By JOHN McCOY | The Charleston Gazette

AMMA, W.Va. (AP) — Bill Looney is best known as the fisherman who invented the legendary Amma Bama muskie lure. Now he's branching out into hunting gear.

At the recent West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show in Charleston, Looney introduced a compact turkey call that attracted a great deal of attention. After hearing the call's tone and seeing how simple it was to operate, many show-goers ended up taking one home.

“I call it the Pocket Yelper,” Looney says. “It takes folks by surprise because it's small, but it's as loud as some box calls and easier to get consistent results with.”

The calls, made from red cedar and bits of assorted hardwoods, take up about as much space as a cellphone. Rubbing a small, curved cedar paddle against a curved nib on the front of the call creates a sound very much akin to a hen turkey's yelp.

Looney only just started selling the devices, but he says he spent more than two decades perfecting their design.

“It dates back to the late 1970s and early `80s when turkeys started showing up in our area,” he recalls. “About the only calls that were available at the time were the old Lynch box calls. I had one, but I wasn't very good with it. I decided to try to make something simpler and easier to use.”

His original goal was to make a miniature box call that could be operated with one hand.

“I wanted to put a spring mechanism in it so the striker would rebound to its original position. I tried all different kinds of (spring) wire and experimented with different ways of bending it, but I could never get it to work quite right,” he says.

The spring mechanism might not have worked, but the call's volume and tone certainly did. After years of attempting to devise a workable spring, Looney finally threw in the towel, attached a wire handle to the end of the paddle, and converted the call to fully manual operation. He knew he might be onto something when, two years ago at the Hunt Show, he brought a prototype call and started playing with it. Its sound caught the ear of turkey hunters and call manufacturers alike.

“One guy picked it up and tried it. He yelped and clucked a little with it and said, `absolutely amazing,” Looney says. “A couple of guys from the Midwest came over and asked where I was keeping that box call. I showed them what they'd been hearing and they couldn't believe all that sound came from that little yelper.”

At this year's show, Looney asked J.D. “Peck” Martin, a highly regarded call maker from McMechen, West Virginia, to evaluate the latest version of the call.

“Peck checked it out, worked it and said, `It's so easy a monkey could do it,”' Looney says.

There were no monkeys at the show to prove Martin's assessment, but Looney was able to demonstrate the call's simplicity by having children try them out.

“The kids would grab it and almost immediately start calling with it. Every one of them was able to work the call within just a few seconds,” Looney says.

The calls are a lot simpler to operate than they are to make. Each consists of nine components and requires 26 steps to complete.

“I've used cedar, ash, walnut and elm in them, but the two main woods are cedar and ash,” Looney says. “I cut out the blanks for the ends, sides, bottoms, backs and paddles with a band saw. After I assemble the components, I sand the strikers to get the sound I want. After I do that, I sand all the surfaces down so they're smooth, and then I individually sign and number the calls.”

Because they're made from natural materials, the calls vary somewhat in volume and tone. Looney says that some hunters prefer a higher, sweeter sound, while others prefer a throaty and raspy effect.

Skilled callers can use the yelper create a variety of turkey sounds _ purrs, clucks and cuts as well as yelps. Looney says, however, that the call wasn't really meant to do that much.

“It's hard to purr or cut with,” he explains. “It's really meant to work as a yelper.”

He says the paddle's arc-like motion creates the yelp: “The first part of the stroke creates the high pitch, and the end of the stroke creates the low pitch _ kee-owk, kee-owk, just like a real turkey.”

The call created a bit of a buzz at the show, and Looney plans to make more to keep up with the demand its debut created. Even so, he plans to remain a lure maker first and a turkey-call maker second.

“It's fun to work on the calls, but the Amma Bama is what people know me for,” he says.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com