If you played in a garage band during high school, you probably know the feeling.
You could play your instrument, but probably just well enough to pound out three chords or a simple drum line. And when you listened to recordings of the bands you tried to cover, you knew immediately that the drummer or guitar player was at another level.
That’s also true with mouth calls. Many guys can pop a diaphragm in their mouth and make turkey-like noises, and quite a few can make their yelps, clucks and cutting realistic enough to fool turkeys.
However, there’s a huge gap between “good enough” and truly good. To reach — or even aspire to reach — that level, you must get inside a mouth call and see what makes it tick.
What’s in a Yelper?
A mouth call is merely one or more latex or prophylactic reeds stretched between a frame and sealed with tape. But mouth-call variants are seemingly endless. When hunters try to choose from cutters, split-Vs, stack calls, and two- , three- , three-and-a-half- and four-reed versions, things really get confusing.
Don’t despair. No matter what type of call you choose, focus on the top reed.
“On a mouth call, the top reed is the sound board,” said Steve Stoltz, world-champion caller and Knight & Hale pro-staffer. “It’s your most critical reed on the call. The other reeds underneath are there for the body of the call (or sound). The thicker each reed is, the deeper the call will be in tone and pitch.
“Reed tension affects the clearer (first) part of the call. The tighter the side and back tension, the higher-pitched the front end of the call will be.”
Many top callers test the top reed of a diaphragm by blowing the call upside down. If the tone and pitch of the reed sound acceptable, the call is likely a keeper.
The style of cut in the top reed is also a big consideration because that affects how raspy the second note of a yelp will be.
“The deeper the cut, the raspier the sound,” Stoltz said. “The wider the cut, the higher-pitched the raspy part of the call will be on the back end.”
The most common cut styles include the cutter call, in which a notch is cut out of the corner of the top reed, and the split-V, which has a small V cut in the center of the top reed.
“As far as I can see, the only difference between a cutter and split-V is the quality of the yelp is a little better (the two-tone part) in a split or inverted V,” Stoltz said. “Cutter calls, however, are a little more versatile in covering all the sounds that turkeys make, including the kee-kee run. I split the difference and use a call with a cut on one side of the top reed and one inverted cut on the other side.”
Making Your Choice
So which style of call of mouth call should you use? Simple, according to Stoltz: The one you blow the best.
“A mouth call should be selected by a combination of two things: ease of operation and sound quality,” he said. “It does no good to have a call that sounds more like a sick chicken than a real turkey hen.”
“Each type of call will sound different because of the way it’s built. Keep trying different designs until you find a design that fits you.”
Some general guidelines can help your search. For example, Stoltz suggested that beginners start with multi-reed calls.
“Single-reed calls are harder to use than double-reed calls, and double-reed calls are harder to use than triple-reed calls. Why?” he said. “You are trying to make a two-tone quality hen yelp with less material.”
There’s also the question of which material — latex or prophylactic — is better. The former is more common, but the latter is popular with many contest callers.
“The difference between latex and prophylactic is consistency,” Stoltz said. “Latex is more consistent, but prophylactic has a better sound quality. I use a call with a top layer of latex and the underneath reeds of prophylactic.”
No matter which call you choose, take care of it. That includes making sure the top reed is separated from the bottom layers before you blow the call.
“I prefer to rinse my calls in tap water and pad them dry with a paper towel,” Stoltz said. “Then, I use a flat toothpick and place the flat end between the top reed and second layers. Because the top layer is your sound board, when it loosens up, your call will be ready to go. I let the call air dry at room temperature for six to eight hours, and then place in the call in a pack and store it in the refrigerator. This extends the life of the mouth call — latex or prophylactic.”
Also, Stoltz said, don’t overthink or overdo your mouth calling style.
“The biggest mistake people make when blowing mouth calls is trying to do too much with their mouth, lips and tongue,” he said. “Air control is hard to learn, but today’s high-tech turkey calls demand more air control than mouth movement. Let the mouth call do its job — don’t do the job for the mouth call.”