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Creating the call of the wild

An example of one of the more intricate calls made by Jennings, which takes about 8 -10 hours to make. A more simple call can take 3-4 hours to create. <i>Submitted photo</i>1 / 2
Cliff Jennings, a River Falls native who attended both RFHS and UWRF, takes his craft -- water fowl callmaking -- all the way to the National Wild Turkey Federation Decorative Duck and Goose Calls Rookie of the Year honor. <i>Jillian Dexheimer photo</i>2 / 2

A true artist can take a block of anything -- wood, clay, marble -- and craft it into something wonderful. For local resident Cliff Jennings, custom callmaking is his art form.

"Calls are tools to be used in the field for duck or goose hunting," he said. When hunting, waterfowl hunters use decoys and calls to entice the birds into the proper position.

Jennings, a quality data analyst at the River Falls Area Hospital, clarified, "Unlike deer hunting, where you can track patterns all year, waterfowl hunting is based on migration."

The type of sound the call makes also makes a difference.

"Different people like different sounds," Jennings said. "Timber calls are for use in the timber setting. You've also got open-water calls that are loud."

To produce different sounds, he varies the length of barrel or the length of the reed.

"Subtle changes in the call can change the tone or volume," Jennings said.

The mechanisms of a call are comparable to other reed instruments, such as a clarinet.

In the process of making a call, Jennings uses a drill press and a lathe to turn it out.

To create sound boards he uses a jig and bandsaw. He also uses things to give his calls decoration, from wood-burning instruments to Dremels for stippling brass.

Rookie of the year

In early February Jennings got a huge honor -- Jennings won the 2012 National Wild Turkey Federation Decorative Duck and Goose Calls Rookie of the Year award.

"I am excited about getting it since I haven't been doing this for a long time," he said.

Jennings also felt honored because the award is judged by his peers.

Within the callmaking competition, there's both the decorative side as well as the hunting side.

Jennings entered in both categories.

He explained, "Even if they are display (decorative) pieces, they still need to produce the sound."

"I really enjoy the decorative part; there are some amazing artists," he said. The call that he entered featured wood burning, sandblasting and decorative etching.

Hobby to business

Going from hunter to callmaker was a bit of an accident. While looking for decoys, a friend introduced him to a man who was making calls.

Jennings was intrigued by the craft, so he started learning more about it. Jenkins thought call-making could " a way for me to turn my passion (waterfowl hunting), which is only done part of the year, into a full year thing," he said.

For the first year, he spent a lot time researching, developing and testing his calls before he sold his first one. He credits the Callmakers of America forums and local callmakers for helping him with his research and development.

He tries to work on his craft during nights and weekends, when he is not at work, working the family farm or spending time with his wife and 3-½ year old son.

What started as a hobby three years ago has turned into a side business with the opening of Farmer Custom Calls.

According to Jennings' website he chose that name because:

"Farmers have a great appreciation for the land and all creatures who depend on it -- pride in the work they do. Farmers hold an appreciation for open spaces and a natural ability to grow and nurture the land. Farmers provide much of the environment that waterfowl depend on, from food sources and breeding grounds to resting places and winter harbors. Farmers often also grant those who enjoy the sport of hunting a place to do so."

Jennings really enjoys coming up with his own design and tinkering with it until it produces the sound he wants.

Often Jennings gives his calls to friends as gifts. "It's special to get a handcrafted call," he said.

Jennings not only gives them as gifts, but he also creates calls to donate to charity events.

As of right now Jennings only produces goose and duck calls.

Jennings' goal is to start working on a child-specific goose call. The big challenge is finding a mouth piece that a child won't suck on and one that's easy to blow.

Each year, Jennings crafts about 50-75 calls, with each call ranging in price from $65 for a duck call to $85 for goose calls, with price increasing depending on the specifics.

To contact Jennings about making a custom call, reach him at 715-222-5769 or


Jillian Dexheimer

Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.