Gerald Almy: Some advice from the ‘Turkey Man’
Share the spring woods with a world champion turkey caller and you’ll likely hear a lavish, complex symphony of turkey talk. Right?
When I joined Eddie Salter, host of the Sportsman’s Channel’s “Turkey Man” in Alabama’s spring woods, this talented turkey vocalist and call designer used just three basic calls–the yelp, cluck, and cutt–to lure a long-bearded tom into range of my 12 gauge.
Learn those basic calls, Salter says, and you’ll be set to entice gobblers into bow or shotgun range this spring. Sure, he uses other turkey vocalizations. And it won’t hurt to learn a few more. But master these three and you’ll be set to challenge almost any turkey in the woods.
“Hunters watch the pros on TV and DVDs and in seminars and think they must learn aggressive cackles and other difficult calls. They overlook the meat and potatoes: the hen yelp, cluck, and cutt” Salter says. About 75 percent of the calling he does is with the hen yelp. Clucks and cutts make up most of the other 25 percent.
Even though he’s a master at producing a myriad of turkey sounds, Salter says the basics are what you should turn to in most situations. If a bird is in the mood to come in and you’re in a good spot, one of these three calls or a combination of them should do the trick.
Once you learn how to make these sounds, continue practicing and listen to experts and recordings of real birds to refine qualities such as volume, tone, cadence, raspiness or clarity, rhythm, intensity and length of the call, as well as how many times it should be made. In time, you’ll learn to vary your calling techniques to suit the tastes of each individual bird you encounter and factors such as hunting pressure and time of year.
Yelp: This is a common sound turkeys use every day to interact with each other. “By yelping,” says Salter, “you’re saying to other birds, ‘Here I am.'”
Both hens and gobblers of all ages make this call. It’s coarser and lower in tone from toms, higher-pitched from hens. Some hens have clear-toned yelps, others raspy ones.
It sounds like yeook. “The yelp can be used in a series anywhere from one to a dozen notes strung out in succession,” says Salter. For basic yelping, three to seven is the typical sequence employed. “One or two yelps can also be effective right after cutting. And I often follow a series of yelps with a few clucks.”
Plain yelps strung out in a long series become the lost call. This is used often in the fall by turkeys when their flock is split apart. “I’m lost. Tell me where you are,” is a loose translation. Though mostly reserved for autumn, this call can also be deadly in spring, Salter says. “It’s especially useful when toms are with hens. It helps you call in the whole flock of birds.”
A soft quiet version of the call is the tree yelp. “Turkeys use this on the roost to make contact with each other when they first wake up.” It’s soft, nasal and sometimes difficult to hear. “If you set up close to a roosted gobbler, this is the call to use when first light arrives, but before it’s bright enough for the birds to fly down yet. After a long, dark night on the limb, the turkeys are making low-key, initial contact with each other.”
Cluck: “This is the second most important sound for the spring gobbler hunter. You could lure in lots of birds by using this one call alone.” In hard-pressured areas, Salter says, you actually might do best just clucking to wary, call-shy gobblers. As a rule, though, clucks are used in combination with yelps.
“The cluck asks the gobbler, ‘Where are you?'” explains Salter. “That lets him know you’re looking for him, and that’s often all the encouragement he needs to come in.”
Used to gain other turkeys’ attention, the cluck is a hollow sound somewhat like an alarm putt, but softer, with no sense of danger. It’s made with a sharp burst of air on the diaphragm while saying the word “putt,” or with a very short, crisp stroke on a box or hand held friction call. Use it as a single note or in a series.
Cutt: “This is a very excited call and can get a turkey more fired up than any other sound. It’s often used by receptive hens to stir gobblers into sounding off.”
It’s also used by the hen to gather members of her flock back together. The cutt is a series of sharp, loud, almost frantic-sounding clucks sometimes followed by a slow, drawn-out yelp or two at the end.
The cutt isn’t a call Salter turns to when first entering the woods. Instead, he saves it for times when softer yelps and clucks aren’t getting a positive response or for hung-up birds.
“It’s an all or nothing type call. Sometimes it falls flat. Other times it brings them in fast.”
During my hunt in Alabama, Salter used the cutt often and with great volume to excite birds with the prospect of a ready hen and to cover a long distance. This was the call he used to eventually lure a thick-bearded mature gobbler into range of my 12 gauge.
Although our bird walked in slowly, Salter warns that gobblers often come in fast to this call–even running. “Make sure you’re ready to shoot before cutting.”
The rest is history.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.