Turkeys Don’t Talk Turkey

This beautiful call was crafted by my friend John Buchin out of my neighbors 25-year-old spalted maple tree. It has aged beautifully and sounds amazing when someone else uses it.

The sport of turkey hunting seems to have an almost magical allure for those who try it. It’s a tough feeling to convey, but there’s no question that the calling is one of the prime attractions. I’ve often wondered if people would be fanatical about turkey hunting if it simply meant bushwacking for mute birds or taking them on the wing like oversized pheasants.

– Ray Eye, Hunting Wild Turkeys with Ray Eye

It is almost that time.

When hunters of all races, genders, and ages abandon the warmth of their beds at inconvenient hours to traverse the tick-riddled thickets of the turkey woods. I will be among them, looking for the opportunity to put arrow to flight and watch fletching disappear within its origin.

I have yet to kill a turkey and have spent years trying. I’ve come close. Very close. And though I’ve been outsmarted and outmaneuvered season-after-season ⏤ remain undeterred.

Hunting turkeys has never been about the killing. It’s everything leading up to it. Oversized pheasant isn’t on my menu. Nor is it on the menu of my associate John Buchin (who fashioned the call photographed above).

The wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo) is a special species with a language that takes seasons to speak and a lifetime to become fluent. Any turkey hunter worth his arrows or shells will echo this statement with passionate inflection. Talking turkey is a lifestyle, not a skill. This is why I suggest watching a seasoned translator work a bird before attempting it on your own. The poetic coos, sultry yelps, and violent gobbling has the power to humble the cockiest cluckers and cause the squarest of jaws to quiver with emotion.

I am experienced in this regard. My compatriot is a fantastic caller ⏤ better than I could ever be ⏤ which is why my calls tend to stay in the vest when we hunt together. Squawking on a pot while he’s conducting business feels a bit like singing along with the car radio and turning up the volume to drown out the results.

I don’t need to be a bad background vocalist while John’s wooing a flock of sex-crazed 20 pounders. Some of us are better off strumming the guitar in the back of the band, which is why I hold the binoculars.

Still, we make a good team. It may not appear that way on paper but it isn’t for lack of trying. We’ve had wonderful encounters and more fun than I could possibly share on this keyboard. I am certain that our day will come ⏤ sooner rather than later. And I hope that John is the one that drops the string. He’s earned every bit of that honor.

Good luck out there. Stay safe. Have fun talking turkey!

John Buchin is the owner and operator of Crooked Talon Game Calls. You can find his work on his website or Facebook. He needs more excuses to hop on the lathe.

“The Oath”


Wikipedia defines an oath as “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future actions or behavior.” 

While not divine, I was recently a witness to such a promise.

I have a “turkey hunting” friend. He probably isn’t too difficult to imagine if you know someone similar. You are probably thinking of him (or her) right now, in fact. I would wager they are cut from the same cloth – yours and mine – and would get along swimmingly should they ever meet in the real world. (Unless they are the competitive sort. We should pray for the opposite, in that case.)

My turkey hunting friend’s name is John and nothing winds his clock more than a 6 am fly down or a gobble on the roost. John lives for these scenarios. You can see it in his eyes when he’s on a bird, and in his voice when he talks about the one (or two) that got away. There is nothing he’d rather be hunting than the bird, even when he’s hunting something else. I’ve heard too many blasphemous statements in the deer woods to believe otherwise. “Man, I’m seeing turkey scratch all over. If I hear a gobble, its game on, deer be damned!”

“Damned” indeed for making such a statement on a Michigan morning in October. “Beards before bucks? Surely, you must be joking.” But he isn’t. Turkeys are the most sacred of creatures to John and hunting them is the closest to God he could ever be on this Earth. When he isn’t hunting them, he’s reading about hunting them. When he isn’t reading about hunting them, he’s building his own calls. When he isn’t building his own calls, he’s navigating forgotten gravel drives in a rusted out Ford with a watchful eye on every field and hollow.

He loves to eat turkeys too, but that goes without saying.

It was his passion for the pursuit of this bird that made John the perfect candidate for longbow recruitment. He liked to do things the way I liked to do things, only he was using a shotgun. I would send him photos of bows and arrows. He would send me photos of calls he was working on. It was only a matter of time before our addictions crossed. John started shooting a longbow and I started hunting turkeys.

We mentored each other that first year. John made his first bow and I acquired my first calls and shotgun. We were both equally awful at the other’s endeavor. I was making horrible noises in the turkey woods and John was shooting groups the size of a hay bale into his hay bale. Still, the seeds had been planted. Improvement was inevitable. I gave up the shotgun a season later. It felt wrong to be in the woods without my bow. John wasn’t quite there, but a gun was feeling less-and-less “right”. He started the season with his bow, reserving his 12-gauge for a sudden death scenario. He ended up shooting a nice bird that season, but those closest to him could see it didn’t make him feel the way it used to.

What John was feeling, is actually quite common. Once you’ve spent time afield with a stick-and-string, it is very difficult to be in the woods with anything else. It eventually becomes a part of you and everything you do, see, and feel. I was privy to all of this. And I was there when the aforementioned oath was made.

“I’m going after turkeys again this year. And I’m doing it longbow only. I don’t even care if I get a bird.”

“Really…” I said, raising my eyebrows in astonishment. He shot me a look as serious as death, then he nodded. “Oh yes. Longbow. Wood arrows. Public land. Boots on the ground. Going after ’em!” It was a gem of a promise. Something you might hear amidst the inebriated blustering of one of the turkey elite following their 100th kill. But he meant every word and I found that infectious. “I suppose I’d better go with you then.” I sighed. “Can’t let you have all the fun, can I?”

“Sure thing.” He said. “I’ve got just the place. I hope you like to get up early and I hope you like to walk.”