Outdoor Articles

Let’s Talk Turkey

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Turkey Hunting

My hunter and I quietly waited as the sky became brighter. After several minutes I heard a gobble, followed immediately by another gobble, and then two more. It sounded like the two toms and two jakes I’d seen last night were still together. I let the bird’s sound off for about five minutes, then made two fly down cackles on my slate call, simulating a couple of hens coming off the roost. The toms erupted in a chorus of gobbles.

When they gobbled later the sound of their calls was more muffled. I knew they had flown down and were on the ground. I yelped loudly again and the birds answered back, the sound coming closer. When it sounded like the birds were about two hundred yards away, they quit calling. I blew a series of soft clucks and purrs, trying to convince the toms there was a group of hens feeding nearby, but I got no answer.

I tried everything I could to get the toms to answer for the next half hour, but nothing worked. When the drizzle turned to rain I asked Bob if he’d had enough. When he said yes I picked up the decoys and we headed back toward the Suburban. I asked if wanted to wait and see if the rain would let up. He said he had to get back to the shop but he’d be back tomorrow morning. By the time we got back to the house the rain was letting up, so I dropped Bob off and drove back to where we’d hunted. At the edge of the woods, two hundred yards from where we’d been sitting were two toms, two jakes and seven hens. Now I knew why they had quit calling. They weren’t going to answer me with seven hens nearby.

As a guide and wildlife researcher I have spent several years studying turkey behavior. As a result of my research I learned a lot about when and where turkeys move, which I will talk about in the next issue. I also made several interesting discoveries on turkey calls, and learned that some generalizations can be made about gobbling activity.

  1. Some males gobble more than others. Gobbling is an expression of dominance and willingness to breed. Adult toms, because of their higher testosterone levels and social status gobble more than jakes. The dominant tom of a group gobbles more than the subdominants.
  2. More gobbling occurs in the morning than in the evening. Toms try to attract hens in the morning, shortly after they wake up.
  3. More gobbling occurs when the bird is on the roost than when it is on the ground. Most gobbling occurs from about 45 minutes before sunrise to about 45 minutes after sunrise, with peak gobbling generally occurring before sunrise.
  4. More gobbling occurs when there are no hens present. Toms in the presence of hens usually stop gobbling and begin to strut.
  5. More gobbling occurs when males hear other males gobbling. The birds try to outcall each other for the attention of nearby hens.

Turkey Calls

An understanding of the different calls turkeys use helps when you are trying to call turkeys. Turkey researchers have described as many as 20 different turkey calls. They fall into six basic categories; Agonistic, Alarm, Contact, Flying, Maternal/Neonatal and Mating.

Agonistic Calls

Turkeys make a number of soft Putts, Purrs, and Whines while feeding. These calls help keep the flock in contact, while spacing the birds out when their heads are down and they can’t see each other. The bird is saying, “This is my space, don’t get to close.” The Feeding Whine or Purr sounds like the call made by a feeding chicken; a soft errr. It may be followed by one or more Feeding Putts; a soft contented putt, putt. I use these calls shortly after I use a flydown cackle, to convince a tom that there are hens on the ground and feeding. I also use it on toms that hang up out of range, to calm them down.

Fighting Calls

Fighting turkeys use an Aggressive Purr. This call is louder and more insistent than the feeding purr. The call is often interrupted by flapping wings, kicking and neck wrestling. Other turkeys hearing a fight often come running to see which birds are fighting and which wins and loses. The loser often drops out of the social hierarchy leaving room for the birds beneath it to move up. Any bird that has a chance to move up in the hierarchy will do so. The sound of birds fighting will often hens, groups of toms and dominants, so they can see which birds are fighting in their area. I use this call to bring in dominant toms when everything else fails.

Alarm Call

When a turkey becomes aware of danger it makes a loud, sharp Alarm Putt of from one to five notes; TUT, TUT, TUT, that is used to warn other birds of danger. The call is a sign that a bird has seen a potential predator, and is usually followed by the bird running or flying away. Do not use this call when hunting turkeys.

Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls

Because the Contact Calls are used most often between the hen and her poults they are basically the same as the Maternal/Neonatal Calls. When turkeys use these calls they are saying “Here I am, where are You?” The contact calls of young turkeys are the Lost Whistle, Kee-Kee and the Kee-Kee Run. These are all high pitched calls that change as the turkey grows.

The Lost Whistle is the sound very young birds make. As summer advances the voices of the poults change and the Lost Whistle becomes the Kee-Kee. As fall approaches the young begin to add yelps at the end of the Kee-Kee to produce the Kee-Kee Run. These calls are used by the young when they are trying to locate their mother and the other young birds.

The Lost Whistle is a high pitched whistle; peep, peep, peep, peep. The Kee Kee usually has three notes strung together in a kee-kee-kee. Many callers fail to recreate this call correctly by using only two notes, or by using up to five notes. Maybe the name of the call should be changed to the kee-kee-kee. The Kee-Kee Run is the basic Kee-Kee followed by several yelps; kee-kee-kee, chirp chirp chirp chirp. I use these calls in the fall, after I have scattered a flock.

Adult turkeys use many different Yelps and Clucks to keep in contact in different situations. The Plain Yelp is the same as the “Here I am, where are you?” call of geese and other flocking birds, which is used to keep the birds in contact with each other.

The Tree Yelp is often the first sound of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call performed while the birds are on the roost before daylight. It is a soft chirp, chirp, chirp ….. chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, or a variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note being about .08 seconds in length. This call is one bird telling the others it is awake and asking if other birds are nearby and awake. This is the first call I use in the morning, to see if there are toms in the area and still on the roost.

The Plain Yelp is performed when the turkeys are within seeing distance of each other. It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10 seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the decoys.

The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp but may contain 20 or more notes, and becomes louder toward the end. The bird’s voice may “break” during the call, which causes it to have a raspy sound. There may be from three to four notes per second, with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.

The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen in the fall to regroup the young. It usually consists six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often hear hens make a loud, long series of Yelps while they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp, Lost Yelp or a Fast Cutt. But, I do know that toms often show up in areas where hens are making this call. I use Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming.

The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys to get the visual attention of another bird. It is primarily a close range contact call, again saying “Here am I, where are you?” A bird making this call wants to hear another bird make the same call so they can get together. It is a sharp, short sound similar to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent; tut…tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt, errr, putt, putt, putt. putt, errr. I use this call when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.

The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one turkey using the “Here I am, where are you?” but telling the other bird “If we are going to get together you have to come to me.” It is a loud, insistent call, and the notes are strung together in bursts of two’s and three’s, with about a second between bursts. I sounds like; TUT…TUT…TUT, TUT TUT TUT, TUT..TUT..TUT, TUT..TUT.. TUT, TUT TUT or any variation of clucks. The rhythm is somewhat like the flying cackle, and I have used a flying cackle to get a tom to “shock gobble.” I also use this call to bring in a tom that hangs up.

Flying Calls

The Flying Cackle is the sound a turkey makes when flying up or down from the roost, or when flying across ravines. Many hunters have difficulty with the correct tempo of this call. Actually, it’s quite easy, the calling of a bird in the air is directly related to the downbeat of the wing stroke. It’s when the bird contracts it’s chest muscles and exhales, it’s the only time the bird can call. If you are trying to imitate this call visualize the action of the turkey as it takes off, first with slow, powerful wing beats, then faster, and tapering off slowly before gliding and landing. I often use this call to get a “shock gobble” from a tom before daylight, so I can locate the tree he is in. I also use it to get a tom to come off the roost in my direction.

Mating Calls

Tom turkeys Gobble to express social status, telling other males they are ready to fight to prove their dominance, and to attract hens. The Gobble is most often heard while the bird is on the roost early in the morning. Studies show that most gobbling occurs from about a forty-five minutes before to forty-five minutes after sunrise. Individual toms also call most frequently at this time. Gobbling is a means of long distance communication and the tom may expect the hen to come to him, if she is ready to breed. Many experts claim that the primary reason the tom gobbles is to get the hen to come to him, not him to go to them. But, I often see toms arrive at the strut where the hens are already calling. Whether the toms are responding to the calling of the hens or not I cannot say. Use a gobble only when you are sure there are no other hunters in the areas, they may mistake you for a turkey.

Hens in the presence of a tom may Whine, causing the tom to begin strutting. The medium pitched single drawn out errr of the Whine or Purr may be used by the hen to get the male to prove how large, colorful and healthy he is. I use these calls when toms are close, to convince them there is a hot hen nearby.

Mating Sounds

Once the tom is near the hen he spends more time strutting; displaying his colorful head, fluffed up body, and spread tail to impress the hen. When hens are within visual distance the less audible sounds of the Spit and Drum can be heard and used to attract them. The sounds of the Spit and Drum have been described as a chump and a hum. It’s believed that both the Spit and Drum are vocalizations. However, after watching toms snap their wings open on gravel, and hearing the sound of the Spit at the exact same moment, I believe the Spit is the sound of the wing tips snapping open or hitting the ground, but I can’t prove it. I do know that peacocks drum by vibrating the feather shafts of their tail together in what is called a “harmonic rustle.” The Drum of a turkey may be produced in the same manner. Toms respond to these calls out of dominance. Groups of toms, and single dominant birds may respond to these calls, but subdominants and jakes my be scared off, because they are afraid of being attacked by a dominant.

Leave a Reply


Join Our Newsletter

* indicates required

Outdoor Forums »

Check out the latest posts in our forums:
» View All Outdoor Forums

Guides and Outfitters »

Featured Guides and Outfitters

Sorry, featured guides are not available right now.

Submit Your Guide Service

Get more inquiries and book more trips. Submit your guide or outfitter sevice today!
Watch Free Fishing and Hunting Shows Online