Speak the Language


The wild turkey has a language of more than twenty vocalizations. Each sound expresses a meaning or emotion to them. You don’t have to recognize and produce them all to bag a bird. In fact, if you scout birds and pattern their travel routes you can ambush one, deer hunting style, without ever calling. But in general turkey hunting is a calling game. Calling adds a thrilling dimension to the sport and rewards the caller with such a sense of fulfillment that many turkey hunters won’t shoot a turkey unless they called it in. In spring, turkey hunting can be as much about hearing the gobble as getting the gobbler. The fun of turkey hunting comes from the fact that when we call to them, they answer back. Cross species communication is the addictive dimension in turkey hunting that will pull you back into the woods each year and inspire you to hone your calling skills throughout the year to be better for next season.

But there is constant talk about hunters calling too much and making turkeys call shy. Turkeys can’t become call shy in terms of relating to each other. Calling is how they find each other for mating, how they regroup after being separated, how they warn each other of danger, how they establish their social order, how they train their young. Calling is how they survival and they never become come shy of turkey calls.

They will however lock their beaks and avoid unrealistic calling on the part of hunters. Let’s say they can become shy of hunters with turkey callers, or just shy of all the intrusion into their woods made by hunters with callers. The extra human presence and associated noise combined with all that extra yelping can sound unrealistic. Then if the calling is out of rhythm, out of tune, or out of context, meaning that calls that don’t fit the situation and make no sense to turkeys of course they’ll shy away from it.

But you can’t call them in without calling to them. So, you must strive to make authentic sounding calls and only use calls that you have confidence in. To get there, the first step is to listen to real turkeys in the wild or on downloaded recordings or CDs again and again while driving in the car or at home so you will automatically recognize authentic turkey talk. Then, when you begin to practice with your call you’ll know if it sounds realistic or not. Practice and listen until your calls match up to the real deal. Practice in your house or car is good but the turkey woods is a different tone chamber and your calling may not sound as good when you get into the woods. So practice there too and if possible record your calls in the woods so you can listen to them with a critical ear for authenticity.

All turkeys have their own voice and they sound different from each other so there is not one perfect sound that you have to achieve. Authentic calling is about the right rhythm, emotional tone and context more than the perfect voice. You don’t have to master the entire language before you can go turkey hunting. You can call in a tom in the spring or a fall hen if you can hen yelp and cluck realistically. Just be sure that your yelp and cluck are authentic. If your calling never brings in a tom don’t blame it on the turkeys being call shy and give up on the sport. Work at making authentic calls and use them in the right context. Excitement and high emotion in your calling adds realism and will get others turkeys worked up too. And worked up turkeys will set aside their normal hyper wary instinct to follow their other instinct – dominance. They’ll come to excited calling to sort out a challenge to their place in the pecking order and make mistakes they normally wouldn’t. How much you should call is determined by your calling ability and the situation you are hunting in. There is no ‘yelps per hour’ formula.

Get detailed information on what turkey vocalizations mean, when to use them in context and how to make them  in “How to Hunt the Wild Turkey”, available now at Amazon with free apps for PCs, tablets and smart phones.

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