Understanding Turkey Talk

Tips & Tricks

The thrill of spring turkey hunting would be nothing if it weren’t for early morning silences shattered by gobbles and chattering hens. 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 poor calling and tactics.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) provided recordings of actual turkeys, so make sure you listen to each vocalization to see how close—or far—you are from sounding like the real thing.

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A staple of any caller’s 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 is usually heard as a rapid and sharp series of clucks. This is an excited call made by a hen to grab the attention of a gobbler—she’s fired up and wants the tom to know it. 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 can also serve as 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. They may have to come settle the dispute—gobbler in tow.

Soft Yelps, Clucks, and Purrs

These are low volume calls that signify contentment. They can translate to safety and security for other birds and can be your best weapon to get a gobbler to close down that final 50 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—it 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 around 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 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

Roosting hens often begin their yelping at dawn. This isn’t the same type of excited yelp they will break into later, though. These light, quiet yelps are meant to convince nearby toms that 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 setup.

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 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 spits and purrs may be all you need to convince him that another tom is in the area. Sometimes, when a gobbler isn’t in the right mood to meet the hen, it still won’t 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.


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. Your job is to paint a convincing picture of early morning turkey activity—convincing enough to fool even 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 that of a hen 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 louder than the spit and drum. So, if all you are getting in response are jake clucks but they are getting closer, be prepared—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.

Updated: January 2021

Written by Cavan Williams