Ernie Calandrelli of Model City, New York, is one of the most respected turkey hunters in the country. A member of the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame, 32-year employee of Quaker Boy Game Calls and Mossy Oak pro staffer, Calandrelli has hunted turkeys across the country with bow, gun, and crossbow, and is renowned for his calling prowess—and wit. We recently spent time with “Big Ern” to get his lightning-round answers to 10 tough turkey hunting questions.
1. What calls do you use to roost a gobbler in the evening?
“Owl or coyote followed quickly with a gobble on a tube call.”
2. How close should I set up on a roosted gobbler?
“It depends on terrain and foliage—as close as possible without him being able to see you. If you know a field where he might be going, be there waiting for him no matter how far away he is.”
3. What decoy(s) should I use and when should I use them?
“I like a hen and upright jake. I use them in fields or if I plan on setting up in woods and spending a couple hours calling from the same position.”
4. If you hear several birds gobbling on the roost in the morning, which one is the best to hunt?
“The one that you can get the best set-up on.”
5. If a gobbler walks off gobbling, should I chase him, wait on him, or try and find another bird to hunt?
“If he only has a hen or two, I may hold my ground for up to a couple hours. He may remember where he heard the hens and come back. If I know for sure where I can get in front of him, I would try that. If I know where I could go to fire another one up, I may opt for that. If I can see him—and his head is red and not red, white and blue—I will for sure try to find another one. As he is just going through the motions and not into breeding that morning.”
6. You’ve worked a bird for hours and he gobbles, but won’t budge…What’s your last-ditch-effort call or tactic?
“I’m retired and will be after him again tomorrow. Patience kills, so now that I am older and not as mad at them, I usually wait them out without saying much to them.”
7. What’s the best strategy to use if you’re hunting a new area and have not heard any gobbling?
“Try to get friendly with locals. You can start by stretching the truth. Gas stations and coffee shops can help you find what you are looking for. Be excited and tell whoever you might meet about the turkeys you saw down the road. They in most cases will let the turkey info out of the bag—especially if they don’t hunt.”
8. What do I do if I’ve just spooked a longbeard?
“If you spooked him with your truck, just give him a half hour to calm down and start calling. If he saw you, then you may need to find another one. If his hen saw you and he did not. Re-position, give them an hour and start calling.”
9. What’s the biggest mistake most turkey hunters make?
“I feel as if most hunters get too anxious. Over the years I have learned that patience kills. The older I’ve gotten, the more patience I have. Lots of guys also have no faith in their calling. They need to believe that what they do sounds good. The best thing about turkey season is that every morning is like opening morning. Treat it as such.”
10. What’s are your favorite gun, load, and choke?
“20 gauge Benelli Montefeltro, 3” Apex 7.5 & 9 shot, Indian Creek 555”