What To Do When Turkeys Reject Your Call

How to respond when a gobbler rejects your calls.

Donald Devereaux Jarrett | March 1, 2024

Over the years, the author had learned that changing things up on a bird that has rejected his calling can quickly swings the odds in his favor.

It had been a half hour since my last call. I had no idea if the bird was even still in the neighborhood or not. He hadn’t given me any reason to believe he was, and when he had last gobbled, he was still in the same vicinity as he had been when he first gobbled nearly 90 minutes earlier. He seemed as laid back as a gobbler could be, and he seemed indifferent as to whether the hen he had heard was going to show up or not. I knew one thing, though. He wasn’t going to show up if I didn’t change something quickly.

I had been using a mouth call exclusively, so I decided to change up and try something different. I reached deep into my vest and pulled out a slate call. I hadn’t used it lately and thought now was as good of a time as any to knock the dust off. I figured it sure couldn’t hurt.

I had been sticking to basic yelps, so for starters, I decided to stick to that with the slate. The first series I sent toward the bird that I hoped was still there got an immediate response, followed by two more gobbles. I knew the switch had been flipped.

We’ve all been there at some point. Throwing calls out that land on deaf ears is pretty deflating in the turkey woods. However, is it really as uncommon as we think? Gobblers don’t generally run about the woods gobbling at every hen that decides to make a hen noise. Sure, there are days when gobblers talk more than on others, and there are times when he will gobble himself into a frenzy, but it doesn’t go on forever. So, naturally there are times when a gobbler just isn’t saying much. There are times when we need to figure out what will  trigger the bird to gobble. It’s our job as hunters to seek the answer to the beak-locked problem, and there are several answers that can get him to not only open up, but reel him in, as well.

When turkeys don’t respond to my calls, I get offended. It irritates me, and even though I shouldn’t, I take it personally. Over the years I have learned, mostly the hard way, that sometimes changing things up might be all it takes to swing things in my favor when I become a victim of call rejection.

Change the Call: How can something so simple change the outcome so drastically? For whatever reason, turkeys sometimes react differently to different calls. Sure, there are days when it seems you could call one up with a rock and a stick, but other days, it is hard to buy a single gobble.

People have often asked me, “Why do you carry so many calls?” My response has always been, “Because I might need them.” I’m sure that most of them who asked the question didn’t fully understand what I meant. It wasn’t that I thought that I was going to lose them along the way and that I wanted to have as many as I could carry with me “just in case.” What I mean by that same old answer is that somewhere in that vest full of calls, there just might be the call that turns the game in my favor.

It very well could be that the bird that is rejecting our call just isn’t necessarily distancing himself from us, or the hen we pretend to be, but he might just not like the sound of it. Here is when you will need to fight the urge to be offended. He’s not necessarily insulting your calling. The call you’re using just might not do it for him.

It’s easy to get caught up on a particular call, but years have taught me that using one call exclusively is not only the sign of going in the ditch, it’s a surefire way to decrease your chances of scoring. Changing calls can make all the difference. Sometimes all a gobbler needs to hear is a different hen. That’s why it is important to learn to be proficient on several types of calls. It’s also important to remember that changing calls might involve the same type of call.

Pot calls exist in a variety of playing surfaces, boxes vary in the type of wood used and diaphragms are made up of endless choices of cuts, reeds and tensions. All of these will produce their own sounds and will sound different, even if only slightly, from each other.

Such was the case with the bird I mentioned above. He showed up in front of me less than 10 minutes after I changed calls. He didn’t fly up that evening.

Change The Setup: Sometimes changing calls isn’t going to work, but sometimes changing locations will be the key. Many times over, I have called to gobblers that seem to be deaf. You know the type; the ones that don’t so much as look in your direction when you call. It is one of the most frustrating things imaginable in the turkey woods to see an apparent henless gobbler react to your calling with no reaction at all. It is call rejection at its finest.

I remember watching a bird ignore me in a big field one day. After calling to him, he appeared to be more interested in eating than dating. This seemed to be a regular occurrence with him, as he was a big, old, fat boy. I had sat up about 20 yards off the field edge, just above a steep gully when

I first sat down and started with nothing more than four or five basic hen yelps—nothing excited, nothing loud. Somewhere around 30 minutes had passed when I caught movement just inside the treeline across the field 100 yards away. The adrenaline kicked in, and I believed he would cross the field soon and be in my lap. That proved to be wishful thinking when he walked into the field for about 10 yards and began feeding on everything within beak’s reach. I yelped at him softly and scratched in the leaves beside me. No reaction, not even a glimpse in my direction.

Maybe he didn’t hear me, I thought. I knew better but went ahead and repeated myself with a little more volume. The result was the same and the old feeling of call rejection began to set in. All I could do for the time being was wait and see. Nothing changed. For the next 45 minutes, I watched this obese turkey cover an area of less than 25 yards in any direction.

I pulled a slate from my vest and gave him a new sound, and again, he rejected the call. I really didn’t like him at this point, and after watching him another 15 minutes, I decided to make a move. I slid out to the side of the tree and was eventually able to drop down into the deep gully behind me.

When I got down in it, I could walk undetected for nearly 100 yards. It didn’t run exactly parallel to the field, but it afforded me the opportunity to move to another setup. By the time the ditch played out, I was far away from the bird. I continued to move in a direction that carried me to what I believed was on the other side of the field, though I could not see it.

I figured that I was likely in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 yards off the field edge by the time I found a suitable tree to lean against. The first call I decided to use was the mouth call I had been chewing on since he started this mess. I yelped a couple of times but got the response I got the first time I called to him—nothing. By now, I was worried that he had possibly seen me somehow, so I concluded that I had nothing to lose. I decided to kick up a turkey fuss.

Before I could start, however, I heard a gobble from the field. I held up on the rowdy turkey talk I had planned to send to him. A minute later, he gobbled again, and he was closer. I scratched the leaves a few times, and he hammered it. It took him 10 minutes to show up where I could see him and five more to reach a bad place to be. I folded him just inside 40 yards.

Changing the location worked; changing the call wasn’t necessary. The funny thing is that I was farther from him where he was in the field to where I ended up killing him than I was where I had worked him to begin with.

Changing calls can work on a turkey that has rejected a hunter’s calls. However, sometimes a simple change of location is all is takes.

Change What You’re Saying: This can be as complicated as you make it. At times it’s hard to know exactly what a gobbler wants to hear. The best rule of thumb is to simply throw a call out there and see what happens. Give him time and see how he reacts and if he responds. This is obviously easier if you can see the bird. If you can’t, it’s tougher to figure him out.

I recall seeing a bird one day as I was driving along a dirt road that weaved its way through a piece of property I could hunt. He was nearly out of sight when I spotted him. He was just along the treeline 50 yards off the road. I drove past him a couple of hundred yards, parked my truck and got out and headed around the opposite side of a draw that I knew he was now in.

It took me about 20 minutes to reach the spot I set up in, and the first call I sent went unanswered. It was just four or five yelps, but it was a good place to start. I waited a full 10 minutes before I called again. This time the bird gobbled down in the draw, and I felt good about my chances.

Uncertainty set in a half hour later. He hadn’t gobbled again, and worse than that, he hadn’t shown up either. I called again with some more pleading yelps. He gobbled, but he had moved farther away, deeper into the draw. I was losing him.

I needed to do something different now, and I had to decide as to whether I needed to move, change calls or change what I was saying to him or how I was saying it. Since he had responded to my last call, I took his response to say, “I’m leaving, so come on if you’re going with me.” He had already put a couple of hundred yards between us, and catching up with him wasn’t looking too promising. I decided to throw a Hail Mary at him by getting aggressive.

I took out a box call, yelped a couple of times and cutt hard at him. He jumped all over it. I answered him right back, and once again, he hammered it. A minute later, he gobbled again, and I could tell he had moved toward me. I waited a minute or so and cutt at him again. He cut me off this time, and I knew he was on the way. The next time I called and set the box call down. I expected him to show up at any second, and that’s exactly what he did. I shot him at 30 yards as he appeared from the draw.

It isn’t a regular occurrence when you can turn a gobbler that is steadily heading in the other direction. I don’t pretend to believe that I made him do anything. I simply hit on something that changed his attitude. I hit the right button, and it was what he wanted to hear. He did what he wanted to do.

I have always believed that it is more important what you say than how you say it. By that, I mean you need to know if it’s yelps, clucks, purrs, cackles or clucks that he is wanting. The urgency or temperament in those calls falls into what you’re saying, as well. The “how you say it” is more of how well you produce the call itself.

It would be nice if we could all produce calls that resemble an NWTF Grand National winner, but it isn’t necessary to possess that ability to call a turkey into gun range. It is important to work on calling ability and sound as much like a turkey as you can, but in the end it’s more about using the right call and knowing what you want to say with it.

Calling is important. Changing calls and how we use them is needed, at times. Changing where we call from can break a bird in a heartbeat. Figuring out what to do and when to do it will increase your success in the turkey woods, and it sure feels good to eliminate call rejection.

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