Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Turkey Talking 101
Is calling as important to a turkey hunter as some sportsmen would have us believe, or is calling just the frosting on a turkey hunters cake? If it isn’t, it should be.
It’s one thing to choose a spot to ambush a gobbler when he walks by. It’s still another to make the longbeard come to you, one or two tentative steps at a time; its head up and looking and listening, the roar of a return gobble, the sight of a snowball head moving slowly through the woods toward the hen call.
Turkey hunting is exciting and fun. Calling a gobbler to the bow or shotgun is just about as much fun as anyone can have while wearing camo clothing. Is calling hard and must we be an expert to succeed?
Good questions. No, one doesn’t have to be an expert and calling is not extremely hard to learn. A good ear for proper cadence and tone is helpful.
A diaphragm call is far more difficult to learn than an aluminum, glass or slate friction call. The wood box call is perfect because it is one of the easiest calls to master, and the easiest of all to use is the push-button call that produces realistic sounds.
The most difficult turkey call of all to master is the wing-bone yelper. Anyone who can run a yelping sequence on a wing-bone yelper or trumpet is a person who has my admiration. It is extremely difficult to master, which is why few people use them in the northern states. They remain fairly popular among older southern hunters, but the yelper seems to be losing the popularity contest because of the difficulty of making the proper sounds.
There is one important thing to remember: turkeys, like humans, have different voices. I’ve listened to world champion callers, and once spent a week deer hunting in Alabama with Dick Kirby of Quaker Boy Calls. He was prepping for the World Championship of turkey calling, and he could make truly realistic turkey sounds that were as clear and pure as the brittle tinkle of an icicle breaking with a gentle tug.
“Championship calling is different than an in-the-field situation,” Kirby told me. “Hunters who can cluck, cutt, purr and yelp can call birds. Championship-type calling isn’t required because no two turkeys sound alike. The key is more about the cadence and rhythm of a call than the quality of the sound. The biggest secret is knowing when to call, which call to make and not to call too loud or often. A caller who calls much too often will scare more birds than he will attract.”
Box calls - Hold the call lightly in the palm of the hand. Many callers hold a box call horizontally, and draw the paddle across the top of the box. Some hunters, especially in southern states, hold the box vertically and hold the striker between their index and middle fingers to strike the lip of the box. Both methods work well, and what it boils down to is using whichever method that feels the most comfortable.
A turkey show was on television recently, and the host was using a box call in a horizontal position, and would then hold the call in a vertical fashion. He didn’t look very comfortable with either method. Use whichever feels most comfortable, and there’s no need to switch back and forth from horizontal to vertical. It’s a waste of time and too much motion.
Make a cluck by popping the striker (handle) against the top of the box. It is a sharp one-note sound. To cutt, make a series of sharp clucks in rapid fashion. Yelps are made by moving the handle across the lip of the box and cover the sound chamber to accomplish the two-note call. Purring is simple and works best early in the morning when birds are roosted; move the striker lightly and slowly across the lip of the box.
Diaphragm - Kirby could make astounding sounds with a diaphragm call but mine sound like a gobbler with an adenoidal problem. However, my diaphragm calls are effective. Remember, notes need not be competition perfect. Just understand the cadence of each call, and know when to make that particular call.
To cluck, exhale air across the reed(s) and say “putt.” Cutt by making three or four clucks quickly and sharply. They can be made loud or softly, and much depends on how far away the bird is and how he responds to the call. A soft cutt often excites birds when they are within 50 yards.
A yelp begins high (and can be strung out) and falls off into a lower note. Yelps can be strung together quickly or done just once but jaw, mouth and tongue movement can affect volume and tone. Experiment until it sounds good. A purr is fairly difficult to do, but I find it easier than breaking off the high end of a yelp into the low tone. My yelps sound like a bird with tonsillitis but gobblers will come to it.
Aluminum, crystal. glass or slate calls are quite easy to use but require both hands. I favor these calls when a turkey is a good distance away, and as the bird moves closer, I switch to the diaphragm call so both hands are free to handle the shotgun.
All three materials require the use of a peg or striker. Strikers are made of glass, graphite or wood. To cluck, hold the striker like a ballpoint pen but turn the tip at an angle pointing toward your body and drag it toward you in a skipping motion. Press down harder to make a louder cluck. Cutting is done by making a series or fast and irregular clucks for five to seven seconds. Cutts can be soft or loud, and long or short in duration. Yelping is done by dragging the striker with some pressure in a circular motion or a straight line. The more pressure of striker against the call, the louder the sound. Purr by lightly dragging the striker across the call. This is one of my favorite calls early in the morning because it sounds like a contented bird ready for a new day.
A recording of these sounds make more sense for a beginner than me trying to put down what each sound is like. Hunters also can talk to an accomplished caller and learn these basic sounds.
Some gobblers are, by nature, downright call-shy. Gobblers often call from the roost, and four or five Toms gobbling back and forth sends chills down my spine. As a general rule, don’t call as often as a gobbler; let him wonder where the hen is and come looking for it. I often give one or two soft tree yelps after I hear the first crow calling at dawn. If there is no response, try again five minutes later. If a gobbler responds, sit still and say nothing. Wait for the gobbler to call again, and then softly cluck or purr for five seconds and shut up.
A big limbwalker will probably boom back a return call but let him wait again. As he gobbles, birds in other areas may respond with a gobble so wait for a few minutes after silence is restored. Try another soft purr, and if it is full light, slap an old turkey wing against a tree or your pant legs to imitate a bird flying down, and give one short and soft yelp to sound like a hen on the ground.
Muffle some calls like a hen moving around on the ground, and listen for the gobbler to fly down. Give him another yelp, and if he gobbles, let him come. If the bird stops 50 yards away, purr or softly cluck and scratch in the leaves with your fingers like a hen feeding. If the bird keeps coming, stay quiet and let him come. If the gobbler stops behind a tree within range, purr or cluck softly and shoot when he steps out and lifts his head to look around.
If a gobbler hangs up, try a trick that has worked for me many times. Use two calls at once: yelp softly with a diaphragm and with a box or slate call to imitate two hens calling for Tommie. This trick has produced many gobblers for me and my friends. Or, try creeping backwards and turn and call softly to imitate a hen moving away.
Try to set up so the bird can come into a semi-open area to look for the hen. Gobblers will move through thick cover if necessary but they like to see what lays ahead and if it appears dangerous. Calling isn’t particularly difficult but it requires some practice is rerquired. Do it in the car, not out in the field. The first time you call outdoors is when you have a shotgun in hand.
The above advice is just some of the basics of calling a wild turkey within range, and it represents some of the tricks that work. Give ‘em a try when the April-May turkey season is open, and work at learning something new every day. Studying turkey behavior and their calls will pay off.