Duck Call History
by Jamie Hamilton,
Reelfoot Lake is famous
for many things. With its abundant wildlife (deer, turkey, fish,
geese and ducks), it is only fitting
that Reelfoot Lake is the birth place of the modern day duck
call. The Native Americans were the first to invent the duck
Moreover, Native Americans were the first to invent decoys for
all types of animals and not just ducks. The area in West
Tennessee was settled by Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws. These
tribes used canes and reeds to imitate the sounds of the
wild ducks that flew over head, but it was not until the arrival
of the white man that the duck call was perfected.
The person most noted
for perfecting the old cane and reed call was Victor Glodo. In
the late 1800's and early 1900's, Victor
along with his brothers, John and Albert Glodo, were farmers
in the Fountain Bluff, Jackson county area of Southern Illinois.
They farmed but supplemented their income on the side by hunting.
During this time period the man made lakes and refuges
were not present. Reelfoot Lake was the biggest body of water
besides the Mississippi River. This whole area of West
Tennessee during the winters would be swamp and back water from
the water of the Mississippi River. The Obion and
Forked Deer Rivers were also in this area. With this over abundance
of shallow water, it is easy to conceive why waterfowl
would be in abundance in this area. Victor and his brothers traveled
to Reelfoot Lake on many occasions to hunt, probably not
just ducks, but other species of animals (Davy Crockett and his
son killed 103 black bears in this area one winter in the 1820's).
Reelfoot Lake is
where Victor got the idea to make a better duck call.
"To sound more like a duck, it will improve our hunting
With no drills or lathes
around as today, Victor made his first duck call by hand. Victor
took a poker that was red hot and
burnt a hole through the wood that he had carved down with his
knife. The piece of wood was four to six inches in length
and two inches in diameter. This was the same design as the cane
sections but only larger. Making it larger was his idea to
create more volume. The early cane and reed calls were only productive
if the ducks were close. Glodo's duck call consisted
of a barrel and a butt piece with a wedge to hold the tongue
in place. The tongue was not a blade of grass or leaf as the
call but a 10 (ten) gauge shotgun shell. The shotgun shells during
this period were made of solid brass. Victor cut and
hammered the metal to get the flexibility that was needed for
making notes on his new instrument.
The sound of Glodo's
duck call was so good that other hunters wanted Glodo to make
them a duck call. Victor made
all of his duck calls from native woods and a few of his duck
calls still exist today. They demand a very high price.
Every duck call that is made today actually started from the
In the 1920's Tom Turpin,
the famous bird call maker, lived in Memphis Tennessee.
Tom made the famous "Tom Turpin Yelper" turkey call.
Turpin also hunted ducks at Reelfoot Lake and decided
to perfect the duck call that Glodo had designed. Using the same
design, but turning the wood on a lathe, Turpin was
able to make a better and more realistic sounding duck call that
was quicker to make. Turpin was able to get better
material for the tongue using a bronze alloy that he cut with
Turpin hunted with
local hunters at Reelfoot Lake which included the famous Elbert
Spicer and his young partner
Jamie Hamilton, and Hamilton's father Bob Hamilton who was one
of the first game wardens on Reelfoot Lake.
Bob Hamilton was appointed Deputy Game Warden to enforce all
game and fish laws on Nov. 1, 1925. The brothers
Paul and Frank Hogg hunted with Turpin on many occasions. These
individuals also tuned duck calls for Mr. Turpin.
Sharpie Shaw, a local hunter, also copied the Glodo-Turpin design
and made a duck call for the market, but according
to Spicer, "Turpin's duck call was still the best."
Up until this time
a great deal of individuals used live ducks and English callers
to do the calling for duck hunting.
When this duck call was placed in the hands of Spicer, he sounded
more like a duck than the ducks did. Spicer was
so proficient at the art of the duck language that he would not
let the live decoys call to the wild ducks because he
could do it better. Spicer was called upon to make several recordings
of his duck calling. Many photographs were
taken of his throat movement so others could learn how he accomplished
his mastery of the duck call instrument.
The first thing Spicer always did before blowing the duck call
was to clear his throat. Spicer taught his sons,
Theodore, Joe D., and J.T., and Hamilton to make these enchanting
sounds of the elusive wild mallard.
Ducks were plentiful
in the early days and volume was not needed from the duck call.
As more and more
people began to hunt, more pressure was put on the ducks. Baiting
and market hunting was outlawed.
The use of live ducks for decoys was banned. The art of the true
duck caller was being developed.
Elbert Spicer and Jamie Hamilton, Sr. were considered two of
It seemed the person
that could blow louder and harder could attract more ducks. The
Reelfoot Lake hunters wanted
more volume from the duck call. Turpin redesigned his call in
the later years with an offset or counter bore inside the
barrel. This offset was to create more volume but it did the
opposite. Paul Hogg, one of the best tuners of Turpin's
duck call, advised Mr. Turpin that this was a mistake. The duck
call now was impossible to tune correctly. Turpin also
started to use different woods to change the pitch and tone.
A short barrel and a long barrel were made for the same butt
piece so an individual could switch from an open water call to
a timber call which was not as loud as the open water call.
Turpin left the duck call business in the late 1950's.
Now enters Johnny Marsh
in the 1940's, who lived in Nashville, but hunted at Reelfoot
Lake with Nathan Parkerson,
Bill Nation, Frank, Paul and Edwin (Ed) Hogg. Marsh's duck call
was the same design as Glodo, but Marsh made the
major improvements and designs that live in the true Reelfoot
duck call of today. Turpin cut tongues (reeds) with
scissors while Marsh had a die made to stamp out each tongue
so they would all sound the same. Marsh made a .007
thickness tongue using phosphor-bronze alloy. Marsh started making
duck calls from imported exotic woods. Here was
where Marsh found the wood needed to make the Reelfoot Duck Call
the ultimate duck call. Marsh used Cocobolo
wood from Central America in making this call. It had the density
of Persimmon (Ebony) of North America, but was a
great deal more beautiful. None of these woods will float when
placed in water. Marsh realized that if the duck calls were
made the same, the density of the wood would make the duck call
louder or softer. When Marsh presented Mr. Nation with
a Cocobolo wood duck call to try in the 1960's, Nation made a
comment to Marsh, "it will paralyze the ducks in the air."
Johnny Marsh passed
away in the 1980's, but before the legend died, Marsh taught
his skill of duck call making to
Tommy Alexander. Alexander was a young hunter that lived in Samburg
and had a knack for working with wood.
Alexander was born in 1946 and lived at Reelfoot Lake all his
life. He started making duck calls in 1970. As a
young man Alexander knew all the hunters that were the best callers
on Reelfoot Lake: Spicer, Hamilton, the Hoggs,
and Nation. Alexander, with his many years of experience in duck
call making, designed calls in the same tradition as
Glodo, Turpin, and Marsh. Alexander made each duck call individually
by hand. This was the same style the great
masters used in making all their duck calls in the past. Alexander
could sense, by the touch and feel of the wood before
hand, if it would produce a great call. Each of the great Reelfoot
Duck Callers: Spicer, Hamilton, the Hoggs, and Nation,
have blown Alexander's duck call and commented, "they are
in the same class as Johnny Marsh if not better."
Alexander was so proficient at making this duck call that Marsh
mistook one of Alexander's duck calls for being one
of his duck calls. Alexander had a big laugh and stated "this
is my duck call not yours."
Tommy Alexander produced
the best Reelfoot Metal Reed Duck Call of the day. By staying
with the true
designs of the legendary duck call makers, Alexander produced
duck calls from about every known wood.
Alexander even produced duck calls from Guayacan, the hardest
wood known to man. This wood is so hard
it is used for wood ball bearings, pulleys, and is virtually
impossible to split. Today, Tommy's duck calls are
world famous for making the true sounds of the wild mallard and
the world famous Reelfoot Lake High Ball.
Alexander's metal reed duck calls were tuned by Alexander and
Jamie Hamilton, Jr., the best modern day
duck caller on Reelfoot Lake. They both were taught by Spicer
and Hamilton's father in the art of duck
call tuning to make the duck call reach out and touch them the
old fashion way.
Hamilton also does
art work on Alexander's duck calls that truly make them a waterfowler's
These duck calls are limited to 12 a year. So for the true waterfowler
that wants the best, Alexander's duck
calls are a legend in their own time. See them demonstrated daily
in the best duck blind on Reelfoot Lake,
the "Taj Mahal."
On Dec. 10, 1891, J.B.
Martin of Paris, Tennessee stated, "There's fine duck-shooting
at Reelfoot Lake now.
A party of six I was with killed over 800 in two days and didn't
hunt all the time either. There are also plenty of
geese and a few swans, but the latter are not abundant by any