You know what this spring is? It’s the spring you’re going to master how to use a turkey mouth call. You probably already know that there’s nothing better for finishing a bird. A mouth call can sound super-realistic at close range, and it leaves your hands free so you can make those last crucial calls while you’ve got two hands on your turkey gun. Plus, mouth calls are so versatile and handy that if you want to hunt light, you can put three of them in a shirt pocket, grab your gun, and just head out to get your tom.
It’s true that mouth calls aren’t the easiest to learn. Maybe you’ve even tried before and decided they’re not for you. But, here’s a question: Did you have an NWTF Grand National mouth-calling champ teaching you last time? No? Well, this time you do. At the recent National Wild Turkey Federation convention in Nashville, F&S caught up with Mitchell Johnston, who owns Dead End Game Calls and has multiple national and state calling titles under his belt. In the videos below, Johnston breaks down how to use a turkey mouth call, including how to yelp, cluck and purr, cutt, and even gobble. So, let’s get to it.
How To Use a Turkey Mouth Call: The Yelp
Given Johnston’s busy schedule at the show, we didn’t want to bother him with a full interview. And, as it turns out, we didn’t have to, because I’d asked Johnston years ago to explain exactly how he makes each call, and here’s what he had to say about the yelp”
“When a real hen yelps, she opens and closes her mouth with each note. I started out saying ‘yelp’ into the call because that made me open and close my mouth like the real deal. I don’t really say any particular word anymore, but one of my turkey calling tips for new hunters is to start by saying the word ‘yelp.’
“You want a clear, high-pitched front note—yee—and a lower, raspy end note—elp. With most calls, you damp down the front part of the reed with your tongue and run air over the back center to get the high note. Then, once you’ve got a good consistent sound, you just drop your jaw for that raspy end-note, elp. Then put them together: yeee-elp, yee-elp, ye-elp, yelp, yelp.”
How to Use a Turkey Mouth Call: The Cluck and Purr
The cluck is an absolutely essential call to know how to make and can sometimes be the only call you need to pull in a wary tom. Learning to combine it with a convincing purr, though, takes your mouth-calling to another level.
The basic cluck is fairly easy, but getting it to sound just right takes some practice. “The trick to making realistic clucks is getting that bubbly sound,” Johnston told me. “Fill your mouth and cheeks a little with air and close your lips. Now slowly push that air forward and let it out by softly popping your lips: puht. It’s like the sound of bubbles popping.”
Purring is tricker. I couldn’t make much of a purr on a mouth call until I met Johnston, who taught me that the call itself makes a huge difference, and that while it may take a while for you to get the sound just right, it’s worth the effort because once you have it, you have it for good.
“A lot of guys can’t purr on a mouth call,” he said. “Ninety percent of the trouble is the call. I recommend a light-latex double-reed. You can use some triple-reeds, but it’s really tough on a quad. Also, everyone thinks you need to roll the very tip of your tongue, but that makes it hard to get any sound. Instead, create back pressure by filling your mouth with air and pushing it forward. Then let it go as you flutter your tongue a little bit back from the tip, where it contacts the reeds. Keep your mouth and lips really loose, which creates even more vibration. And don’t overdo it. Real turkey purrs are quite short.”
How to Use a Turkey Mouth Call: Cutting
“Most guys think of cutting as excited clucking,” Johnston told me. “But on a mouth call, they are two different beasts. To cluck, you gather air in your mouth and just barely let it out. To cutt, you want to drive air straight through the center of the call, saying tick. Don’t use your lips—it’s all tongue. And say it sharp. Stay away from ‘machine-gun cutting.’ That might be the biggest mistake people make. Hens almost always cutt one, two, or three notes at a time: tick, tick-tick, tick, tick-tick-tick, tick-tick, tick. Mix it up.
How to Use a Turkey Mouth Call: The Gobble
Remember, we said you were going to master the mouth call. Alright, the truth is that you don’t need to be able to gobble on a mouth call. You can always carry a shaker or a tube. But being able to do it, on a moment’s notice, with the call that’s already in your mouth is damned handy. There have been plenty of times when I’ve pulled a bird into gun range that wouldn’t have come otherwise by hitting him with an impromptu gobble. (Safety note: Don’t gobble unless you’re sure it’s safe to do so.)
Gobbling on a mouth call takes a lot of practice, but the practice is easy enough to do. You say tuka-tuka-tuka-tuka-tuka into the call, letting your cheeks fill with air a llittle in the process and keeping your your whole mouth very loose. Just keep trying it until it sounds a little like a gobble, then keep refining until it sounds a lot like one, and, finally, exactly like one.
Bonus Call: The Do-Whit
When I spoke to Johnston years ago, he explained how to make another call that isn’t necessary to learn but will make you sound like a total pro when you’re clucking and purring. It’s called a do-whit, and you can hear him doing it on this video.
“This is a little three-note whistle that content turkeys mix in when they’re clucking and purring, and it adds a lot of realism to your soft talk,” he told me. “Do the same thing you would to get the high note of a yelp, but quieter. Then softly say “whit-too-whit” into the call. Just do it over and over until it sounds like a hen.”
How to Choose the Right Mouth Call
There’s a little trick to becoming a good mouth caller that I think a lot of turkey hunters miss, and it’s just this: You have to find the right calls for you. It can make all the difference. If you’ve tried only a few brands and given up, figuring that you just couldn’t get the hang of it, there’s a good chance that it’s not you.
So try again. But this time, spend a few bucks to get maybe half a dozen mouth calls, with different cuts and from different makers, and give them all a good go, with these three points in mind.
We always tend to think more is better, but it just ain’t true with mouth-call reeds. What is generally true—keeping in mind that this is all highly individual—is that more reeds will make a call a little harder to blow for most people. What’s also true is that some of the best callers I know stick mostly with double-reed calls. Unless you already know what you like, start with doubles and triples, and leave the quads alone for now.
If you want to be able to make all the calls, including do-whits and whistles and kee-kee runs, you need to find a mouth call on which you can produce a clean, high-pitched note. This is different from person to person. Folks who tend to blow air out of the side of their mouths are more likely to be able to find that high note on a batwing call, for example. People who blow air through the middle of their mouths will usually favor a ghost cut. Maybe it’s a split-V or shipwreck for you, but the point is the same: Find the call that gives you that clean, high note, and the whole gamut of turkey noises will open up to you.
If you try a bunch of different brands, you’ll likely find one that suits you to a tee. Just as there are horses for courses, there are call makers for callers. I can cluck and purr on just about any double-reed call, for example, but it sounds so much more like the real thing when I use Johnston’s own Dead End Batwing 2. Why? I don’t know. It just does. It might be a different brand altogether for you, but that’s why you try several.
Keep It Real to Get Really Good
By all means, listen to Johnston’s calling in the above videos to learn how to use a turkey mouth call. And check out video showing more of the country’s best callers at calling contests like the NWTF Grand National. But once you have the basics and you’ve figured out what calls you like best, listen to the real thing to fine tune your mouth calling. “The easiest way to do it is on YouTube,” Johnston told me. “It’s a great tool. Just search ‘wild turkeys calling’ and watch as many different clips as you can.” And while you’re watching, get out your favorite mouth calls and play along until you sound just like the real thing.