Wisconsin’s custom turkey call makers: best of the best
The name of the first hunter to fashion a call that mimicked the
sounds of a hen turkey well enough to lure an old gobbler to his
doom has been lost in antiquity.The first call was likely nothing
more than a hollowed-out reed or sumac twig. Today, there are more
call designs and more call makers than you can shake a wingbone at.
Since nearly anything that squeaks can be fashioned into a turkey
call, the design of a call is limited only by its maker’s
For ten or fifteen bucks in any sporting goods store or Mega
Mart, you can buy a call that will yelp, cutt, cluck, purr and
cackle. Some hunters, though, want something more than an assembly
line box or slate call. Custom calls, made by hand, one at a time,
of natural materials ranging from wood to terrapin shell are
available for less than $50, but many fetch prices more commonly
associated with shotguns.
These higher-priced calls fall into one of two categories:
antique “working” calls crafted by now-deceased call makers; or
contemporary “decorative” calls, often one of a kind, designed by a
handful of talented artists. It might come as a surprise, given the
Badger State’s brief history of turkey hunting, but some of the
best custom turkey call makers come from Wisconsin.
According to National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) regional
director Charley Burke, Wisconsin call makers win more ribbons in
national competition than do call makers from any other state.
“No other state comes close,” Burke said.
At the 10th annual Grand National Call Making Competition held
at the NWTF convention in Nashville in February, Wisconsin call
makers won 25 ribbons in the decorative call division, including
one best of show and seven firsts. Four call makers claimed 23 of
those: Dave Constantine won seven, and Gene Upward, Dennis Poeschel
and Jeff Zimmerman each won five. Dave Tyree of Chippewa Falls won
six ribbons in the working call division this year.