Turkey calling crash course

by Al Davy | April 17, 2019

Calling in a boisterous gobbler in full strut is a thrilling dimension of the hunt and it’s not a secret art. With a bit of practice on a box call, mouth call, or pot-and-peg call, you can be talking turkey.

Box-call basics

To yelp (a searching call)

Pass the paddle lightly over the top of the sideboard, from the outside of the call toward the centre.

At some place in that movement the tone will change from high to low. That’s the sweet spot. Take note of that spot and pass the paddle repeatedly over it with a snappy pace to create the yelp.

Experiment with downward pressure on the paddle to find the best sound. Too much will make it screech, not enough will make too soft a sound.

Don’t lift the paddle off the board for the backstroke so it can’t smack down on the board, which might spook your tom. Press harder on the paddle to yelp louder.

To cluck (a short-range searching call)

Extend your left thumb up over the sideboard as as topper for the paddle.

Put the paddle up against your thumb and tap on it with a slightly downward motion to create clucks.

Your thumb acts as a stop and a spring to push the paddle back into place for another tap.

Experiment with the downward pressure until you get a cluck that seems to pop off the call, then practise with that pressure until it’s automatic for you.

Cluck sparingly in a random sequence, with skips and delays instead of the steady beat of the yelp.

To purr (turkey small talk)

Scrape the paddle slowly over the sideboard with light to medium pressure to find the spot where it skips and makes the trill sound of the purr.

Experiment with your pressure and different places on the sideboard to find the sweet spot for the best purr.

Pot-and-peg basics

First, rough up the entire surface of your pot with the abrasive provided or recommended for it.

Experiment to find the position where the call makes the best sounds easily and always use it in that position so it’ll make the perfect yelp or cluck every time.

To purr

Place the peg in the upper third of the pot and pull the peg toward you or diagonally, slowly in a half-circle motion with light pressure so it skips, making the trilling sound.

Experiment with the angle, the pressure, and the placement of the peg on the pot for the best sound.

To cluck

Jerk the peg toward you with a short, quick motion so the cluck seems to pop off the call.

Light pressure makes soft clucks. Heavy pressure makes loud ones.

The outer third of the pot makes high-toned clucks and the middle makes low clucks.

To create emotion and realism, mix clucks with yelps.

To yelp

Place the tip of the peg on the pot surface a third of the way from the top rim, with the peg leaning away from you, about 10 or 15 degrees from vertical.

Draw a 1-inch oval with the peg, pulling it toward you with medium pressure, then circling back to where you started.

Don’t lift the peg off the pot for the backstroke; the soft scrape of the backstroke doesn’t spook turkeys, but tapping the striker on the pot might.

Most calls produce a high pitch out near the rim and a lower pitch as you move to the centre, so drawing it toward yourself from near the top will produce the desired two-tone yelp.

Move the peg with your wrist rather than with your fingers.

If you move the peg with your fingers you’ll change the angle of the peg and lose consistency in sound.

Repeat the oval motion for a series of yelps. Keep the rhythm snappy. To yelp louder, use more pressure.

How to hold it

If you are right handed, grip the pot lightly with all five fingertips of your left hand spaced evenly around the rim of the pot.

Or, encircle the rim with your thumb and second finger and grip it lightly. (Lefties, reverse hands.) Lightly grip the peg as you would a pencil, with your thumb midway on the shaft.

To call consistently you need to anchor your peg hand on the rim of the pot. Place the fleshy heel of your hand (below your little finger) on the rim of the pot to stabilize it.

Always use the same anchor point to achieve consistency.

Mouth-call basics

Though they are the hardest to learn, mouth calls are worth the effort.

Their greatest advantage is being hands free so you can cluck or purr without visible movement when you need a nearby tom to raise his head or take one more step to give you a clear shot.

How to use it

Place the call in the roof of your mouth, just behind the front teeth.

This triggers the gag reflex in some people but it can be overcome by simply keeping the call in place until your brain gets used to it.

The open end of the horseshoe faces forward and the shortest reed goes on the bottom.

Push the call up to the roof of your mouth and let it seal there with moisture and pressure from your tongue.

To run the call, huff the air up from your chest. Don’t blow it as in whistling or blowing out candles.

You can trim a little off the tape with sharp scissors to make it smaller.

A proper-fitting call will seal against the top of the mouth, just inside the teeth, forcing air to pass between the reeds and the tongue.

To yelp

Huff the word “kee-yoke,” without activating your vocal cords. This will produce the high note and low note of the yelp. Experiment with tongue pressure, volume of air, and call placement to find the best combination for consistent yelps. The lips can be opened or partially closed to vary the volume. String six to 10 yelps together with a snappy beat like you have heard real hens do.

To cluck

Mouth the word “pit” or “pert” or alternate back and forth between the two words. Make it pop from your mouth because the cluck is a short, sharp sound.

To purr

Buzz the lips as with a motorboat sound while gently forcing air over the reeds with light tongue pressure on the call. Practise with the volume of air and tongue pressure till you can make a consistent purr. Another method is to gargle in the throat with heavier tongue pressure on the call. Vary the tone and add emotional inflection into the purr by opening and closing the lips and increasing or decreasing air from the chest.

Locator calls

Spring toms can often be incited to gobble by a loud noise nearby. So before you venture into the woods and bump a tom, blow a locator call to see if you can trigger a gobble. Crow, owl, peacock, and coyote calls do the job. The advantage of using a locator call is that the tom will soon forget about that noise, so you have time to get to a good set-up. If you attract him with a hen call, he might come in right away, before you can be set up and ready.

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  1. Ken Dawson wrote: Excellent . After I read it and it really helped me in getting my first 25 pound Tom bird. I practiced and used my diaphragm mouth caller. Thanks
  2. Alan Davy wrote: Congratulations, Ken on that 25 pound tom. You must have refined your mouth calling very well to bring a big old long beard like that into range. I'm glad the calling article helped with your mouth calling practice.