Choosing a specific type of turkey call is a personal preference as well as a test of proficiency. Some hunters can operate certain designs better than others. Some styles offer features that are appealing when it comes to maintenance, convenience, storage and transport. Other designs are simply selected based on fit, feel and function. Finally, appearance and quality play a role when selecting a favorite turkey call.
The desire to produce a wide variety of sounds is the biggest reason why there are so many designs and styles of turkey calls, which is key to successfully calling turkeys. Not only is it important to be able to mimic the different sounds in a turkey’s vocabulary — such as yelps, clucks, purrs, cackles, kee-kees and gobbles — it’s also important to be able to control and alter pitch and volume.
Generally speaking, turkey calls fall into one of two categories: friction or air-blown. Friction calls produce sound when two surfaces are rubbed together. Air-blown calls rely on air pressure to vibrate reeds that create sound. Here’s a quick run-down of the most popular turkey call designs and styles available.
CLOSED-LID FRICTION CALLS
Box calls are proven producers — deadly in the turkey woods. To operate them you simply rub the lid of the call against the sidewall of the sound chamber to produce various turkey vocalizations. There are many different types, each with its own sound qualities and inherent advantages.
One-sided short box calls are designed so only one side can be stroked. These calls usually have a thick wall on the echo side of the chamber to allow the call maker to precisely tune the striking side of the call. Single-side box calls are often built with a raised edge on the echo side of the box, which stops the stroke of the paddle in the perfect position — just after the breaking point on the second note of the yelp.
Double-sided short box calls feature the ability to produce two pitches — i.e. two different hens — depending on which side you use. The call maker purposely creates and tunes each side to sound differently. Typically, one side mimics an old hen, and the other side a young hen.
Double-sided long box calls are normally about 12 inches long, versus roughly 7½ inches for a short box. A long box typically has higher-pitched, raspy tones and produces more volume than short boxes, making them ideal in windy conditions, or for use as a long-distance locator call. Hunters appreciate their unique sound qualities and sleek, handsome appearance.
Gobble box calls produce realistic gobbles when shaken with fast, tight movements. Hunters use them as a locator call and a confidence (fighting) call to close the gap on hung-up toms. A popular style utilizes a loose flexible rubber band to forcefully bounce and strike the lid across the sound chamber when quickly shaken.
Bantam (mini) box calls are, as the name suggests, small in size and shape but produce excellent sound quality. These calls tend to be high-pitched and fit easily in a shirt or vest pocket. What they lack in deep tones and volume, they make up for with convenience and easy transport.
Scratch boxes feature a small, thin box as a sound chamber. One open edge has a rounded, chalked lip. When you rub a short, rectangular striker on this lip, sound is amplified inside the box cavity. Scratch boxes can be short and flat, or long and thick.
Push-pin calls consist of a sound chamber box with a built-in striker peg and a calling surface attached by the pressure of a coil spring. The one-handed call is operated with just one finger. Some push-pin calls can be attached to a gun and operated by a string. These calls are ideal for new turkey hunters or those who desire a simple-to-use, easy-to-maintain call.
Hatchet box calls are similar to pushpin calls, but use a larger striker and have a larger calling surface. They are stroked vertically to generate friction and sound. These calls can be operated with one hand as well.
Clucker box calls have a striker and soundboard that produce clucks, putts, purrs, plain yelps and tree yelps — all in the palm of the hand and operated with a push of a thumb. Just like push-pin or hatchet box calls, these durable, compact calls are simple to use.
STRIKER-FIRED FRICTION CALLS
“Pot and peg” describes the most common type of two-piece friction call. The pot (also known as a chamber) is a shallow, round, hollow bowl with a hard, flat calling surface. Simply pull the peg (also known as a striker) along the calling surface, just as you would if you were writing or drawing on the call’s surface. Pot calls are capable of producing a wide variety of sounds.
Glass pot calls have a glass calling surface, which produces clear, sharp tones compared to the deeper, richer sounds of a slate surface.
Aluminum pot calls typically utilize anodized or coated aluminum — often with a non-glare finish — as the calling surface for higher-pitched sounds.
Ceramic, copper, titanium, crystal (purified glass) and many other types of calling surfaces are also used to make pot calls. Each material produces its own unique pitch, tone and volume.
Compact pot calls slip easily in a pocket and produce sharp, high-pitched sounds and can be made from any of the materials mentioned above. They typically measure only 3 inches or less in diameter, compared to 3½ or more inches for standard pot calls.
Double-sided pot calls have two different calling surfaces integrated together, each pulling double duty as the other surface’s soundboard. This innovative concept produces realistic turkey sounds on both the front and back surfaces — raspy, low-pitched sounds from a slate side and high-pitched, clear sounds on a glass or other material surface.
Trough calls typically feature a ¼-inch-deep trough in the center of a hollow, box-shaped sound chamber, which contains a calling surface usually made of slate or aluminum. Its calling surface produces high-pitched sounds on the edges and deeper tones in the center. This feature allows the user to easily produce an ideal two-tone yelp, as the roll-over from the high note to the low note naturally occurs when the striker is dragged across the call.
Vibrating tongue calls are operated like a common pot call. You simply draw a striker across its wooden spring-board calling surface. The vibration of the tongue-shaped surface, combined with the rectangular box sound chamber, produce rich turkey sounds.
Most calls come with a hand-matched striker, but if you want to produce diverse (or better) sounds from these calls, try a custom striker. One-piece laminated wood or exotic wood pegs are the most popular choices, but two-piece strikers (handle with glued-in peg) use a special combination of select materials to produce distinctive sounds.
Nail calls are unique, two-piece friction calls operated by using a wood sound chamber box attached to a horseshoe nail, which produces sound when scraped against a chunk of slate. Different types of wood and various sizes of calling surfaces create a variety of tones and pitches.
Calls that rely on air pressure to produce sounds are typically built using one or more vibrating latex reeds. Like friction calls, there are many different designs and styles, each producing its own unique sound.
Diaphragm mouth calls are the most popular. Many different elements affect the sound of these mouth calls — clear versus raspy — as well as how easy they are to blow. These include tension placed on reeds when they are pressed into the frame, thin latex vs. thick latex and the number of reeds (one, two or three) used. Frame sizes and styles, as well as slices made in the call’s reeds also affect the sound.
Single-, double- or triple-reed mouth calls with a split-v, batwing, ghost or combo cut are the most popular styles of mouth calls. But callers just learning how to use them tend to stick with a single- or double-reed call with no cuts in the top reed.
“Mini” diaphragm mouth calls feature a small frame to fit smaller pallets, often preferred by youngsters and women.
“Stacked” diaphragm mouth calls use two frames affixed together to help fit a larger pallet. Call makers also claim the stacked frame provides more rasp, makes the call break over the second note of a yelp easier and requires less air pressure to operate.
“Structured” diaphragm mouth calls feature a round structure (or dome) attached to the top of the call’s frame to automatically position it in the right place and at the right angle. Some callers report this design provides a more secure fit, comfortable feel, an airtight seal and more consistent sounds.
Diaphragm tube calls use light lip and air pressure in a specific rhythm to produce turkey sounds by pressing the lips to the external reeds of the call. These are a good alternative for hunters who don’t like to put a diaphragm call inside their mouths.
Pump-action yelpers are easy-to-operate, one-handed calls. The yelper is operated by pushing a plunger to force air over its internal diaphragm reeds. The plunger can also be tapped to create short cutts and clucks. An adjustable bell tweaks the sound and volume of the call for soft and subtle or loud and high-pitched calling.
Shaker/pump gobble calls use a plastic tube cylinder that houses internal latex reeds. They have a large, rubber baffle that erratically pushes bursts of air through the reeds when violently shaken. Use one hand to quickly shake the call to mimic the short “half-gobble” of a jake, or use two hands and a strong pumping motion to imitate the loud and long gobbling of a tom.
Reed-operated gobble calls feature the look, fit and feel of a duck or goose call. To operate, the user blows air through the reeds while fluttering the tongue, similar to how a waterfowl call is used to produce the sounds feeding ducks make.
A wingbone call is an air-drawn call; meaning air is sucked in (like a kiss) instead of blown out. They are widely used to make short, realistic yelps. Once mastered, they can also produce other turkey sounds. Made from a turkey’s wingbone, they are considered to be the oldest type of turkey call ever made.
A trumpet yelper is similar to a wing-bone call in construction, but instead of bone, they are typically hand turned from hardwoods or other materials. Some call makers craft trumpet yelpers by using hollow tubes of cane, polymer, brass rifle cases, cast metal or even deer antlers. Like a wingbone call, these calls are highly directional and loud, because the sound cone is small and narrow.
Whether you’re a beginner or have dozens of gobblers to your credit, mastering one or more types of calls will help ensure success in the turkey woods.