Turkey wing bones – to make turkey calls
April 14, 2006
By Jo Chytka
Rita Stout was born in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and lived there until the age of 18.
During that time she acquired an appreciation of all things country and a love of carving. She said, “My family hunted for a lot of our food and we used every part of it. I’ve been hunting and fishing since I was five and love it. I hunt with a rifle as well as a bow, mostly turkey and deer and use everything I can of the animal.”
Rita and her husband Robert moved from Boston to rural White Clay, Neb., 17 years ago. They live on a farm/ranch where the nature of her surroundings has inspired Rita to again take up her carving.
The focus of Rita’s carving is making turkey calls. They are used to call in turkeys during hunting season.
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She said, “The Indians originally made calls like these, but I read an article in a magazine about them and thought – this is something I can use the bones for.î That was the beginning of her using more than just the meat. She recycles the wing bones to make her ornate calls.
She said, “The leg bones of a turkey could be used as well. However, they are larger and the call has a lower pitch. The wing bones are smaller and emit a higher pitch – which sounds more like a hen and is more effective.”
“I’ve always loved to carve,” Rita said. “When I was eight, I took one of my grandfather’s screwdrivers and reworked it and bent it, to use as a carving tool. I got into a lot of trouble until I made him something with it. I still use that tool today.”
The process of making a turkey call begins with an entire turkey – either wild or domestic. After consuming the meat Rita will boil the wing bones to remove everything that is not bone. (Or, there are outlets where you can buy bones from domestic turkeys). Rita said, “The bones of a wild turkey are denser, not so porous and the interior of the bone where the marrow is has a more honey-combed structure of bone, making them stronger.”
Three bones from each wing – the closest one to the breast and the next two that extend toward the wing tip are utilized.
All of the marrow and honeycombing is removed, carefully, so as not to puncture the wall of the bone rendering it useless. All the bones are soaked over night in Clorox water. To dry them Rita uses the microwave, if she’s in a hurry – but care needs to be taken not to over do it since it can cause the bones to turn brown. Next, Rita cuts off the joint portion of the ends of each of the bones used. The bones are graduated in size and they are telescoped into one another to form the call. Each joint is then super glued together and smoothed with a grinding tool (Rita uses a Dremel) then wrapped with synthetic sinew.
More super glue is applied to the sinew joint after wrapping, to firm them up and render them waterproof.
Originally Rita constructed the joints like the Indians did. She used real sinew from a deer she had shot. For the glue, she boiled (for a very long time), bones and cartilage together to make a gelatinous glue. The only problem being, that type of glue is water-soluble and does not have the strength and durability of super glue.
Rita then tapes the joints of the turkey call to protect them from the ink and tools she uses. Steel wool is employed to gently sand the bone surface and a buffing tool on the Dremel causes the bone to look more like Ivory.
Next step in the process is to coat the area, with super glue, where she will do her scrimshaw artwork. Her art includes geometric patterns, lacy designs, or others of a pictorial nature such as turkeys and feathers. (The glue keeps the black ink that is applied, to highlight the scrimshaw carvings, from penetrating areas other than the carved ones.) Rita sketches a pattern with a fine lead pencil onto the surface of the bone and the carving is done, with various tips on the Dremel tool. The two final steps are application of the ink and buffing with steel wool and the Dremel buffing wheel.
From boiling the bones to finished turkey call takes about two months.
Stout also makes turkey calls from a composite of: one turkey wing bone, a spent rifle cartridge and a small piece of hollowed out wood that is decorated with either carving or wood burning. “Fruitwood works the best,” Rita said.
Every year Stout donates several of her calls to the local chapter of the National Turkey Federation for their fundraiser.
Each of her turkey calls come with instructions on how to use it and with a small plaque that has a wood burned design on it, true to the habitat of the turkey. A short explanation of that design is burned on the back of the plaque. The plaque has two dowels on the bottom to hold the call. The entire piece of artwork can be hung on the wall or set in an easel that is included. Rita emphasizes that, “Every call is made to be used, but can be ornamental.”
The calls cost $50 each. Rita does not actively market her turkey calls, but rather, acquires orders by word of mouth. You can inquire about one of your own by contacting Rita at: HC 81 Box 40A, Rushville, NE 69306, (308) 862-4223, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rita plans to make an instructional video on how to make turkey calls and actively market it.
Rita’s talents also extend to the musical. “I grew up in an era where the whole family played together, everyone in my family played an instrument. We made our own entertainment.” She plays the guitar, banjo, auto harp, flute, dulcimer and harmonica.
Rita has made her own, flute, dulcimer and banjo. The drum face on her banjo is made from the hide of a deer that she shot. The banjo is a ‘mountain’ instrument and has five strings and is fretless like the originals were.
Stouts’ latest accomplishment is a bent wood garden bench. “I made the base from chokecherry and the rest from green willow, so it would bend easily. I had such fun, and I surprise myself sometimes with what I can do.”
Rita said, “I never get bored, there are too many things I want to try. I guess I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.”