Up a Creek Without a Turkey Caller

Published on: Jan. 12, 2012

turkey caller displayLast year I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dave Ferguson, equipment shop supervisor for MDC, during a ride to Salem. He had a turkey call lying in the seat beside him, but it was unlike any of the box calls I had seen before. It was made from on old cedar fence-post, long, slender and a work of art. Dave, it turns out, is continuing the tradition of making the Eminence-style, fence-post turkey callers. The more he talked, the more interested I became. We decided on that short ride to Salem that Twin Pines really needed an Eminence-style, fence-post turkey caller exhibit.

searcy callerBoat and Paddle in One

What originally caught my eye and what makes fence-post callers so distinct is the length. Dave’s caller is 12 inches long, but he says that some of the longer ones are more than 17 inches. According to Dave Ferguson, old timers said you could use a fence-post caller “to set the studs in your house when you weren’t turkey hunting.” They also said that if you were out hunting in the spring and couldn’t get across the creek, you could use your caller as a boat and use the top as a paddle. This explains why they also became known as boat-paddle callers.

turkey caller exhibitCaller or Kindlin’?

The first callers were made strictly of old, cured, tight-grained cedar fence posts for their loud, clear sound. The Eminence-style fence-post callers consist of two pieces. The box is carved out of the fence post and carefully shaved to create the perfect call. The top, or lid, of the caller is often from the same wood and may have decorative handles carved out. In skilled hands, sliding the top across the box can create an incredibly loud, life-like call. According to local lore, legendary callmaker Walt Winterbottom tossed many a caller in the kindling box because it just didn’t sound right. Early artisans such as Winterbottom embellished some of the callers they made for family and friends, and these are hard to come by now. Others they made to sell and put food on the table during the Ozarks Hills’ tough times in the 1900s.

Sounds like Success

The success of the turkey restoration efforts in the early 1950s, the first turkey calling contest in Shannon County in 1968 and, finally, the publication of Earl Mickel’s book "Turkey Callmakers Past and Present" in1994 resulted in a recent surge in the popularity of the Eminence-style fence-post callers. Today, collectors worldwide will pay a premium for callers made by Clarence Huffman, Walt Winterbottom, Dan Searcy and others. And at deer camp, the younger generation began whittling out callers from fence posts they found. The basics hadn’t changed, but, more and more, the callers were works of art. Dave Ferguson is not only a callmaker but a call collector as well. He wanted people to be able to see and appreciate the craftsmanship and heritage of his home town. Dave, along with Annette Nichols, Fay Holland and Norma Huffman, have loaned their treasures to Twin Pines for a permanent exhibit. The exhibit that began as a conversation on the way to Salem opened at Twin Pines in October 2011 and includes the work of all the area craftsmen who are included in Mickel’s books. We had a hard time keeping it covered until the unveiling. People just couldn’t wait to see it.

Are They Callin’ You?

As sportsmen become more skilled, they tend to challenge themselves to keep things interesting. Calling in a turkey with a call you made yourself adds a special excitement to the experience. Interested? Twin Pines offers call-making workshops each February. Give Twin Pines a call and before you know it, you’ll be out in the woods giving the turkeys a call.

Key Messages: 

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.

Comments

On January 21st, 2012 at 11:33am cardem said:

Jenni, thank you so much for sharing your story. We always welcome feedback on our exhibits, this one more than most.  We wanted to make sure we got the stories right.  We have had folks, friend and family alike, from all over come to visit specifically to see this exhibit.  I haven't seen one of your grandfather's with decoration.  What a treat!  Thanks again for the comment and hope you are able to visit on Heritage Day held each year on the Saturday before Spring turkey season.  We will have Dave Ferguson demonstrating the technique for the fence-post callers for the first time.  I am sure you would enjoy visiting with Dave and sharing your story with others.  

On January 21st, 2012 at 1:21am Maggie Lesure said:

Hi just wanted to say that I like your article very much. Please keep up the good posts. Thanks a ton!

On January 12th, 2012 at 8:52pm Jenni Chilton said:

Thank you for giving this recognition to our local call makers, and the opportunity for area residents and visitors to see this unique collection at Twin Pines. Walt Winterbottom was my grandfather. I used to sit for hours beside him on his front porch and watch him whittle turkey callers from cedar, weaving wisdom into his stories. I vividly remember Grandad Walt tossing many an "imperfect caller" into the waste barrel in his shop, so this "lore" is fact. He would often give his prized callers away to important folks in his life, usually asking my mother, Edibeth Chilton to decorate/personalize them with drawings of wildlife and scenery.
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