Why Mouth Calls are Overrated for Turkey Hunting

Why Mouth Calls are Overrated for Turkey Hunting

Posted 2022-04-06T15:43:00Z

The author learned long ago he'd kill more turkeys by staying alive, and one good way to stay alive is not to choke on a mouth call

Are mouth calls overrated? The author thinks so. Image by Bill Konway

If you're a novice turkey caller learning to use a mouth call, a good thing to do is buy a box call or pot and learn that instead. I say this because mouth calls can be dangerous. This is because they're easy to swallow but hard to digest. Plus, you could choke on one.

They're also highly counterintuitive because, well, just look at the shape. Like the arrangement of teeth in your mouth, a turkey mouth call is shaped like a horseshoe, with the curve in the front and the open part in the back. Your teeth in your jaw are arranged the same way — a horseshoe with the open part in the back. The logical way to put a mouth call inside your mouth would seem to be with the open part of the horseshoe facing backward. But, of course, the logical way is wrong. The call actually goes into your mouth backward, with the open part facing out. Once the call is uncomfortably situated in your mouth, blowing it is a simple process of pressing it to the roof of your palate with your tongue and making choking sounds. Just kidding.

As you may have guessed by now, I have not killed boatloads of turkeys

What you are supposed to do is blow air from your diaphragm across the call's reeds, which are latex, just like condoms. In fact, I've heard the first turkey calls were actually made of condoms. And I nearly choked to death several times trying to learn how to use them. At a certain point, it dawned on me that I'd probably kill more turkeys by staying alive. For me personally, the best way to use a mouth call is to make sounds on a friction call — such as a box or a slate.

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I have a friend whose ringtone is a turkey yelp. He is a successful turkey hunter and a heck of a mouth caller, producing an astounding range of sounds, from soft and low to raspy and hysterical. When I asked him whether he knew which calls he was making at specific times, he shrugged. I don't know, but they seem to work. If that was so, I asked, how did he know which call to make at any given time? I don't know that either, he said. You sure ask a lot of questions. So you see, not all good turkey callers are good teachers. The fellow who told me this stuff is named Thomas Shurgar, and he lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. You might think I'm outing him here just because I resent him. You would be absolutely right.

Get your turkey hunting gear at the Realtree store.

Once, after a factory tour at a major turkey call manufacturer, each of us was given a custom-made box call with his name burned into it. Mine was gorgeous — an heirloom, really — made of burnished wood that practically glowed. It sounded pretty good and I used it regularly. But I've always enjoyed destroying expensive gear, so I placed it in the rear pocket of my vest, leaned back against a tree, and broke it into three parts. It didn't sound nearly as good after that. To replace it, I bought the much-flimsier-looking commercial version of the same call at Walmart. That call sounded way better than the custom call. Which just goes to show that if you ever get anything nice, the thing to do is break it and buy the cheaper model.

As you may have guessed by now, I have not killed boatloads of turkeys. Nonetheless, I have killed a few. Many of these were taken during what I call baby in the car seat hunts, in which somebody else does all the work and I pull the trigger. These don't take a lot of skill. But they do take some, and I have managed to screw up even some of these hunts.

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There was the time I was hunting with Jeff Budz, who has well over 100 grand slams and is the turkey-killingest man alive. In one day, he called in gobblers three separate times that anybody worth his salt would have nailed. One I flat-out missed, one I didn't shoot because the safety was still on, and on one I simply delaminated and ceased to function. Budz was a gentleman about it, by which I mean that his girlfriend stepped in to prevent him from killing me.

My advice is not to put anything in your mouth — especially backward horseshoes with condom latex — unless you intend to swallow it. Because eventually that's what will happen.

Bill Heavey is the longtime back-page columnist for Field & Stream and the author of numerous books, including If You Didn't Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat? He actually advises against taking his advice on turkey calling.