How well do Turkey HEAR Hunters?
We know they can hear our calls, but how well do they hear those UNWANTED noises we make, and could it make the difference this spring?
Most hunters know turkey have very sharp senses, especially sight. Anyone that has been hunting this big bird for any amount of time has been picked off by their superhuman eyeballs, and probably scratched their heads a time or two wondering how they saw such a small movement. Even a twitch can sometimes spell the end for a hunter, and much attention (rightly so) is given by the hunting community to being concealed to their vision (camo, blinds, face nets, camo gloves, etc.). But what about that often time overlooked sense of hearing, and how does it determine whether you get busted, or get a picture holding up a longbeard by the feet? If they can hear that pathetic mouth-call attempt at 200 yards (speaking of myself here of course), then what about walking through the woods (breaking a branch, scraping some brush), setting up a blind or decoy spread (clunking plastic, clanging metal here and there, big obnoxiously loud zipper), and all the other noises turkey hunters tend to make? Turns out, we should be paying much more attention to these things.
An interview with Bob Eriksen, retired regional biologist for the NWTF, reveals some eye-opening facts about this often overshadowed sense of turkey. You can read the whole article linked below, but to quote Erikson, “hearing allows the bird to detect a threat if its eyes are occupied on finding food. Wild turkeys have an uncanny ability to locate the source of a sound. When they identify a noise, their immediate response is to look in the direction of the sound, allowing them to react quickly to predators or other environmental factors.” And their biggest predator in the spring...hunters. Just like whitetail utilize their ears to help locate and further scrutinize threats with their eyes, and drastically decrease our odds in the field (see this article for more on the vital deer hearing/vision link CLICK HERE), so turkey use these senses in tandem to drastically stack the odds against us. Also it seems turkey can hear lower frequency, and more distant sounds than humans. This is why the owl hoot locator, and sometimes low rumbling thunder can get a shock gobble response from our bearded friends.
What does this mean for hunters?
This has some big implications for hunters, especially the fact that hearing is so tied to eyesight (which we already KNOW busts our hunts with high frequency!). So here are 3 takeaways that can help you take this knowledge, and take advantage of it this year in the field!
1. Silence your gear
Think this is important for whitetail hunting (yes it is very important if you haven’t already realized this)? Well, it is also vital for turkey hunting. It seems every year I drop my slate call several times each hunt, smack the box call against my gun, or have the owl hoot rattling around in my pocket...plastic hollow decoys, blinds, zippers, camera tripods, camera arms, bows, guns, the list goes on and on. We have so much gear, and this increases the chance of incidental contact that could give us away. Even setting up early in the morning, if we are too close to a turkey roost, could spell the end. It is vital then, that we find a way to silence this gear before it ruins a season. The low frequency sounds (that travel the furthest of all frequencies, and that turkey can hear better than humans) especially need silenced. Either getting rid some of your gear (what do you really need? Evaluate what could make the most noise, and maybe leave it home), or silencing it with a product like Buck Bumper is key. (You can see more about it HERE a great and easy solution for sound-proofing all turkey and whitetail gear).
2. Setup early
If you are setting up the morning of the hunt, this is leaving a greater chance of making noise with your blind, decoy spread, or other gear, and therefore a greater chance turkey will hear you. If you can, setup your blind a week or more in advance. Have your decoys in your blind for easy access and quick setup the day of the hunt, eliminating a lot of motion and potential noise you could make. Also think about where the turkey will most likely be when you enter. If a morning hunt, try to find a location that is far enough away from the roost that it will not allow turkey to see, or hear you sneak into your location and setup in the dark (sometimes we get too close to the roost, and unless going super light this is very risky with equipment). If an evening hunt, getting to the food source well before turkey are headed that way will help.
3. Eliminate unneeded movements
This is for sight, and hearing. Once you are in your blind, or have your setup ready, get your calls and other gear out and prepared to use. Make sure they are positioned in such a way that you have to make absolute minimal movement to reach and use them, and that they cannot make incidental contact with each other (noise). This is key, due to the fact that many times the small noise is what causes the bird to look in your direction and analyze for a threat. Once this analyzing starts, it is virtually impossible to make necessary movements like positioning your camera, or raising your gun or bow for a shot. Maybe prune down your call assortments and other gear to eliminate the odds of noise happening, or get better with that mouth call and eliminate some box and slate calls altogether, which are awkward to carry, make lots of clangy noise due to their hollow bodies, and require two hands to use.
Yes, turkey do hear our calls, and the unwanted noises we make as well. So, ensure your turkey season is the best it can possibly be, and start thinking about that often overlooked and vital sense, hearing.