A duck calling journey

Christopher Harp with some of his Gunny’s Custom Calls.

Lifelong love of hunting and a dream lead to hunter’s true “calling”

In the flooded timber off the Mississippi River just north of Baton Rouge lies the ominously named Devil’s Swamp. That’s where many youngsters learned to duck hunt in the late 1970’s, including me.

Cold mornings waiting for the sun to rise while Dad set up decoys in the dark formed fond memories. My toes and hands felt frozen in the knee-deep water, holding tight to an old Sure Shot Yantzen duck call on my lanyard. Excitement and anticipation of calling ducks seemed to make the cold bearable. On those early hunts, Dad encouraged me to try a hail call or a feed call at a young age. Much to the chagrin of my mother, a tremendous amount of time was spent blowing that call around the house trying to emulate my Dad’s technique.

The memories of childhood duck calling remains strong to this day. Although those cold mornings are long past, a look back reveals a fond recollection of learning the basics of duck calling. The modern day result is a strong connection to duck hunting and duck calls as the musical instruments of all seasoned duck hunters.

These Gunny’s calls look good, but the important part is making them sound good to a duck, as Harp found out.

About seven years ago, those experiences led to a somewhat random thought about how a duck call worked and what it might take to make a duck call. That began a new adventure, starting with taking apart a duck call and examining the parts. With a basic knowledge of woodworking and the use of a lathe, the following day led to the next step.

Learning the basics

Learning the mechanics of building a call was essential, knowledge that was supplied by the experts on Google and YouTube. “How To” videos are available on literally anything you can imagine and there are many social media groups formed around making duck calls. Countless hours watching videos and practicing on an inexpensive lathe led to throwing away a lot of failed attempts, but at each turn came improved skills and better duck call barrels. Next came the purchase of some inserts and production of calls that were custom barrels and prefabricated inserts.

Soon, family and friends began to ask if they could buy the calls. In retrospect, what seemed like the production of a quality duck call was, indeed, the floundering of a beginner call maker. Creating a social media page under the name Gunny’s Custom Calls led to some positive feedback. However, it was quickly pointed out by veterans in the call-making world that turning custom barrels with commercial pre-made inserts was referred to as “barrel stuffers” and therefore, not a custom call. I immediately began making my own inserts by purchasing the required equipment. Over the next six months, I produced insert after insert and sanded tone board after tone board, yet they made no sound at all. Yep. A duck call with no sound was not much good.

Valuable help

A good call and a good duck hole is what it is all about, as Chris Harp shows here.

The how-to videos made it seem so easy, but it wasn’t. After reaching out through social media duck call making groups, nothing helped. I almost gave up completely when Bill Daniels of Riceland Custom Calls, a champion duck and goose caller, invited me to come to his shop, bring my gear, and he’d check what was wrong. The trip to Bill’s shop was like walking into the shop of the Drew Brees of duck call makers for a personal lesson in sound creation. After receiving one-on-one instruction from one of the best call makers in the world, the process began to make sense. I left Bill’s shop with an incredible sense of appreciation and a basic understanding of the tone board construction, tuning, and reeds. That singular act of kindness from a true legend in the world of call makers saved my duck call making from being only a failed dream to an actual duck call making business.

Forming duck calls and polishing them to a beautiful finish take a mix of art and science.

 

The result is Gunny’s Custom Calls, LLC, a Veteran Owned Business (Semper Fi) that makes custom calls for duck hunters, collectors and competitions. I continue to learn and improve every day. Gunny’s Custom Calls are handmade and have a custom-made tone board with a unique sound perfect for open water long range calling. Gunny’s Custom Calls are different because of the handmade attention and in most cases, created as a one-of-a-kind call.

Today, our work is both an art and a science. We have no goals to become a major manufacturer. But what started as a curiosity has become a real passion. If you have a curiosity, follow that instinct. Seek out the resources to begin your journey.

Your dream may lead you to find your true “calling.”

About Christopher Harp 8 Articles
Chris Harp served in the United States Marine Corps as a Criminal Investigator, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office as a Criminal Investigator, and is a retired federal Special Agent. Chris was raised in Zachary and is an avid outdoorsman that spends time hunting and fishing.