Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Spring means it’s time to talk turkey

Here’s a newcomer’s guide to the esoteric lingo of the spring turkey hunter

March 30, 2003


Spring turkey season is just around the corner.

Turkeys are April fools, and that means it's time to talk turkey.

Spring turkey hunters have their own lingo.

A newcomer to the sport might be confused. The more colorful expressions often come from turkey hunting's southern roots.

Jim Clay, for instance, is one of America's top turkey hunters. Clay called in a bird for me one beautiful spring morning in Kerr County, Texas, pulling the mature gobbler within seven steps as if the wild and wary turkey was trained to heel.

"What do you think?" I whispered to the Virginia native while the Rio Grande turkey stared quizzically at point-blank range, confused at the pair of camouflaged clumps where he expected to find a hen.

"That's a good tuckey," Clay whispered back.

Tuckey? It took me a second to realize that he meant turkey. Luckily, my shotgun was already laid across my knees, pointed right at the turkey's head.

The bird was so close I was lucky not to miss. The full choke pattern at that range is about the size of a softball.

In Clay's native dialect, a turkey is a tuckey. Not all oddball turkey expressions stem from regional accents.

Here's a lexicon of common turkey terms to help you interpret the spring:

Shut mouth

This is when turkeys become silent, as in "that gobbler went shut mouth on me." A gobbler that quit calling may have lost interest or he may be approaching silently, so sit still and see what happens.

Henned up

This happens a lot during the early season. Being "henned up" means the gobbler is surrounded by real hens. It's hard to compete with the real thing, but hen turkeys will often come to the calls of another hen and the gobbler goes wherever the hen goes. Another solution to a "henned up" gobbler is to wait until midday, when the hens have retreated to their nests.


Not a slang affirmative, this "yep" is the southern turkey hunter's version of yelp, the most basic call made by a hen turkey and, therefore, the most important call in the turkey hunter's arsenal.


The sharp, bony protrusions on a gobbler's lower legs that he uses primarily for fighting other turkeys. Dyed-in-the-wool turkey hunters get more excited about long spurs than long beards. A spur measuring much more than one inch is a big one. Turkey hunting pros carry binoculars so they can study spur length on incoming birds.


Specialized feathers that seem to sprout from a turkey gobbler's chest. The beard resembles coarse horse hair and typically gets longer with age. Turkeys that live in rocky terrain may wear their beards off by rubbing them against rocks as they forage. A beard measuring nine inches or more is a good one. Some gobblers have multiple beards, and a small percentage of hens also grow a beard.


This is a first-year gobbler, one that was born last spring. Their beards are only an inch or two long in most cases, though an early jake may have a five- or six-inch beard. When a jake struts, the middle feathers in his fan are longer than the flanking feathers. All the feathers in a mature gobbler's fan are the same length.


A female year-old bird. A jenny does not breed, but mature gobblers don't know this. Even after mature hens have all been bred, gobblers will stay "henned up" with jennies. This is frustrating to both gobblers and turkey hunters.


Display made by gobblers to impress hens and other gobblers. Strutting turkeys fan their tail feathers, puff out body feathers and drag their wingtips along the ground. They're trying to look big and tough to other turkeys, but they also look like pompous, feathered bowling balls.

Put 'em to bed

Locating a turkey as it flies up to roost for the night. The turkey frequently gobbles on the roost to let nearby hens know his exact location. It also lets nearby turkey hunters know his location so they can slip in and try to call him off the roost at daylight the next morning.


The electrifying sound that a turkey gobbler makes to attract females and warn other males of his dominance. Turkeys gobble to attract hens, but they're so high on testosterone in the spring -- anxious to respond to any hen sounds -- that they often gobble at other sounds as well. They may gobble to passing cars on a highway, the slamming of a car door, the baying of coyotes or the thunder that accompanies a springtime lightning storm. Gobbling to odd sounds is called a "shock gobble."

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