Wapello teacher makes duck calls by hand

While on my internship at the Quad City Times, I was able to visit small town Wapello, Iowa to talk to a local teacher who hand makes duck calls. Brandon Brown is no ordinary school teacher. He works seven days a week at home inside his garage, where he works closely with his work equipment. My story got picked up by the Associated Press wire and was distributed nationwide. The Des Moines Register was one of the newspapers that shared my article.

photo credit: Beth Van Zandt/Muscatine Journal

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Here is the full story: The Des Moines Register

By Anis Shakirah Mohd Muslimin

WAPELLO, Ia. – From outside Brandon Brown’s residence in Wapello, it looked like any other ordinary house, but tucked inside his garage were sets of work equipment, analogous to a mini workshop.

The Muscatine Journal reports that when the 35-year-old Wapello High School teacher started hand-making duck calls, he said he only had a tiny lathe, a drill press, and a hand saw.

“All those shoe marks, are from a hand saw I used to cut all my tone boards with this jig, I didn’t have a good band saw,” he said, pointing to the scarred ends of his work table. “It’s pretty dangerous — but that’s it’s all I had, I started with basically nothing.”

His passion for hand-turning duck calls began after his first duck hunt around seven years ago.

“A student of mine and his father invited me to go duck hunting, and I thought what the heck, I’ll try it,” he recalls. “Immediately I fell in love with the idea of hunting waterfowl.”

He credits his love for hunting waterfowl to its use of trickery — through the use of decoys and calls — to deceive his prey, and also because of the camaraderie built when hunting.

After his first hunting experience, Brown wanted to learn more about duck-calling, he even brought duck calls that cost from $150 to $250, one of his calls, he said, cost $1,000.

“I’m out there with a lanyard with a $1000 duck call around my neck, and I’m thinking, if this falls into the water, that’s 1,000 dollars in the drain,” he said. “So I thought there’s got to be away for someone to get a cheaper quality duck call.”

From there, Brown slowly started to research on ways to produce duck calls. Prior to making duck calls, he had zero knowledge on the tools he currently uses, and even turned to the school shop teacher for advise on using the lathe.


Brown started by learning about the shapes of calls, practicing making barrels and successfully completing 10 pieces of it.

After that, he had to master the creation of the tone board. Eventually after six months, Brown found his own distinctive sound.

“I probably made one to 200 calls that became firewood because they weren’t worth selling. So there’s just junk piles of calls,” he said, adding that it wasn’t an easy task.

A duck call can take hours to complete, Brown said. He currently produces two types of duck calls — wood and acrylic calls.

During the regular school year, Brown said he tries to put in three to four hours into making calls on top of teaching at school, and helping coach the girls basketball and baseball teams.

“A lot of my weekends are spent here (garage), so I’m working seven days a week,” he said.

Despite his tight schedule, Brown’s commitment to making duck calls is because of how special it “feels” for him when he completes one.

“Anything can go wrong during the process of making it, but for me I can’t walk away from it because I like what happens when it’s finished,” he said. “When I take that call and blow it for the first time — for me that’s like winning a competition every single time.”

Last year, Brown won first place in the Pintail Waterfowl Call Making Contest — a national call making competition held by the Pintail Waterfowl. He walked away with title of Callmaker of the Year.

Crafting duck calls can be demanding on the fingers and hand, Brown admits, adding that some days he can’t even feel his fingers. “But once you get past that, you don’t even realize it, but you’ve been out here for six hours,” he said.

Brown noted that duck calling and hunting can be a family affair.

“Everybody is around their family. Just this weekend I was at a show with my wife. The guys next to me with his daughter,” he said. “Without my wife being so supportive and my young daughter being so understanding, this wouldn’t have happened.

Ryan Van Leuven, owner of Pintail Waterfowl in Grand Blanc, Mich., said his company supply duck calling material and tools to businesses. One of his clients includes Brown.

“I’ve seen his calls and business over the past few years progress immensely. He’s really come a long way in the industry — as far as his ability and workmanship,” he said. “Seeing him starting out just learning to do it and actually tuning it into a business in just over a few years.”

Michael McClellan, 28, of Lincoln, Neb., has been hunting ducks for five years. He met Brown through Pintail Waterfow’s social media community on Facebook. He bought calls around 10 calls from Brown.

“His calls are really nice because I can say they can be for any levels,” McClellan said. “Any guys can pick up any of his calls and figure it out pretty easily, and an experience guy can pick up the call see what he wants out of it.”


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