When you make turkey calling sounds, you speak a second language.
To do so effectively, you need to know the calling sounds to imitate birds and fool them into range. While roughly thirty call distinctions can be heard in the wild, fewer than half of these turkey vocalizations are usually used. Some hunters make just several. Others employ as many calling strategies as possible.
Many spring gobbler hunters make two basic calls: the plain cluck and hen yelp. Others include roost clucks and tree yelps (a.k.a. “tree calling”), fly-down cackles, cutting (loud and fast clucks), lost yelps, purrs, gobbles — even the kee-kee sounds of young birds to enhance their turkey calling game.
Clucks differ by sex. Gobbler clucks are often low-pitched when compared to a hen’s. Clucks for both turkey hens and toms can be spaced out, often two to three seconds or more between calls. Sometimes the bird might make just one. This sound may be soft or loud, situation depending.
The plain hen yelp is roughly three to eight notes long, and it’s the calling option most often employed by spring turkey hunters to lure gobblers to setups. As with other vocalizations, turkeys make it to indicate their position.
Hen yelping is higher-pitched than the deeper, coarser yelping of gobblers. Tom turkeys yelp with a slower cadence as well and yelps are generally fewer in number — often three notes: yawp, yawp, yawp. In the spring, a jake (juvenile male turkey) will sometimes yelp rather than gobble on the approach.
When looking for flock mates, or other lone hens and gobblers, turkeys call. It’s an effort to get another bird to call back, step into view and reveal its exact location. It’s basically a wild turkey asking, “Where are you?” or saying, “Come over here where I am.”
By making turkey calling sounds while hunting, you can communicate directly with the spring gobbler you’re after. Other times you can try to lure a territorial hen into range, hoping this boss bird will drag a strutting tom along to your gun or bow. Fall birds respond well to calling too.
Vary the turkey calling sounds you make the same way real birds do. Listen to turkeys as they call too. They’ll teach you plenty.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.
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Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.