Photo Courtesy of National Audubon Society: Wild Turkey | Audubon Field Guide
Where to Start When Buying a Wild Turkey Call
Turkey calls come in three distinct and different types. Each can provide you with a different approach and sound when calling turkeys on your hunt. The tool is the turkey call, but with like every tool there needs to be a little research and practice before you can master the turkey sounds.
Before you head to the woods, your plan should be to have two or three turkey calls and be confident in your calls before getting to turkey camp.
A few years ago, I got drawn to hunt turkeys for 5B North in Arizona. I had the shotgun cleaned up and the truck packed up and I just needed a box of turkey loads and a turkey call to round out my hunting gear. Like all beginners, I didn’t prepare very well for this hunt. As a matter of fact, I didn’t stop by the sporting goods store to pick up my turkey loads and turkey call until I was all packed up in the truck and on my way to meet my fellow hunters at turkey camp.
I pulled into Walmart all excited to be on my first turkey hunt in Arizona. I picked up a few food items and then headed to the store’s sporting goods section. Here is where I learned that I should have done some research before I pulled into the parking lot. This was 1994 and there was no internet to do my research, I remember thinking “How hard could it be”!
The aisle where the calls were located had elk calls, deer calls, coyote calls, and a whole section of turkey calls. There were so many I just scratched my head because I wasn’t sure where to start.
Little did I know back then that there are three distinct types of turkey calls. Each hunter has a preference, and each hunter is likely to use two or three different call types. Turkey calls fall into three categories:
The friction call
The diaphragm or mouth call
The locator call
As you can imagine my first spring turkey hunt was a disaster…
It’s good you’re here now learning and discovering the differences between the different types of turkey calls. You are ahead of the game.
The Shaggy Outdoors Team wants you to head out and be successful on this year’s turkey hunt. To do so, we are going to let you know what 3 turkey calls you should own and practice before your next hunt.
Having the calls in your vest is one thing, practicing and being prepared is another. Give yourself a few weeks of practicing to get good at one distinct call before you move on to another.
Friction Turkey Calls
The first and I dare to say, one of the most popular turkey calls is the friction call. A friction-style call can give you the best distance when you’re calling. These calls carry for long distances and are excellent when the conditions are less than fair. In windy conditions or rain conditions, you can find yourself still engaging with the birds using a friction call.
Friction calls come in three styles: the box call, the pot call, and the push-button call.
The way a friction call works is two items rub against each other to create friction and the sounds of a turkey in the woods. These calls are great for turkeys near or far to generate interest and response.
With a friction call, you can communicate with the turkeys making yelp sounds consistently. When you are a more advanced user of a friction call you will be able to mimic the sounds of a cutt, cackle, and even a purr.
Box Friction Call
The box friction call is where two pieces of wood are rubbed together to make the sounds of the turkey. Box calls are created with two pieces. First is the body which is the larger piece of wood that has been hollowed out. The second is the paddle which is a flat long piece of wood that rubs on the body. The two are attached at one end and they create the box call. Now when they are rubbed together you get the sounds that mimic a turkey.
The box call is a good starting point for beginning turkey hunters. Practice rubbing the paddle on the body of the call to get a one or two-note yelp to fool those hens and maybe attract a gobbler. Once you get more comfortable you will be able to expand your turkey calls to include a cutting sound made by turkeys
The downside of the box call may be the sound it mimics will be a higher pitch. It’s good for volume, if you are needing to reach out a long distance to engage with turkeys or if you are calling to locate. But, once the turkeys start coming in closer, you may choose to move to a pot call or mouth call.
Pot Friction Call
The second of the three types of friction calls are the Pot Call. This one got its name from the style of the call. The call is formed into a small pot. The pot can be made of hard plastic or a variety of different wood types. The pot could have holes in the bottom which, with the rubbing of the striker causes a vibration, and the sounds are enhanced from the bottom of the call.
Inside the pot can be one of three materials. The most common is slate stone, but the pot calls also come with glass over slate and possibly a ceramic (fabricated) stone. The inner material is formed to place inside the pot. The finished material slate stone or glass has a smooth surface when new. Immediately after opening a new pot call from a box you need to determine how the pot will sit in your hand.
You need to determine how you will hold this pot every time so you which way to scratch the surface. You want to make sure you are scratching the surface in a right/left direction across the slate. Only scratching the surface in the same direction every time. Now that you have scuffed up the surface you use a striker and rub the tip of the striker across the slate and bingo, you just made a yelp of a turkey.
The versatility of the pot call is immensely important to a turkey hunter. You will be able to make several calls including a yelp, cutt, cackles, and purrs. Once you master these sounds you will be able to use a combination of sounds to mimic a larger flock of turkeys.
The benefit of a pot call is the size. This call is held lightly in your hand while you use your other hand to control the striker to make the sounds. Holding the striker with the top away from you, like you might hold a pencil, you rub the tip of the striker in short strokes in an up-down motion, against the grains of the surface, to induce the clucking sound. Work your way in a quick circle pattern to produce a yelp or yelping sound.
The downside of the pot call is the material surface. You could be using a slate pot, the surface will need to be conditioned and reconditioned if you wear out the groves or if you get oils from your hand on the surface.
You can recondition the surface by using a scotchbrite-style pad and rubbing it in a left-right direction across the surface. Make sure you are consistently using the same directional pattern when reconditioning the surface. You want to avoid your scratches going in multiple directions across the surface of the call as this will lessen the effectiveness of the calling.
The glass-over-slate call is a great addition to your standard slate. Like the slate, you scratch up the surface and similarly use the striker to make the turkey sounds.
Depending on your level of expertise you may want to pick up a call with slate on one side and glass over slate on the other. This two-sided option can give you the advantage of sounds creating a flock of turkeys and not just one turkey. While slightly more expensive, these dual-sided pot calls take up less space in your vest and you can reduce the clutter you are carrying.
Push Button Friction Call
Beginners and experienced hunters can take advantage of a push-button call. The simplest call to use, but one of the most effective.
Like all the other call types, you need to practice with your push-button call. The idea is you can mimic the yelp and cackles of the turkeys and with practice, you are bound to get those toms interested.
I for one am a big supporter of the push button call for its ease of use. When I first picked one up I was amazed and the simplicity and basically how the manufacturer took out the hard part. All I had to do was practice and make sure I sounded correct.
The push button call is a box call with a dowel running through the box. The dowel rubs against the wood from the box and the sounds of turkeys fill the air. Inside is a hollowed-out box with typically a wood block that the dowel runs along. The wood dowel is usually on a spring and when you push it down it naturally pushes back into its setup position and therefore rubs back in the opposite direction.
This is an excellent call for all hunters, but beginners and kids should start with this type of call.
Mouth or Diaphragm Call
The best and only choice for hands-free calling is the mouth call. These reed-based calls are placed inside your mouth and when you blow out air the different styles of reed make a different turkey sound. While a great option when turkeys are in tight, the mouth call is the most difficult to master of all the calls.
Once you are within the eyesight of a mature tom, he can see you as much as you can see him. If you are out in the open the best call is the diaphragm call because there is no need for extra arm and hand movements when you’re making calls.
The mouth calls come in different styles and can give you a variety of sounds. The best sound you get from this type of call is the raspy tone which is very popular among hunters.
Diaphragm calls may have two, three, or maybe four different reeds built into the framework of the call. The different reeds can produce the sound of a gobbler, hen, or whole flock of turkeys.
You can reproduce the sounds of a solo hen looking for some loving. In addition, you can pick up the standard yelps and kee kees.
Many mouth calls come in packages of two up to six in one package. There are fancy names given to many of these calls including Raspy Red, True Hype, Long Spur, React, Shade Mountain Special, and True Two Calls. Each diaphragm call can give a unique sound and you never know which one will get you a gobbler.
Pro-Tip: use mouth calls to get a lower tone, not so rough raspy sound. This may entice that gobbler to come in and leave his current hens. On the other hand, a good raspy shootout with a hen could move her in and bring in the longbeard with her.
When I was in Walmart way back in 1994, I should have purchased a locator call instead of that box call. I didn’t know back then that a crow or owl call could get a reaction from a tom. Maybe if I had a locator call with me, I may have found some turkeys.
A locator call is made to do just that, locate or get a shock gobble reaction from a tom in the area. Unlike the other calls written about in this blog, the locator call is just to locate. Once you have the birds located now you can store the call back in your pocket and get to work hunting the turkey.
The three most common locator calls are the owl hooter, crow calls, and woodpecker. The owl hooter call is good for very early mornings and in the last 30 minutes of light till dark. The owl hooter doesn’t work well during the day as owls don’t typically hunt or hoot during the daytime.
Hands down the crow calls are the best option for all turkeys in all areas of the United States. The crow can be found from coast to coast and while in different areas of the country, crows will speak and sound differently, the fact is there are crows everywhere.
Additionally, crows are around all day long. So, if a turkey hears a crow during the day it’s not concerning because they are used to being in and around each other often.
Pro-Tip: crow call is a good tool to use when turkeys are being silent. If you know turkeys are in the area, but they won’t respond to your turkey calls, try to get a reaction with a crow call. Just make one solid call. Newbie hunters will want to blow the crow several times. Don’t, if there is no response don’t push your luck and keep blowing on the call.
Give the locator call the practice time just like the mouth call or slate call. Know your crows, each region will have a slightly different tone or style of calling. Being knowledgeable and practicing your call will increase your odds of success.
Final Thoughts on Turkey Calls
In the end, that spring turkey hunt in 1994 was not a success for taking my first Arizona turkey. In fact, I don’t think I saw a turkey in the five days I was hunting. The memories are still there, and the friendships are still intact with the guys out hunting with me on that trip.
But still, I wish I would have known more about the different types of calls. If you are here, you are looking to gain knowledge and information that can help you become a better turkey hunter. We’ve put together The Ultimate Gear Guide for Turkey Hunters here on our website and you should head over and check that out.
Purchase a few calls and try them out. I would never head back out to chase turkeys without my calls. The time in the woods allows me to become a better hunter. The time practicing allows me to shoot a mature long beard.
From the Shaggy Outdoors Team, we say happy hunting, because we know you’ll be practicing and ready to call those turkeys when the season starts.
The best sounding turkey call is the hunter that has practiced his calling. Box calls, slate calls, and push-button calls all have good sounds. Mouth calls are difficult to master but give the hunter the ability to be hands free and ready to shoot. Practice your calls and calling and you will have the best turkey sound.
Yes, most experienced hunters suggest the button call to beginners. Youth hunters should start with the button call. Don't underestimate its ability to lure in your bearded gobbler.
Start with a push button call. This call style is the easiest to master once you know what a turkey should sound like. Once you have accomplished the push button move over to the slate call.
A locator call can be when the birds are roosting. If you get a response you know you are in the right area for turkeys that morning. Don't double or triple up your locator call. If you don't get a response move on or be patient and call again after some time has passed. A good locator call is a crow call. These birds typically start moving after sun up and will be active all day.
There is no one best locator call. However, many hunters reach for the crow call. Crows are typically active all day and turkeys are not frightened when they call during the day.
The two senses that turkey have that keep them alive are their sight and their hearing. Turkeys don't smell and having sent free clothing is not a requirement. Be prepared to be seen, or not with the right camouflage.
If you are not sure if there are turkey in the area and you have been trying traditional yelps and cutts, try a quick locator call to see if you get a shock gobble you know you have a tom in the area.
There are three specific categories for turkey calls. They include the friction call, mouth call, and locator call. Under friction calls there are box calls, pot calls, and push button calls. For diaphragm calls there are a plethora of options and sounds. For locator calls the most common is the crow call.
No, not all turkey calls are the same. Each call that is hand made will sound different. Each wood type will create a different tone and each reed in a mouth call will make a slightly different sound. Try several different brands and types to become a well rounded turkey caller.