New York callmaker gobbles up awards at NWTF competition

Lockport, N.Y. — Scott Witter didn’t even hunt turkeys until the spring of 2009.

How, then, has the Lockport (Niagara County) man soared from a neophyte turkey hunter nearly 10 years ago to one of the top turkey callmakers in the country?

There are several reasons, actually. A lengthy history as a talented woodworker, a good ear for sound, a full-bore mentality as he entered the callmaking world, and some guidance along the way from other top-notch callmakers all contributed to what’s generally considered a meteroic rise to the top.

Witter added to his callmaking resume at last month’s National Wild Turkey Federation Convention & Sport Show in Nashville, Tenn., walking off with numerous awards in the grand national competition’s “hunting turkey calls” category.

Included in that haul was the prestigious Don Chancey Award, presented, as the plaque reads, to “callmakers who has mastered the craft of making and tuning box calls.”

It was the second consecutive year Witter has received the Chancey award. In 2017 he won the short box category and the Chancey award. This year, he took first and second in the long box category, first and second in the “matched set” judging (a pairing of long box and short box calls), and second and third in the short box category.

He fell just short of receiving Callmaker of the Year honors.

“Knowing how I did last year, I knew my long box entries were significantly better this year,” said the 60-year-old former golf course architect. “That was my focus this year, and my matched sets would reflect that. I did have a weakness; I was worried about my short boxes, and that held me back from being Callmaker of the Year.”

It was an impressive showing again, and as a result Witter has returned from Nashville to his basement shop in his home to fill about two dozen box call orders from turkey hunters across the country.

“I got 16 orders in two days at Nashville, and eight more in the last two or three days,” he said last month. “I’m going to be as busy as I want to be, but not crazy busy. I like to work two or three hours every night and at least one full day or a day and a half on the weekend.”

Serious turkey hunters and call collectors don’t bat an eyelash at the $160 price tag for a long box and $135 for a short box. It’s pretty much the going rate for a top-of-the-line custom box call.

Witter has been making them only since 2010; a year after a turkey encounter while bowhunting in the fall, he plunged into spring gobbler hunting.

“That (encounter) just sparked my interest, and I learned all I could that winter and then hunted in the spring and took what still is my biggest bird,” he recalled. “It was a special moment.”

From there, Witter parlayed his woodworking skills and his ear for sound – he plays a mean blues harmonica and can’t read a note.

“I’ve been a woodworker since I was probably 14,” he said. “I just always had a connection with my hands and woods, and I spent some time being kind of classically trained in a master shop in Saratoga Springs, evenings and weekends while I worked as a landscape architect.

“Having a good ear has been important in achieving the sound in my calls. I play blues harmonica, and have for about 30 years, but I can’t read a note of music so I play exclusively by ear.”

When he decided to take the leap into callmaking, the box call was the obvious route, he said.

“Being a woodworker, it was just a natural progression,” Witter said. “And I like to challenge myself outside the limits of my abilities, and I knew it was hard to build a box call and make it sound good.”

His initial efforts, admittedly, were “rough. I still have my first box call. It has a decent sound and I did kill two birds using it.”

But he got better, thanks in part to a close-knit fraternity of fellow callmakers more than willing to share their information.

“Jeff McKamey (of Twisting Creek Calls in Tennessee) provided lots of guidance early on,” Witter said. “He was the first person I actually contacted through the Internet and then many phone calls. He really gave me a lot of guidance; not telling me what to do, but just talking and asking me what I was thinking about and then, saying ‘that sounds good’ and going from there.

“I’ve met lots of wonderful people. It’s kind of like a guild. We trade stories, sell each other wood, share hardware and tuning styles.”

Initially, Witter entered the decorative callmaking competitions with smooth-sided box calls with his own woodburning artwork on the sides. But as his interest and knowledge in callmaking grew, he focused more on sound quality. “I decided at that point I needed to go to the Cost-style (developed by legendary callmaker Neil Cost) of checkering the sides of the box,” he said.

A project manager for a utility company, Witter says he’ll continue to enter the grand national callmaking competition, hoping to earn the Chancey award for third straight year in 2019. “Michael Lapp (of Pennsylvania) I believe is the only three-time winner of the award, and I’d like to see if I can match that,” he said.

Ahead of the Nashville competition, Witter also won two divisions in the Buckeye Challenge callmaking event in Ohio. That may have led to a bit of confidence heading into the grand national judging.

“Sometimes, no matter how many we build, the wood is the wood and it tells us, at least for me, what it has to offer,” he said. “Sure, we do influence the outcome a lot, but to a certain degree it only has so much tone potential. Critical, though is the musical arrangement between the lid and the body. If you are fortunate to have the perfect selection of wood, the marriage can be remarkable. Take that same body with a different batch of bloodwood and the call is decent at best. Put that bloodwood lid on another body and it’s a good hunting call, but it would never see the light at a competition.”