Talking Turkey

Cracking the code on turkey vocalization.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

No hunter really cares why the chicken crossed the road, but we'd all like to know what makes turkeys gobble. Understanding why toms sound off when they do (and, more important, why they go quiet at other times) is the Rosetta stone of turkey hunting. A hunter who can crack the code on turkey vocalizations is bound to fill his tag more often than the nimrod who cutts and yelps like a madman when every other turkey in the woods is as silent as a Benedictine monk.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), in conjunction with Virginia wildlife biologist Gary Norman, has kicked off a multi-year study to learn more about gobbling behavior. Norman and some of his colleagues are designing a special backpack transmitter and neck collar that they will strap to turkeys (domestic ones at first and, if all goes well, wild ones next year). The device will record when and where turkeys gobble, and help biologists figure out what role weather, hunting pressure and other factors have on gobbling activity. The study's implications go beyond hunting. "From a scientific standpoint, this will help us better interpret gobble counts used for population survey purposes," says Robert Abernethy, a spokesman with the NWTF.