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Secrets of the Call Makers

Sage advice from four of the nation's most respected call makers 
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  • photo by Avery Outdoors
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By Matt Young

For many hunters, calling is the most rewarding aspect of waterfowling. There are few hunting experiences more satisfying than hailing a distant flock of mallards with a highball and watching the birds cup their wings and turn in unison as the sound reaches them. By allowing waterfowlers to communicate directly with ducks, calling fosters an intimate relationship between hunters and their quarry that elevates the sport to a higher level.

No one knows exactly who invented the first duck call or when and where it was constructed. Howard Harlan and W. Crew Anderson, coauthors of Duck Calls: An Enduring American Folk Art, discovered what may be the first evidence of their existence in an 1854 Nathaniel Currier art print, in which a dapper sportsman is depicted with a primitive tongue-pincher-style call tucked in his breast pocket. In 1863, Fred Allen of Monmouth, Illinois, is believed to have fashioned the first modern-appearing duck call, consisting of a barrel, stopper, and internal reed assembly. A few decades later, another early master, Victor Glodo, developed a more effective design, which he put to good use as a market hunter on Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake. Over time, many individuals experimented with and improved upon these early prototypes. Another major innovation occurred in 1957, when Texans Jim Fernandez and George Yentzen patented the first double-reed duck call.

The evolution of the modern duck call continues today, as call making has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry. While many call makers now mass produce their wares in state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, others continue to painstakingly fashion calls by hand, upholding the grand traditions of their craft. Visit your local sporting goods retailer and you are likely to find a plethora of duck calls made of almost every conceivable material, from traditional woods to space-age acrylics.

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