Our picks of the best turkey calls, how to perform, and when to use each one.
Getting the old gobbler to break his sense of protection is the job of the turkey hunter. In order to make the tom come into your calling, you have to be very patient and very subtle.
Turkeys are really not that different from men. We like soft-spoken women who know how to play the game. Getting an old tom into gun range is as simple as impersonating someone he is used to hearing, and having the right call to help you.
In my opinion, when turkey hunting, turkey calls are just as important as your gun or bow. You wouldn’t head to the woods without making sure your bow wasn’t hitting the target. If you are anything like me, you spend many hours each year shooting your bow. It’s done so you form that muscle memory so when the moment of truth presents itself, you’re prepared.
The same goes with turkey calling. The more you practice, the better you become. The last thing you want to do is blow a hunt because of your calling.
Here is a list of the best turkey calls on the market today, as well as how and when to use each one.
Best Turkey Pot Call – Esh Custom Calls 2-Sided Pot Call (Shop lowest price of $83.95)
The reason being they match the striker to the call. This gives you the most realistic sound when calling. The fact that its glass over slate makes it versatile for most all turkey sounds, and it fits perfectly on your hand. Whether your advanced or just starting out, this call is paired with a Hickory striker, which provides the best match to make the hard-to-reach tones.
Best Mouth Turkey Call – Ninja by Woodhaven Custom Calls (Shop from $13.99 – $25.06)
The reason the Turkey Ninja by Woodhaven Custom calls gets my pick is because of how well built, durable, and easy to use it is. Every year, I just take it out of the case and it’s ready to go. Unlike most mouth calls that can be a challenge to learn, with little to no practice on the turkey ninja you will be proficient at calling turkeys.
Best Locator Turkey Call – Woodhaven Ninja Owl (Shop for $32.99)
One of the most important calls a turkey hunter can carry is a locator call, because until you locate turkeys you have nothing to hunt. I put my faith in the Woodhaven’s Ninja Owl. Of all the owl calls I have tried this is by far the easiest and most realistic sounding call on the market. It is also very affordable compared to others of its kind.
Best Soft Turkey Call – Flextone’s Cluck-N-Purr (Shop from $14.99-$17.43)
Flextone’s Cluck-N-Purr is my favorite soft turkey call for the reason that once you learn to use it you will be set for clucks and purrs. I feel that cutting is one of the best calls to get a weary tom to commit to your decoy spread, and it is also a good long-range call. The only downfall is that you can’t use this call while holding your gun like a mouth call but is great if you have problems learning a mouth call.
Five Types of Calls
As mentioned above, there are four basic types of calls to master. Once you learn these, you should be able to locate and call in a turkey. The types are mouth calls, pot calls, box calls, and locator calls. Each of these calls has its place in turkey hunting. There are other types of calls, but these are the basics you need to call in a turkey. I will touch on these basic calls along with the turkey sounds to have you ready to hit the woods this spring.
Let’s start with mouth calls. They are not the easiest to learn, but once mastered, they will become one of the most-used calls in your repertoire. Mouth calls are made of one piece of latex or more, sandwiched between some sort of hard plastic. They have different cuts on the latex to give them different sounds.
The way they work is that as air passes over the latex, it creates a sound (such as a cluck or a yelp). My favorite mouth call is the Turkey Ninja, by Woodhaven Calls, although they make several styles, including ones for beginners.
This is the most realistic mouth call I have used. Mouth calls can be one of the hardest to learn, and they do take a lot of practice. The best way to learn is to find a video on the internet and practice until you get a sound. Once you get a good sound, practice using videos of turkey calls until you sound like they do. The biggest benefit of mouth calls is that they are hands-free. This is an important aspect at close ranges. It allows you to work the call with no movement, keeping the bird’s attention while still being able to take the shot.
Next up is the box call. These can be made out of several different kinds of wood, but they all basically work the same. They consist of a hollow box with a sliding lid. You slide the lid over the box, either fast or slow, to create your sound. These are one of the easiest calls to learn to use, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to yelp very well.
Box calls can be loud, and they can be heard from a distance. This is a good thing since you can try to get a gobble from off in the distance while trying to locate a Tom. However, it is hard to control the sound. This is one of the downfalls of box calls. The other is that they take two hands to operate. That’s a situation that can get you busted in the moment of truth when that Tom is 20 yards away.
The pot call is probably my favorite call of all. While it’s not a hands-free call, it’s hard to put it down. The sounds can be second-to-none, plus they are the coolest looking of all the calls.
They are all made somewhat the same, consisting of a material like slate or glass, and a striker. The strikers can be made from several distinct types of wood. Each makes a different sound. Most of the higher-end pot calls are assessed by someone experienced in the proper sounds before they even leave the manufacturer. This is called “match striking,” where the producers match the pot with the right wood to get the best sound.
My go-to pot call is Woodhaven’s Cherry Crystal. Like mouth calls, these can be a little more difficult to learn, but once mastered, they can be one of the best ways to get a Tom’s attention, whether a long way off or at close range. With practice, you can get several different sounds from one call. You can even change the angle to sound like different birds. With this call, the farther from the center out, the higher the pitch. You can also control the sound with the pressure of the striker. The less pressure you place on it, the lighter the sound. The only downfall is that these calls require two hands to use.
Once you have a good grasp on one or more of these calls, the next kind you want to look into is the last kind, a locator call. With one of the above calls and a good locator call, you should be all set for turkey season.
The two main types of locator calls are the owl call and the crow call. Both are a lot like a goose call or a grunt tube. They are made of a barrel and a reed. You get your sound by blowing air over the reed to create the sound.
These calls are pretty easy to use, and they are only designed to get a shock gobble out of a turkey. They are best used in the evening once birds are roosted, or in the middle of the afternoon when you are trying to locate birds.
I prefer the Woodhaven Ninja Owl for my locator call. It is extremely easy to use and it sounds just like an owl. These calls are used blindly when trying to pinpoint a bird. The sound can be controlled with your hands. If you have a Tom that is in the mood to gobble, it will definitely get a response.
Hudson began his calling repertoire, and it was barely audible at 15 feet! Yet, the gobbler he was speaking to at over 100 yards away was answering every sound he made. This brought my recognition of calling softly to a completely different level. I realize that my hearing is not what it used to be, but I could barely hear those calls while sitting a mere 15 feet from him! “Old birds don’t like to be hollered at,” Hudson said. “Do you like it when your wife hollers at you, or when she whispers in your ear?” From that day to this, I never raise my voice at an old tom.
A few minutes later, Hudson stood over his bird complete with its tree hanger spurs. I sat the entire time like a sponge, regretting that I did not record the events of the morning on video or audio. In over 37 years of turkey hunting, I learned more about turkeys that morning than I had learned in three decades of hunting them.
When I inquired about his methods, Hudson said he had been hunting this particular bird for a few days, but this was the first time he used a call. The rest of the time, he came in here and listened. “By listening to the hens, I know what I am supposed to sound like, what the tom is used to hearing, and I do what I can to impersonate the girls he’s used to hearing,” he explained.
Hudson believes that to kill truly old gobblers, we cannot throw anything at them that isn’t as realistic as possible. We have to sound like a hen that isn’t interested in anything he has going on because that gives the tom the incentive to come looking. Hudson described it like this: “When turkeys act like turkeys, the gobblers know that the hen is supposed to come to him when he gobbles. If she doesn’t come, he is likely to think that either she isn’t ready to breed or that something is wrong with the situation, so he doesn’t come looking. He has watched too many of his buddies go looking for the lost girl and never come back, so he stays away. If she doesn’t come to him, he moves on.”
Now, let’s review some basic ways to get proficient with these various calls. I’ve found that the best way to master any of them is to pick one sound to mimic, like a cut or a yelp, and then practice over the sound.
Once you decide on the sound, there are lots of great resources to find the sound you want to mimic, such as the NWTF website or YouTube. When I research these, I spend about 10 to 20 minutes listening to the sound, then longer trying to recreate the sound. Once I get close, I try to mimic the sound as the recording is playing. In about a week’s time, you should have that call down and be able to move on to the next.
There are lots of different sounds a turkey can make. Some calls are limited to only recreating certain sounds. The pot call and mouth call are the most versatile since they can recreate most of the turkey’s sounds. The box call is limited to only a few basic calls. Whatever call or calls you decide to go with, have fun, because that is what this activity is all about.
And, if you start practicing now you should have plenty of time before season to get proficient.
The Turkey Impersonator – Sounding like a Hen
More on Turkey Calls from Pete Rogers
Turkey hunting is hard enough. Too often, hunters make it a lot harder by making simple mistakes. I attribute this to the mesmerizing focus of Ole Tom’s ability to transfix hunters. They have an innate ability to cause us to make some decisions that have us questioning our own sanity. In order to get the jump on them, we have to outthink them, which I am not so certain many of us are capable of doing even on our best days. Ole Tom is one wary, wily and witty creature, causing even the most educated and astute among us to wonder aloud at times.
Getting the jump on him often requires us to know more about him than he knows about himself. And like the demise of many a good fellow, he falls because of the ladies. By learning as much as we can about hens, their behavior, feeding patterns, nesting areas and so on, we give ourselves the best (albeit remote) opportunity to see and kill a mature gobbler.
Charles Hudson was known locally as “The Turkey Whisperer.” Hailing from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, he has hunted turkeys for longer than I have been alive. A few seasons ago before his passing, I was fortunate enough to receive some of his wisdom. Hudson had spent decades pursuing the wild turkey all across the nation. The months of March and April had him plodding along the hills and hollers of his native upstate South Carolina in search of mature gobblers.
Hudson readily admitted that while his vision was not as good as it used to be, he would not kill a turkey that wasn’t at least three years old. He preferred them in the four- or five-year-old age bracket. “If their spurs aren’t 1.5 inches, I ain’t interested,” he’d say. It’s the old tom that intrigued him. And the way he killed them was by studying the hens. “I watch and listen to the hens,” Hudson said. “I listen to how they talk to one another, how they respond to Ole Tom, how they cluck, purr and just gab like womenfolk do. And I try to sound like them.”
Hudson was quick to point out that he didn’t try to sound “like” a hen turkey, he wanted to “impersonate” certain specific hen turkeys. The difference is significant. As he described it, “It’s like listening to someone who tries to impersonate a celebrity. Some do not sound anything like the celebrity, and others provide spitting images of that person’s voice.” Hudson admitted he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to impersonate, rather than mimic, a hen turkey.
When you have the opportunity to dine at the table of royalty, you notice some of the differences they exhibit over common people. One of the most interesting facets of Hudson’s repertoire was that he only hunted with a .410 shotgun. Long before the advent of Tungsten Super Shot made the .410 all the rage, Hudson was hunting turkeys with a .410. “I stopped using a big gun decades ago. I prefer to call the turkeys into 10 to 15 yards before killing them,” he explained. The .410 is more than capable at reasonable ranges, according to Hudson. I suppose the massive string of spurs and beards in his workshop testify to this fact.
On a hunt a few years back where I was invited to watch and learn, Hudson was using one of his custom trumpet calls and a scratch box call he made when he was a teenager. I asked why he didn’t use a diaphragm call like most turkey aficionados do. His answer: “Why learn how to do that when these have worked for 60 years?”