Let’s Talk Turkey

Few could argue the whitetail deer sits on the throne as North America’s most prolific game animal. Second are wild turkeys, thanks to some help

Extensive reintroduction efforts by conservation groups like the Wild Turkey Federation and state wildlife agencies have resulted in good turkey numbers in their historic ranges. As a matter of fact, these efforts have been so good to the point where turkeys thrive in places they never used to. These birds can now be found in every state except Alaska.

There are several reasons the appeal of hunting these gregarious birds grows in popularity. First, the weather can be comfortable. Warm spring temperatures, especially following a long winter, are always welcome.

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Second is it doesn’t really require much equipment. A decent shotgun .20 gauge or up with full choke and premium ammunition is all it takes to anchor a spring gobbler. A few inexpensive decoys also up the odds a bit when trying to lure in a bird but even those aren’t really necessary.

Turkeys are hard-wired and naturally wary when being hunted, making them a challenging pursuit. But it’s the calling and their lack of smell that make them vulnerable during the spring mating season. This year two close friends are going to take up turkey hunting. Needless to say, we have shared many conversations regarding calls and vocalizations.

Calling wild turkeys is often times misunderstood and cause for intimidation by beginners. There is no doubt with experience comes knowledge and knowing when to use the right vocalizations at the right time during the right circumstances up the odds in bagging a bird. But for the majority of the time calling is fairly simple and straightforward.

Turkeys can be coaxed into range with three basic sounds. The first and most important is the yelp. This is the bread and butter springtime call. Try to keep it within four to seven notes. This translates into the bird saying “Here I am” or “I’m over here.” In most turkey hunting situations this single call is all you need.

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The next most common call is the cluck. This sharper one note call say’s “Look, I’m right here!” This works great when a gobbler stops just out of range or hasn’t noticed your decoys because of brush or topography.

Then there is the purr. This drawn out call denotes “This is my space and I’m perfectly content.” This tells a gobbler there are other hens around and may make him more likely to approach. Although turkeys can emit dozens of different sounds, these three are the most commonly used.
Other calls, just for mentioning, are the cackle which expresses excitement. The putt signals alarm or danger and is of no use when trying to lure a turkey into range. The kee-kee is a whistle used by young birds.

Although turkey hunting can offer great rewards remember it is a challenging endeavor. Springtime calling is reversing natural progression. In normal circumstances hens travel to the gobbler. Calling reverses the role and it takes patience, and the right bird.

Selecting types of calls doesn’t need to be a great area of concern either. Diaphragm calls, which rest in your mouth, are great for bowhunters because they leave your hands free. Unfortunately they are harder to master and don’t fit well in some people’s palate.

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The three easiest to master are the box call, pot and peg (also called slate or pan call) and the push button.

Box calls are louder and a great choice when calling long distances or windy conditions. With little practice even newcomers can call turkeys like a pro. Pan calls are a bit softer and subtler and work best when birds are closer. The push button is the simplest and almost fool proof. When it comes to realistic sounding yelps, clucks and purrs, all it takes is a fingertip.

For the most part, the closer a gobbler gets the quieter the calls should be. Far more turkeys become spooked by too much calling than are lost to disinterest by not enough. In many cases when a bird is within 70 or 80 yards I don’t call at all. Playing hard to get is more effective.

Indiana’s wild turkey hunting season runs from April 25 to May 13. A valid turkey hunting license and game bird habitat stamp are required. If you have never given it a try maybe this is the year you should. And in the event you find yourself squeezing the trigger on a Hoosier long beard, consider it a single-gun salute to our beautiful spring season.

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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.


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