Mouth Calling 101


Why choose a diaphragm? Hands-free operation. Realistic sounds. Cost effectiveness. Just ounces to carry, you can hide one in your mouth. Running your mouth call with the right number, rhythm, length, volume, spacing, and pitch of notes will improve your calling game this season.

(1) Number

Listen to enough wild turkeys and you’ll hear them consistently call with numerical frequency. The hen’s yelp and plain cluck are the two basic vocalizations spring gobbler hunters commonly use. With mouth calling, there’s less room for error, so every note counts.

On the roost, a hen’s tree yelps can total just one to a handful of notes. On the ground, a hen’s plain yelp generally consists of three to five notes, with some situational variation. With more notes, that plain hen yelp becomes an urgent lost call, and might run from 12 to 20 or more notes. A plain cluck is one to three notes, while loud clucking (a.k.a. “cutting”) includes four to 10 or more notes.

Vary the number of yelps and clucks according to hunting situations. Actively listen to live yelping and clucking hen turkeys, then match their calling moment to moment. Be deliberate, not arbitrary.

New to this? Try out various mouth calls by making some turkey sounds. Single- and double-reed diaphragms offer stylistic simplicity. Start with plain yelps and clucks. Put the call’s horseshoe end on your palate, latex reed(s) facing out. The small bump or tab on most frames should face down. Work the diaphragm into the roof of your mouth with your tongue to get a tight air seal. Root it there or your call won’t work. Place your tongue lightly over the reed(s), and huff short yelp-like notes of air. Don’t blow too hard at first.

(2) Rhythm

In the purest sense, a hen’s yelps are made with evenly paced beats, while clucks include unevenly mixed notes. Whether that wild turkey is roosted, on the ground, or lost (i.e. looking for flockmates), those yelps are steady. In contrast, both the hen’s cluck and cutting are notably varied. The rhythm is irregular. While some mouth callers mix both with success, especially when that spring gobbler is coming on a leash, it’s important to note the distinction.

Ask your turkey buds what word they say when yelping, and the answer will likely vary. “Chick,” “chirp,” “chop,” and “chalk” are some options, with “ch” as the common sound. Some say “shuck” or “shock” or “shick.” Others say “chee-uck” when making the yelp. Any way you go, call with snapping, beaklike lips, just like a turkey. To practice, choose a single word: shock. Break it: sh-ock then roll it together as you yelp: s-h-h-h-o-c-k,shhh-ock, shock. Experiment with these various words to get the sound you want.

(3) Length

Listen to a yelping hen and you’ll note three or four notes per second in a series: yawp-yawp-yawp. A plain cluck—pock—often fills a brief interval of time. Cutting might include several to a half-dozen notes per second in rapid-fire sequence. Specify note length when you mouth call.

To cluck on a mouth call, say “pock,” “puck,” “tock,” or “tuck” with one short burst of air. To cutt, run those clucks together in a fast series: tuck-tuck-tuck-tuck. Vary the cadence to imitate live hens you hear when hunting. Mix clucking and cutting in with your yelping.

(4) Volume

A hen’s tree yelping is often faint, and muted. It’s best heard in range of a turkey roost. If a gobbler’s nearby, his rowdy response might come then. Plain yelping after a hen has flown down is typically nasal in quality. A lost yelp is louder, and less subdued. The tonal urgency is easily heard. Practice these variations.

First say each yelp- and cluck-associated word without a diaphragm. Pretty close to a turkey’s yelp, and cluck right? That’s why some can even talk turkey without a call, using only their voice. Now say these words with your favorite mouth call. Notice how your tongue works to make that sound, and how your jaw drops as you release pressure toward the end of the yelp, and when making the cluck. Not bad, eh. You can adjust calling volume by varying tongue pressure and the air passing across the diaphragm’s reed(s).

(5) Spacing

Turkeys looking for others cluck, then often wait one, two or even three or more seconds, then cluck again, if at all. This spacing distinguishes the plain cluck from cutting.

A plain cluck asks, “Where are you?” when looking for a response from another turkey. In that moment, you can wait silently, and let the bird look for you, or answer right back. Space those clucks to mimic the bird that’s approaching. Once you call, that turkey has likely fixed your position.

Less than subtle, cutting reflects a series of abrupt and excited clucks, with a second or two of silence filling the time until another run of harsh clucks with uneven beats follows.

Feeling experimental? You can combine both diaphragm yelping with pot-and-peg, or box call vocalizations. If it’s stormy, it helps you call through windy gusts so a gobbler might hear you. You can also imitate several turkeys this way. Sometimes, that’s what it takes.

(6) Pitch

As mouth calling goes, pitch is the high or low tone within a range of specific calls. A hen’s yelp is higher pitched than a gobbler’s. Clucks—both plain and those made when cutting—should reflect the same pitch.

Add more mouth calling vocalizations as you progress. A fly-down cackle can be made with a speedy “kit-kit-kit-cat-cat-cow” call to begin your morning’s spring hunt. To purr, flutter your tongue or lips as you expel air across the call’s reed(s). Purring can suggest feeding turkeys (call softly), or pecking-order driven toms ready to fight (add volume).

Number. Rhythm. Length. Volume. Spacing. Pitch. Apply all to your calling game plan this season.

(Steve Hickoff photo)