Calls of the Wild
By Jason Frye | Photography by Cindy Neal Photography
Turkeys have their own language and Hernando’s Evan Murphy has translated it successfully with his artistic calls.
There are few moments as perfect and beautiful as the woods around daybreak. In that silent, blue dark, you wait for the sky to brighten, for trees to take shape, then branches, leaves, petals; you wait for sounds to fill in the void because the woods are so quiet you could perceive a shooting star. Then you hear it – the first notes of birdsong, the first rustle of leaves underfoot of paw or hoof, the call of a crow, the rising hoot of a barred owl – and day is upon you.
If you know what to listen for, the woods can tell quite the story as it wakes up. But you need to have an ear for language if you want it to sound like something other than those CDs we all bought in the ‘90s to help us fall asleep.
“Early in the morning, it’s the crows and the owls, that’s what you listen for. Once you hear them, you’ll hear turkeys start to talk,” says Evan Murphy, a turkey hunter and turkey call carver from Meridian, Miss.
That “talk” comes from turkeys roosted in the trees, and Murphy recognizes that soft, muffled yelp signaling the flock that it’s time to wake up, fly down, and find some breakfast.
To him, it’s the start of a conversation.
“In the woods everyone is speaking their own language,” he says. “Spend enough time out there listening and observing and you start to learn what they’re saying.”
It’s safe here.
I found food.
Where are you? Come back to the flock.
“Hunting turkeys, you listen a lot. You listen to their calls, how they talk to each other and how they respond when there’s danger. Then you start your own call building and soon you’re talking in another language to another species. It’s weird and gratifying,” Murphy explains.
Clucks, purrs, cutts, putts, yelps, cackles, gobbles, the kee-kee run. This is the language of the turkey, and Murphy’s got quite the ear for it.
Since 2016 he’s been making his own pot calls: wooden discs with acoustic holes and a slate inset that’s rubbed, pecked, traced, and poked with a pencil-like tool called a striker. Using a palm-sized pot call, a turkey hunter can lure a flock of turkeys close – telling them food here, and safety – or bring a dominant hen near – I’m a dominant hen too, come fight me – or call in a gobbler – I’m here, this is my patch of woods.
“You can go out and buy a cheap plastic call for $20, but it’s going to break after a season or two, or the striker will come apart. You can do what a lot of hunters try to do: make your own. But there’s a learning curve to it and most people don’t have the patience it takes to craft one that works,” he says.
In his shop, Murphy has a shelf with strikers that aren’t quite right, pots that don’t ring true, pieces that didn’t make the cut because of a ding or scratch or splinter. He’s also got a black book of measurements, notes on what worked and what didn’t, his own recipe for a killer call.
“I’ve always liked tinkering and working with my hands. Something like this, like making calls, it’s a way to keep me involved and build up that anticipation for turkey season. It’s exciting, and there’s nothing like sitting in the woods calling to turkeys with something I made with my own hands and hearing them call back,” he says.
“Turkeys have a big vocabulary but there are minute differences between say a cluck and a putt [both are sharp, staccato calls, but the timbre and length of each call is the difference between grabbing the attention of the bird – the cluck – and signaling danger – the putt], and learning to reproduce those sounds takes a lot of practice,” he says. “Almost as much practice as making your own call that’ll make the right sounds.”
Murphy’s first turkey hunt came when he was 14. He and his dad went on a “textbook hunt,” bagging a bird and giving him a taste for a sport that, once past the impulsive, impatient teenage years, would become a passion. Now he hunts as often as he can in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and makes calls for turkey hunters from right down the road and as far away as Vermont, California, Maryland.
“My goal is to make a call that sounds natural but that also looks good,” he says. “The sound is right and the woodwork – turning, carving, illustrating with pen and burner – is charming.”
His Instagram page, @MurphyWildlifeArtistry, shows off his calls, his techniques, and reveals a few secrets about his hunts, but it’s also the place to go to put in your order. With spring turkey season right around the corner, message him now and for $40 to $60 (depending on the type of wood and what artwork you want on it), you’ll have your call-in time for that first spring gobbler.