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John's Journal... Entry 80, Day 1

The Origin of the Mouth Yelper with Jim Radcliff, Jr.

click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: You may not know the origin of the mouth yelper comes from a most unusual occurrence -- someone's being bit by a mad dog. This week we'll look at that story and others as well as visit with a master turkey hunter to help you get revved-up for turkey-hunting season -- due to begin: in Florida the first part of March; around the South in mid-March; and in other states the first of April; and lasting through May and sometimes June in certain parts of the U.S.

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.

click to enlargeHaving a lot of time on his hands there, he visited the French Quarter, 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 man taught him how to manipulate it, bring the diaphragm into play, and force the wind across it. Gradually, Daddy learned to make the right sound on the little caller.

click to enlargeAll 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 white house with a white picket fence, and with 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.

click to enlargeDaddy 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 a good one.

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.

Tomorrow: The Greatest Turkey Fighter of Them All




Check back each day this week for more about Turkey Tales And Tips ...

Day 1 -The Origin of the Mouth Yelper with Jim Radcliff, Jr.
Day 2 -The Greatest Turkey Fighter of Them All
Day 3 -Kyle Hicks -- Expert Turkey Hunter Shares Tips
Day 4 -Kyle Hicks Talks about the Toughest Turkey He's Ever Taken
Day 5 -Kyle Hicks' Favorite Equipment

John's Journal