Outdoors With Craig Robbins

What Makes A Turkey Gobble?

The recent warm weather often makes a young man think of spring and things that young men do in the spring, which is hunt spring gobblers. That’s what you all were thinking, right?

My first turkey hunt was with a good friend who was an avid turkey hunter. That was over 30 years ago. The hunt took place on a private piece of ground in Chautauqua County. Who would know the fire that would light inside of me. The first morning that first gobbler sounded off on roost and the sight of a longbeard working his way toward us, is something that I remember like it was yesterday.

For an old man that can’t remember birthdays, to remember that day with such clarity is a miracle. Some would say it’s the same as me not being able hear the voice of a female calling to me in another room, but still being able to pick up a gobbler sound from several hundred yards away. I’m sure there is a scientific reason for this “selective” loss, but I prefer to think that I can remember and hear things that are important.

I learned many things on that spring morning, including how well a wild turkey can hear, the importance of camo, and you’re not get to shoot a wild turkey unless you sit still. Also, I began to understand why turkey hunters hold their hunting ground close to the vest.

Many things about turkey hunting have changed since that morning many years ago, but the one thing that hasn’t is the sound of a mature bird sounding off at first light. Every spring turkey hunter has one thing in common — we love the sound of the gobble.

Often times as I sit in the spring woods and listen to the world around me come alive, I think about strange things. One thing that has crossed my mind and I have tried to figure out is why some turkeys gobble and other don’t. Why, on certain mornings, a gobbler will sound off and the next morning nothing is talking.

You have done your homework and know that longbeards are in your hunting area. There are tracks, sights and droppings, and the morning before you heard birds talking at first light, but the very next morning you hear nothing. Why is this?

Over the years I have talked and interviewed hundreds of turkey hunters. During those conversations the question of turkey gobbling always comes up. Why on some days do they talk and other days they just have lockjaw. Is it the weather, hunter pressure, barometric pressure, predator pressure or just their mood?

Through the years I have begun to put together the beginning of an idea, as to answering the questions about gobbling. Through years of first-hand experiences and picking the brains of those more knowledgeable than me, there are some insights that may help you all this spring.

To start off, the higher number of turkeys, particularly 2-year-olds, the higher gobble count throughout the season. Two years after there are a large number of brood sightings, gobbling activity is high. More jakes translate to more gobbling the following season.

Overall turkey numbers, however, don’t seem to play a role in day-to-day gobbling activities. Even when populations are high, the birds simply don’t gobble much on certain days.

Gobbling activity was highest when winds are slight (no particular direction) from 0 to 8 mph. Activity tapered when winds begin to pick up and once the wind is 15 mph plus you can’t hear a gobbler sound off because they don’t gobble.

Wind direction did not factor into gobbling activity and neither did relative humidity. The average daily temperature plays a role in gobbling activity, as birds sounded off the most when the average daily temperature is around 60 degrees. As the temperature increased much above the 70s, gobbling decreased.

The average barometric pressure affected gobbling activity as well. It’s common knowledge that lower pressure, often associated with rain, meant less gobbling. Birds were most active at 29.9 to 30.2 inches, and when the pressure fell below 29.7 inches, gobbling activity decreased dramatically.

Many people assume hunting pressure negatively impacts gobblers, but research and first-hand observations do not find a link between gobbling activity and hunting pressure. Heck, how many time have you shot a longbeard and as soon as you shoot, you hear gobbling. Gobbling activity varies widely during a season, but hunted birds are still vocal.

Biologists have long assumed there were two peak gobbling periods — one during flock break-up and a second during the start of nesting. Several studies indicate just one peak, and it doesn’t always coincide with the peak of nest initiation, nor was it readily identifiable. Population dynamics and weather patterns can shift the peak gobbling activity by a week or more.

Habitat also caused variations in gobbling activity. Some will say that a considerably large percent of gobblers occur near water compared to other areas, but that doesn’t mean toms near water gobble more. More likely, it means gobblers prefer to roost near water.

To sum all this up, first there are no hard and fast rules in spring turkey hunting, but above are are few things to consider when heading to field this spring. It’s hard to forecast when a turkey is going to gobble and when it’s not. There are things that help with turkeys gobbling, barometric pressure, age class of males in a given flock and time of year. While for many of us this isn’t major news these ideas may help you understand why birds are talking and why they aren’t talking. This reminds me of what Grandpa Robbins always said when it comes to hunting and fishing: ‘If you’re not in it, you’re not going to skin it, so get off your butt and get into the woods.'”