Collinsville’s Mark McPhail has been hunting turkey in Mississippi since he was 20, and has learned a few things in the process. 

In addition to being well known for his hunting prowess, McPhail has an extensive custom turkey call collection totaling nearly 2,300 calls. He’s also become very proficient at making his own turkey calls, having won a national championship at the NWTF National Convention in the Hunter Friction Division with his Cane Call. 

His specialty is his award-winning trough call, which entices lovesick gobblers. 

“I started making calls after I retired to have something to do when turkey season was over, and as a way to meet other people and trade calls,” McPhail said. 

We asked him to elaborate on the different types of calls and to recommend how to pick a call that will consistently call gobblers to the gun.

“If I was a novice turkey hunter wanting to learn how to call and hunt a wild turkey I’d want to spend time with a turkey hunter that has years of experience,” McPhail said. “As for which call to use, I’d recommend getting a call that you feel comfortable with. Some people can’t play certain types of calls.

“Most people like pot calls and a lot of young people like them, too. They’re easy to play and very affordable too.” 

Pot calls made of slate, copper or aluminum like Paul Meek’s Copper-Slate or Joey Rose’s Slate Call are easy to yelp, cluck, and purr with and something that this writer has used successfully in calling up gobblers. 

“Box calls are a little more difficult to master but they’re my second favorite call to use when you’re just getting started,” McPhail said. “When it comes to box calls you just can’t beat the sound of a single sided box call, but most people want a double-sided box to play either side. A single-sided box is a superior call in my opinion, and you can yelp, cluck, and purr with a little practice too.”

Other calls that are very deadly on gobblers are scratch boxes, trough calls, wing bones and trumpets, which are tough for neophyte hunters. 

“Sometimes it takes years to master some of those calls and they’re really good at calling up wary old gobblers, so don’t give up,” said McPhail. “You’ve got to keep practicing and playing the calls every chance you get. It’s like anything, sooner or later you’ll catch on.”

Another reason to put in the time and learn to master those harder calls is because it gives you more calls to put in your arsenal, including some that could be unique. 

“The ones that aren’t as popular, they’re going to sound a little bit different because those local birds haven’t heard them and they give you an advantage with the call if you can master it,” McPhail said. 

Toning it down

One reason to expand into new call types is the ease at toning down the sound.

“Some people like trough calls and scratch boxes because you can go softer and quieter with them,” McPhail said. “A lot of people have a tendency to yelp too often and too loud. Loudness is not necessarily what you want. You want that turkey to think you’re a turkey and come to your call.

“Most turkey sounds are very soft. You can be 10 yards from a hen and you can’t hear her, but turkeys can hear the chattering, whining and purring. Sometimes softer is better.”

But, sometimes, louder is better, especially when it is a unique tone.

“A wing bone or trumpet call is a big advantage in this area because most people don’t use them around here,” McPhail said. “Those calls make a different sound and have a high volume and can travel a long way. It can attract turkeys because they rarely if ever hear them.”

McPhail also likes scratch boxes.

“Dave Godwin makes a great sounding scratch box that is hard to beat,” he said. “Another good scratch box is made by Tom Crook. When you learn to call on those you can really be deadly on turkeys.”

Mouth calls, too 

Eventually, most hunters move on to a diaphragm or mouth call, which offers the advantage of hands-free use.

“Mouth calls took me years to get proficient with, and it took a turkey not responding to anything I threw at him to make me get interested in it,” said McPhail. “After I got beat by that turkey, I decided to try the mouth calls and stick with them until I could call with them successfully. 

“Once I got that first turkey to come in to my mouth call I started working on it hard and strong and I keep one in my mouth at all times when I’m hunting now.”

While many hunters carry a couple of calls while hunting, McPhail goes one step further. He carries a call sack or two full of calls. 

“I’ll use several until I find something that he likes,” McPhail said.