My presentation ended and a young boy made his way to the front of the room. “How did you learn to call so well?” he asked, smiling. “I started practicing when I was about your age,” I told him, “and I never stopped; I drove my parents crazy.”
Reflecting on my introduction to game calling, I probably drove the local animals crazy, too. After winning or placing in more than 25 turkey-calling competitions, carrying on conversations with countless animals, and speaking to hundreds of people each year on calling techniques, I have learned what works for calling wildlife.
Being successful at calling in wildlife is much more than being able to call well; the real calling competition occurs in the wild, where the animals are the judges.
The Four “Rules” of Calling Wildlife
Consistently calling in animals can be difficult. Calling them in close is a greater challenge. Scenarios from one encounter to another are completely different and unsuccessful attempts frustrate many callers. However, some constants do exist. Paying close attention to four guidelines can make communicating with wildlife more predictable than not.
Regardless of the type of animal you want to call in, being in the right place is paramount. It is impossible to call in an animal if it is not in the area. Scouting helps determine locations that are frequently used.
During scouting trips, determine where animals’ preferred spots are at different times of day. By recording your observations, a set-up location can easily be identified. If during your outings you don’t lay eyes on any animals you intend to call in, don’t fret. Several years ago, I gained permission to predator hunt on a new farm in southern Missouri. During my first scouting trip I didn’t see any coyotes but quickly found coyote scat, and the area was riddled with tracks. I returned three weeks later and called in a mature male coyote on the first set. Not only did my scouting trip confirm the presence of coyotes, I was also able to pick a successful set-up based on my scouting observations.
By scouting and determining the right place, callers have a higher chance of connecting with an animal. Calling an animal into a place it already wants to be can make you look like a world-champion caller.
Learning to communicate with wildlife is like learning to speak a different language. Vocabulary is a primary tool for a language student, and animal communication is no different. Often, calls are made to animals that mean something totally different than what we intended to say. Biologists have been able to determine what most calls mean to an animal and how to understand the individual language of different animal species. Fortunately, the calls of just about any animal are available. Before you head afield, do your homework and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the language of the intended species.
In addition to learning the language of the species, it is important to learn how to duplicate the calls of that animal accurately. While attempting your first calls, don’t get discouraged; some animal sounds are easy to duplicate, but others take practice. Pick up a few commercial calls or try your hand at mimicking animal calls with your natural voice. Whether you choose to buy man-made calls or produce your own, make sure you spend time honing your skills. Your calls don’t need to be perfect, animals will regularly respond to average or below average calling, but more realistic calls mean a better response.
Say something at the wrong time and a conversation can go sour. Timing in any type of communication is important. With respect to animal communication, game callers must be aware of the time of year. For many species, the calls used to lure in an animal change as the biological needs of the animal changes. For deer, while grunting might be normal all year, the intensity and types of grunts may vary as the rut approaches. Rattling is not as common in September as it is in late October or November. Successful game callers use this knowledge and apply it whenever appropriate.
Reaction determines the success of any communication. When calling wildlife, the reaction of the animal will indicate if you need to call more or change calls, or if the animal simply isn’t interested. You can determine the reaction of the animal by paying close attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. For verbal cues, a call back from the animal is a good sign. Unless, of course, the call the animal made is in alarm or distress. Knowing the language of the animal and what each call means is worthy of mention again. Most successful callers agree that more is less when it comes to calling wildlife; only call enough to keep the animal interested and heading in your direction.
If you are fortunate enough to see the animal while you are calling, nonverbal cues can play a huge role in the types of calls that are used. Pay attention to how the animal reacts when the first call is made. If the animal turns and heads the other direction, maybe a different call or technique could be tried. If the animal starts heading your way, get your camera, bow or firearm ready! While fall turkey hunting several years back, my brother and I spotted a flock of five gobblers on a field edge and worked our way to within 100 yards of the group. My series of coarse gobbler yelps had been ignored by the bachelor group. They are not interested,” I whispered to my brother, “let me try some hen yelps.” After offering a series of cutts and yelps, the gobblers immediately moved from their loafing area and worked to within easy gun range. Being able to see the reaction of those gobblers played a huge role in the success of that hunt.
Nonverbal communication varies amongst species so be sure and research the behavior of your intended species before you set out. Understanding how an animal reacts to your calling and applying different techniques or calls based on that reaction often defines success.
Putting it All Together
Having an animal in close is important for hunters, videographers, photographers and others. Calling is one proven method to get animals close and also makes for an exciting experience. Calling animals can also serve as an excellent way to connect with nature and to understand how animals interact. Success at calling wildlife requires that participants scout and find animal hot spots, spend time learning animal communication and learn how and when to apply different calling techniques. Calling in an animal can be a tremendous experience and is a great way to introduce children to the outdoors. Get outside and discover how fun and action-packed communicating with wildlife can be!
For more on communicating with wildlife, check out Jake Hindman at a Calling All Wildlife (CAW) program. During his presentation, Jake performs more than 50 animal calls with his natural voice including calls of many species of birds, frogs and multiple mammal species. Email Jake at Jake.Hindman@mdc. mo.gov for more information.
To learn calls of various animals, check out the Xplor website for great audio of animals in the wild. Go to xplor.mdc.mo.gov/xplor/videosound/ all for more information.
Gain Permission on Private Land
More than 90 percent of Missouri is privately owned. If you intend to set out on private land, make sure you gain permission well before your planned trip. Here are a few tips to help secure a location on private property.
- Always ask permission before your planned trip
- Always leave the property better than you found it
- Always obtain permission to bring a guest
- Always state in detail what you would like to do on the property
- Always be polite and respect the landowner’s wishes