Turkey season is almost here again, and I will be the first to admit that I probably got lucky last year. Yes, I got my very first turkey last year. I got a jake the second week of turkey season, followed by a tom the next week. I went out with my diaphragm call and a pot call. Sure, I had practiced with both prior to hunting. And yes, I called in both birds completely on my own. I was very excited and proud; the fact that I did it solo made it so much more rewarding. But, did I truly know what I was doing?
Well, the honest answer to that is a big, fat “NO”! The only thing I really knew was what I had seen on hunting shows and the little I learned from the few times I had gone out with my husband. It had been years though, since going out to do any turkey hunting. But for some reason last year, I fell in love with calling, or at least the idea of being able to call successfully. So, I got a few pointers from a championship caller at a trade show, and that was it. I was ready.
Of course, I now realize how little I truly knew last season. And, as someone who believes that education and knowledge are the true keys to success, I decided it was time to start studying. It’s not enough just to know all the different vocalizations of the wild turkey, but to also understand the meaning behind each sound. So, here you go, the 12 sounds every turkey hunter should know:
The cluck consists of one or more short, staccato notes. Typically it consists of 3 clucks with 2 or 3 seconds between each note. The cluck is one of the most basic calls used in turkey hunting, and even more importantly, one of the most common sounds heard in the turkey woods. The cluck is used by both hens and gobblers, and is basically just to let other birds know they are there. However, there is a distinct difference between a male cluck and a female cluck, as the male cluck will be much lower pitched than the hen’s. During the breeding season, a hen cluck works great. What gobbler doesn’t want to know a hen is waiting on him! So, if you hear a gobbler and he just won’t budge, try some clucking. It just may do the trick.
The yelp is another very common sound among turkeys. And, again, this one is used by both gobblers and hens. Just like clucks, yelps are basically used to let the other turkeys know of their location. And, like clucks, yelps are short, single notes sounding very much like their name. Hen yelps will be higher in pitch and usually consist of 3 to 8 single notes, while gobbler yelps are more coarse and may only consist of 3 notes. The yelp is another great sound for calling in a gobbler that is held up, or one that is still in the roost, as it lets him know a hen is up and ready.
Okay, so you got the plain yelp. Now let’s talk about the excited yelp. It’s very similar to the plain yelp, only it’s much more intense. The excited yelp is faster and louder. And, no it’s not a sign of danger or a warning. This vocalization is just what it says it is. This is an excited bird, which could be a little more difficult to call in. However, you can still use the excited yelp to your advantage. If you have a gobbler that is henned up and you’ve already tried some softer calls, put the excited yelp to work. Pick a fight with the dominant hen. Yep, get excited; cut off the other hens with your intense yelps. You just may be able to get that dominant hen to come in and bring that big, ole gobbler with her.
The purr is a soft, rolling sound and is a sign of contentment. It is most often heard during feeding. The purr is great for reassuring birds that are already in range. This will keep the other birds calm while you’re waiting on that tom to make his way in.
Cluck & Purr
The cluck and purr is just how it sounds. It is a combination of a single cluck followed by a single purr. This is considered flock talk and is another sign of contentment. The cluck & purr is often more amplified than the standard cluck or purr, and is another way to reassure birds that it’s safe.
The cutt is a combination of loud, sharp clucks mixed with yelps. While the cutt is very loud, it is not a sign of alarm. Cutting is done to show excitement. Very much like the excited yelp, the cutt can be used to try and lure in the dominant hen. Again, when using this calling technique, you will want to cut off the other hens with your series of excited clucks and yelps. The point is to bring in the other hens in hopes that the gobbler will follow.
The putt can be a single sharp note, or a series of sharp notes. This is a signal of danger or alarm. So, how can this be useful in hunting? Putting will generally get a gobbler to stop and take notice. The putt is only used for gobblers that are already in range. Just remember, once you putt, the gobbler will be on alert, so you will have a very short window to make your shot.
The assembly call is used by the hen to assemble her flock or young poults. It is a series of longer, louder, and stronger yelps. The assembly call is considered a good call for fall hunting seasons.
Kee Kee/Kee Kee Run
This is the call of lost young turkeys, but can also be used by adult birds, as well. The kee kee is a series of small, high-pitched notes, usually a run of 3. It is sometimes followed by a yelp, known as the kee kee run. This call is used more in the fall as it is often used to try and reassemble a flock. With that said, the kee kee can also be used in the spring to produce natural sounds of the woods.
Fly Down/Up Cackle
The cackle consists of a series of 3 to 10 loud, irregularly spaced, staccato notes. The notes increase in pitch as the call nears end. Cackles are most often used when leaving the roost. However, birds may also cackle as they fly up to roost. A fly down cackle is a great call to let a gobbler know that hens are on the ground. It is usually best to use it after the gobbler has left his roost. Want a great way to locate a gobbler? Try using a fly up cackle; it can be a great scouting tool.
The tree call is a series of soft, muffled yelps that pick up in intensity as fly down time nears. It can often be accompanied by soft clucks. The tree call is used as a communication tool among the flock and can be used to let the other birds know you are there.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the gobble. The gobble is the main vocalization of the male turkey. It is used primarily in the spring to let hens know he is around. The gobble is a very loud and rapid gurgling sound. It can be heard as far as a mile away, and it is the sound that all turkey hunters live to hear. Yet, it could be the one sound you may not want to make, and is typically used as a last resort. Why, you ask? While gobbling could very well draw in that dominant tom you’re looking for, it could just as easily scare away a less dominant one.
So, there you have it, the 12 main vocalizations of the wild turkey. I realize a lot of them sound very similar in nature, but I assure you a turkey can tell the difference. This is why it is important to not only know what they sound like, but to understand why and when they should be used. Maybe it’s not your calling that’s so bad after all; maybe it’s just your call choice, or the timing.