Call of the Wild - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Call of the Wild

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

Off the Roost - May Gobblers


There is no sound in nature that stirs my blood like the daybreak call of the wild turkey. No wild chorus incites more anticipation, produces more goose bumps, or penetrates deeper to my core than the ancient, staccato rattle of a mature spring gobbler.

The closer you can get to spring gobbling, the louder and more exciting it becomes. But since the first gobblers begin sounding off long before sunrise, getting a front row seat to the concert means getting out of bed early ——- as in O Dark O’clock early.

A true Call of the Wild; spring gobbling is dual purpose. First and foremost, the call is used to attract hens; with some traveling more than a mile to the sound. Gobbling is also used to alert other males to a particular tom’s whereabouts. Although turkeys do not claim or defend specific territories like many birds, they do have a well-defined pecking order with each tom recognizing the voice of dominate rivals, subordinates, or strangers that it has never met.

Spring gobblers, more so than any other creatures I know, are incredibly moody. The intensity of their calling will generally reflect that mood. During much of the season, peak gobbling will occur as roosted toms sound off during the half hour preceding sunrise. If the bird’s noisemaking has been successful in attracting hens, gobbling may cease altogether when the tom flies down. Once his gallery is assembled, there is no further need for vocalizations and the tom may spend the remainder of his time silently strutting before the hens.

On rarer occasions, revved up toms may conduct nonstop gobbling tirades that continue long after the bird has left the roost. Such episodes may occur without apparent rhyme or reason and are the mornings that sleep deprived turkey hunters live for.

In mid-May of 2015, I had a remarkable encounter with an overly enthusiastic gobbler that may have been trying to get his name into in the Guinness Book of World Records. The morning was clear, calm, and cool. The tom, along with another gobbler, were already going off their rockers when I arrived in the timber at 5 o’clock. Competing for attention with double, triple, and even quadruple gobbles, the pair was setting the woods on fire.

Moving as close as I dared, I settled in to enjoy the show. When it was about half light, I decided to announce my presence with a couple of soft tree yelps. The toms responded by chain firing a series of high intensity gobbles and then sailed down from the roost. Hitting the ground, both birds lost no time in rushing to my position and were soon standing at a distance of ten yards. Although the gobblers would have presented easy shots; I had already punched my Iowa turkey tags. Legal all year long, a digital camera would serve as today’s weapon of choice.

After gobbling and strutting for a while, one of the toms trotted off. The other decided to hang around, gobbling pretty much nonstop and never straying more than 50 or 60 yards before returning to my calls.

Amazingly, the strutting turkey was still around at 7 o’clock. Timing him by my watch, the bird was still sounding six to seven gobbles per minute. At precisely 7:18, the weary tom finally gave it up and walked away for good – probably going to look for some throat lozenges.

Doing the Math: It had been an incredible show and after the gobbler left, I began to wonder how many times that magnificent tom had actually gobbled. Here’s what I came up with. Rounding off the time to an even two hours; I averaged the gobbling at 6.5 times per minute X 120 minutes for a grand total of 780 gobbles. Since the number does not include much of the double and triple gobbling that occurred on the roost and also shaves several minutes off the end, I think the estimate is conservatively reliable. But regardless of how many times that tom actually gobbled, one thing is certain. Spending time with a loud-mouthed bird like that makes getting out of bed in the middle of the night well worth the effort and then some.







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