On April 15, the first of eight wild turkey hunting periods opens in Minnesota. The seasons will again test a vital skill: the turkey call.

Already, hunters are practicing their calling techniques, all the better to lure a big, amorous gobbler into gun or bow range.

My first Minnesota turkey hunt was in 1981 and reminds me of my initiation into calling. Then, wild turkeys existed only in southeastern Minnesota, which was a long drive from my home near Brainerd.

Months before my first turkey hunting season, I bought a variety of turkey calls, including box, slate, tube and, of course, diaphragm. I knew enough about wild turkeys to realize their sharp eyes miss nothing. The thought of sitting with back to a tree while working a box or slate call elicited visions of approaching turkeys "seeing" the motion required to work those calls. Thus, I vowed to become an accomplished caller using a mouth diaphragm call which, unlike box and slate calls, requires no movement.

So I practiced.

At first I nearly gagged when I placed the diaphragm call in my mouth. Soon the gagging reflex subsided, and within a few days I was produced a reasonable sounding "yelp" — the primary call of a hen turkey. With more practice I duplicated the cluck, purr, cackle and cutts of a hen turkey.

Now, more than 30 years later, I don't bother to carry any other type of turkey call.

Learning to use a diaphragm turkey call can be intimidating. Beginners should buy a call that comes with an instructional CD. Most instructional CDs also contain the actual calls of wild turkeys. Do your best to duplicate what you hear.

Diaphragm calls vary in size and shape; some fit an individual's palate better than others. Be prepared to buy several different sizes and brands to find a call that fits your mouth.

To begin, place the diaphragm call in the roof of your mouth with the latex reeds facing forward. Use your tongue to position the call against the roof of your mouth. Sound is produced when air moves across the latex reeds. You don't actually blow air past the call, but instead exhale air from your chest.

For some hunters who learn to use a diaphragm call, it's helpful to say a word while exhaling. For example, I produced a hen yelp by enunciating the word "keeee-yolk," dropping my lower jaw at the word yolk.

Once mastered, diaphragm calls are the most versatile of turkey calls. They allow hands-free operation, and are impervious to the weather.

Best practice now, so you'll be ready for your spring turkey hunt.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.