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How to Use a Slate Call

pot calls

A slate call, also known as a “pot” or “peg” call, refers to a slate surface placed inside a housing (pot) and when engaged by a striker or peg, it creates a tone similar to that of a wild turkey. When used properly, these calls have been the downfall of many strutting Toms.  Its ability to mimic the sounds of a live hen are simply irresistible to a listening long beard and can get them running in your direction.  Learning how to use a slate call is easy and with practice, can be that “go to” tool in the turkey hunter’s arsenal.

All slate calls are played by moving a striker or “peg” across the calling surface.  The friction causes vibrations to resonate off the sound board through holes in the underside of the “pot” and off to the turkey’s ears.  The “pot” is the casing that holds the calling surface and that the hunter holds in his/her hand while using the call.  It is typically made from wood and harder woods, like cherry, create a higher pitched sound while softer woods, walnut, produce a lower pitched call but other materials have been making their way into the market place for years. The strikers themselves can also be made from several materials such as woods, laminates, and graphite, and as each material can also effect the pitch of the call. Therefore they are often matched with the calling surface the manufacturer feels makes the most consistent and realistic sounds, but are also mixed and matched by hunters to suit theirs and the ears of the local birds they hunt.

The general name “slate call” refers to a specific surface material. But a pot call can be generally found in one of four, sometimes in combinations, of calling surfaces; slate, glass, acrylic, and aluminum.  Therefore all slate calls are pot calls but not all pot calls are slate. Each of these surfaces produce slightly different sounds and have their own set of attributes and draw backs for use in the turkey woods.

Let’s start with the namesake of the call, slate.

Slate calls are fantastic for beginners and veteran turkey hunters alike because they are so forgiving.  The first birds I ever called in to range were on a slate call long before I could even blow a note on my mouth call.  The pitch of the sound will vary among the types of material encasing the slate and the position of the striker.  In general, slate surfaces produce a softer, sweeter, call and disguise miss-strokes as clucks rather than putts (alarm call) or the dreaded shrill of a screech that can send Toms running the other way. 

The major drawback to slate calls is that the friction required to operate them effectively is greatly influenced by moisture.  Damp or wet slate surfaces can be rendered useless and there is no good way to waterproof them.  This is significant when many spring turkey seasons fall during April and we have all heard how “April showers bring May flowers.” A hunter who pulls out his slate call on rainy days, foggy mornings, or just during heavy dews is risking a single droplet hitting the call surface and putting it out of commission.  Should your call get wet, allow it to dry completely, resurface it with a Scotch-Brite pad, and test it before putting it back into action.  Also be mindful of your sweaty oily fingers.  Chasing long beards to get on them or stay ahead of them can be hot and strenuous especially in the Deep South or later into the spring seasons.  Just as tragic as a water droplet, is finally getting on a bird, setting up, and reaching into your vest, grabbing your slate call, and putting a big sweaty, oily finger print right on the face.  Always carry a few Scotch-Brite pads with you for in the field maintenance.

Slate does not create the higher pitched calls that cut through windy days as well as say a box call does.  Instead the quiet, still mornings where soft calls will still carry along the ridgelines or across a field are the ideal place for a slate call.

Glass

For those windy days, consider a pot call with a glass surface. Glass calls have a different sound to them than a slate call and can produce louder, higher pitched calls that can cut through wind and dense vegetation better. They are however, less forgiving and can take more practice to achieve consistent calls without a miss-stroke. A slight slip of the peg usually results in a putt sounding alarm call or a shriek that will alert an approaching Tom to the fact that you are not who you are pretending to be. Conditioning is vital to the success of your glass call. Remember to condition your surface in one direction using a proper glass conditioning stone or fine grit sand paper (120 grit or higher). You want deep consistent grooves, free of the dust resulting from the conditioning. So I usually wipe the surface off on my pants leg before beginning to call.

Acrylic I went to my local big box sporting goods dealer yesterday and cruised through the turkey hunting section to find acrylic surfaced calls dominating the shelf space. Very similar to glass, they are less susceptible to moisture than slate and produce a louder, maybe the loudest, call from a pot style call. However, also like glass they are less forgiving to play and take more practice to “master.”

Aluminum

I have admittedly never personally used an aluminum call, but I added it to the list to cover all our bases. I have been told by experienced hunters that they are difficult to play and get a consistent sound from without extensive practice. The pitch is said to be much higher and unlike any of the other calling surfaces. They are the most resistant to moisture than the other materials and require the least amount of conditioning.

How to Call

Despite the surface, each is capable of making all the sounds of a wild hen and luring an eager gobbler to his doom. The basic techniques for a yelp, cluck, and purr are easy to learn and with practice, quick to master.

Yelps are a communication call by hens that announce their location and excitement. It is the “go to” call of most hunters to get that gobbler fired up and coming to you. On a pot call, this sound can be achieved by holding the pot in one hand and the striker in the other like you would a pencil. Put the striker in contact with the surface at a slight angle away from your body so that the pressure you apply will be on the edge of the striker. Now make small, looping, oval paths with the striker applying pressure and DO NOT lift the striker from the surface. A yelp should start high in pitch and then drop on the back half of the call. This is done by slightly reducing the amount of pressure applied at the “bottom” of the oval. Placing the striker closer to the rim of the call or edge of the surface, will produce a higher pitched, sweeter call like a young hen, whilst yelping from the center of the call will produce a deeper tone with more rasp.

Hen Yelps on a Slate Call

Young Hen

Raspy Hen

Hen Yelps on a Glass Call

Young Hen

Raspy Hen

Gobblers yelp as well and replicating that call can bring a boss beard in looking for a challenger. But be mindful that subordinate gobblers or young birds may be intimidated and cower in retreat. It is made in the same manner as a hen yelp only deeper in tone and slower. This can be achieved by moving the striker closer to the center of the surface, and making longer, slower ovals.

Clucks signify a hen’s contentment and can put a leery gobbler at ease. They are made by holding the pot and striker in the same manor and making short downward strokes. Apply pressure to the edge of the striker and allow it to slip down the face of the surface. Clucks are often mixed with yelps and purring to make the conversation with that Tom more interesting, appealing, and convince him that you are another hen instead of a hunter.

Slate

Glass

Purring by a hen is another sound made when she feels safe and secure. She often purrs when scratching for food in the leaves so mimicking this with your hand or foot before and/or after purring can really convince a gobbler to come running. It is a call most easily made on a slate surface as slate tends to grab your striker and not let it slip and shriek like a glass surface. It is made with the same downward stroke of a cluck only longer and you allow the striker to jump quickly and repeatedly during the stroke. Keep it pretty soft and I like to add in some clucks or soft yelps when I purr.

Slate

Glass

Gobblers on the other hand, make what is referred to as a fighting purr. As they fight amongst themselves to establish a hierarchy or pecking order, they jump and spur at each other while aggressively purring. This can be highly effective in early spring gobbler season when the boys are still ganged up and with hens. It is made in the same manner as the hen purrs only deeper in tone and faster.

Cutting is a great call to use to locate a gobbler that has been quiet on the tree and to get him excited or while investigating new hunting areas later in the morning after your first set up didn’t pan out. It is a call that a hen will make to let him know that she is excited and eager to mate. Most long beards cannot resist some sharp cuts mixed with excited yelping and will gobble hard at each set. It is basically just a series of sharp, staggered clucks with a little more speed and a lot more inflection.

Example Calling Sequences on a Slate Call

Example Calling Sequences on a Glass Call

Understanding the differences in materials, benefits and limitations of each, when and how to make the basic calls, call combinations, and what the birds in your area respond to will make you a better pot caller and a more successful turkey hunter. Always remember that nothing beats practice and there is no better teacher than experience. The more you hunt the more you’ll learn. As you start to encounter wild hens and gobblers, pay close attention to the sound and most importantly the rhythm of their calls and you will be tricking old Toms to the sound of your striker in no time.

  • Randy