How to Distinguish Turkey Calls

When many of us hear a gobble while hunting, we might think, “Finally! Sure enough, that was a gobble!”

And then, usually, the box, the pot or the call comes out of the mouth and we make a call, reproducing a hen to see if that bird will answer us.

And if he does, the hunt is on.

But some of the more experienced gobbler hunters I’ve known can actually access a number of gobbler qualities by the sound of the roar of the old thunder chicken.

For example, experienced hunters will often notice whether the sound of a swallow is actually coming from a jake, a yearling tom, a two year old, or an adult bird.

I’ve been with hunters who will say, “Do you hear that? He’s a two-year-old.”

Quite surprising, indeed, to be able to determine the age of a bird just by the sound of its abyss.

But then again, verification is usually problematic when we never even spot the gobbling tom.

Personally, just my two cents, I think gobblers have different voices like people. Some are deep and booming, others have a higher pitched sound. And the acoustic created by the pitch, ridge or dip also has a lot to do with the pitch and timbre of the gobble.

A gobble may sound from afar, muffled by deep brush filling a hollow, but sound very close again when a gobble sounds through the wood of an open post.

Complicated determinations occur when there is more than one bird swallowing.

Seems like pairing toms is more common these days than it was in the 70s and 80s when spring turkey hunting was a young sport.

Back then, when I called a tomcat, the bird was rarely paired with another gobbler. But nowadays, this grouping of toms, often two and sometimes three, seems to be more the rule than the exception.

Grouped toms often gobble at the same time, or in syncope, where one gobbles triggers the other, determining age beyond the ability of the most experienced turkey hunter.

Last season I called a bird and was surprised to see two other younger toms, running with the older bird dominating, but a bit to the side. In fact, one of the youngest with a long beard, probably a two year old, walked past my lures first. I could see the old tom back, showing off, that is, strutting around, with a tail outstretched and wings drooping, an absolutely stunning sight in the mid-morning sunlight. Fortunately, my patience was rewarded during this hunt.

It seems that some toms are so dominant that they suppress the gobbling of other less dominant birds. I have seen a fully extended gobbler in a field trying to chase the younger, smaller, faster jakes and two year olds with no success.

If the young birds got too close to the old handyman’s females, he would run towards them, but only so far. Because when he turned back to the hens, another of the jakes started to move in. And he had to run to the hens to feed to protect his daughters from the advances of the young birds.

The whole show.

He rarely answered my calls, although he did occasionally. The young toms never swallowed that day. His answers were the type of gluttony that I would call “compulsory gluttony”. There’s not much demand or heart in this kind of gluttony. Just more like, “Okay, I’m here. You’re coming at me because I’m not moving.”

Sometimes gobblers come on the run. But that also seems to be rarer these days than when we first started calling toms.

So when I hear a tom noise, I immediately look for a good installation location, where I can have a good view, optimal gun swing and my back is protected, preferably against an old tree or stump.

Then I install my decoys, and the duel begins with turkey cries.

The first call, when everything is ready, is essential.

And that first response not only tells us where the bird is, how it moves, and its level of interest.


Some toms will swallow, swallow, swallow, endlessly double-swallow, triple-swallow, once they get pissed off, but they still won’t come in.


We’re thinking, “Man, he was hot…it looked like he was coming!”

Usually these stubborn and reluctant birds are hooked up to hens.

Females are busy with their routine. “And a bird in the hand…” So the tomcat won’t leave them anymore.

Once in a while, when we are really lucky, we can call the females. And when the girls come in, the old boy is often in tow, following right behind, strutting all the way.

Then there is the other extreme, the mufflers.

You know what they always say… “watch out for mufflers”.

Particularly poignant when hunting turkeys.

Often, these silent toms slip in unexpectedly.

The slightest turn of the head or a change of rifle is enough to hear the worst sound a turkey hunter can hear… the high-pitched “putt, putt, putt” alarm sounded from a frightened tom, running through the woods .

Far from being a cup.

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on The Spectator’s Outdoors page.

Helen L. Cuellar