July/August 2018Winging Itby Oliver Hartner
How to make a wing-bone turkey call.
On a cool April morning, just after dawn, my friend Ammon Bowen and I ventured into the turkey woods and found a suitable place to set up on the edge of a food plot we had scouted the previous day. We were arguably late by turkey hunting standards, and Ammon told me our chances of seeing a bird were slim. He and another friend had recently hunted the same property but had no luck. But I knew better — the butterflies in my stomach told me we’d get a show that morning.
We set out our decoys and were barely seated before hearing a tom leave his roost, gobbling for all he was worth. Ammon returned the bird’s query with a sound not altogether familiar compared to other turkey calls I’d heard before. It sounded like a turkey but not with the same clarity of a box call or diaphragm. The tom thundered again, a little closer this time. Ammon seemed to have him on a string with a curious yelping sound that had me captivated as well.
When the gobbler emerged from the woods, he was in full strut and headed directly toward our decoy. Consequently, I didn’t have a shot at him from my position, but Ammon felled him cleanly when he came into range.
As the full morning light finally made clear my surroundings and my hunting companion, I noticed several pairs of turkey spurs suspended from a leather lanyard around Ammon’s neck. At the end of this lanyard was a small ivory trumpet.
“What’s that,” I asked.
“It’s a call I made from a turkey wing,” Ammon responded. He demonstrated how it worked and told me how he became interested in the craft. “I first saw these things outside the Museum of Appalachia (in Tennessee). An old man had several of them, and I was interested in making one for myself,” he said.
Intrigued by Ammon’s call, I decided to research them. Their origins are not certain, but it’s been posited this type of call was used by Native Americans. Without the convenience of contemporary tools and epoxies, it’s believed they used sinew to fasten and finish the calls. This much was certain — the traditions of turkey hunting stretch deep into the history of mankind on this continent. Making one of these calls could be a way to hold a piece of that mystic past right in my own hand. I knew what I’d do with the wings of my next turkey, and about a year later, I tagged a two-to-three-year-old gobbler in Kershaw County.
Making a wing-bone turkey call is a fun project and provides a unique trophy in addition to the traditional tail fan, beard and spurs. Here’s how I made my wing-bone call.
First, remove the wing at the shoulder joint closest to the body of the bird and debone it with a sharp pocket knife. It’s best to do this step immediately after you harvest your bird. Be sure not to cook the wing, then extract the bones. You’ll need to boil them later, and cooking them twice will make them too soft.
You should now have the three main bones of a turkey wing—the humerus, ulna and radius. Bring a pot of water to boil and drop in the bones. Take them from the water and scrape off any remaining meat. Allow the bones to cool in a refrigerator.
Remove the ends of each bone with a fine-bladed hacksaw, being careful not to break them. With the joint-ends of the bones removed, hollow them out and ensure all the bone marrow is removed. This can be accomplished by spraying air with an air compressor into one end of the bones, or by pushing the marrow out one end of the bones with a coat hanger. In the humerus bone, you will need to carefully hollow the interior walls of the bone with a drill bit to achieve a smooth finish on the inside. Allow the bones to dry at room temperature for twenty-four hours.
Prepare the bones for fitting by sanding them with 120-grit or finer sandpaper. Be sure to do this step by hand, because using an electric sander might weaken the exterior of the bones, rendering them too thin for use with your call.
Fit the bones together by size and shape. Be sure not to force fit them. You may need to sand them down more on the ends to achieve the desired fit. The humerus, which is the thickest and largest bone, will be at the bottom and will make the sound bell at the end of your call. The ulna, which is the next thickest bone, will be fitted into the humerus to make the middle body of your call. The radius, which is the thinnest bone, will be fitted into the ulna, and will serve as the part of the call you’ll press to your lips.
Once you’ve achieved a snug fit, carefully trim the bones to a desired length for your call. You can do this by sanding or by using the hacksaw, but again be very careful not to crack the bones.
Use a strong epoxy to secure the bones and seal the seams. At this stage, you will have a functional wing-bone turkey call.
It’ll be your trophy and your design from here on out. You can use a permanent marker to draw designs on your call, then seal it with spar urethane. You could also opt for polishing the bones using Brasso and wrap different colored string around the seams to give the call a more refined look and a glossy finish.
Consider practicing with your wing-bone call before taking it out on a hunt. These are “suction calls,” and the sound is made by creating a seal between your lips and the end of the thinnest part of the call. Purse your lips and press the call to them, then try to suck air through the call. This won’t make the sounds of a typical turkey call, but if you’re playing the right notes, it might help you tag your next gobbler in the spring.