Mar 162016
choosing best turkey calls

Turkey Calls (source: MDC)

Calling wild turkeys is a key part of the hunt. The effective shooting range for most of us with a shotgun is about 30 yards. In most cases, you can’t sit and wait for a gobbler to wander by.

You have to lure him in, be it with the plaintive cluck of a hen or the high-pitched squeal of an upstart tom invading his territory.

Choosing A Turkey Call

There are countless options for turkey calls. Choosing the best turkey call for your hunt depends on several factors:

  • Your skill level at calling wild turkeys
  • The month and hunting season (spring or fall)
  • Whether you’re scouting or actively hunting
  • The sex and dominant status of your target turkey
  • The terrain and type of land you’ll hunt (public or private)
  • Your state’s hunting regulations. In Missouri, for example, electronic calls are not permitted.

Turkey Call Types

There are several different forms of turkey call, but they can be broadly classified into two categories: those that use friction to create sound and those that use air to create sound.

Best box turkey call

Primos waterproof box call

Box Calls

The box call is one of the most common and versatile types of turkey calls. It creates sound with use of a wooden paddle that rasps along the side of an acoustic chamber. Important features:

  • This is probably the easiest turkey call to master and produce consistent sounds.
  • You hold the box in the palm of one hand, grab the striker between thumb and forefinger, and strike it across the narrow edge of the box to produce a variety of calls.
  • It’s ideal for both clucks and yelps, arguably the two most important calls a hunter will employ.

One drawback to box turkey calls is that most don’t work if they get wet (no friction). One exception is the Primos Wet Box call, which is coated with a proprietary waterproofing resin.

Best Slate turkey call

Primos Ol’ Betsy slate call

Slate Calls

The slate call is another friction call, this one with two pieces: a “pot” which has a sounding board (slate, glass, aluminum, or another material) over a sounding chamber, and a striker usually made of wood. The Ol’ Betsy slate call by Primos is a prime example: the sounding board is Pennsylvania slate, and the striker is hardwood.

Though a bit harder to master, slate calls tend to have a more diverse calling range. Hold the striker as you would a pencil, and:

  • Draw a small circle on the sounding board to produce a yelp
  • Pushing down in short, firm strikes produces clucks
  • By letting the striker skip across the surface, you can create soft or aggressive purrs

Slate calls tend to be small and portable, which is useful, but don’t lose the striker! Without that specially-made wooden peg, the call is fairly useless. I found this out the hard way in my teenage years.

Best Push button turkey call

Push-button Turkey Calls

This type of friction call features a box-like sounding chamber and integrated striker that you push with a finger or thumb. It’s especially useful for one-handed operation, reducing the hunter’s movement and letting him hold the gun or bow. Some important things to note:

  • This is one of the easiest calls for beginners to use. All you do is push the button.
  • Rubber bands inside provide the proper tension to produce sound.
  • These can even be mounted on a gun for nearly hands-free operation.

I happen to own the Knight & Hale Tom Coffin pushbutton call. It’s portable and lightweight, perfect for throwing in the day pack during my fall turkey hunts. Clucks and yelps are pretty routine to make, but for other types of sounds you’ll want a different call.

Best Mouth diaphragm turkey calls

H.S. Infinity diaphragm call

Aluminum frame mouth call

H.S. Aluminum frame diaphragm call

Diaphragm Turkey Calls

And then there are the mouth-operated turkey calls, which usually consist of a hard cardboard-like frame and a latex diaphragm. The hunter uses his breath and mouth to shape calls, using the diaphragm’s vibration to accomplish this.

  • Various reed numbers, cuts, and tones are available in diaphragm calls
  • The upper limit of volume is surprising, but many hunters use this for close-range calling
  • These tend to be less durable than other calls because, hey, they’re in your mouth.

The obvious advantage to diaphragm calls is that you work them with your mouth, so you keep both hands free and can really control the sound. There’s little movement, too, so many turkey hunters use these to bring the tom in those last few critical yards.

Hunter’s Specialties Infinity line of diaphram calls has 5-6 different models to choose from. The Raspy Old Hen is still my favorite, both in name and use.

gobbler shaker call

Gobbler Shaker Calls

This is a dangerous type of call to use, so much that I’m reluctant to mention it. It’s a hand-operated shaker call that produces the thunderous gobble of a male turkey. It’s loud, it’s easy to use. In some situations, it may be the right “challenge” call to bring a dominant gobbler to you. Side note: if you’re pursuing subdominant toms, this might drive them off.

Using a gobbler call is dangerous, however, mostly because it’s likely to draw any turkey hunters within hearing range toward you. Here are some safety guidelines

  • Set up against a tree wider than your body, in case a hunter approaches from behind you
  • Be watchful, and yell at any see hunters moving toward you. Don’t wave, don’t move. Yell.
  • Avoid using a gobble call on public land or when you know other hunters could be nearby.

Incidentally, the Primos Gobbler shaker call will produce a “jake” gobble with one-handed operation; making the mature-tom gobble requires both hands.

crow turkey locator call

Primos Old Crow

owl turkey locator call

Hoot Flute locator call

Knight & Hale Owl Turkey Locator Call

K&H Aluminum Owl Call

Turkey Locator Calls

There are times when you want to locate gobblers — during preseason scouting, for example, or once they’re on the roost the night before a hunt — without bringing them to you. To do this, you’re looking to elicit a “shock gobble” from a turkey nearby. It’s the turkey equivalent of shouting “Ah!” if someone sneaks up behind and startles you.

  • Crow cackle calls, like the Primos Old Crow call, will often bring a shock gobble and are natural occurrences in the daytime turkey woods.
  • Owl hoots like the Primos Hoot Flute are especially useful at night and in the early morning when trying to locate a gobbler on his roost, but they work throughout the day.

Interestingly, barred owls and other owl species sometimes prey on turkey young or even small hens, but a gobbler’s out of their class. This may be part of why a tom instinctively gobbles when he hears an owl hoot; it’s almost letting the owl know not to mess with him.

If you have to pick one locator call, go with an owl hooter. My favorite is Knight & Hale’s alumium locator call because it’s small and light, and comes with a lanyard to hang around your neck.

Another advantage to locator calls during your hunt is to find an area that holds gobblers without drawing them toward you, at least until you have time to set up. You can also keep tabs on a tom that’s moving, in hopes of figuring out his destination and sneaking ahead to set an ambush.

 Get Ready for Turkey Hunting

One thing that I really like about turkey hunting is that it requires relatively little equipment other than camouflage, a gun, and a turkey call. If you wanted to stuff your pockets a bit further and have some variety, do this:

  • Bring a locator call to find the gobbler
  • Bring a slate call for long-distance, loud yelping and cutting
  • Bring a box call for medium range clucks and yelps
  • Bring a mouth call to bring him into gun range.
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Written by Dan Koboldt

  3 Responses to “Choosing the Best Turkey Call”

  1. […] our comprehensive guide to choosing the best turkey call for more tips and […]

  2. […] bowhunting because you can use it one-handed. It’s one of the many I evaluate in my guide to choosing turkey calls. I began with a couple of yelps, alternating with occasional soft clucks. From a ridge to my right […]

  3. […] That’s it for the basics: scouting the location, the setup, and the calls. Be sure to check out my more comprehensive wild turkey hunting section, and my guide to choosing the right turkey call. […]

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