Tuning Turkey Calls

Every craftsman has his tools; and the tools of the turkey hunting trade are calls.  If you’re like me, you probably haven’t touched yours since you hung up your turkey vest after the last day of last turkey season.  Winter is waning and spring is in the air.  Depending on where you live, turkey season may be days, weeks or months away.  In any case, there’s no time like the present to start getting your gear in order once more.  It’s tune-up time.

Mouth Calls: Go through your old diaphragms and give them a good inspection.  Toss out and replace any that are moldy, have torn reeds, frayed skirts or are otherwise in disrepair.  Incidentally, this is why it’s a good idea to do this well before the season.

If your favorite call is hard to get, you‘ll have time to track down a replacement.  And don’t be cheap.  A diaphragm costs about as much as a 3-1/2-inch magnum shell.  When it doubt, throw it out and get a new one.

Next it’s time to “re-condition” those you intend to keep and re-use.  I start by soaking mine in a diluted solution of mouthwash, to kill any lingering bacteria.  After they’ve soaked for a while, I’ll take a toothpick and gently separate the reeds.  Then lay the calls on a paper towel to dry, leaving the picks in place so the reeds don’t “re-stick.”

Friction Calls: Moving on to friction calls, we’ll start with slates, or pot calls.  First, wipe the surface with a clean, dry towel.  Using the appropriate material, sand the face in one linear direction, i.e. back and forth or up and down - perpendicular to the direction you’ll be “drawing” the striker.  Which abrasive material you should use will depend on the surface material (use whatever came with the call when you bought it).  A fine to medium grit sandpaper works well on a natural slate or soft metal surfaces.  For harder materials like glass, plexi-glass and some metals, you may need a coarser or more abrasive scouring pad.  Blow off any excess dust, being careful not to touch the surface with your bare (oily) fingers.  Now, treat your striker tips similarly, roughening up their surface with the appropriate material.

Now on to box calls.  Start by “cleaning” off the bottom of the paddle and the side rails, lightly sanding away any old chalk, dirt or oils.  Next, simply apply chalk and give it a test.  If it sounds good, you’re done.  If not, you may need to do a little tweaking, something you may want to do anyway.

In most box calls, the paddle is attached to the box with a screw.  Loosening or tightening this screw can change the tone of the call considerably.  Adjust the screw in half or quarter turn increments, trying a few yelps between each turn.  Once you find a tone that pleases you, draw across the paddle and screw with a permanent marker as a reference mark.  That’s about all there is to it.

Of course, practice makes perfect, so you should spend plenty of time re-acquainting yourself with your calls.  And if you practice enough, you may want to do one more quick tune-up before heading out for the real thing. -- By Bob Humphrey