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Turkey Vocabulary
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Video & Audio Tape Department  \ Books Department

  Real Turkeys  VI - CD by Dr. Lovett E. Williams, Jr. for All Turkey Hunters and OutdoorsmanReal Turkeys Audio CD / Cassettes  -  by Dr. Lovett E. Williams, Jr.

The Serious Turkey Hunter's Audio Guides for Learning and Duplicating  the Voices and Vocabulary of Wild Turkeys.


Dr. Lovett Williams, in his book, The Voice & Vocabulary Of The Wild Turkey, (unfortunately it is out of print) provides as good an explanation of the vocabulary of wild turkeys as there is.  I highly recommend it to any serious turkey hunter.  Too often turkey hunting authors and professional callers hear a specific sequence of calls and attach an individual meaning to it, whether or not they ever hear it again under the same circumstances.  As a result, wild turkeys have been credited with dozens of different calls, the implication being that every good turkey hunter has to know them all to be successful.  Dr. Williams' book provides a clearly written perspective on turkey calls that should help clear up any misconceptions you may have.


Gobbling and Drumming


The Gobble of a wild turkey is the same sound produced by his barnyard cousin.   Sporadic gobbling to reassemble a flock of scattered toms can be heard occasionally at any time of the year.  Gobbling is by far the most common in the spring, however, to attract hens for mating and to warn away other toms.  It is primarily a long-distance form of communication and is heard most often when turkeys are on the roost in the morning, and occasionally when they go to roost in the evening.  Most gobblers switch to Spitting and Drumming in the presence of hens, with less frequent gobbling on the ground.


Spitting and Drumming


A sharp "spittt", followed immediately by a crescendoing "varooOOMMMMM" can only be heard at close range.  Gobblers Spit and Drum as they strut with hens or to attract nearby hens for mating.   Drumming can only be heard a hundred yards or so under the best conditions, so it is often the last sound a hunter hears before a gobbler comes into view.  It is a subtle sound that many hunters fail to hear even though a tom is close by.


Except for gobbling, spitting, and drumming, turkeys of both sexes have the same vocabulary.  They make a variety of calls that reflect their mood and intentions.  Most of these are derived from two basic sounds, the Yelp and the Cluck.  They are able to convey a variety of messages to other turkeys by varying the volume, pitch and speed of these two sounds and by combing them in different sequences.  Variation of the basic yelp are the calls most commonly heard and used by hunters, a sequence of rhythmic, musical, evenly spaced notes.  Clucks are flat, staccato, unmusical notes often uttered singly or in irregular patterns.  These calls and their variations are hard to describe with the written word.  For this reason, I suggest you get a copy of the Turkey Hunting Secrets DVD or Real Turkeys Audio CD / Cassettes  -  by Dr. Lovett E. Williams, Jr.  to hear these sounds and to use to practice your calling with.




Young poults can make a version of the basic yelp even before their hatch.  They Whistle to the incubating hen during their last hours in the egg, a muted sound much like whistling through your teeth.  This is their basic call for their first few weeks of life.  It has the same characteristic four-or-five-note rhythm and ascending tone as the yelp that they won't be able to make for months.  As poults grow older, whistles become Kee-Kees, louder, coarser whistles that are used to locate other turkeys if the young birds become lost or separated.  As young turkeys mature in their first fall, kee-kees gradually turn into yelps.  The first sign that this is happening occurs as a string of kee-kees ends in a yelp or two, the fall hunter's favorite call, the Kee-Kee Run.  at other times, an initial yelp or two will break up into a kee-kee.  Turkeys at 4 to 6 months old are the teenagers of the turkey world and have trouble controlling their vocal cords.  Young jakes begin trying to gobble at this time, with the same unpredictable results.  Some will begin kee-keeing or yelping and then break into a gobble, but a strangled or garbled version of the real thing.  Progressively less kee-keeing and more yelping will be heard as turkeys age, but jakes and young hens will occasionally kee-kee through their first 18 months.  After their first winter, full blown yelping in all its variations is their most common expression.


Yelps (YEOUK) are used in a variety of situations to locate other turkeys.  The Tree Call or Tree Yelps is a very soft, three-or-four-syllable yelp that can only be heard a short distance.  It seems to be a reassuring call used by members of a roosting flock to establish each other's location.  Plain Yelps are used by turkeys to call longer distances, generally several notes run together and considerably louder than tree yelps.  They are given by turkeys in the tree and later on the ground.  The Lost Call is a long series of yelps, often a dozen to thirty or more in sequence, rising and falling in pitch and uttered with what can only be termed a sense of urgency.   It is used by lone turkeys separated from flockmates and desperate to regroup.   Assembly Yelps are coarse long strings of yelps made by hens in the fall to reassemble young poults.


The variety of situations in which yelps are used, and the variations in pitch, volume, speed and individual voice quality can be astonishing.  As a rule, gobbler yelps are coarser and slower than those of hens, and young birds have higher voices than adults.  The variation is go great that it is virtually impossible to positively identify the sex of a turkey solely on the basis of its voice.


Excited turkeys tend to yelp faster, more often and at a higher pitch than the routine talk of undisturbed flocks.  Hence the fast, excited love or mating yelp of the spring turkey hunter.  An undisturbed group of turkeys may utter only occasional single or double yelps to keep track of flockmates as they feed along.  The number of yelps used in a calling sequence by any given bird can vary as unpredictably as their voice, but a sequence of four or five notes is most common.


Clucks, Putts and Cackles


Variations of the Cluck are as numerous and as difficult to interpret as yelps.  A cluck sounds phonetically much like it is spelled.  Soft Pits, high pitched and quiet clucks, are uttered along with tree calls by roosting birds, and by contented flocks as they feed and loaf during the day.  Two or three pits in quick succession seem to indicate a disturbed bird.  Soft clucks are used as final calls by turkeys to locate each other when approaching from a distance.   A single cluck is often the only call made by a hen as she approaches a gobbling tom.  The cluck of a gobbler is very distinctive, sounding like two large boards being slapped together.


The Alarm Putt is a short, sharp, higher pitched, staccato version of the cluck.   The distinction between a putt and a cluck is clear at times but less so at others.   A clucking turkey may provoke no reaction from other birds, but the same apparent sound on other occasions will cause every turkey in the vicinity to jerk its head up and go on guard.


A Cutt is a call somewhere between a cluck and putt.  It is also short and sharp, but lacks the higher overtone of the putt.  It is a commanding assembly call that is used by a brood hen to gather her poults.  Other turkeys seen to use it as a more excited, longer range version of the cluck.  In the spring, excited hens close to a gobbler may go into prolonged bouts of cutting and stimulate gobbling in response.   A Cackle is often described as a series of short, rapid yelps, but it sounds more like a series of cutts, short and staccato and irregularly rising and falling in rhythm.  Hunters describe Fly-Up, Fly-Down and Mating Cackles.  They are short, rapid, high-pitched bursts of cutt-like notes that command the attention and presence of other turkeys, and convey a sense of excitement.  They are heard most often as hens fly up or down from roost and when they fly across an obstacle like a deep ravine.  I have watched turkeys cackle as they go to or leave a tree, with a rising and falling cutt-cutt-cutt-cutt-cutt-cutt-cutt sequence, one note for each wing beat.


Other Sounds


Turkeys make other sounds besides variations of the yelp and cluck that are hard to describe and harder to interpret.  Most of these are soft calls that carry such a short distance that most hunters have never heard them.   Squeals, Whines and Purrs are made at close range, mostly to indicate contentment.


Soft, contented Feeding Purrs are made by hens and young birds as they scratch and feed during the day.  Louder, sharper, aggressive purrs, called "Fighting Purrs", are made by turkeys that are fighting or aggressively circling one another.  These are short and are interspersed with wing flapping.  Gobblers chase each other around and engage in wing flapping, spurring, and neck-wrestling matches, especially in the spring mating season.


A combination Putt-Purr often signifies an alarmed buy uncertain turkey.  I have had hens come to my call in the spring and fall, see me, and then proceed to walk around my position putt-purring over and over.  The putts became higher pitched and more aggressive as the hens would become more agitated.  Usually they walk away and quiet down, but sometimes they simply stay around, quiet down and begin feeding.  I'm not sure what the putt-purr exactly means.


Soft Whines, high pitched, long. monotonic notes will often stimulate intense strutting in spring gobblers.  I have seen toms with hens go into a strut immediately upon them hearing me do a whine on a call and strut over to the nearest hen.  They calm down after a few minutes of being ignored, relax and go back to feeding only to strut once more when I whined.  I'm uncertain what this means other than it must be something involving intimate breeding behavior.  Clucks and whines are excellent close range gobbler calls.


Turkeys combine all of these sounds in so many different variations that precise meanings are difficult to determine.  It's enough to say that most Master Turkey Hunters rely on only a few calls in their repertoire: tree yelps, fast and snappy spring mating yelps, clucks, cackles, cutts, purrs, and whines.


However, a hunter really only needs to perfect the yelping and clucking sounds to be successful.  If you are unfamiliar with all of the sounds turkeys make, or need a good source to listen to for practicing, at home or in your vehicle, take a look at the Turkey Hunting Secrets DVD and Real Turkeys Audio CD / Cassettes  -  by Dr. Lovett E. Williams, Jr..  Tip: Don't practice your calling in the house, especially when your partner is home!  That's a recipe for divorce and even worse!

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Subjects in the Secrets Library
About Turkeys
Spring Hunting Tactics
Fall Hunting Tactics
Camouflage & Concealment
Turkey Calls & Calling
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