I have a confession. I am a poor goose caller. It’s simple—I have no idea what I’m saying to geese. For years, while I thought I was hollering, “Hey, goose. Come here,” I was, in fact, screaming, “Yo! There are two guys down here who want to shoot you and take you home.” That type of talk isn’t conducive to getting Canadas into your decoys.
Likewise, on the turkey calling. The more you understand about the language itself, the more likely you’ll be to sweet-talk that longbeard into doing what you’d like him to do. And all you want him to do is walk on over within 35 yards.
That said, let’s take a look at wild turkey vernacular. Even if you understand only a little more each time you step into the field, that’s certainly better than, “no habla turkey.”
Every sound a turkey makes, with a couple exceptions, begins with the yelp. For the most part, it’s the yelp that hunters imitate in order to lure a gobbler into range. There are different types of yelps, each made according to a bird’s mood or what that bird hopes to achieve. Most of these are separated by variables such as volume, duration, cadence, intensity, and situation. The list of basic yelps would include:
Plain yelp – A universal communication sound. Turkeys use the plain yelp as they ‘talk’ amongst themselves in the flock, or talk to themselves. Some yelps are soft; others are higher in volume. Some are issued as single notes, while in other cases, a yelp sequence may contain a dozen or more separate calls.
Lost yelp, or the lonesome yelp – A plaintive call, often made by single birds just looking for company. The lost yelp is typically heard as a monotone series of calls with neither rise nor fall, and can include 20 or more separate yelps.
Tree yelp – A very soft, quiet call made by hens still on the roost.
Breeding yelp – This yelp, made by a willing and receptive hen, translates into, “Come here, big boy. It’s time we got to know each other a little better.” The breeding yelp is a coarse series of calls that leave little to the imagination.
Similar to a chicken’s cluck, the turkey’s sound of the same name is often heard coming from contented birds. Clucks are a fantastic low-key, low-volume confidence call, and can be extremely effective on late-season gobblers Soft cluck-yelp combinations, too, can produce, especially in blind-calling situations.
Like the cluck, the purr is another sound of contentment. Again like the cluck, the purr or cluck-and-purr combination can often be used to entice wary gobblers.
Cut, or Cutting
Cutting is little more than aggressive clucking. Add a bit more volume, and sharpen the edges of the sound a bit, really pop it out there, and you’ll find yourself cutting in no time. Unlike clucking, cutting is an excited, energized, demanding type of sound delivered in a machine-gun style. What does it mean? In some cases, it’s the hen’s way of letting off steam, perhaps at members of her flock. Other times, it’s a sure-fire way of getting that old longbeard’s attention.
This is it—the Mother of All Natural Sounds. This is why we get up at 3 a.m. for six straight weeks, and wobble into the woods. This sound makes exhausted men run and strong men weep. The gobble. It’s why we do what we do.
Two questions remain to be answered. The first is what type of call should I use to make these sounds? There are plenty of quality turkey calls on the market—slates, diaphragms, box calls, wingbones, tubes, aluminum, crystal, and the list goes on. My best advice for new callers is simple. Find a call—one call, you don’t need a dozen to start—you’re comfortable with, and then get proficient with that call.
Despite all its supposed intricacies, turkey calling is little more than mimicry. It’s extremely important to know what real turkeys sound like. To that end, I would strong suggest investing in a CD or DVD such as those available from Knight & Hale or the National Wild Turkey Federation and hearing precisely what the above calls sound like.
Will these calls work every time? The answer is a simple no. Nothing works all the time, even if you’re speaking the wild turkey’s own language. Still, these sounds work often enough to keep us going back day after day, spring after spring, and that’s more than enough for me.