Caring for the mouth call

I had a Kansas turkey hunt ruined by a relentless cough two years ago, and while the source of the cold that migrated into my throat and upper trachea will never be known, I still wonder today whether it was a product of some bacteria buildup on my mouth calls.

Don't laugh; it makes some sense. I recall a long ago turkey camp conversation in Missouri with Mark Drury and a few others when we were all sniffling and hacking. Somebody piped up that we were growing bacteria when we dutifully placed our diaphragm calls in the fridge for safe keeping. And he may have been right.

So as I lead up to another spring season and a return trip to Kansas for a rematch with those Rio Grande gobblers, I'm being extra careful, even if it means I have to buy a couple extra calls as a result of my all-out efforts.

I soak my calls in Listerine when I'm not using them. The advertisements say it kills germs that cause bad breath, so I’m pretty sure that means it kills all germs and essentially disinfects my calls. It might break down the latex a bit and shorten their life span; I’m not sure of that. But it’s a small price to pay for tipping the odds in my favor for staying healthy during spring gobbler season.

Taking care of your mouth call – and let’s face it, we usually have plenty of them to care for – actually starts as soon as you purchase it, says Randy Panek, maker of Strike Zone mouth calls (www.wildtalker.com).

“The first thing you should do when you get a new call is to go to the sink and wash  off  all the white powder  between all the reeds,” says Panek, a former competition caller himself and a veteran turkey hunter. “All latex has talc on it from the supplier. Then, take your call and semi-dry it off with a paper towel.”

After that, you should use separate the reeds of the call using plastic reed separators or a toothpick. Then let the call dry in a cool, dark place. Do that several times until the call is "seasoned," which essentially sets the reeds in place and makes the call sound the way it was manufactured to sound.

Still, all latex will break down over time. Here are some tips to making you call last longer:

• Keep it away from heat and light – especially sunlight. 
• Wash off your call after use. What you eat and drink and other fluids in your mouth speed up the breakdown process. 
• Store the call in a cool, dark place after the reeds are dry.
• Heat is a big problem with mouth calls. Leaving a call on the dash of your truck is asking for trouble. It will cause the latex to expand and affect the sound of the call because it will lose its flexibility.  

I soak my calls in Listerine or a similar mouthwash before using, at least for a short time before I pop it in my mouth – sometimes overnight, even though it likely shortens the life span of the call. I have a real fear of developing a hacking cough that can cripple a turkey hunt, and right or wrong, I often attribute it to a poorly cleaned mouth call.

In the morning as I head out to my hunt, some of my mouth calls need a little warmup time to allow the reeds to separate. Others perform well immediately after I pop them in my mouth. But it usually just takes a minute for the call’s reeds to separate and offer the sound I’m looking for.

Bottom line, I essentially disinfect my calls by soaking them in mouthwash before using them each morning. If I have to buy a few extra calls along the way, it’s a good tradeoff for my health during the spring gobbler season.

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