys, since they gobble at almost any turkey sound you make. I think turkeys are turkeys wherever you find them, but some turkeys are harder to take than others because of hunting pressure and predator pressure.
My best tip for becoming a better turkey hunter is to listen to the turkeys when they gobble. Don’t just listen for what the gobblers are doing. Listen to what the gobblers are telling you to do. For instance, some hunters will go into the turkey woods and yelp 30 times consecutively, and the turkey won’t gobble. I’ll go out and yelp five times. If the turkey doesn’t gobble, I use the cutting call a few times. If the turkey gobbles to the cutting call, I keep using that call to try and bring him into gun range. Whatever sounds the turkey will gobble to are the sounds I use.
I also recommend that you scout at least as much as you hunt, if not more, and hunt more than you call. You have to spend time scouting and being very observant. Look for scratching where turkeys are feeding. Search for strut zones, which you can determine by seeing where a gobbler drags his wings and leaves marks on a road or opening. You actually may see the turkey strutting in a particular area. Look at fields, and you will see turkeys out there. If you call from the place that the gobbler wants to be, you drastically will increase your odds for bagging that gobbler.
Images courtesy John Phillips