Custom Calls Online would like to thank Dean Dashner for sharing his collection and allowing the following photographs to be displayed in this history section.

Whether 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

Basic History of Callmaking

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 country’s 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.

Elam 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 1800’s and early 1900’s. 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 1880’s 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 Ward Catalog.

From the early beginnings of the tongue pincher call evolved a rich history. These calls are dated back to the 1850’s 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 ( 1880).

These 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.

Chronology of Callmaking

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.

1854 Currier Print "The Duck Shoot" shows hunter with tongue pincher call.
1863 Fred Allen credited with producing the first duck call.
1870 Charles Grubbs claims to be first to sell calls on the commercial value.
1880 Fred Allen's First advertisement for call is in print.
1885 Davis Fuller patents the first goose flute.
1889 Charles Grubbs has first catalog listing for his calls.
1903 August Kuhlemeirer patents the first curved single tone board call, The Mascot.
1905 First Olt calls produced.
1909 Charles Perdew patents the first crow call.
1918 Market hunting is outlawed.
1935 Live Bird bands from baiting while hunting.
1936 First Championship calling contest held and won by Tom Welsh. Tom used only his mouth and is the only winner ever to do that..
1948 Bill Meucci's adjustable Muntone call was patented..
1954 Olt A-50 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 today’s makers and is an excellent information source for the contemporary modern day calls. These books are available through the Hunting Rig Website.

Other Interesting Calls

(Right) Charles Perdew
One 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
The 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
Charles 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.

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