Many turkey hunters are gear junkies and I’m no exception. Each spring I overload my vest with an assortment of turkey calls—knowing full well that many won’t see the light of day until I unpack after the season closes.
Fact is, I just checked my vest, and here’s the tally: 13 mouth calls, two box calls, four pot calls with four separate strikers, and three locator calls. In total, that’s 22 different turkey calls strategically tucked away.
I know it’s overkill, but from extra ammo to zip ties, I’ve learned the hard way that you can never over-prepare for a turkey hunt. Through the years though, I’ve learned that there are three specific calls I use more than the rest combined. Here they are, and why I use them so often.
Friction calls are a must-have item, especially in open country or windy conditions when you need sound to carry. Diaphragms calls can get loud, but to really reach out and touch a gobbler’s ears, nothing compares to scraping wood or slate.
There are essentially two popular types of friction calls: box calls and pot-and-peg calls. A box call is easier to learn. Even a beginner can quickly figure out how to scrape out a two-note yelp that’ll fool a tom. Boxes also offer plenty of volume—sometimes too much volume.
Consistency can be a good thing if a gobbler’s in the right mood, but the added versatility of a pot call allows for more control over volume, pitch, tone, and emotion. On top of a variety of yelps, you can gradually work your way up to making cuts, flying cackles, and even purrs. Few calls besides diaphragms can match the spectrum of vocalizations you can get from a pot call.
Run the striker closer to the pot’s edge and your yelp will be higher pitched. Move closer to the middle and it’s lower. Use more pressure for more volume, and a softer touch for close-range work or talking to roosted birds. Swap strikers for different tones or change the striker’s angle to sound like a different bird.
My go-to pot is a slate over glass that has worn an O-shaped ring into my vest’s front pocket. The call just fits me right. A dab of hot glue on the frame tells my ring finger it’s in the right spot. That helps me position the call without having to move my head, which can be a deal-breaker if a bird is in tight.
For friction calls, you can't go wrong with the MeatEater x Phelps Box Call or Slate Over Glass Pot Call. The box call is easy to use for beginners and has plenty of volume. The glass over slate pot offers more subtle tones for soft purrs and sweet clucks. But if you want to go with the highest-end option, make sure to check out the Phelps Line 1 Pot Call, which Steve Rinella and Jason Phelps built out of one Kansas black walnut that they selected and felled.
Nothing beats a diaphragm call for the dirty work. Remember, if you can see a longbeard, he can see you, too. At times like these, running a paddle on a box or even dragging a striker across a slate is risky business.
With that in mind, the hands-free virtues of mouth calls can’t be overstated. However, what’s often overstated is how much rasp a mouth call can produce. I’m not sure why, when, or how, but at some point, hunters began to measure a mouth call’s effectiveness by how raspy it sounds.
Many double- or triple-reed mouth calls feature specialty cuts (bat, ghost, cutter, split-V, double-cut, etc.) that promote a specific tone and degree of rasp. I carry some of these around, but there’s only one kind of mouth call I tuck into my cheek when talking to a wary gobbler: a straight, double-reed call with no cuts whatsoever.
Why the basic diaphragm call? Because it has hardly any rasp. That might run counter to what call marketers have told you, but when a gobbler is in sight, I want to coax him into range with soft, subtle calls, not bark at him with raspy yelps.
On top of not sounding as aggressive to a longbeard, less rasp can help you trick hens. I’ve had many hunts when I’ve gone to absolute war with a boss hen, trading loud, raspy yelps and cuts. Usually it fails to trigger her territorial instinct. Instead, I’ve found that sounding like a young, vulnerable, lost female with zero rasp keeps me in the game long enough to kill a boss hen’s boyfriend.
It took a while, but I finally learned that dealing with a henned-up longbeard means calling to the ladies. Once I realized that, I started killing more birds. And once I realized that calling softly with less rasp gets me in the good graces of boss hens, I started killing even more gobblers. They might not have rumbled into my setup like a solo bird, but they all flopped the same and tasted just as good.
If you're looking for a no-cut diaphragm that produces clean, effortless yelps and kee kees, check out the Phelps Straight Deuce Turkey Diaphragm. If you want to add some rasp and diversity to your mouth call lineup, the MeatEater x Phelps Diaphragm 3-Pack has everything you need.
Lastly, I don’t leave the house without a crow call dangling from my neck. An owl hooter might draw more gobbles at dawn or dusk, and a hawk scream might send prairie birds into a frenzy, but a crow call is truly more versatile than any other locator call.
Crows basically occupy all the same country that turkeys do. I can get responses from Merriam’s in Montana, Rios in Kansas, or Easterns in Illinois. It works from just after sunup until sundown, and is probably the easiest call to use.
Locator calls are essential in my book. They’re a natural sound that can pull a shock gobble from even the most pressured birds, making them shine when regular turkey calls fall short. They’re almost stupid proof, but there are a few tips hunters should remember.
Once a bird responds to a locator call, put the call away. Too often hunters want to make a bird gobble multiple times, but it does no good to pull more gobbles out of a tom than necessary. Hit the call, get a response, mark the bird’s location, and make your move.
Second, realism is just as important with locator calls. Put the same intent and feeling into a crow call that you would a yelp or cut. I blow my crow call like I do a duck call, adding a guttural grunt and hum to give it a richer tone. Also, crow caws vary by region, time of day, and weather. Listen to how they sound in your area and then adjust to match their tone and tempo.
Most hunters implement locator calls to strike new birds, but I’ll also use them to find toms that have gone silent or given me the slip. In this scenario, a predator call might make a tom get even more tight-lipped. On the contrary, a crow call is never too intimidating.
We've used the MeatEater x Phelps Crow Call from Montana to Arkansas to South Carolina, and it's struck up birds every time. It's one of the loudest locators on the market.
I’m an average caller at best, and I’m not ashamed to admit I do most of my damage each spring with some of the most basic calls. Pot calls, straight-reed mouth calls, and crow calls will absolutely get the job done for many hunters. I’m sure plenty of folks will be quick to point out the shortcomings of each, and they’re not wrong.
But the bottom line is I use these calls the most because I have confidence they’ll work—and nothing can replace confidence in the woods. Whether your favorite calls are similar or vastly different, go with what gives you the most optimism. A good attitude (and realistic calls) go a long way when you’re speaking to turkeys.