Custom Turkey Calls


Fifty years ago, if you were heading to the woods in the spring to chase gobblers, your call selection was very limited. Your choices included the wing bone call and the wing bone call. You get my point… Today, there are so many types of turkey calls that choosing one to fit your needs can be somewhat difficult. After all, if you flip open any hunting magazine every turkey call company claims their calls are the latest and greatest. One simple stroke of the lid on the box call and the toms will be tripping over themselves trying to reach you before the other toms in the woods. Calls at sporting goods stores or box stores are so similar in the way they are produced that the only thing that separates many of them from the next one is the name on the lid or package. When I was a teenager, I had a small game call business and ordered some of my call parts from the same place the big call companies get their parts. The truth is: finding a unique call is impossible if you go to a store.

That said, almost every turkey call on the market today will call a turkey in. Let’s face it: a turkey’s brain is about the size of a pea. Outsmarting them with hen sounds is fairly easy. Bringing them within gun range can be difficult, especially after they have heard every box call on the market by the time the third day of the season rolls around. There is nothing wrong with owning a few store-bought turkey calls, but having an extra trick up your sleeve is a good idea. For me that trick is having a few custom made turkey calls. If you search online for custom made turkey calls, you will find a plethora of call makers who build all kinds of turkey calls that have a custom look and sound. What stops most of us from purchasing a custom-made box or slate call is the price. Most custom call makers charge between $40 and $150 per call. For most of us blue collar Michiganders, that is more money than we care to spend. However, I believe that custom-made calls are worth every penny.

An assortment of custom turkey calls
Having a wide variety of calls including a few custom made ones like these can increase your chances for success.

A custom made call sounds unique. Each custom call will have a sound of its own. They are built entirely different than mass produced calls. Mass produced calls are like an automotive plant. It’s all about producing thousands of units as quickly as possible and getting them packaged and shipping to retails stores. The more calls they produce, the more money they make. However, custom call makers pride themselves on producing calls that sound better and are made of higher quality wood. I have met a few custom call makers over the years that pride themselves on producing high quality calls that can be used for generations.

A turkey hunter using a custom box call
There are as many custom call makers as there are store bought brands.  Finding a local call maker in your area that makes a great custom call is one way to insure that your calls sound a little different than the next guy’s.
Custom call makers spend hours building and tuning their calls. The end result is one sweet sounding call. Although their calls may cost $100 or more, if you calculated the man hours invested into such a call, chances are you would find that custom call makers make very little money. Most of the time, it is a labor of love. I have seen trash cans full of calls that didn’t make the grade in a custom call builders’ shop. Mass produced calls generally always see the store shelves, regardless of how they sound. As you begin shopping around for the unique custom call, realize that comparing them to a store bought call is like comparing a Dodge Omni to a new Cadillac: there is no comparison.

Just like most things, you get what you pay for. Some call makers pride themselves on high-end box calls that have checkered sides and inlaid tops. Other custom call makers build calls for the average Joe who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money. It doesn’t matter if you want a call that will look great on your mantle in the off season or if you want a simpler custom call; carrying one in your turkey vest can make or break a hunt.

Many hunters don’t buy this story. However, on more than one occasion when a tom didn’t answer my run-of-the mill call he answered my handmade call. I don’t know exactly why, but I think it’s because the sound is different enough to provoke a gobble. When most guys think about custom calls, they think about box calls. However, there are a lot of options.

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Most hunters have never used a scratch box. A scratch box is a simple call that has a violin-like bow. When it is dragged across the specially made box, it produces great whines and purrs. They are relatively inexpensive and can be a great back up call when nothing else will work.

If you like slate calls, many custom call makers offer them. Most custom slates are made from unique wood that produces a sound that is a little different than your usual slate call. The wood usually looks classier and the strikers are typically handmade.

Another call that you don’t see too often is a trumpet style call. These calls are very similar to the wing bone call, but are made out of specialty wood. They look great and sound great, once you learn how to use them properly.

Using store bought calls can still fool a big Tom turkey this spring
Just because you have a custom call or two doesn't mean you shouldn't use out-of-the-box calls.  Having a wide variety at your disposal gives you plenty of options if you run into a call-shy Gobbler.

You may be saying that the calls don’t sound very different from the store bought calls, but a subtle difference in the wood makes all the difference. Many turkey hunters have their favorite call that they never leave home without. That call is often the only call they use from the first morning of the season until the last day of the season. Many of these hunters go home empty-handed. Some of the best turkey hunters I’ve met have a vest full of calls on opening day. If something doesn’t provoke a response from a gobbler, they try another call. Often one of the calls they try is a custom made call. I am not saying throw your favorite box call away. I’m not saying don’t ever buy another call from K-Mart. What I am saying is don’t leave home with just the K-Mart call.

Below are descriptions of some of the custom calls I have used or calls that are well-known. Some of them are nationally known.

A nationally known call maker is Paul’s Calls. Albert Paul, the maker of the call, was trained by legendary call maker, Neil Cost. Paul’s calls are extremely expensive, but are worth every dime. If you are looking for a call that works great and looks good enough for your mantle, this is the call.

Dadd’s Custom Calls makes great box and slates calls. He also offers a trumpet call that looks great, sounds great, and calls in those weary late season gobblers.

Many well-known companies are now offering box calls that are higher end and have a custom sound because more and more hunters are demanding a unique call. One such company is Knight & Hale. Their custom call is called the Long Spur. The body of this call is made of one solid piece of mahogany. The lid of the call is made from a rare wood found in Africa called Bubinga wood. Other companies like Primos that traditionally only offered out-of-the-box mass produced calls are also starting to offer higher end calls for the more discriminating turkey hunter.

If you want something truly unique, another option is to buy a custom made call from a local call maker from your part of the country. Almost every town has a call maker who makes custom calls. The goal is to find a call that sounds a little different than everything else available.

A successful turkey hunter
Using the right calls can be the difference between going home emptyhanded or with a big gobbler.
Last but not least, as you consider what type of turkey calls to purchase, purchase a call that will work great for encouraging toms to shock gobble that isn’t really considered a turkey locator call. As the season drags on, most toms quickly catch on to crow calls and owl hooters. To fool a wise old gobbler, you might want to try an elk bugle, a duck call, or a loud goose call. These calls work as well as many of the turkey locator calls if not better. The key to my success over the years has hinged on doing things differently than everyone else in the woods. As you head to the woods this spring, don’t be afraid to try things out of the ordinary.


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