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How to Use a Turkey Mouth Call, with Video Tutorials

This beginner’s guide to using a diaphragm call will get you yelping and clucking like a real hen
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turkey mouth call

Find the right mouth call and then spend a lot of time practicing with it.

I know a few successful turkey hunters who never use a mouth call. They bring their gobblers in with slate calls and have no problem killing them close. But, all of the truly expert turkey hunters I know use a mouth call, at least on occasion. A mouth call, or diaphragm call, allows you to make turkey sounds hands-free (so you can keep them on your gun), and it also allows you to make a diverse array of turkey noises without fumbling through your vest pockets.

The downside is that learning how to use a turkey mouth call can be pretty challenging. It certainly requires more practice to master compared to other turkey calls. It’s taken me years to become a decent caller with a diaphragm. But along the way, I’ve killed a whole mess of longbeards. Below is a beginner’s guide on how to use a mouth call, along with some tips for effectively hunting with one.

Find the Right Tutorial Video

There are a ton of turkey calling videos on Youtube. And while internet videos are a great start for learning how to call, not all of these videos are created equally. In my opinion, the single best video explaining how a mouth call works and how to start using one is produced by Shane Simpson from Calling All Turkeys. Simpson is a champion competition caller, a call maker, and an extremely good turkey hunter. I know Simpson, I’ve hunted with him, and I can attest that he’s the real deal. Start your mouth calling lesson by watching the video below. 

Understand How a Turkey Mouth Call Works

Before you can get good at running a mouth call, you’ve got to know how one works. Happily, this is pretty simple. Blowing air over reeds of the call, causes them to vibrate which makes sound, similar to the way a saxophone or clarinet works, except the reeds in a turkey call are made of latex, and this all happens inside your mouth. Most turkey calls have two or three reeds. Two reed calls produce a little more rattle, and Simpson recommends using a three-reed call. I tend to agree. My go to call is a Woodhaven Ninja Ghost and it’s a three-reed call. 

The top reeds of a turkey call typically have cuts in them. There are a variety of cut styles that make slightly different noises and are designed for different types of callers. Popular cut styles include a split V cut, combo cut, reverse combo cut, batwing cut, and ghost cut.

Find the Right Call for You

There are two main considerations when considering how to choose the right mouth call: the size of the call and the style of cut.

Call Size

Some diaphragm calls are a little larger with a wider tape area—the wider flexible material around the frame. If you’ve got a small mouth these won’t fit you well and will feel uncomfortable. You can trim the tape to size with scissors, but it’s better to just find a call that fits you out of the box. Experiment with a few different call sizes until you find one that fits well in the roof of your mouth (more on this below). Some callers like to slightly bend the frame of their call for a better fit.

Cut Style

When you blow air through the call, your tongue naturally forms a channel of air. This channel can be formed down the middle of your mouth, to the left, or to the right. To effectively use a mouth call, you must figure out which kind of air channel you create and then match it to an appropriate cut style. Experiment with this by starting with an uncut call. Put the call in your mouth and make a hissing sound (somewhere between a snake and a cat) as Simpson suggests in his video. Pay attention to where your air channel is created. That will determine the cut style that you need to start with. You want the air channel to pass over the cut area of the call. 

Read Next: The Best Turkey Mouth Calls

Place the Call in Your Mouth

Now that you’ve got your call picked out, you need to place it in your mouth properly. It goes in the top of your mouth — toward the front of the roof. The reeds should be facing away from you, pointing out toward your lips.  

You also need to make sure that you don’t have the call upside down. Most calls have a tab on the bottom of the frame, and this tab should face down, toward your tongue. You usually can’t see this tab but you’ll be able to feel it with your tongue or finger. You can also tell which side should be facing up by making sure that the longest reed is facing upward. 

Make a 2-Note Yelp

The first turkey noise you should learn is a two-note yelp. From here you can grow your repertoire. 

Make the Front-End Note

Start by making the front note of the yelp by blowing air over the call and channeling it upward with your tongue, like the cat hiss in Simpson’s video. Practice making this note consistently.

Make the Back-End Note

Once you can easily make the front note of the yelp, you make the second note by relaxing your tongue. Check out the 11:30 mark of Simpson’s video to see how to put these notes together. 

Add Realism

hen turkey
Hens open and close their mouths with each yelp, and you should too. John Hafner

Once you can make a yelp, it’s time to practice tone, cadence, and volume. Ensure that your call sounds realistic by opening and closing your mouth with each yelp, just like a real hen. Practice calling as quietly as possible (this is often more challenging for people than calling loudly because it requires better air control). But also practice ripping loud yelps.

Watch videos of live hens yelping and do your best to mimic their sound and cadence. Even better, get in the woods with live hens and call to them. Pay close attention to their cadence and calling frequency. Hunters often make a series of five to seven yelps. But live hens vary it up much more than this. Sometimes they might yelp once or twice, other times they’ll run a series of a dozen yelps or more. 

Even if your call doesn’t sound as good as a live hen, you can still kill gobblers with it by using the correct volume and cadence.

Make More Turkey Sounds

The yelp is just the beginning. A good caller can make a wide variety of turkey vocalizations with a mouth call. Here’s a quick overview of some of the calls you can make once you learn how to use a turkey mouth call.

Cluck

This is a go-to call for killing turkeys. This is often more effective than yelping at a gobbler in pressured areas, where a bunch of other hunters have been yelping at him for days on end. Clucking, purring, and scratching in the leaves can bring a gobbler in on a rope.

Purr

Hens will purr when they’re contentedly feeding. 

Cutt

Cutting is a more aggressive turkey vocalization. It’s essentially a sharper, faster series of clucks.   

Kee-Kee

Turkeys kee-kee when they are trying to relocate and rejoin the flock. 

Gobble

When all else fails, you can try gobbling back at a hung-up longbeard. Sometimes that will be the only thing to get him to break. 

Mouth Calling Tips

Know when to call (and when not to). Just like any other type of turkey call, timing is everything. If you’re too far away from a tom, or if you’re calling from a place he doesn’t want to go, you’re not going to get the response you want. A big part of calling is understanding how turkeys use the terrain you’re hunting. You always want to call a bird through the path of least resistance (like down a logging road or a deer trail) and you also want to get relatively close whenever possible. In a typical hunting scenario in the turkey woods, I’d like to be within about 200 yards of a gobbler before I try to call him in. And when you’re convinced a gobbler is coming in, go quiet. Make him hunt you.  

Start soft. If you’re blind calling (in other words, calling in areas you expect turkeys to be, but you’re not calling to a specific bird) then it makes sense to start your calling sequence with some soft yelps or clucks. There’s a good chance a gobbler could be close and you don’t want to hammer him with aggressive calling. If your series of soft calling goes unanswered, then crank up the volume. 

Call loud to strike birds. The exception to the previous tip is when you’re calling to strike a gobbler. This means you’re trying to get a reaction gobble, or shock gobble, out of a tom to locate him. In order to do this, a series of aggressive cutts is often the best way to go. 

Set a scene. The very best turkey callers are able to set a scene with their vocalizations. So think about what you’re trying to say and how you’re going to say it. Maybe you’re a lost hen looking for the flock. Or, maybe you’re a boss hen challenging another hen down the ridge. Conjure a realistic scene in your head and play it out on your call. 

Call with emotion. If you listen to enough wild turkeys, you can tell when they’re angry, content, or startled. To make your calling as realistic as possible, you want to add these emotions into your calling as well and match them to the appropriate scenario. To me this is one of the true advantages of a mouth call — it’s much easier to add emotion using your lungs and diaphragm than it is by scratching on a slate call. A mouth call is an instrument, after all, and good music has emotion. 

gobbling turkeys
Always try to match your calling intensity to the attitude of the bird you’re working. John Hafner

Match the gobbler’s vibe. The key is to meet the attitude of a gobbler with your own calling. If he’s fired up and gobbling his head off, hit him with some aggressive calling. If longbeards are being quiet and sneaky, then start with soft, sneaky calling. 

Mix it up. Don’t be that guy who runs the same series of seven yelps all morning long. Add variation to your calling, especially if you’re not getting the response that you want. Throwing new vocalizations into the mix is good, but so is switching to a new call. If the mouth call isn’t working, try running a slate call for a while. 

Be confident. Most folks who start using a mouth call are going to sound, well, bad. Luckily, wild turkeys don’t all yelp sweetly and beautifully, either. I’ve encountered plenty of awful-sounding live hens in the woods. So don’t get too hung up on trying to sound perfect. When the moment is right, let it rip. 

Calling less is usually better than calling more. The reality is that patience and woodsmanship kill more turkeys than good calling does. So if your hunt isn’t going well, hammering on the call even more often usually isn’t going to fix the problem. After you’ve done your best calling and you’re sure the gobbler heard you, then just quiet down and wait for a while (at least 30 minutes or so). If you’re not the patient type, then move to a different setup after this. 

Read Next: Turkey Calling Tips

Final Thoughts on How to Use a Turkey Mouth Call

minnesota turkey
The author called in this Minnesota gobbler with some soft calling on a mouth call.

A mouth call is a simple instrument. If you learn how to only make a simple yelp with it, you can still use it to kill turkeys while supplementing with other calls. If you choose to put in the practice time and become relatively proficient with a diaphragm, it might become the only call you need. And if you become a master caller, you’ll have a lot better chance of tagging those stubborn gobblers that are out of reach for most hunters.