Given enough time in the woods, you’ll eventually meet that gobbler who keeps his beak shut with a calling style, but then turns suicidal after a few howls from another. Frequency, volume, and pitch are important when it comes to unlocking what sounds sexy to a longbeard. And he needs numerous options in his vest to help deliver exactly what he wants to hear. This is what you will find in mine along with the stages when you reach them.
The cashier call
Most turkey hunters, myself included, scratch their first howls with a box call in hand. The paddle’s wood-on-wood friction swirls and resonates in its hollow box, producing some of the most natural howls in the woods with minimal experience on the part of its handler.
I carry one in my backpack, not because of its bright tone and ease of use, but because of its volume. The box call can cut through wind and dense vegetation that inhibit a gobbler’s ability to hear you.
The first turkey I killed only succumbed to the piercing raucousness of a till call under these conditions. Hurricane-force winds and dense aspens along a Montana creek bottom required the additional hearing range provided by the box. Though I never heard it gobble up above the roar of the prairie wind, it came strutting in search of the sweet, natural sound of the cajon’s call.
Also, the box call is a great tool for exploring large open areas of the west as a distant location call, where the range and volume can cut through the terrain so your boots don’t have to.
Like all turkey calls, the box call is not without its drawbacks and limitations. They require two hands to manipulate, making it nearly impossible to get close to a suspicious tom undetected. Since the box relies on friction, most traditional designs perform poorly in wet weather and become unusable in the rain. Also, although box songs excel at producing natural howls, clucks, and cuts with attitude, in my opinion, they struggle with realistic representations of the softer or more delicate vocalizations in the turkey’s vocabulary.
The call of the pot
The scratching of a wooden firing pin on a slate surface harkens back to the days of paper shot cartridges chambered in your grandfather’s 16 gauge. There is no sweeter artificial sound anywhere in the turkey forest.
While mastering the pot call takes more effort than the box call, it’s still an exceptionally easy-to-use device capable of a wide range of turkey sounds. The principles behind the boat call haven’t changed much – it’s still based on the simple act of creating friction between a kicker and its base – but the materials and technology certainly have. These advances have given turkey callers an advantage in tone and volume, while maintaining the pot caller’s ability for traditional delicate work such as soft purrs and clucks.
I run a small variety of these on my vest to add volume and for another often option to deliver a stubborn long beard. A particularly recalcitrant eastern gobbler residing on the rainy west coast of Washington state fell victim to the crystal-on-slate variety.
While he casually acknowledged suggestive advances of my mouth call, his demeanor completely changed when I launched a series of sharp cuts to the boat call. To this day, I’m not sure exactly what I said that made him break ranks with the herd and die in that Pacific Northwest jungle, but I’m convinced he did it because of What he was saying it. The sharpness of that pot call flipped his switch one last time.
Like the box call, most pot calls are sensitive to any moisture that limits friction between surfaces. While the pot can be anchored to a stand and attached to your thigh or other stationary object to free up just one hand, it’s far from a hands-free call. Movement is still required to create sound, which limits its usefulness indoors.
The call of the diaphragm
If I’m forced to pick a favorite call in my pack, I’ll reach for a diaphragm every time. While the learning curve to minimal proficiency is steeper than the previous calls mentioned, it is a versatile and deadly tool when implemented effectively.
Personally, there is a certain appeal in the challenge of learning a mouthsong and the opportunity to create a unique, individual voice to attract a devourer. While I don’t have any data to support it helping me kill more turkeys, I find it much more fun to intersperse my howls with intermittent chops like an excited chicken.
For close calls, there really is no equal in anyone’s vest. The diaphragm can whisper clucks and purrs of satisfaction like a natural hen and emit a soft tree howl to a perched gobbler with no movement other than a few gasps of air on the call. It can also produce natural howls at a decent volume when needed. In addition to being lightweight, buccal ridges come in a variety of height and pitch configurations. Callers have experimented with various materials and “cuts,” which are geometric variations on the upper reed that enhance vocal qualities such as rasp and pitch. Just like turkeys, no two sound exactly alike.
Most hunters find the steep learning curve to master the diaphragm the biggest limitation, and I share that sentiment. I will add that mouth calls can have problems in windy conditions, in prospecting, or in situations where distance and volume are needed to reach the ears of a distant eater.
Regardless of your choice for a business call, don’t discount competition and context as two critical pieces to success. With any of these calls, practice is required. Not only does the gobbler’s otherworldly survival skill provide endless opportunity to hone your skill with the wood, but part of the sport’s appeal lies in the turkey’s ongoing pursuit of speech fluency.