Turkeys make a lot of different sounds, many of which are different in spring and fall. Though most hunters can routinely fill tags by using only two or three sounds, it’s good to know what other sounds turkeys make and why.
The most commonly heard sound in the turkey woods is made by the hen, and it’s called a yelp. Toms also yelp, but it’s louder, raspier and often more drawn-out than that of hens.
The yelp is usually delivered in a series of one-note tunes. However, yelps can take on various forms. Specifically, there are three types of yelps hunters will want to be aware of, each of which carries a different meaning.
Turkeys generally use a plain yelp when they are within sight of one another. It usually ranges from three to seven notes, but sometimes goes up to nine or ten notes. Three or four notes are made about a second apart, and the pitch and volume remain the same with each note. The sequence is simple, and resembles a chirp, chirp, chirp or a yup, yup, yup sound.
Birds use a lost yelp when they get separated from the flock, and it’s usually used by younger birds and hens with broods. Lost yelps are more intense than plain yelps. Lost yelps routinely consist of 20 or more notes, which also sets them apart from the more relaxed plain yelps. Lost yelps are more of a pleading sound that grows louder toward the end of each sequence.
Assembly yelps are even more intense. Assembly yelps bring back birds that separated from the flock. Assembly yelps are most common in the fall, when adult hens try to gather poults that have wondered off. Assembly yelps sound a lot like plain yelps, but are much more intense. They drag out and escalate in intensity, something like yuuup, yuuuuup, yuuuuuuup, yuuuuuuuup.
The cluck is a basic turkey sound that carries a lot of meaning. Birds use the one to three note tuck...tuck,...tuck to get the attention of another bird, or to reassure an approaching tom that a hen is waiting for him. It’s an alluring, attention-grabbing sound that’s simple yet powerful when it comes to bringing in a tom. Hen clucks are a good call when a tom is hung up out of shooting range.
Many times when turkeys are feeding, clucks are made in conjunction with purrs.
Purrs are calming and reassuring. They send the simple message that birds are content and feel safe. Purrs are a soft, quiet sound that roll in a smooth, calming fashion. The purr is a single, drawn-out note that sounds like errrr.
Fighting purrs are longer and more frequent, often with a putt in the middle or at the end like errrrrrrrrr, errrrrrrrr, errrrrrrrrrrrrr, errrrrrrrrrrrr, putt, errrrrrrrr, putt, putt, errrrrrrrrrrrrr, errrrrrrrrr.
Clucks and purrs together send a message that all is safe and the birds are content, especially in a flock situation. A combination of clucks and purrs sounds something like tuck, tuck, errrrr.....tuck, errrrr...tuck, tuck, tuck, errrrr, tuck.
Cutts, or cutting, are a series of loud, insistent, fast-paced, single-note sounds turkeys use when they’re excited, and are often used to elicit a response from another turkey. Cutting also sends a message that says “If you hear me and are ready to breed, you’ll need to come find me.”
It’s a very good call to bring in adult hens looking for a fight. Often the toms that are with them will come too. If a gobbler is henned up and the hen starts cutting, cut her off with the same sound. Often she’ll come in, bringing a tom with her.
A cutt is not an alarm sound, rather one of excitement and dominance.
Cutts are made in fast bursts of two or three notes, usually followed a second or two later by another burst. The sequence sounds like tut...tut....tut, tut, tut, tut...tut...tut...tut...tut, tut, tut, tut, tut.
Putts are a single alarm note to warn other birds of danger. A putt sounds exactly like it’s pronounced: putt! If you hear just a single note putt, putt!, don’t worry. But if you hear a series of putts -- putt, putt, putt!..putt! putt! putt! put! -- it means you’ve likely been busted.
When birds are on the roost early in the morning, they create a series of soft, muffled yelps and clucks called a tree call. The tree call, or tree yelp, is simply the turkeys' way of talking among themselves.
The fly-down cackle sounds like the cutt, with some clucks and yelps mixed in. When turkeys pitch out of the roost tree, they often call on their way down, thus the name fly-down cackle. The fly-down cackle consists of three to 10 crisp, loud sounds like tuck, tuck...tut, tut, tut, tut, tut, tut, tut, tut..tuck, yup. This is how turkeys communicate with and keep track of one another as they leave the roost. It’s a good call for hunters to use when a tom is still on the roost, as it sends a message that a hen has flown down and the tom should come find her.
Of all the sounds turkeys make in the fall, the most commonly heard is the kee-kee. These are sounds made by young turkeys who’ve lost track of the flock and are looking to reassemble with adult birds. The kee-kee is usually made up of three fairly coarse and somewhat unevenly spaced kee, kee, kee sounds that last just over a second in length. As birds mature, the kee kee sounds become a bit raspier.
There are few sounds in nature that capture attention like a turkey’s gobble. In the spring, toms gobble to let hens know where they are. Toms also express dominance through gobbling.
Toms also spit and drum. The purpose of spitting and drumming is to attract hens, and it’s a difficult series of sounds for humans to hear. Spitting precedes drumming, and both sounds are unique and usually occur together like pffit, doooommmmmm.
Toms also yelp, cluck and purr, and these sounds are more evident in the fall than the spring. By listening to the array of sounds turkeys make, hunters learn about flock dynamics. Mimicking turkey sounds makes us better turkey callers, and therefore better turkey hunters.