During the last phases of spring gobbler season, turkey hunters find more success if they alter calling strategies.
The standard way for spring turkey hunters to go about luring in gobblers is to issue a variety of hen sounds with any number of calling devices. But situations exist when hunters can throw turkeys a proverbial changeup by emitting a variety of gobbler calls.
Obviously, safety precautions absolutely must be taken before doing so (see sidebar). Nevertheless, the use of gobbler calls is a vastly underutilized option hunters may want to include in their overall game plans.
When to ‘Gobble’
Charlie Hicks, who hails from Daniels, W. Va., maintains gobbler calls never will be his main option during a given turkey hunt, but he knows a number of situations when they work well.
“I think one of the best times to use a gobbler sound is late in the season when the birds have been blasted with hen calls for weeks,” Hicks said. “Another good time is late in the morning when the hens have gone off to feed or to nest.
“Heavily-pressured birds will also sometimes respond to a gobbler call even though they have stopped answering hen sounds.
“I would also use one if I heard several gobblers out in front of me, say 100 yards away, and they refused to come closer. And if a tom is ‘all henned up,’ and nothing seems to be working, gobbler sounds might be the only thing that will break him free from those hens or even cause the entire group to come in.”
One of the biggest misconceptions many people have concerning gobbler calls is thinking the “gobble” is the primary call.
Hicks emphasizes the only times he employs a gobble is when he’s roosting birds for the evening.
Instead of a gobble, Hicks said, his go-to call is the jake yelp.
Amazingly, the West Virginian said many individuals, without knowing so, utter jake yelps during the spring. The error often occurs when hunters are using a single- or double-reed diaphragm mouth call.
Of course, sometimes this lack of knowledge can result in a gobbler rushing toward an interloping “jake.” Or the mistake can result in the reverse — a tom that would have been interested in a “hen’s” yelps will leave the area to look for the real deal.
To avoid this snafu, Hicks said hunters should be able to discriminate between jake, jenny, hen and gobbler yelps.
“A young hen’s yelp is high pitched, but it has a ‘squealy’ sharp tone to it,” he said. “A jake’s yelp is also high pitched, but it has a mellow quality that the jenny’s (young hen) lacks.
“Now, an old hen’s yelp is deeper than that of a jake or jenny, and sometimes it can have a raspy quality to it. Finally, a mature tom’s yelp has a slower tempo than any of the other three, and it’s also much deeper than a hen’s.
“The best way to learn these differences is to go out in the winter after the fall season has ended and just listen to the birds. Jakes are especially vocal at this time. Listening to tapes is also helpful.”
The “fighting purr” is another gobbler sound sportsmen should consider.
Hicks said the fighting purr has the bizarre ability to turn off the most enamoured gobbler and to turn on the most apathetic bird. This call burst onto the scene early in the 1990s, and for a while it was vastly overused and given miraculous qualities.
Now that the hullabaloo surrounding the fighting purr has died down, it can take its rightful place as a fine backup call that will sometimes enrage a mature male.
Best Calls for Gobbler Sounds
For jake yelps, Hicks said the No. 1 option is a single- or double-reed diaphragm — providing hunters understand the “phonics” mentioned earlier.
Be sure to practice with these calls a great deal at home before taking them afield. Coaxing the right jake yelps out of them is imperative if they’re to be effective.
Also be aware sounds can vary a great deal from diaphragm to diaphragm.
The West Virginian likes to employ a box and diaphragm in tandem and generate soft, sporadic, seductive hen yelps with the former and loud, excited jake yelps with the latter.
The goal is to create the impression a hen is about to mate with an upstart jake, and she is quite satisfied to be doing so, Hicks said.
The objective with the fighting purr is simply to start an all-out brawl between jakes and a mature male.
Of course, a number of push-pin calls exist that excel at creating fighting purr sounds. Hicks uses the standard approach of working two push-pins in conjunction. Again, he emphasizes, this is a fine backup tactic, but it never is his first choice.
Lastly, for those rare occasions when a gobble is an option, try a shaker or a tube caller. Diaphragms also make a satisfactory jake gobble.
Obviously, the gobble of a mature bird has little place in a hunter’s game plan in actual hunting situations (although as Hicks mentioned earlier, a gobble is a marvelous call for roosting a bird in the evening).
Remember that a “mature-sounding” gobble may even scare away a tom that is on its way toward a hunter.
A jake gobble can best be described as higher pitched, less “throaty” and shorter than a mature male. For example, a jake will sometimes begin his gobble with a yelp, get part way into the gobble itself, and then just seem to “run out of air.”
In the past, I have experienced success with using a double reed to create a jake gobble.
I start the process by yelping, then suddenly and violently shake my head back and forth several times, meanwhile continuing to yelp. The violent head shaking causes the yelps to metamorphose into very passable jake gobbles — although admittedly I look ridiculous while creating these sounds.
Nevertheless, several times birds have run toward me after I performed the jake-gobble gambit.
Steve McKenna, who operates the McKenna Ranch at Pachuta, Miss., details some specific strategies to score with gobbler sounds.
“One of my favorite tactics is to position a client and myself near a power or gas line or a field edge,” he said. “I then set out three hen decoys and a jake.
“At first light, I make some hen yelps and a few soft jake purrs. Then I gradually increase the intensity of the hen yelps and the volume of the jake purrs until they become fighting purrs.
“A good-sized gobbler just can’t stand for a jake to be around hens. I’ve seen mature gobblers make a free-for-all race down a 300-yard-long gas pipeline to get to a ‘jake’ that was making purrs or fighting purrs in front of a hen decoy.
“In fact, I watched one gobbler completely tearing up one of my favorite jake decoys. He just pecked and flapped that decoy to pieces.”
McKenna said another outstanding maneuver is to take a pre-dawn setup near where he roosted an adult tom the evening before. After a few soft hen tree yelps, the guide issues some hushed jake yelps which gradually become louder and louder as the bogus young male becomes more and more aroused.
A gobbler will not allow a jake to be “king of the walk,” McKenna said, and the mature bird often responds with a paroxysm of gobbles and hopefully rushes in where foolish birds should fear to tread.
The Miss. outfitter said the jake-yelp gambit is also a prudent strategy when he hasn’t located mature birds beforehand or when the toms have become silent.
Jake yelps can be heard for long distances and can excite a bird that has been blasted with a few too many human hen yelps during a season. A good approach for this tactic is to set up against a tree or other object, utter jake yelps over a 15- to 30-minute period, then move on to another location and repeat the process. In effect, the hunter is “trolling” for gobblers.
Yet another scenario involves jake “kee-kees.”
John Lucas, a guide for McKenna Ranch, said the average hunter can’t distinguish a jake kee-kee from the jenny’s kee-kee, but gobblers can.
“Jakes make a very different ‘pee-pee sound’ of the kee-kee than hens do,” Lucas said.
The jake version proceeds at the same speed as the hen’s, but the jake version is much deeper and more raspy. There are two advantages to using the jake kee-kee call.
“First, when a gobbler simply won’t come in to standard hen yelps and clucks, the jake kee-kee may make him perceive that a jake upstart is moving in on him,” Lucas said. “Second, when you want to create the illusion a jake has come into the area, a jake kee-kee is a more subtle sound to make than a jake gobble.”
During a spring hunt at the 5,000 acre McKenna Ranch, Lucas implemented his jake kee-kee strategy.
Several hours had passed since hunters had heard a bird, then a gobbler finally responded. However, the tom wouldn’t come investigate a decoy setup until Lucas launched his kee-kee call.
The bird immediately charged Lucas’ position. Unfortunately, the gobbler pulled up short when it apparently saw something it didn’t like about the decoys.
However, the effect of the jake kee-kee call on the gobbler made me a believer in the call, and I plan to integrate it into my turkey-hunting game plan. Also impressive was the fact the gobbler responded aggressively to the guide’s calls at 4:10 p.m.
Lucas said single- and double-reed diaphragms make great jenny kee-kees, but for jake versions, he recommends three- or four-reed mouth callers. Their multiple reeds excel at issuing the raspy tones that are needed.
Obviously, a multitude of gobbler calls exist that aren’t gobbles. By incorporating these faux gobbler vocalizations into a hunter’s repertoire, he should be able to throw a real changeup at tom turkeys this spring.