Mouth calls, also known as diaphragm calls, can seem intimidating but they have some advantages over other kinds of calls.

Mouth calls are popular with Oregon turkey hunters because:

  • They're easier to keep dry during wet, spring seasons than are box or slate calls.
  • Since the the call is in your mouth, you can call in a turkey without moving and possible spooking the bird.
  • With practice, they can produce very realistic turkey sounds.

Parts of a mouth call

There are four parts to a mouth call. Starting at the outside of the call there’s:

The tape. The tape stops air from blowing around the reed, and flowing through it instead. The tape is usually made of a somewhat pliant material that can be trimmed to fit your mouth.

The frame. Usually made of rigid plastic or aluminum, the frame stretches and holds the reed in place.

The tab. The tab is at the back of the frame – the closed part of the call. It helps add tension the back of the reed and identifies which side of the call goes up or down. In most calls, the tab goes down when placing the call in your mouth.

The reed(s). A thin latex (or similar kind of rubber) membrane that vibrates as air passes under it, creating sounds you hope sound like a turkey. Some calls have multiple reeds for making multiple sounds.

Some reeds also have cuts along the exposed edge to help mimic different sounds.

Buying your first mouth call

If you’re buying your first turkey mouth call, here are a few things to consider:

  • Start with a simple single-reed call with a straight-edge reed. These are the simplest mouth calls to master.
  • Consider starting with a smaller call until you get accustomed to having a call in your mouth.
  • Be glad that mouth calls are relatively inexpensive because you might need to try a couple to find the one that works best for you.

Using a mouth call

Start slow. Your initial goal is to simply make a sound, not to necessarily mimic a turkey. To generate a sound, it’s all about properly positioning the mouth call in the roof of your mouth.

Put the call in your mouth with the open edge facing forward. Use your tongue to position the call in the roof of your mouth, about half-way between your front and back teeth. On multi-reed calls, place the short reed down.

Experiment with where you put the call in your mouth. Move the reed forward or backward a bit until it feels the most comfortable. Also, feel free to trim the tape for a better fit in your mouth.

Place the top of your tongue against the tape, pinning the call to the roof of your mouth. The idea is to create a seal so no air passes over the top of the tape or around its edges. When blowing lightly, you want air moving over the top of your tongue, and beneath the call.

Air passing under the reeds causes them to vibrate, creating sound.

As you blow, your air should come from within your chest or diaphragm. Think of fogging up a pair of glasses or binoculars to clean them -- that’s where the air should come from. Don’t blow through your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle. Air should be forced from within your chest.

Making turkey sounds

To make a yelp

A hen help is the simplest, and should be the first, turkey sound you try to make with a mouth call. With the call in your mouth, press the reed lightly with your tongue, and blow while saying the word “yelp” or “chalk.”

At first it will likely tickle; that’s okay and normal. Experiment with call placement, tongue pressure and air flow until you produce quality sounds without tickling your mouth. Keep working on it until you get a soft yelp. Once you get a single yelp, work on producing a series of yelps.

To make a purr

There are two ways to produce a purr: by blowing and fluttering the lips, or by blowing and fluttering the tongue. Either way, the goal is to create a soft, short, non-threatening sound.

Purrs – like yelps and other sounds produced from a mouth call – can vary in volume based on how hard you blow, and in tone based on how much tongue pressure is applied.

To make a cluck

Create a cluck by expelling a short, sudden burst of air while saying the word “puck.” Build-up the air pressure in your diaphragm (chest), then quickly release it.

To end the call, quickly close your lips, cutting off the sound. The cluck is a short, quick note that’s used in combination with yelps and purrs. It’s a good call to try when a tom is hung up just out of shooting range.

To make a cutt

The cutt is nothing more than a hyped-up version of the cluck. To make cutting sounds, relax. The sounds are simply a drawn-out series of clucks made in succession. Rather than saying the word “puck” when you exhale, try saying “pick” or “peck” when cutting.

When cutting, the airflow is drawn-out longer than when clucking. Sounds are usually made in rhythmic groups of ones, twos, threes and fours. Think of Pick-PickPickPick – PickPickPickPick - PickPick. When making this call, be excited and loud. This can be a fun and rewarding sound to make with a diaphragm call, but it takes some practice to master.

To make kee-kee

Kee-kee calls work well in the fall season. Apply tongue pressure toward the front of the reed, narrow the air passage under your tongue and blow boldly while saying “kee-kee” or “tee-tee.” The result should be high-pitched kee-kee call.

Caring for your call

To keep your mouth call in good working order, you’ll need to care for it from day to day, and from season to season.

If not cleaned and stored properly, mouth calls can dry out, split and become useless. When carrying mouth calls afield, use leather or synthetic pouches that allow air to circulate around the calls. At the end of the day, rinse every mouth call you used in mouthwash to rid them of bacteria, then dry them off.

When the season ends, clean and dry your calls before storing them. At the start of each season, test each call. Make sure they produce crisp, clear notes, not muffled sounds with uncontrolled vibrations. If the sound quality is poor, it’s time to replace the call. To keep your mouth calls working effectively, take proper care of them.