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DIY: How To Make Your Own Homemade Turkey Calls

Basic ideas for crafting heirloom-grade turkey mouth calls.

DIY: How To Make Your Own Homemade Turkey Calls

You yelp, they gobble. Hopefully, the next move is in your direction. (Photo by David McCleaf)

Turkey hunting involves many things in a delicious blend. There is the insertion of oneself into nature during the midst of spring, the need for stealth and camouflage, a requirement for intimate knowledge of the birds, and the ability to share the experience with friends and family. Tradition plays its role as well. Wouldn’t it be special to entice a gobbler within range with a call you fashioned yourself? Wouldn’t it be nicer yet to pass the call down through the generations, carrying on the traditions of the hunt?

Before explaining the idea for an heirloom, let me backtrack a bit. Many years ago, I read about making mouth calls from an old plastic 35 mm film canister and a piece of a latex glove. The idea was simple. A half moon shaped portion of the lid was cut away and the piece of latex rubber was stretched over the open end of the canister and the modified lid was placed back down, trapping and holding the stretched rubber. The bottom of the canister was cut away and a tube resulted. Air was blown from the operator’s mouth over the latex membrane and pressure from the lower lip controlled the sound. Tuning the call required only to take off the lid, adjust how tightly or loosely the membrane was pulled, and then replace the lid.

These simple calls worked remarkably well. However, film canisters, once abundant, are now rarely encountered. Also, even back then, the appearance of the call was not especially impressive. The advantages of the calls were the simplicity, the economy, and the fact that the reed did not get wet from saliva and therefore didn’t get sticky or wear out quickly. One latex glove could make many reeds. The user was free to experiment with multiple reeds and various cuts or notches in the reeds.

boar's tooth and deer antler
The author’s call made from a boar’s tooth, and inset, another made from the base of an antler. (Photos by Tim Lewis)

In many of us, there is ingrained an appreciation of the aesthetics as well as the function of an implement. Personally, I can’t help but marvel at the beauty of my recurves and longbows as well as enjoy the way they shoot. The same may be said of a knife, rifle, shotgun, or a turkey box call. I took the general idea of the film canister call and extended it to other materials, preserving all the advantages the original call offered. I’ll describe three such calls, one made from the tip of a cow horn, another from a hog’s tusk, and the third from the base of a deer antler, but really, there is no limit to the number of materials that could be so employed. Beautiful pieces of wood, seashells, ceramics, and bottles would serve, basically anything that can be made into a tube-like shape.

The cow horn was hollow and cutting the segment resulted in a short tube. The hog tooth was also hollow, but I had to extend the hollow chamber through the end of the tooth, a task that required drilling and Dremeling. The antler portion, of course was quite solid and, once again, I resorted to a good bit of drilling and grinding. All three were polished to a luster by starting with coarse sandpaper, working to finer and finer grits and eventually going to polishing compound and then wax.

Once the tube portion was fashioned, the very end was cut off with extreme care, rendering a thin cross-sectional piece. For each call, I drilled a hole through this thin end piece into the body of the tube and utilized a screw to allow it to be reassembled. Originally, I believed the call was complete at this time, but soon learned the membranes stretched over the main body of the tube were so excessively thin that tightening the end piece against the tube body with the screw would not suffice to maintain the membranes in place.

turkey calls
Double reeded call fashioned from a cow horn. Note the screw on the top to join the two segments. In view above, the cow horn call is disassembled, manifesting the soft gasket formed from a rubbery cement on the main body of the tube. The retaining screw and end piece are also shown. (Photos by Tim Lewis)

Either they would slip immediately or gradually change position, altering the sound of the call. A gasket of some sort was necessary. A bead of rubber cement on one of the surfaces, once set, sufficed. I also tried double sided tape and bonding a little of a rubber glove over it. This created a very spongy surface with good friction, but looked a bit sloppier after trimming.

A hole can be drilled near the far end of the tube to allow it to be fastened to a lanyard. Once the call is made, it is worth trying various arrangements of the reeds. For my calls, double reed seem best.

turkey call
Basic DIY: A film canister—if you can find one these days!—is easily made into a double reeded call. Shown above is a canister with the bottom cut out and a lid with the “half moon” cut. The latex glove can make many reeds. (Photos by Tim Lewis)

A more basic design is to merely make a tube out of a material of your choice. (By the way, these tubes need not be long at all.) The latex or nitrile glove pieces are stretched over the near end and a rubber band or O-ring is slid over them down the tube to keep them in place. This version permits very quick and effortless tweaks to (or replacement of) the membranes. With the membranes in place these calls don’t look as finished as the two piece tubes, but they need not be stored or displayed that way since membrane placement is so fast and simple. A circumferential groove can be carved or sanded into the tube near the membrane end to provide a definite place for the rubber band to rest.

With polishing and decorative embellishments, all these calls can be made very attractive and worthy of handing down through the generations.




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