Fall Calls that Workby Bruce Ingram
It was opening day of the fall turkey season, and I had just scattered a flock off the roost. After setting up against an oak and waiting 20 or so minutes for calm to reign in the woods after the cacophony of my running and screaming among the roosted assemblage, I began emitting kee-kees, (the whistle-like sounds that young turkeys make), gradually ramping up the intensity and the volume.
Soon kee-kees from the flock’s jakes and jennies began reverberating through the woods and a few minutes later, a young hen came charging into my position. The shot couldn’t have been easier and my turkey season opener was a success.
Ah you say, the kee-kee is a fall turkey sound and couldn’t possibly work in the spring. Actually, a number of sounds that turkeys make will entice birds in both the spring and fall. I asked my turkey hunting mentor, Larry Proffitt of Elizabethton, for insight on this topic. Ironically, the day I contacted Larry, I had just struck out while trying to call in a band of super jakes (1 ½-year-old fall gobblers) so I was in need of some advice. Adding to the challenge was the fact that I had to leave for work only 80 minutes after fly down.
“Jake kee-kee runs are always good in the spring and fall,” said Larry. “The sequence should be yelp, two monotone kee-kees, yelp, then cluck. One spring, I witnessed (legendary turkey hunter) Dwain Bland using that sequence on a gang of jakes with one longbeard in a group that gobbled at 3 p.m. some years back. We ate him.”
Proffitt says that in the spring, kee-kees perform well because they play on a longbeard’s “jealousy” that a jake upstart is in the area and may steal his hens. Obviously, in the fall kee-kees work well because they are the lost call of young-of-the-year turkeys.
“Another commonly used turkey vocalization that I use both in fall and spring is the assembly calling of a hen turkey,” continued Proffitt. “First, I find the turkeys and then get in a place where I am confident they can hear my calling. It is easy in the mountains to go high. In flat country, I generally will be near a field. I don't use decoys, rather letting the calling do the walking.
“The assembly yelping I try to emulate is snappy, loud, and has an even tempo. I use my watch to make sure I call no more often that every 15 minutes in these scenarios. For example, some springs back, I was in the mountains. On my second series of assembly yelps, way off, I heard a hen just going off yelping back. I kept it up as long as she would talk. When she shut up, I shut up. Before long, she and the other hens brought the gobbler along behind.
“I use the same yelp in the fall in the same sequence. One fall, I was almost at the top of a mountain along the Virginia/Tennessee border. I had found lots of scratching, but no turkeys. I got out a Cody SPEC slate and ran a long string of assembly yelps. Here she came running, yelping her head off. I yelped back and finished the deal with my old Browning shotgun. For the assembly yelp, I also find good success with the Cody slate and a trumpet caller.”
The hen assembly yelp is a series of yelps, perhaps as many as a dozen, designed to call in other birds, especially in the fall when the flock hen wants to gather her jakes and jennies.
Sometimes, hunters can combine two or three different sounds to lure in a spring and/or fall bird. Proffitt cites this spring anecdote where he combined the assembly yelp and jake gobbling and yelping.
“One spring, I hunted this one gobbler for three days from dawn till dusk,” he said. “I could hear the hens go to him off the roost. He would answer my early calls but he wouldn't come. Then I tried an assembly yelp, which caused the gobbler to move in a big circle around me but gobbling out of sight. Then, he would shut up and I would hear him fly down the river.
“During the day he would stay over in a neighbor’s grown up broom sedge field with his harem and his satellite gobblers as well. So, I made a good blind within 40 yards of an old grown up logging road that divided the properties. At 6 p.m. that day, I had been running a few of those assembly yelps. A hen came out of the grown up field and headed to the river. I made a few of those yelps and then I jake gobbled at him one time with some of that jake yelping behind it.
“The old rascal just roared from that broom sedge. In a heartbeat, there he was with two lesser gobblers standing tall and staring with his head as red as a fire engine. I have him mounted now.”
In the fall, continues Proffitt, he emits a jake gobble made with a Primos True Double diaphragm. The sequence on gobblers in the fall usually starts with a couple of old gobbler clucks that sound like “bonk.” If Larry hears nothing, he opts for lost gobbler yelps on the same diaphragm.
For the fall, Larry employs this sequence when trying to lure in toms.
“Try to position yourself in the area that turkeys want to travel,” he said. “Then try jake gobbles and jake yelping. Rely on your calling but remember you can always bust them and call them when you have half a day to hunt them. They won't leave unless something spooks them from the roost or their home area.”
The Tennessee Sportsman cautions that making gobbling sounds can lure in other hunters and he forgoes uttering gobbles when other hunters may be around. Of course, any kind of turkey sound has the potential to attract other humans.
Larry Proffitt’s last bit of advice is for both spring and fall turkey hunters to work on trying to excel with their imitation of turkey sounds.
“I agree with turkey hunting expert Ray Eye, calling is everything,” he said. “Turkey vocalizations on one particular instrument and in a certain sequence convince the bird that he is hearing the real thing. Sounds that I call ‘head turners,’ like little single and double yelps on Roger Parks' gobbler slate, will turn your head when you hear it, making you say to yourself, ‘now that is a real turkey.’”
An underrated spring and fall sound
Perhaps the most underutilized sound that will achieve our objectives in both the spring and the fall is a simple purr, the soft, contented sound that turkeys emit when they are feeding. If turkeys of any age or either sex have been pursued hard, the sounds of a relaxed turkey purring is enough to calm the most over agitated gobbler or hen. I make purrs on either diaphragms or slates.