Author Topic: A Brief History of the Reelfoot Duck Call  (Read 9319 times)

Offline FDR

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A Brief History of the Reelfoot Duck Call
« on: February 20, 2013, 02:08:13 PM »

Native Americans were the first to invent the duck call. Native Americans were also the first to invent duck decoys. The Reelfoot area in West Tennessee was settled by Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws. These tribes used canes and reeds to imitate the sounds of the wild ducks that flew over head, but it was not until the arrival of the white man that the duck call was perfected.

One of the early pioneers in developing the Reelfoot style duck call was Victor Glodo. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Victor along with his brothers, John and Albert Glodo, were farmers in the Fountain Bluff, Jackson county area of Southern Illinois. They farmed but supplemented their income by hunting. During this time period manmade lakes and refuges were not present. This whole area of West Tennessee during the winters would be swamp and back water from the water of the Mississippi River. The Obion and Forked Deer Rivers were also in this area. With this over abundance of shallow water, it is easy to conceive why waterfowl would be in abundance in this area. Reelfoot Lake was the biggest permanent body of water besides the Mississippi River. Victor and his brothers traveled to Reelfoot Lake on many occasions to hunt, probably not just ducks, but other species of game as well.

With no drills or lathes around, Victor made his first duck calls by hand. Victor took a poker that was red hot and burnt a hole through the wood that he had carved down with his knife. The piece of wood was four to six inches in length and two inches in diameter. This was the same design as the cane sections only larger. Making the call barrel larger was Victor’s idea to create more volume. The early cane and reed calls were only productive if the ducks were very close.
Glodo's duck call consisted of a barrel and a butt piece with a wedge to hold the tongue (reed) in place. Glodo’s calls used a flat tone channel or insert with a curved metal reed. The reed was not a blade of grass or leaf as the cane call had been but a section of a 10 (ten) gauge shotgun shell. The shotgun shells used during this period were made of solid brass. Victor cut and hammered the metal to get the flexibility that was needed for making notes on his new instrument. Glodo also added checkering to the barrel of his calls. He was perhaps the first to do so. As better tools became available Victor turned and bored his calls and continued perfecting his call design. A two diameter tone chamber was one of the original ideas he pursued.

The sound of Glodo's duck call was so good that other hunters wanted Glodo to make them a duck call. Victor made all of his duck calls from native woods and a few of his duck calls still exist today. They demand a very high price from collectors. Every Reelfoot style duck call that is made today actually started from the Glodo design.

The Reelfoot Call Design:


In the 1920's Tom Turpin, the famous bird call maker, lived in Memphis Tennessee.
Tom made the famous "Tom Turpin Yelper" turkey call. Turpin also hunted ducks at Reelfoot Lake and decided to perfect the duck call that Glodo had designed. Using the same design, but turning the wood on a lathe, Turpin was able to make a better and more realistic sounding duck call that was quicker to make. Turpin was able to get better material for the tongue and used a bronze alloy that he cut with scissors.

Turpin hunted with local hunters at Reelfoot Lake which included the famous Elbert Spicer and his young partner Jamie Hamilton, and Hamilton's father Bob Hamilton who was one of the first game wardens on Reelfoot Lake. The brothers Paul and Frank Hogg hunted with Turpin on many occasions. These individuals also tuned duck calls for Mr. Turpin.
The Reelfoot Lake hunters wanted more volume from the duck call. It seemed the person that could blow louder and harder could attract more ducks. Turpin redesigned his calls and Turpin also started to use different woods to change the pitch and tone. A short barrel and a long barrel were made for the same butt piece so an individual could switch from an open water call to a timber call which was not as loud as the open water call. Turpin left the duck call business in the late 1950's.

Johnny Marsh began to improve the Reelfoot design in the 1940’s.  Johnny, who lived in Nashville, hunted at Reelfoot Lake with Nathan Parkerson, Bill Nation, Frank, Paul and Edwin (Ed) Hogg. Marsh's duck call was the same design as Glodo, but Marsh made the major improvements and designs that live in the true Reelfoot duck call of today. Turpin cut tongues (reeds) with scissors while Marsh had a die made to stamp out each tongue so they would all sound the same. Marsh made a .007 thickness tongue using phosphor-bronze alloy. Marsh started making duck calls from imported exotic woods. Marsh found the wood needed to make the Reelfoot Duck Call the ultimate duck call. Marsh used Cocobolo wood from Central America in making this call. It had the density of Persimmon (Ebony) of North America, but was a great deal more beautiful. None of these woods will float when placed in water. Marsh realized that if the duck calls were made the same, the density of the wood would make the duck call louder or softer. When Marsh presented Mr. Nation with a Cocobolo wood duck call to try in the 1960's, Nation made a comment to Marsh, "it will paralyze the ducks in the air."

Johnny Marsh passed away in the 1980's, but before the legend died, Marsh taught his skill of duck call making to Tommy Alexander. Alexander was a young hunter that lived in Samburg and had a knack for working with wood. Alexander was born in 1946 and lived at Reelfoot Lake all his life. He started making duck calls in 1970. As a young man Alexander knew all the hunters that were the best callers on Reelfoot Lake: Spicer, Hamilton, the Hoggs, and Nation. Alexander, with his many years of experience in duck call making, designed calls in the same tradition as Glodo, Turpin, and Marsh.

This short history of Reelfoot calls was sure to omit several parallel branches of Reelfoot call development.  Many others from the Reelfoot area have also contributed their ideas to the modern Reelfoot style call. Earl and Tom Dennison, Glynn Scobey and the Cochran family were/are notable local makers.

For a detailed history of duck calls the author recommends the following:
•    “The legacy of the American Duck Call” by Harlan and Anderson, 1988
•   “Duck Calls An Enduring American Folk Art” by Harlan and Anderson, 2012

The author would like to thank Jamie Hamilton, Jr. for his contribution of the local history of Reelfoot call development.  Jamie, of Native American decent and a Reelfoot duck hunting guide, has lived in the Reelfoot area all his life, and holds 2 Degrees from local universities.  We always have an enjoyable duck hunt together when I can get to Reelfoot. Jamie can be reached at:
« Last Edit: February 20, 2013, 03:23:35 PM by FDR »
Fred Roe
Reelfoot, the original duck call. What's on your lanyard?

Offline Aaron at Wingerts Woodworks

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Re: A Brief History of the Reelfoot Duck Call
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2013, 09:00:47 PM »
Fascinating stuff, thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge.   :yes:

That cocobolo Reelfoot of yours makes me drool every time I see it.

Offline Flight Control CC

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Re: A Brief History of the Reelfoot Duck Call
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2014, 09:18:18 PM »
I have started to collect reel foot style calls, and I really appreciate your post. It gave me some insight as to where it all started. I have yet to attempt to make one but I certainly look forward to it. Thanks again

Offline FS Custom Calls

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Re: A Brief History of the Reelfoot Duck Call
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2014, 06:24:16 AM »
Good read.  Love the history of hunting and call making!  Thanks for putting this up. :bigup: