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Choosing a Turkey Call
written by Alyssa Haukom

A few basic guidelines to use when choosing a turkey call that will work best for you.
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After just a few minutes of practice varying the speed you'll discover how simple it is to use a push button call.

So you're ready to head into the turkey woods this spring, but you're not quite sure what differentiates the "pots" from the "pumps" or the "carbons" from the crystals." You're not alone. Delving into a new type of hunting can be confusing and frustrating at times. Here's a quick overview of the calls and accessories available and a few basic guidelines to use when choosing a turkey call that will work best for you.

Friction Calls

Many of the turkey calls you'll see on store shelves are known as "friction" calls due to the simple action used to simulate the sounds of the wild turkey. These calls produce sound by striking one surface against another to create turkey talk. These calls include the "push-button," the "pot-and-peg" or "slate" call, and the "box" call.

The Push-Button Call: Easiest to master for beginning turkey hunters and requiring minimal movement, the push-button call is a small box that produces realistic hen yelps by merely pushing the end of the rod (or "button") back and forth within the box. After just a few minutes of practice varying the speed you'll discover how simple it is to mimic the yelping hen or her faster, more excited cutting. This call is simple, but still very effective and foolproof for beginners heading into the field for the first time.

The only required decision-making in utilizing this call, is in choosing your favorite material; choices include acrylic, composite or wood (usually walnut or maple) with acrylic requiring less maintenance and care than the more porous wood styles.

Slate or Pot-and-Peg Calls: Able to produce a wide range of turkey vocalizations, these calls can substantially increase your clever calling tactics, but also demand more practice and finesse for effective use in the field. Though accessories are available to use these one-handed, slate calls, glass calls and aluminum calls generally require two-hand operation by design; one hand holds the striker (the slender rod used to "strike" the surface) while the other holds the pot.

Using small, smooth, circular sweeping motions, the striker's friction upon the surface will create realistic yelps (common hen call), cuts (extremely excited yelps), purrs (sexy, soft yelps), kee kees, cackles, putts (alarm or alert call) or clucks (simple, feeding noise). Tones and volumes are cleverly changed by varying the angle of the striker, the position of the pot in your hand and the force used when striking the surface. Further changes can be created and more sophisticated calls generated by using different strikers or different pot surfaces.


Many surface and striker choices are found on the market today, each known for producing their own unique sound or for use in specific weather conditions.

Many surface and striker choices are found on the market today, each known for producing their own unique sound or for use in specific weather conditions.

Pot Types

  • Slate: common call surface, best used in dry conditions
  • Glass/Crystal: the best surface to use in damp or rainy weather
  • Aluminum: produces higher pitched calls, good to use in wet weather
  • Plexiglas: produces softer call tones

Striker Choices

  • Wood: best used in dry hunting conditions, different woods available can produce different call tones
  • Carbon: best used in damp or rainy weather
  • Crystal: also works well in damp weather
  • Aluminum: produces higher pitched calls

While the wide range of turkey vocalizations produced from these calls are enticing for beginners, the increased motion required and level of alertness demanded in the field makes these calls best reserved for the more experienced hunter. Additional time must be set aside for learning and practicing with these calls before using them afield, yet creating the basic yelp on these calls can be easily mastered after a few minutes of practice.

Box Calls

Similar to slate calls in that most box call designs require two-handed operation, these calls, along with the slate calls, remain one of the oldest and most traditional methods used for calling in turkeys, and also one of the more favored methods utilized by seasoned turkey hunters.


Artisans and turkey hunters alike treasure beautifully crafted box calls.

Artisans and turkey hunters alike treasure these beautifully crafted calls for both their visual appeal and for their rich tones produced by pulling the lid over the edge of the hollow box. Variations in force and angle of the lid can change a simple yelp to a cut, a purr to a putt or a cluck to a fly-down cackle. Like the slate calls, the variations in tone and vocalizations are many, and while easy to learn quickly, this call requires a bit more hands-on practice to use effectively in the field.

Newest on the market are the weatherproof/composite box calls and the "one-handed" styles, however; the more traditional wood calls are widely sold and crafted from a variety of woods; walnut, mahogany, cherry, purple heart or poplar, each creating their own unique tone and character.

Utmost care must be taken in the maintenance of these calls, as heat and moisture can take their toll on the woods used. Carefully using, maintaining and storing box calls can translate to years and years of use and success.

Despite the bulkiness of the box call design, and the additional upkeep required, these calls remain a favorite in the seasoned turkey hunter's arsenal of calling tools.

Air-Activated Calls (Mouth Calls)

As the name implies, these calls use air pushed through a reed to reproduce turkey sounds which can be extremely effective on turkeys. Well-liked, these types of calls also require the most patience and practice to master.

Diaphragm Calls: Picture a horseshoe the size of a 50 cent piece, designed out of thin, lightweight aluminum with a white latex covering or "reed" stretched over it and taped around the edges...and you'll get the idea of what a diaphragm call looks like. They're small enough to fit in your mouth, light as a feather, and can work like a charm on an old Tom turkey when used correctly.

For most hunters, the diaphragm call is the most difficult to master, requiring continued practice and experimentation far in advance of the turkey season. The diaphragm is also one of the most favored due to its lightweight, small size and secretive use. No movement is necessitated once it's popped into your mouth, since all sound produced is generated by air flow in your mouth that pushes air through, or over, the reeds of the diaphragm.

Most mind boggling to purchase, you'll see all kinds of styles offered: single or double reed, split reeds, double cuts, double v's, raspy hens, cutters, triple reeds, triple v's....and many more. As a beginner, it's best to start out with a simple diaphragm call; a single or double reed or a double v. Another option is a variety pack which includes 1 or 2 basic (single or double reed) diaphragm calls, along with 1 or 2 more advanced (multiple reeds or reeds with cuts in them) calls to use as you become more proficient at using a diaphragm. Purchase your diaphragm calls early in the year and practice with them regularly until season opens and be patient with yourself. The diaphragm calls can feel extremely foreign initially, and early attempts at calling will be frustrating, but persevere and you'll suddenly hear improvement in the calls you're generating and gain confidence as you progress.



You'll love the ease of using mouth calls once you've mastered them.

You'll love these calls once you've mastered them - there's nothing like the ease in carrying and using them in the field, and there's no worries about them working right since the weather doesn't affect them and there's no pieces to lose.

The Pump: Basically a hollow tube with a latex diaphragm positioned within, this call will produce turkey yelps by simply pumping the two-piece tube which forces air through the chamber and through the diaphragm reeds, much like your own mouth would if the diaphragm were placed in your mouth. While these plastic devices are lightweight, weatherproof and reliable, their vocal range is not as varied as some of the other calls. Most best re-produce the simple "yelp," which can be very effective. They're just as simple to use and as quick to master as the push-button, but do require two-handed operation, meaning increased movement, which can be a drawback for some hunters new to the woods.

Practice with Your New Turkey Tools

As your knowledge about turkey calls and turkey calling techniques increases, you'll see that certain calls are inherently simpler to use than others just be design alone, however; each hunter must learn and experiment with a variety of calls in search of their favorite. A good turkey hunter will utilize several types of calls depending on the hunt conditions and on the weather. Don't hesitate to ask for assistance from other turkey hunters. Purchase an instructional CD, video or DVD on turkey calling and/or turkey hunting, and watch it over and over and over, trying to mimic the calls you hear and see being used. 

Gaining confidence in your calling is key, and regular practice with the various calls is the only way you'll be successful. Learning how to use a variety of calls and calling techniques will certainly prepare you for the many different scenarios you'll encounter in the spring woods, and will indeed mold you into a better turkey hunter outfitted with a stash of calls to choose from. Experiment and have fun with these turkey tools...and enjoy your time in the turkey woods!

Shop all Turkey Calls at BassPro.com


 

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