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SwampCollie 02-18-2009 11:58 AM

Thoughts on Working Birds
JW asked me to repost some things that I had written in a thread one evening when I was feeling particular wordy so he could stick them to the top for the benefit of the group. While I am certainly flattered by my peer’s liking of my writing style, I’d like to point out that there aren’t many golden rules in turkey hunting that don’t involve being out there trying, being patient or being still. Violate any of those three and you are sunk. Every turkey is unique in his own right. You have to learn how to feel him out and you have to understand his patterns. Too many folks put too much emphasis on calling. I wouldn’t go without calls, but doing your homework and intimately familiarizing yourself with the land you hunt and the habits of the turkeys on that land, in my opinion, is far more important than perfect calling. Anyone who has ever listened to a real hen can tell you that turkey voices tend to vary as much as human voices, it doesn’t take much… it just takes timing. I hope you find this information useful; have a safe and successful spring season. – SC
Fall hunting is maneuvers. Spring hunting is war.[/i]
–Tom Kelly; Tenth Legion[/i]
Thoughts on Working Birds

Getting the bird to come to you

The first thing you need to firmly plant in your mind is that calling in a turkey is not like reeling in a fish. If you have hooked a fish, you have to continuously reel to get it to come to you. However, you do NOT have to keep calling in order to get a turkey to come to you. In fact, the more you call, the less[/i] likely it is you'll even see a turkey. Oh, you'll hear them all right. You'll hear them all morning long....gobbling their heads off...waiting on you to come to them.

If a turkey is coming to you - actively searching for you (the hen) - then you should do absolutely nothing but get your mess right to shoot him. The situation cannot get any better for you: the bird is coming....the game is all yours to lose at this point. Don't risk it.[/i] Turkeys have excellent locational hearing. If the bird is in sight - and especially if he is within about 150 yards and in sight -I seldom if ever touch a call. If a turkey hears a call coming from that tree 80 yards away, and doesn't see a hen there, he isn't coming any further.

There are a lot of tactics, strategies and calling methods you can employ to convince a gobbler you are worth his time. However, far and away the most successful one in my experience and my opinion is setting yourself up to intercept him and being ready for him when he makes his appearance.
Never forget the natural order of things[/b]

In the wild, the turkey game is played opposite[/i] of the hunting game, meaning that the hen goes to the gobbler about 50% of the time, and 40% of the rest they meet mutually in the middle (that works out to 10:1 odds in favor of the turkey, though it is probably more like 20 or 30:1). It is basically the rut in reverse: rather than bucks seeking and chasing does, hens are seeking and actually wrangling up gobblers. It’s a good situation to be in if you are a guy; don't have to chase it, don't have to catch it, don't have to feed it: it just comes a running to you. This is probably about what it’s like to be a rock star.

Anyway, what turkey hunters are trying to do is to reverse that natural order, or at least play off of it. When hens get all twitter-pated like they do in the spring, they get to yelping and clucking and putting and carrying on. When a gobbler gobbles, he is letting them know where he is at, and letting other gobblers know where he is as well. The hens yelp and he gobbles and then they go to him or where they know him to be nearly every day. It’s like a big game of Marco Polo where the hens are always 'IT'.

So when you start calling aggressively, and calling A LOT, in a gobbler’s walnut-sized brain that means the hen is coming to him or at least going to meet him. And all he has to do is find a nice open spot to show off, keep gobbling - and no obstacle on earth is going to keep her from coming to him. Additionally, one of the most frustrating situations for a turkey hunter is when real hens go to the gobbler and lead him away from you. The more a bird gobbles, the more likely a hen is going to go find him and spoil your surprise.

What YOU need to do is be subtle... and be where that gobbler wants to be or needs to be anyway. If you know where a bird is strutting every day, meet him there for an early morning appointment. He will likely figure that the hen is already there waiting for him...and he will pitch off the roost and glide right into your lap. Doesn't always work that way, of course, because lots of times in the early spring the hens will roost with the gobblers and they will lead the gobblers away from another actively calling hen.

What to use and when to use it[/b]

There is a sticky at the top of the turkey hunting page called the Guide to Pot Calls. I wrote that thing a year or two ago and it is a pretty complete and fairly broken-down guide to pot style calls (which include slate, glass, crystal, aluminum and a host of other materials that are played with a peg or striker).

A pot style call is what I would recommend that you start with. Everyone has their favorites. I'm a Woodhaven and BudnBetty's man (I just bought the new for 09 Zink Power Hen Slate and it is a real homerun too). There are as many small makers of turkey calls as there are counties in the country. And your state probably has at least 20 or 25 active call makers - and probably another 20-25 who make a few on the side when they take a notion to.These calls are quite often as good as or better than anything you can buy in a store. I use Woodhavens and BnBs and recommend them simply because anyone can find and buy them pretty easily and they offer a custom sound (with a semi-custom price, of course) with a handmade craftsmanship.

A box call is pretty easy as well. Box calls are a little bit more fragile and certainly more cumbersome to carry than a pot call, but they have a sound that is pure death in the right hands. They carry and cut the spring wind better than anything else. With 15 minutes of practice, just about anyone can use one with enough proficiency to get the job done.

Mouth calls are kind of like... well I don't know a good analogy (which is odd for a Virginian ‘cause we love our descriptive comparisons)…mouth calls are pretty much grad school turkey calls. They are what I learned on, so they are really what I use most and probably what I use best. They are fairly cheap and, to a neophyte, fairly frustrating. You'll want to stick with simple, proven designs: no more than three reeds (and two is better). My recommendation for a beginner is the Quaker Boy Old Boss Hen. Simple and deadly and I’ve killed a bunch of turkeys with it. My personal favorite is Woodhaven's Sadler McGraw Signature Ghost Cut. It'll do anything but gobble well... and does the best kee-kee short of the genuine article. For gobble calls (which are really just a novelty) I use a Woodhaven Matt Van Cise Signature or Classic V3.

On to the noises they make

The worst thing to ever happen to turkey hunting was forums like this and the onslaught of 'semi-experienced advice'. Now, you might contend that I'm contributing to the problem... but I've been around just long enough to know when to type and when to just move on and ramble about something else. Just know that this is my[/i] opinion and it is based on my experience and has proven itself true over the years.

There are a lot of things written, spoken and lied about when it comes to turkey calling. You are going to hear about putts and purrs and cuts and sequences and simulating fights and fly downs and cackles andall that other good-for-nothing-but-turkey-scaring crap.... and as a new turkey hunter, I beg you to please IGNORE IT ALL!!! Yes, I mean it.... leave it just for now! [/i]You need to learn to stand up before you can dance.... and you need to learn the beat and the rhythm of spring.

The basic turkey noise is the cluck... I don't care what anyone else says. It’s not the putt... it’s not the yelp.... it’s a cluck. All putts and yelps amount to are sharper and extended variations of that single cluck. A cluckcan mean a lot of things.... I'm happy... I'm nervous.... Oh Chit.... Run Away.... I have food.... lots of stuff. What it means depends on where you are and the frequency you use.Just like George Carlin explained 'The F Word' and its many uses... it’s all about context. The sharper the cluck...the sharper the meaning.The number of clucks let out in rapid succession can mean danger or excitement... depending on what it’s mixed with. Most of the time, you’ll hear clucks from contented hens as they mind their pickings and round up their young’uns.

Yelps are used for a couple of things.... mostly to address other turkeys (usually multiple turkeys) over a broad area. They are used as locator calls... letting other birds know where they are and what they are doing or where they are going. It’s a simple language, really, that is complex only because we over think it. Yelps are made by hens, though I have heard gobblers yelp as well. Hens also use yelps to call their poults back to them if the flock has been scattered. It is the note you will hear most from hens in the spring of the year, when she is soliciting sexual favor from the male of the species.

What you need in order to kill turkeys at this stage (from a calling standpoint)is a cluck and a yelp. Clucks also work well with purrs.

Yelps are what you'll hear most turkey hunters using...which, in my mind, is automatically somewhat of a ‘proceed with caution’ sign, especially if you hunt in a pressured area. Yelps, as referenced above, are used often as locator calls. If you are in the right spot, a yelp or two is all you'll ever need to get a bird’s attention. Just don't over do it: because, remember, we are being subtle here.... yelps are like chili powder or bay leaves - you need some for sure, butyou can go from ‘just right’ to ‘WAY[/i] too much’ in a big hurry. We are playing 'hard to get' here... and don’t forget it! [/i]

When it comes to making yelps, cadence is important. And, really, the only thing you can do wrong (other than making too many yelps) is to yelp too fast. Drag them out... make sure they come out sounding decent... cut them off cleanly....stick to four or five.... no more than six notes per yelp. That’s what the real birds do.... and that’s what I do, too. Turkey hens have lots of different pitches and sounds to their yelps, but there is one golden constant and that is their timing and rhythm.

A Few Dirty Secrets[/b]

I attract turkeys frequently using what I like to call "Happy Turkey Noises." Imagine if you walked into a bar and everyone was yelling at each other, or if everyone stopped talking and looked at you, or if everyone was whispering, you'd know something was up. But if everyone was talking, laughing and just carrying on as normal... you'd think nothing of the situation at all. That’s the frame of mind you have to be in. Turkeys are always making noises of some sort. Little clucks and purrs and they never hold still. In essence, happy turkey noises are feeding clucks and soft purrs and raking the leaves.

Leaf raking, in my opinion, is the single deadliest call in the woods. For closing the deal on a bird that is reluctant to come those last forty or fifty yards into gun range, it is the end all be all.

Here is a tip [while I write plenty, I don't give up tips like this very often - I'm feeling generous]that I was told by a very experienced turkey hunter with whom I waterfowl hunt. He has a couple yard birds (best teachers in the world), and two years agohis boss hen threw a clutch of about 12 quite late (they hatched in September, of all things) and five made it through. This was about January and I think we'd shot a bunch of geese that morning. We'd take a handful of chicken feed and throw it out in the yard and watch the fray. The boss hen he has is extremely vocal, even for a turkey. (I'd like to bottle her if I could.... I'd make $10 million.) Anyway... as we were watching her beat up the chickens that were trying to dart in as her poults were feeding... Robbie made a point I'll never forget.... he knows, as I do, that raking leaves is a very effective call.... but what I didn't know is that there is a method to the madness. Frankly, in years past I have just raked the leaves at random.... thinking nothing of it. He told me to watch that hen scratch. Turkeys, for some reason, nearly always[/i] scratch in patterns of three.... two with one foot... one with the other. Scratch, scratch, Scruff.... feed...repeat[/i]. Since he told me that... I've noticed a tenfold 'pick up' in response from birds. They can hear it quite a ways off on a cold spring morning. And when you have a bird gobbling at leaf raking, you'd better take the safety off. Our very own Gamblinman[/i] here on has also pointed out that he has seen and experienced turkeys scratching in a 1-3-2 pattern, and that the vast majority of turkeys he has seen have started with their left foot. One left foot scratch, three right foot scratches and finally two left foot scratches. It is good advice and it’ll help you out.

Which Call to Use When
This is a reply I wrote to a question asked me about one gobbler liking a particular call one day more than on another day. Ver batem the question was, “[/i]I have heard that the certain call you use that day depends on the Gobbler is that true? Different sounds for different birds?” What follows is part of my response to this question, as well as tying up a few loose ends.[/i]

I cannot and will not tell you when to yelp, when to cluck, and when to purr. As I have beaten to a pulp in the paragraphs above, every situation is unique. What I can do, is give a rough outline of the type of call (style) I think works the best in certain situations I have been in.

A general rule is that the call you are using depends on the weather and the time of year.

In the early season when the air is cold and the mornings are still, it doesn't take very much sound to travel a long way. A gobbler, believe it or not, can hear you call further away than you can hear his gobble, much farther actually (I'm a bad example because, as duck hunter, I am hard of hearing prematurely. And since I'm a good duck hunter, and take lots of people duck hunting, I'm extra-deaf from having shotguns go off in front of my face 30 times a season).

As the spring springs into warmer weather and vegetation starts to emerge, you get the baffling effect. All those new dense, moist and succulent leaves will soak up your calls like sponges. Wind is another important factor: harder calls cut wind better. Crystal is my favorite surface on windy days. Box calls cut wind better than anything else, and they carry forever. Turkeys hate heavy wind, so look for them on the lee sides of hills or in protected bottoms. Don't expect a heck of a lot of gobbling either… but, there again, you never know[/i].

Mouth calls are actually the quietest of the bunch. They are good for close-in work, hands free. They are great on still days, early mornings, in the woods and in lots of other scenarios. Lots of folks in my part of the world hunt fields.... field turkeys are hard to kill once they get smart too.... and I hate sitting in fields all day looking at nothing but winter wheat, dead corn stubble or bean straw.

I haven't ever heard that different gobblers like different calls... and frankly I wouldn't really know how to find out.... I guess the ones I have killed have liked the calls I have used well enough anyway.

What I think the question is getting at is this (correct me if I'm wrong): You are askingin a nutshell: if you use one call (say, a slate) on a turkey and don't get a result, will a different call (say, a mouth call) make him gobble or more appropriately come to you?

Assuming said turkey heard both your calls, the answer in my experience is almost always no[/i]. (With ducks and geese the answer is yes.... but not with turkeys). Turkey calling is not nearly as exact a science as duck and goose calling is. It is far easier to correctly operate a turkey call and properly mimic turkey sounds than it is to mimic waterfowl sounds correctly. You read in the previous paragraphs about turkeys sounding vastly different from one hen to the next, and that is the case here as well.

Now, sometimes you can get what I call a courtesy gobble out of one. Let’s say you yelp and hear nothing - you might be able to get him to gobble at a hard cut or a kee-kee. That doesn't mean he is coming to you, though... lots of variables there. Changing the call you make rather than the call you use is what you should do. If you just want to know where he is, locator calls work about as good as anything and you do not run the risk of suddenly having a bird come charging down your throat. Anytime I make a turkey noise, I set myself up for a turkey to come charging out less than a minute after I make that call. Three separate times in my life, just exactly that has happened. The first time, I was unprepared. The bird gobbled and I took five steps to a tree and went to sit down and I saw him at 80 yards at the same time he saw me down a row of planted pines. Game over. Lesson learned. The next time several years later, the bird gobbled and all I had to do was raise the gun. The last time it happened three years ago, the bird showed up unannounced, but again, I was ready for him to even though I had no clue he was there, I was just prospecting trying to strike a hot bird during a typically lull part of the morning.

Let me give you a practical example of turkeys making different sounds and how changing pitches or changing your call doesn’t necessarily work:

I remember sitting on a ridge in the mountains one morning and hearing another hunter walking along calling like a blundering old fool. (It sounded like he was breaking wind in a beer can: terrible screeches and missed notes coming from him.) He walked right up on me, too, and from a blind spot whereI couldn't see him. I could hear hisfootsteps and I was starting to get nervous because some turkey hunters are loose cannons. I whistled sharply and he stopped and putted. "What the heck?"I said outloud and involuntarily. That turkey hunter putted again several times sharply and flew off making all kinds of commotion. Of course it was a real hen turkey all along.

My point is this: there is nothing in the woods that sounds scruffier than a real live hen turkey. So don't worry too much about what call you are using or trying to sound like one hen versus another hen because they all sound different compared to what most people "think" turkeys sound like. (In reality, if hen turkeys sound like that, then so should we: you follow?) Just make the right noises at the right times and in moderation. Real live hens are not very loud and don’t need to be simply because a turkey’s hearing is so vastly superior to a human’s. Keep it simple....start off softly at first...wait a time step it up a few decibels or so. Birds don't always gobble when they are on their way. I like to hold what I have for at least ten or fifteen minutes after making a call, unless I am moving to a bird I have seen or heard that is heading someplace I know of. Again, all I can reiterate is tempo and timing. No matter what call you are using and what the pitch of it is, it will work as long as you hit the tempo and timing correctly.

Situational Conclusion[/b]

Now, to totally reverse what I just wrote: every situation is unique. And every turkey is unique. The only way to learn is to do it. It took me ten years to kill my first bird: ten years[/i]. And now all I do when I am faced with a situation is revert back to a similar situation from my past and think about what I did and why it did or didn't work. I take into account where I am, where he is and where I think he wants to be. I think about a route to there that will not spook him. Or sometimes I hang it up so that I won't spook him and plan to fight another day - and I go from there. The most memorable turkeys in my mind are the ones that I have hunted specifically several times and lost to several times. Tom Kelly called birds like these ‘one to spend the season with,’ and I certainly cannot put it any better. The good thing about turkey hunting is that it is sort of like black jack: you know what your odds are with what you have; you can hold or draw a card and you get immediate feedback on your choice. Sometimes you can win by making what would typically be a bad choice - even a blind hog finds a few acorns -but the odds are always with the house. And you'll learn that soon enough.

The best thing you can possibly do is know where you are going to be hunting like it’s your own house. You need to know where the birds are, and more importantly where they are going to be. Turkeys are pretty reliable creatures, even in the spring time. The only difference is that in spring, gobblers get vocal and active, learn to play the game and learn the field it is going to be played on and you will find success.[/b]

fingerz42 02-18-2009 12:24 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
I have not read this entire article just yet but I will a bit later, but I would also like to add a thing or two which may or may not already be in your article.

If you hunt pressured hunting land, like much of Pennsylvania's hard woods, and the birds have been worked continuously, day after day, it is often useful to use calling techniques that are unique. By unique I mean that if you know guys in the local proximity call solely with yelps, then switch it up and go in and call with clucks, purrs, etc.

Also, and this is what I find most interesting and useful, if hunting on pressured land, LESS is MORE. I have found that pressured birds find out real quick what is worth checking out, and when to run the other direction. In high pressure hunting areas, the birds seem to get accustomed to the concept that a constant or heavy amount of calling turns out to be a fake. The birds find this out a few ways I suspect, one, they get called into a set up and luckily make it out alive. Secondly they may be able to hear enough of the calling to realize, "hmmm, I've never heard a hen call that much.." (Something along those lines.. you get the idea..) Either way, these birds learn that too much calling equals danger.

So my suggestion is to call less, and therefor this should actually increase the response from birds. Calling less may be the perfect change of pace from what the local hunters have done in the past, and therefor the gobbler may come to investigate.

Let me give an example from last year. Last year I repeatedly worked a few birds. I worked one specific gobbler for three days, then switched and worked another gobbler for three days. No success. Each day these birds would gobble so much on roost, just inviting me to answer over and over. And most likely they got their tell tale sign that I wasnt a real hen. So the next day I said hell, I'll try something off pace. I got into the spot and waited for the first gobble. I let him gobble again and again. Finally, I answered with a few tree yelps. Only one series. He gobbled again and again. I let him continue. Finally the gobbles stopped, and I knew he must be on the ground. I gave just a few clucks, and then stayed silent. No answer. Within 5 minutes I can hear him spitting and drumming and he's within 20 yards of me coming off a side hill. A mouth purr later he's at 16 yards and dead.

Bottom line, that day I made a total of THREE calls, yet that bird knew EXACTLY where I was and came in SILENT to my location. Again, sometimes less is better. And when all else fails, it is definitely worth a shot. Not many guys can stay so quiet, since they think they HAVE to continually call to bring in a bird. Dont get lost in that train of thought.

krabbiepatty 02-18-2009 12:54 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Swamp Collie,
Thank you for the informative article. I am intrigued by the leaf scratching tip you wrote about. You seemed to have described 2 different methods, one of yours and one of a fellow HNI member. Is there any way you could demonstrate this method with a video on youtube or photobucket and post the link? Thanks.

SwampCollie 02-18-2009 02:45 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Whaty fingerz just wrote simply reinforces on of the main points of the manifesto.... next to moving to much, calling too much will foul up a lot of hunts.

ORIGINAL: krabbiepatty

Swamp Collie,
Thank you for the informative article. I am intrigued by the leaf scratching tip you wrote about. You seemed to have described 2 different methods, one of yours and one of a fellow HNI member. Is there any way you could demonstrate this method with a video on youtube or photobucket and post the link? Thanks.
The method itself is really the same. It is only the pattern that is different, and it really isn't even different. I'd normally jump at the chance to make a jack ass of myself via the internet and youtube, but not only do I not own a video camera or the knowledge to link up such a thing, but it really isn't as difficult as it may have come out.

What I am talking about is the pattern in which the leaves are scratched. Most hunters know about leaf raking, but they go about it at random. They make all sorts of ruckus, shuffling and raking and carrying on. The point of that tipisfor you to realize that turkeys are not just going about it randomly.

Make a pass with your hand through the leaves and pause a moment, then make three successive passes with your hand a pause, then make two more. Wait a moment, then make two and pause and finally one more. Any variation of that theme will no doubt work fine. You have undoubtly heard turkeys scratching in the woods... that is all we are mimicking here.

fingerz42 02-18-2009 06:39 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Well I just realized that what I talked about was covered in SC's post. Sorry about that. I guess reiterating it wont hurt.

SwampCollie 02-18-2009 06:55 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds

ORIGINAL: fingerz42

Well I just realized that what I talked about was covered in SC's post. Sorry about that. I guess reiterating it wont hurt.
Heck no it won't! Thats why I beat it to death in the post in the first place. Anything that important is worth driving home good and done.

StruttinGobbler3 02-18-2009 06:56 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Great stuff SwampCollie, thanks for sharing with us.

Huntinman23 02-18-2009 08:03 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Swamp, once again you out did yourself. Thanks for the words of wisdom then and now.

Gamblinman 02-18-2009 08:16 PM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Tremendous. Well thought out and true in every way.

Regards and respect...


MGH_PA 02-19-2009 06:15 AM

RE: Thoughts on Working Birds
Excellent post, Swamp! I'm new to the turkey game, and I picked up a few tips and pointers I hadn't heard of thought of before.

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