Do you know what you just said?

by Al Davy | May 24, 2023
do you know what you just said

As a novice hunter many years ago, I was influenced to buy the latest surefire turkey call ― the spit and drum. Every time I used it, however, the tom went silent and walked away. I didn’t know what I was saying but learned many toms didn’t like it.

Our calling is more effective if we know what the calls mean to wild turkeys and use them at the right time. This guide should help you better understand what you’re saying. 

Plain yelp

“If you’re out there, let’s meet up.”

The yelp is the most common vocalization used by hens all year to connect with other hens they believe might be around. Hens also yelp in the spring to connect with toms for breeding so it’s a good long-distance call for spring toms.

Jakes and toms yelp for the same reasons as hens, but a jake or tom yelp will have a lower tone and slower cadence. They can however, yelp fast when worked up about something.

Tree yelp

“I’m still here. How about you?”

This soft yelp is the first sound hens make when they wake up. Use it once or twice at first light to convince a roosted tom that a hen is nearby. If a tom gobbles in response, simulate wing beats by beating your hat against your chest and call with the fly down cackle. Be ready for him to fly down and come looking for you.

Fly down cackle

“Clear the runway. I’m coming in.”

When turkeys fly up to or down from the roost they cackle. Use it with simulated wing beats to create the scenario of a hen flying down off roost.

Assembly yelp

“Ok you little monsters. Get back here now!”

A boss hen uses this call to assemble her poults or flock. It’s a good long distance call or searching call for spring toms because to them it means hens are around. It’s a good fall call to bring in hens.

Excited yelp

To other hens:

“Where are you? I’m alone and I don’t like it.”

To a spring tom:

“I’m on my way. Where are you?”

Excited yelping is a good long range call to get the attention of a tom. But if the tom gobbles and doesn’t come closer, stop yelping because he may be hung up waiting for the hen to come. Switch to hen clucks and tom yelps to incite jealousy and bring him in.


From a boss hen to a challenging hen:

“I don’t want you here and I am going to do some- thing about it!”
It can bring in a lonely tom or perhaps a boss hen with a tom in tow.

From a hen to a spring tom:

“I want to meet up now. I’m on my way.”

Use it to get a tom’s attention but after he gobbles tone it down to clucks and purrs so he doesn’t hang up waiting for the hen to come to him. If he hangs up use jake yelps and excited hen cutting to make him jealous and come in.


“Where are you?”

This is a short-range call used by hens and toms when they expect to see another turkey nearby. Use it to keep a tom coming closer.


“Don’t crowd me.”

In a flock, turkeys purr at each other to keep their spacing. It expresses mild agitation but no threat. It’s a good close-range call to mix in with clucks to create the scenario of a calm flock of hens.

Fighting purr

Tom to tom:

“Put up your spurs! Now you’re going to see who’s boss around here!”
Toms use the fighting purr when fighting for dom- inance. Use it with cutting and wing flapping to simulate a fight which often attracts other toms. Hen to hen:

“This is my guy lady and I’ll fight for him.”

Hens use the fighting purr in struggles over the attentions of a tom or the leadership of the flock. It’s always a good call used with excited cutting and wing flapping to bring in spring toms.

Kee Kee run

“I’m all alone here. Where are you guys?”

This call is used by young birds in spring and fall to reconnect with the flock. In the fall it brings in curi- ous hens and in spring it’s a good call for pressured toms that have been yelped at a lot by hunters.

Alarm putt

“Heads up! Scram!”

Turkeys make this call to warn each other when they sense a threat. You should learn to recognize this call because if you have a tom in range and hear the alarm putt, you will need to shoot before he leaves. It sounds like a muffled cluck.


“I’m the one you want lady bird” or ‘I’m the boss of these woods.”
When a tom gobbles back to your calls but never comes in, he either has hens already or has a rule that the hen always goes to him. Incite jealousy to bring him in with some excited hen cutting mixed in with jake yelps and jake half gobbles.

Spit and drum

“Look at me. I’m so fine”

This is the close-range call of a strutting tom expecting to see a hen any minute. It’s good to recognize the spit and drum because it means you have a tom nearby and need to be alert with your gun in your hands. It is a spitting sound followed by a low rumble like a bumble bee in a coffee can.

Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS

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