Mouth Call Magic

Turkey Hunting - Helping you harvest that turkey of a lifetime

Mouth Call Magic

by Doug Howlett

A diaphragm call is one of the most versatile, useful calls available and one every turkey hunter must learn to use well.

At the heart of a turkey hunter’s calling arsenal is the mouth call. While more challenging to learn than a box or slate, this call, also called a diaphragm, allows a hunter to make an entire repertoire of turkey sounds, keeps his movement to a minimum, works well in any weather and is relatively inexpensive.

Calling in the turkey with a mouth call.
Photo by: Author
The average call can be bought for around $5 making it feasible for a hunter to buy several calls that offer different pitches, tones and levels of rasp. And when going after turkeys throughout a season, you will quickly notice how what works one day, may not get gobblers fired up the next. For that reason, the ability to use a mouth call makes it more feasible for most hunters to be able to create a variety of different sounds for less money than if they had to buy several box calls, slates or other types of callers.

By far though the biggest advantage to using a mouth call is the fact that you can make virtually any sound a turkey can make with one—some guys can even gobble using one—and you can make those sounds with a minimum of movement, a feature that is particularly useful as you soft call a longbeard that is approaching shotgun range.

Some new hunters shy away from using mouth calls because the diaphragm in their mouth causes them to gag, or they simply have trouble learning how to produce the correct sound. If that is the case, start by simply placing the call in your mouth and holding it there until you are comfortable. Then work on holding it against the roof of your mouth.

Establishing the appropriate fit in your mouth is important. The call should rest snuggly against the roof of the mouth creating an airtight seal. The only air escaping the mouth when making a sound should be between the tongue and the reeds so that the tongue controls the tone and volume of the calling by controlling the flow of air. While some hunters bend their calls or trim the tape from around them for a better fit, Quaker Boy Calls president Chris Kirby says most calls will fit the average hunter just fine.

Should you decide to trim the tape, he urges you to do so a little at a time to avoid ruining the call.

"Once you have the call in your mouth, move it around while you’re trying to call,” Kirby says. “Notice how if you move it forward it changes pitch and if you move it back it changes pitch. Just move it around and try different things to create the full range of turkey sounds a mouth call is capable of.”

Don’t waste your time with a single reed call as they will never provide the rasp needed to make a call sound realistic. At a minimum use a double-reed call and for maximum rasp and the most realistic sounds, go with a diaphragm that has three or four layers of latex. The fewer reeds a call has, the easier it will be to learn with as a beginner, but as soon as you are able to use one with comfort, transition to multiple reeds.

The only real uses a single-reed call is good for is making the high-pitched kee-kees of young birds. This is a call best reserved for fall hunting, though the high-pitched call can occasionally elicit an excited shock gobble from a tom in the spring.

Master the Basic Calls

Notice how if you move it forward it changes pitch and if you move it back it changes pitch.
Photo by: Author
Yelp — The yelp is a basic turkey sound that sounds nearly like it is spelled. It is often delivered in a series of single-note vocalizations and can have different meanings depending on how the hen uses it. A hen’s basic yelp typically consists of three to five notes. Add more notes, perhaps as many as 10 or more to simulate urgency in a hen’s calling such as being lost or looking for flock mates. With the call sealed against the roof of your mouth and tongue lightly pressing against the reeds, huff air across the reeds in a yelp-like sound. Some people like to mimic saying a word that will move their mouth and tongue in the same shape needed to produce a yelp, so hear, simply moving it like you’re saying “yelp” without actually voicing the word will work.

Vary the number of yelps, or any call for that matter, to sound more realistic and match the situation, i.e. if simply prospecting for a gobble start out light. If trying to get a tom or even a boss hen fired up, give your calling more frequency and intensity.

Cluck — The cluck consists of one or more short, staccato notes. The plain cluck, many times, includes two or three single-note clucks. It's generally used by one bird to get the attention of another. It's a good call to reassure an approaching gobbler that a hen is waiting for him. Make this sound by simply moving your mouth and tongue to make the word “chuck,” again without actually voicing the word. This will help your tongue quickly strike the reeds, producing the single, sharp sound. Remember, never actually blow your calls, but rather huff them from deep in your chest.

Cutt — A series of fast, loud, erratic single notes is referred to as cutting. It's a modified cluck and is a distinct abrupt call with a somewhat questioning nature. It can be heard at a great distance and is often used by a single turkey eagerly looking for companionship. This is a great call to get an otherwise reluctant tom fired up; however, once the gobbler is working your direction, back off of it. A lot of hunters keep cutting as a means to work a gobbler right into their lap, but as it get’s closer, it can easily spook the bird. Compare it to yelling across a field to get a friend’s attention and then still yelling at them as they walk up to you.

To cutt, do the same thing with your mouth that you would for a cluck, but do it in an extended series of notes and add urgency, intensity and volume. This is an excited call for a turkey and should mimic that in the field.


Purring is a soft, rolling call turkeys make when content. It can usually be heard by feeding birds. This is not a loud call, but is good for reassuring turkeys as they get in close to your position. Keep the volume down on this one and simply roll or flutter your tongue against the reeds. You can add a soft cluck at the end of it as many hens will do this as they are contently feeding along. I have seen some hunters produce the purr using their lips to create the gentle breaks of air, but I think it sounds more realistic if you use your tongue to mimic the sound.

Directional Calling

Just as turkeys don’t typically sit in one place for long (unless it’s a hung up tom), a hunter doesn’t want his calls to sound as if they are stationary. From one place, a turkey hunter can use his calling to make it sound as if he or she is a live hen moving around. Use your hands as if you were aiding the sound of a shout to carry and use it to direct the sound of the call. As long as a potential tom is out of sight, move your head some as well to make the sound of your calls appear to come from your left, to your right and even from behind you.

Keep It Clean

Because a diaphragm is handled a lot before it goes in your mouth and gets laid down only God knows where, be germ conscious. Veteran hunter Ray Eye suggests rinsing your calls before and after using them. For multi-reed calls, place flat toothpicks between each reed to allow them to dry properly and keep them from sticking together.

Record It

Sound changes with distance. To best determine how you sound to a turkey through the woods, tape your calling on a good recorder, then turn it to full volume outside, set it to play and walk 50 or 60 yards away. If your calls sound convincing then you’re on the right track If not, you better keep working. 

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