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Turkey Calls: DIY Spring Conditioning

Cleaning and tuning turkey calls is an important first step in ensuring they sound their best.

Turkey Calls: DIY Spring Conditioning

Tips to prepare your turkey calls for another season. (Photo by Larry Case)

Spring is in the air, and hopefully you have started to sort through your turkey vest. Throw away that stale snack cake from last year, but what about your turkey calls? Some diaphragm calls may be too far gone to use another season, and you will pitch them, too. Friction calls likely will need attention if you want them to trick another old gobbler.

Jim Clay of Winchester, Va., is a turkey hunter and call maker who started Perfection Calls in the 1970s. Clay has made many thousands, perhaps millions, of turkey calls, and has hunted turkeys all over the United States as well as Canada and Mexico. His advice on tuning and maintaining box calls and other friction calls will help you get them sounding their best for the upcoming season.

“Any friction call needs to be tuned once in a while, especially after a long winter in a dark vest.” Clay says. “There are a few secrets for adjusting the sound and pitch of box calls and other friction calls.”

He notes the main enemies of box calls are grease and dirt. Clay usually advises against aggressively sanding the sides or sounding board of a box. A better method is to use a scrubbing pad to clean dirt and grime from the call, but not take material away from the surface of the call.

“If you insist on sanding the call, use 220-grit paper and barely touch the lip of the call with the abrasive,” he warns. “If you liked the sound of the call at one time and you get too aggressive with sanding, the call will not sound the same when you finish.”

After cleaning the call, Clay puts a small amount of greaseless chalk on the paddle of the box and on the lips. Most times a thorough cleaning and re-chalking are all a box call needs, but the screw that holds the paddle to the box may also require adjustment. Clay emphasizes using a screwdriver with care.

“Tighten the set-screw slightly,” he advises, “one quarter-turn at a time. This will solve most box malfunctions.”

Clay also stresses caution when working on antique calls. “Grandpa’s old box will not tune as easily as modern-day calls because newer calls are made with much closer tolerances,” he notes. “Simply because of time and age a cherished old call may have defects that will not stand up to a lot of adjusting. Do not beat and bang on older calls, or you may find yourself with an unsolvable mess!”

Like a box call, the working surfaces of push-button calls will need only occasional light sanding and cleaning, and a bit of greaseless chalk. Most push-button calls have a small length of stiff wire that serves as a spring to provide tension. Take care in adjusting this; usually the wire must maintain a specific position in order for the call to properly function.

Pot calls are even more susceptible to dirt, foreign material and moisture. Most pot calls need to be “roughed up,” or sanded in some fashion, to get the proper amount of friction between the striker and call surface. Use fine sandpaper, a scouring pad or another dry abrasive.

“Slate and glass calls inherently have more tuning problems than box calls, because so much of the calling surface is exposed,” Clay says. “Drywall sanding screen can be one of the best abrasives to work on the glass or slate surfaces. It will cut through glass and rough up the surface very quickly, while removing dirt and grease. Never touch any friction call with bare skin. There is always some oil or grease on the human skin, so look but don’t touch.”

It’s important to keep pot calls dry. A wet slate call will not work. Glass calls will function when exposed to moisture, or at least they will shed water and dry more quickly than a slate. An old remedy for a wet slate call is to apply a flame from a match or lighter to the surface of the call. Just be careful, as it doesn’t take much heat to draw out the moisture.


“The wooden base of a call will also pick up moisture,” Clay notes. “Do not artificially dry the call, but put it in a warm place for a day or two. Do not put the call in an oven or direct sunlight, or the base may crack. One of the advantages of plastic and other base materials is they will not soak up moisture, and therefore the sound should not change.”

Don’t ignore a pot call’s striker, as its condition can be just as important as the surface of the call. Its tip should be lightly sanded periodically so it, too, will be ready to help you lure in the next gobbler you cross paths with this spring.

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