Turkey Calling With Confidence
September 24, 2010
Just like a trusted old shotgun or a favorite fishing lure, the turkey call most familiar to you -- the one you most depend on -- is your confidence call.
by John Higley
The spring rain fell yesterday and now, after a cool, windless night, the meadow grass is stiff with frost. My footsteps crunch softly as I move slowly, looking for a place to set up a reasonable distance from a regularly used turkey roost site. Perfect, I think as I briefly shine my flashlight on the ample trunk of a pine tree where visibility would be good. In seconds I deploy the seat pad on my turkey-hunting vest and make myself as comfortable as possible. If the turkeys are close by, as I hope, it won't be long before they wake up to greet the coming dawn.
Gobble-obble-obble! Gobble-obble-obble! The suddenness of the first gobbles startles - it always does - and brings me to full alert. At least two toms are just 100 yards away. Now it's my turn.
I pop open a small plastic box, remove a twin-reed diaphragm call, and put it in my mouth; a few seconds go by. Then I float a few soft yelps toward the toms. My hopes soar at their exciting multi-gobble response.
For several minutes we converse as it grows lighter, and I just know that any minute the birds will fly down and come looking for the source of my sweet hen calls.
The snapping twigs and wingbeats are audible as the toms leave their roosts, but soon after they hit the ground, I realize something that isn't right. The gobblers answer my every call, true, but rather than commit and come on in they seem to be glued to the spot where they landed.
In the distance I can hear real hens, and I know the jig is up for now. The toms can most certainly hear them, too. The situation will eventually be resolved one of three probable ways: The hens will come to the toms, the toms will go to the hens, or the toms will come to me. The last of those is not likely now, I think, but if I try something else I might still have a chance.
Do you know what the first sound coming out of your turkey call will be? This mouth diaphragm may be all you need. Photo by John Higley
I unzip a vest pocket and reach for my secret weapon: In this case, it's a trusted old cedar box that I have plenty of confidence in. If I'd notched the call for every turkey it had brought in over the years, there wouldn't be any wood left.
A change of calls doesn't always work, of course, but this time a few raspy box-call yelps are enough to convince the toms that the lady of their dreams is, in fact, this 200-pound hunter's bogus hen. The bearded pair will come in for a look; one of them will stay behind with me.
UNDERSTANDING TOMS Every experienced turkey hunter knows that there are many important parts to every successful spring turkey hunt. But the real essence of the activity, its mystique, comes when you try to call a wary gobbler to the gun or bow by mimicking natural hen turkey sounds. To lure toms regularly, you must understand turkey behavior during the spring breeding season, and you need to know which sounds to imitate, and when.
Knowledgeable turkey hunters know that the turkey vocabulary consists of about 30 different sounds or combinations of sounds, depending on circumstances. They also know that only a few basic hen calls are crucial in most actual spring hunting situations. They include, in order of importance, yelps, clucks, purrs, cuts and cackles. Of these, the most common hen sounds, and the only ones a lot of hunters bother to reproduce, are loud or soft yelps of long or short duration.
As for actually making the common sounds, a few hunters can get by using their own voice to fool a tom now and then, but most of us beyond puberty rely on any one of several turkey calling devices on the market today. And there's the rub. There are so many types of calls to pick from that trying to choose the best one for you can be downright confusing, especially if you're new to the sport.
Let's try to simplify things just a bit and classify turkey calls two ways, as friction or air operated. Friction calls include different types of box calls, push-button calls, slot calls, scratch box calls and pot-and-striker calls, which now employ several sound-producing surfaces including slate, glass, aluminum and even titanium. OK, all of these calls come in several configurations and they are all naturally touted as best of their class by whoever manufactures them. Regardless, all of them have at least one important thing in common. Under the right circumstances, and in the right hands, they all work.
Air-operated calls include dozens of different mouth diaphragms, tube yelpers, pump-action yelpers (new) and wing bone yelpers (old). Of these, diaphragms are perhaps the toughest to master, but the most adaptable once you do. Each year diaphragms with exciting new names hit the shelves promising great luck if you'll only take one (or a dozen) of them home. Again, all the air-operated calls have one thing in common: Given the right conditions, they all work.
YOUR CONFIDENCE CALL Marketing hype aside, selecting turkey calls is akin to buying bass lures. There are hundreds of different lures out there and there are certain circumstances that favor one type over the others. For example: You don't use poppers or buzzbaits for fishing deep, and for fishing shallow or on top, you don't cast the heaviest jigs you own. Just the same, whether you're fishing on top or down deep, you'll likely fall back on certain proven lures time after time. Those faithful lures will catch more fish for you because you like them enough to keep them wet. In other words, you have confidence in them.
Well, the same goes for turkey calls. Most turkey hunters eventually acquire several different types of calls for basically the same purpose - to fool the next gobbler. Some newcomers no doubt hope to find a magical Super Call that works every time, and they'll load their pockets with calls before they realize that there is no such thing. However, having a wide variety of calls on hand does give you a range of choices so you can vary your approach depending on the circumstances that arise and your mood of the moment. Sometimes diversity helps immensely, but that's another story.
Some calls will make better sounds than others, at least to your ears, and chances are good that you'll eventually find that you have more confidence in one or two of them than all the rest combined. You may prefer diaphragm calls but find that three- or four-reed models are more to your liking than less raspy single or double-reed offerings. And you might choose a slate or glass friction call over a paddle box or settle on a basic box to the exclusion of all other friction calls. It's largely a matter of personal prefer
So, what is a confidence call, really? That's the call, or calls, friction or air-operated, that you turn to most often when you hear a gobbler and want to get serious about calling him in.
If ever I had a single call in which I have complete confidence, it's the box call I mentioned earlier in this article. I've been using it since 1971, and I know the tones it makes are about as turkey friendly as any calls I've ever heard. On the other hand, I could be saying much the same thing about one of the pot-and-striker calls that I use almost as often or one of my favorite diaphragms.
Ideally, the best types of calls for you are the ones that you've mastered and have the most faith in. If your choice is a particular diaphragm, then you should feel comfortable making loud, aggressive yelps and cuts with it as well as subtle yelps and purrs, and you shouldn't have to think twice about what sound is going to come out when you blow the call.
It's the same thing with a pot-and-striker or box call, no matter what resonating surface is used to make the turkey sounds. Many hunters prefer one call to any other type for what they feel is the accuracy of the subtle turkey sounds they can make with it.
EXPERT SOUNDINGS Last spring I hunted with a fellow named Bruce Wurth, who has been hunting turkeys only for a mere 25 years or so. As an all-around turkey hunter, Wurth has mastered several types of calls. And it's obvious he likes the convenience of mouth calls like most of us who hunt with them often. But when it comes down to dirty-serious calling, Wurth almost always opts for the ever-present boat paddle box call tucked away in his hunting vest.
"The box can be used in a subtle manner or as loud as you want," he said. "It carries well in most types of terrain and in the right conditions a gobbler will answer it from a half-mile away. Personally, I just like the sound of friction calls over diaphragms even though diaphragms are obviously effective at times, too."
When we were together on that April morning, we sneaked into an oak-dotted canyon by the light of the moon and waited for the turkeys that we hoped would be in a nearby roost area to make the first move. When we heard only a single gobble just at fly-down time, we figured the tom was already with hens and wouldn't be interested in us at all. We were about to be pleasantly surprised.
Wurth yelped softly with his box, and when nothing happened right away, he increased the volume. The tom acknowledged the calls and better yet, the three hens he was with yakked back like they were long-lost sisters of the phantom hen. The box call brought the hens in like they were following a trail of cracked corn, and the tom was only a few steps behind when Wurth's 12-gauge shotgun roared. The gobbler was a nice one with inch-long spurs and a 10-inch beard.
Wurth's feat was made all the sweeter by the fact that he designed and built the call himself in his northern California shop.
DEVELOPING A CALL So how do you go about choosing your confidence calls, no matter what the design? First, let's clear something up.
Most new turkey hunters look for a single call to hunt with and often they settle for a box or a slate or a diaphragm, etc. Well, a single call is nice and convenient, but as you get hooked on turkey hunting you will, like everyone else, acquire a baffling selection of calls of all types. That's why it's so important to bite the bullet and pick out the precious few that perform best to your ears and to eliminate the others from your field gear.
Being a turkey fanatic, I get several calls from different manufacturers to try out every year, including a handful of diaphragms. I try them all and pick out the ones that sound best to me. I like certain stiff, raspy calls that take a lot of air pressure, but I prefer those that are easier to blow providing I can make sounds with them that I think are equally turkey friendly. Generally, I wind up with four or five diaphragms that cover the bases from raspy to smooth in tone.
My favorite occupies the first slot in my mouth call box so I always know where it is.
Pot-and-striker calls - once classified simply as slate calls because slate was the original sound surface - have come a long way since the 1970s. Before I add one to my field gear, I put it to the test. I try calls with a variety of surfaces and use an array of strikers made from different materials until I find the combinations that work for me.
For example, I always have a pot call or two in my gear and what I consider to be the perfect selection of strikers, which are usually interchangeable. At least one striker is made of something other than wood so I can use it during wet weather.
I have mentioned the first box call I ever owned and it definitely is still a confidence call. However, I have a drawer full of box calls, and I still acquire new ones from time to time, so every year prior to the spring season I can be heard making turkey sounds in the backyard while deciding whether to elevate a new model to confidence status. My neighbors have certainly been amused over the years!
The whole process is far from scientific, as you can see, but it's always fun messing with different calls while deciding on the best ones in each category. The calls that eventually stand out will be the ones you rely on to fool turkeys most often. Those will be your personal confidence calls.
Editor's Note: Autographed copies of John Higley's book, Hunting Wild Turkeys In The West, with 75 photos and 154 pages, are available for $16.95 postage paid. Order from: John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073.
Making His Own Calls
Bruce Wurth knows what a good turkey call is - and isn't. And when he couldn't find a mass-produced friction call that met his exacting criteria, he decided to do something about it. For the past five years he's been making a name for himself as a custom call maker.
"Turkeys and turkey hunting are my thing," he said, "and I'd used a lot of calls over the years that I didn't particularly care for. I wanted something that sounded better, at least to me, so I decided to make them myself."
It wasn't easy. Wurth had to learn on his own how to use tools of this craft and how various calls go together so he could properly construct paddle boxes and pot-and-striker designs. "I learned that everything makes a critical difference in call building," Wurth said.
"All the materials have to be matched to elicit the best sounds. You start with the woods, of course. The various parts have to fit perfectly and the thickness has to be just right to produce the best sound. Even the type of glue and finish make a difference in the way a call sounds." Wurth continues to experiment with several types of wood but generally selec
ts walnut and Honduran mahogany for box calls.
Quality control is a fine thing at Wurth's shop: No call receives his signature nor leaves the building unless it meets his strict standards for construction and tonal quality. Calls deemed unsatisfactory are simply thrown away.
Today Wurth sells his calls by special order all around the country. His paddle box has been especially popular as both collector's item and practical field call. If you'd like to learn more about his line of calls, visit his Web site at www.wildturkeyzone.com/americanfriction, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 422-3899.
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