Many moons ago, in my high school days I can remember my Multi-cultural Studies teacher telling the class that if you truly want to understand a culture then you have to learn the language. While I never really applied that piece of advice to the real world, I did apply it to hunting the wild turkey and I became a better hunter because of it. Learning and understanding the sounds a turkey makes, more importantly what these sounds mean will ultimately make you a better hunter.
The “Turkey Language” from a hunter’s viewpoint revolves around each sound a turkey makes. More specifically what each sound means and how to use this sound while out in the timber hunting the elusive turkey. The “Turkey Language” has many different “words” each having its own meaning. Some individual words have multiple meanings to them based off of the pitch, volume, and cadence of the sound. If a hunter can understand the basic sounds of a turkey and imply the different meanings of these sounds you will naturally become a better caller and hunter.
Below is a list of common turkey sounds hunters hear in Iowa timbers, make sure you are aware of the meaning of these sounds and put them to use during your pursuit of a gobbler this spring.
The cluck consists of one or more short staccato notes and is probably the most used call in the turkey language. It is a call that says “Hey I am over hear just hanging out”. The cluck is used to grab the attention of other birds and let them know where it is and that everything is fine.
Hunting Use: Use clucks in your call sequence to make a leery or hung up gobbler feel more secure. If you have a gobbler approaching don’t over do it though, a few soft clucks on your call to keep the attention is fine.
The putt is similar to the cluck, but more intense and has an alarm type of sound with it. Hence this call is used to sound the alarm that danger might be in the area. The putt is generally louder and sharper than a cluck. This is a call the hunters hate to hear. Chances are if a bird starts to putt they won’t be around very long.
Hunting Use: The only time to use this call, unless you want to clear the area of turkeys, is to bring a gobbler out of strut and present a shot. If you use the putt to make a gobbler come out of strut be ready to fire because he will be on high alert now.
Even though all turkeys yelp it is most associated with hens. A hen yelp is a versatile sound that can have several different meanings depending on the speed, intensity, and rhythm. A yelp can mean that a turkey is content, excited, or prospective. Turkeys yelp to locate other turkeys, signify that they are ready to mate, and to use as a basic call while tending to daily activities. A content yelp is a soft casual yelp that a hen will use when she is feeding or walking around. The meaning of this sound is to let the Tom know she is fine in what she is doing and doesn’t want to go on a date with him right now. An excited yelp is just the opposite; these tend to have more volume and a faster rhythm to them, in order to get the attention of a Tom. The excited yelp lets a Tom know that she is ready to go on that date with him. The prospective yelp is a call a hen will make to locate a gobbler in the area. She is saying, “I am here and available where are you?”
Hunting Use: The yelp and its different variations are a must to learn and become the most often used calls by hunters. Make sure you are savvy at contentment, excited, and prospective yelps. All can be used to lure in a gobbler, some may work better than others so it is good to be able to switch it up. The goal is to try and establish to the Tom that you are the most attractive hen around him.
This call is a quiet soft series of the plain yelp when a turkey wakes up from its sleep. They will start out very quiet and increase in volume while the turkey is still roosted. This is a wake up call for turkeys and used to communicate while on the roost and let each other know that all is fine and its time to wake up.
Hunting Use: Tree yelps are used to get a gobbler to sound off while on the roost; they can be successful or harmful to your hunt when used incorrectly. If there is hen competition I say be aggressive with your tree yelp. Start out slow in the early morning and then get louder as it’s reaching the time for birds to be on the ground. Use a fly down cackle to simulate a hen flying down from the tree to add realism to the call.
On the flipside if there is little hen competition around a more subtle approach should be used. A few soft yelps periodically loud enough for the gobbler to know that a hen is in the area followed by a fly down cackle when the time is right. If you are too aggressive with the tree yelp with not a lot of hen competition a gobbler might hang up and wait for the hen to come to him. Once the hen doesn’t appear he may lose interest and move in another direction.
Lost Yelp Or Assembly Call
Hens Use this call to re-gather the flock or regroup her poults. The hen is letting her offspring and other flock birds know “I am over here, where are you at?” This is a series of 12 or more yelp notes that get louder towards the end. The lost yelp is usually longer than an extended plain yelp and tends to have more of a pleading sound to it.
Hunting Use: This call is typically performed most often in the fall to regather a flock of birds that have been scattered. In the spring time hunters will use this call to reach out to those long distant gobblers.
Cutt of an Excited Hen
Cutting is a fast series of clucks that mean a hen is ready to mate. They are typically loud, aggressive and can last up to 15 seconds in length. Hens will cutt to let a Tom know “Hey I am over here and I am ready for you”.
Hunting Use: Cutting is a great way to let a Tom know that a hen is excited and ready to mate. Cutting is also used as a last ditch effort to get a stubborn Tom to come in.
Fly Down Cackle
This call is most often used by hens flying down from or up to a roost tree, but is also used with abrupt movements such as flying over a creek. It is a series of irregular yelps followed by clucks and then a few more subtle clucks once the hen is on the ground. The call is associated with excitement and means “Hey follow me!”
Hunting Use: The best time to use the fly down cackle is in the morning when hens are leaving the roost. Once you think it is that time for hens to start hitting the deck give a fly down cackle so you can notifying to the Tom that his potential mate has left the house and is on the ground.
Kee-Kee and Kee Kee Run
The Kee Kee is a 3 note high-pitched whistle like sound made by younger turkeys that are attempting to yelp. Most of the time this call is associated with a lost bird looking for the flock.
The Kee Kee Run is the same 3-note call of the Kee Kee only followed by a few yelps at the end. It still has the same meaning of a lost young bird looking for the flock.
Hunting Use: This call is typically used in the fall when a hunter busts a flock and uses the Kee Kee to bring the birds back together. In the spring it can be a good call to get a gobbler to sound off and give up his location but it isn’t often heard during the spring months.
The purr is a common sound turkeys use when they are content and relaxed and is also used as a “give me space” call when feeding. It is a soft call that kind of has a bubbly or a humming sound to it and may be accompanied with a few clucks.
Hunting Use: A purr can be used to let a gobbler know the hen is content in what she is doing, in return making the gobbler come to her and work for it. The purr is also a good call to let gobblers know everything is calm and there is no danger in sight.
Cluck n Purr
This call is a few clucks and purrs together and means contentment. Sometimes called flock talk as it is most often heard when several birds are feeding or moving throughout the timber together.
Hunting Use: Just like the purr this is a great call to use in order to get the gobbler to commit and come to the hen. A lot of times cluck and purrs are over looked by hunters, more times than not though a gobbler will come to a content purr or cluck call than the more aggressive yelps and cutts.
The most notorious call of the entire turkey language, a gobble is most often heard in the spring and is used to let hens know he is looking to mate and to establish dominance with other males. It is a loud thunderous rolling sound that is unmistakable. Jakes will gobble too, but it is much different than a mature Tom and sounds incomplete.
Hunting Use: A gobble can be used to bring in dominant birds that want to establish their territory. It can also be used to bring in young males that want to see what is going on. Most of the time a middle aged Tom will stay away from a gobble in order to avoid a fight.
Spitting and Drumming
The Spit Drum is a call that a gobbler makes to attract hens and let them know how beautiful he is. It is a two-note call that has a vibration to it: Ffffttttt, duuummmmmmm. It is a call that a gobbler uses to show off when he goes into full strut to get the hen’s attention and “Look at me, I am a catch” appeal.
Hunting Use: The Spit Drum isn’t a widely used call but can be useful to lure in dominant gobblers looking to establish dominance in the area.
This is a loud aggressive purr that is used when toms and jakes fight to establish dominance and social hierarchy. It is more audible and insistent than a regular purr. Hens will also use this call when they are upset and trying to pick a fight.
Hunting Use: This call can be used when all else fails. Use a fighting purr to bring in curious turkeys that are looking to climb the hierarchy ranks. Toms and jakes will come in looking for the fight and gang up on the loser of the fight.
Putting It All Together
Once you know the sounds of the “Turkey Language” and the meaning of each sound then its time to put that knowledge into your calling repertoire. The best callers in the world can mimic every sound and use these sounds separately or in a sequence to lure in the most stubborn of Gobblers. Now that you know what the sounds mean take some time to practice each one. Practice mixing up the pitch, cadence, and volume of each call, remembering that not all turkeys sound the same. Just like humans have different voices, so do turkeys. The more versatile you are with mimicking the “Turkey Language” the more realistic your calls will be in the timber. Good luck this spring!
SIDE NOTE: If you are looking to improve your turkey calling prowess the best way I know how is to find a DVD or website that has audible instructions of turkey calls. The NWTF website has a good instructional page on turkey sounds that you can listen to. Try and replicate these sounds with a variety of calls such as box calls, slate calls, diaphragms (mouth calls), pot calls, etc.