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Turkey Calling: When to Use Each Sound

Bowhunting gobblers isn't easy, but knowing which turkey call to use will be a major help.

Turkey Calling: When to Use Each Sound

Knowing which turkey call to use, and when to use each sound, can make or break a Spring bowhunt for gobblers.

It’s no secret that if you want to be good at turkey hunting, you'd better know how to speak turkey. This is no surprise, as the primary way for a bowhunter to harvest a turkey is by calling them in. Sounds easy, right? Well, unfortunately it’s not always as easy as it sounds and if you don't know what calls to make and when to make them, you can actually scare more turkeys away than you call in. Over the last 26 years, I have hunted turkeys all over the country. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that knowing what calls to make and when to make them are the major keys to turkey hunting success. Let’s dissect the turkey sounds you need to master and when to use them. 

Turkey Talk

Turkeys make well over 30 different sounds, but don’t be alarmed — you don't need to master all of them. Instead I want to cover what I call the “main building blocks” of turkey vocabulary. These basic sounds will allow you to sound like a real turkey, and by understanding what these sounds mean you can better understand what to do and when to do it while in the field. In my opinion, a turkey hunter doesn’t need to be a World Champion caller —  they just needs to know what sounds to make and how/when to use each. That's the key to success!

Yelp

The yelp is the main building block of all turkey calling, and in my opinion the most used sound by turkey hunters. If you were to only master one sound, this would be it. This sound is a two-note call, beginning with a high-pitched “kee” sound and ending with a lower-pitched “yuk” sound. To many people, this call will sound like someone is saying “chalk” as your sounds run together. To a turkey, this sound is basically saying “come here.” There are a few variations of the yelp, such as the tree yelp, alarm yelp and lost yelp. All of these mean slightly different things based off of the birds tone and demeanor. A tree yelp is used in the morning, and is typically a soft call done before fly down. The alarm and lost yelps are more aggressive, with the purposed of saying, “Hey, I’m over here!” Knowing what each sounds like and recognizing when to use them makes a big difference for a hunter.

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We can make these sounds as soft, or really excited by being louder and more aggressive. Depending on the scenario, either tactic can call a tom in to investigate which hen is over there telling him to come. The yelp alone has probably been the reason for more punched turkey tags than any other turkey call. It’s very easy to do on either a slate call or mouth call and should be mastered on both. Yelping can be done at close range, or from far away. Tone and pitch should be dictated by what the tom has shown. If he’s excited, I’ll return that with a yelp of excitement. If he’s close by, I’ll yelp softly just to let him know where I’m at. Let the situation dictate how you use this sound.

Cluck

This sound is a very simple, sharp note that lets turkeys know where other turkeys are. Oftentimes, this sound isn’t very loud. You've probably heard hens cluck as they feed — or when simply moving through the timber minding their own business — but at the same time letting others know where they are. This sound can be used in conjunction with the yelp to tell other turkeys where they are, and to come join them.

An “alarm cluck” is not a good sign, however, as it means a turkey is nervous due to seeing or hearing it doesn’t like. This cluck will be very sharp, loud and distinct. Know the difference between these two clucks, as they both mean two totally different things. I’ll typically cluck throughout any cadence of calling just to sound natural and relaxed. In most cases, it's a great calming sound to use.

Cutt

This is not actually a defined call. Realistically, this sound is made when a turkey makes multiple clucks together, with a quick, excited tone in its voice. We call this cutting. I typically do not worry about the number of clucks that I use when cutting, but instead I pay attention to the tone, level of excitement, and aggression I'm portraying. This call may signal excitement, or aggression and the scenario itself should dictate how you use this sound. Beware, as this call can be a double-edged sword!

Here's one example: If a tom is answering you and you want to fire him up, you could cutt hard at him in hopes that this makes him more excited and he heads in your direction. But if he's being shy and isn't quite ready, cutting at him could cause him to go directly away from you. So, extreme caution should be used when using this call by reading the sound and actions of the bird you're after.

I love to use this sound when a tom is already fired up and excited, or if I can tell that he is alone and has no hens with him. That normally means he's out searching for a new girlfriend!

Purr

Sounding exactly like its name comes the purr. It's a soft, less aggressive call that turkeys use daily. The purr sound can be quite tricky on a diaphragm call, but made easily on a pot-style call by dragging the striker slowly. Hens will use this sound while feeding or milling around, and you've probably heard this call often if you’ve had turkeys nearby that didn’t know about your presence. It’s a calming call that signals all is well, and that they're quite content.

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A purr can be exactly what the doctor ordered for a tom that just isn’t close enough yet for a shot. Soft purrs have sealed the deal on a lot of stubborn strutters over the years. I’ll also throw some clucks in there as well, which creates a “cluck and purr” sequence and adds even more realism to my cadence.

Gobble

Now we move on to everyone’s favorite turkey sound — the gobble. The gobble can give even a seasoned hunter goosebumps immediately, and for good reason! This call is exciting and aggressive, and used to attract hens by letting them know the toms position. Hens typically go to the toms in the wild, so this sound is used to attract the hens and make them come to the you.

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I oftentimes use this sound to make another tom gobble back at me — hence giving away his position in the process — or to try to locate a tom that I know is around, but hasn’t been gobbling. Be careful, however, as this call can draw in other hunters, or unwanted predators that could spook off a non-aggressive tom. Use this call sparingly and make sure you test the temperament of a tom and his aggressiveness before gobbling to lure him in. If done wrong, it may send him running in the other direction.

In The Redzone

Now that we have a better understanding of turkey vocabulary and what certain sounds mean, we need to ensure that we use them correctly in the field. In my opinion, the best way to do this is to read the temperature of the bird before calling to him. What I mean by this is that I want to evaluate the personality, aggressiveness and details of the tom first. For example, if I know he is with a group of hens, I do not want to be too aggressive. In that scenerio, the boss hen may take the whole flock away from me. If he’s being aggressive and gobbling a lot, however, I may want to yelp and cutt with some excitement in my tones to let him know I’m excited by his gobble. This could lure him in.

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A lot of times, by reading a the temperature of a gobbler it will give away all of the clues on which calls to use and how aggressive, or non-aggressive to be. Also, don’t over call — that's a major mistake a lot of turkey hunters make. It's not natural, and doesn’t make the tom susceptible to his curiosity. If you're always letting him know where you’re at, he doesn't have to come find you. Take that decision out of his control!

For bowhunting, we want turkeys as close as we can get them. Turkeys have small kill zones and are on the move a lot, which makes them a very challenging animal to stop for a shot. This is where calls can be super beneficial, as we can use turkey vocabulary to pull a gobbler in close, or pull him to a specific spot because of where we our setup is located.

So, learn the language. Your shot opportunities depend on it!




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