Wild Turkey
Hunting Info
Turkey Calls
Turkey Store
  Wild Turkey Zone  
Articles by --
Rob Ramsdale
Ramsdale's Articles
Articles by --
T R Michels

Michels' Articles

Articles by --
Guest Authors

More Articles

Wild Turkey Hunting Articles --

How to Maintain Your Turkey Calls

-- by Rob Ramsdale --

Just like your hunting vehicle, shotgun, and other hunting equipment, turkey calls also need maintenance to keep them sounding great throughout the season and to help them last many years. Most types of turkey calls including mouth calls, box calls, and friction calls need some Tender-Loving-Care to keep them sounding good. Here are a few tips to help you keep all your calls in tip-top shape.

Box Calls

Some of the materials you will need

The reason most box calls begin sounding like screeching gates is a lack of friction between the lid/paddle and the sides/rails of the box. When you buy a box call, there is almost always a small piece of chalk included and maybe some instructions to chalk the lid once in awhile. What they fail to mention is often the problem isn't lack of chalk but maybe some oil off of your hands has gotten on the call, the call has gotten wet or the call has been used so much it has burnished (made smooth) the surface of the lid.

The first step in maintaining your box call is to really clean the bottom of the lid of the call and the tops of the sides/rails of the call. I recommend starting to do this with a simple Scotch-Brite type of kitchen scouring pad. These pads have a lot of abrasiveness and generally this will be all you will need to get the surfaces clean. Occasionally, you may have to try something that's a little more abrasive to get the lid roughed up enough to hold chalk again. Get some 220 or 240 grit sandpaper and lightly sand the surface. Never sand really hard or with coarser grit sandpaper because you don't want to change the curvature of the paddle and definitely not the sides of the call. They were made that way for a reason and if you sand them down, the call will never sound right again. When you are sanding the bottom of the lid,  it is fine to sand across the grain of the wood on the lid/paddle. The extra scratches in the wood actually helps the paddle hold the chalk and will improve the friction between the paddle and the sides of the box.

Use your cleaning pad as a lid silencer
when you are hunting.

After the surfaces are clean, it's now time to reapply the chalk. Put a very light layer of chalk on the call's lid (Don't chalk the top of the sides at all, they need to remain bare wood to get the most friction.) Many box call gurus will use a thin layer of rosin on the paddle instead of chalk and this does make a lot of sense. The rosin provides friction just like the chalk, lasts longer, and also gives the added benefit of waterproofing the lid a little bit. Also, if you think about it, a box call is not unlike other musical instruments like a violin or cello which also use a rosined-up bow to get their sound. If you have a pine tree available, you can make your own rosin by melting down the hard chunks of pine pitch found on the bark of the tree and screening out all of the extra dirt, insects and pieces of bark.

When you are buying chalk just remember to never use regular blackboard chalk or any other chalk that has added wax in it. You want to get pure chalk. Most carpenter's chalks or welder's chalks work fine along with the readily available  brown box call chalk sold by various manufacturers. It is better to avoid the blue, white and red chalks if possible since those are the colors associated with a gobbler's head.

The one thing to always keep in mind when using or storing your box call is to keep it free from moisture. Nothing ruins a call's sound quicker than a warped bottom or side. If you get your box damp, let it dry naturally at room temperature. I often use the tip I picked up from reading a Neil Cost book and dry them on top of my computer monitor. (He used to dry the calls he was working on by letting them set on top of his TV since it gives a nice, even, heat. My computer monitor is on more often so I use it instead.)

I often see or hear of people playing around with the screw that holds the lid on. My caution here is don't do this unless your call is absolutely atrocious sounding. All box calls have been tuned by the call maker when you buy them. It is possible I guess for a box to get out of tune but generally it has more to do with not keeping the paddle properly chalked. Just use caution and mark the position of the screw before you try retuning it so you can always return it to its initial setting.

Slate / Friction Calls

These types of calls probably take the most maintenance to keep them sounding good. Slate calls in particular are very susceptible to moisture and oils from your hands and if the surface gets slick, it will sound absolutely horrible or you will get no sound at all. Just remember your goal is to have as much friction as possible between the tip of your striker and surface of the glass or slate call you are using. I always carry several Scotch-Brite type pads with me when I'm hunting in case I lose one since these calls need touching up all of the time.

The same rules apply here as in box calls. Start out with just a Scotch-Brite type pad for both the natural slate calls and the other composite surface or glass calls. If necessary you can use some very fine sandpaper (220 or 240 grit) but usually the scouring pad will work fine. And also, don't forget the tip of the striker. It too will get very slick, especially when using a glass/crystal type call, and needs to be sanded occasionally. I usually check my slate-type calls and strikers each time I make a set-up when I'm hunting and I'll clean them several times a day.

The glass, crystal and ceramic calls can be very difficult to deal with since most of them do not come pre-conditioned when you buy them new. If your new call comes and looks as slick as, well, glass then you will have to condition it before you can expect to get any sounds out of it. To condition a new glass call, you must use either the special conditioning stones that are available or some fairly coarse grit emery cloth or sandpaper which is also usually provided. Glass/crystal calls are very hard and it takes a lot of elbow grease to get the surface of the call properly conditioned. Make sure and sand the call in one direction only when you initially condition a call. After you are done you can then play the call by pulling the striker across those ridges.

Once the glass call gets conditioned with the stone or emery cloth once, I usually never use those again on the surface since they remove a lot of material and you'll wear down your call in a hurry. Instead I rely simply on the Scotch-Brite type pads to keep them clean and roughed-up. Grease and dirt do more harm to glass calls than anything and scouring pads will remove them very well.


Mouth / Tube Calls

Both diaphragm/mouth calls and tube calls use latex reeds to get their sounds. The two biggest enemies of latex are 1) Sunlight and 2) Heat. Therefore, anything you can do to keep your calls cool and in the dark will help increase their lifespan. One of the best things you can do is store them in a cool, dark place, such as your refrigerator or freezer during the off-season. If you use the freezer, make sure and seal them in an airtight freezer bag first to keep out moisture. It doesn't seem to be as necessary if you store them in the refrigerator.  Many people also soak their mouth calls in mouthwash during the season to keep them clean. I admit, I don't do this although I probably should. Instead, I do rinse them off with water fairly often.


Most box type turkey calls are built to last a lifetime and they should with a little care. The natural slate and glass/composite calls will wear down over a long period of time because you do removed material each time you sand them. You probably won't wear them through but you will notice the sound changing. Mouth calls definitely have a short lifespan and if you can get several years from one that's doing pretty good. Just remember to put a little effort in maintaining your calls and I'm sure they'll repay you many times over.



Turkey and Turkey Hunting Turkey and Turkey Hunting --- Only $14.95

Turkey & Turkey Hunting Magazine focuses on turkey hunting techniques, turkey behavior and biology, the latest wild turkey research for hunters, equipment, destinations, and hunting ethics.


Take time to visit - www.engineershandbook.com

Copyright © 1998 - 2006 The Wild Turkey Zone - Robert Ramsdale - All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy