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Calls of the Wild Turkey

April 9, 2008 by  
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By Pat Cardin: Outdoors Writer and Turkey hunter.Pat Cardin - Turkey Hunter

The vocabulary of the wild turkey is versatile, but yet not that complicated to where, with a little practice, a turkey hunter can master the calls and strategically use them to lure that old gobbler in this spring.

As far as hunting goes, I will say that you don’t have to be an expert caller to tag a gobbler.  I’ve made mistakes in the past and still managed to take a gobbler.  Years ago at Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky, I took a gobbler after my box call fell off the log I was setting by and made a terrible squawk.

I would much rather have woodsmanship over calling.  If you hunt deer, squirrel and other creatures that inhabit the forest, you stand a pretty fair chance you’ll be successful at turkey hunting.

I’ll try and go over some calls and describe what effect they have in communicating to not only gobblers, but hens also.

THE YELP is probably the most used call by turkey hunters and for me, it is a must call that every turkey hunter should know.  The yelp is a series of notes from 3, up to nine notes.  I really don’t believe the number is a factor.  I have heard real hens carry on with a series of 15 or more notes in their yelp.

The sound you want to create, if I can put it in words, is a keouk, keouk, keouk.  Most of the yelps I do are at least 7 to 10 notes.  I like to start off with one slow, long keouk followed by the 7 to 10 cadence of notes.

The yelp is a call that says, “come on over here”.   It’s kinda like I’m lonely and could use some company.  Hens will make this call early in the morning, especially when assembling her flock of young turkey.  Hens will also make this call while going to a gobbler or while attracting a gobbler.  Stand your ground and make the yelp and plead for the gobbler to come to you.

There is the TREE YELP, which is a very soft, slightly slower rhythm than the regular yelp.  This tree yelp is used right at the crack of dawn to entice a gobbler, who is on the roost, to fly down in your direction.  The tree yelp should be kept shorter and not do over 5 notes and again very softly.  The late Ben Lee used to say that if a hunter could hear your tree help at 30 yards, you were to loud.  A gobbler should respond with a gobble once he hears the tree yelp.  If he doesn’t, you might make it a little louder to be sure he hears it, but keep the volume and number of notes to a minimum.

THE CLUCK is probably the second most used call and again, this is a call that every turkey hunter should know.  It is a very easy call to make, but don’t get the cluck to short or high, or it will sound like a putt, which is the alarm call for turkey.

The cluck is a “where are you” or “are you still there” call.  Whether you use a diaphragm, box call, slate or whatever, you should try and say or imitate the word, Chuck or cluck with the call.  It is a short, lower pitched call that can be used in between a series of yelps.  I usually finish up my yelp with 3 or 4 clucks.

THE FLY-DOWN CACKLE is the sound the hen makes when leaving the roost.  It starts off with a few clucks and as she leaves the limb she will have very fast clucks all the way to the ground and ending by slowing the clucks somewhat and finishing with two to three clucks at the end.

An added trick for hunters is to use a diaphragm call to make this call and use your hat to imitate the sound of wings by hitting the hat against your leg vigorously. Also you can hit your hat in the leaves a couple of times to sound like the hen has just landed on the ground.

By making several tree yelps and then followed by the fly-down cackle, hopefully you can entice that gobbler to sail down in your direction and come on in to what he thinks is a hen who has just flown off the roost.

THE PUTT is a sound I hope you never hear a turkey make, but chances are you will hear several times if you spend much time in the turkey woods.  As I said before, this is the alarm call, “Get The Hell Out of Dodge” call and “it’s all over” call combined.

The sound is similar to the cluck in that it is a short, quick call but it is a sharp, higher pitched call.  If you have a gobbler come in on you and all of a sudden he telescopes his neck up, starts pacing rapidly but never moves his head so that his eye is on you at all times and then makes a high pitched cluck right before he runs or flies, you have now heard a putt.  It’s a call you won’t likely forget once you’ve heard it.

CUT OR CUTTING CALL is one of the best calls around to entice a gobbler to “sound off” and gobble back at you.  And why not, it is an excited call that combines clucks and putts together in a fast, exciting rhythm.   All the “cuts” are short, accented calls that have no particular pattern except a few will be close together followed by a couple of single accented clucks, but really these aren’t that far apart from the rest.

I have made calls with a yelp and cluck and gotten no response.  I immediately start cutting and a gobbler sounds off.  If a gobbler is really worked up and “cutting you call,” that is, before you finish your call, whether it be a series of yelps or cutting, he breaks in and gobbles back at you, you can really get this ol’ boy worked up with cutting.

KEE KEE RUN is mainly a fall call used by young turkey to locate their mother or the flock.  It starts off with a high pitched whistle-like sound of kee, kee, kee, kee call and ending on a series of 4 or 5 yelps.   The call must run right out of the whistle   kees into the yelps with no pause in between.

To me, this is one of the hardest calls a turkey hunter could master and the best way to imitate the call is with a diaphragm call.  Also, the diaphragm is one of the harder calls to master verses a box, slate or push-pull call.  I would not worry about this call unless I planned to hunt turkey in the fall and then it is not a “must” call.

It’s like some of the turkey calls,  that sure it would be nice to be able to master it, but you can kill turkey without ever making a kee kee run.

THE PURR is a soft call that has the rhythmic sound of a house cat purring.  This call is a calming, feeding type call and I use it whenever a gobbler is hung up or in fairly close range and I need him in a little closer.  I use a diaphragm call to make a purr but it can also be imitated on a slate or push-pull call.

When I make a purr, I will use a couple of purrs, followed by a soft cluck or two and then maybe one or two more purrs.  If you have ever been on a deer stand and witnessed a flock of turkey feed by you, you can hear them purring even though this is not a loud call.

This is like the cutting in that it is not a “must” call but it would be nice to have it in your repertoire of calls.

THE FIGHTING PURR is similar to the purr but a more excited purr and it has some putts thrown in from time to time.  Most of the calls on the market that imitate the fighting purr are push-pull box calls, although a diaphragm can also imitate these calls.

The fighting purr comes from the sound that two gobblers make while sparring off at one another.  The calls are loud, excited and if a gobbler could growl, that’s what they’d be doing at this point.  The theory is that other gobblers will come running in to get in the fight or see what is going on.  I have used this call and only had success with it one time.  It is kinda a “last resort” call for me and after I have exhausted all other calls, I usually figure ‘what the heck’ and try a pair of fighting purr push-pull calls along with using my diaphragm, purring loudly and putting ever so often.

THE GOBBLE is a call I do not recommend and the reason I bring it up is to warn you of the safety aspect of gobbling.  You are hunting gobblers and the one thing that turkey hunters will key on is the gobble.

Quaker Boy makes one of the most realistic gobbles I‘ve heard and I use mind at turkey seminars to get the attention of the crowd.  I don’t even carry it to the woods.

Well there you have it.  A quick summary of calls are:

THE YELP – a “must” call that pleads for the gobbler to “come on over here”

THE CLUCK – the other “must” that ask the question “where are you”.  You can take gobblers with these two calls and I believe you should master both.

THE TREE YELP – very soft and not very long yelp that you should use if the gobbler is still on the roost.  Restricted to very early in the morning.

FLY-DOWN CACKLE is the next call you would use after the tree yelp to make that gobbler think you have flown off the roost.

CUTTING – is the best way to get a gobbler to gobble back at you.  Very excited call.

PURRING is a good feeding call and a natural call for turkey to make.  I use this call when the old tom hangs up a 100 yards out to entice him in.

PUTTING is the alarm sound that is higher pitched and shorter than a cluck.  Putts by themselves are bad, but used in cutting and the fighting purr can get a tom that was otherwise hung up to come on in.

FIGHTING PURR is a last resort call for me, but it imitates the fighting of two toms.  Aggressive purring, cutting and putting are all part of the noise maker.

THE GOBBLE  is a no/no call and should not be used while hunting.

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