Everyone loves pot-and-peg calls — whether slate, glass, aluminum or some other material — and it’s easy to see why. They sound great and are relatively easy to operate.
But no matter how easily you run that call or how great you make it yelp, you can usually make it sound better. The key is all in your hands.
Most beginners will rip a new friction call out of its packaging, plop it down in their left palm and start running it. If you have a few seasons on your butt pad, you know you should get the call off your palm and onto your fingertips or the edges of your fingers.
(Left) You should get the call off your hand and onto your fingertips or the edges of your fingers. That maximizes vibration on the calling surface and lets you better direct the call's sound.
This accomplishes two things. First, it optimizes the vibration resulting from the friction that occurs when you scrape the striker over the call’s face (hey, it’s a friction call, right?). Second, it lets you better direct the call’s sound because your cupped hand will bounce the sound forward. If you hold the call flat in your palm, the vibration is stifled, and much of the sound is absorbed or muffled.
I’ve always held my pot-and-peg calls on my fingertips. This gives me control around the entire circumference of the call and lets me hold it with the lightest possible grip. How light? Strong enough that I can hold it almost at a 45-degree angle, like when I’m sitting at a setup, but light enough that it would fall if I turned my hand upside-down.
If you don’t like the fingertip grip, there’s nothing wrong with holding the call with your hand cupped, with the edge of your thumb controlling one side and two or three fingertips supporting the other. In fact, I’ll hold friction calls this way when I want a slightly more subtle sound or, honestly, if I think it sounds better that way.
Further, some well-known callers will hold friction calls with one or two fingers around the edge, and they sound great. This lets you grip the pot extremely lightly. I’ve messed around with this method but just can’t seem to control the call as well. Maybe it’s a lack of dexterity or personal preference.
I make one exception to the fingertip or cupped-hand grip: when I purr. Unless it’s windy or I’m trying to mimic an aggressive purr, I plop my friction call lower in my hand, which gives my purring a soft, dull edge. Typically, I purr when birds are relatively close, so I don’t need to get loud. Further, I think flat, muffled purring sounds more realistic, like that of a feeding hen.
Gripping the Striker, Putting Them Together
This is where I see folks make the most mistakes. However, I guess if you can produce good sounds with your personal striker grip, it’s not a mistake.
I grip my strikers between my thumb, the second knuckle of my index finger and the first knuckle of my middle finger, much like you’d grab a chopsticks. My ring and little finger extend straight out so they don’t touch the call surface. Also, I grip my striker an inch or more higher than the tip. This maximizes striker vibration on the call surface and also helps get my hands off the call.
(Left) Grip your striker like you would chopsticks, between your thumb, index and middle finger. Also, make sure you grasp it an inch or more higher than the tip, and keep your ring finger and little finger off the calling surface.
Generally, my grip is light enough to let the striker move a bit but still allow complete control. I’ll hold the striker tighter based on its composition and the type of call I’m using. For example, I typically hold carbon strikers extremely lightly, as a tighter grip makes them squeak — at least when I run them. I’ll hold wooden strikers tighter but still lightly enough that you could easily snatch them out of my hand.
When touching the striker to the call surface, I rest the base of my hand (where it meets my wrist) against the outer edge of the bottom part of the call. Then, I simply lower the striker until it touches the top one-third of the calling surface. The base of my hand never moves and acts as a pivot base when I run the striker.
Run That Call
Much has been written about striker motions for producing yelps, clucks, purring and the like on friction calls. Again, go with whatever works.
I’ve seen folks pull the striker down in a straight motion and produce beautiful yelps, and I’ve seen guys rake the striker across the top of the call to emit some of the most hair-raising calling I’ve ever heard.
Basically, I make a half-inch oval with pointed ends when yelping. Some times, it’s more like a straight line, assuming the call easily rolls over into the second note of the yelp. With some calls — especially slates — I have to accentuate the oval more to roll the call over.
(Right) Use an oval motion to produce yelps and straight downwards "pops" to cluck, cutt and cackle. Never lift the striker tip off the call's surface.
Here’s where I differ from some folks. Many pull the striker toward them and the center of the call when yelping. I rake mine from side to side, only pulling it toward me on the backstroke. (Incidentally, it should go without saying that you leave the striker on the call surface when making the return stroke.)
For starters, don’t move the call as you run the striker. As you develop a rhythm or your own style, it’s OK to move the call in conjunction with your striker hand. I usually move the call a quarter-inch or so when yelping.
Also, the striker surface should rotate a bit when you call. Start it flat, but don’t be afraid to let it ease upward 10 or so degrees as you run the striker across the call’s surface. Often, this occurs naturally as your hand moves with the striker.
I’ll vary my yelping motion depending on the situation. If I want to produce soft, short yelps, I’ll run the striker in more of a circular motion. If I’m trying to strike birds when it’s windy or at long distances, I’ll really rip the striker across the top of the call.
When clucking, cutting or cackling, I simply pop the striker toward me quickly, producing that short, staccato note. With some cutting sequences, I’ll use a slightly longer stroke to mimic the whistle combined with the “pop” some hens make when they cutt.
I probably purr much differently than many guys. Because it’s usually a soft, subtle call, I need more control, so I actually bring my ring finger around and touch it to the striker. Then, I’ll pull the striker toward me in a soft circular motion, trying to mimic that easy roll inherent in most purring. If I’m making aggressive purrs, I’ll take the ring finger off the striker, exert a bit more pressure and lengthen my circular motion.
Kee-keeing on a friction call? What, are you kidding? Go ask Gary Sefton. Seriously, it’s tough to do this well — at least for me. Place your striker tip toward the outer edge of the call, and run it in three or four long lines, making sure you don’t roll it over into the second note of a yelp. It takes a lot of practice to accurately reproduce the nasal, ascending three- or four-note kee-kee on a friction call. But then again, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Remember, without good, realistic turkey sounds, form means nothing with a friction call. Follow the basic principles, but use whatever method works. Experiment with various techniques, and try several strikers with one call, trying to find that perfect match.
After a bit of practice, you’ll begin to find your own rhythm and will be well on your way to making “pure turkey” notes.