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Turkey Tactics and Tales Day 1: The Mouth Yelper’s Origin

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Editor’s Note: You may not know the origin of the mouth yelper – told often and believed in Alabama – that comes from a most-unusual occurrence – someone’s being bit by a mad dog. Let’s enjoy that story and others, and also learn 12 turkey-hunting tips this week.

A hunter waits for a turkey to come into rangeThis story is told by the late Jim Radcliff, Jr., of Mobile Alabama:

If my daddy hadn’t been bitten by a mad dog, the mouth yelper might never have been invented. Daddy used to have some fine bird and turkey dogs. One day a rabid dog got in with Daddy’s dogs and bit one of them. Then that one went mad and bit Daddy.

In those days, around 1920, there were only two places in the South to take the treatment for rabies – Atlanta and New Orleans. We were living in Mobile at the time. Since both places were too far to commute to, Daddy spent three weeks in New Orleans getting a shot in his stomach every day for 21 days. Having a lot of time on his hands there, he visited the French Quarters, where he met a ventriloquist who made bird calls. After making friends with the man, Daddy asked him to make a turkey call.

“I’ve never heard a wild turkey call,” the man said. Being experienced at calling turkeys with a wing bone, a cedar box, a leaf or anything else around, Daddy didn’t take long to improvise something to imitate a turkey’s yelp. The ventriloquist tried but couldn’t imitate the sound. “I can’t do it,” he said, “but I’ll make you a bird call. Maybe you can use it to imitate a turkey.”

So Daddy played with the bird call the ventriloquist made. The man taught him how to manipulate it, bring the diaphragm into play and force wind across it. Gradually, Daddy learned to make the right sound on the little caller.

Three turkey callsAll this took place before the spring turkey season that year. Daddy’s business partner and turkey-hunting rival was Fred Stimpson. Normally the best of friends, they became great rivals when the dogwoods bloomed, and the gobblers started to strut. That spring after Daddy came back with his mouth yelper, he really ripped Mr. Stimpson’s britches, outscoring him left and right. Mr. Stimpson simply couldn’t understand why Daddy was doing so well.

After turkey season was over, Daddy drove up to Jackson, Alabama, where Mr. Stimpson lived, to show him his secret. Mr. Stimpson had a nice, big white house with a white picket fence and a long, high porch in front of several steps leading up to it. When Daddy drove up, Mr. and Mrs. Stimpson were sitting on the porch. Daddy had nothing on his mind except devilment.

Mr. Stimpson called out, “Well, get out, Jim. Come in and sit a spell.” Daddy’s reply went something like this: “Cluck, yelp, yelp, yelp.” Astounded, Mr. Stimpson asked, “What did you say?” “Yelp, yelp, yelp,” was Daddy’s reply. “The hell you say!” Mr. Stimpson yelled as he flew down off the porch. Knocking open the white picket gate, he got right in Daddy’s face. “Open your mouth!” “I ain’t gonna do it,” replied Daddy. Without hesitating, Mr. Stimpson pulled one of the sticks off the picket fence. Rather than have his head knocked off, Daddy opened his mouth and showed him the mouth caller. “I’ve got to have one of those things!” Mr. Stimpson growled.

A hunter on the lookout for a gobblerDaddy went home and made his partner a mouth yelper – about two sizes too big. After choking and gagging from trying that oversized yelper for two months, Mr. Stimpson had such a sore mouth he couldn’t enjoy a cup of coffee. Daddy finally felt the joke had gone far enough and made him one the right size.

The mouth yelper stayed pretty much in south Alabama for many years after 1920, passing from friend to friend all over Mobile and Jackson. The secret was let out in 1953, when an article about the mouth yelper appeared in a major magazine. Now the mouth yelper is found in all parts of the country.

So when you’re in the woods this spring, and you get that big gobbler to come in, be thankful that a mad dog bit my daddy.

Cover: The Turkey Hunting Guides' BibleTo learn more about hunting turkeys successfully, visit John E. Phillips’ Amazon book page at https://www.amazon.com/John-E.-Phillips/e/B001HP7K6O. For even more information from many of the top turkey hunters, callers and guides, go to the book, “Turkey Hunting Guides’ Bible,” at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01ITWYY2K/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p5_i10 and available in Kindle, print and Audible. You may have to copy and paste this link into your browser. (When you click on the book, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read and hear 10% of the book for free). On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible book.

Tomorrow: The Greatest Turkey Fighter of Them All

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