Spring Turkey Calling by TR Michels
When I hear the first sounds of the turkeys in the spring, just before daylight, I tree yelp softly to get their attention. If there are hens roosted nearby they may respond with their own tree yelps, toms often gobble. If you aren’t fully awake yet the sound of an early morning gobble can really get your heart pumping. From here on it’s a matter of experience and personal tactics. I try to imitate all the sounds that are normally heard. In the morning the tom expects to hear the sounds a hen or flock makes on the roost; the tree yelp, pit and cluck. When the birds fly down they yelp or do the flying cackle. If the tom is close enough he expects to hear flapping wings. I use all these sounds to convince the tom there is a hen or flock in the area, and to get him to come my way.
My first call is a tree yelp, and if I get a gobble I yelp a little louder. I may or may not get a response, either way I have to make a decision to do something. I usually wait until I hear the turkeys moving, then I use the flying cackle and slap my decoy bag or my hat against my leg to simulate the sound of a hen turkey flying down. The combination of these sounds usually gets the attention of the tom and gets him fired up enough to gobble, and often to come in.
If the tom doesn’t answer, or is reluctant to come, I make the sounds of birds feeding on the ground. I start out slow and easy with soft yelps, purrs, whines and clucks. I rustle the leaves, simulating birds scratching and feeding. If I get a response I keep doing it, letting the tom set the tempo of the calling. When he gobbles, I wait awhile then gobble back. As long as he keeps answering and seems to be coming my way I keep it up. My motto is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
More times than not the bird will “hang up” and not come in. Maybe he is with a hen, maybe he is detouring around some obstacle, maybe he is spooky or alerted; maybe he just doesn’t want to come. This is when I try something different or get aggressive, when experience helps and the game begins. There is no set routine to get a reluctant tom to come. This is the time to experiment, fail and learn.
When a tom hangs up I first use a loud assembly yelp or lost yelp, trying to imitate a hen looking for other hens. These calls work well on most toms and jakes, because it means there are hens nearby. If that doesn’t work I use a series of loud hen clucks, imitating a bird trying to get another bird to show itself. If that doesn’t work I use the fast cluck or cutting, the sound of a bird telling the other bird that if they are going to get together the other bird will have to do the walking. This call is very effective on reluctant dominant toms; it does not work well on subdominant toms and jakes because it may scare them. When I use the fast cutt I make sure the call is loud and insistent, telling the other bird “come on over here.” If the tom still won’t come in I use the deep cluck or yelp of a jake along with the hens cluck, to get the tom to think there is a young male with “his” hen. Often the tom will come in to establish dominance, ready to fight the jake for the hen.
If these calls fail, I resort to the fighting purr of two birds. This call appeals to a turkey’s curiosity, it wants to know which birds are fighting and why. Just like teenage boys after school in the parking lot, they just have to go and watch. Turkeys watch to see if a dominant bird is defeated, leaving room for them to move up in the hierarchy and gain dominance. The fighting purr works especially well on dominant toms because they want to know which birds in “their” area are fighting, and why. The fight may be over a receptive hen and the tom wants to have the chance to breed.