March 23, 2020
It can be easy to get overwhelmed when choosing a turkey call. They’re not intricate devices by any means; the challenge simply lies in the variety that exist. Calls are available in many different styles, operate in many different ways and can be made from various materials. All influence certain characteristics in the sound generated and in how it is produced.
Sound complicated? It need not be. Often, call selection is largely a matter of personal preference—which type the hunter is most comfortable, or confident, using. However, some calls can offer benefits in certain situations over others. Here, I’ll break down the three major types of turkey calls and provide pros and cons of each to help hunters navigate call selection while afield.
I’m fairly confident that more turkeys are killed each spring by hunters using box-style calls than are killed by those using the other types combined. Why? One: Box calls are easy to operate and operate well. And two: They flat sound like turkeys. These simple calls, usually wood and featuring a thin, moveable lid that is rubbed across the vertical sides to produce sounds, fall into the “friction call” category.
The pros? Extreme ease of use, for one. In proper hands, they can also sound incredibly realistic. They’re versatile, allowing callers to make a wide range of turkey sounds, including the gobble, purr, cutt and, with practice, the high-pitched kee-kee run. Continuing with versatility, box calls are perfect for low-key in-close situations; however, should terrain or weather conditions dictate, box calls can be played at high volume, reaching out and touching distant toms or cutting through a blustering breeze.
So, is there a downside to box calls? A few in fact.
Operation does require two hands, so hunters must learn when to set the call down and ready the gun. That only comes with experience. Set it down too quickly and you might lose the ability to finish a stubborn tom. Too late and you might have trouble transitioning to the gun without spooking your quarry.
Which brings up a second point: movement. Motion, albeit slight, is needed to produce sounds with a box call. As all turkey hunters know or will soon realize, longbeards are quite adept at picking out movements. Also, as most box calls aren’t waterproof, the instruments can be susceptible to the weather. However, these days, some manufacturers offer waterproof box calls, or those with waterproof coatings.
(Above) Call-type selection often boils down to user preferences, but each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Diaphragm, or mouth, calls offer hands-free calling. (Below) While pot ’n peg calls as well as box calls require two hands, they can often produce more volume and a wider range of tones. (Photos by M.D. Johnson)
POT ’N PEG CALLS
Often generalized as “slate calls,” pot ’n peg calls are simple affairs, also falling into the friction category. Most consist of the pot, a round or roundish bowl—think upside-down Frisbee—into which a thin disk, or the calling surface, has been laid and glued. This surface can be slate, but many other materials like acrylic, glass or aluminum can be used. To operate, the user scratches or conditions the surface; then, holding the peg, aka striker, like a pencil, d-d-r-r-a-a-g-g-s-s the tip slowly across the face. The striker, bouncing over the grooves made during the conditioning process, sets up vibrations, which produce the desired sounds.
Like boxes, these calls are user-friendly, realistic and versatile regarding the number of sounds that can be created, as well as the volume, intensity and inflection with which those sounds are produced. Many hunters feel this call can produce among the widest range of pitches and notes, and some of the sweetest soft clucks and purrs for close-in birds. Nice, too, are non-wooden pots and strikers. Combined with a glass or metal calling surface, they’re virtually waterproof—great for rain.
Cons? Again, use involves two hands, so motion and deciding when to swap call for gun are concerns. Again, this is learned through time and experience. Although some disagree, I feel pot ‘n peg calls do require a bit more practice than do box-style calls.
My suggestion? Don’t overpower the call; rather, think finesse. And hold the peg/striker as you would a pencil. Rain can also compromise the call depending on pot and striker materials.
Diaphragm calls, aka mouth calls, are fantastic. If, as a kid, you put a blade of grass between your thumbs, blew on it and made that familiar irritating buzzing noise, then you already know the basics of how a diaphragm call works. In short, air being pushed over a thin latex reed is what produces sound. Increasing or decreasing the tension (pressure) on the reed with your tongue raises or lowers the pitch.
Some nice things about mouth calls are that they’re hands-free (no movement to spook birds), impervious to weather and, with practice—note: sometimes lots of practice—ultra-realistic. With no hands needed, you can pair these calls easily with others already mentioned. They’re also perfect finishing calls because hunters can have their gun mounted and ready to fire and still actively call.
The bad news about diaphragm calls is two-fold. One: Not everyone can use a diaphragm. Denture wearers or those with a high, narrow palate might not physically be able to fit a diaphragm correctly. And two: They can prove frustrating, even for those who can physically use them.
My suggestions for beginners? Try a single reed mouth call first. The more reeds you have to control, the more difficult the task becomes. And try not to overthink the process. Like the whole of the call selection challenge, learning to use a diaphragm isn’t—well, it’s not rocket science.