As the days get longer and the lush green begins to return to the woods of south Louisiana, you’ll be hard pressed to find Chad Newcomer doing anything other than what he knows best: defying nature.
“It’s courtship in the woods, really,” said Newcomer, owner of Louisiana-based Fat Lady Game Calls and veteran turkey hunter.
And courtship has rules. With turkey season set to open March 22 in the state, here’s the guide to getting gobblers.
Wait Your Turn
“You are the hen; you are the female,” says Newcomer. “It’s mating season, so you’re trying to duplicate the right vocalizations for the right situation to convince the gobbler you’re real.”
Playing the role of a hen turkey can often prove to be frustrating. After all, turkeys have excellent vision while making numerous distinct vocalizations. And male gobblers, the game Newcomer is after, can often be a bit picky.
But if there’s anything he has learned after years of studying turkeys, it’s patience.
“There are times when [gobblers] won’t come running in and take one step and strut,” he said. “You have to be patient. Other times they are on top of you in a blink.”
Sound the Part
One of Newcomer’s favorite methods to lure male turkeys into range is by using a pot call. The particular call features a round base often made from wood, topped with aluminum, glass or slate. By dragging a wooden striker along the pot’s surface, the user can perfectly mimic the sound of a hen turkey.
Pot calls are perfect for beginners, Newcomer said, because of the ease of use. Users can pick one up and talk turkey in a matter of minutes. However, they are also widely used among many seasoned turkey hunters.
As wide of a vocabulary a turkey may have, there’s just three the hunter needs to master: yelp, cluck and purr.
Holding the striker almost like a pencil and making an oval on the surface of the pot call makes a yelp. Yelps are as basic as turkey communication gets and are usually a series of five to seven chirp-like sounds. Increasing the cadence and volume creates an excited yelp, often used to steal a gobbler away from an existing hen.
Yelps are effective while gobblers are on the roost, which means they are still in the tree where they spent the previous night sleeping. The gobbler’s reaction through vocalization can tell the hunter a lot about the bird’s intentions.
“The gobble itself gives an identification of how interested that bird is,” Newcomer said. “Cutting you off [while calling] is a very good thing. Answering quickly also is good. If there’s a delay, that means he has hens already with him.”
Be Heard, Not Seen
Dragging the striker in a straight line, slowly and lightly, makes a hen’s cluck. Making a slow semi-circle by lightly dragging the striker will make the purr. These calls are best when a gobbler is closing in to reassure him a receptive female – the hunter – is in the area.
“Hens are always making that sound, so I will keep the real light purr and cluck going so that the gobbler can zero in on me,” Newcomer said. “I want him to be interested and come in to me, where he believes he can stop and see the hen.”
Staying out of the gobbler’s sights once he is in range is important, but doesn’t require the fanciest camouflage patterns out there, said novice turkey hunter from Prairieville Joshua Soileau.
“They pick up movement more than anything else,” he warned.
Soileau advised making as little movement as possible while also donning camouflage from head to toe. Gloves, a hat and a facemask, in addition to pants and a long sleeve shirt, are best options.
Know the Land
If turkey hunting wasn’t complicated enough, tactics and equipment vary when hunting public land as opposed to private land.
Soileau hunts public land exclusively, making trips to western Louisiana and into the Florida parishes. Though decoys are usually staples in the filed for those on private land, the cautious hunter opts to leave his at home.
“There are too many hunting accidents on public land and people shooting without a second thought of it,” warned Soileau.
Newcomer agrees public land can be a different game compared to hunting on the seclusion of private land where he uses decoys.
Though while public land can have its disadvantages at times, there may be no better place to bag a turkey this season.
According to Jimmy Stafford, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wild turkey and resident small game program leader, public land with sizeable populations of turkey in close proximity to Baton Rouge include Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Kisatchie National Forest.
In years past, Sherburne WMA, located in the Atchafalaya Basin, was a hot spot for turkey activity. Due to the 2011 Morganza Spillway flood, populations were knocked back and won’t rebound for a few years, he said.
“The Atchafalaya region is continuing to rebound, but it’s still below average,” he said. “I think we will see Sherburne return to its former glory in another five years or so.”
Defying nature isn’t easy, as Newcomer readily admits. And though the veteran hunter holds a wealth of information about turkeys, he said he doesn’t know everything and there is no “expert” in turkey hunting.
Practicing calls before the start of the season, covering from head to toe in camouflage and impeccable calling skills will surely increase chances of a successful turkey season, but in the end, makes no guarantees.
“These birds, they will beat you,” he said. “It really is difficult, but that’s why it’s so much fun.”