Wild Turkey Sounds and What They Mean

Garret Jacob | |

Turkeys, like many species of animals including humans, have their own way of communicating and their own language. Just like how humans use certain words, tones, or pitches in their voice to express certain emotions and information, turkeys use a collection of vocal and throat sounds to do the same.

Each of those sounds is important because they relay essential information to other turkeys including mating calls, danger warnings, and location calls for lost baby turkeys or others who have separated from the flock. 

As a hunter, or as someone who wishes to photograph and observe wild turkeys, it is important to understand these turkey sounds and how they are used in their natural environment.

What Kinds of Sounds Do Turkeys Make?

There are eight main types of turkey sounds that any good wild turkey hunter should familiarize themselves with. Each sound is an indication of a particular emotion, reaction, or situation. 

Being aware of these sounds and their meanings will allow you to understand what is going through the mind of a nearby turkey. 

Being able to replicate these sounds through a turkey call will allow you to manipulate turkeys into reacting a certain way to behave in a predictable manner to your benefit. 

Also note, some sounds might be male-only, while some maybe only for females or babies. It is crucial that you learn the differences. 

Terms that are used to identify male turkeys include gobbler, Toms, and for juvenile males, the term Jakes is used. 

Adult females are most often referred to as hens while a yearling female is called a Jenny. 

The sounds listed below might be used by all types of turkeys or maybe just particular types of turkeys like Jakes, or hens. 

Let us break down each individual sound and describe to you what it sounds like, what kind of turkey would most likely use it, and what that particular sound would mean in that particular situation.

Cluck

Clucks are the most basic turkey sound and most often used sound by all adult turkeys, both Toms and hens. 

This sound is used when a turkey is simply walking around, feeding, or interacting casually with other turkeys. 

It is a simple sound that identifies an individual turkey and lets their presence known. 

The cluck can be used in conjunction with other sounds, but for the most part, when used alone and periodically, it does not have any other significant meaning other than “hello, I am here doing my thing”.

Yelp

A yelp (and no not the website you goto to rave or complain about the food establishments in your town) is another basic sound made by turkeys. 

The yelp sound usually takes place in a serious of yelps numbering anywhere between three and eight. It is used by both male and female turkeys and it often is used when a turkey wants to share its location with any turkeys that may potentially be nearby.

When a hen is looking for a gobbler for mating, a hen may let out a series of yelps to let any potential mates know where she is located and that she is ready to get down to business

Also, the yelp call may be used when a hen has awoken from roosting in a tree and she is ready to fly down and get her day started. That could mean she is simply looking to feed and start her day, or it could mean she is looking for a mate.

Putt

The putt is a distress signal that is often used when a turkey is fleeing an area after being startled by something. They could have seen a predator, or maybe heard the noise of a twig snapping that made them feel uneasy and feel the need to retreat.

When turkeys make a putting sound, it can sound very similar to a cluck and so it can often be mistaken as such. There is a big difference between the two sounds, and knowing the difference is vital if you plan on using a turkey call during your hunts. 

The cluck is used to identify a turkey and that they are feeding and moving around as normal and everything is fine. The putt tells other turkeys to run. If you putt when you should have clucked, you are going to have a disappointing hunt.

Cutting

Ok, not to add further confusion, but cutting is also a similar sound to putting, however, it uses a series of clucks in a combination of yelps. 

This sound is most often only used by hens and it is used to attract the attention of a Tom who maybe had responded before, but now they have stopped responding to the normal yelps.

Essentially, the hen is taking it up a notch and letting the Tom know that she is still there and that she wants to mate. Sometimes, however, to no fault of the hen, a Tom does not want to be bothered and he will be turned off by a hen who is cutting. 

Cackle

The cackle sound is used by all turkeys and it is an indication that they are leaving the roost at that very moment. 

How it works is by combining a series of different sounds with the sounds of their wings flapping as they fly down from their roosting position. 

First, the turkey yelps to indicate location.

Then, before they take flight they cackle with a series of extremely quick clucks and cuts and they leave the roost flapping their wings while continuing the clucks and cuts.

And last, as they hit the ground, the speed of the cackle decreases immensely and either normal clucks or yelps take shape. 

Kee-kee and Kee-kee Run

One type of turkey we forgot to mention earlier was the poult. A poult is a baby turkey that is not yet a yearling and the Kee-kee and Kee-kee Run call is a special sound just for the poults out there in the wild. 

This sound is made by a baby turkey, or poult when it has been separated from the flock. It is a distress signal and a location indicator wrapped into one. 

It starts as a series of ultra-high pitched yelp attempts that eventually lead to one long desperate-sounding yelp. 

The sound is difficult to describe using words. 

a professional turkey caller demonstrating a Kee-kee Run ca

Gobble

A gobble is the sound of an adult male who is looking for a mate and who is warning any other males in the area that he is the alpha in this particular domain.

The gobble is the sound most hunters want to hear. Be careful of yearlings who may be able to imitate a gobble, if you listen closely, you should be able to differentiate between the two.

Purr

The purring sound is interesting because it can have two very different distinct meanings. 

The first meaning is when turkeys in general are happy or content when they are feeding or just going about their day. It can sound kind of like a constant humming of a tune you can’t quite distinguish.

The second meaning takes form when it is used by an aggressive gobbler. A male who feels threatened by other males, or one who is about to charge and attack another gobbler or Jake, will purr as they charge.

As you can see, two very different meanings from the same sound. 

What Do These Different Sounds Tell Us About Turkey Behavior?

As you can see, turkeys are a more complex species than what first meets the eye. The use of sound in the form of calls is a complex, yet efficient way, of relaying information between all members of the turkey world. 

The understanding of these sounds will help any hunter be successful.  Knowing which sounds belong to which types of turkeys and their meanings will allow you to listen in and observe turkeys in the wild. 

Being able to manipulate those sounds takes it to another level. Successfully mimicking these sounds will allow you to be an excellent hunter and predict turkey reactions

What Sounds Does a Turkey Make When They Are Scared?

The sound a turkey makes when they are scared depends on the type of turkey and the situation.

The putt sound is for sure a sound that indicates fear. It can be used by every type of turkey and often the sound is used while the turkey is on the run. “Hey everyone, let’s get out of here now!”

Arguably, a Tom’s gobble and purr can be used when they are scared, however, it is more of a fight response than a flight response. A Tom will gobble to announce its dominance if it senses other males and it will purr when it is about to turn aggressive on another male. 

Though the Tom is technically not fleeing, it can be seen as a fear response to the presence of other males in the area. 

What Sounds Do Female Turkeys Make?

The female turkeys use most of the sounds other than the Kee-kee Run and the gobble sound. The Kee-kee run belongs solely to baby turkeys and the gobble belongs to the males.

One important distinction to emphasize is that the purring sound is made by both the male and females turkeys, however, for the females, it is an indication of contentment, where for the males, it is a sign of aggression.  

What About Male Turkeys?

The gobble sound is special to the male turkeys. The gobble acts as a mating call as well as a warning to other males in the area. It lets hens know that the Tom is excited and ready to mate. 

Are Turkeys Noiser at Night or During the Day?

Turkeys are by far the nosiest in the early and mid-morning. This is a very active time for them as they feed and move about the area. The second most noisy time is the late afternoon/evening before twilight. This is another active time for turkeys, however, it is much quieter than the morning.

The night time is the quietest, however, it is not silent. Turkeys will fly up in trees to roost and some subtle communication still can occur.

A favored hunting tactic by some hunters is to go out to their hunting areas right before dark and wait to make sure the turkeys have roosted for the night. Once the hunter knows the turkeys are in the trees, they may let out a few calls to try to invoke a response from a Tom who is in a tree.

Once the Tom responds, the male has given away their roosting location and the hunter will know exactly where they are for hunting time the next morning. 

What Types of Sounds Do Turkey Calls Try to Imitate?

Hunters can and do use most of these calls, if not all of them when hunting, though the most common turkey sounds are the yelp and the cluck. In order to mimic these sounds, a hunter will use a type of turkey caller

There are all different types of turkey callers on the market. From surface-scratchers to box calls, and gobble shakers to mouth calls, these are just a few of the numerous options available today.

The type of caller that you choose is a matter of preference more than anything since they all accomplish the same thing, just in different ways. 

A demonstration of the most commonly mimicked turkey calls and how they are used, and what they mean

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