Custom Calls Online would like to thank Howard Harlan for his permission in using the illustrations found in this article. Without his fine work this article would have been impossible to complete.

Turkey calls have gained popularity in recent years with collector’s nation wide. This popularity can be credited to the restocking and resurgence of turkeys and turkey hunting in all the 48 states, Mexico and Canada. What was once an almost extinct upland game bird has returned in great numbers. The challenges of hunting this monarch of the forest have stirred the interest of hunters from near and far. This interest has also turned the older and antique callers into prized collectibles. In recent months calls that sold for only one or two dollars new at the turn of the century are getting thousands of dollars at auction. The trend is quickly rising and prices continue to climb in double digit increases with every passing month. This short article will offer a brief discussion of the early calls and some historical facts that may help to steep your interest in collecting.

Basic History of Callmaking

When the first turkey call was made of used is not known. We do however have a good idea when the first calls were already in use. In 1940 the Eva archaic site located in Benton County, Tennessee was excavated prior to the construction of the dam that formed Kentucky Lake. Many early Indian artifacts were unearthed at this time. One of the more interesting items found, at least from this point of view, were wingbone style yelpers made from bone and antler materials. Close examination showed that these calls were made from the actual wing bones of turkeys. Microscopic analysis showed that the bones were heavily worked by being scraped, cut and fit together much like the calls we are used to seeing today. They were accurately dated to 6500 BC.

Early Call Turkey Callmakers

In discussing turkey call history I will start with the late 1800 and move quickly forward. The three basic call classification center around friction calls, diaphragm calls and the trumpet of yelper style call. Production callmaking is thought generally to have started in around 1880’s by Charles Jordan . Mr. Jordan was well known for his work with wing bone yelpers similar to those found in the Eva dig site. In 1881 he wrote a series of articles for Forest and Stream magazine that discussed the wing bone yelper and it’s use. I t is Jordan the must be remembered for the return of the wing bone yelper to the masses. It was his works that bridged the gap between the early native Americans and popularized these calls towards the turn of the century.

Jordan and Gibson were the first generation of modern callmakers. There were followed by the famous Tom Turpin. Turpin was born a generation later and his work with turkey calls was very much influenced by these two earlier callmakers. It should be noted that Turpin made many different types of calls and not just turkey calls. Turpin produced yelpers and box calls till 1949 when he turned the business over to Inman, his brother. At the age of 85 Tom Turpin died in 1957. In that same year the Turpin call business was sold to two different people. Melencon purchased the duck call business and Roger Latham purchased the turkey call business.


Another famous callmaker was Mike Lynch. He started making and selling calls in 1939 from Birmingham. His calls were unique in that he mass marketed his calls. The Lynch box call, like all the others, was influenced by the Gibson design. All cedar calls were made in the beginning and later they were changed to Walnut lids and Mahogany sides. The calls were of a glued construction rather then the honed out solid piece box similar to the Gibson caller. Mike Lynch sold the Call Company to Al Jenkins in 1970 and the production was moved to Mississippi. From a collector’s point of view the Birmingham calls are the higher value of the Lynch calls and today are bringing hundreds of dollars at auction. Lynch calls are still made today.

Chronology of Callmaking

February 5, 1867 Samuel Mc Clain was awarded a patent for a mouth whistle.
January 5, 1897 Henry Gibson awarded the patent for the box caller.
July 20, 1912 William Saunders was awarded a patent for a crude Friction Slate call.
February 1, 1921 Henry Bridges was awarded a patent for an improved Mouth call.
August 18, 1949 Reuben Boatwright was awarded a patent for what I can best describe as a push button caller.

Other patents were also awarded as late as 1985 for improvements to a yelper type of trumpet caller.

This information is but a sampling of that available in great detail on turkey calls. For a detailed discussion I strongly suggest you get and read a copy of Howard Harlan’s book "Turkey Calls, An Enduring American Folk Art". They are available from bookstoresor can be ordered direct from Mr. Harlan at, 303 Murfreesboro Rd., Nashville, TN. 37210.

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