Long road trips are a great opportunity to try out new turkey calls—hands-free, of course. Although you might get a few sideways looks from other drivers at four-way-stops, kee-keeing and yelping on a new mouth call is more satisfying than just watching the yellow lines tick by. This otherwise monotonous time is better spent deciding which diaphragm calls will make it into my vest this spring, and conversely, which are going to be left behind.
Truth be told, mouth calls are not my “go-to”—I actually prefer a custom-made slate, but let’s face it, the stars have to align with a combination of perfect weather, ample cover, and a hot-to-trot gobbler to successfully use a pot-and-peg call. So, I’m forced to squeak by with a diaphragm, when necessary. My dad says, “you only need to sound better than the best hen out there” anyway.
With all of the turkey call options available these days, I wondered what some of the die-hard, turkey hunting experts use as their go-tos.
Ray Eye has seen 53 spring seasons in the turkey woods. Ray hosts national outdoor-media hunts, shoots television shows, produces instructional DVDs about turkey hunting, and presents national seminars on turkey hunting, all in the name of “work.” He swears that drinking chocolate milk and eating a fruit pie before “going into battle” is actually the key to killing a wild turkey.
Ray’s go-to is the diaphragm call, “because of the realism of sound, hands-free use, and the way it can duplicate every call and sound of the wild turkey.”
Karen Lee is the vice president of communications for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and has been turkey hunting for the past 15 years. She has killed three of the four turkey subspecies many times over, but has yet to hunt Florida to complete her Grand Slam. Karen enjoys the social aspect of turkey hunting the most, and the opportunity to meet new people as well as find custom calls for her vest.
“My go-to call is a slate pot call,” she said. “It’s the easiest for me to master and talk turkey through. I talk softly most of the time, so I feel comfortable with the subtleness of this type of call. I may not be as successful, due to my lack of aggressive calling at times, but I’m OK with that. I enjoy using the custom calls I find or am given by friends. I like to think I have something handcrafted and one-of-a-kind,” said Karen.
Turkey-hunting guru and self-proclaimed “turkey snob” Steve Hickoff literally wrote the book (actually, a few books) about talking turkey. Steve is the Realtree.com turkey hunting editor and a lifelong outdoorsman who has traversed half the country and Mexico during spring, fall, and winter turkey seasons.
“I tend to run all options, all the time,” Steve said. “If we’re on a hunt, and you need a turkey call, chances are I have it stashed in my vest and can loan it to you. If I don’t strike a gobbler by imitating a single hen, I’ll shift right over to ‘making like a flock’ mode, even in spring. I think this is a byproduct of being a hardcore fall turkey hunter. I’m a huge fan of running a mouth call at the same time as a box/pot-and-peg.”
Brenda Valentine is noted as being the “First Lady of Hunting” and also is a national spokeswoman for the NWTF. She spends roughly 70 to 80 days turkey hunting per year, and prefers to concentrate on helping first-time turkey hunters and wounded veterans bag their birds. In doing so, Brenda carries a plethora of calls in her vest and doesn’t have just one favorite.
“Each type of call has its advantages and disadvantages,” Brenda shared. “No one call will work every time, and that’s why I carry an arsenal of calls. My vest is equipped with two box calls, both a slate and a glass pot call with at least five to six strikers, a wingbone call, several diaphragms, and anything else that sounds interesting at the time. Most of my calls are homemade by other turkey hunters, but as you can tell I really like to go to the woods equipped to talk any language, so I also use many of the familiar brand names such as RedHead, Knight & Hale, and Hunter’s Specialties.”
Brian Lovett, field editor for “On the Hunt” in NWTF’s Turkey Country magazine, is another author of a plethora of turkey hunting books and has completed multiple Grand Slams and a Royal Slam. Brian likes to lean on superstitions for good luck while turkey hunting, including always putting his left boot on first, carrying seven shotgun shells (except for when its raining, then he carries four), and has been known to drive 30 minutes in the dark just to retrieve his lost lucky hat. That being said, he still has a favorite call to bring in a gobbler.
“I use everything, but pot-and-peg calls are my go-to yelpers,” Lovett said. “I just love running them. So many manufacturers make great calls nowadays, so it’s tough to pick a favorite. The key is to find calls you’re comfortable using and that produce realistic sounds. I’m big into custom calls nowadays, and I’m always looking for an excuse to add more to the arsenal.”
What’s your favorite call, and why? Let us know in the comments.