From brand-spanking new turkey hunters to guys who have been chasing the birds for a number of years with extremely mixed results, I’m always amazed at the lack of attention some of these hunters put into practicing their calling and, more importantly, thinking about how turkeys use their language to communicate. I’ve even witnessed seasoned hunters run a peg across a slate in a weak, screechy, rushed cadence, only to marvel at why the gobbler that was coming in, turned and walked away.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I even made quite a few calling blunders in my early days, including calling with way too much volume as a longbeard marched within 70 to 80 yards of my setup or occasionally attempting a pathetic cluck that came out more like a warning putt and sent turkeys scattering. But that’s all part of the learning process. The important thing to remember, though, is just because you learned to make a yelp on one call, your learning isn’t done.
Until, like a calling champion, you can make the full range of the wild turkey’s vocalizations on a variety of calls, you will lack the skills needed to consistently put birds on the ground. That is, if you are trying to call them in yourself. Here’s a cheater’s list of calls, what they mean, advice on how to make them and a suggestion or two on which calls will help you most easily produce the sounds. Where available, I’ve offered links to sounds or instructions, as written descriptions will never replace actually being able to hear the sounds.
The Call: Yelp
How It Sounds: It is delivered in a “yawp, yawp, yawp” sound and cadence generally in three to five note sequences, though a turkey can make a single note yelp or can yelp a dozen times in a row when excited or agitated.
What It Means: The yelp is the most basic call of the wild turkey, vocalized mostly by hens, though jakes yelp, too. Jake yelping is generally a bit deeper and drawn out sounding like a “keyawk, keyawk” vocalization. The yelp is the turkey’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m over here. Where are you?”
Try This: Primos Sonic Dome Crystal Call—This compact, crystal-surfaced pot call is big in volume. Work the striker in tight, even circles on the surface, keeping the striker always pressed to the surface for great-sounding yelps. Also great for cutting. Adjust volume by pressing harder or lighter depending on distance from gobbler. ($20)
The Call: Cutt
How It Sounds: Cutting is a short, staccato yelp or cluck, often delivered in a series of notes. As a hen does it, she will frequently intersperse yelping with the cutting.
What It Means: Hens cutt when they are irritated or really excited and fired up. It can be a challenging call that a boss hen uses in response to another encroaching hen and makes for an excellent locator call, as well as one that gets a tom fired up, gobbling and walking your way.
Try This: Quaker Boy Turkey THUGs Maestro Mouth Call—This is a three and a half reed corner notch cut diaphragm call for excellent rasp and makes awesome cutts. ($7)
The Call: Cluck
How It Sounds: The cluck is generally a single, staccato note that, when rapidly used in sequence with other clucks, really forms the cutt.
What It Means: A single plain cluck, done by both hens and gobblers, is used to by one bird to get the attention of the other and to let them know they are right there. It can reassure a searching tom that the hen is still right there waiting on him.
Try This: Cody Calls Holei Chambered One Sider—This is a truly new designed custom one-sided box that employs an internal sound chamber much like a pot call. It is great for high-volume clucks, as well as yelps, cutts and purrs and one of the easiest calls to learn to use. ($100/depending on wood)
The Call: Purr
How It Sounds: It’s a soft, almost rolling call, sometimes confused as peeping by inexperienced turkey hunters.
What It Means: This is a contentment call that says, “Everything is okay.” Feeding birds will make the sound as they scratch along with other birds. It can also be interspersed with a cluck to signal growing excitement and curiosity by a bird. Use this call to calm approaching birds and work gobblers in those final yards to the gun. Louder, more aggressive purrs are also known as fighting purrs and are sounds jakes typically make when fighting to establish pecking order.
Try This: Knight & Hale Witchy Woman—Besides being probably the easiest call to use when starting out, this push/pin call also makes some of the best purrs, yelps and other calls with minimal movement. Slowly push the pin in to allow the wood surfaces to skip across each other for quality sounding purrs. ($30)
The Call: Kee Kee
How It Sounds: It generally consists of two or three long, almost squealing calls or whistles, and is sometimes followed by a yelp (known as the kee, kee run.)
What It Means: This is the lost call of a young bird and is often made when a young jake or jenny has lost the flock and is eager to rejoin it. Most typically associated with fall hunting, it can be a good call to use to play on a hen’s mothering instincts when she is locked up with a gobbler. Bring her in and he may follow.
Try This: Maestro Game Calls Sassy Single—Single or double-reed calls without notches in the top reeds (the cuts create rasp) are best for making kee kees. ($7)
The Call: Putt
How It Sounds: It is a single, sharp note, sometimes done over and over in a “putt…putt…putt” fashion.
What It Means: This is the call a turkey makes to signal there is danger. Generally, if birds suspect trouble, they will raise their heads and start putting with the frequency increasing as they get more nervous. If you hear this, the jig is up and the bird is about to bolt.
Try This: Don’t ever try this! Be sure you know what it sounds like, though, so you don’t accidentally make it as a tom is coming in or hens are around you.
The Call: Gobble
How It Sounds: Everyone should know what a turkey gobble sounds like. There is no other sound like it in the spring woods.
What It Means: Toms gobble to let hens know where they are in the spring so the hen will come to them for the purpose of breeding. Gobblers will also gobble at sudden loud or piercing sounds such as thunder, trains, horns, crow calls, owl hoots, etc., and will gobble throughout the year, though the majority takes place in the spring when they are wanting to get with hens.
Try This: Down-N-Dirty Outdoors Haint Call—This is the first reed-blown gobble call to produce actual loud, realistic gobbles. Use gobbles to challenge a gobbler’s dominance or get him to shock gobble. BUT, always be careful when using one, as it can attract hunters, too!
This list comprises the basic calls every hunter needs to know. Once these are mastered, hunters can expand into making other turkey vocalizations such as tree calls, flydown cackles, fighting purrs, assembly yelps (primarily in fall) and others. But learn these and you’ll have the calling skills needed to bring a longbeard into the gun.