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Spring Turkey Calling; Family Relationship and Social Status
By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors


During my latest turkey seminar I began to realize that the average hunter rarely thinks about how family relationship and social status relate to the calls turkeys use in the spring, or how understanding how these relationships should affect which calls hunters use to call turkeys. So, let's examine the makeup of spring turkey flocks.

Many hunters may not realize that the hen flocks they see in the spring or not just a bunch of hens. What these flocks normally are made up of is one or more adult hens with their year-old female offspring. And the adult hens may also be related. This means that much of the calling being done is between the adult hen and her offspring, between the offspring, and between the adult hens. It also means that most of the birds in the flock know each other's voices, particularly the hens and their own offspring. Much of the calling hunters hear in the spring is used to keep the families, and the flock together. Many of these calls fall into the Social Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls category.

Let's review some of these calls.

Hen "Family" Calls

The Yelp is often the first sound of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call performed while the birds are on the roost before daylight. It is a soft chirp-chirp-chirp ... chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, or a variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note being about .08 seconds in length. This call is used by a bird when it is telling the others it is awake and asking if there are other birds nearby and awake. In the case of spring turkeys, it is often one of the female family members asking if the other family members are still there. I use this call in the morning to see if the birds are still on the roost.

The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen to regroup the young, and this probably carries over to some extent in spring calling. This call usually consists of six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often hear hens make a loud, long series of yelps while they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp or a Lost Yelp. But, I do know that toms often show up in areas where hens are making this call. I use Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming once it is on the ground.
The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp, but it is often used by female offspring to locate their mother in the spring, particularly after the hens have been bred and begun nesting. When they return to traditional feeding/strutting areas they often try to regroup with each other. This may call contain twenty or more notes, and it becomes louder toward the end of the call. The bird's voice may "break" as it tries to make the call as loud as possible, which causes it to have a raspy sound. There may be from three to four notes per second, with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.

Hen Flock Social Contact Calls

Adult turkeys use many different yelps and clucks to keep in contact in different situations. Most yelps are the same as the "Here I am, where are you?" call of geese and other flocking birds, which is used to keep the birds in contact with each other. These calls are basically variations of the hen "family" calls.

The Plain Yelp is performed when turkeys are within seeing distance of each other. It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10 seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the decoys.

The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys to get the visual attention of another bird. It is primarily a close range contact call, again saying "Here am I, where are you?" A bird making this call wants to hear another bird make the same call so they can get together. It is a sharp, short sound, similar to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent; tut...tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt, errr, putt .... putt, putt, putt, errr. I use this call when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.

The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one turkey using the "Here I am, where are you?" but telling the other bird "If we are going to get together you have to come to me." It is a loud insistent call, and the notes are strung together in bursts of two's and three's, with about a second between bursts. It sounds like; TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT. TUT .TUT, TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT...TUT... TUT, TUT... TUT, or any variation of clucks. The rhythm is somewhat like the Flying Cackle, and I have used a Flying Cackle to get a tom to "shock gobble." I also use this call to bring in a tom that hangs up.

Male Groups; Family and Social Contact Calls

Hunters may also not realize that the males in a tom or jake group may also be related. Since dominance, or social status, is often established when the birds are growing up, and because there is very little squabbling for social status between family members (because social status is already established), it is easy to see how male turkeys who are brothers may stay together as long as the live. Again this means they know the voices of each other. So, they often use the same social contact calls the hens use, except they generally have deeper voices. And because they are males and do not separate to go off and lay eggs, they rarely use the "family calls" such as the Assembly Yelp and the Lost Yelp, or the Fast Cluck. The may use Tree Yelps and Plain Yelps to help them remain in contact with each other.

What this all boils down to is that it is difficult for a hunter to convince a turkey it is a member of its family or flock. However, this doesn't mean calling won't work, because you can use hen calls to call toms, and you can use aggressive hen calls, such as a Fighting Purr, to call in hen groups. What it does mean is that hunter should "think" about what they are trying to simulate when they call, and use the appropriate calls to accomplish their task.

If you are interested in more turkey hunting tips, or more biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about turkeys log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board.

This article contains excerpts from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels.

T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual.

For a catalog of books and other hunting aids contact:

T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983.

Phone: 507-824-3296
E-mail: trmichels@yahoo.com
Website: www.TRMichels.com


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