The Calls of the Wild Turkey (multimedia feature - click on this symbol)
The Wild Turkey has the ability to make as many as 28 different calls. The hunter is primarily concerned with the ones most related to the Spring breeding season.
This is when the Tom gobbles (the only TRUE Turkey mating call) to signify his readiness to procreate, and the hen responds in various ways to show her location, willingness to have company, and level of contentment or alertness.
I will attempt to explain the meanings of the more basic calls for springtime. You will also be able to listen to these sounds providing you have a sound card and a modem that is fast enough to download the files. Also, some sounds more commonly associated with Fall turkey talk will be included and shown as to how they can be incorporated into the Spring hunter's arsenal.
The "Tree-Yelp" is a soft, muffled yelp, given by a hen upon first awakening in the morning. It is done while still on the roost, and again at times when first reaching the ground. This is usually the first sound from a hen the gobbler hears. This call should seem almost subdued, so not to excite the gobbler and encourage him to stay in the tree, waiting for an obviously already excited hen to come to him.
Many hunters, in an attempt to let the gobbler know a "hen" is near, give this call too early. Wait until there is some light, and other birds have already begun calling. It sounds unnatural for a hen to be "tree-calling" from the ground before it is light enough to see.
The cackle of a hen can be used when simulating the hen flying down from the roost in the morning - also when flying back up again in the evening. (See "Sweet Dreams" in the roosting segment). The call is like yelping, but is more intense, and done in a faster, more, broken rhythm. A hen may use this call at any time of the day, and while it is mistakenly referred to as her "mating call", that is not accurate. It does however, show an increase in her excitement level, and will normally invoke a response from a gobbler.
This is one of the "Bread and Butter" calls used by hunters. The yelp of a Wild Turkey can cover a full gamut of meanings, depending on the tone, excitement and number of yelps within a series of calls.
Soft, relaxed yelps can be made while feeding or moving through the day. These show the bird to be relaxed and undisturbed. Faster, louder calling, with more emotion (**the way all calls should be done, with feeling behind them**) can be used to locate other birds, and to send a message to the Gobblers you are looking, and receptive, to company. These series can range from 4-5 notes to upwards of 30 in succession.
These longer (up to 30 or even more notes) and an more pleading series of yelps are referred to as the "Lost Call" and are done when a bird is lost and panicking. It is also to plead for contact from another turkey (in this case, a hen prospecting for an interested mate. This call is generally made later in the day once the groups begin to break-up from each other.
Clucks are the basic building block for most calls. Clucks can be soft and symbolize contentment - relaxed birds. Or they can be sharper, more intense, and be used as the level of excitement or awareness increasing in the bird.
Sometimes, Clucks can be done too harshly and sound more like "Putting" - the alarm call of the turkey. Always keep your clucks soft, or in a fast series like when "Cutting" to avoid sounding like "Putts".
"Cutting" is an extremely intense and excited call consisting of rapid-fire, sharp clucks being almost spit out to show aggression or excitement. When done between two hens it can be a "back-off" type of dominance call, used to intimidate one another.
Towards a gobbler, it signifies a hen at the peak of her interest and frustration, almost DEMANDING he come to her. Many times a gobbler will drop his strut and march in gobbling when "cutt" to. He may also announce his presence when this call is used as a locator during the day.
This is a last resort type call used only after all other calls (yelps, clucks & purrs) have been attempted. For example, you would use this call if the gobbler hangs up and insists you come to him. Rarely will a bird come in to anything else, after he has been "cutt" at, as it seems to have a "now or never" type of affect on a gobbler.
If he does respond however, continue calling at this level as he approaches, or he may quickly lose interest and go silent.
One of the most frequently heard, yet difficult calls to reproduce (on a diaphragm call) is the Purr. This is a contentment call used almost unconsciously by hens as they feed and softly communicate in and around feeding and resting areas. In harsher deliverance it also can be used as an aggression sound, such as the "Fighting Purrs".
I most generally use this as a "finishing" call, to help calm the birds once they are in range. It's a great call to use while waiting for the ideal shot angle, or to keep a hen close while waiting for a Tom to come in. Purrs can be used in conjunction with all other calls, and can be made on most any device. I normally use a mouth call for the close work to keep my hands on my bow.
Normally considered Fall calls, I have had success using these sounds in the Spring as well. The "kee-Kee" or whistle of a young hen, can still be heard in the Spring. Whether curious, or just liking the "younger" women, I have had toms respond to the kee-kee, while seeming to ignore the more raspy, mature hen sound.
"Gobbler Yelps" are rarely heard, and even more rarely used call by hunters. That in itself may account for some of it's effectiveness. Deeper toned, and slower than hen yelps, this is the most common call used by gobblers during the entire year. The Gobble is a mating call directed to hens, or to challenge other males only.
Many times when a tom "Hangs-up", and refuses to come to various hen sounds, a hunter will try to challenge him with a gobble. This will at times work with the "Boss" (most dominant) gobbler, but can lead to calling in other hunters or having a "cold-water" affect on lesser-dominant (2 yr. old) birds.
Rather than risk intimidating the tom by gobbling, begin by using gobbler yelps, still letting him know there is another Tom around. This may encourage him to come in and make the challenge himself, or at least, peak his interest to come see who the other gobbler is (and IF he can run him off).
All of these calls may be made on a variety of devices. The Diaphragm, or "Mouth" call is of particular advantage to the bowhunter by leaving the hands free to shoot. But, until the bird is in range, (and especially in the confines of a blind), other call types are easier to use and capable of more volume and control.
Box calls, Push-Button, Slate/Glass/Aluminum surfaced friction calls, can make the sounds discussed and also give the caller a variety of different tones.
The secret is to convey "feeling" into your calls. "Tree Yelps" should sound sleepy, "Cutting" should be harsh, sharp and excited, almost out of control. "Gobbler yelps should sound like a "big" bird, slow and deep. The more realistic you can sound the better your results will be. The cadence, tone, and inflection distinguish the turkey from the caller.