What do Turkey Calls and an Agricultural Science Class Have in Common?

NWTF member and retired agricultural science teacher, Paul Heasley, has found an educational way to integrate turkey calling into the classroom, and, through his students’ research, Heasley and his students have gathered some interesting and useful information about turkey calling acoustics based on the varying types of wood and materials used to make the call. The students’ research may make you double check what type of wood your next turkey call is made from.    

The turkey box call project idea came to Heasley when he realized that many of his forestry students were also in an integrated physics class where they were evaluating soundwaves of musical instruments.

Eager to engage his forestry students in wood identification and as a turkey enthusiast, the first instrument that came to Heasley’s mind was a turkey call, and then it clicked; with the help from Heasley’s colleague, the turkey box call project was underway, turning into an interdisciplinary, research-based activity for his forestry students, combining agricultural science, mechanics, physics and music and the arts.

“Teaching wood identification and evaluating best uses can be a dry subject for high school students, so I decided to have students make a peg box turkey call with as many different woods as we could find and compare the sound qualities best suited to match a hen turkey call,” Heasley said. “We used a FOXPRO electronic call as our standard or target.”

Guidelines students followed for the turkey box call included:

Identify at least ten different wood species and make a turkey box call from each wood to the same dimensions

Research the various wood species to find the density and hardness characteristics for each 

Use computer applications to record and gather soundwave data for each species while using each turkey call

Use data gained and develop a spreadsheet with wood species, density, hardness, peak tones and tonal ranges

Record live or digital call to create a standard call as a reference point

Use graph data to compare the various wood species sound wave data to standard call and determine which wood species have most similar sound waves as compared to the standard

Using data collected, determine if there is a relationship to wood density or hardness in producing sound waves that most closely produce sound waves from the standard.

The wood species students used were gathered from local lumber mills, wood flooring stores, what students may have had at home and even eBay. After students constructed the 31 calls made from various woods, they recorded the sound waves and frequencies

Students learned that the calls in the middle of the hardness scale produced sounds closest to the hen call on the FOXPRO and that calls made from reclaimed American Chestnut had the closest tone, frequency range and frequency peaks to the FOXPRO.

“This project did peak interest in turkey hunting, especially the calling part, as it developed an appreciation for all of the different calls that turkeys make,” Heasley said. “One student who was a turkey hunter is now selling turkey calls as well as a pro staff member for those calls. The students at the start of the project had varied experiences with hunting, turkey hunting and calling turkeys. By the end of the project, the students had a common foundation and did become proficient with the calls they made and were extremely selective in the calls they would spend time with, trying to perfect the desired call sounds and tones.”

Many of the students took the American chestnut, walnut and cherry calls into the woods and had success calling in gobblers.

“The most interesting observation, from my point of view, was to watch students ‘buy in’ as well as become more motivated to learn about identifying wood species by making and evaluating a tangible product,” said Heasley.

“An amazing and fun project to say the least, and I had never even heard of several of the woods we found to make them.”

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