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The History of Tube-Type Turkey Calls

Written by Butch Barnes

cuz tube calls

Mossy Oak's Cuz Strickland, pictured here, runs tube calls religiously.

Talking Turkey Tube Calls

Fifty years is a long time to postpone creating and sharing a “how-to” with others. I have a decades-old folder of just such articles, including some on all types of turkey calls. One of the simplest of these is a tube-type call. I have read numerous articles on them, but never one that, with clarity, explained how to accurately produce with these little calls the various sounds turkeys make. But first, I want to delve into the history and use of these calls, as well as how to make them. Due to space limitations, this will be presented in three parts: 1) the history of these calls and how they were first made; 2) how to make your own tube calls, and 3) how to produce turkey sounds on them – using of all things, phonics.

The History of Tube Calls for Turkey Hunting

The history of tube calls is fuzzy at best. I haven’t found any information on them prior to those made with half-ounce snuff cans, which will be the focus of this first article. Various sources date the first ones back to the Appalachian mountains in the mid-1800s. I have not been able to get the history of the half-ounce snuff can itself. Some sources say it may have been first produced between 1861 and 1865 – the period known as the first industrial revolution. Others speculate it may have been around 1900 after the American Tobacco Company moved to Memphis and changed its name to Memphis Snuff Company.

Back in 2006, I was told by a store owner in Camden, Alabama - my source of these cans – that his sales rep had advised him that the Memphis Snuff Company was changing the half ounce can to a compressed paper container. No more snuff can turkey calls! I was able to contact their purchasing agent in Memphis to get the facts. He told me that they were in need of additional floor space in the plant, and the can-making contraption, which dated back to the Industrial Revolution, took up a great deal of floor space; thus the switch. I was then able to procure 300 empty, unlabeled cans from their last run in exchange for 5 calls made from their cans, a deal for which I will be forever grateful. No one in management (who hunted turkeys) had ever heard of their cans being used for turkey calls!

With these speculations in mind, I am going to postulate that the creation of three things came together in either the mid to late 1800’s or early 1900’s, (depending on the birth date of the snuff can) and resulted in the first snuff can call. These were: 1) the snuff can; 2) latex balloons (created in 1847); and 3) adhesive tape (created in 1845). The can-making machine may have been created around 1851 when the company owner, Levi Garrett, turned over the company to his son, W. E. Garrett. Or it could have been created around 1900 when the company was moved to Memphis. Try as I might, I could not coax Mr. Google into revealing the company that made the first half ounce snuff container and when.

In the earlier pioneer days, turkey hunters would have known about the Indians’ ways of calling turkeys, which included using their own vocal cords as well as blowing air across a leaf held between the thumbs. Even today, there are still a few old-school hunters who are successful with these two methods. A friend in Monroeville in southwest Alabama used a peach leaf – and quite successfully – back in the 1980’s, and I have a first cousin who could produce perfect yelps with his vocal cords. So I visualize an old geezer back in the late 1800’s pondering how to make a better call, and in that era of creativity and imagination, he put these three products together: snuff can, latex membrane, and adhesive tape. I don’t know of any snuff can calls made commercially until the 1970’s.

tube calls

A menagerie of tube-calls from Cuz's collection.

Quaker Boy Snuff Can Tube Calls

In the mid-1970’s, Dick Kirby founded Quaker Boy Calls. One of their calls was made from the Memphis Snuff Company half-ounce cans to make their commercially produced snuff can turkey calls. (I am fortunate to have one, and its green logo paper label is still in excellent shape.) Their call had a ¾” hole in the bottom, the half-moon cutout was made in the lid, and the latex was placed over the half-moon void in the lid and held in place by sliding the lid down over it. Ten years later, Mossy Oak was founded by Toxey Haas, and the two companies developed a strong bond, held together by their love for turkey hunting. Several T.V hunting show personalities have been seen using tube type calls, though I don’t know if any were the original snuff cans. These include Will Primos, Cuzz Strickland, Harold Knight, and Michael Waddell.


Over the years since 2006, I have given away and sold about 225 calls made from the snuff cans, so there are still a few out there. It was the pending extinction of the little metal can that motivated me to try and create some substitutes. In my 50 years of experience and trial-and-error testing with tube calls, I am convinced that this type of call best mimics the numerous sounds that turkeys make. The hurdle seems to be confusing, incomplete instructions. I hope to eliminate that hurdle with the instructions that I share in the next article.

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