How to Imitate and Understand Turkey Calls With onX and Avian-X

The thrill of spring turkey hunting would be nothing if it weren’t for early morning silences shattered by the gobbles of lovesick toms and chattering hens. In the West, the excitement that comes from calling back and forth with a wily tom is second (arguably) only to hunting screaming elk in the rut.

Learning the various vocalizations, and not just what they sound like but what they mean and when to use them, should be the ultimate goal of every spring hunter.

Don’t catch yourself in the woods this year confused as to which calls to make, or worse, educating a bird with terrible calling and tactics.

onX interviewed host of Avian-X TV and 2017 NWTF head to head calling champion Josh Grossenbacher, to help shed light on the meaning behind turkey vocalizations and the correct situations to use each.

Click the links below each description to hear the calls from a real turkey. (Audio files courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation)

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Yelp- A staple of any callers arsenal, the yelp is looked at as the main form of communication a hen makes. The yelp is a locating call, helping hens find other turkeys in the area and beckoning them to join her. This applies to hens and toms. If you can fire a hen up enough, she may have to come and investigate, even if she has to drag that gobbler with her.

Cutting- Usually as a rapid and sharp series of clucks. This excited call is intended for a hen to get the attention of a gobbler. Lets them know the hen is super excited and vying for the attention of a tom. If you’re in the woods hearing cutting, you are probably hunting at, or near the peak levels of the breeding season and excitement.

It’s also another form of communication between hens when they are agitated with each other. If a gobbler is henned up you can try agitating his hens to a boiling point and they may have to come settle the dispute, gobbler in tow.

Soft yelps/clucks/purrs-These are low volume calls, which signify contentment. They will translate to safety and security for other birds and can be your best weapon to get a gobbler to come in that last 50, or so, yards.

Using a less is more strategy, lower your volume when the gobblers break into the 100 yard range. The soft calls will reassure the tom that everything is safe and entice it to come and find you. These are some of the most crucial calls when it comes to finishing the hunt.

Fighting purrs- This is another opportunity for hopped up hens and gobblers to agitate each other to a boiling point. This purr isn’t just for agitating, though, but can signal an actual fight between two birds. This call has the potential to lure a hung up bachelor group of toms who don’t want to miss a good fight.

For the hunter, simply up the intensity of your standard purr and don’t be afraid to beat your hat aroud in the leaves to simulate wings flapping in an actual fight. This tends to work well in the early spring season when both hens and toms are establishing pecking orders before breeding peaks. It’s important to judge the bird’s moods first before attempting, though. If the woods are quiet on a certain day, this is probably not the trick to pull out of your bag.

Tree yelps- Often at the break of dawn, roosting hens will begin their daily yelping. This isn’t the same excited yelps they will break into later, though. These low volume, light yelps are meant to convince nearby toms you are the first hen they hear that morning. Think of adding a sense of grogginess in the call by keeping it quiet, and calm as you entice the toms to fly down from the roost and right into your set up.

More times than not, aggressive calling will lead them to fly further away from your setup.

Spit and Drum- This gobbler only sound is used while a tom is displaying, or closing the distance on a hen. Like the gobble, a tom is using this to attract hens, but will only start as the bird closes the final gap. The sound is audible once the tom hits about 100 yards and even then conditions have to be right for you to hear the faintest spit. This call still remains a bit of a mystery for many hunters, but its effectiveness is well documented.

If, and when, a tom hangs up just beyond your decoys, a few spit and purrs may be all you need to convince him of another tom in the area. Sometimes when a gobbler isn’t in the right mood to meet the hen, it still wont want another bird to come in.

Knowing the sound of a spitting and drumming tom can also save you when hunting in high pressure areas. Often pressured toms just won’t gobble much, but will use the spit and drum call as they close in on a hen.


Cackle- Cackling can add realism to your early morning set up when combined with tree yelps. After letting a nearby tom know they are the first bird awake and active, hens will make this raspy call as they fly down from the roost in the morning. This call is best used after the tom leaves his tree, because if he is still roosted he may just wait for the hen to do all the work and come closer.

When using a cackle call, think of yourself as an artist and the woods are your canvas. Your job is to paint a convincing picture of early morning turkey activity, convincing enough to fool the most careful toms.

Jake and tom yelps- Hens aren’t the only birds clucking in the spring woods. Jakes and toms sometimes communicate amongst themselves. Hunters with sharp ears need to recognize this cluck, however, as it does differ from a hens and can signal incoming toms.

When in a bachelor group, toms lower in the pecking order will make clucks when responding to a dominant tom’s spit and drum. The clucks will sound out louder than the spit and drum. So if all you are getting in response are jake clucks, but they are getting closer, be prepared because a mature tom could be on his way in.

Spring is an incredibly important time of year for turkey hunters and armed with these vocalizations and onX Hunt, we hope everyone makes the most of their opportunities in the spring woods. To follow more action, be sure to check out onX Hunt’s Facebook and Instagram pages all spring, as well. Also be sure to explore the new NWTF Wild Turkey Records Layer free on the Hunt App.