HEEDING THE CALL
Sometimes the best way to call for wild turkeys is to pretend to be lost.
A lost turkey that is.
Imitating the call of a lost hen is sometimes a successful way to call in turkeys, said La Grande hunter Phil Gillette.
Hens will be drawn to a lost hen call and toms, adult males, will often follow. Imitating a lost hen is as simple as making 10 repetitive "yelp'' calls, Gillette said.
Imitating the call of a hen separated from her flock is just one of many calling tips experts are offering as opening day for turkey season approaches. The statewide general spring season opens April 15.
Patience will again be a virtue for callers and all hunters.
"Be super patient. Most of the time they come in very slowly,'' said
La Grande turkey hunter Ron Gross.
Gillette agrees, encouraging hunters to call in one place for 30 to 45 minutes before moving on.
Hunters' patience is tested by the fact that often turkeys do not gobble while walking to where someone is calling. This is particularly true of the older birds, said Ed Hughes of Summerville. Older birds tend to be more cautious because in many cases they have been fired upon before.
"If they have been shot at they never seem to forget it,'' Hughes said.
Callers also need to remember that turkeys have excellent eyesight and use it to evade hunters.
"They can see movement from 200 yards,'' said La Grande's Dan Kloer, the owner of Deep Timber Sounds, a company that makes game calls and produces videos on calling.
Turkeys cannot only see great distances, they also seemingly have eyes in the back of their heads. Gillette noted that a turkey can see 320 of 360 possible degrees.
"Their peripheral vision is incredible,'' he said.
The excellent vision of turkeys means that hunters must call from a location where their movements cannot be seen. They should set up behind a tree, blind or bush and avoid sunlight.
"Call in the shade,'' Hughes said.
Callers also should remember to be set up before they start calling, Kloer said. Hunters who are set up are better able to respond when a turkey does come in.
People hunting in groups should have a plan for delegating responsibilities, Gillette said. One hunter should be assigned the calling responsibility. This individual should continue calling when a bird comes in and someone else should fire at it.
"This prevents confusion and allows people to concentrate,'' Gillette said.
Subtlety and shock
Hunters are advised to be subtle when calling.
"Many people are too loud,'' Gillette said.
Raising the decibel level too much is a particularly big mistake to make in Northeast Oregon where almost all turkeys are Rio Grandes.
"Rio Grandes are call shy,'' Gillette said.
Loud noises can help hunters by shocking turkeys into gobbling and thus revealing their presence. Hunters can stimulate shock gobbles through coyote and crow calls and other means, Kloer said.
Other sounds, like the slamming of a car door or a car passing over cattle guard, can surprise turkeys and get them to gobble.
The sounds that cause shock gobbles or other vocalizations are not predictable, which is why it is good to bring a variety of calls when hunting.
"Switching calls can get vocalizations going,'' said Gillette, the owner of Phil's Outdoor Surplus.
The diaphragm is among the most widely used calls. Hunters like it because it is not only effective but also allows for hands-free calling. Callers put it on the roof of their mouth and exhale through it. Tongue pressure is used to change the sound.
The box call is one of the oldest used by hunters. Patented in 1897, according to ESPN's outdoors Web site, the call consists of a "small coffin-shaped box that creates a sound chamber.'' It is operated by running the lid of the call along the edges of the box.
This call is good to use when the wind is blowing because it has a high pitch, Gillette said. Perfection is something callers should strive for but not be discouraged if they do achieve it when calling. In fact, mistakes are occasionally a good thing.
"Sometimes when you make a mistake you may find something that will call turkeys in,'' Gillette said.
Hunters agree that turkeys are unpredictable, a fact that adds to the intrigue of hunting them.
"If there is a (turkey hunting) rule they will violate it,'' Gross said.
Numbers are good for April 15 opener
Union and Wallowa county hunters will be the beneficiaries of a mild winter when turkey season opens April 15.
Numbers are good in Northeast Oregon in part because turkeys had an easy time surviving a mild winter. The mild winter also means that there will be little snowpack for hunters to hike through, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Leonard Erickson.
In Union County's already-promising outlook was boosted by the transplant of more than 100 turkeys from Southern Oregon this winter. Hunting prospects will be best in the north part of Union County, Erickson said.
In Wallowa County, numbers are down from a year ago in the Sled Springs Unit due to a poor nesting season, said Enterprise ODFW biologist Vic Coggins. Numbers in the other Wallowa County units are similar to a year ago.
Turkey season runs from April 15 to May 31 throughout Oregon. The daily bag limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard. The season limit is two turkeys except for hunters who have bonus tags.
Hunters may purchase tags throughout the season.