Understanding the Science of Turkey Sounds
If there’s one outdoors sound that can instantly shock you to your core and send every nerve in your body on high alert, it has to be a turkey gobble. From a distance, it’s thrilling and cuts through the air like a knife. From up close, it’s downright jarring and can make you flinch when you’re not expecting it. What is it about this sound that makes it so special? How do we hear turkey sounds while hunting? In this post, we’ll look at the high-level science behind turkey sounds, how our ears interpret them, and consider what turkey hunting would be like if you couldn’t partake in the sensory experience of a turkey gobble.
Science of Sound
To understand turkey calls better, it helps to know more about the properties of sound itself. Sound can be described in several different ways.
Sometimes it helps to visualize that a sound travels from its source to your ears as a wave would travel across the surface of a pond. The bigger the source (i.e., louder the noise), the further its ripples will spread (i.e., the further the sound will carry). These sound waves are actually invisible vibrations spreading through the air. When they reach your ear canal, your eardrum receives the sound and vibrates as well. This stimulus is sent into the inner ear where it will turn into a signal for your brain to register. Surprisingly, our ears are actually pretty good at pinpointing locations and distances of sounds. Our brains can register the minuscule time difference it takes for sound to hit one ear vs. the other or the slight frequency change, which helps us narrow in on the location it came from. This is especially helpful when we’re trying to locate a tom and need to know where and when we should set up.
One measurement you often hear about in terms of hearing protection is decibels (dB). Decibels are a useful (if not a little confusing) measurement for sound intensity or volume. Essentially, the higher the decibels, the louder or more intense a sound is. But like the ripple example above, the measurement of intensity generally reduces with the distance traveled, if there are any obstructions between your ears and the sound source, and even under certain atmospheric conditions (i.e., wind or rain interference). A typical conversation between two people at close range is about 60 dB, a lawnmower is about 80-90 dB, and shotgun blasts can easily be over 140 dB. For reference, prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Frighteningly, a single loud noise over 120 dB can permanently and immediately damage your hearing.
Tone or pitch is another important property of sound. We often think of a tone as an individual note, and that’s a pretty good description. The tone or pitch of a sound is essentially the frequency of sound waves, and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Higher frequencies (1,000 Hz) are perceived by the brain as a higher sounding pitch than lower frequencies (50 Hz). As an example, humans have a hearing range between 20 and 20,000 Hz. There’s varying science on the hearing range for wild turkeys. Some claim it is 4 times better than human hearing (Maryland Department of Natural Resources). But based on the frequencies of many of the calls they make, it’s reasonable to assume they can hear at least as well as we can.
Turkey Sounds | Can You Hear?
Though they are thought of as secretive birds, turkeys are capable of making lots of different noises and can be very vocal animals. As a hunter, it helps to know each one of them very well so you can respond in the moment and sweet talk a big tom into shooting range. The National Wild Turkey Federation provides some interesting information on turkey sounds, including the rough pitch or tone for each turkey call. Here are some of the highlights relevant for turkey hunting:
- Gobble – 400-4,500 Hz. The turkey gobble is one of the turkey’s loudest and most well-known vocalizations. Males (toms) are the only ones to produce it, by rapidly making a gurgling sound and throwing their head forward with each gobble.
- Cackle – 1,000-4,000 Hz. A cackle usually consists of a series of rapid, irregular notes that increase in pitch. Turkeys cackle most when flying up to or down from a roost tree (e.g., fly-down cackle).
- Purr – 700-1,400 Hz. A purr is a soft, often low-pitched call. Like a cat, turkeys tend to purr when they are content, whether while feeding or just amongst other turkeys.
- Cluck – 1,300 Hz. A cluck is one of the most basic one-note calls a turkey produces. They can be combined with some of the other turkey sounds here, but turkeys usually cluck in a 2 to 3 note series.
- Yelp – 1,000 Hz. The yelp is another basic turkey call, and consists of a series of 5 to 10 “yawp” sounds. Most hunters are familiar with yelps for calling a gobbler. Hen yelps are usually made at a higher pitch than toms.
As you can see, all of the turkey sounds above have frequencies well within normal human hearing range. However, as we age or if we have particularly noisy work or hobbies (e.g., power tools, lawnmowers, shooting, chainsaws, racing cars, etc.), it’s easy for hearing loss to occur. As a result, you might not be able to hear some of these frequencies as well as you used to. That’s a bummer because it’s such a special part of the turkey hunting experience. But practically, if you can’t hear the turkey sounds as well, it’s very hard to judge distance or location either.
Our Turkey AmpPods are designed to help your ears focus in on these specific frequencies, and actually amplify them. This can help alert you to a big gobbler’s presence, and help you determine where and how far away it is. Other common woodland sounds aren’t amplified and sound much as they would without the AmpPods in. The real cherry on top, though, is that this product also functions as hearing protection. When there’s a sudden, loud noise (i.e., shotgun blast), the earbuds instantly shut off and suppress the sound. You can have the benefit of amplified hearing while simultaneously protecting your ears from loud noises.
In short, is it possible to hunt turkeys without hearing them? Absolutely. But if you had a choice, wouldn’t you rather experience that thunderous gobble in a way that makes you almost jump out of your blind? We sure would.