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Call Like A Hen: Talking Turkey

As hunters, we take every opportunity available to increase our chances of success.  In its simplest form, we use tools to play on animal’s senses; scents to lure in the big buck, decoys so ducks see a “safe” place to land, food plots to draw deer where we want, or calls to produce sounds that attract a gobbler to us.  Each one of these, when used properly, has the potential to change the tides in our favor.  However we’ve all experienced, at least once, that using these sense-changers incorrectly can make for a disappointing day.

Being ever experience outdoorspeople we are, we understand the need to pursue each animal differently.  I have yet to see anyone put a herd of decoys out for deer like they would for ducks (but I’ll admit, I’m now intrigued…).  When it comes to turkeys we rely primarily on playing off of their sight and hearing.  Sight is fairly easy.  Get a couple good decoys and put them out where the turkeys will see them.  Obviously there are general techniques to this to improve our successes but ultimately its as simple as putting them where they will be seen.  Today, we’re going to focus on using a turkey’s sense of hearing to produce our desired result (read: food on the table). 

In our first go’round of looking into turkey calling we discussed the basics of using a diaphragm call to produce a yelp.  Assuming we’ve got that covered, we’re ready to graduate to how to use the diaphragm, as well as other calls, to produce the most commonly used spectrum of noises in a turkey hunters bag.  You’ll notice the general theme of turkey calling is “let’s get together”; which one works on which tom is something we can only answer after it’s worked.  Thus, it’s important to know and use them all.   

Which call works for which? Only way to find out is try.
What do we want to hear today, boys…? Yelps? Clucks? A good’ol purr?

Yelp:

  • What is it? The yelp is a string of single notes ran together to produce the “classic” turkey call. Turkeys use the yelp as they search for other birds (ever played Marco Polo in a pool?  It’s like that.)  It sounds like this:
  • When to use: Whenever! This will ultimately be your go to.  By changing up the volume, speed, and cadence you can use it to convey many different meanings.  A rhythmic string of 5ish yelps is the standard “who wants to hangout?” heard above.  Soft, slow, and short, usually just 2 or 3, is a reassuring Tree yelp saying “good morning, all is fine over here”.  A long string of 15-20 yelps is a Lost yelp saying “hello…? Where is everyone?!” 
  • How:
    • Diaphragm: Pick a word with a hard “CH” or “SH” sound at the beginning and a hard consonant at the end ( chalk, chirp, chop, shuck, etc.) and say it as you push air over the reeds of the call.   Drag the word out until you’ve got the sound you’re looking for; “Chhhalk”.
    • Pot: To produce a yelp on a pot call we simply need to run the striker in a way that drags and turns.  The easiest way to do this without much thought is to drag it in the shape of an oval.  Start your oval at the top of the call and drag the striker down into the center.  This will leave us making the turn in our sweet-spot.
    • Box: It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Making sure we’re using the full range of the call by being in the full open position, drag the paddle closed. The call is designed to reproduce the noise on its own; we just need to move it with the proper rhythm and speed for the message you’re looking to send.      

Cluck:

  • What is it? The cluck is a short, abrupt call used to announce their location and locate others. Take a listen:
  • When to use? Like the yelp, the cluck can be used in most situations.  If you’ve tried yelping and it’s not getting any love then try some clucking.  We can change the meaning of the cluck by altering how we use it. Soft and easy clucks show contentment saying “I’m happy as a clam” while sharper, louder clucks show excitement saying “are you here yet!?”  A series of intense, loud, fast, and erratic clucks is called cutting.  This is an extremely aggressive call used by hens at the peak of their mating readiness.  It sounds like this: 

Cutting is an effective strategy to draw in a tom that’s hung up or demanding the hen come to him.  However, this should be used as a last resort.  A cutting hen is saying “crap or get off the pot!” and that demand can’t be walked back.  Once we’re at this level most birds won’t respond to another type of call.  If he responds, continue to call aggressively.  

  • How:
    • Diaphragm: To produce a cluck on diaphragm we need a quick, short burst of air.  To do this simply say a word with a hard “P” or “T” in the front and a “ck” at the end; pock, tock, puck, tuck, etc.   
    • Pot: One of the simplest sounds to produce on the pot call, the cluck is made by applying pressure onto the striker and sharply pulling down towards the center of the pot.  
    • Box: To cluck on a box call we need to produce a short, abrupt start and stop to the paddle of the call. To do this, hold the call in the open position between your thumb and forefinger, applying downward pressure to the paddle.  Now give the paddle a quick thunk.  The paddle should move a short distance and produce our cluck.     

**Be warned** the turkey’s alarm sound is called a putt which is very similar to a cluck.  If the cluck is done too harshly it becomes a putt and will have the exact opposite effect you’re looking for.  Listen to a putt here and note the difference in pitch and excitement:

Purr:

  • What is it? The purr is a soft, relaxed fluttering sound made by hens, most often as they feed, to relay contentment and relaxation. It sounds like this:
  • When to use:  Most hunters reserve the purr as their “finishing call”.  Whether you’re trying to coax the tom the last few necessary yards or waiting for the right shot, sending out a calming vibe is a valuable tool in your bag.  It can start and/or end with a cluck but ultimately still conveys the message of “all is good here, no worries”. 
  • How:
    • Diaphragm: The purr is the most difficult call to reproduce on the diaphragm.  Being a soft, calm call we’re not looking to drive bursts of air over the reeds but instead want a low, consistent stream.  With just enough pressure to hold the call in place, roll your tongue (like your 10th grade Spanish teacher taught you).  At first you may find the amount of air it takes to get your tongue to roll doesn’t produce a realistic purr but with practice you’ll be able to use less, producing the correct tones.  For those that can’t roll their tongues another method is to use your throat like you’re hocking flem.  Whichever method suits you, remember; low, steady stream of air.  
    • Pot: The pot call is my go to call in my bag for purring.  It’s easy to use, unlike the diaphragm, and sounds natural, unlike the box.  To use our pot call to purr simply angle the striker towards the top of the call, apply light pressure, and drag it towards the center.  Too little or too much pressure and it will only squeal (at varying volumes).  If we’re not getting the flutter, adjust the amount of pressure you’re applying.  
    • Box: While a box call doesn’t give us the most realistic tone in its purr it does offer a sound that is usually good enough and very simple to produce.  Open the box about 1/3 of the way and, while applying pressure on the paddle, slowly drag the lid closed.       

Many turkey callers have brought in birds year after year with just these three calls and the variations within them.  Learn them, master them, and use them.

Lastly, know that turkeys don’t typically make just one call at a time.  Watch this video to better understand how they mix their yelps, clucks, and purrs.  This hen is fired up and goes on for over 6 minutes with all of the different calls we’ve just discussed. 

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