John's Journal...

Turkey Hunting with Bo Pitman of White Oak Plantation

Stingy Calling

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Bo Pitman can’t remember when he hasn’t hunted turkeys. For more than 20 years, he’s guided and hunted turkeys at White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee, Alabama, a 30,000-acre-plus hunting lodge that has some of the best turkey hunting in the nation. From March 14th to the end of April, Pitman’s in the woods of White Oak hunting turkeys every day. With stands of hardwood timber, pine plantations and fields dispersed throughout the property, White Oak’s ideal habitat for the Eastern wild turkey. Each season, 30 to 50 hunters bag from 35 to 55 turkeys off this property. I don’t know any other place in the nation with more gobbling Eastern turkeys than White Oak. This week, we’ll ask Pittman what’s required to take a longbeard, and what we need to know to increase our odds for taking gobblers this spring.

I’ve been accused of being stingy with my turkey calling, which isn’t really a fair accusation. I’m not stingy with my calling, because if the situation calls for it, I’ll call as much as needed to get that turkey to come in to my hunter. Every morning of turkey hunting is different, and that’s the reason I love it so much. If the turkeys are really vocal, you have to call a lot, if you’re going to take a turkey. However, this far down South, turkeys are generally not very vocal. So most of the time, I’m not very vocal with my calling. Many turkey hunters overcall turkeys. In our section of the country, generally, turkeys don’t like to do a lot of talking. You have to remember that the turkeys we’re hunting in this part of the Southeast have been hunted for many generations. These turkeys aren’t dumb. All the good gobbling turkeys die at a very young age. Therefore, the only birds often left to breed the hens are the gobblers that don’t gobble much. I only want to call enough to let the turkey know where I am, aClick to enlargend that I’m interested in him. Once he gobbles back and starts closing the distance between me and him, I won’t call. The purpose of calling is to get the turkey to come to you. Once he starts moving toward you, don’t really need to call to him again. I don’t want to call any more than absolutely necessary to get that turkey to come to me. Many times, if you call to the turkey that’s already coming to you, it will stop him. That old gobbler will stop and start looking for that hen and say to himself, “I’m close enough to her that I should be able to see her. I’m also close enough that she should be strolling over to see me. Now, since I don’t see her, and she’s not coming to me, something’s wrong. I may just need to go find me another date.”

The turkey also can hang up out of range until he sees you and then leave. The only time I’ll call to a turkey coming to me is when I believe he’s not sure of where I am. Maybe he’s coming too far to my left or to my right, and he hasn’t exactly pinpointed from where the calling is coming. If you don’t call enough to let a turkey get a dead bead on where you are, he’ll walk past you, and you’ll never see him. Now, turkeys are really good at pinpointing from where a hen call’s coming. But they’re not perfect. They don’t always get the exact spot where the call’s coming from in their brain, so they may not walk a straight line to the call. It doesn’t take but a slight misdirection on the turkey’s part for him to walk past you and out of range. When you call, you have to make sure the turkey has a pretty good bead on where you’re sitting. If he’s drifting off course, you may have to call again so that he can exactly pinpoint where he wants to come to see the hen (you). Click to enlarge

A fiberglass call’s my favorite because you can use it successfully, even if rain’s falling. I call in the majority of turkeys using a simple two- or three-note yelp, and if I see a gobbler straying off course, I usually can get him turned around and headed toward me and my hunter with nothing more than one or two soft clucks. Sometimes, I’ve had to give a cackle, a fighting purr or really-excited calls to get a tom’s attention. Remember, every turkey’s different, so you never know exactly how you’ll have to call, or when you’ll have to call to the individual turkey you’re working that day. The majority of the time, really-soft yelping will pull most gobblers within gun range. One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “Bo, why do you walk through the woods with your hands in your pockets?” The simple answer is most of the time when I’m hunting, my hands are cold, and if I put them in my pockets, they stay warm. Too, if you walk with your hands in your pockets instead of using them to reach, grab, move or swing by your side, you look less like a hunter and more like a tree. There is less motion for a turkey to see when your hands aren’t flopping out to the sides of your body. Also, if you come around a curve in a road, over a ridge top or step out into open woods, and a turkey spies you before you spy him, you look more like a tree, a stump or some piece of timber than you resemble a hunter. Many times you won’t spook a turkey as much, if you spook him at all.

I’m also really conscious about where my feet will be, and how much noise they’ll make as I walk through the woods. I like to wear thin-soled boots so I can feel everything under my feet. This way, I don’t break limbs or make as much noise as the people who walk on gravel or drag their feet through the leavesClick to enlarge. Remember that turkeys have good hearing. As you’re walking through the woods, they can identify a hunter by the way he walks, especially if he’s making too much noise. I don’t want to sound like a human when I’m walking through the woods. Another question I’m often asked is “Bo, what’s your favorite call?” One of my favorite calls, especially when a turkey’s in close, is scratching in the leaves. I’ll scratch-up just about as many turkeys as I call-up. If I can get away with scratching in the leaves without a turkey seeing me, then I’ll scratch in the leaves. Scratching in the leaves is the most-natural sound a turkey will ever hear. Even when hens aren’t vocal, they’ll scratch in the leaves. When a gobbler hears scratching, he assumes there’s another turkey nearby and will go looking for the bird. Scratching in the leaves is another confidence builder that lets the gobbler know there really is a hen where he heard calling. Even though he may not be able to see the hen, he has to believe she’s there because he hears what he thinks is her scratching in the leaves. Scratching in the leaves is especially effective late in the morning when the turkeys have stopped talking to each other. If you do a lot of calling later in the morning, many times, you’ll spook more gobblers than you’ll call in to you. But, if you’re close enough to a gobbler that he can hear you scratching in the leaves, then scratching in the leaves will be a much-more effective way to get him to come in to within gun range than calling will be. I’ve had toms hung up and gobbling their brains out knowing that when they gobble, that hen’s supposed to come to them. When she doesn’t come to him, and she just keeps scratching in the leaves just out of sight, those old gobblers will get really mad and emotionally displaced. They finally get so mad and so upset about this stupid hen that they’ll won’t come to see her. Many times they’ll just walk over to where they think she should be, and that’s when my hunter squeezes the trigger.

For more information on hunting at White Oak Plantation, call (334) 727-9258, or visit, or email


Check back each day this week for more about "Turkey Hunting with Bo Pitman of White Oak Plantation"

Day 1: The Cussing Gobbler
Day 2: Understanding Turkey Time
Day 3: Stuff You’ve Gotta Have
Day 4: Why Your Gun Doesn’t Shoot Straight
Day 5: Stingy Calling



Entry 392, Day 5