Understanding What You Are Hearing In Spring Turkey Woods
I’m not sure about you all, but every time I step in the spring woods I plan on learning something new. It may be something as subtle as wind direction or something as distinctive as a new sound. I may not realize it at the moment, but over time I figure it out. Throughout my tenure as a turkey hunter, the one thing that I study more than anything else is listening. Listening to the language of the wild turkey has taught me more than anything how to be successful in the spring.
The language of the wild turkey can be very simple and, then again, it is very complex. It’s not so much what they say, it’s how and when they say it (sound familiar, guys?). Knowing the difference between an excited yelp and soft purr can help you tell a mood of the hen (again, sound familiar, guys?). Understanding why a hen is by herself and just strolling through your decoy spread purring all the way or why the same hen is yelping her brains off and is skirting that perfect decoy spread makes hunting a hen turkey more enjoyable.
There are different types of turkey sounds, including the fighting purr, tree yelp or tree gobbler. Each one of these sounds means different things to the wild turkey, and to be successful we need to know the difference and when is the best time to use them.
Both toms and jakes will, depending on the weather, hammer away on the roost. We use these gobbles to locate male birds on the roost if the roost trees are visible and gauge how far away the birds are if you can’t see the roost trees.
A series of soft, muffled yelps sputtered by a roosted hen is called a tree yelp. Listening for this call in the morning lets me know if there are girls roosted with or in close proximity to the boys. If I don’t hear tree yelps, I will send out a few of my own to let the roosted tom or toms know where I’m at. Just before fly-down, the yelping often increases in volume and will transition to a fly-down cackle, which is a series of high-pitched, irregularly spaced notes. I rarely use a fly-down cackle call unless I know the tom or toms I’m calling to are on the ground. I’ve used this call on roosted toms in the past, and it seems it keeps their toes curled around a tree branch waiting for the hen to come to them before they make their descent.
Out of all the sounds turkey hunters need to master, the most important is the single yelp. Yep, just one. Of course, depending on the situation, I will let out a series of single note yelps, but I don’t get overly excited with them. A yelp is basic turkey language; it’s a note that must be mastered. If you can yelp, you can call in a longbeard. This call is often used by hens to communicate with the flock and, during mating season, a gobbler.
The cluck-and-purr is a deal closer. Turkeys cluck and purr when they are relaxed, feeding or generally just feeling content. This is not a loud call, but rather simple flock talk I use when blind calling and when a tom is getting close. I also use the cluck-and-purr to convince a hung up tom to commit to the decoys.
The excited yelp or cut can make or break a setup. This is a series of standard yelps run with a more excited, rapid tempo. I never use this call if I have a turkey coming in my direction unless he is red-hot and gobbling his head off. In nature, the call is used by a hen to let other birds know she is worked up about something. Often, the call is made by a dominant hen with a gobbler. If you can pick a fight with her, she may lead that big old tom right to you. If I can irritate the hen, I will also cut hard and sharp on the call between a series of yelps.
Cutting is a sign of excitement and can further lure in a hen with a gobbler in tow, especially if you can mimic her excited yelps while cutting her off at the same time. I will also cut and get excited when I have two or more toms approaching the decoys slowly. I do this when they are at a distance, never up close. If used correctly, it can cause the more dominant tom in the group to break and run toward your decoys.
A fighting purr is a call that is used a lot when trying to get a hung-up lone gobbler or one with a hen camera close. The fighting purr is a series of louder-than-usual purr runs that increase in volume and intensity with each series. Battling hens will make this call when agitated with each other, and it really seems to appeal to hung-up longbeards.
The kee-kee run is normally, a fall call used by lost young turkeys to locate the flock. Variations of the call are also used by adult birds and can be made by both male and female birds, making it a great natural-sounding call in the spring woods. I use this call often when hunting highly pressured birds.
The piece of advice I can give is to listen to live birds when you hunt. Nothing will increase your turkey call fluency faster than listening to live birds. Listen to how they communicate with one another and how they respond to the calls being made. A great time to do this is while you scout and when you spend time in the woods first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening when birds tend to be the most vocal.