Spring turkey season is less than two weeks out. Many hunters have been preparing their gear and practicing their calling. A handful of turkey hunters may be tinkering with their calls to get that perfect sound.
There are many turkey call manufacturers in today’s market. They churn out thousands of calls in assembly line fashion. These calls perform consistently and will call in a gobbler when used properly. However, there is something special about a turkey calls that is made personally by a hunter.
Long before turkey call companies became prevalent, hunters would make their own calls. Sometimes out of necessity. Turkey chasers would experiment in making simple calls with whatever material they had available. And turkey hunters would sometimes share their call-making secrets with their fellow hunters.
Snuff can, candy calls
Many years ago, I would watch my grandfather make a turkey yelper from an empty snuff can or an old pill bottle. He would carefully cut out a half-moon opening in the top and then drill a few small holes in the bottom. He would hand me a balloon to inflate.
“Blow it up as big as you can without it popping,” Paw-Paw said. “Tie it off closed, and I will pop it later.”
He would want the balloon to stretch out some before popping and placing it on his call. After popping the balloon, he would cut a piece with a straight edge to stretch across and under the half-moon cut-out on the top. The cap or top could be snapped over the balloon piece to hold it in place.
“You don’t want the rubber stretched to tight or it will sound too shrill,” Paw-Paw said. “The sound should be a musical note.”
Paw-Paw would make a few adjustments by stretching the rubber balloon piece just right and clamping it closed with the top. He would place the call to his mouth with the balloon piece against his lower lip and say “shee-uck” as he blew into the call. The call would make a very realistic two-note yelp of a hen turkey.
The old metal snuff cans can be difficult to locate today. However, the plastic tube from an M&M’s mini candy container will make a great tube yelper. The process is the same as with the snuff can. However, a piece rubber cut from a latex glove can be used as the reed.
You should be able to locate the M&M’s candy tube in both large and small sizes in any grocery store. The shorter tube will give a finer yelp and can produce more volume. The long candy will have a little deeper sound. Cut a half-moon shape out of the top. Also, drill a hole in the bottom of the tube. Use caution when cutting and drilling.
Stretch a piece of rubber balloon or latex across the opening in the top and snap the top closed. Place the tube to your lips with the rubber piece against your bottom lip and blow air across the reed. It may take several adjusts of the tension of the rubber piece to obtain the correct sounds and notes.
Tube yelpers can also be made from PVC pipe, wooden pulls on blind cords and a section of fishing cane. Some of these calls require a little more prep and work. But, the results are a fine sounding, hand made call any turkey hunter would want in their vest pocket.
Mouth diaphragms are probably the most popular style of turkey calls in use today. Almost every call manufacturer offers several different styles and type of these calls. However, diaphragm calls are relatively easy to make from items we usually put in the trash.
The pull top lids from soup, beans or Vienna sausages can be cut and shaped into frames for mouth diaphragm callers. Latex from exam gloves or craft store and some quality adhesive tape can be fashioned together to make a call.
Using the top from a soup can draw out a block letter “O” about 1½-inch high and 1-inch wide. Carefully cut out the frame using a pair of tin snips of heavy-duty scissors. After the frame is cut out, it can be folded over partially to accept the latex reed.
Place the reed, cut square, in the bend of the frame and clamp closed. Place a piece of adhesive tape on each side of the frame. The tape can be trimmed to fit in the mouth of the caller.
“Years ago, I would use an empty Prince Albert tobacco can to cut out frames for mouth callers,” said Johnny Ponder of Munford, co-owner of Camp Callers “I would flatten the can before cutting out the frame piece.”
Any type of aluminum can, or lid can be used to make a frame for a diaphragm. Always use caution when cutting and working with thin metal. If needed, use a file to remove any burrs or sharp edges.
Probably the oldest turkey call is one made from the wing bones of a turkey. Native Americans would clean out the wing bones and fashion them together to make a trumpet style call. Sounds of the hen turkey would be made by sucking air in through the call with closed lips.
How many times have the wing bones of a Christmas or Easter turkey be thrown in the trash? To make a wing bone caller remove all the meat from the wing section bones (radius and ulna) and clean out the inside the bones. The bones of fowl are naturally hollow. Boiling in water is the easiest method.
Cut the joints from each end of the bones. Then insert the smaller diameter bone into the larger bone. There should be three sections. Glue may be needed to hold the bones in place. Allow the glue and bones to dry completely before testing.
Many wing bone call makers use colored thread to wrap the joined sections. Also, spent casings from a .223 or small gage shotgun hull brass can be used to add character to your wing bone caller.
“Fishing cane sections can be cut and used to make a trumpet style call,” said Ponder. “Find the area of the cane that is about one inch in diameter and clean out the inside and smooth the ends.”
Ponder mentions a couple of sections of cane be fitted together to make the call louder. He also suggests practice testing the call outside with another turkey hunter. Many homemade calls will sound better in the woods than inside your house.
There are many other types of callers made from various materials we often discard and think nothing about. Making a turkey call from what most people think of as trash is rewarding. And that reward will pay off when an old gobbler appears in shotgun range.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com.