It might not look or feel like it, but spring is slowly creeping up on us. Before we know it, spring turkey season will be here.
How do you locate the whereabouts of a big tom turkey? And then how do you get him to come to your beckoning call?
I asked turkey guide Pete Clare (607-659-7849) of Turkey Trot Acres Guide Service in Candor, N.Y., these questions.
How do you find the birds? Clare states that you have to think and talk like a turkey. Right now, during the winter, turkeys are in big common flocks.
Hens are together, young gobblers are together, and old gobblers are together. Wherever there is food is where they are at right now.
Clare hunts turkey in the south-central part of New York, close to the Pennsylvania state line. Turkey season for him begins in May.
Within a week or so of the first week of April, the gobblers, who were companions and buddies all winter and depended on each other for survival, will start competing for hens.
The large groups are dispersing and spreading out.
Wherever you hunt, the month prior to the beginning of turkey season should be spent seriously looking for male turkeys.
"When the birds have already established their territory, go out and listen for the birds to gobble," said Clare.
"Go in the early morning at daybreak and listen and see where the turkeys have roosted. They'll generally be in that same area where you heard them gobbling at the start of the hunting season."
Would calling while scouting for the birds before the season begins help locate them?
Clare would rather just listen and let the birds do the talking.
"If you make an owl call, or blow your horn out of your truck they're so wound up at that point, they're going to gobble to anything they'll probably answer it."
"I would much rather hear a turkey gobble on his own without prompting him with a call, simply because you're just educating the bird."
Now the discussion shifts to the beginning of the season and learning how to talk to a turkey.
"As many different types of individual turkeys are out there, there are that many preferences to what they like to hear," said Clare.
"Hen turkeys certainly don't sound at all alike. A lot of times, callers call a whole lot better than what a real hen turkey sounds like."
"It's a matter of personal choice and having a variety of calls with you."
Clare recommends a box call.
"A box call is probably my favorite because I think it sounds the most realistic," he said.
"On some turkeys, a box call won't do it, so you pull out a slate or diaphragm call, maybe a push button call, a coo or a wingbone. All these different calls are speaking the same language, but are just saying it in different tones and different pitches."
"Just like a woman's voice, they talk the same language, but don't sound the same. What might fire one gobbler up might not even cause another turkey to pay attention."
The best call is what a hunter feels comfortable and confident with.
Understanding the language
What are you going to say to Mr. Tom? One of the key steps to becoming a halfway decent turkey hunter is understanding the wild turkey language.
What does a "yelp" mean, or a "cluck" or a "purr?"
Turkeys make these sounds for certain reasons, so you have to know when to make that particular call in your conversation with a gobbler.
What call do you use at daybreak when the turkeys are still in trees?
"I personally try not to call until he gets on the ground," said Clare.
"Let the turkey gobble and fly down. If you call to a gobbler in a tree before he flies down, he'll just continue to gobble and won't fly down. Let the turkey get on the ground and then try yelping to him."
The yelp, the basic long-range language of a turkey, is a series of notes that a turkey makes. Any type of turkey call will make a yelp.
"A turkey can pinpoint within a 5-yard area where the sound is coming from," said Clare.
"There's a call called a 'tree yelp,' which is what hens do. It's a real soft, subtle little call which said, 'I'm a hen and I'm hanging out over here."
"I am waking up.' The hen flies out of the tree and goes to the gobbler. Usually a gobbler will just go crazy to it."
"As the turkeys move closer to each other, the yelp becomes a single note cluck 'I know you are somewhere here. Where are you?'" said Clare.
Clucks are close-in calls.
One other call is a purr, which is more of contentment call, which hens will do when they're feeding.
"Everything is okay," said Clare. "They're just hanging out in the woods. They just have a little purr sound they make."
Break out your turkey calls or go buy some, and start practicing the basic sounds of the yelp, cluck, and purr.
Become proficient with the language of the turkey.
Before you know it, the time will be right for heading a field and talking with Mr. Tom.
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