LITTLE ROCK – Many turkey hunters wouldn’t dare step into the woods next week without a trusty box call tucked in their vest. It’s usually the first call young hunters will learn to use for this coming weekend. But few know that staple of the turkey woods originated right here in The Natural State.
Henry C. Gibson, a Dardanelle farmer and manager of the Western Arkansas Hedge and Wire Fence Company, received a patent for this most trusted and copied call design in 1897. Although the call was called the Gibson Box Call, one-half of the patent was given to John Boddie of Arkadelphia. Not much is known about their partnership, but Howard Harlan, author of "Turkey Calls: An Enduring American Folk Art," speculates that Boddie may have been Gibson’s financial backer. According to Harlan, Gibson was from a modest upbringing and would probably not have had the financial resources to market the call.
The keys to this call’s continued success are its simplicity and realism. Almost anyone can make all the sounds of a hen turkey with a box call and an hour or two of practice. Even hunters who can communicate in turkey talk with mouth calls rarely walk through the woods without their version of a “squawk box” tucked away in a vest pocket. When the wind is high, these friction calls produce loud, high-pitched sounds that pierce the wind better than diaphragms or yelpers.
According to his patent (No. 574,534), Gibson stated that the call’s sidewalls and bottom should be of the same thickness, and that the ends should be much thicker. The thin sidewalls and base are where the sound is actually produced. He also stated that cedar was the preferred construction material because of its natural oils and weather resistance, but he did not list exact dimensions – most likely to continue perfecting the call under the same patent. The original mass-marketed Gibson call is highly sought after – sometimes bringing thousands of dollars at auction – and is often the centerpiece of a turkey call enthusiast’s collection.
This article originally ran in Arkansas Wildlife Magazine, the official magazine of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. A yearly subscription costs only $12 and includes the award-winning July/July calendar featuring various species of Arkansas fish and wildlife.