Hunting Calls 101: Types, Uses and Choosing the Right One

Duck call on lanyard with several bird leg bands

Whether you call them game calls, hunting calls or wildlife calls, the fact is that calls come in many shapes, styles and uses.

The first thing one must determine in a game call is what species of game will you attempt to call. With the target species in mind, you will need to decide what aspect is appropriate.

Different times of the year (as well as different locations) will have a greater degree of success with alternate choices.

Types of Hunting Calls

As to the types of hunting calls, that is broken up along two major lines: manual/electronic and prey/mating.

Manual vs. Electronic

This is both personal preference, as well as a convenience, size and willingness-to-practice issue.

Almost no one is competent with a manual call (aka mouth call) on their first try. It takes practice, if for no other reason than to not swallow the call or spit it out while using it.

You don’t think that is an issue? Then why do you think many of them are colored so garishly? It makes them easier to spot on the ground after you spit them out.


hunting calls - mouth calls
Mouth calls can be difficult to master, but they’re extremely effective.


Prey vs. Mating

This is important, as prey animals cannot be lured with the sound of their food. Corn, grass and blackberries do not make ripening noises.

On the other hand, if you are calling coyote, using the sounds of an injured rabbit might be a great idea. It also matters as deer grunts and doe bleats are much less effective at the end of the season as compared to during pre-rut and rut.

For coyote or turkey, it is a similar situation. During their mating seasons, using urgent sexual calls tends to be very effective on the male of the species. Outside of mating season, these calls are fairly useless.

With turkeys, it doesn’t really matter, as they are only hunted in their mating seasons. With coyote (and some other non-native predators), hunting is a year-round event.

With the prey sounds, not only can you utilize them in mating season; it actually helps to break up the constant sexual barrage. Not to mention, coyotes are much more active in mating season, so they need to eat more.

The non-sexual calls will also attract the female of the species.


Flextone Vengeance FLX 100 electronic call
Remotely activated electronic calls like Flextone’s Vengeance FLX 100 come pre-loaded with numerous predator and prey sounds.


How Hunting Calls Work

Let’s get into some more specific types of calls and how they work (as well as examples worthy of your consideration).

Mouth Calls

These are typically reed-based products that replicate a sound that excites the target species. For turkey, deer and elk, it is usually the sound of a calling female.

For coyote, that may also apply; but it may be the sound of an injured rabbit, stricken bird or the like. These calls may be placed in the mouth or a tube one blows into.


Many of the brands assume the person using the call knows how the call should sound. Others, like Primos Female Whimper Predator Call, include a CD or DVD with visual instructions, as well as sounds of the call being used properly.

This helps the hunter practice properly and know what is correct.


Hunter Specialties Nemesis
The Nemesis deer call from Hunter’s Specialties.


Mechanical Calls

These are usually hand-operated. The purpose is also to excite the target species, they often require less practice to use effectively. They tend to be a bit bulkier and cannot be used while ready to fire, unless utilized in a team environment.

For this very reason, many turkey hunters will use pot, slate and box calls with the shooter 10-20 yards in front of the caller.


In the above examples, the pot call and the Woodhaven box calls take a significant amount of practice to make a quality hen call with. The Primos Lil’ Can features a simple flip-over action to make the appropriate noise.

The Lil’ Can creates a wonderful sound, but the volume is not adjustable. A mouth call that produces the same sound can be volume-adjusted by cupping the call within your jacket or using a stronger or weaker flow of air over the reed.


primis lil can - hunting calls
Primos The Lil’ Can is easy to use and effective.


Electronic Calls

Electronic hunting calls come in a few variations, but the basic concept is that an electronic device plays recordings at the press of a button or on a programmed rotation. The older style of these had a corded controller.

I used this style for about a decade, but they have pretty much gone away. Now, most have a wireless remote or are linked to an app on your smartphone.

I am less interested in the smartphone controller as I hunt in a lot of places where cell signal does not exist and that can make the caller useless.


Both of these calls have a wireless remote and offer a variety of calls to choose from. The Johnny Stewart has a range of 50 yards and five sounds. The ICOtec has a “300-yard” range and 12 calls.

It also has the ability to pause the call, play two calls simultaneously and a plug-in port for a motion decoy.

I own this caller and the 300-yard range is true under optimal conditions, but in my hilly portion of Tennesse, 100-150 yards is more realistic.

Hunting in flat terrain like Florida, getting 300 yards does happen and it either case it is much more than most calls that have 50-100 yard maximums. The ICOtec option of playing two sounds at once can be used to trigger both prey and sexual stimuli.

This provides a hands-free double tease to draw in the predator. Using mouth or mechanical call to do this is very tough and certainly isn’t hands-free. Using any electronic call provides the option to place the call further from the hunter.

This helps to get wary prey into the shoot zone without as much likelihood of being spooked by the hunter.

It also provides for accurate calls with zero experience and the ability to keep both hands on binoculars or the shotgun/rifle, for quicker target acquisition.

Choosing a Hunting Call

In practice, I use a combination of all types of hunting calls.

For deer hunting, I use mechanical doe bleats, antler rattle calls and grunt calls. I am a pretty poor turkey hunter, as evident by my complete lack of mastery of mouth calls, but I do ok with the box and slate calls.

When predator hunting, my go-to call is the ICOtec GC300. I supplement it with mechanical squeakers and a physically wounded rabbit decoy. In one hunt, the GC 300 caller attracted a coyote from more than 400 yards away.

He grew cautious and stopped at about 75 yards, which happened to be about 150 yards from me. With a click of a button, the wounded rabbit twitching decoy kicked on and he flew like a shot directly to the decoy.

My 75-grain OTM bullet did its job.

Before I could even break cover to check my success, a second coyote was on the run. It’s tough to describe the adrenaline rush of a double within three minutes.


Coyote standing in front of a rock pile
Nabbing a coyote is a much easier job with a reliable hunting call on hand.

To round up the situation regarding which type of calls to purchase, the honest answer is several. You have to be realistic. The in-the-mouth reed calls work, but they take a lot of practice to master—something I have not been able to do.

For those who put in the time, the results are amazing. Mechanical calls are simpler to use, but somewhat bulky and most only do one thing. I often have three different callers in the deer stand. They do work, as several deer racks can attest.

Going with an electronic call is the simplest and most versatile, but you do need to decide what you are hunting. They are much more useful with predators and in some areas are even illegal to use on deer and elk. That is a big consideration.

My coyote hunts are so much more productive with electronic calls, I can’t remember a recent hunt where I haven’t brought along my GC300. It doesn’t guarantee success, but my odds go up significantly. With my tight schedule, that is important.

What type of hunting calls do you prefer? Any tips? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
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