How do you call a turkey? Turkeys are called in many different ways and by using different strategies. Hunters use cluck, cutt, yelp, cackle, kee-kee, gobble, putt, and purr sounds. Specific devices are also used for tube, friction, locator, and diaphragm calls.
As expected, turkey calls are not mere vocalizations; they are specific “words” used by turkeys to communicate. The most favorite calls used are clucks, cutts, yelps, cackles, kee-kees, purrs, gobbles and putts.
Turkeys use cluck sounds to get the attention of other turkeys. Additionally, it is also used as words of reassurance to tell a gobbler that there is a hen waiting for him. In human language it can best be described as a “uyck, uyck, uyck” sound – usually two or three single, short, staccato note clucks.
A hunter may use the cluck sound very effectively to encourage a gobbler to come closer when he starts drifting away. Of course, you can use it very effectively to let a gobbler know you are there.
A cutt is a loud, sharp cluck which can be combined effectively with yelping. For turkeys this is a sign of excitement, they are not alarmed at all.
Cutt sounds are used by hunters when:
- You want to lure a dominant hen to you which will often times bring the gobbler too. So when she is cutting, you can mimic her calls and cutt back. Cut off her vocalizations by being more excited than her.
- You can also cutt when you have tried soft calling to a gobbler that is hung up.
The yelp is a much louder sound than a cluck. It is mostly used by dominant hens to call for attention and for gathering other turkeys.
Hunters describe the yelp as a successful springtime tactic. For example, when you hear a lead hen yelp to her flock, your aim should be to cut her off mid-sentence. Any nearby tom will easily come running in your direction where he believes there is yet another strong lady.
We can distinguish between plain yelps and excited yelps:
Hens use the basic, plain yelp as a series of single note vocalizations. The specific way in which she uses it conveys different meanings. Firstly, it is basic turkey communication but is also used during mating season when a hen communicates with a gobbler.
So, if a hunter can make this basic turkey call then he is well on his way to successfully call a turkey.
Although this is similar to the sounds and notes of the plain yelp, it is much more energetic, excited, rapid and louder.
At the same time we should note that it is still not an alarm call, it merely indicates that a turkey is excited or restless about something.
It is best described as between three to ten loud, staccato type notes – irregularly spaced with an increased pitch towards the end.
While a cackle can be heard when a turkey is flying up to a roost, it is more often associated with a bird leaving the roost.
Kee Kee or kee kee run
This call is mostly used as a distressed call by young, lost turkeys. We hear it mostly in the fall when a young turkey is trying to yelp back to its mother in order to be found and be reunited with the flock.
The kee kee lasts only about two seconds and is usually consists of three notes.
Purring is a soft, rolling sound – almost like a hum before the cluck. Turkeys use this vocalization to indicate that they are happy and comfortable and it can be compared to a cat purring out of contentment.
Furthermore, turkeys sometimes combine a cluck with a purr to characterize a happy feeding bird.
A tom or male turkey uses the gobble for the sole purpose of enticing a pretty lady and for that reason it is often heard in the springtime.
It is a rapid, loud, gurgling or guttural rolling sound to let the hens know where he is. The gobble is accompanied by puffing out their chests and dancing to impress the ladies.
So finally we get to the alarming sound – the putt can be a single or even several sharp notes used as an alarm to indicate that the bird has heard something which indicates danger.
Hunters can use the putt very effectively in situations where you have a bird in range but cannot get him to stop or to raise his head. Just remember that since the bird will respond quickly to this sound you should have your shotgun ready and have the bird on target before you make this call. Once you have raised the alarm you will have to shoot very quickly before it takes off.
Devices to Use
Avid turkey hunters can choose from a variety of different turkey calls available on the market of which we will discuss the tube, friction, locater and diaphragm calls.
Tube Turkey Call
Tube calls are used most often as it mimics almost all sounds that a turkey makes.
Friction Turkey Call
Beginner turkey hunters prefer to use the friction turkey calls, firstly because it is easy to use and secondly because it includes the simple push/pull call as well as box call.
At the same time, we should not exclude higher user levels as it also includes the slate or glass calls.
Locater Turkey Call
This is a popular choice of almost all turkey hunters. The locater is exactly what its name indicates – it does not simulate turkey sounds but are calls that will locate toms.
Diaphragm Turkey Call
Diaphragm (or mouth) calls are small, easy to carry, relatively inexpensive devices. They are effective and easy to get used to, which in effect makes them very popular.
How often do you call a turkey? To give a quick answer to this: do not call continuously if a bird answers you – because if he answers you he knows exactly where you are. The best you can do is be patient and sit quietly for a while. Unfortunately, this might take up to two or three hours, especially when he is gobbling with five to ten-minute intervals. This indicates he is with hens and will only come looking for you when he is finished with them.
The best strategies to use:
A fixed, rigid strategy cannot always be followed since there are different situations and each calls for a different approach. So it is best to evaluate each situation and change your tactics based on the specific needs at the time.
One hunter describes that he “listens to what the turkeys are offering and play to that level of excitement.”
One typical situation is when a bird is responding to you. Experienced hunters know that it is then best to approach the bird with minimum of calling and volume – you want to call only as loud and as often as needed. Keep the calls relatively simple, for example sequences such as whiny yelps with low-key cutting.
On the other hand, when you are cold-calling you would want to call aggressively – use cutt, yelp and gobble sounds often and loudly.
Another effective tactic is cutting and running. This simply means you mimic a gobbler by running and calling aggressively every 50 yards or so. Typically a gobbler would also be on the move and gobbles every so often.
Another successful tactic or strategy is to scratch in the leaves. By doing so, you can make a close call without being seen.
As mentioned, tactics differ and may even differ from one hunter to another. One such scenario is when you connect with a henned-up turkey. Some hunters believe you can now effectively use aggressive yelping and cutting to achieve pulling the tom away or pulling the hen in, which might make the tom follow her.
In contrast to this, other hunters feel strongly that you should tone it down and avoid aggressive and rapidly paced calling when dealing with a henned-up gobbler. They believe the best strategy is to engage in some soft turkey talk. You want to send him the message that you are waiting and willing whenever he is done with his hen.
To summarize, it all depends on the situation. Read your bird as he will indicate to you how often and how aggressively he wants to be called. Just keep practicing and soon you will have enough experience to have successful conversations with gobblers.
The variation might just be your key to a successful turkey hunting trip and more so if you are in small hunting areas.
So why is variation such a big deal? The answer is quite simple; turkeys are smarter than we realize and for that reason they will quickly get used to your calls – especially if you use the same calls over and over again. The result is they will stop responding and even run away from you when you call.
Here are a few tips for introducing variation to your calls:
- Purchase an extra striker or two for your pot call because different brands will have slightly different tones;
- Have two or three different type of possible calls at hand.
Overcalling, yelling and knowing when to stop
These are probably the most important rules in turkey calling; don’t call every few seconds, refrain from yelling and know when it is time to stop.
When watching videos or hunting shows, it is easy to fall into the trap of overcalling by getting the impression that you have to call every 30 seconds or so. This, in fact, is not the way to go, as hunting shows tend to exclude the boring parts; the waiting in between calls.
For some hunters their impatience makes them call too often, while experienced hunters will tell you to call at 15-minute intervals if there is no response.
When it comes to the volume of a call, some situations will most certainly call for louder calls. You will implement this for example, when you are trying to locate a turkey or when you are dealing with strong winds.
Higher volume is thus quite acceptable in certain situations as long as you remember to soften your tone and volume the moment that a turkey starts responding.
Finally, knowing when to stop could easily be the golden key to getting your shot. Imagine a gobbler running across a field in your direction. Our first instinct is to keep calling in order keep him coming toward you. Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. Stop calling for a bit, be patient and wait. If you see he stops or turns then you might give another call or two but only if the situations ask for it.
As in any other sport you will only become a master at what you do when you practice and practice and practice. So, if you want to understand turkey conversations, you have to practice your calls up to perfection before getting out there to implement it.