Mar 13, 2019
Handmade Turkey Hunt
Crafting your own turkey wing bone calls and feathered turkey decoys from your bird harvest
By Loren Voss
There are many great turkey calls and decoys on the market today. When I started turkey hunting back in the late 1960s, the selection of calls and decoys we have now was not available.
Shortly after I started turkey hunting, I read an article about the old Native American wing bone call. I thought that was something I could do myself.
The Native Americans used every part of the animals they harvested. In particular, they liked the bone marrow of the animals they harvested. One day when eating a wild turkey – the story goes – a Native American sucked the marrow out of the fine wing bone and it sounded like a turkey call. Thus, the wild turkey wing bone call was discovered.
After almost 50 years of making wing bone calls myself, I’m starting to get pretty good at making them. I remember the first call I made – which I still have and use – took so many hours I don’t even remember the number!
Now I can make a turkey wing bone call in six to eight hours from start to finish. I have a dedicated wing bone call tool box that has files, file brush, knives, sharpening stone, cleaning tools, vices, clamps, needle nose, suede lace, shrink tube, cotton, hole saw, two-part epoxy, farmer matches, super glue, tooth picks, metal eyelets, a glass cake pan stolen from my wife, and my special bent coat hanger to clean the marrow out of the bones.
How to prepare bones
Take the wings off the bird. Do not break the wings off the bird, but cut them from the turkey. Take the feathers off the bones and as much meat as you can. Separate the wing into the three pieces of bone. Do not break the joints between the bones, but separate them by cutting apart.
Take a hack saw and cut ends off the bones square to the center line of the bone. Cut the bones to make the length of the finished call you want.
Put the bones in a pot filled with water and boil the meat off. Take out and scrape the bones to get the meat off. Use a cut-off metal coat hanger to push out the bone marrow. You will have to blow through the bone to get the last of the marrow out, and may have to clean and re-boil the bones a few times. I recommend to only do only one set of wings from one bird at a time, and by “set,” I mean each of the right and left wing bones.
After boiling, soak the cleaned bones in hydrogen peroxide for a couple of days. Use a wire brush to clean the bones a couple times a day when soaking. Scrape the bones to get all of the meat and cartilage off. When the bones are clean, wash with water and let them dry for a day.
To fit the bones together, you will have to cut and file them to fit into one another. I use a hack saw, files and sharp knife for tools. Please note that when fitting the bone 3, always use the rounded end to mate it to bone 2. The flat end of bone 3 must always be out. This is the end you will use to call. You suck in to call – you do not blow into it.
Epoxy the bones together. When you epoxy the bones together, you will have to stuff a small amount of cotton into the gaps of the bone joints using a toothpick so epoxy does not run into gap.
After the epoxy cures, file off the excess epoxy. The last step is to fit a next strap to the call, or a strap to wherever you’d like to attach it. My wife writes calligraphy on the signed and numbered calls I make.
The black spots you see on the two calls within the photo – one at top, right and the other at bottom – are calls I broke when using them in the field. I used epoxy and thread to repair the breaks.
Making your own call or making a call for someone’s first bird is a great experience. There are many people who make these calls, including myself, for a charge.
Feathered turkey decoys
I use old decoys that have a good looking head for making my feathered decoys. In the summer I go to many rummage sales since they are a great source for used decoys.
The first thing is to harvest a turkey for the hide for your decoy. I make Tom, Jake and hen decoys. Jakes are the best decoys to make because they tend to upset the old Toms and make them come running. Bearded hens are legal to harvest in the spring season and any hen is legal in the fall season.
I skin the bird. Not being a taxidermist, my first couple tries at skinning weren’t very good. When I use my feathered decoys out in the field, I figured out turkeys really don’t care how pretty the decoy looks, only that it has feathers.
I use a kitchen paring knife to skin my turkeys. If the bird has a beard, I’ll first cut off the beard. Hang the bird by the head at a height that is comfortable for you to skin it.
Start making a cut in middle of the bird just under the skin portion on the neck heading toward the tail. When you get to the bottom of the breast, start making cuts toward the right and left feet.
Continue cutting toward the inside of the bird’s leg to the skin portion on the leg. Again, remember that turkeys are not decoy connoisseurs, so you don’t necessarily need to cut with surgical precision. I truly think a scruffy decoy works better than a pretty one.
As you cut the hide off, try to have as little meat remaining on the hide as possible. When you get to the wings, make a cut inside of the wing to the tip. Cut the wing hide off the wing bone leaving the tip attached to the hide. Trust me – you will get better the more you do this.
As you get to the tail section, again try to get as much of the meat off the hide as possible. I use an old piece of foam insulation board to spread my decoy skin out using small nails with big heads to hold the hide in place. Mount the hide to the board with the feathers down. If I am doing a Tom hide, I spread the tail out into a fan. When doing a hen hide, I leave the tail in the closed position.
Using the laundry additive 20 Mule Team Borax available at most grocery stores, I spread the borax generously over the skin side of the entire hide. When curing the hide, it works better if the temperature is above freezing. Every two days or so, I move around the borax and add more, if necessary. When the hide is cured, it’s dry but still somewhat flexible.
I then drape the dried hide over the decoy. I use small screws fitted with nylon belting to hold the hide in place. Then I’ll use a scissors to trim off excess pieces of the hide that aren’t needed.
I use black fish line to tie the hide down in some areas. With some decoys you may have to attach a plate to hold the fan in place. Depending on the decoy, you may have to fill the decoy with spray foam to make it rigid enough to screw the hide on. Please note if you fill a decoy with foam, make sure you make a stake with a chunk of board on top to put in the decoy cavity before you fill the decoy with foam.
Making decoys is dependent on the style of the old decoy you use. But there are no hard and fast rules in making a turkey decoy. I have made about 10 feathered decoys so far and each one has been unique. I do know they work. A few years ago I had two tags for one season – and using my feathered decoy – I had two Toms come approach. I got them both with one shot.
I taped a television segment for the Outdoor Wisconsin show with my friend, Dan Small, which should be televised some time in 2019 on public broadcast stations. You can do an online search for Dan Small and look up the show on his website. This show features me making both the wing bone call and the feathered decoy. It will help you better understand how to make both.
When I have the opportunity to experience God’s great creation, I see things that are just so amazing. I can tell what types of turkey are in my area by looking at the scat they leave. Wild turkey Toms poop straight and hens poop with a pile on the end. I can use the turkey’s own wing bones to make a call so I can hunt them.
Good luck hunting. I hope this information helps you in making your own calls or decoys.