Custom Calls Online would like to thank
for sharing his collection and allowing the following photographs
to be displayed in this history section.
you are a waterfowl hunter or just interested in waterfowl you are
more then likely aware of duck and goose calls. These tools provide
the active link between the hunter and the prey. In the hand of
an experienced sportsperson these simple tools become magical musical
instruments. They allow us to communicate with the birds, drawing
their attention to your decoys and help in bringing them in close
enough to get off a shot. The call makes the hunter a proactive
part in the hunt experience. Many find it great sport in just calling
the birds, watching them work, bringing around closer and closer
and them enjoying watching them land in and around the decoys. Often
never taking aim or shouldering the gun. The joy of the experience
to some far outweighs the ability to shoot. This is where it is
for me, the success of the hunt it not as important as just being
in the field to enjoy the nature of it all. What makes this even
more satisfying is knowing that I made my calls myself. Callmaking
extends the season to a year round activity for me. Waterfowling
game calls have a colorful, although short history. In the articles
that follow I hope to share with you some basic historical facts
as well as discuss making a custom call and the steps that go along
with that process. Dennis Poeschel
Although the history of waterfowl hunting
is centered along the eastern shores of the US. the beginnings of
Callmaking is credited to along the Mississippi Flyway in the Illinois
area. Eastern Shore hunting centered on the big diving ducks, Canvasbacks,
Red Heads, Scaup and others. These birds all decoyed well but do
not respond well to a call. As a result the emphasis in these areas
was on the decoy and not the call. Many of the countrys most
noted and historic decoy makers came from areas in and around the
eastern shores from New York down through Virginia.
The Mississippi flyway on the other hand was
heavily populated with Mallards and other Dabbling ducks. These
birds would not only respond to the decoys but also responded well
to the call. Because of this fact the call as we know it today was
developed in and around this flyway. Although the exact date of
the first call is unknown it is believed to have been around the
time of 1850.
Early duck hunters used live tame birds to
lure the wild birds into gun shot range. They would take the birds
to the field and as the wild ducks flew overhead the tame birds
would call to them attacking their attention As the wild birds came
into them the hunters would take aim and shoot. Needless to say,
caring and keeping of tame birds was hard work and took time. Because
not everyone was able to do that many early hunters became experienced
in mouth calling. From working with and being around the tame birds
early hunters learned their sounds and imitated them with their
mouth. This lead to the development of mechanical devices to improve
on that. Mouth calling was limited the volume a person could produce
as well as the ability to make the sounds for many people. In 1935
the use of live birds was outlawed and this even created more of
a need and interest in game calls.
Fisher, of the Detroit area, is credited for the patent of the first
duck call in the year 1870. Unlike any call you see today this classic
was referred to as a "Tongue Pincher". These calls were
made from two pieces of curved wood facing each other, a reed made
of metal sandwiched between them and a holding device to keep all
the parts together. The call was placed into the mouth and blown
into. This is where the name came from. The metal reed would often
pinch or cut the tongue and mouth because it was unprotected. These
early calls are not known for their sound/tone quality. Ton e range
was very limited. The sounds were best suited for those produced
by diving ducks and could not produce the sounds associated with
Mallards. In addition call volume was also limited.
With the needs of the Midwest hunter the Illinois
callmakers dominated the manufacture of calls in the later 1800s
and early 1900s. Fred Allen, of Monmouth IL., is given credit
for making the first modern call in 1863. Charles Grubbs, of Senachwine
Lake area, is the first person credited for commercial advertising
of his calls in 1868. The first actual evidence of call advertising
comes in an 1880s issue of "Forest and Stream" magazine
by Fred Allen. The call was reported to have sold for one dollar.
Grubbs calls were advertised in the 1889 and the 1890 Montgomery
From the early beginnings of the tongue pincher
call evolved a rich history. These calls are dated back to the 1850s
and not much is known about the early makers. In 1854 a Currier
and Ives print titled, "Wild Duck Shoot" shows a hunter
with a tongue pincher style call on his jacket. The first barreled
calls, known as the "Early Illinois Style" were the next
generation of calls. Famous makers like F.A. Allen, C.W, Grubbs
and G. Peterson are makers from this era. The design of these calls
centered around a straight tone board, a half round cork wedge block
metal reed. The turned barrel was used to retain the parts. Fred
Allen is credited as being the first to use this style. During this
time period a similar style surfaced known as the Real Foot Call.
these calls in design were much like the Early Illinois calls, the
wedge block was made of wood and the barrels were often decorated.
One of the most noteworthy makers of with design was Victor Glodo
two styles of calls continued for a long time. Many famous makers
followed along these lines. Names like J. T. Beckhart, G. D. Kinny,
J. Cochran and T. Turpin are just some of those callmakers. Between
the years 1900 and 1910 the design of calls started to see a shift
which took Callmaking into the next era. The straight tone board
was replaced with a curved boards. In addition the wedge was being
replaced with a groove and cork locking system. We also started
to see materials being used other then wood. Philip Olt started
to make his hard rubber calls during this time.
Local variations also developed based on the
needs and preferences of that area. We also started to see the introduction
of mass produced or production calls on the market. Although many
of the early call designs are still make today the two major design
styles centered on the Arkansas style as it evolved from the Illinois
style and the Reel Foot design style with the wedge block. The Reel
foot calls seem to be produced more from the southern states while
the Arkansas calls more from the northern states. Starting with
about 1950 custom callmakers fit into the category known as the
contemporary class. These makers are known for stretching the envelope
in terms of design, materials, decorations and fancy finishes. These
fancy calls often command high prices and are produced by a number
of makers across the country often as cottage type industries. It
must be noted however, that not all custom calls are of high tone
quality. Many calls are produced for looks rather then spending
the time developing tone quality.
The following dates are some interesting time
references as they are related to the development of waterfowl game
calls. There inclusion is meant to show the relative short history
of calls as we know them.
Print "The Duck Shoot" shows hunter with tongue pincher
Allen credited with producing the first duck call.
claims to be first to sell calls on the commercial value.
Allen's First advertisement for call is in print.
Fuller patents the first goose flute.
Grubbs has first catalog listing for his calls.
patents the first curved single tone board call, The Mascot.
Olt calls produced.
Perdew patents the first crow call.
hunting is outlawed.
Bird bands from baiting while hunting.
calling contest held and won by Tom Welsh. Tom used only his
mouth and is the only winner ever to do that..
Meucci's adjustable Muntone call was patented..
Flute Goose call introduced.
This early history is well documented in "Duck
Calls An Enduring American Folk Art" by Howard Harlen and W.
Crew Anderson and "Duck Calls Of Illinois 1863 - 1963"
by Robert D. Christensen. Both books are outstanding and contain
excellent detailed information. Most of what I know about the older
calls comes from these pages. If you are interested in the more
modern contemporary calls I could suggest purchasing "Custom
Calls" by James C. Fleming Jr. This book deals with todays
makers and is an excellent information source for the contemporary
modern day calls. These books are available through the Hunting
Other Interesting Calls
(Right) Charles Perdew
of the best known American folk artists and producer of some of
the most collectable calls today. These calls are treasures. Represented
in the banded production call. A carved panel and checked call.
The third call is a carved and painted jewel in excellent condition.
(Left) A.M. Bowles and Claude Stone
Stone call is the larger of the two. Claude Stone purchased the
J.T. Beckhart call business in the 1920's. The Beckhart style of
the raised panel call is seen in both the Stone and the Bowles call.
Bowles produced a line of calls "The Big Lake" duck call.
Bechart calls were advertised from the late 1930's into the 1950's.
In 1950 a hand carved Bowles call sold for $15.00.
(Right) Charles Ditto
Ditto was a respected marksman and early call maker. Ditto was good
friends and hunting partners with Fred Allen and made calls in the
early 1900's. Pictured to the right is an all metal call, a call
with flared insert and the famous Eureka duck call a popular production
call in its day.