You’ve got a tom gobbling his innards out and are ready to make that first call to him. Now, it all comes down to the first note he hears from your call. Are you going to send him enticing yelps and seductive purrs or is he going to hear something like a farm gate squeak? This is the moment we live for and it all comes down to call care and maintenance.
No turkey call will sound right forever without being maintained. Don’t find this out on opening morning when the wood are ringing with turkey talk, and your call screeches and squeals or makes no sound at all. The effort to maintain your calls gives you the confidence to call at the moment of truth because you’ll know that first cluck or string of yelps will fire him up, not shut him down.
BOX CALL CARE
A good box call is the most expensive call you will buy. But it will last you a lifetime with good care and maintenance. First, protect it from mishaps like sitting on it or falling on it by carrying it in a place where this can’t happen. Good turkey vests have a dedicated pouch for box calls that allow fast access and prevent them from being crushed or broken.
The enemies of a box call are moisture, extreme heat and dirt on the paddle or sideboards. Store it in a dry place off season and protect it from getting wet while hunting. In wet weather keep it in a plastic bag large enough to get your hands into you so you can run the call in the bag. The bag will muffle the sound slightly but not ruin the sound like moisture will. If your call gets wet dry it out slowly in the house and not with extreme heat near a fire or in an oven.
When a box call gets screechy or loses it sound there is not enough friction between the paddle and the sideboard. Keep these areas clean by keeping your hands and fingers off them so skin oil and dirt can’t be transferred to them. With normal use, the bottom of the paddle and the top of the sideboards can become burnished or polished reducing friction. The remedy is a light scrubbing with a medium plastic scrubbing pad like a green Scotch Brite pad. Scrub across the grain of the wood so you don’t hollow out softer areas in the grain by scrubbing along them. Don’t use sand paper and don’t bear down with the scouring pad. The goal is to remove any dirt and sheen, getting down to bare wood without removing any wood. If you grind off any wood and change the shape of the paddle or sideboards with gorilla strength scouring, you will change and possibly ruin the sound of the call.
Box calls need chalk but not a heavy dousing. Lightly chalk the bottom of the paddle but not the sideboards. It’s worth the few bucks extra to buy box call chalk from the sporting goods store because it is pure chalk. Blackboard chalk and sidewalk chalk have a wax or a binder in them which will cake up on and polish the surfaces of the call. These chalks work initially but fail quickly and need to be removed to restore proper sound. Violin resin can be used as well, but grime sticks to it so, extra care to keep the call clean is in order.
Water proof box calls have a coating on the paddle and sideboards. Never scrub or sand this coating with anything abrasive or you will remove it. The only cleaning they need is a wipe with a clean damp cloth.
The paddle screw and spring on a box call are tuned by the maker and set for the best sound. They don’t work loose and very seldom need adjustment. But if you think the quality of sound has diminished and your call is properly cleaned and chalked, try only minor adjustment of this screw. Before you turn it, mark the original position of the screw so you can get it back there if the adjustment goes bad.
PUSH PIN YELPER CARE
The push pin yelpers, like box calls, need a safe place to ride so they won’t get crushed or wet. They also need a clean friction surface and a light dusting of chalk. Clean the bottom of the sliding wooden block lightly with a scrub pad and dust it with box call chalk.
The return spring on a push pin call returns the block to the start for another stroke but it also controls the pressure on the call. Moving the end of the spring higher or lower on the end wall of the box changes the pressure and the sound. There is a sweet spot on the end wall where putting the end of the spring will make the call sound the best. The call will come out of the package with the spring in this spot but the spring can get bumped around in a pocket or vest. So, mark with a pen or marker, the sweet spot on the end wall so you’ll know, without trial and error, where to reposition the spring if it gets moved. You want it in the right spot before you call to a wary tom.
Be careful when removing a yelper from your pocket that the end of the spring doesn’t work loose and snag on something and get bent out of shape. This would change the pressure and tone as well. Return springs can break but they should be available from the manufacturer.
The pyramid shaped block of wood which is screwed to the bottom of the call transmits the sound to the bottom sounding board. The angle of the pyramid and the tension on the wood screw in the bottom of the block control the sound as well. Take note of the original position and keep it like that. In fact, trace with a pen, the outline of the block on the bottom board so you can see if it has moved. The screw sometimes works loose on these calls so check it for tightness each season. Don’t rotate the block unless the call isn’t working at all. In which case you must loosen the screw, rotate it around a little at a time to find the sweet spot and re-tighten the screw in that position again.
POT AND PEG CALL CARE
These calls are the simplest to maintain but they need touching up more frequently. This is because they work by friction between the rough surface of the pot and peg tip. Grime and moisture are the biggest enemies of pot call. The rough texture of a pot calls is a dirt magnet. Keep them clean by keeping fingers off the calling surface and peg tips and carry them in a clean pouch. Not the one with the peanut butter sandwich. If they become contaminated with grime or oil wipe them with rubbing alcohol on a clean cloth or swab. Alcohol dries quickly and leaves no residue.
Pots can decondition themselves in your pocket if they are sliding around and rubbing on things as you walk. Keep them in a small pocket where they can’t slide around and rub on other calls or material. Even so they may still need a quick touch with the abrasive when coming out of your pocket.
Each type of pot call surface, from old fashioned slate to ultra-modern ceramic, crystal, glass and metal calls will have an abrasive pad or tool provided by or recommended by the manufacturer for that call. Stick with that type of abrasive to roughen up the surface without grinding away excessive material and shortening the life of the call.
When conditioning the surface, sand back and forth horizontally across the call with the pot in your hand as it will be when you call with it. The advantage of sanding it this way is consistent sound. You will know exactly what sound it will make every time you put the peg to the pot because the grooves will be the same way all the time. Also, when you run the call you are usually pulling the peg toward yourself so, if you sand horizontally you will be pulling the peg across the grooves for the best sound with the least pressure and effort.
Calls can be conditioned by sanding with a circular motion but consistency drops a little and you will have to have to know the sweet spot on your call and hit it right every time. Circular or horizontal sanding matters less on fine grained slate calls than on glass, crystal or metal calls which need a rougher texture.
It’s important to get the loose dust off the call after sanding. Tip the call upside down and tap the rim on something hard if you’re not actually hunting. If you are hunting and can’t make any noise, blow it off gently being careful not to blow saliva on it. You need to get the dust off the call or it will fill in the pores of the striker tip and cake on there as a well as on the pot surface.
The tip of the peg needs attention also to keep it clean. Put a plastic scrub pad in the palm of your hand and rotate the tip of the striker it with light pressure on the pad. Keep the striker straight up, perpendicular to the pad. You don’t want to change the shape of the tip, just clean off accumulated dust and debris.
MOUTH CALL CARE
It’s a good thing these calls are inexpensive because they have a short lifespan. The most you can expect to get out of them is one hunting season. With fastidious care you might get two seasons. It might be worth it to try for two seasons if you have a call that works great for you but as a rule, performance will deteriorate in the second season.
The enemies of the mouth call are sunlight, heat, bacteria and forgetting where you put the blasted thing when you took it out of your mouth. Sunlight, heat and bacteria degrade the latex reeds making them tear or loosen on the frame so they don’t sound right. Don’t keep you calls in the car once the weather warms up. A call left in a hot car for a few hours will begin to deteriorate. A security badge type clip, on your vest, makes a good place to dry and keep track of your call when it’s not in your mouth.
A wrinkly reed is one that has gone slack on the frame and the call might as well be tossed. If you stretch the metal frame to tighten the reed it’s a temporary fix because the latex has lost its resilience and will slacken again shortly. Bacteria discolour the reed and tape and make it a disgusting prospect to keep the thing your mouth.
Bacteria grow in a moist environment so when hunting always allow the call to air dry before putting it back in a case. Put holes in your case if it has none to allow moisture to escape. After the hunt each day, rinse the call with clean water and allow it to thoroughly dry. Separate all the reeds of a multi reed call with flat wooden or plastic toothpicks so the reeds don’t stick to each other. If all the reeds stick together it’s like one thick reed, which takes a lot of air to blow. It’s impossible to make a soft tree yelp or quiet purr with such a call. You won’t know what sound it’ll make until you blow it and you may blow your chance if you’re up tight to a roosted tom.
To kill bacteria on the call, rinse it briefly in a zero alcohol mouth wash before you put it away for several days or at the end of the season. If your mouthwash has alcohol, dilute it by half with water and then rinse the call well in clean water after the alcohol bath. Alcohol is a desiccant drying out most things it contacts so get it off the call soon after it’s done the job of killing bacteria.
If it will be a more than a few days before you hunt again store your dry, clean calls in the fridge. Bacteria don’t flourish in the cold and there’s no sunlight there so it’s a perfect environment for them. Just warn others who use the fridge not to toss them out on you. A freezer is much drier than a fridge because it is opened less and may be too dry to preserve the latex reeds.
Even within the same brand and model, every mouth call is unique and takes some time to get used to. So, the steps to protect your call are worth it so you don’t have to start over with a new call in the middle of a hunt or season.