The primary principle behind spring turkey hunting is to prey on the male’s breeding instinct by imitating the calls of a female and in so doing, calling him to your location. The tools you choose can vary with circumstances, personal preference and proficiency. What follows is a primer on the options available to you.

First there’s the box call. By sliding the paddle appropriately across the rail, the top ridge of one side, you can mimic a variety of hen calls. Most folks use box calls to mimic short, sharp cutts or longer yelps. As with any call, cadence is more important than pitch or tone. Like humans, turkeys have different voices but they all speak a common language. More proficient callers also use box calls for clucks and purrs. With a little practice, you can even produce a serviceable gobble.

Because it’s a fairly loud call, the box is used mostly to start a conversation. The hunter may produce several loud yelps to see if he or she can raise a gobble. A distant gobble or a windy day might require some more loud box calling, but as the bird draws closer you’ll want to tone it down. That’s when I typically switch to one of two other types.

The slate, or pot and peg, is a two-piece friction call. Sound is produced by drawing the peg or striker across the face of the slate, which can consist of authentic slate or a variety of synthetic materials like aluminum, copper, plexiglass or glass. It requires a little more practice than a box but in time you can mimic most turkey sounds. You can also vary the volume by changing pressure on the striker. With less pressure you can produce soft clucks and purrs to induce a love-struck gobbler.

Another option is a mouth or diaphragm call. This takes considerable practice and some novice hunters struggle with mastering it. Keep trying. Without the use of hands or motion, both important considerations when hunting sharp-eyed turkeys, you can mimic most calls. You can even change the pitch, tone and volume by changing the shape and position of your lips and the amount of air pressure. If I could only go afield with one call, it would be a diaphragm.

There are other, less common options. Without question the easiest call to learn and run is the push-pin call. You hold it in one hand and by pushing on a peg you can make yelps, clucks and purrs. With a pair of them you can imitate fighting purrs; one company even makes a two-pin call for that purpose.


Tube calls are essentially an external, mouth-blown version of the diaphragm. Rather than being stretched across a small aluminum frame, the rubber material is held over the mouth of the tube. You operate it by putting your lips to the tube mouth in just the right position and blowing. Most tubes are designed for gobbling but some can also be used for yelps.

Yet another mouth-blown call often reserved for traditionalists is the wing-bone. Authentic versions are made by fixing three sections of a turkey’s wing bones together to create a tiny trumpet. A few companies make synthetic versions but I figure if you’re going that route you may as well go all the way.

If you just can’t master any of the above, or simply choose not to, you can always fall back on an electronic call where legal. These high-tech devices operate with the single push of a button to produce an array of pre-recorded calls. I hold no ill will toward those who use them, but much of turkey hunting for me is calling, so I prefer more conventional mouth or friction calls.

Whatever type you choose, practice makes perfect. The more you practice the more proficient and confident you become in your calling. This even applies to electronic calls because you have to learn which call to make at what time. But that’s a story for another day.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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