March 2008
Featured Articles

Making Turkey Calls From Scratch

  Tim Cosby at work in his call making shop.
By Ben Norman

Rumor has it the locals traveling Montgomery county road 61 just north of Ramer slow down when they approach the home of Tim Cosby, especially if he is sitting on his front porch and fine tuning one of his famous handmade calls. Why do they slow down? According to Dewitt Cowles, a friend and hunting buddy of Cosby’s, the big gobblers running across the road trying to get to Cosby’s house presents a traffic hazard.

Cosby, retired Chief Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Fresh Water Fisheries, just laughed and shook his head at Cowles’ remark.

"Now I appreciate the compliment, and I do make an excellent call, but Mr. Cowles may be stretching the truth just a tad," laughed Cosby.

While Cosby’s friend’s jovial remark may be open to question, the quality of Cosby’s handmade calls are not. The near perfect tone of Cosby’s slate and glass calls are making him a legend among turkey hunters who have used his calls.

Cosby has two passions in the outdoor world. One is raising and training champion squirrel dogs.

"I like the Co-op dog food and buy some of my veterinarian supplies there. The other passion is making and using my homemade turkey calls. I would take someone squirrel hunting with one of my dogs, and they would just have to have one. The same with my turkey calls, once they heard what a quality handmade call can sound like, they wanted a call too. I guess you could say taking friends hunting put me in the squirrel dog raising and turkey call manufacturing business," said Cosby.

Cosby began his call-making hobby by making a little wood box call, but soon got intrigued by the pot call, which most people refer to as slate and striker calls. According to Cosby, some of the first calls were actually made from the cut off bottom of flowerpots with a piece of slate attached to the top.

"I had a commercially-made call I just couldn’t get the right sound from, so I started experimenting with making strikers out of several varieties of wood. A friend, Gene Houston, showed me how to turn strikers, or pegs, on a small wood lathe. After I became proficient on the lathe, I really began experimenting with different wood varieties, sizes and designs of strikers and pots," said Cosby.

Turkey calling can be traced back to the vocal calls used by the American Indians. They learned to imitate the sound of a hen to attract gobblers to within bow and arrow range. Excavations have also unearthed remains of wing bone calls. Wing bone calls are, as their name indicates, made from the wing bone of a wild turkey. Cosby said a Mr. Gipson is considered the father of the modern turkey call. M.L. Lynch from Birmingham was one of the first to make commercial calls on a large scale.

Cosby makes both slate and glass calls. He begins by selecting a piece of wood at least one inch thick and four and a half inches wide. The varieties Cosby uses include bois d’ arc (bodoc), persimmon, wild pecan, winged elm, black locust, post oak and Brazilian cherry.

"The pot has got to be made right, but the striker is critical if the tone is to be just right," said Cosby.

"The pot holding the slate or glass may be made out of winged elm, but the winged elm striker may not sound just right on the winged elm pot. A Brazilian cherry striker may work perfect on the winged elm pot. For some unknown reason, I find if the pot and the striker are from two different woods, the call sounds better. I tune all my calls outside. You just can’t test them adequately inside a building," said Cosby.

"Dimensions are critical when making a slate or glass call," said Cosby. "From experimentation I have found that exact measurements are critical. I want my tolerances to be within 1/10,000 of an inch to yield the tone I want. I cut the pot out of the board, finish it on a lathe, sandpaper, etc. I do the internal work that perfects the sound chamber and then apply the slate or glass. I buy my slate and glass from a manufacturer who cuts them with a laser. This way you get the perfectly round slate or glass that is so critical. Making the striker is done with the same lathe. I turn the pegs one peg at a time, and apply a good polyurethane finish."

A unique twist Cosby has come up with is putting a photograph of the customer’s choice under the glass on a call.

"This creates a lasting memento of a father or grandfather with a grandson or granddaughter with their first turkey. I am really getting a lot of orders for these memento calls. They work for calling turkey just as good as any of my calls, you just have to scratch the glass to get it to work. Some companies also want their company logo under the glass as promotional gifts," said Cosby.

     Cosby keeps a small quantity of calls on hand for new customers. They can be picked up at his home or can be mailed. For those who want the personalized call with a picture of them or a loved one, it can take several weeks because of the drying process.

Tim Cosby specializes in selling champion quality squirrel dogs and handmade turkey calls of the highest quality. For information on prices and availability contact Tim Cosby at 334-562-3124. Cosby gives a free instructional course to those picking up calls at his home.

But slow down a bit when approaching his house- his buddy’s story about the gobblers running across the road just may have some merit.

Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home.