Wing-bone calls for turkey hunting enjoy many special attributes. Few folks use them, turkeys readily respond to them and they can replicate many types of turkey talk. Then too, there’s special satisfaction in using a call you’ve crafted. I like to think a bit of spirituality enters into the picture as well.
Wing-bone calls come in various forms—some use two bones and others three. There are also various arrangements of the humerus, radius and ulna bones, as well as calls featuring a mix of bones from hens, gobblers and jakes. As a diehard wing-bone aficionado, I think the ideal yelper utilizes a hen radius (the smaller of two bones forming the wing’s middle joint) and the ulna from a gobbler. A two-piece call using these bones is easier to run and simpler to make than three-piece creations. Also, the smaller opening of a hen radius produces hen-like sounds.
1. Once you obtain the requisite bones, cut away as much of the attached flesh as possible, then boil them in water for 15 minutes. Using a dull paring knife or heavy-duty sandpaper, carefully remove all remaining cartilage and flesh. Next, cut away the joints at either end with a rat-tail file or small jigsaw. Make sure that you leave the “bell” where the bone flares on the gobbler ulna intact as well as the flattened portion of the hen radius. This is easily accomplished—just cut away the joints and nothing more.
2. With a pipe cleaner and a small, stiff brush such as those used to clean kitchen utensils, remove the marrow from inside the bones. If desired, use a mild bleach solution to whiten the bones. (In time and with loving use, un-bleached yelpers take on a warm glow reminiscent of a fine shotgun stock or old piano keys.)
3. Once clean and dry, the bones are ready to assemble into a call. One end of the radius will be discernibly flatter than the other. This will be the mouthpiece end. Insert the opposite end of the radius a quarter of an inch into the smaller end of the gobbler bone.
4. Rotate the bones until they are aligned in a gentle curve. Then join them with heavy-duty glue, making sure as you do that no glue interrupts the flow of air. Push a pipe cleaner through the call before the glue sets to make sure it stays open.
5. Wrap the joint with heat-shrinkable tape or heavy-duty thread to give the yelper additional strength.
6. Complete the call by adding a mouth stop and a lanyard. A section from a bottle stopper, such as those used in chemistry labs, with a hole bored in the middle so it fits snugly over the mouthpiece, serves as a mouth stop. Position it along the radial bone so the mouthpiece fits properly in your lips. A lanyard can be attached where the two bones join. Use a snake guide from a fly rod to affix the lanyard.
7. At this point, you have a functional wing-bone yelper. If desired, add a bit of scrimshaw work to the trumpet end, paint on a date and your name. Now all that remains is the challenge of mastering the art of running a suction yelper.