Love and War (in the Turkey Woods)

Whether or not this 4-bearded gobbler is cruising for love, he’ll probably respond to the fighting purr. Photo by Steve Sorensen
Whether or not this 4-bearded gobbler is cruising for love, he’ll probably respond to the fighting purr. Photo by Steve Sorensen

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Love. War. When it comes to calling spring gobblers, those two words sum up the season.

Most of us forget about the war and focus on the love because this is the time of year that’s about the perpetuation of the species, the age-old dance of male and female. Trees renew their vitality, dormant seeds germinate, flowers bloom, and wings of honking Canadas whistle overhead. What a time to lure gobblers as their fancy turns to love!

So, we court lovelorn gobblers with sweet hen sounds. We try to seduce them with realistic hen decoys, or trigger jealousy with a competing gobbler deke. We assume the bearded bird is lookin’ for love, so we hide in all the right places hoping to draw him close enough for a meeting with a magnum load of shotgun pellets. But gobblers are fickle. That’s why we often fail, and we wonder why they’re not more receptive to the woo we pitch.

And as we try our best to mimic the hen’s invitation to the gobbler (though it’s really the gobbler that invites the hen), old Tom Turkey passes on his DNA to the real hens while we, the hunters, become the rejected. We sit stewing in our own DNA—Disappointment, Negativity and Aggravation.

More often than we think, the key to turning our luck around is that word—aggravation. There comes a time for the turkey hunter to leave love and wage war. It’s time for the battle to get serious. Put on the military camo and combat boots if you want, pack your gear in a MOLLE backpack if you must, because it’s time for the fighting purr.

For years I read that the fighting purr was deadly, but I was afraid to try it. It sounded like something a gobbler would respond to alright—he’d respond in fright and retreat to some unsurveilled safe zone. I’ve never been more wrong. The fighting purr is almost irresistible.

Some people call it the fighting rattle. Some call it the aggressive purr. Whatever you call it, I’ve proven to myself over and over that turkeys can hardly resist it. I’ve often said turkeys aren’t curious like a whitetail is, but if a gobbler is ever curious, the fighting purr is the one call that brings that out. Like humans, he can’t resist investigating when he thinks a fight has broken out.

Maybe he runs in to watch. Maybe he runs in to join the fight. Maybe he runs in with the hope of running off with the spoils—that pretty hen gobblers are trying to kill one another over. So he comes, and if you’re the one who is staging the imaginary fight, you win the war.

I have experience with most types of calls, but I almost never use a slate or glass call. I seldom use a diaphragm mouth call. I don’t often use a box call. And unlike a few gifted hunters, I can’t use my natural voice. Whatever you use, it will pay you to learn the fighting purr. Find a good instructional video on YouTube.

The call I use is one I make myself. (Check it out at It’s a “scratchbox,” a mini box with an unattached paddle. It allows more varied sounds than a regular box call because I’m not limited to scratching the lip of the sound board at one spot on the paddle or the lip. Because I’m able to make both high and low pitched aggressive sounds, the gobbler likely thinks multiple birds are engaged in the battle. So he comes, usually quickly and completely unsuspecting.

Learn the fighting purr. Then, next time a gobbler’s thunder tells you he isn’t advancing toward your position, or when he stays stubbornly silent, or when he heads for a property you can’t hunt, use the fighting purr to remind him there’s a war going on.

And like a sniper you’ll be hidden, waiting, ready to fire the shot that will end this war. Try it. Odds are you’ll be tying on a toe tag and slipping him into a body bag—the back pouch of your turkey vest.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).