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West Virginia turkey call maker earns national honor

The Free Press WV

Nathan Taylor has been making turkey calls for less than four years, but already his creations have attracted national attention.

In fact, his calls attracted enough attention to earn Taylor the Amateur Call Maker of the Year award at the recent National Wild Turkey Federation Convention in Nashville.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to win that award,“ said Taylor, an educator from Sandyville, in Jackson County.

Taylor makes pot calls, hollowed-out wooden discs that resonate when their slate calling surfaces are scraped with a stick called a striker. One of his calls captured the top spot in its division, another took second place, and another placed third in a separate category.

Awards were the farthest thing from Taylor’s mind when he took up call making as a hobby.

“I was getting tired of the calls I was purchasing from big-box stores,“ he recalled. “I stumbled across a place where I could find pot call kits. I started piecing those together and I thought, ‘Man, I really like this. This is neat.‘ After a while, though, I started thinking that maybe I could do things a little better.“

He became intrigued with the idea of turning his own pots on a wood lathe, but didn’t want to sink a lot of money into a pastime he wasn’t sure he’d continue. A visit to his wife’s parents’ house turned up a solution.

“My brother-in-law had gotten a lathe for pen turning when he was in high school, but by then he was in medical school and the lathe was just occupying space in my father-in-law’s garage,“ Taylor said. “I offered to take the lathe off his hands.“

Lathe accessories for pot-turning differ significantly from those used for pen-turning. Taylor took a prefabricated pot-call blank to a woodworker’s store in Parkersburg for advice.

“They set me up with exactly what I needed,“ he said. “I got excited and turned out all sorts of calls. They were terrible.

“I learned very quickly that a turkey call, even a pot call, is still a musical instrument. There are very specific dimensions that call has to have or it’s not going to make the right sound.“

Sound quality — matching the tone and timbre of a hen when she yelps, clucks or purrs — makes all the difference when it comes to a call’s effectiveness.

“So many measurements are important,“ Taylor explained. “The diameter of the call, the thickness of the wall of the call, the overall thickness of the call from top to bottom, the depth of the chamber where the sound resonates, the dimension of the pedestal your sound board sits on, and the gap between the soundboard and pedestal are all very critical.“

To make those measurements, Taylor uses a digital micrometer.

“There are some places where tolerances need to be between one to two thousandths of an inch, plus or minus,“ he said. “I’ve learned that I need to spend almost as much time measuring as I spend shaping a pot on the lathe.“

Such attention to detail is necessary, Taylor said, to produce calls with consistent tone.

“A lot of people don’t realize how exact you have to be,“ he said, “but if you want to recreate a certain sound, and do it time and time again, you have to get those measurements as close as they can be.“

Taylor also tries to make calls that look as good as they sound.

“I’m not an artist, so I’m not able to do wood burnings, drawings and paintings on my calls,“ he said. “But I also live by the motto, ‘Life’s too short to hunt with ugly turkey calls,‘ so I try to choose pieces of wood that have aesthetically pleasing coloration, grain orientation and character.“

Judges for the Turkey Federation’s Grand National Call Competition apparently liked what they heard and saw. Taylor wasn’t able to attend the convention, so he tried to monitor the contest results through an internet portal the federation maintains for call makers.

“When I logged in, I saw nothing next to the calls I’d entered,“ he said. “I figured none of them had made the top five. Later, I was chatting with a friend and asked him how he had done, and I told him I hadn’t seen anything posted about my calls. He told me I was looking in the wrong place.“

Taylor logged back onto the federation website. The results stunned him — first- and second-place medals for his pot calls, a third-place medal for one of his trough calls, and another medal for Amateur Call Maker of the Year.

“I sat there dumbfounded, in utter disbelief,“ he said. “I logged out and logged back in, just to make sure I was seeing everything correctly. As the reality of it set in, the disbelief turned into excitement.“

Taylor’s phone began ringing, and it hasn’t stopped since. Turkey hunters who heard his calls at the convention or saw the results of the competition called to place orders. That part of it is a little daunting to Taylor, who would prefer to limit the number of calls he produces each year.

“Last year I made about 320 calls,“ he said. “I don’t want to do many more than that. I don’t want my business to get so big that I lose touch with the art of it.

“To me, call making is an art. I want to make sure I’m the person who is hand-selecting the boards, who is picking out the parts of the boards the blanks will be cut from, and who is turning them out one call at a time. I put my heart, soul and passion into making calls, and I don’t want to change that.“

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