If there's one sound that's most difficult for turkey hunters—especially new turkey hunters—to recognize, it's the spit and drum of a strutting tom turkey. And I would argue that the spit-drum is an even more magical sound than a gobble. Your spine will tingle every time you hear the spitting and drumming of a gobbler, especially when there's a tag in your pocket.
The spit-drum is also probably the most mysterious turkey sound. It's clear that the sound is used as part of the spring mating ritual, as toms try to announce their presence and attract hens. The spit is most definitely a vocalization, but to my knowledge there is still speculation about how the drum is exactly created within a tom. T.R. Michels, a seasoned wildlife biologist and fellow turkey fanatic, has spent countless hours studying turkeys and their communication. Michels, after getting up close and personal with domestic toms, drew this conclusion about the spit and drum: "... I suspect that the drum is produced by movement of the air within the sacs of the bird's chest." Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a domestic gobbler named Tommy. After close analysis, I have to agree with Michels' assessment regarding how the drumming sound is created.
Tommy is of the Royal Palm breed. He's a character—I never knew a pea-brained turkey could have so much personality; I also never knew one turkey could spit-drum so much. Tommy struts and spit-drums throughout the day, every day. He continually follows humans around and seeks attention. As shown in the photo above, he even likes to be held.
To capture audio of Tommy spitting and drumming, I attached a medium-quality microphone to his beard and followed him as he strutted his stuff. Watch the video below to hear the audio. Turn the volume up and listen to it with headphones if you have a set. Be sure to pay attention for the pronounced psttt (spit) and hummmmm (drum) at the 11, 20, 35 and 45-second marks. You'll also hear his panting breaths and some content purrs.
Have you ever heard the spit-drum of a tom turkey? Share your comments below.