When I started hunting turkeys, I was like most hunters—I didn't know much. I learned from others I hunted with, and over time I gained confidence in my calling by fooling toms. With newfound confidence and some urging from family and friends, I started competing in turkey calling contests. Now I can call in a turkey any time I wish—yeah right! I wish it was that easy, but we all know it's not. Regardless, to kill turkeys regularly you need to learn to sweet-talk gobblers like a seductive hen.
Below I will cover four vocalizations that a hen turkey uses most often in the wild. If you learn these calls, they are excellent building blocks for your calling arsenal, and can be used throughout the season.
The Hen Yelp
The most frequently used turkey vocalization by hunters is the hen yelp. The yelp is a basic call that all turkeys use to communicate a host of things; we can only speculate about what they are saying. Many of us think the yelp is used to communicate position or location. In other words, they're saying, "Hey, I'm over here! Where are you?" I use this call when working a tom that is talking back to me. If he isn't talking much, I may mix in a few cutts to fire him up a little. In most cases, hens go to the gobble of a tom. As hunters, we're trying to beat what's natural for a turkey by asking a tom to come to us. Yelps absolutely make up a great part of the conversation. A box call is beginner-friendly, makes great yelps and is easy to use. I used a box call the first day I hunted and still use them today.
The Hen Cluck
The cluck is a one-note call that turkeys will make throughout the day. From when they hit the ground until they fly back up to their roost in the evening, they will cluck. Hens will come to fellow hens for a variety of reasons—to fight, hang out, feed together, etc. A hen will often yelp as she closes in while searching for another hen. She will begin to cluck when she thinks she has closed the distance. If spooked, a hen will putt—this is like a cluck, but with a sharper note. Often when hunting, I'll cluck every 20 minutes or so, allowing any tom that has moved in silently to speak up without overpowering him with more aggressive calls. Also, most hens will work into their yelping gradually by starting with clucks. Cluck a few times when you're in the field. If a turkey responds, then you might start to work in some yelps. I will use a diaphragm call most of the time to cluck, but when I mix in purring I'll use a slate-style pot call. Pot calls are versatile—I can make very soft calls to extremely high-pitched calls to cut through wind or project to longer distances if I need to.
The Hen Cutt
Cutting is an excited, sometimes aggressive call that hens use when trying to get the attention of other turkeys. If a hen talks back to you, she might be chewing you out for stepping on her turf. Picking a fight with a hen can be a good thing. In fact, sometimes you can talk trash to pull a hen away from a gobbler. Use the hen's aggression against her and she just might bring that tom with her. I believe that cutting of a hen is a very emotional call—often the hen is upset when cutting. It's a sharper, raspier call with a unique rhythm. I like to use a glass pot-style call for cutting because they typically deliver a higher-pitched note then a conventional slate call.
The Hen Purr
The last call you should master is the purr. It is often used in conjunction with the cluck, also called the cluck and purr. Most of the time a purr is a content call—hens are calm, maybe even feeding. There is an aggressive purr, but is more common with fighting toms and jakes. If you can hear the purring of a hen, she is probably close. This call can be used to help pull that tom in those last few yards—into shooting range. I use the same pot call that I use for clucks.
On A Final Note
The yelp, cutt, cluck and purr are the basic calls that a hen turkey's vocabulary is built on. To learn more, get out there, hunt and listen to hens—they are your best teacher. You will learn a lot from the real deal, but don't hesitate to consult CDs, DVDs or other online resources to improve you turkey-talking abilities. Visit the National Wild Turkey Federation website for free audio recordings of real hens demonstrating all the calls I've mentioned.
One last thing to remember, and I have to remind myself of this: Don't get caught up in the moment and call too much. I know how it is … you have this calling thing figured out, it sounds great and you want to use it. But many times when a tom hears too much calling, he will hang up and wait for you to show up instead of coming to you. Remember, we are asking that tom turkey to do something that isn't natural for him, so play your cards right or he will claim the chips.
The author is a land and wildlife management expert, competitive turkey caller, Mossy Oak Pro Staffer and Member of the North American Hunting Club.