Nonverbal Clues: When Silence Shouts

For most turkey hunters, one sound dominates a day afield and guides their actions: the gobble.

Sure, yelping, cutting, jake-yelps, fly-down cackling and other vocalizations often enter the equation. Turkeys don’t always talk, however, and when they shut up, problems arise. Most hunters agree tight-lipped birds create the toughest scenarios, but even they provide subtle audio evidence about their location and behavior.

SPITTING AND DRUMMING

Male turkeys make this soft, guttural sound by forcing air up from their bodies. They almost always spit and drum when they strut but also do so when not strutting. The sound begins with the sharper spit portion, which sounds like a brief “pfft” or even “tick.” That’s immediately followed by the lower, softer drum, which sounds somewhat like a bass “duum” vocalization that begins low and increases in tone and volume at the end. When you learn this unique noise, it becomes unmistakable.

Typically, when you hear a gobbler spit and drum, he’s close, and may be already within shotgun range. This is especially true when it’s windy, raining or otherwise noisy in the woods, or if you’ve lost some hearing ability.

Experienced hunters key on drumming as a bird approaches, especially if it has stopped gobbling. This lets them track the turkey’s whereabouts and signals that they should remain still and be ready for a shot. Further, if the gobbler doesn’t appear immediately, drumming assures you he’s still nearby.

FOOTSTEPS

Turkeys can actually be relatively noisy when they walk, especially in dry woods. Also, hens and even spring gobblers will pause to scratch leaves or soil as they travel through an area. Always listen for these telltale noises.

WINGS

Turkeys have large, powerful wings that carry their heavy bodies away from danger or to and from the roost. Those wings also make noise when they rub the ground, catch on foliage or a bird readjusts them. You probably won’t hear these sounds often, but it pays to keep them in mind.

You’ll usually hear wingbeats most often at fly-up or fly-down time. A rush of air, wingtips hitting branches or even the thump-thump-thump of flapping wings lets you know that a turkey has left the limb or flown up for the night. Strutting provides another good example, as gobblers drag their wings on the ground when they puff up for hens. In combination with drumming, that’s a sure sign that a turkey is take-the-safety-off close.

Likewise, you’ll sometimes hear a bird adjust its wing feathers, rubbing them against understory vegetation or snapping them shut with a “pop” sound.

SILENCE

Sometimes turkeys don’t make any noise. Even this can be telling.

Gobblers often go quiet when they walk — especially when they break a standoff and approach your calling. A talkative turkey that hushes up is usually on the move. Take that cue, and listen for footsteps and drumming to reveal his location.

On a lesser scale, silence provides solid clues about the general mindset of turkeys in an area. Often, it indicates they’re with hens or just in a funky mood.

Gobblers also sometimes shut up when an area has a high population of jakes and older longbeards are sick of being harassed by gangs of youngsters.

Gobbling rules — no argument. But don’t ignore the nonverbal sounds turkeys make every day. They can betray a bird’s location or provide critical knowledge about the situation. Sometimes, they even seal the deal on a tough gobbler.

And when you sling that turkey over your back and relive the hunt, you won’t care how talkative he was.

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