Turkey Hunting: Gobbler Body Language and What It Means

Interpreting Wild Turkey Exit Signals

By
Putt!Putt!Putt!Putt!Putt!

Image 1 of 13

1 | Putt!

Every turkey hunter who has spent much time matching wits with gobblers has, or will be, “busted.” There’s a four-letter word often associated with a spoiled hunt and missed opportunity to punch a tag. “Putt!” Translated, the bird is saying, “Goodbye, adios, I’m outta here!” Those four letters are like a swift kick in the gut and not the same four letters many hunters are thinking as a trophy gobbler sprints out of range or launches airborne.

Beyond the putt’s vocal exit cue are other less dramatic clues that hint a turkey might be vacating the area. Keen observation and understanding exit signals can tip the odds that you’ll be walking back to the truck about 20 pounds heavier.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

Image 1 of 13

RubberneckerRubberneckerRubberneckerRubberneckerRubbernecker

Image 2 of 13

2 | Rubbernecker

Rubbernecker is what the name implies. It’s a turkey on mild alert and not necessarily about to bolt. It’s curious, or senses something’s not quite as it should be in its world. The head and neck are stretched forward, swiveling to get a better look at the object of attention. If you’re the target of suspicion, freeze, don’t make eye contact and pray. The bird may move even closer to satisfy its curiosity. Good news is, curiosity kills turkeys too. If it doesn’t putt, which would indicate departure is imminent, count your blessings. You may get an opportunity to make a move once it settles down.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

Image 2 of 13

Periscope UpPeriscope UpPeriscope UpPeriscope UpPeriscope Up

Image 3 of 13

3 | Periscope Up

The turkey whose head shoots up like a submarine periscope scanning enemies on the high seas is doing the same, zeroing in on a possible threat. A bird on high alert may leave suddenly. If it’s in range, be ready to make a smooth move when it turns. If it’s not zoned in on your position or moving away, listen carefully. Try to follow its line of sight. It could have spotted turkeys, a predator, other wildlife, etc. Be ready to react.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

Image 3 of 13

Wing CheckingWing CheckingWing CheckingWing CheckingWing Checking

Image 4 of 13

4 | Wing Checking

Wing checking can be a sign the turkey is moving on shortly. It doesn’t necessarily indicate high alarm but suspicious turkeys are prone to lift the wings as if in adjustment to reset them properly against the body. It’s also a common behavior of birds that have been feeding in an open area and are about to move into timber. Either way, know that a wing check indicates the bird is likely to leave the immediate area soon.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

 

 

Image 4 of 13

Leg/Wing StretchingLeg/Wing StretchingLeg/Wing StretchingLeg/Wing StretchingLeg/Wing Stretching

Image 5 of 13

5 | Leg/Wing Stretching

Leg/wing stretching is an interesting behavior. It’s included here because if you scout or turkey hunt in late afternoon, note when turkeys, especially gobblers, bend over and stretch one wing and leg, then the other. This indicates they are readying to fly to roost. They’ll be on the move shortly. Turkeys will sometimes leg/wing stretch after a loafing/preening period. Birds usually move on and resume feeding activities.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

Image 5 of 13

Tail-Fan FlareTail-Fan FlareTail-Fan FlareTail-Fan FlareTail-Fan Flare

Image 6 of 13

6 | Tail-Fan Flare

The tail-fan flare is often accompanied by a short, sometimes frantic run. It’s generally displayed when an avian predator such as a hawk or owl is overhead. The bird fans its tail parallel to the ground, trots with its head high and alert, likely to make it look larger and less desirable as prey. If you observe a bird tilting its head scanning upwards toward the sky, be ready. It may make a quick dash.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 6 of 13

Wing FlapWing FlapWing FlapWing FlapWing Flap

Image 7 of 13

7 | Wing Flap

The wing flap serves several purposes. Among them it can communicate the intent to move or leave an area. Wing flapping happens too quickly for the observer to fully appreciate the beauty of the bird in motion. The wings fully extend back and sweep forward twice. The following sequence captures the behavior in various graceful poses that the human eye misses within its one-second-or-so duration.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 7 of 13

Stretching ExerciseStretching ExerciseStretching ExerciseStretching ExerciseStretching Exercise

Image 8 of 13

8 | Stretching Exercise

Turkeys wing flap daily. Some appear as just a stretching exercise. Wing flaps cast off feather debris after a bird preens.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

 

Image 8 of 13

Shake-Off, DryingShake-Off, DryingShake-Off, DryingShake-Off, DryingShake-Off, Drying

Image 9 of 13

9 | Shake-Off, Drying

Turkeys wing flap after a dust bath to shake off dirt or to speed dry after a soaking rain.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 9 of 13

Roost Fly-UpRoost Fly-UpRoost Fly-UpRoost Fly-UpRoost Fly-Up

Image 10 of 13

10 | Roost Fly-Up

Wing flapping can signal that a bird is loosening up for the fly up to roost.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 10 of 13

On AlertOn AlertOn AlertOn AlertOn Alert

Image 11 of 13

11 | On Alert

Wing flapping that follows shortly after a turkey becomes alert to possible danger is an exit signal. The behavior flexes the wings, possibly to ready for flight if necessary. The bird is very likely to begin moving out of the area after this type of wing flap. Other birds in the flock may wing flap too.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 11 of 13

FloggingFloggingFloggingFloggingFlogging

Image 12 of 13

12 | Flogging

Wing flapping, or better described as flogging, is a noisy fight tactic used when turkeys battle for dominance.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

 

 

Image 12 of 13

Double TroubleDouble TroubleDouble TroubleDouble TroubleDouble Trouble

Image 13 of 13

13 | Double Trouble

These gobblers are both exit signaling. One stands erect, scanning. The other wing flaps. Exit signals can occur singly or in combination. Turkeys are paranoid creatures. An all-of-the-above, exit-signaling gobbler is a hunter’s most dreaded encounter. It becomes suspicious, the head shoots up, eyes laser focus, it rubbernecks to get a good look, wing checks, putts loudly, wing flaps, putts some more, then breaks into a trot or flight. Learn to identify exit signs and long spurred, bushy bearded gobblers are more likely to inhabit your dreams, not your nightmares.

(© Tes Randle Jolly photo)

More Realtree turkey hunting. Follow us on Facebook.

Image 13 of 13

Wild turkeys communicate three ways — vocalization, body language and behavior. Beyond mastering turkey calls and their messages, an understanding of turkey body language and behaviors can be a strategic tool when hunting. Turkey “talk” in all forms communicates mood, status and/or intent. Some signals are subtle. Some not so much.

Please click through this photo gallery for more on interpreting wild turkey exit signals.

Get the latest turkey hunting news, tips and tactics in your inbox!