Electronic callers are great, but when push comes to shove, most veteran predator hunters fall back on their favorite hand and mouth calls. Here’s why you should too.
Electronic callers are a great development, and I wouldn’t want to be without them. But the fact remains that hand and mouth calls are still highly effective, and the majority of predators I take every year fall to these time-honored, wind-powered calls. After all, they are lighter, cheaper, and faster to get into action—and they don’t use batteries. Hand/Mouth calls come in a number of styles, and a blizzard of shapes and colors. But each style has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve tried all the various types, and here’s my take on how they shake down.
Closed Reed Calls: The call pictured above is the one I used to fool my first called coyote. That was over four decades ago, and it still works. This one is made by the P.S. OLT company—their venerable model T-20—and it’s still in production. Calls like this fit into the closed reed category, because the reed is enclosed by the call body. They are the simplest of calls to use, and the easiest to learn. However, they are also one dimensional, in that the only sound you can coax out of this call is the one it’s built to reproduce. Another downside is their habit of freezing up in cold weather. But, for beginning callers, this is a great place to start.
Open Reed Calls: You guessed it, the reed is exposed and therefore we categorize these as open reed calls. The reed and tone board fit into the caller’s mouth, where lips and teeth contact it to produce a wide range of sounds. Like closed reed calls, hand manipulation at the bell end helps control the sound. More difficult to learn than the closed reed call, this style is well worth the effort because of the tremendous flexibility it possesses. With a single call, a skilled hunter can make mouse squeaks, rabbit distress, hurt pup sounds and perhaps even coax out a howl. And they don’t freeze up in the coldest weather. This is the professional’s call. The pictured calls, left to right, are from Sceery Outdoors, a hand-built custom call, and an open-reed design from FOXPRO/Dillon.
Diaphragm Calls: Speaking of professional, these calls are one more step up that ladder. Easily the most difficult calls to master, diaphragm calls fit entirely into the mouth. Once there, they nestle against the roof of the mouth, where tongue pressure, air volume and lip contortions all work together to produce the desired sound. If you have a strong gag reflex, they may be impossible for you to use. These are the smallest, cheapest, lightest calls available, but I think they produce some of the best results. I’m a dedicated diaphragm fan. They never freeze up, will make as wide a range of sounds as an open reed call, and are completely hands-free. I’m never without one, often clipping a favorite model to the brim of my hat for fast and easy access. And if I’m running an e-caller, there will probably be one in my mouth. These are stone-cold killers. The pictured call is from MFK Game Calls.
Squeaker Calls: The most underrated call in the world is the mouse squeaker. Squeeze the bulb and it makes a squeak. Even a two-year-old can operate one, and there isn’t a rodent-eating predator alive that won’t respond to it. And they can hear it much further away than you’d think. The last coyote I shot, came in from 200 yards and I’ve called them from beyond 300 yards, using nothing but a bulb squeaker. The trick to making them useful, is to keep one handy. Which is why you’ll always find one attached somewhere near the front sling swivel of my rifle. I glue opposing strips of Velcro to the bulb and the sling, and it’s there when I need it. The one on my rifle right now is from Primos.
Bite Calls: This style of call is similar to an open reed in that the reed goes inside the caller’s mouth. However, the reed is sandwiched between two tone boards. Some styles feature a rubber sleeve over their reed assembly. In use, the hunter bites down on the reed part, while blowing into the call. Sound manipulation is done by controlling the location and pressure of the bite, as well as hand manipulation. These calls will produce a variety of prey sounds and are good choices for times when you want to keep the volume down. The high-pitched sounds that cats seem to like, are easy to achieve with this style of call, and many bobcat hunters swear by them. They are resistant to freezing, and to a limited extent can be used hands-free, so I’ve always got one on my lanyard. This one is called the Cat Nip, from Primos.
Every call listed here will call predators. No exceptions. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses. The only way to find out which is right for you is to try them all. Fortunately, they are cheap enough to make that an easy chore. So if you’re looking to take your predator hunting to the next level, your short-term goal should be obvious: Fill up a lanyard and start practicing.