by Chris Larsen
The scratch box turkey call is fairly common in the South. But many hunters north of the Mason-Dixon line have never even seen one. They’re not in major catalogs or carried by most retailers. But scratch boxes are an important piece of turkey hunting heritage. They are the predecessor of the modern box call. I recently attended the Northwest Sportshow in Minneapolis, Minnesota and met a man who is introducing Midwest hunters to the scratch box one call at a time. Eric Rice owns a company called Shine Box Turkey Calls and he is bringing the call back into popularity.
While the scratch box call isn’t common in most places these days, it is one of the first turkey calls used by American hunters. “The call dates back to the late 1700s to early 1800s… They were made from matchboxes, cigar boxes, boot boxes, any kind of small wooden box they had at that time was assembled and used to scratch with a small striker.”
The main difference between the scratch box call and the modern day box call is the striker. The box call used by most turkey hunters these days has a lid that is connected to the box. This design makes it nearly impossible to use the call incorrectly. The scratch box utilizes a wooden striker separate from the box. The scratch box call takes a little more concentration but the advantage is that you can use a variety of strikers and angles on the same call and make vastly different turkey sounds. But Rice says the modern box call‘s simplicity sent the scratch box into obscurity. “Once the modern day box call was invented… they say 80 to 90 years after the scratch box call was made. The large modern version box call grew in such popularity that the scratch box call kind of just receded back into the South and the Southeastern Seaboard… Most turkey hunters, when they are looking for a turkey call they are going into a big box store to see what is available and the scratch box call kind of faded out.”
Rice was introduced to the scratch box call almost by accident. His brother purchased one from a roadside vendor while traveling on a family turkey hunting trip to Wyoming. According to Rice, the group of hunters was having a hard time getting turkeys to react to their standard turkey calls when one of the brothers suggested trying the oddball call. “My older brother said, “Hey, why don’t you get your shine box?” quoting a line from the movie Goodfellas. My little brother took out that scratch box that he had bought, made a few calls, and we couldn’t believe the turkeys just erupted… When we got home, that‘s when I started my quest to figure out how this thing was made, where it came from, and how I could make one myself.”
The call is sort of a novelty to some, but Rice says there are a lot of advantages to hunting with the scratch box call. “It’s very small. You can hold it close to your body. The scratch box call, one beautiful thing about it is it’s not monotoned.”
Most people Rice meets have never seen a scratch box call. But his calls are so easy to use even children are able to pick them up and make great turkey sounds in short order. “It’s a very easy call to use and you control the pressure and you can control the angle so you can get a great range of sound. It is very easy to play once you get the hang of it.”
Rice started making calls about eight years ago and really had no interest in competing. But in 2011 he entered the Minnesota NWTF Call Making Competition and took a first and second place. His success fueled his desire to enter more competitions and in 2012 he entered national competition at the NWTF Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. Rice scored a third place medal there. Since then, he has entered other major competitions and finished in the Top 3 in those as well.
If you would like to see more of Rice’s work, visit his website. To hear the entire conversation with Eric Rice of Shine Box Turkey Calls, press play at the top of the page. To view a short video of one of Eric's calls at work, see the video below.