"Wingbone Turkey Call" by Frank Miniter

Outdoor Life April 1998

The wingbone turkey call dates back to antiquity, when North American Indians made yelpers form the bones in a turkey wing (they also used turkey spurs for the tips of their arrows and the bird's feathers for fletchings). Early settlers quickly caught on and modified the calls to their liking, with wooden tubes or even bones from other animals.

If anything, the wingbone call's age can be an advantage on hard-hunting birds. That's because its unique notes of love are not instantly associated with danger by gobblers who think they've "heard it all." Beside, there's just something special about using natural materials to call in your prey. Like rattling with a pair of shed antlers from your hunting grounds, this "organic" call brings more life to the hunt.

BONES AND TONES
The traditional wingbone yelper is made from a wild hen's wing. The wing bones of a domestic bird are just too thin and fragile for the call-wing bones from jakes taken in the fall have similar problems.

Wild toms have large bones that emit deeper tones that better imitate gobblers-as a result, it's better to call with them in autumn, while hunting gobbler flocks.

Not only are there differences in male and female bones, but the bones from different hen's yield individual pitches and volumes. Some hunters even swear that a young turkey's bones (being small) will sound like a young turkey, and so on.

The radius, ulna and humerus are the bones most commonly used in calls-with the radius as a mouthpiece, the ulna in the middle and humerus at the end. All three bones are found in the wing. Different constructions can also be used. Some hunters prefer to omit the humerus, but a few inventive souls will substitute some other hollow object, such as an old brass shotshell.

Cooking does not ruin the bones for calling purposes; just don't crunch down to hard at Sunday dinner, because bones that have been cooked are drier and can crack or splinter more easily.

It's best to remove and clean both sets of wing bones from your turkey. This will give you more options later, if you want to combine bones for different sounds or styles.

Materials Needed
  • Knife, steel wool or sand paper
  • Tapered file or hacksaw
  • Small rifle-bore brush or piece of wire
  • Dish detergent, bleach or other cleaning material
  • Epoxy, glue or other type of adhesive
  • Saucepan (for boiling bones)
I. (A) Radius, need for the mouthpiece. (B) Ulna, Commonly used as the midsection. (C) Humerus, the largest of the three bones, it is used as an end piece. The humerus is optional. Some hunters prefer a two-bone call, and others attach substitute hollow objects to the end of the call in place of the humerus for cosmetic purposes.
II. Remove the bones from the wing with a knife and scrape clean. Cut the bones with a hacksaw where the straight section meets the knob on the end. Make sure the marrow-filled center is completely exposed in the round section of the bone. Keep the diameter of the cut ends as close to the diameter of the rest of the bone as possible. III. Push a small rifle-bore brush or a piece of wire through the center and push out as much marrow as possible, being sure to go completely through. Boil the bones in water, and add a tablespoon of dish detergent to soften up the marrow. Boil until all of the marrow can be extracted--add bleach to avoid discoloration.
IV. Fit the bones together, placing the ulna over the radius and the humerus over the ulna. Cut and sand the bones as needed to obtain a tight fit. Turn the bones to achieve a shape that feels most comfortable to you when cupped in your hands. Epoxy the bones together, being careful not to block the passageway. V. The wingbone turkey call is ingeniously simple. Once the call is mastered you will find that turkey sounds can be made from almost any small hollow tube, including a straw or a pen. The different bones in the yelper vibrate different speeds and bring the air down increasingly small shafts, giving it surprising versatility and sound. And its tone remains the same whether wet or dry.

HOW TO WORK YOUR YELPER
The wingbone call is used by sucking air through the call with puckered lips and letting air escape at desired intervals. There's no question that it takes practice to master the wingbone, but what better way to satisfy the anticipation of the hunt than to drive your family to madness by smacking your lips against a handful of dried turkey bones?

Hand position on the call is key. Place the larger end of the call at the top of your palm between your index finger and thumb. Put the top of your other palm onto the bottom of your pinkie. Bring your lower thumb up and curl your top pointer-finger down to the base of the thumb with the rest of your fingers following in suit one atop the other. Tighten your hands into a cupped position. You can then use your cupped hands to direct and control the airflow.

Sound is made by the vibration of your lips when you suck air out of the call. It will be hard at first, but as you smack your lips against the call it will begin to make sounds. When your lips are good and sore and you're hearing sounds that are "sort of" like a turkey, it's time to move on to the next step, which is working on the tone.

Begin by trying to make sustained notes. They probably won't sound much like a turkey's at this point but they'll help you learn how to maintain a steady note. After that requisite is mastered, the fun really starts-it's time to try shattering window with high notes and making the floor shake with low notes. Developing a wide span of sounds will help you pinpoint the turkey's tones within that range.

Finally, learn to use your throat instead of smacking your lips on the call. This technique helps to keep the sounds constant, while you do a long series of notes. Remember that volume is controlled by the amount of air that is sucked through, while pitch is controlled by the tightness of your lips. Eventually it will all come together, and squeaks and squawks will turn into yelps and putts.

OTHER MODIFICATIONS
A rubber faucet washer can be slipped over the radius bone (mouthpiece) to give you lops something to feel and to ensure that the call is positioned correctly each time. You can also use the base of a shogun shell (without the primer), twine, cork or something out of your own ingenuity to improve a mouthpiece.

A lanyard can be fixed to the call in any number of ways, First, measure and cut a piece of twine or leather shoelace to the proper length. The lanyard should be just long enough to hand the call from your neck without undue flopping around, while still being comfortable enough to use when it's brought to your mouth. A fly-rod guide or bent wire can be glued to the ulna and then a strap run through, or the lanyard can simply be tied on. If you're really into "primitive hunting," use a round piece of the radius that was cut off while fitting for the lanyard. Find the middle of your lanyard, fold it together at that point, push it through the short, hollow piece of bone, then slip it over the call and sure it with an overhand knot.