In the fall, turkey flocks are not inclined to go out of their way to investigate turkey small talk like yelps, clucks, and purrs. They may answer back, but they are likely already where they want to be, with whom they want to be, and not likely to change course for you. Spring breeding calls don’t work either because toms and hens have no interest in each other in the fall.
But you still have an ace up your camoed sleeve. It’s called dominance. Establishing and maintaining their place in the pecking order of the flock is a year-round issue for turkeys. Mature birds fight their way to the top, then have to fight off challengers. Subordinate birds fight among themselves to prove and improve their rank in the flock.
This struggle for social status is always accompanied by aggressive turkey talk. Turkeys are curious about fighting talk and boss birds will come to meet aggressors and intruders. Subordinate birds will come to a fight, to see if there is a new boss or if their own rank in the flock has changed. So, you can call them in with pecking order challenge calls to get under the feathers of boss toms and boss hens and bring them in to investigate a challenger.
Also, single turkeys that are separated from their flock or looking to join a flock will come to aggressive calling because they know there is security with a wise old boss tom or hen.
In the fall, call hen to hen or tom to tom and be sure you’re calling sounds authentic. Listen to recordings of real turkeys and practice calling until you are confident you sound similar. Use the type of caller you are most proficient on once you have located turkeys, then make the following calls to amp up your fall hunt.
Hen challenge calls
If you believe there is a flock of hens around but don’t know exactly where they are, it’s risky to walk around looking for them, in case you bump and spook them. It’s better to locate them first with some loud yelping. Though they may not come to yelps, they may answer — giving you a lock on their location. So, sneak to a high location without skylining yourself and yelp loud and long, listening for a response.
If you get a response, begin a stealthy approach toward where the call originated. Use terrain and or vegetation to stay out of sight. It you snap a twig or make any other loud noise, give a few yelps to cover it. When you are as close and you can get without being detected, it’s time to challenge the boss hen.
In the language of the wild turkey, cutting conveys strong emotion — impatience or anger. When a boss hen responds to your cutting with her own cutting she’s angry at the challenge to her place at the top of the heap. When you hear her cutting, give her the same or worse right back to incite her to come looking for you.
Cutting is loud, fast clucking. They are short, sharp notes with random spacing and no rhythm. To cutt on a pot call jerk the peg toward you with a short, quick motion as you would when clucking but use more pressure to increase the volume. The outer third of the pot makes high-toned cutts and the middle makes lower cutts. Use both in your sequence to create emotion and realism in your calling and mix in some loud yelps as well.
To cutt on a box call, hold the base of the call in your left hand with your left thumb up over of the side board as a stopper for the paddle. Put the paddle up against your thumb and, with the other hand, slap the paddle downward and toward your thumb. Your thumb acts as a stop and a spring to push the paddle back into place for another slap. Experiment with the downward pressure until you get a loud cutt that seems to pop off the call.
Cutting on a mouth call is similar to clucking but use more air and more tongue pressure on the reeds to make it louder. Mouth the words “pert” and “pit” alternating back and forth between them in a staccato sequence with random timing rather than a steady rhythm. Realistic cutts pop off the call and are cut off sharply at the end.
When turkeys fight each other they use a vocalization called the fighting purr or aggravated purr. Hens and toms both use the fighting purr which sounds like a gargle in their throats. It’s a good call to bring in toms or hens in the fall because they are all curious about challenges to the pecking order and new turkeys in the area. As well, the outcome of a fight may change their own rank in the social structure.
To make the fighting purr on a pot call, place the peg in the upper third of the pot and pull the peg toward you with heavy pressure so it skips, making the gargling sounding sound. Experiment with the angle of the peg, the pressure and the placement of the peg on the surface pot to get the best fighting purr sound.
To make the fighting purr on a mouth call, gargle in the back of the throat with light or medium tongue pressure on the reeds. Experiment to find the right pressure and placement in your mouth for your tongue and your call to make the best fighting purr.
To make the fighting purr on a box call, scrape the paddle slowly over the sideboard with medium to heavy pressure to find the spot where it skips and makes the gargling. Experiment with your pressure and angle on the paddle and different places on the sideboard to find the sweet spot to grind out the best fighting purr.
In a fight, turkeys purr loudly and constantly as long as the fight is on and their purrs overlap each other. So a fight sequence on your calls can be a minute long with lots of purring and cutting simultaneously on both your calls.
When turkeys fight there is a lot of wing flapping. They leap at each other propelled by wing beats and beat each other with their wings, and, in the case of toms, slash with their spurs. They flap to hold their ground in pushing matches. So simulated wing flapping along with fighting purrs makes your calling sequence complete.
You can make the wing flapping sound by rapidly beating your hat (held by the peak) against your leg. There are also commercially produced turkey wings for this purpose which you use the same way. It requires a lot of movement to create the flapping sound so check around you carefully before you do it to make sure there isn’t already a turkey nearby that will spot the movement.
Tom challenge calls
The tom yelp is good call to locate a flock of toms if you don’t know where they are because they may answer back. Unless the flock has been broken up and is trying to regroup, or there is a single lonely tom out there, however, they won’t be inclined to come in. Locating a flock is half the battle. When you’ve done that, sneak toward them as close as you dare without being seen and start trash talking to the boss tom with excited aggressive calls.
The tom yelp is usually three to five notes with a little slower cadence and a lower tone than a hen yelp. To tom yelp on a slate pot call, scribe an oval shape with the striker in the middle of the call where the tone is lower. Leave the striker on the call for the back stroke. Never lift it off the call.
If you have a metal or glass pot call use a wooden striker in the middle of the call to make good tom yelps. Experiment with the pressure and the angle of the striker to find the best sound. The tom yelp sounds more like “yawp-yawp-yawp.”
On a box call, drag the paddle over the side board a little more slowly and with less pressure than when hen yelping. Experiment with the pressure and find the best part of side board to produce the “yawp” sound.
To tom yelp on a mouth call, use a multiple reed call. Huff the air up from your diaphragm, loosen your jaw and tongue and yelp with a slower cadence.
Toms cutt just as fast as hens but the tone may be lower and more raspy. It conveys strong emotion and is a challenge to the boss tom. To make tom cuts on a pot call follow the same drill as for hen cutting but use a wooden peg and keep it near the centre of the call.
On a box call, use the same procedure as hen cutting but find the place on the sideboard that makes the lowest sound and keep the paddle there.
With a mouth call, mouth the words “pock” and “puck” in a fast, random sequence with a good vol- ume of air huffed up from your diaphragm going over the reeds.
Toms gobble in the fall to locate each other if they want to join up and also to express dominance. So, being a loud call, it’s a good choice as a locator call and to fire up a boss tom. In the latter case, mix in some excited cutting with your gobbles. You can easily produce gobbles on any of the gobble shaker calls commercially produced. Basically, the reeds are activated by your aggressive shaking action.
You can also make gobbles on a double-sided box call by moving the paddle back and forth as fast as you can over both side boards with moderate pressure on the paddle. Another way is to put a heavy elastic band around the paddle and box, then shake the call hard back and forth by the handle. Experiment with the location of the band and the tension on it to get the best gobble.
A gobble usually starts out high in tone and drops off to a lower tone at the ends. Practice to get the high to low sound. In human language, think of it as saying “cutt keeowwww.” Some experts call- ers with freakishly limber tongues can gobble on a mouth call by saying “tuckatuckatuckatuka” real fast. Lucky for you if you are one of them.
A box call is ideal for tom calls because you can easily transition from gobbles to yelps and cutting on the same caller. If you use a gobble shaker, use a mouth call simultaneously to mix in cutts.
Jake half gobble
Immature males try out their gobbles in the fall. They are at different stages of maturity and many can only get out what is called the jake half gobble. It’s about half as long as the fullbore gobble of a mature tom and not as deep in tone or as loud.
Put in human language it sounds like “gobble obble.” compared to the booming “GARROBBLE OBBLE OBBLE” of a mature tom. Jakes commonly yelp after trying to gobble as well. It’s a good call to bring in a gang of jakes who are usually careless with curiosity. The jake half gobble can also incite a boss tom to come in and tune up the upstart. If a tom gobbles back to your jake half gobble answer him right back with excited cutting and half gobbles.
To make the half gobble on your gobble shaker, box call or mouth call think of it as shorter, strangled version of a mature gobble.
Jake yelps are similar to tom yelps in cadence but are often raspy and croak — likely because their vocal chords are still developing. Use a raspy mouth call or find the place on your pot call or box call that makes the raspiest tone and yelp there. As with the tom calls, a box call is a good choice here because you can make the half gobble, yelp and cutt on one caller.
Toms and jakes come to fighting calls like wing flapping and fighting purrs also. Use the techniques described earlier.
In terms of challenge, a mature fall tom is a trophy equal to a big buck because they are hyper wary and all about survival, unlike the hormone-driven spring lovebirds. You can’t call him in, blind with lust, in the fall, but if you stoke his instinct for dominance, you can bring him in, blind with rage.
Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS