Turkey Calls & When to Use Them with Parker McDonald | Mouth Calls, Pot Calls & Box Calls
By: Parker McDonald
We’re getting ramped up for turkey season in the southeast. It’s an exciting time of the year as we dust off our turkey vests and pull out our favorite calls. One thing that separates turkey hunting season from some of the other popular big game animals is the ability to communicate with your quarry. Hearing a gobbler pop off after you’ve just let out a yelp at first light is something dreams are made of. However, these days a simple “turkey call” Google search will give you a mile-long list of different calls. For a beginner, it can be tough to decide which calls to get and what makes each of them different.
In this article, I’m going to go over some of the different types of turkey calls we use and share the application I believe each of these calls does best.
Mouth Calls or Diaphragm Calls
We will start with the most popular and affordable of all of the calls, and that’s a mouth call, also called a diaphragm call. Several different reed cuts are available within this category – combo cut, ghost cut, batwing, etc. The combination of cut and number of latex reeds within the call puts out different sounds. Generally speaking, these calls are the most difficult to learn how to use but the most popular. Their popularity has to do with the ability to use them with little to no movement. Turkeys have a very complex eye system which gives them the ability to see better than most, if not all, game animals. Therefore, when using a mouth call, a hunter can continue communicating to a gobbler without making sudden movements. Diaphragm calls are also much cheaper than other types of calls, which allows you to buy several different cuts and combinations to figure out what you like best.
I like to use mouth calls for several scenarios. Like I mentioned, for those moments that you have a turkey approaching, but there are other reasons I would prefer a mouth call. It can be beneficial to have a diaphragm available when you need a softer sound. While the turkeys are roosted, hens make what’s called a tree yelp. These short bursts are usually soft and not aggressive. With a diaphragm, I can mimic that sound by pushing very little air through the reeds. Ultimately, using this style of call, I can have much more control of the sounds I'm creating.
The Pot Call
Next in our turkey call lineup is the pot call. Much like diaphragms, the pot call has many different combinations as far as the surface of the call – slate, glass, aluminum, crystal and ceramic. Each surface has different volumes, rasp and frequency. Added to that, the type of wood the call chamber is made of, as well as the different types of strikers, make the sound options endless. I like to use a slate and glass pot calls most often, but I keep an aluminum call in my vest.
The primary use for a slate surface is because it’s a little more user-friendly. I also believe it’s the most realistic sound compared to the others. If I’m working a bird that’s outside of eyesight, I almost always have the slate in my hand. Slate has a little more volume than a mouth call, but it doesn’t pack quite as much as glass. Using a glass call is a relatively new thing for me. I try to keep my vest pretty light, so I didn’t pick one up until a couple of seasons ago. What I've found to be the most significant advantage of a glass call is that it has the same versatility as slate but produces a higher frequency sound and is much louder. Late morning and mid-day turkey hunting can be brutal if you’re not on a gobbling turkey. I usually spend that time covering ground and calling from high points to strike a gobbler. Usually, that's when I'm using the glass call. I can make ear-piercing cuts that’ll carry a good distance but keep the sound versatility as a slate. From mid-morning to early afternoon, the glass tends to be the best way to strike a lonely gobbler.
As mentioned, I also carry an aluminum surfaced pot call. It stays in my vest more often than not, but I always save it for a rainy day. Literally, that’s when I use it! Aluminum calls, in my opinion, are about the most unrealistic of all the surface types. However, their ability to produce sound in wet weather is great. They also pack a shrill sound that will cut through wind and rain much farther than any of its surface cousins. While I don't use it much, I have killed plenty of birds in bad weather because I had it in my pocket.
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The Box Call
Lastly, we will talk about the American favorite – the box call. You'd be hard-pressed to find a turkey vest without a box call packed away. I don't use my box call much, but it was without a doubt the first turkey call I ever owned. There are two main reasons I use them – the first being heavy wind. Like the aluminum pot, a box call can push out some volume. On days when the wind is so loud you can't even hear your calls, the box call is a good go-to. In my experience, it seems like they're the most overused and under-utilized calls. Go to any high-pressured public hunting area in the south during spring turkey season, and you'll likely hear some fella wearing out a box call from a parking area. While it’s tempting to use the most straightforward call all the time, it's rarely rewarding if you don't use it in the right conditions. Yes, they can produce a sound that might strike up a gobbler a mile away, but it would be better suited to switch to something more versatile and less harsh when you start closing the distance with that bird. The other reason I use a box call is when they're not gobbling to anything else. There have been plenty of spring mornings when I've thrown everything I have at them, but for whatever reason, they just like that box call.
There are so many call types out there - even more than I mentioned in this article. The best advice is to find something you're comfortable with, learn to make a turkey sound and keep practicing. The good news is that turkeys have died from all of them, and you don’t have to sound like the champion of the Grand Nationals to be successful this spring.