There are simply too many choices of turkey calls, including all the types, materials, configurations, and styles, not to mention brand names, models, and all the marketing hype that goes with it.
How does a turkey hunter settle on which type of turkey call is best to use when, in what situations or under what conditions?
Perhaps, the best answer is to have several “favorite” calls on hand.
All of the variables to a turkey hunt — and they are myriad — can make for the use of multiple types of calls as conditions change or as the mood of a gobbler shifts. It can be perplexing at best.
Most turkey hunters have their favorite call, or two, or three. You probably do too. Your No. 1 call may be one that has simply worked time after time, consistently bringing toms into close range for a clean headshot. Every turkey hunter has at least one of those calls secured in their turkey call bag (or they think they do).
But, I have never seen just one call work well every time all the time. I sure would love to have it, if anyone can find it. Meanwhile, the search continues raising a few questions.
How often do you venture off your standard course of calls to try something new?
Are you willing to consider using a type of call you have never used before?
I wonder if a gobbler understands the concept that variety is the spice of life. Sometimes, it sure seems like they do.
Consider the following information as basic instruction — Turkey Calls 101. It will be dull for veteran hunters, but important information for the novice hunter just getting into the game.
Many turkey calls make their hen copying sounds through simple friction. There are pot calls and box calls, and there are many variations of each style.
Box calls: The most common box calls have big swinging handles or paddles, while others are small handheld scratch-boxes with two basic sides and a bottom. A separate piece of material is used to draw/pull across the top or edges of the sides to create various hen sounds.
On regular box calls, the paddle is drawn across the upper edges of the sides that have been chalked to create a scratching sound that really quite closely mimics calls made by real turkey hens in the woods. The top paddle is usually attached at one end of the box most often by a screw-spring arrangement to allow for some adjustment to tighten or loosen the paddle. Users toy with these adjustments to get the hen sounds just right.
Most box calls are fabricated from wood, and the varieties can be astounding. Choices can include walnut, purple heartwood, sassafras, sycamore, mahogany, butternut, cherry, bloodwood, poplar, oak, maple, pecan, and, undoubtedly many more exotic woods most of us wouldn’t recognize. Many calls combine two or more woods in the same box call.
Push-pull calls: Many hunters prefer the simplicity of a push-pull scratch box, which can be used with one hand. It is a small box with a dowel and a paddle-like piece inside. The paddle is pushed, usually with a spring arrangement, to create friction on a surface within the box. These can be made of various woods or plastics.
“We have a new type of mechanical call we named the Bombshell,” said Will Primos of Primos Hunting in Flora. “You simply push the rail on top to make yelps or tap it to make cutting calls. The rail can be lightly and slowly pushed in to issue a purr or turkey whine call. The rail is adjustable to change the pitch from raspy to high peak calls. It is designed to mount on a turkey shotgun to minimize motion in use.”
Pot calls: Fitting in the palm of one hand and used with a striker in the other, the pot call is most commonly just referred to as a friction call. These are constructed of a round pot or carved out or molded sound chamber. The pot or lower part of the friction call is most often made of wood, but it could be plastic or even metal.
The pots are topped with a variety of materials from rock slate, glass, aluminum, crystal or synthetic materials. Each type of top material seems to have a uniquely subtle sound — and some are resistant to weather —so it is important to store test them to see what sound you like best. Some are very high pitched, while others are more raspy or deeper in sound.
Strikers can be as customized by shape or materials, just as the calls themselves. Different strikers can make different sounds on different calls too. Test a variety to see what each does on the pot call you have, and don’t be surprised if one company’s pot with a different one’s striker produces a sound pleasing to your ear.
There is much variety and diversity in the turkey hen sound calls these combinations can make. Sometimes just changing a striker on a friction call can make all the difference in turning a locked up gobbler in your direction. I have seen a simple change in strikers change the mood of a gobbler.
The science and art of mouth diaphragm calls are a whole different ball game.
“I got started making calls out of my barbershop in Sumrall, too long ago to remember,” said world champion caller and call maker Preston Pittman. “I made all kinds of calls, but I think my talent was in stretching synthetic latex materials into reeds fixed onto metal frames that could be held in the mouth.
“Breathing air across the reed or multiple reeds created the sounds of a hen yelp, cluck, or other turkey calls.”
Today, mouth calls are extremely popular especially among the turkey hunters that know how to “run” them. It takes a lot of practice and finesse to get the air pressure just right to create a variety of turkey hen calls from the mouth.
The marketplace is flush with numerous brands of mouth calls. It is hard to determine what a good mouth call is, and what is not. Sometimes you just have to buy one to find out by trial and error. The good part is that they are not particularly expensive. Once in a while you find a really good one. If you do, take good care of it.
I counted 125 different mouth calls in just one box-store catalog offering. They went by some pretty wild names such as Killer, Raspy Cut, Hyper Cut, Ghost, Hacked Off, Hook Hunter, Wicked Lady, Preacher, Terminator, Warlock, Raspy Old Hen, Freak Mama, Ho’Down, Lil’Nasty, Last Dance, Seek and Destroy, Black Wasp, and Anthrax. Of course, none of the names really mean much of anything and are just marketing ploys to sell calls.
The one big obvious advantage of a mouth call is that they are easy to tote in the shirt pocket or call case, and don’t require tying up hands to get them to make calls. That can be a huge plus when a gobbler is standing on the doorstep just yards away from the kill zone when no overt movements will escape their sharp eyes.
Tube calls: This one last major classification is mainly a simple plastic cylinder tube with a piece of latex stretched across one open end. The edge of the tube is placed against the lips for air to be blown across the latex to make the turkey hen calls.
Rest assured it is an art form few master. It is easier said than done to get precise controlled calls from a tube call. But, it is worth trying because a tube call can produce a cut or yelps that can be heard for miles. Mossy Oak Vice President Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland is one of those who has the touch, and often uses his to get a locator shock gobble at midday.
I have never been able to get a tube call to perform to my satisfaction, and mine is in a box somewhere, not doubt covered in dust.
Ask the experts
That’s the basic information on the primary kinds of turkey calls, and should provide you enough to start asking hunters what they prefer to use in the turkey woods. We’ve asked a few for you.
“I’m a box call man myself,” said Kerry French of Holmes County. “I can crank down on one hard to send a piercing, raspy hen call all across the woods. They are particularly effective on windy days when a gobbler might have a more difficult time hearing a call. I keep mine chalked up good and it has never failed me yet. There are even some brands on the market today like the Woods Wise box that will function reliably even when wet.”
Marvin Moak of Raymond prefers a different friction call, a pot.
“Mine has a wooden bottom with a thin piece of real slate glued on top<’ Moak said. “There are several holes drilled in the bottom of the pot to emit subtle calls, but the real difference is in lightly circling the tip of the heartwood striker across the freshly sanded slate.
“I like the control of going light or heavy with the striker to make different calls including feeding sounds and purrs. I can get the whole spectrum of yelps, clucks, purrs, and even excited cutting calls when I really crank it up.”
Beau Starkey of Madison uses them all, but given a choice, he’ll pick the diaphragm mouth call.
“I guess I use a little bit of everything from time to time,” he said. “I have a favorite old box call and several friction pots with different strikers, but when push comes to shove, I like the ease and convenience of slipping a latex call in my mouth.
“I can sit in my blind and remain completely motionless not having to work a box or striker. A mouth call allows me to keep my shotgun up and ready for the shot.”
Confusing? You bet it is, but finding the calls that perform best for you is part of the fun. In the end, the best strategy is to have one or several of each in the turkey bag or vest and know well how to use each one.
That way you can change back and forth to see which call produces the frequency or pitch that really gets a gobbler fired up. When it comes to fooling a wily ol’ gobbler, rarely does one call do it all.