Does your turkey calling sound like a competition winner’s one day and a screech owl the next? We’ll talk to professionals — old school and new — to learn their insider secrets to help you sound consistently better.
By Steve Hickoff
Video Courtesy of Shane Simpson and callingallturkeys.com
Listen to Turkeys
Vary turkey call notes consistently the way real birds do.
Scott Basehore of Scott Basehore Custom Box Calls (basehoreboxcalls.com) is a longtime turkey hunter, guide, contest judge and award-winning callmaker at the highest level. We caught up with him recently to gauge his feelings on mouth call consistency, as he also uses diaphragms while chasing gobblers.
How does he stay consistent with his mouth calling?
“It’s listening to turkeys,” Basehore said. “Developing this ability is important. I’m fortunate to spend a lot of time in the woods hunting and guiding. Not all wild turkeys make a set number of notes for certain vocalizations — though you can sometimes pick out a hunter in the woods immediately by the unvaried rhythms. You’ll hear the same pattern from some guys again and again. If you listen to a hen, though, she might yelp a certain number of times, cluck and add soft yelps with a different number of call notes.”
Tip: Basehore said: “Add realism to mouth calling by mixing it up. Use clucks and whines, too, between yelps. That’s what real turkeys do.”
In short, calling with the same note numbers can put you in a rut. Sounding consistently real by varying notes is the best move sometimes.
Find the Right Call
Try many mouth calls until you find the right one. Then stick with it.
To be consistent, you first have to sample what’s out there.
“Find the best diaphragm call for you. Try a lot until you do,” Basehore said. “I’ve run a lot of calls over the years and look for a high front end sound with a lot of rasp.”
No, Basehore doesn’t build mouth calls himself. As a well-known custom box-call maker, he puts his energies there.
“It’s a time factor,” he said. “I have enough trouble trying to make a good box call,” he said jokingly. (Anyone who has run a Basehore box knows he consistently succeeds.)
Tip: New to this? Try various mouth calls by making some turkey sounds. Single- and double-reed diaphragms offer stylistic simplicity. Start with plain yelps and clucks. Put the call’s horseshoe end on your palate with the latex reed(s) facing out. The small bump or tab on most frames should face down. Work the diaphragm into the roof of your mouth with your tongue to get a tight air seal. Root it there or your call won’t work. Place your tongue lightly over the reed(s), and huff short yelp-like notes of air. Don’t blow too hard at first.
Call Soft and Loud
There’s more than just using one volume for turkeys. To consistently call well, vary soft and loud notes.
“Loud calling is generally easier for turkey hunters; soft vocalizations are harder,” Basehore said. “Don’t try to blow on heavy reeds if it’s tough for you. Thinner latex might work better to give you more versatility.”
Tip: As for technique, Basehore varies mouth call positioning.
“After you’ve picked the ideal diaphragm, find the best way to call hard and soft,” he said. “Don’t huff as hard to call softly; tone it down. I actually even change the mouth call position, moving it forward to maintain more control for softer calling. Shouting and whispering are varied this way, of course. Shift the air seal forward in your palate. You’re basically using the same jaw movement and the same call, but it’s not as magnified as when calling loudly with more volume.”
Notes on Judging
Basehore is not only a well-known callmaker, guide and turkey hunter, but he’s also judged many high-ranking turkey calling contests, including the Grand Nationals. What does he look for in terms of mouth calling consistency from the best in the business?
“To put it simply, as a contest judge, I listen for ‘turkey,’” he said. “I envision a turkey in the woods as contestants call and try to picture it. There are little things some of those guys do that work better than others, making them sound consistently like a turkey. In judging situations, you’ve got to have an open mind, though.”
“Because you’ll hear different callers the same way you hear distinct turkeys in the woods,” he said. “If it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, that caller is going to rank high. Even at that stage of the game, nerves might make a caller mess up.”
What’s the toughest vocalization for stage callers to do well? Without hesitation, Basehore said: “The fly-down cackle. Some are too short. It just doesn’t sound like a turkey in the woods.”
Tip: Reason suggests for consistent calling while hunting, you should only make the vocalizations you do best.
Why Friction Calls are Easier
In the end, some hunters simply find it tough to use mouth calls with any kind of consistency.
“It might be that some turkey callers can do things better with their hands,” Basehore said. “You can look down and see what you’re doing. You can’t see what’s going on in your mouth with tongue movements and so forth. Friction calls are a one movement type deal for sound. In mouth calling, you have to do a series of things for control.”
Tip: Some will just have to admit consistency comes easier with a box or pot-and-peg call. And that’s OK if you’re having fun and enjoying the turkey hunting tradition.