An old hunter named Gibson from Arkansas patented the first turkey box call back in 1897. The big wooden trough with the hinged "stroking lid" has robbed many a gobbler of his beard and hooks since then. That's not surprising, at least to me, because I think the box call talks hen better than any other type of call. Because they're basically musical instruments, here are four ways to make yours sound even sweeter.
TUNE UP: Some of today's mass-marketed box calls with plastic parts and weird screw/lid combos cannot be tuned, but standard wooden ones can be. Famous Missouri turkey hunter Ray Eye figures he has hand-tuned thousands of boxes for people during seminars and in-store promotions across the land. "With just a slight turn of a lid screw one way or the other, a quarter inch or less, a call can go from sounding bad to great," he says.
Ray says to find the center of your box call's radius, or the gentle up-curve on the thin "sounding lip" that you stroke with the handle. Next, set the middle of the call's handle on the center of the sounding lip. "If the two parts sit squarely and evenly on each other your call is good to go and should sound fine," Ray says. "But if the lid sits a little cock-eyed on the bottom radius, adjust the screw slightly one way or the other to center and even both edges. I say slightly-never just turn the screw a bunch of times."
Ray notes that over time and after heavy use, a lid screw can back out slightly and cause the call to lose a bit of its tone, so check the call's tune every once in a while.
CLEAN UP: Ray points out that over time the calling edges of a box, both the bottom of the handle and the sounding lip, can wear down just enough for a call to lose its tone. "Rub the edges with a very fine steel wool or very fine sandpaper," he says, "just enough to clean and smooth the wood, but not enough to take it down." When you re-chalk and run the call you'll notice it sounds sweeter.
CHALK UP: From a call manufacturer, buy a square of wax-free chalk, which creates good friction and won't gum up the grain of wood. Chalk both the underside of the handle and the sounding lip before you call. Every week or so during the spring season, lightly clean both the lip and the handle with an abrasive pad to remove chalk build-up. You want the chalk on the call to be as thin and fresh as possible.
LIGHTEN UP: Your box has now been tuned, cleaned, chalked and ready to fool a bunch of gobblers. Okay, so finesse it for the best hen talk. Hold the bottom of the box lightly in your left palm and work the lid gently with your right thumb and index finger (vice versa for southpaws). Keep your fingers off the sides of the box so you won't muffle its pretty hen sounds.
Build Your Skills
YELP: Move the lid an inch or less off to the side of the sounding lip and simply "close the box" fairly quickly to run two yelp notes together. Put light finger pressure on the lid for raspy yelps. Hold the handle a little tighter and exert a bit more force for higher-pitched notes. Vary hand pressure on the call for softer and louder yelps.
CLUCK: Offset the lid a half-inch or so and lightly pop the handle on the sounding lip. Or hold the call in your palm, press your left thumb on top of the lid, offset the lid lightly and then tap it with your right index finger.
CUTT: Try the "vertical hold." Lay the box in your palm with the open end facing out and away from your body, and turn your hand perpendicular to the ground. Raise the handle an inch or less, but make sure it stays in light contact with the sounding lip at all times. Pop the lid quickly for about five seconds to make a series of fast, sharp clucks or cutts. This is an awesome call for striking gobbles out of tight-lipped birds late in the morning.