"With a fistful of change and a little bit of time, you can make a killer turkey call" by Michael Pearce

Outdoor Life February 1997

Giving a starving turkey hunter the choice between a sandwich and a new call, and he'll cinch his belt tighter and start cackling. It's not that he needs another call--he's probably got crates of them squirreled away. It's that for serious turkey hunters the search for the one true yelper is an all-consuming addiction. And give the cost of calls today, that can really add up. Unless, of course, you build your own. The materials cost next to nothing, and you can build both a slate and a mouth call in less than half an hour. Convenient, since that leaves both time and money for a nice turkey dinner.

SLATE CALLS Slate Calls are some of the sweetest in the timber, and they're also some of the easiest to make. All you really need is a chunk of slate, a ceramic or diamond-tipped saw and a couple of pieces of sandpaper. With the basic materials, you'll be yelping in no time.

1 Getting a Rough Blank Cut out a workable section of slate--say 8 by 12 inches--with the saw. When finished, it should be about 1/8-inch thick. Slate shears cleanly, so if you have to trim it to width, turn the piece on end and split it with an old knife and hammer.

2 Creating the Finished Blank To grind the blank smooth, wet a section of sidewalk, then work the blank across it in circular motions. Finish the surface with some sandpaper until it's perfectly smooth. Congratulations, you've just made a slate call. Run a striker across it, and it'll call turkeys. But there's more.

3 Adding a Sound Chamber If you want to enhance the sound, take a piece of PVC pipe, two inches high by three inches across, and trace its outline on the blank. Trim the slate with tin snips and then blue it onto the pipe with a ceramic glue like Liquid Nail. If you like, get creative with your sound chambers by varying their shape. Spencer Tomb, a close friend and an excellent callmaker, uses turtle shells he finds afield.

4 Making the Striker Cut a rod eight inches long from a 3/8-inch cedar, walnut or hickory dowel and push it deep into the center of a dry, shelled corncob. The peg and the cob need to vibrate well together, so if the fit's not tight, add some wood glue.

5 Final Tuning You'll need to do a certain amount of tweaking to fine-tune the call. First, start with the striker. Shorten the peg gradually and vary the shape of the tip, from perfectly flat to pointed, until you get a yelp you like. You will also find that hollowing or shortening the top of the cob also affect the sound. If your first striker doesn't work out, make another and try again.

Once you get a sound that's close to what you want, start working on the slate. Look for "sweet spots" that sound better than others. Try shortening the sound chamber until you find your desired volume and pitch.


Slate The best slate come from old chalkboards, which most schools and colleges are phasing out since chalkdust and computers go together like bubble gum and hair. Some masonry supply stores also carry slate tiles and shingles, both of which will work. Making calls is a process of trial and error, so once you find a supply, stock up.

Striker Material Most hardware stores carry wooden dowels, which can be cut into pegs. Broken carbon arrow shafts can also work.