The Game Call Carver
he could make them. He wondered if he could make a living at it. But with two small children and his wife, Ann, staying home with the kids, he couldn't risk giving up a regular paycheck and medical insurance.
Ten years later, however, he made the move. With their two children in school and his wife teaching third grade, Freeman quit the trucking business and went to wood carving full time. He holds no regrets.
"Being a full-time wildlife artist has its rewards," he says with a smile. "But it certainly is not all good times and glamour, as some folks might think. Making a living as a wildlife artist takes dedication, discipline and hard work. You are your own boss, and you're not punching a clock. But the job still requires long hours. I put in more 60-hour work weeks than I care to think about. And there are deadlines to meet, particularly prior to competitions."
In 1992 and 1993 the Callmakers and Collectors Association of America named Freeman the National Call-Making Champion. In 1996, at the National Wild Turkey Federation Convention in Atlanta, his intricately carved box calls won first place, with one awarded "best of show."
To make a waterfowl or turkey call, Freeman starts by drawing a pattern of the artwork he eventually will carve. The pattern may be a simple drawing of a bird or an oak leaf or a complex design involving a combination of subjects. The initial design determines the shape of the call, but consideration is always given to size, so the call will fit neatly into a hunter's hand. "I've seen calls that were nicely carved but were so large they could not possibly be used," states Freeman. "My calls are intricately carved, but they're made to be functional."
When making duck or goose calls, Freeman selects blocks of fine hardwood from which both the stoppers and barrels will be made. The stoppers and barrels are bored and shaped with a lathe. He carves designs and patterns with a variety of hand tools. "Carving designs and patterns could be done with a pocketknife," notes Freeman. "But specialized hand tools help when carving in corners and smoothing areas where the grain and pattern conflict."
With carving completed, Freeman immerses his calls in hot paraffin to seal the wood. Polishing with a lamb's wool buffing wheel gives them their final finish. Inserting the molded reedbed and wedgerblock holding the reeds is all that remains before a call is tuned and considered complete.
Unlike duck or goose calls, Freeman's box turkey calls are cut using saw blades and router or mortising bits. Cedar is the preferred wood. Once sawn, the blanks are sanded and planed to final size.
Freeman's box calls have a clever feature: he inlays a 3/8-inch piece of slate in the paddle to eliminate the need for chalking. "A conventional paddle will invariably need chalk when you need one more sweet yelp," Freeman explains. "Slate takes the guesswork and worry out."
After assembling a box and shaping the slate-inlaid paddle, Freeman begins carving the designs and patterns. On his calls appear gobbling turkeys, strutting turkeys and turkeys walking and flying, as well as turkey beards, wing fans and spurs.
Freeman may insert a box call into an outer carved box. On the outer box he can carve and paint scenes without jeopardizing the integrity of the box call's sounds.
Depending on the design and details, Freeman spends anywhere from 10 to 100 hours completing a game call. Prices for his calls range from $100 to $1,000. He works on commission and is usually back-ordered for months.
Though the tones and pitches of his calls are top quality, Freeman figures only about half ever find their way to woods or swamp. Most reside under glass in the dens and living rooms of hunters as reminders of the beauty in nature's designs.