by Gary Koehler
Because of the length of the list, not all game call makers worthy of recognition could be included here. But this modest report provides a glimpse at a number of industry pioneers and other notables, now all deceased, whose works became well known in this business. They were dedicated to luring feet-down mallards or broad-winged geese to their decoys. And, through their labor, they became part of the rich fabric that is North American waterfowling history. Cumulatively, they left a legacy of excellence.
Phillip S. Olt – Pekin, Illinois
There is no sure-fire way to determine exactly how many game calls were produced by the P.S. Olt Company during its nearly 100-year history. But the smart money would bet that, over the years, Olt made and sold more calls than any of its innumerable competitors. Period.
Phillip Sanford Olt started the business in 1904, making his first calls, as the story goes, in a converted chicken coop on his farm. His D-2 duck call went on to become the most popular model of all time, and the same could likely be said for his A-50 goose call.
Olt is credited with developing the Arkansas-style duck call. Call historians and collectors have determined that Olt was the first individual to develop a one-piece insert with a straight-reed and a curved tone board—at least on a commercial basis. Olt is known for experimenting with a wide variety of tone board designs. His early calls were made of hard rubber, but the company later made a number of styles of wood calls, as well as a few molded acrylics.
Ken Martin – Olive Branch, Illinois
Back in the 1930s, when quality goose calls were relatively hard to come by, Ken Martin began whittling away in southern Illinois. Having grown up in Canada goose country, Martin knew what geese sounded like, and his calls rang true. They were, and still are, coveted by both hunters and collectors.
Martin did not begin crafting goose and duck calls on a full-time basis until around 1960. Before making the jump, he toiled as a farmer, welder and boilermaker, and also worked on steamboats. Residences included Lemont, Illinois, and both Salmon and Idaho Falls, Idaho.
While most of his calls were made of walnut, Martin also used other types of wood, and was known to enjoy working with diamondwood, a laminate. His calls were often stamped with the name of the town in which he made them.
Martin's Horseshoe Lake Model goose call has been copied, in one way or another, by any number of call makers nationwide—the most sincere form of flattery.
Clarence and Dudley Faulk – Lake Charles, Louisiana
This father-and-son team once ruled the southwest Louisiana game-call-making roost. Clarence "Patin" Faulk began selling homemade cane duck calls to hunters and guides in the mid-1930s. His son, Paul "Dud" Dudley Faulk, entered the game as a high school student. By the early 1950s, they were working together.
Descended from hunters and trappers, the Faulks made quite a name for themselves in game-calling competitions. Dud won back-to-back World Goose Calling Championships in 1961 and 1962, and reigned as International Duck Calling Champion in 1954. Patin was the 1955 World Goose Calling Champion by virtue of a victory in competition in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Highly regarded nationwide, Dud Faulk was featured in any number of national magazine hunting stories, was a guest on the American Sportsman television show, and also did a spot on the old "To Tell the Truth" television show. He served as a contest judge and also conducted game-calling seminars at Louisiana State University and local high schools.
In addition to the early cane models, the Faulks also made several varieties of wooden game calls, as well as some of the first plastic goose calls to reach the market.
Chick Major – Stuttgart, Arkansas
There was a day when Chick Major duck calls were easily the runaway leaders when it came to tallying duck-calling competition championships. The rough estimate is that Major calls were used to win well over 200 calling titles—including more than 20 by members of the Major family.
Darce Manning "Chick" Major, a dedicated waterfowl hunter, began building calls during the 1930s in a small workshop in Stuttgart. His call-making career, however, did not really take off until he won the World Duck Calling Championship in 1945. That was just the beginning.
Thereafter, his wife Sophie (1950 and 1964), and stepdaughters Brenda Peacock (1957 and 1958), Dixie (Major) Holt (1965, 1969 and 1971), and Pat Peacock (1951-'55) all won multiple women's division World Duck Calling Championships. Pat is also recognized as the only woman in history to win the men's division not only once, but twice, in 1955 and 1956, and also reigned in the 1960 men's Champion of Champions competition.
Major was a key player in the development of Arkansas-style calls. His cornerstone call was known as the Dixie Mallard, and it is believed that he also made the first hand-turned acrylic duck call during the early 1970s.
Tom Turpin – Memphis, Tennessee
Tom Turpin, the great experimenter, crafted turkey calls before he got into the duck call game sometime in the 1920s. In the end, however, he was credited with making a significant impact on the development of Reelfoot-style duck calls.
Turpin, it has been reported, spent hours in the field and in the marsh listening to birds and studying their habits. He took his knowledge back to the shop adjoining his home and designed calls meant to reproduce the sounds he witnessed in the wild.
Known for building calls much longer than the norm, Turpin also modified the taper and elevation of their tone channels. He developed both a call-making boring bar and the first hand-operated machine made to taper metal reeds. Wood from South America was a personal favorite.
An extraordinary caller in the field, Turpin also served as an educator of sorts. He wrote numerous calling articles for national outdoor sporting magazines and was involved with producing instructional records.
J.T. Beckhart – Buckspoint, Arkansas
A transplanted Yankee, James Tillman Beckhart lived in a tent for a while before taking up residence on a houseboat in the Big Lake region of northeast Arkansas. This duck-rich area is generally regarded as the cradle of Arkansas duck call making.
Beckhart was a market hunter, boat builder, and guide who was known to open up his modest home to visiting sportsmen—for a fee. His calls were of the Reelfoot style, but he was not content to be ordinary in anything he did.
He made inroads in both design and styling while crafting his calls, becoming known for his extended tone board as well as using monel metal reeds, which had a high silver content.
While written records are unavailable, it is believed that Beckhart made calls from the early 1900s into the 1920s. His first models had four carved tiers and were finely hand-checkered.
Among the nation's call-collecting fraternity, finding a pristine Beckhart duck call would be akin to winning the lottery. Point being, examples of his work are extremely hard to find, and they rank among the most valuable calls in the country.
Glodo Family – Illinois/Tennessee
While the Glodo family name is generally recognized at or near the top of the call-making food chain, it arrives accompanied by a cloak of mystery. Figuring out which member of this far-flung clan made which call and when—if you can find an example of their work—is nearly impossible. Even the experts seldom agree on the provenance.
To begin with, there were many Glodo men: Joseph Victor Glodo Sr. and Jr., John, Albert, Walter, Victor, Joseph E., and Arzia, just for starters. Some were known to have made duck calls, others probably did not. But a hundred years later, who's to say for sure who did what? To further muddy the issue, residences included scattered home sites in both southern Illinois and northwest Tennessee.
It has been determined, however, that Victor Glodo Jr. moved to Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake during the early 1890s. The Glodo name has since become synonymous with Reelfoot Lake-style duck calls. A blacksmith, Glodo used copper reeds, and is also credited with inventing the barrel shape of the classic Reelfoot Lake call. His calls were often checkered with what has become known as the "duck wing" pattern.
Glodo calls are perhaps the rarest of the rare. Call collectors speak in hushed tones whenever there's a hint that a vintage model may be entering the marketplace. This is arguably the most sought-after call in the game.
F.A. Allen – Monmouth, Illinois
Recognized as a true call-making pioneer, Fred Allen was way ahead of the curve. He is acknowledged as one of the primary inventors of the modern duck call.
Allen undoubtedly was among the first to sell calls commercially. Advertisements for his product have been traced to 1880, although, later on, his ads proclaimed that his calls had been "available since 1863."
Recognizing problems associated with early tongue-pincher-style calls, Allen went to work on remedies. He devised the concept of a barrel for his calls, and inside used a straight tone board and a curved reed.
Allen is credited with creating the first all-metal duck call, which he named the Allen Nickel-Plated Duck Caller. The calls were popular, but some historians insist that Allen's switching to a wooden barrel a decade later was out of necessity—too many hunters' lips were freezing to the metal mouthpiece.
Charles Ditto – Keithsburg, Illinois
In addition to being a farmer, game warden, market hunter, waterfowl guide, and champion trap shooter, Charles Ditto was also an entrepreneur. He was granted a number of patents for waterfowl decoy devices, and later went into the game-call-making business.
Ditto's calls resembled those made by his friend, F.A. Allen. Perhaps the most famous of Ditto's calls were the Eureka models, which were produced from around the turn of the century until the mid-1920s.
Many of these early calls were constructed of two pieces and featured a hard rubber insert and brass reed. Ditto later sold five other types of calls, many of which he helped put together, until a shooting accident resulted in the loss of one hand.
The rarest of the Ditto calls is a unique all-metal combination duck and goose call. He is also credited with making hard rubber calls.
David Fuller – Chicago, Illinois
There are mystery men among call makers, and David Fuller, a native New Yorker, may qualify for that group. A salesman by trade, Fuller secured his place in waterfowling history when, in 1885, he was granted the first patent on a goose call. He said the call could also be used to lure cranes to within shooting range. These hunting tools were marketed for more than 40 years.
Fuller's goose calls were made of brass and were nickel plated. The mouthpiece was made of boxwood. One of his most interesting products was a combination duck and goose call, which was patented in 1903. The critical component was a screw, which retracted from inside of the barrel and changed the way sounds were produced.
What call historians have never figured out about Fuller is his relationship with Watts DeGoyler, another Chicagoan, with whom he shared his patents. A silent partner, perhaps. Many of Fuller's calls were sold through mail-order catalogs, including, for a brief time, Montgomery Ward.
George Herter – Waseca, Minnesota
Some may regard him as the P.T. Barnum of the game call industry, but George Herter was a heavy hitter. While he did not personally build each and every call offered in his voluminous sporting goods catalogs, his company emerged as a call-manufacturing leader, due to its commitment to innovation.
Herter recognized early on that new call designs—usually accompanied by glowing advertising text—helped ensure a hefty bottom line. He was a sportsman as well as a businessman, and his interests melded into a booming success.
Among Herter's extensive duck call line was his version of the Glodo call, which he later renamed the Vit Glodo. OK, so he used a bit of poetic license. None of the Glodo family members actually made these Herter's calls, but Herter utilized a similar design and then, in his words, "improved it."
Herter, or Herter's call makers, were constantly tinkering, or making subtle changes to their game calls. Perhaps the most controversial, because some felt it infringed on Tom Turpin's Glodo-style design, was the development of a one-piece reed and wedge block device.
Charles Perdew – Henry, Illinois
Renowned decoy carver Charles Perdew was also an accomplished call maker. Ask a collector which Illinois call maker's work they cherish the most and the majority would not be able to holler "Perdew" quickly enough. That says plenty about Perdew's contributions to the craft.
Perdew's calls have been traced to the 1890s, his earliest models made of cedar and featuring two or three metal bands. Throughout his career, Perdew retained four elements in his call making: All had bands, classic Illinois River mouthpieces, Glodo-style stoppers, and German nickel/silver reeds.
A pioneer, Perdew produced many call variations. He produced four-panel, checkered walnut calls, carved customers' names or initials on their calls, spruced up the barrels by carving ducks on them, and utilized colored plastic mouthpieces on some designs. He also went so far as to carve a "crown" stopper on some models. Perdew was indeed an artist, a truly incredible talent. After Perdew's death in 1963, his son, Haddon, carried on the family call-making tradition for years.
Tracking duck call development
No one will ever be able to determine who made the first duck call. But, researchers and duck call historians have pinned down a number of milestone dates. Some of these include:
- 1870—Elam Fisher is issued first duck call patent, on a tongue-pincher-style call
- 1880—Fred Allen duck call advertisement reaches print
- 1885—David Fuller awarded goose call patent
- 1889—Charles Grubbs duck call first advertised in magazine
- 1905—Phillip S. Olt receives patent for adjustable-tone duck call
Call collecting spurs book production
For years, those interested in waterfowling collectibles were without a source of information relative to duck and goose calls. There simply were not any printed guidelines available.
These days, however, with the number of game-call collectors growing every year, industrious sorts interested in preserving this portion of waterfowling history have been banging away at the typewriter and computer. Fresh books keep popping up.
The newest volume is by author Doug Lodermeier, who recently introduced Duck Call Makers of Minnesota. This is state-specific, which appears to be the researchers' current focus. More information is available from Lodermeier by phoning him at 612-922-9674 or visiting his website at www.dougandpaul.com. Similar works by other authors about call makers from at least two additional states are currently on the drawing board.
The short list of required reading for those interested in historic duck and goose calls includes:
- Duck Calls—an Enduring American Folk Art, by Howard Harlan
- Duck Calls of Illinois, by Bob Christensen
- Duck Calls and Other Game Calls, by Brian McGrath (OP)—out of print
- Reelfoot Lake, by Russell H. Caldwell (OP)
- Call Makers Past and Present, by Mickle (OP)
Ingenious Illini How big a part did Illinois call makers play in the call-making industry? One historian reports that of known advertisements for duck and goose calls prior to 1900, all but a scant few originated in the Prairie State.
Birds of a feather Interested in game call history? Check out the Call Makers and Collectors Association of America by writing membership director William Bailey, 137 Kingswood Drive, Clarksville, TN 37043.
Ouch! The earliest known duck calls were of the tongue-pincher style. And, yes they did pinch one's tongue while calling. In case you were wondering, the sounds created by these calls sounded more like diving ducks than mallards.