Turkey Call" by Frank Miniter
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
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
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.
- Knife, steel wool or sand paper
- Tapered file or hacksaw
- Small rifle-bore brush or piece of
- Dish detergent, bleach or other cleaning
- Epoxy, glue or other type of adhesive
- Saucepan (for boiling bones)
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.