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Talking Turkey: Changing the Game When Bow Hunting for Turkey

Changing calls and weapons may be (good) for the birds


In mid-April hunters dust off their camouflage and head into the woods in search of wild turkey. Last year I was lucky enough to draw a rare tag for the birds in Unit 38, the Boise River Valley, and could hunt a mere 10-minute drive from my house in Nampa.

I hunted the same flock hard for about two weeks. I would drive to my spot and wade through the frigid Boise River in search of the birds. Their morning "gobble-gobbles" would set my mood high for the rest of the day.

One day, in the lush spring greenery, I sneaked up on a roosted tom, set out my decoys, took out my box call and convinced the bird to come within 40 yards of me. He was unlucky enough to get a hot dose of size 4 and then another when he tried to fly off. I made a curry with the drumsticks when I got home.

I know I can shoot a turkey with a gun; I have done it several times. This year I wanted to change tactics and decided to try and shoot one with my bow. But in order to do that, I need to have both hands free at all times, so I needed to learn how to use a different kind of call: the mouth reed.

The mouth reed is a horseshoe-shaped contraption that fits on the roof of a user's mouth. It consists of a canvas backing with strips of plastic woven into it. Altogether it is about the size of a quarter. The reed is placed plastic side out, and the tongue is pressed up against it to hold it in place.

A reed call works by "blowing air across two or three layers of plastic and making a noise," explained Chad Schiermeier, a professional hunter, owner of Burnt Creek Adventures and pro staff member--who travels around and teaches people how to use a company's products--at Primos Hunting Calls.

When the reed makes noise, the hunter needs to manipulate that noise into a call that appeals to turkeys. Being able to do that is part of what makes Schiermeier such a badass, and he agreed to help me learn how to blow a mouth reed call effectively so that I could be a badass, too. A couple of days before we met, I bought my first mouth reed call. I gagged on it about 50 times before I began to make the even the most rudimentary of calls with it.

I met with Schiermeier at the Sportsman's Warehouse in Meridian, where he was doing an in-store demonstration. He told me that using a mouth reed is by far the most complicated method to call a turkey but also the most successful. He said that turkeys in the wild make different noises depending upon what they are doing: a "cluck" is a location call, a "purr" is typically a feeding noise, and the "putt" is an excited warning call meant to scare or alert other turkeys to predators in the area. Ironically the "putt" was the only turkey sound I was making with my mouth reed.

"If a turkey could smell, you would be shooting them with a rifle," Schiermeier said, as evidence that turkeys are hypersensitive to movement, color and noise. So hunters need to remain very still and very quiet. That's almost impossible with other calls that rely on hand movement to make noise. The mouth reed call lets a hunter not only make the correct noise but do so without moving--perfect for hunting turkeys.

That lack of movement is the other big issue I am going to have when I switch my traditional recurve bow for turkey hunting. Without a gun, I will have to be extra sure of my shooting. So for some advice on archery hunting, I went to Danny Aden, owner of Archery Central in Caldwell.

Aden recommended that I do one major thing to improve my shooting and my odds for a successful hunt: shoot from all positions.

"Too many times people practice shooting while standing left foot forward. They never practice shooting while sitting with their back against a tree or while kneeling," Aden said. "They use their whole body to draw back. You can't do that while sitting."

Aden sat down with his back against the counter and demonstrated how to pull a bow back using just arm muscles. The typical method of arching a little to draw does not work when your back is pressed against a tree. And since a bow hunter can't stand up and shoot without spooking a turkey, he or she must draw the bow back from a sitting position and make the shot--not an easy task. I can consistently hit my target standing but sitting is a whole different story.

"It's a whole lot harder to do it this way. You need to have the strength to pull your bow from any position," he warned.

Regardless of what call or what weapon I use, the main issue with turkeys is how wary they are. And in just a few days, I will be head-to-toe in camouflage, sitting in the wet spring dirt calling a turkey. I will be using a reed call that I am still learning how to use and shooting a recurve bow from a sitting position. Right now, the outlook is pretty good for the turkeys.