TURKEY CALLING 101
In order to be a successful turkey hunter one must have a knowledge of the different vocalizations that the wild turkey makes. This includes a working knowledge of the when and how to imitate the basic vocalizations. With this post, I will attempt to give a brief overview of the basic wild turkey vocalizations and hopefully give potential turkey hunters and callers a good idea of how to imitate them properly. Since the Rio Grande, Merriam, Osceola, and Eastern wild turkey subspecies all use the same basic vocalizations this information is universal across the entire U.S. (Even the Mexican Goulds uses the same basic vocalizations.)
First of all, let us break things down into two main categories: Spring vocalizations and fall vocalizations. Also, within each there is a "generic" sub-category used by both tom and hen alike all year long. A couple of the generic vocalizations would be the cluck and purr. These two are used mainly by the hen (but also occasionally by a tom) to mostly show contentment while feeding or when close to other turkeys in a relaxed environment. Both vocalizations should be imitated often by a hunter to add realism to any calling scenario.
Along with warmer temperatures, the spring of the year brings turkey mating season. This time of year causes both tom and hen to have special vocalizations. The hen will use the yelp and mating yelp often during the spring to let nearby toms know her location and that she is ready to breed. The yelp is comprised of a high and low note run together to make a single vocalization. A hen will put consecutive yelps together to make a string of yelps. In my opinion, this is a "must learn" vocalization to imitate for any turkey hunter to be consistently successful. Another vocalization used by a hen in the spring time of the year is cutting. Cutting is simply a rapid series of clucks. It shows excitement and will often elicit a response in the form of a gobble from any nearby tom. Hunters should imitate cutting when they are looking to fire up a gobbler. Another hen vocalization that I feel is important to be aware of in the spring is the tree yelp. The tree yelp is a call that is made by a hen as she first wakes up in the morning. It is just a slow and soft version of the yelp. Following the tree yelp is the fly down cackle. A hen uses this vocalization as she leaves her roost tree in the morning. It is basically an intense variation of cutting that slows in tempo as the hen approaches the ground. A hunter should attempt to imitate the fly down cackle near first light when set-up close to a roosted tom. This will often cause the tom to fly off the roost in the direction of the hunter. In the spring a tom will use a vocalization known as the gobble often. One of the main reasons is to give his location to any nearby hot hen letting her know that he is ready to breed. A tom will also often gobble as a result of seeing another tom strut and/or gobble. Another reason for the gobble in the spring has to do with the "shock" factor. You see, in the spring of the year an adult tom often feels as though he is the king of the woods. He will gobble at almost any loud noise. This could include a crow's caw or a hawk's scream. I have even heard toms "shock gobble" to nearby loud farm equipment in the spring of the year. The gobble is a vocalization that can be imitated by a hunter to locate a tom or to call in bachelor groups of jakes. (A bachelor group is a small group of jakes, young toms, that travel together due to the fact that they are not old enough to compete with the dominant tom of a given area for breeding rights.) Please exercise extreme caution when imitating a gobble while hunting.
In the fall, turkeys tend to travel in large flocks (sometimes of both hens and toms) unlike the spring when they tend to be more spread out or in harems. These flocks will also include young immature turkeys that are the product of the earlier spring during mating season. An immature turkey will make a vocalization known as a kee-kee or kee-kee run. The kee-kee run is the whistling call that an immature turkey makes due to not being able to make a full or sustained yelp or gobble yet. The kee-kee will be especially intense if a young turkey becomes lost or separated from a flock. In fact, if a hunter is aware of a recently broken flock the kee-kee run is an excellent vocalization to imitate as it will bring mature turkeys to the area in search of the lost young turkey. Another fall vocalization is the assembly call. The assembly call is made by the dominant hen of a flock in the event of a break-up. It is basically a variation of a series of yelps which has more of a pleading quality to it. Like the kee-kee run, the assembly call is an excellent vocalization for a hunter to imitate in the event of a flock break-up.
Please take time to listen to the sound .wav files I have below. They are imitations of the above highlighted vocalizations done by yours truly on whatever call is listed beside the file. Listening to each one will give you a better idea of how each vocalization is made.
(Note: Unless you have broadband internet access you will need to allow time for the file to download and, in some cases, even save the file to your computer in order to play it through without any trouble.)
Yelping (Slate Call) - To hen yelp on a friction call, simply draw an oval near the outer edge of the call without letting the striker leave the surface.
Purring (Slate Call) - To purr on a friction call, draw the striker slowly in a straight line or "C" allowing the striker to vibrate on the surface.
Clucking (Slate Call) - To cluck on a friction call, press the striker down onto the surface and "pop" the tip of the striker toward you abruptly.
Cutting (Slate Call) - To cutt on a friction call, simply repeat the "cluck" motion multiple times without allowing the striker to leave the surface.
Gobble (Tube Call) - To gobble on a tube call, simply repeat the words "too-ka" rapidly into the call using only the air from your lungs, not your vocal cords.
Tree Yelp (Mouth Call) - To tree yelp on a mouth call, say the words "chee-yuk" a few times (only air, no vocal cords) with much less air pressure than normal.
Cackle (Mouth Call) - To cackle on a mouth call, say the word "chick" rapidly using your jaw more than your tongue for speed. Gradually step the clucks down in pitch and volume.
Kee Kee-Run (Mouth Call) - To kee-kee run on a mouth call, simply repeat the first "chee" note from a yelp to achieve the whistle. Then go into a couple standard yelps (chee-yuk).
Assembly Call (Box Call) - To make an assembly call on a box call, draw the lid across the side rail allowing both the high and low note of a yelp to be achieved. Step the intensity of the yelps up as you go and then back down to the end.
Finally, below is a brief list of my all-time favorite, readily available, production calls for quality imitation of wild turkey.
Box Call: M.L. Lynch "Fool Proof"
Friction Call: Quaker Boy "Walnut Master Series - Slate"
Mouth Call: Quaker Boy "Split Quad"
Tube Call: Quaker Boy "Snuff Can"
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Turkey Calling Information
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