When the spring turkey hunting season unfolds across the northern two-thirds of Texas later this month, the gobbles of tom turkeys leaving their roosts won’t be the only turkey sounds heard along the creek and river bottoms.The crack of dawn will bring with it the turkey clucks, yelps, purrs and cackles from a half-dozen or more types of turkey calls that will be in the hands of an estimated 60,000 hunters who take to the woods each spring with the hopes of tricking a gobbler to within gun range.The spring season outlook for the Rio Grande turkey is promising at best. Droughts in 2008, 2009 and 2011 resulted in poor reproduction efforts. Banner reproduction in 2010 and good reproduction in 2012, however, has resulted in a fair number of jakes (young gobblers) and a fair carryover of 3-year-old birds.Although one of the rewards of taking a gobbler is turning the bird into great table fare, the real rewards come from the thrill of calling a wise gobbler to within 10 to 30 yards on a spring day on the turkey’s own playing grounds.So how do you talk turkey to a gobbler? Basically, one or two sounds will do the job, and they can be made from several types of calls that mimic sounds made by hens and gobblers.I have hunted turkeys ever since the first spring season was established in 1969 and have found two particular sounds — the yelps and clucks of a hen turkey — to be all that is needed to pull a gobbler to within close range under most circumstances.Here is a rundown of the basic sounds turkeys make: Yelp: This is a double-toned call that starts with a high-pitched chirp followed by a low-pitched yelp. It is the hen’s way of telling a gobbler, “I’m here, come on over.” If you can make this sound, chances are you can call in a gobbler. Cluck: In turkey language, the simple cluck, or “pluck” sound means the same as above. When used with the yelp it is a way a hen says, “What are you waiting for?” Purr: This is a content purring similar but somewhat louder than the purring of a cat. When done at low volume, it simply implies that “all is well here.” I use it when I have not heard a response from a gobbler in some time and think he may be somewhere close but very wary. Putt: This sound definitely is one you do not want to make. It is a distress call turkeys make when alarmed before and after they make a hasty retreat. Cackle: OK at times, but usually not necessary. Turkeys make this rapid series of clucks when taking to the air after being spooked or when sexually aroused. Kee kee: Young gobblers make this whistling sound to each other when separated from the flock that has been scattered. Gobble: This is the sound all turkey hunters love to hear from a wild bird. It basically tells the world a gobbler is ready to defend his territory or tells a hen “I’m on my way to you.”The types of calls that make these sounds are numerous, but the most popular are confined to five: hinged-lid box, slate-type friction, wingbone, diaphragm, and push-button.Of these, the box call, invented in 1897, is the easiest to use. This hinged call with a paddle-type top will do it all but, more important, will produce great yelps and clucks, the core of hen talk to entice a gobbler.The wingbone is another of my favorites. Although I have made my own from the hollow bones of wild turkey wings, I am especially impressed with a new synthetic wingbone-type call made by Cleon Carraway of Baytown. Caraway’s Turkey Mate is made of synthetic material and has a smaller hole leading to its chamber that increases the tone and volume over traditional wingbone calls. It provides good yelps and clucks plus other turkey sounds.The slate-type calls, now made of slate, glass, aluminum and other materials, operate with the use of a peg held in the hand like a pencil to scrape across its pot-type surface. I have found it a great tool for coaxing in a gobbler who has appeared silently at close range from my setup.Today’s diaphragm calls are the off-shoots of early American Indians’ use of blades of grass held between both hands and blown across to produce turkey sounds. Today’s models include those with horseshoe-shaped frames around latex material that are placed in the roof of the mouth. Once mastered, it is an excellent call. Another type of diaphragm call is one with the latex material draped across a hollow tube and blown across. Although this type of diaphragm call is not my favorite, it can produce a wide range of turkey sounds.Finally, there is the push-button call, designed especially for the beginner. It is a box-shaped call with a lid that rides on a dowel. A simple push of a button will cause the lid’s components to scrape across a pillar inside the box to produce sounds.Regardless of which call you choose, most experienced turkey hunters agree that it is not how well you call but how often you call that will lead you to a spring gobbler.It is important not to over-call. If you give a series of yelps and/or clucks and hear a distant gobble-gobble-gobble response from a tom turkey, answer back sparingly.If the gobbler appears to be closing the gap, let several seconds pass before issuing another short series of yelps and/or clucks. You want the gobbler to come to you. If you over-call, he is likely to “hang up” by stopping to strut and gobble in one place while waiting for that “hen” to come to him. When that happens, your session is virtually over.
Rio Grande turkey season
North Zone (101 counties) March 30-May 12 with special youth-only seasons March 23-24 and May 18-19.
South Zone (54 counties) March 16-April 28 with youth-only seasons March 9-10 and May 4-5. Eight counties will have an April 1-30 season.
Spring Eastern turkey season (28 counties) April 15-May 14.