Music to a Tom's Ears
A guide to better turkey calling
published in Great Canadian
each yelp, purr and cluck from my raspy slate
call the tom answered back with a thunderous sequence of gobbles. Every
gobbled he came a few yards closer. I was quite confident that it would
a matter of time before the tom would walk around the corner of the
lot and appear right in front of my shotgun. The reason for my
because I gave the gobbler exactly what he wanted to hear.
addition to the normal hunting safety procedures
there are a few other safety tips a turkey hunter has to consider.
difference between a successful turkey hunter
and failing turkey hunter in many cases within the same scenario is the
difference of sounding like a turkey or just almost like one. If a
sounds almost like a turkey the tom will most of the time call the
either hang up or simply walk away to live another day.
talking the “language” is a bit of a mystery to
some hunters. In an attempt to
solve that mystery lets look at how you can improve you your turkey
technique. It all starts by choosing the calls that are easy to use and
understanding the sounds a turkey makes and learning to reproduce these
on your turkey call.
calls can be divided into two groups:
friction calls and air-activated calls. Although each group has their
advantages and disadvantages, I personally prefer friction calls to
air-activated calls. Their main advantage is that they are easy to
with a little practice a hunter will be able to create a variety of
turkey sounds on a box, glass or slate call within a few hours. The
disadvantage of friction calls is that a turkey can detect the movement
the calls are operated but with a little foresight this can easily be
most commonly used air-activated calls are
diaphragms. A diaphragm call consists of one or more layers of latex
together by an aluminum or plastic frame. The advantage of these calls
a hunter can produce many different sounds and there is no movement
whatsoever because the call is placed inside the mouth.
main disadvantage of the
is that they are very difficult to learn. I know many hunters that use
calls for years and still have difficulty to produce a realistic turkey
you learn to ‘play’ a call look at it as a
music instrument. You use different notes to create the sounds that if
right will be music to a tom’s ears. In the following I will
meaning of the most common sounds a turkey makes and how it is
reproduced on a box and slate type call.
yelp all day long; it’s their common form
of conversation. However, depending on the situation, yelping can vary
in tone and have different meanings. The most common yelp is what I
plain yelp is a multi-purpose, rhythmic, 3 to
15 note series used to locate other turkeys during the day. The yelp
follow a certain cadence but if you listen to wild turkeys they often
skips and half-beats in their series of calls and the number of yelps
tremendously. Yelping also varies in volume and intensity. Some series
stay about the same volume throughout while others start low, rise in
and then tail off towards the end. The plain yelp is a call every
master. Regardless of the cadence, sound and volume the plain yelp is
sign of a content turkey.
tree yelp is the same as the plain yelp but
much softer. Both toms and hens make the tree yelp in the morning when
wake up and get ready to fly down from the roosting tree. I call this
sleepy yelp because that is what it reminds me of. The birds are not
awake yet but announce to each other that it is time to get up.
lost yelp is a long series of 10 to 20
continuous ‘notes’ used by turkeys when they are
lost and trying to call other
turkeys to them. Under the right conditions this can be an excellent
bring in a turkey hen in the company of a tom. (Calling in the hen with
in tow.) The lost yelp does not sound content. The hen is lost and
the others in her group. She is a little nervous and her call is a
of that emotion.
to make the yelp on a box call:
the call in your palm as show in the picture.
Lightly scrape the paddle across the sounding board with one inch
not lift, pop or put to much pressure on the paddle. Repeat this one
3 to 7 times. Later, when you get the hang of it you can start varying
sound, pitch and cadence of the yelp.
to make the yelp on a pot call:
the pot call loosely and comfortably between
your thumb, index and middle fingers. Make sure you’re not
covering the bottom
(sound chamber) with your palm. Hold the striker like you would a
make sure the hand does not rest on the actual play surface (see
a football-shaped circle about the size of a quarter dollar on the play
using the tip of the peg. Do not apply too much pressure to begin with.
get more experienced you can add variations and change the pressure
produce different types of yelps.
plain cluck is a soft to loud staccato call
used to locate and communicate with other turkeys. It basically is
"I am here, where are you?” This call is used by both hens
and is often used in conjunction with the plain yelp or a purr.
alarm cluck (also referred to as putt) is a
loud, sharp alarm call used when turkeys sense danger or when they see
something that seems out of place. Essentially it is a very loud cluck
a different meaning. This is the one you don't want to hear. If you do
that means the turkey has seen you and is about to swap ends fast and
alerting every other turkey within earshot.
to make the cluck on a box call:
sound consists of short ¼ inch upward strokes
of the paddle. Start like you would with the yelp and then
“pop” the paddle off
the soundboard as indicated on the picture.
to make the cluck on a pot call:
more pressure on the peg with your index
finger while pushing the peg toward you. If done correctly the peg
slightly but not leave the play surface thus producing a
is a fast, irregular series of clucks used
by lost or lonely hens who are searching for other turkeys. However, in
spring cutting has a different meaning: it is a desperate, impatient
gobblers that they are ready to be mated. Cutting is a loud and
sound and lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds in duration. This is a
effective call as a last ditch effort to lure a reluctant tom into your
that works particularly well in conjunction with decoys.
to make the cut on a box call:
is produced by rapidly making a series from 10
to 15 sharp strokes. The movement is the same as with the yelp but
quarter inch strokes, much faster and with a little more pressure on
paddle. Go slow until you figure out the perfect sound and then go as
to make the cut on a pot call:
stroke as you did with the cluck, but
continue the stroke line a little bit longer and repeat rapidly six to
times. Go slow at the beginning and as you gain experience try to make
in very fast succession.
purr is a soft, fluttering or warbling call that
is used by both hens and gobblers. It has several meanings and is most
interpreted as the hens “Love song”. Like the plain
yelp the purr is a sign of
utter contentment and relaxation when the flock is together. The purr
used when birds are feeding and in this case it is more of a friendly
to others to leave some elbowroom. (Like "I'm feeding here, give me
room.") This is a very good call to coax the gobbler in for the last
yards. The purr is often preceded and/or followed by a soft cluck that
sometimes is followed up with a few soft yelps.
to make the purr on a box call:
and lightly drag the paddle across the lip of
the soundboard for 1½ inch.
to make the purr on a pot call:
your striker a little further back and apply
moderate pressure to the striker and pull it toward you. The striker
skip lightly across the surface for about 1 ½ to 2 inches.
are more calls turkeys make but for the
beginning and advanced hunters the above are all that is needed to lure
the weariest of gobblers within shooting range. Good turkey calling is
about how many calls you know, it’s about how many calls you
I started turkey hunting all I could manage
was the yelp, cluck and purr but I mastered theses sounds to perfection
made all the difference. Almost 15 years later these four calls are
favorite and most productive ones. To make it sound natural I mix the
jut like a real turkey would. I also move the calls from side to side
front or to the back of me. I may even rustle on the ground with my
mimics a moving turkey and ads realism to my attempt to make a big tom
that I am a lovesick hen waiting for Mr. Right.
best way to
learn about turkey
vocalization is to get a good recoding of turkey sounds that are
many sporting goods stores in the form of video or DVD. Play each sound
then try to reproduce them on your call of choice. Try not to learn
different calls at the same time but instead one at a time. Of course
beats actually going out in the field and observing real turkeys and
to their “conversations” from a distance so you
will not alert them to your
presence. When I learned to call turkeys I used to take my calls with
me in the
pre-season and after the hunting season testing the turkeys reaction to
calling. That way I quickly found out what music toms like to hear.
Turkey calls tuning.
fat free chalk, such as carpenter’s chalk,
along the bottom of the paddle, covering the underside completely.
the lips of the box and the underside of the paddle with your bare
the oil from the skin can ruin the sound of the call.
paddle of the box call is attached to the body
with a hinge screw. This screw can be tightened or loosened to make
minor adjustments to the sound. Do not loosen the screw to much over
call has a sweet spot that produced the
perfect sound. This sweet spot is usually located near the center of
paddle. Each call differs slightly in the location of the sweet spot.
new pot call, regardless of surface type,
needs to be dressed. For this use a fine grit sand or dry wall paper
lightly scratch the play surface by rubbing the sand- or dry wall paper
the surface. Make sure you only rub in a straight line across the
not in a circle. Like the box call pot calls have a sweet spot too. The
spot varies from call to call but usually can be found somewhere toward
edge of the play surface. Never touch the end of the striking peg or
surface with your bare fingers as skin oil can ruin the sound.
often you use a call the surface needs to be periodically
sand or dry wall paper. Usually you do that before the hunt. If the end
peg becomes worn re-conditioned it with sad or drywall paper being
keep the original shape of the peg end.
Push and Pull Call.
push and pull call is a very good tool for
calling when the tom is close but needs to take a few more steps to get
shooting range. This call can be mounted onto the gun barrel and lets
all the basic sounds like the yelp, cluck, cut and purr with the gun
by pulling a string that is attached to the sticking surface handle.
Never mount the call on a loaded gun.
Unload the gun first or mount the call onto the gun before you walk to
you hunt on land where you know, or expect,
other hunters are present make sure you cover the bird up with a blaze
vest when you haul it out of the woods.
a blaze orange vest and hat on your way from
the truck to your set up and back to the truck at the end of a hut.
not wear any clothing in the colors associated
with turkeys, red, blue and white.
is not safe to use decoys where other hunters
are present or expected to be present. If you use decoys on such
your decoy set up with blaze orange surveyor flags. Contrary to what
have heard these flags do not spook the birds.
set decoys up in such a way that you’re not
in the line of fire of an approaching hunter, such as directly in front
Instead set the decoys up to either side of you.
is not safe to “bushwhack” turkeys where other
hunters are present or expected to be present.
try to sneak up on a calling turkey, it might
be another hunter calling and you could get yourself shot.
is a good practice to mark the tree you’re
sitting against with blaze orange survivor flags or tape to let
hunters know that there is a hunter setup. Again this does not spook
give your location away to them.
possible chose a tree as background to lean
against that covers the width of your upper body completely form
hunters behind you.
you see another hunter approach your setup do
not wave at him to get his attention, you may get shot at. Yes there
a few hunters that shoot at movement rather than at identified legal
Instead make your presence known verbally or carry a dog training
your turkey decoys head first into the game
pouch of your turkey vest when you carry them to and from your set up.
look like real turkeys and when their head is visible another hunter
use common sense, be alert and respectful of
other hunters in the area it will go a long way to make your turkey
trip a safe and enjoyable experience.
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