March 2008
Howle's Hints

Game Plan for Gobblers

By John Howle

The sound of a gobbler’s echoing thunder traveling through hills and hollows gets a turkey hunter’s adrenaline flowing just like Friday night lights does a football player. For success, both individuals need a solid game plan. For this article, I went straight to the expert for calling turkeys- Mike Pentecost, maker of the Woodhaven Custom Calls.

Pentecost is a champion turkey caller with 25 years of experience calling tricky gobblers into range. His Alabama company is known for building the most realistic sounding turkey calls that not only call wary gobblers into range, they have accounted for Grand National, World and U.S. Open Championships in both the Open (mouth calls) and Friction (box calls and slate calls) divisions.

Pentecost considers the Eastern wild turkey to be one of the toughest birds to call in.

"There’s a spot in Cleburne County around the Cheaha area where I live where eastern wild turkeys were never extinct even back to Indian times," said Pentecost. "These birds have been hunted the longest and their genetics account for tricky Alabama toms."

Locating Longbeards

There’s no substitute for pre-season scouting when looking for gobblers. Chances are, during deer season, you were able to spot a flock or two on your property. Go back to these areas and look for turkey signs before the season opens.

"I’ll look for turkey tracks and droppings around sandy or muddy areas," said Pentecost. "Gobbler droppings will be larger and J-shaped."

In addition to tracks and droppings, Pentecost looks for scratching and strutting areas.

"In areas where both hens and toms have been dusting you can often find strut marks made by the gobbler’s wing tips," said Pentecost. "I use boots, ears and time to locate mature gobblers."

Before the actual hunt, it’s always best if you can roost the birds. This means waiting in the woods until after sunset to listen for birds flying up to roost.

"I like to go to an area where I’ve seen turkeys, and I listen for gobbles and the sound of wings flapping as they go to roost," said Pentecost. "Usually smaller birds and hens fly up first and you can hear the lighter flapping sound as they go to roost."

The gobbler has a slower, more lumbering flap as he’s getting the extra weight off the ground onto the limb.

The morning of the hunt

On the morning of the hunt, Pentecost lets nature do the locator calling.

"My favorite thing to do is not move when I get to an area I believe a gobbler is located," said Pentecost. "I’ll wait until I hear the first round of live crows calling in the morning, and this will often trigger a tom into sounding off with his gobble."

If the gobbler doesn’t sound off at that point, Pentecost will use one of his own crow calls to gather in live crows to aid in calling.

"That’s one reason I got into the call business because many of the calls that were out there sounded like plastic toys," said Pentecost. "The most common locator calls I use are the crow or hawk."

If there are other hunters in the area, Pentecost tries to use what they are not using, sometimes including an owl call.

You’ve located the bird, now what?

Once Pentecost has located the gobbler, he has to decide if this is the bird he wants to commit to.

"I ask myself ‘Is this turkey old enough?" or ‘Is there another gobbler in the distance that may be more mature?’" said Pentecost. "Experience guides you in being able to identify the sound of a mature gobbler."

The next consideration is camouflage. Find a natural blind such as a blown-down tree or natural covering to do your calling. Sometimes, the only cover you can find may be a shoulder-width tree. In this case, sit at the base of the tree using as little movement as possible.

Before you call to the turkey, you want him to think you are a hen.

"I’ll try to work across the terrain to engage him before I speak to him," said Pentecost. "I’ll get in as close range as I can on his same terrain level or higher."

Pentecost takes every opportunity to cut the distance between himself and the tom.

"I don’t want another hen to intercept him before he gets to me," said Pentecost. "The closer I can get without spooking him, the better."

Pentecost begins his calling with soft yelps.

"It’s always easier to make your next call louder, but you can’t take a loud call back," said Pentecost.

John Wayne once said concerning his acting to talk low, talk slow and don’t talk too much. Pentecost uses this same philosophy when calling toms.

As long as the gobbler is responding and working his way towards Pentecost, he limits calling.

"I listen for drumming if he stops gobbling," said Pentecost. "Sometimes, a simple cluck will keep him coming in. As long as he’s moving, keep it silent or soft."

As long as the tom is gobbling, he is easy to keep track of.

"I have to depend on my eyes and ears because the tom may be drumming, walking softly in the leaves and sometimes he will cluck or even yelp as he comes in," said Pentecost. "Sometimes, he won’t even make a sound."

Take the shot

With modern shotguns, the advertised range of effectiveness can be different than the actual range.

"I think 40 yards is the magic distance," said Pentecost. "Really, 25-30 yards is where most patterns will perform at their best."

Pentecost recommends patterning your shotgun extensively before you take to the woods.

"The name of the game is patience and knowing what your gun will do so you can make an ethical shot," said Pentecost. "I practice shooting right and left-handed in case that gobbler shows up on an unexpected side."

In addition to making professionally handcrafted turkey and locator calls, Pentecost’s company also produces top-quality deer and predator calls. For more information visit them online www.woodhavencustomcalls.com or call (256) 463-5657, and make sure you have a solid game plan for gobblers this spring.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.