"Make your own Turkey Calls" by Jerome B. Robinson

Field & Stream January 1998

Making your own turkey calls is a sure way to extend the pleasure of the hunt in the off season. Just ask call maker Mike Morton of El Dorado, Arkansas. Morton, a retired school principal, hand crafts custom duck, goose, and turkey calls that are fast becoming collector's items among knowledgeable hunters.

"Every turkey call you make puts you in the woods," he says. "In your mind's eye, you can see the turkey coming in while you shape the wood. You can hear him gobble and drum each time you make some trial sounds with the call. I kill a lot of turkeys in my head when I'm making calls.

Morton has been hunting with home made call most of his life. He has an old raspy cedar box call, the base of which is heavily notched to indicate the number of turkeys it has taken, and he carries a flute toned wingbone call made from the bones of a hen turkey. But what he relies on most are slate-faced friction calls.

NOTE: Custom Calls has omitted the slate call portion of this article.

To make box calls, Morton chooses 1/4-inch-thick stock to make the bottom and paddle and 1/8-inch-thick stock for the sides. "The best way to make a box call is to copy one," Morton says. "Then you can experiment with different lengths and widths to suit your fancy."

There's not much to the construction. "You just need to recess the sides into channels you cut in the bottom," he says, "and use blocks of various dimensions at both ends to hold the sides and bottom together.

Use tight-grained, thoroughly dry wood. Different combinations of woods produce different sounds. Experiment until you get a tone that works for you. If you want to use cedar sides, buy cedar-closet paneling.

The tonal break in a box call comes from the curved top edge of the sides of the call. Most box call sides are curved at the top from end to end so that the sides are about 1/4 inch higher in the center than they are at the ends.

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Use a file to round the paddle on the bottom, then drill a small hole near the end. To attach the paddle to the block, pass a fine-threaded 1-inch-long screw through the hole and then through a 1/2-inch section of 3/8-inch-diameter coil spring, which must be inserted between the paddle and the end block. Continue to turn the screw into the end block. The spring is used to stabilize the tension on the paddle as it is scraped over the top edges of the sides of the box.

To make a turkey call, you need very dry wood. Mike Morton says that old furniture is the cheapest source of call wood. (The tight grain gives the call its tone.) The legs and tops of older tables contain gems for turkey call making--maple, walnut, cherry, mahogany, poplar, and basswood. You might find suitable examples sitting unused in an attic. But check before you saw; you don't want to destroy Great-Aunt Bessie's irreplaceable heirloom.

Use a bandsaw to saw the wood length wise (with the grain) into broad strips 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick. Store the pieces in a dry place.