NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Standing on the edge of a large grassy field and honeysuckle thicket, master wild turkey caller Rob Cotiaux began calling wild turkeys on Thursday morning.
Dressed head to ankles in leaf-pattern camouflage, Cotiaux, 55, of New Gloucester used box calls, pot or slate calls, mouth or diaphragm calls, and even a newly invented “out-of-the-box” type brass call.
The man who judges turkey calling contests said he’s testing that one for the inventor.
Maine’s spring wild turkey hunt starts Saturday for children and Monday, May 2, for Cotiaux, his clients and everyone else.
It’s what the registered Maine Guide said he lives for — duping the wily birds into believing he’s just another wild turkey.
Wild turkey hunting “is so much more exciting” than deer or bear hunting, he said.
“You’re calling, you’re fooling them. It’s what it’s all about.”
Skritching a small “c” with a pencil-like piece of wood called a “striker” on a round slab of Pennsylvania slate, the president of the Maine National Wild Turkey Federation deftly purred like a contented hen.
A soft, fluttering, trill ensued.
“This is a contented turkey sound,” Cotiaux said. “It says, ‘I’m contented. I’m just walking around feeding and clucking.’”
Immediately after the second purr, a gobbler — male turkey — on the other side of the field suddenly gobbled.
Excitement flashed across his face. Game on!
“Listen!” he whispered.
But the gobbler only sounded once. Undaunted, Cotiaux said, “OK, we’re going to work a bird.”
He quietly dashed to a tree at the corner of the field and thicket, sat by the base and leaned into the trunk.
Cotiaux then placed his favorite and deadliest call — an inch-long black and red latex diaphragm — against the roof of his mouth at the back of his throat and began to talk turkey.
He unleashed a series of rhythmic raspy yelps sounding like a boss hen, paused and called again, cupping one hand to his mouth to channel the sound.
“It’s all about rhythm and cadence,” he would later say.
Four yelps. Pause. Seven lower-pitched yelps. Pause. He then switches to a “cutt,” a fast, irregular series of clucks.
Cutting is the sound a hen makes when she’s excited, he said.
The lone gobbler, however, didn’t respond. Cotiaux tried a small green tube, producing a series of gobbles.
He tried his second deadliest call, an aggressive raspy series of yelps.
Nothing worked. He gave up.
“What I ideally would have done is I would have went to him,” Cotiaux said.
As close as he could get.
By nature, when gobblers call they induce hens to run to them. Wild turkey hunters try to reverse that, making the gobblers run to the hen.
Sometimes they’ll get into an emotional swearing match with calls, trying to out-vocalize the real hen, just to induce the hen to attack them, which also brings the gobbler running in to stand by its hen, he said.
Explaining his method of hunting wild turkey, Cotiaux said, “What I do is I’ll walk and I’ll call and when I hear one, I’ll run to within 50 to 100 yards of it, set up and sit down and start calling and make him come to me.”
He doesn’t use decoys.
“A lot of people have tried to stalk them, but these birds have tremendous eyesight and hearing,” he said.
“Plus, it’s dangerous to stalk them because another hunter might mistake you” for a turkey.
“With their eyesight and hearing, the minute you start calling, they pinpoint that sound and they start looking and moving,” Cotiaux said.
“I mean, when I’m guiding, I’ll call them in. I’ll even close my eyes, because I don’t want them to see the shine of my eye or anything,” he said.
He gobbled through the tube call.
“That fires them up sometimes,” Cotiaux said. “Just like boys on the school ground and they’re fighting for the girl, there’s a pecking order, a lot of aggression.”
He switches to his aggressive fighting call: a raspy domineering sound accompanied this time by Cotiaux rapidly patting his pockets down, sounding exactly like a turkey angrily flapping its six-foot wingspan.
He said he’s induced gobblers to dash across cornfields with that call to “get into the fight.”
And therein lies the danger of sounding like a gobbler, which is why he prefers calling as a hen. But even that can be dangerous.
“You have to be careful with these gobbler calls, because there are some people out there and that’s what they’re hunting — gobblers,” Cotiaux said.
“So they’re stalking the gobbling sound, which isn’t a good thing.”
“I had a fellow stalk me one year,” he said.
“I was yelping like a hen and purring like a hen and the next thing I know, I could hear somebody behind me, and I turned around real quiet and said, ‘I’m a human,’ and he was all upset about that.”
“He said, ‘Boy, you’re a good caller.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but thanks a lot. Why are you stalking a hen when it’s gobbler season?’ He was a little embarrassed.”