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David Halloran | 3.4.2020

Turkey Calling Tips from Call Maker David Halloran

  • Environment: Subalpine

David is the owner and craftsman behind all the beautifully-built products at David Halloran Turkey Calls where each call is thoughtfully carved by hand. Halloran grew up in New York state without a hunting mentor. Instead, at the age of 12, he and his dad learned to hunt turkeys together. “Through a lot of trial and error, my dad and I became proficient callers and turkey hunters,” Halloran says. Today, turkey hunting is his life. During the spring, when he isn’t in his shop building calls, he’s traveling all over North America doing what he loves most: outwitting and calling in long beards.

Below are some tips that have helped David seal the deal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Turkey hunting slate call.
Photo: Nick Sherrod

It takes time and repetition to learn turkey vocalizations and to master them with a call. The more hours you can spend honing your calling skills, the more effective you will be under pressure. This means it’s important to carve out time wherever you can to become a better caller. Practice with your diaphragm while you run errands. Practice while you sit on the couch at home (although you may drive your family crazy). Actively seek out information that will sharpen your skills. Try to build muscle memory for a wide range of vocalizations. Don't just practice having the best yelp in the woods - turkeys make a wide range of sounds. The better you get at all of their vocalizations, the more meat you will put in your fryer. Practice everything you can: yelps, cuts, cackles, purrs, Kee-kees, gobbles, gobbler yelps, and fighting purrs.

But in my opinion, you need to go beyond this. It’s important to practice how you play. This means getting into the woods with all your gear and practicing there, too. This way, you can accurately prepare for scenarios that will unfold in a hunt while carrying all the gear you will use. Eventually, you’ll perfect your call and gear placement. Once you accomplish this, memorize where everything is in your pack or vest, even the small items like conditioning stones, scotch bright, box call chalk, and strikers. You shouldn't have to think of where everything is or about making natural turkey vocalizations if you have practiced enough. It should feel like instinct because you’ve put in the work during the off-season.

Follow the Mood

Turkey charging in.
Photo: Dustin Lutt

Don't call too much. Call just enough. During any hunt, I always feel out the mood of the woods and let the turkeys dictate how aggressively and how frequently I call. I want to match them where they are. It’s an acquired skill, but if you hear a racket from the turkeys then call a lot. If the birds are relatively quiet, then be cautious to not call too often or too aggressively. I always strive to sound natural, and this starts with being aware of your quarry’s frame of mind. To fool and kill a turkey, you have to act like a turkey.

Don’t Be Perfect

Hunter attempting to call in a gobbler.
Photo: Dustin Lutt

You are not on stage - the tom is not going to score the quality of every yelp, cluck, cackle or purr you throw at him. When you screw up, and you will, just keep calling. Some of the worst turkey sounds I have ever heard actually came from a lonely old hen. Turkeys are not always perfect in their vocalizations, so you don't have to be either.

Make it His Idea

Turkey hunter readies to draw back on a bird.
Photo: Austin Thomas

I have seen turkeys fly across rivers just because they wanted to, but the next day the most fired up tom won't step across a mud puddle no matter how hard I try to persuade him. Sometimes you have to make it their idea. And this means mixing up your approach to coax them into shooting range. This might mean completely changing your tactics. Adjusting my approach (i.e. going from a diaphragm to a box call), changing how often I call or moving a hundred yards to my left has been necessary to change a stubborn tom’s mind. Don’t be rigid in your ideas of what will work and keep trying. Hopefully, all of a sudden it will be like a light switch flips and he finally commits.

Know Your Subspecies

Turkey beard in great light.
Photo: Dustin Lutt

There are six subspecies of wild turkey in North America. Though they are largely the same type of bird, they all have different quirks and preferences that are important to note if you plan to hunt them. When calling Easterns or Osceolas, less is more. With these particular subspecies, I am careful to not call too much as they can be wary and call shy. Once you set up to call, sit there until you can’t stand it, then sit for another 30 minutes. After that, sit for another 30 minutes. In this situation, I occasionally throw in soft yelps, feeding clucks and purrs to increase the tom’s curiosity. If you do this long enough and call sparingly, chances are he’ll come to check you out.

On the contrary, when hunting Rios, Goulds, or Merriams I tend to call with a much higher frequency and aggression since they have short attention spans. To illustrate, there will be times when my hand will cramp up from calling so much to a Merriam. It’s tough to call too much with these birds. In general, a higher pitch call works better. Also, the country these birds live in is often windy. To adjust for being drowned out by howling gusts, I use a box call as my go-to. If they can’t hear you then you’ll never call them in!

Don’t Always Move Closer

Turkey hunter looks on anxiously waiting for birds.
Photo: Dustin Lutt

If I do strike up a gobbler that wants to play, I immediately look for a place to set up. The best spot to set up might be behind you, not necessarily closer to the turkey. If the turkey wants to act right, he will come to you, but to capitalize you have to be intentional with your set up. Oftentimes, the best spot to set up isn’t closer to that gobbling tom but behind you. If you push in too close, you’ll likely end up spooking him or have to set up frantically without being able to dial-in a strategy. A bad set up can ruin what would have been a great hunt. While calling to a tom I’m always keeping useful landmarks (like piles of blown down timber) in mind for when he starts to close. A turkey’s eyesight is incredible, so you have to have a solid backdrop to break-up your silhouette to remain unseen.

These tips and tactics have been hard-earned through years of mistakes and successes. But through the ups and downs, I have learned more and more and I aim to never stop this process of learning and growing as a hunter. It is part of what I pursue.

I hope this write up has helped grow your knowledge and skillset so you get more opportunities this spring. Good luck out there!