By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
hunter and I quietly waited as the sky became brighter.
After several minutes I heard a gobble, followed immediately
by another gobble, and then two more. It sounded like
the two toms and two jakes I’d seen last night were
still together. I let the bird’s sound off for about
five minutes, then made two fly down cackles on my
slate call, simulating a couple of hens coming off
the roost. The toms erupted in a chorus of gobbles.
When they gobbled later the sound
of their calls was more muffled. I knew they had flown
down and were on the ground. I yelped loudly again
and the birds answered back, the sound coming closer.
When it sounded like the birds were about two hundred
yards away, they quit calling. I blew a series of
soft clucks and purrs, trying to convince the toms
there was a group of hens feeding nearby, but I got
I tried everything I could to get
the toms to answer for the next half hour, but nothing
worked. When the drizzle turned to rain I asked Bob
if he’d had enough. When he said yes I picked up the
decoys and we headed back toward the Suburban. I asked
if wanted to wait and see if the rain would let up.
He said he had to get back to the shop but he’d be
back tomorrow morning. By the time we got back to
the house the rain was letting up, so I dropped Bob
off and drove back to where we’d hunted. At the edge
of the woods, two hundred yards from where we’d been
sitting were two toms, two jakes and seven hens. Now
I knew why they had quit calling. They weren’t going
to answer me with seven hens nearby.
As a guide and wildlife researcher
I have spent several years studying turkey behavior.
As a result of my research I learned a lot about when
and where turkeys move, which I will talk about in
the next issue. I also made several interesting discoveries
on turkey calls, and learned that some generalizations
can be made about gobbling activity.
1. Some males gobble more than others.
Gobbling is an expression of dominance and willingness
to breed. Adult toms, because of their higher testosterone
levels and social status gobble more than jakes.
The dominant tom of a group gobbles more than the
2. More gobbling occurs in the morning
than in the evening. Toms try to attract hens in
the morning, shortly after they wake up.
3. More gobbling occurs when the
bird is on the roost than when it is on the ground.
Most gobbling occurs from about 45 minutes before
sunrise to about 45 minutes after sunrise, with
peak gobbling generally occurring before sunrise.
4. More gobbling occurs when there
are no hens present. Toms in the presence of hens
usually stop gobbling and begin to strut.
5. More gobbling occurs when males
hear other males gobbling. The birds try to outcall
each other for the attention of nearby hens.
An understanding of the different
calls turkeys use helps when you are trying to call
turkeys. Turkey researchers have described as many
as 20 different turkey calls. They fall into six basic
categories; Agonistic, Alarm, Contact, Flying, Maternal/Neonatal
Turkeys make a number of soft Putts,
Purrs, and Whines while feeding. These calls help
keep the flock in contact, while spacing the birds
out when their heads are down and they can't see each
other. The bird is saying, “This is my space, don’t
get to close.” The Feeding Whine or Purr sounds like
the call made by a feeding chicken; a soft errr. It
may be followed by one or more Feeding Putts; a soft
contented putt, putt. I use these calls shortly after
I use a flydown cackle, to convince a tom that there
are hens on the ground and feeding. I also use it
on toms that hang up out of range, to calm them down.
Fighting turkeys use an Aggressive
Purr. This call is louder and more insistent than
the feeding purr. The call is often interrupted by
flapping wings, kicking and neck wrestling. Other
turkeys hearing a fight often come running to see
which birds are fighting and which wins and loses.
The loser often drops out of the social hierarchy
leaving room for the birds beneath it to move up.
Any bird that has a chance to move up in the hierarchy
will do so. The sound of birds fighting will often
hens, groups of toms and dominants, so they can see
which birds are fighting in their area. I use this
call to bring in dominant toms when everything else
When a turkey becomes aware of danger
it makes a loud, sharp Alarm Putt of from one to five
notes; TUT, TUT, TUT, that is used to warn other birds
of danger. The call is a sign that a bird has seen
a potential predator, and is usually followed by the
bird running or flying away. Do not use this call
when hunting turkeys.
Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls
Because the Contact Calls are used
most often between the hen and her poults they are
basically the same as the Maternal/Neonatal Calls.
When turkeys use these calls they are saying “Here
I am, where are You?” The contact calls of young turkeys
are the Lost Whistle, Kee-Kee and the Kee-Kee Run.
These are all high pitched calls that change as the
The Lost Whistle is the sound very
young birds make. As summer advances the voices of
the poults change and the Lost Whistle becomes the
Kee-Kee. As fall approaches the young begin to add
yelps at the end of the Kee-Kee to produce the Kee-Kee
Run. These calls are used by the young when they are
trying to locate their mother and the other young
The Lost Whistle is a high pitched
whistle; peep, peep, peep, peep. The Kee Kee usually
has three notes strung together in a kee-kee-kee.
Many callers fail to recreate this call correctly
by using only two notes, or by using up to five notes.
Maybe the name of the call should be changed to the
kee-kee-kee. The Kee-Kee Run
is the basic Kee-Kee followed by several yelps; kee-kee-kee,
chirp chirp chirp chirp. I use these calls in the
fall, after I have scattered a flock.
Adult turkeys use many different Yelps
and Clucks to keep in contact in different situations.
The Plain Yelp is the same as the "Here I am, where
are you?" call of geese and other flocking birds,
which is used to keep the birds in contact with each
The Tree Yelp is often the first sound
of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call
performed while the birds are on the roost before
daylight. It is a soft chirp, chirp, chirp ..... chirp,
chirp, chirp, chirp, or a variation. There are usually
three to four notes per second, with each note being
about .08 seconds in length. This call is one bird
telling the others it is awake and asking if other
birds are nearby and awake. This is the first call
I use in the morning, to see if there are toms in
the area and still on the roost.
The Plain Yelp is performed when the
turkeys are within seeing distance of each other.
It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the
same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four
notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10
seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when
toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the
The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain
Yelp but may contain 20 or more notes, and becomes
louder toward the end. The bird's voice may “break”
during the call, which causes it to have a raspy sound.
There may be from three to four notes per second,
with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.
The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen
in the fall to regroup the young. It usually consists
six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud
and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and
each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often
hear hens make a loud, long series of Yelps while
they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I
am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp, Lost Yelp
or a Fast Cutt. But, I do know that toms often show
up in areas where hens are making this call. I use
Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up
on the roost, and to keep it coming.
The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys
to get the visual attention of another bird. It is
primarily a close range contact call, again saying
"Here am I, where are you?" A bird making this call
wants to hear another bird make the same call so they
can get together. It is a sharp, short sound similar
to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent;
tut...tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated
by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it
from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often
hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while
they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt,
errr, putt, putt, putt. putt, errr. I use this call
when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.
The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one
turkey using the "Here I am, where are you?" but telling
the other bird "If we are going to get together you
have to come to me." It is a loud, insistent call,
and the notes are strung together in bursts of two's
and three's, with about a second between bursts. I
sounds like; TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT TUT TUT, TUT..TUT..TUT,
TUT..TUT.. TUT, TUT TUT or any variation of clucks.
The rhythm is somewhat like the flying cackle, and
I have used a flying cackle to get a tom to “shock
gobble.” I also use this call to bring in a tom that
The Flying Cackle is the sound a turkey
makes when flying up or down from the roost, or when
flying across ravines. Many hunters have difficulty
with the correct tempo of this call. Actually, it’s
quite easy, the calling of a bird in the air is directly
related to the downbeat of the wing stroke. It’s when
the bird contracts it's chest muscles and exhales,
it’s the only time the bird can call. If you are trying
to imitate this call visualize the action of the turkey
as it takes off, first with slow, powerful wing beats,
then faster, and tapering off slowly before gliding
and landing. I often use this call to get a “shock
gobble” from a tom before daylight, so I can locate
the tree he is in. I also use it to get a tom to come
off the roost in my direction.
Tom turkeys Gobble to express social
status, telling other males they are ready to fight
to prove their dominance, and to attract hens. The
Gobble is most often heard while the bird is on the
roost early in the morning. Studies show that most
gobbling occurs from about a forty-five minutes before
to forty-five minutes after sunrise. Individual toms
also call most frequently at this time. Gobbling is
a means of long distance communication and the tom
may expect the hen to come to him, if she is ready
to breed. Many experts claim that the primary reason
the tom gobbles is to get the hen to come to him,
not him to go to them. But, I often see toms arrive
at the strut where the hens are already calling. Whether
the toms are responding to the calling of the hens
or not I cannot say. Use a gobble
only when you are sure there are no other hunters
in the areas, they may mistake you for a turkey.
Hens in the presence of a tom may
Whine, causing the tom to begin strutting. The medium
pitched single drawn out errr of the Whine or Purr
may be used by the hen to get the male to prove how
large, colorful and healthy he is. I use these calls
when toms are close, to convince them there is a hot
Once the tom is near the hen he spends
more time strutting; displaying his colorful head,
fluffed up body, and spread tail to impress the hen.
When hens are within visual distance the less audible
sounds of the Spit and Drum can be heard and used
to attract them. The sounds of the Spit and Drum have
been described as a chump and a hum. It’s believed
that both the Spit and Drum are vocalizations. However,
after watching toms snap their wings open on gravel,
and hearing the sound of the Spit at the exact same
moment, I believe the Spit is the sound of the wing
tips snapping open or hitting the ground, but I can’t
prove it. I do know that peacocks drum by vibrating
the feather shafts of their tail together in what
is called a “harmonic rustle.” The Drum of a turkey
may be produced in the same manner. Toms respond to
these calls out of dominance. Groups of toms, and
single dominant birds may respond to these calls,
but subdominants and jakes my be scared off, because
they are afraid of being attacked by a dominant.
If you have questions about turkeys
log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board. To find out
when turkey gobbling peaks in your area click on Peak
Turkey Gobbling Dates Chart. If you are interested
in more turkey hunting tips, or more biology and behavior,
click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s
Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com
. If you have questions about turkeys log on to the
T.R.'s Tips message board.
This article contains excerpts from
the Turkey Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H),
by T.R. Michels.
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized
game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer
and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk,
Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His
latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the
Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition
of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition
of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual.
For a catalog of books and other
hunting aids contact:
Trinity Mountain Outdoors
PO Box 284
Wanamingo, MN 55983.
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