Ducks Unlimited Podcast

On this episode of the Ducks Unlimited podcast, host Katie Burke interviews Brian Byers, a callmaker and collector, are at RnT’s Callapalooza in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Byers discusses the evolution of the event, including the call build-offs. The two also discuss Byers' passion for callmaking and the detail and science behind making one of a kind custom calls. He also describes in detail the work that goes into creating a winning call for the NWTF call making competition.

Creators & Guests

Katie Burke
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Collectibles Host

What is Ducks Unlimited Podcast?

Ducks Unlimited Podcast is a constant discussion of all things waterfowl; from in-depth hunting tips and tactics, to waterfowl biology, research, science, and habitat updates. The DU Podcast is the go-to resource for waterfowl hunters and conservationists. Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands conservation.

00:00 Katie Burke Hi everybody. Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. I'm your host, Katie Burke. And today on the show, I have callmaker and collector, Brian Byers. Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. So we are at, I've done, I'm not sure what order these will come in, but I've done a few, I have like a little series for CallaPalooza coming out. And we are at Call of Palooza. And can you explain just a little bit about why you come to CallaPalooza

00:25 Brian Byers and what your kind of goal is here and what, oh, how many years have you been coming to? I've made every single year that John's had in CallaPalooza.

00:32 Katie Burke Okay. So each person has had, like doesn't know, is it five years? Yep. This is the fifth year. Okay. So what has that been like over the five years? How has that changed? And what is your like, what have you done here? That's been, has it been the same every year or are

00:47 Brian Byers you kind of… So John started out five years ago, it's kind of a get together. And it's grown every year. He's changed little things up and made it a little bit better every year. So it's not the same activities year after year after year. There's always something new, something fresh. Okay. We came the first year and everybody's kind of get the feel of how it was going, what was there to do, things like that. And then the second year, we started to call build offs. And that's why I came down for the second year.

01:14 Katie Burke Okay. So that has been mentioned a couple of times. Can you explain what the call build offs are? Like I've never, this is the first time I've ever been to an event that has a

01:24 Brian Byers call build off. So it's a lot like, on like TV shows, you see like Forged in Fire or Biker Build Off or cooking shows that have the time competitions and things like that. So this is our version

01:37 Katie Burke of that to build a call with certain criteria and a certain amount of time. So how long do you have?

01:43 Brian Byers So the years, it changes every year. It depends. The first two years we had it, we had teams of four against another team of four. And then that was the first two years. Then the third year they had eight guys, one on one, bracket style. And then this year they've

02:00 Katie Burke got teams of two, two on two. And how long do they have this year? I think they've got four hour sessions to build one call. Will that be like a highly detailed call in the four hours or will that be like, what

02:14 Brian Byers will that turn out as? So this year they have two parts. They've got a decorative style element to it on a working call. So most of the judging will be focused on the sounds coming from the call. But there's also a decorative aspect to it. So one call maker of the team is dedicated

02:33 Katie Burke towards sound and one, the other team member on is dedicated towards the decorators. Okay. Okay. So yeah, that's how they've been paired up. So does John pair people up or do y'all like, can you like enter as in, and you join with a team or how's that? How do

02:48 Brian Byers you pick who's going to go with who? So Ronnie Turner's in charge of selecting the team members and several of us kind of

02:55 Katie Burke feed Ronnie names of who would be good and he pairs them up. Oh, cool. So I saw they're in the studio down there making. John shot.

03:04 Brian Byers Yeah. So when will you judge, when will that be over with that judge? I think they're judging the last call. So yesterday, which have been Thursday, there's one team went for four hours in the morning, one team went for four hours in the afternoon. Today they're doing the same thing. And then tonight they're judging those calls. And then the top two, then they'll get to go tomorrow and then they'll build another call tomorrow.

03:29 Katie Burke So it's like a bracket as well. That's a lot of call making. That's interesting. Are you in it this year? No. Does that feel nice to not have to do it or you wish you were doing it? A little bit of both. This year, typically I do some seminars down here and teach some classes, do the build off, but this year I'm just taking it easy. Yeah, that's nice. All right. Well, that's cool. Since you're just taking it easy this

03:54 Brian Byers year, did you bring any calls? Are you showing any of your calls at all? I'm right now in the process of moving houses. And so my shop is in two different places and not functional. So I didn't really bring, I brought a couple of calls, but not normally

04:09 Katie Burke what I bring. Did you bring anything to like trade? I did. Okay. Because you're also a collector. So I figured you were like, do you have your eye on something? I've looked at everything here. All right. So that was kind of, we went off the edge. Let's go back and let's kind of go back to where you started. Like, where did you get started hunting? What was that like growing up? And then like, when'd you get into waterfowl and all of that? The whole

04:35 Brian Byers backstory. The whole backstory. So I grew up in the Northeast corner of Kansas. We were outdoor family. Dad always took us hunting, fishing, wherever. And then I graduated K-State and then moved to Illinois and transplanted there and had no idea who anybody was. Started completely from scratch. Whereas back when I grew up, I had access to a lot of different places. I knew a lot of people around home could go about where I needed to, to do whatever I wanted. But now I'm starting over from scratch. I got into making coyote calls first. And

05:20 Katie Burke so I made my own coyote calls to call in coyotes. Why? How did you get into coyote? I wouldn't even think about like having a call for a

05:29 Brian Byers coyote. I don't know why. I never thought about that. So I grew up out in country and they used to wake me up at night time. And so I started making coyote calls to kind of call them in and got addicted to calling animals. And then I read a Field and Stream article way back when and it said how to teach or how to build a turkey call. And so it taught me how to build turkey call and went through all the steps. And so I built a turkey call to try to call in a turkey. Yeah. Did it work? It did. It wasn't very good, but it did work. And then moved to Illinois and there wasn't a whole lot of coyotes around, but there's all this waterfowl. Yeah. It's a rich area for waterfowl. And building coyote call is not that much different than a duck call. And so then I

06:19 Katie Burke kind of switched gears and started building waterfowl call. What's a coyote call look like? Is it look kind of like a crow call? It takes the insert out of a duck call and that's pretty much a coyote call. Okay. Yeah. I feel like I've seen one. I'm trying to remember if I've seen one, but I feel like Herder's made one. Did they make one? Yeah. Anyway, so yes, that's how you get. So at what point, at any point were you like, when you started making a duck call, were you aware of the heritage in Illinois of call making? Yeah. It's just so rich in history. Yeah. So that came up, that come across kind of early in your call making. So where did you start? Were you waterfowling, hunting in Illinois pretty early or how did

06:58 Brian Byers that become, how'd you get hunting in Illinois? So a few of the guys I work with, I said, take me hunting. I'll give you a call. Really? Okay. So that's how I kind of built some friends around the area and then how I kind of got access to certain places to go with them, you know, was their farms and stuff. And so one of the farms that we were hunting coyotes on it also, it would flood when the water would get real high. Yeah. And we sat there and called in ducks on the same place that, you know, a week or two before we would call

07:30 Katie Burke coyotes because it was dry. So. Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. So yeah. And I guess, because you said you work at Caterpillar, so that you would have some hunting people in that. Yeah. I feel like it depends on where you're hunting. It depends on if you're working somewhere else, you may not have any hunters. But so what part, are you in Southern Illinois? Like where are you located? Where are you hunting mostly? Right smack dab in the middle. Yeah. Right in the middle. Okay. Yeah. That's cool. So what were your calls? How did your calls, so when you first started making duck calls, how did they, what were they like when you

08:04 Brian Byers first began and then how did they evolve? They started pretty plain. Just simple woods. And then I started seeing some guys doing some checkering work. And so I was like, I try that. I want to see how that would be. And so I had a real good friend down in Grafton. Okay. His name's West Townsend and then had a couple more buddies in Tennessee, Billy Hayes and Bob Weisman. And they taught me how to checker. And then I kind of got that under my belt a little bit for a few years and then I said, all right, Wes, I want you

08:37 Katie Burke to teach me how to carve. So then Wes taught me how to carve. And you found that easy. Like I found like now, like we were talking about this while we're here with other people, but you know, call making, historically people wouldn't help others like in the older days. And, but you found it fairly easy to find someone to kind of like mentor you or help you through the process early on.

09:02 Brian Byers So if you showed a little bit of effort, the older guys would see that you're taking interest in it and help you along. They weren't going to just spoon feed you information. If you didn't show any interest or show any effort to put towards it, then they're not going

09:17 Katie Burke to waste their time. So I guess like, I feel like, okay, I think it was Mike Lewis. This was a long time ago. So I'm probably going to butcher the story, but I think it's actually on a podcast episode. So if you want to listen to it, you can go back. But he was telling me, Billy Sparks, he said that he tried to get him to show him what he was doing and he wouldn't. And then he had to go make a call and bring it back to him. And basically Billy would be like, this is wrong with this. Like tell him what he did wrong. And then he'd have to go back by himself and try again. And that's how eventually like he did it enough times that Billy was

09:52 Brian Byers like, okay, I'll help you through it. But yeah, you had to show interest. Yes. And then the old guys would help you. But that was probably old school. That was probably before 1980. That's kind of how it was. The guys back then, they were tight lipped. Then it was competition

10:09 Katie Burke to them. They didn't want more people making calls because that would take sales away from them. And so when you were, what kind of calls were they making at that time that you were first learning from them? Were they doing just like the wood decorative stuff? Are they even like

10:24 Brian Byers venturing into the acrylics or anything? Like where's all this coming? Mainly woods. Yeah. And that's about when stabilized woods were starting to kind of come in a little bit. But mostly it was woods, simple, you know, hedge, African blackwood, coca-bola.

10:43 Katie Burke So I have, this is kind of a different question, but I was talking with someone on the decoy side. Like when we're talking about the old gunning decoys, like they were really, people were makers were making all these gunning decoys for people to hunt over. And then the plastic decoys came out and then carvers kind of shifted gears to do the more decorative carving just to kind of keep their business going. And then there's been a tradition like going back into the gunning. What was that like for calls? Like as for call makers? Did this shift when the acrylic mass produced, when they were coming out, did that change focus for custom call makers at all? Or were you, they just kind of got to move through it?

11:29 Brian Byers Yeah. Some guys like, you know, the acrylics, because they don't change sound like with moisture. You know, if you're say someplace like Arizona, right? You build a call there, it's got a certain humidity level. And then you go to the marsh like in Arkansas and you get all that humidity and then that wood changes shape and then it changes the sound and everything where acrylic won't do that. So that's kind of how acrylic has a little bit more of a benefit as you're changing major locations.

12:00 Katie Burke Do you have to think about that when you're making the call about where it's going to be used? Absolutely. I never even thought about that. That makes sense. I mean, I think about that like in the terms of like, you know, restoring or not restoring, but like conserving these like wooden items. Like I have to think about, you know, I don't want it to swell and shrink and swell and shrink because that can break the call. But yeah, I didn't think about it. Like even, I guess, how much does moisture from your mouth have to play in the… Big time.

12:30 Brian Byers Big time. So we have a big competition for the NWTF in Nashville. And at the Opryland Hotel, they have massive dehumidifiers in the conference area that we held the competition. And there's wood calls that go there that get dried out because that dehumidifier may crack. I mean, this is artwork pieces of calls.

12:52 Katie Burke Yeah, that's really a nightmare. It's crazy what that humidity will do to the wood. Yeah. And I guess, how are you preparing for that ahead of time? Since you know when you're going to put a call on to the competition, you know that's going to happen. So what do

13:07 Brian Byers you change in your making to prepare for that? You have to know what woods you're using. You can't use fresh cut wood because that's got a high humidity, high moisture content in it. You have to know that it's dry. You have to know how long it's been dry so it's stable to where it, when it does adjust, it

13:28 Katie Burke does move a little bit. It's not going to make major movements where it's going to crack. Yeah. Because I mean, it's hard to say this on a podcast because it's not visual, but the detail in some of these, it's, I mean, the wood, they get down to like the finest little because some of them are 3D and I can't imagine, yeah, I never even thought about

13:47 Brian Byers it. The worst is when you laminate woods together and they move at different rates because they're different densities and like laminated division is always the toughest because the judges

13:59 Katie Burke are always looking for cracks or gaps or differences in height in the woods of your laminations. So yeah, you're having to think about that. So what you're saying is basically for the competition, like at certain competitions, you're carving, you're thinking about that entry on how it will react there because technically you don't need it to react well once you bring it home or you sell it. I guess if you're selling it, that's a different situation, but yeah, it's more about what your environment, where you're going. I never even thought about that. Little things like that make big differences. Yeah. So that's, I mean, so you're having to plan that out. How far in advance are you starting to think about, you enter every year for the NWTF. So how far in advance are you

14:44 Brian Byers thinking about what you're going to do that year? My laminated calls are done six months ahead of the contest. So they have a chance to acclimate, adjust, move, settle in. And then I do that final sanding the week or two before the competition

15:00 Katie Burke and send them off. So my gluing and everything is done, shape and everything is done six months ahead. Oh, wow. Do you think everyone does that? I don't know. They might now. That's funny. I never thought about that. I don't know why. I guess I just didn't think to think about it, but yeah, you would have to. It's so different. And I'm sure it's the same with decorative decoys as well because they're so like, but it's too blow gum. So that's a different situation though, because they pretty much all use too blow gum. I want to go back to when you're starting out making calls and you're making mostly smooth calls to hunt with and things like that. So what are the first calls you're seeing that are like, well, you talked about a little bit of checkering. So you start checkering calls and a little bit more. What are you looking at for inspiration? What are you being

15:53 Brian Byers inspired by early on? And how is that evolving now? You always look to kind of see what your predecessors have done, get inspired from their work, put your twist on it, make it look like your work to where you're not copying their work. But a lot of my calls have got major inspirations from the guys that I learned from. Yeah. Well, that's art in general. My stuff looks a lot like theirs, but in my own different way. And so I'm a very visual, I'm a hands-on do something type of guy. And so I say, Hey, I see that. I want to try to see how he did that. And I try to figure out his tools and things like that and try myself and put my feet in his shoes to see what he was.

16:38 Katie Burke Right. It makes sense to me, honestly. And I'm not an artist or I gave up all that. But I understand you play with a certain style of what someone's doing. And then you're learning that style and then you learn that. Then once you can do what they're doing or to some extent, then you can play with it and have more freedom with it. Right? It takes, you can't, it's easier to try it and then learn a different thing and then change it to what you want than just trying to just do what you want first. Does that make sense? Yeah. Yeah. Because I always like people… Learn the basics first and then explore and expand. Yes, exactly. Because it's just people always are like, I think it's not just call making, but art in general. Like it's all, all of it is, is just looking at your predecessors, repeating what they're doing. And then you will put your own stamp on it because you're not them. You're a different person. You have a different perspective. You have, you're hunting in different areas. You have all these other things that come in to change it. So yeah, it makes sense. I don't think people should be so scared to copy what people before have done. Does that make sense?

17:58 Brian Byers To a point, you don't want to just blatantly copy stuff, but yeah, learn the basics and then put your spin, put your stamp, put your personality.

18:07 Katie Burke Yeah. So, okay, this is where I don't know anything about call making. Walk me through what sounds you want, that you like. Does that change, is that change continuously? How does that work from when you first started making it just to kill ducks versus like, how have you changed the sound and how does, how does that process work? I don't really understand that part of it. I'm not a musical person. I know it's basically a musical instrument.

18:32 Brian Byers It's all kind of how you hear it and how you want it to sound. So you start with, you know, go on to several places and try different calls. See how they sound. I don't like this. But then you start playing around with it. Hey, if I trim the reed here, if I cut this, if I sand here, and then you start through the whole learning process, there's, I don't

18:55 Katie Burke know how many different variables that affects how a duck call sounds on the tone board. That's where I get confused because it feels like, I feel like you would start messing with it and like, it would be- It's its own rabbit hole that you can go down and spend years at. Okay. So how much does having an ear for it matter? I'm guessing it's really important. Yeah. Does just any little thing change the sound? Like, is it very small movements that change

19:20 Brian Byers the sound or is it? Thousands of an inch. Thousands of an inch. It really is. I mean, there's certain places where the fibers, if they get wet, the wood fibers and when wood meets moisture, fibers raise in certain woods like walnut, especially when it gets bad. Those fibers, when they raise up, then they lift the reed up and it completely changes the sound of the call. Oh, wow. So you're having the- Microscopic changes, yeah.

19:45 Katie Burke Yeah. Okay. And then are you just like, are you blowing it so then that moisture gets

19:50 Brian Byers in there so then you can see what happens when- And you're trying everything in your power to minimize all of those external effects so they don't affect how it sounds long-term. So that's where your stabilized stuff comes in. That's where your finishes come in. That's where certain woods are better than other

20:11 Katie Burke woods because they don't change over time. They don't change with moisture. It's almost like a science. Oh, it's absolutely. That's really interesting. Yeah. It's so much more complicated than I think people realize. So do you still make anything without stabilized woods or you just stay with stabilized woods

20:28 Brian Byers now? How does that work? Well, I haven't done stabilized woods. Oh, you never have? I have a little bit.

20:35 Katie Burke So you like the more traditional. Once they make the pattern and they have made the decoy, there's carves out there that never repeat a pattern, but they know what it's going to do. They have figured out how, and they can always add different personalities and things because they're, especially if they're doing the hand chopped and things like that, that's different, but they basically know what they're going to get. So once you create a pattern for a call, is it the same like you can recreate it or is it because it's a different piece of wood? Is it going

21:04 Brian Byers to just be a different beast like every time you go through it? I hate doing every different things multiple times the same way. I want my calls. I like all of them to be a little bit different because doing two of the same thing is boring. Okay.

21:20 Katie Burke Every one of my calls is just a little bit different. Yeah. Okay. Like even like, but I guess my question is though, if you did do it the same way, would you have to change because it's a different piece of wood for the sound, it wouldn't be the same, right? Because you say it's a thousand, so you'd have to change

21:41 Brian Byers it to tweak. And it's a lot by ear. Visually it all can look the same. You can go through the same process, but until you start blowing the call, seeing what's going on, when you're here and listening, see how the reads reacting and all that stuff. Hey, I need to clip here on the read or I need to stand right here. It could all visually come off your jig absolutely the same. Okay. But until you put a read and cork in and start blowing it, then you're

22:08 Katie Burke starting to do everything by ear. Okay. So you're just fine tuning it, fine tuning it. Do you ever fine tune it too much? Oh, you can do that. Yeah. And you're like trash. Yep. There it went. One swipe of the file sometimes it will go from almost there to terrible in the trash it goes. So I'm guessing you're making sure you're not etching or any of that stuff until you have the sound just right. Yeah, you're fine tuning it down and then yeah, it can go in the trash. So let's take a little break right here and we'll come right back. All right. Welcome back. All right. So we've talked in detail about making, which we'll fall back into it, but you're also a collector. When did you start collecting calls and how

23:29 Brian Byers did that, yeah, what's your evolution in that part of your call? When I started making the predator calls, I started collecting predator calls just to see how other people were making stuff and I found it interesting, you know, the hand crafted stuff. It's so unique. It's so individualized. It's so neat to see how everybody makes their stuff. Right. And then it just evolved into collecting duck calls too. OK, so when I started first making duck calls, went down to the, we had a big show down at Real Foot Lake first week in October and then we would trade calls. Us call makers that kind of grew up together that same generation were that started about the same time we'd all go down and we'd all trade calls. OK, and that's kind of how my collection started. And you collect everything What are your primary focuses as you collect? I started mainly trading. I didn't sell a whole lot of calls because I was more interested in trading. And then it graduated into, I would sell a few here and there. And then for the longest time, I kind of stayed away from the older duck calls. I didn't know a whole lot about them. Yeah, they made you nervous. Nervous. I didn't know much about them. They didn't really interest me because my focus was new contemporary stuff. But then as I got exposed to the older calls, like identify the old calls, I started doing stuff that like checkering. Then I started finding the old checker calls fascinating. So then I started collecting old checker calls. And then I started migrating into older brickwork calls. And because I started making brickwork calls. So it's just kind of in the old carve calls, as I started carving calls. So I wanted to

25:19 Katie Burke see how my stuff compared to their stuff. So one of the things that it's always talked about, like when you're collecting decoys, I always like put your hands on a decoy, like feel it, touch it, move around, look at it. And what I'm kind of getting when you say that is to make them as well or collect them,

25:41 Brian Byers you need to have that hands on, like you need to hold them. Pictures are okay, but there's nothing like holding it right there in your hands and turning it all the way around and looking at it and from all the different angles and seeing how

25:55 Katie Burke it spins around and just looking at all aspects of pictures. Just the only one side of it. And then it's breaking them open and kind of like seeing what the guts are like and everything like that. Trying to guess the tools that they use to make it because I mean, they didn't have access to the nice power tools that we got now. So how did they do this all by hand? So did you start when you were working, is that when you start doing more things by hand

26:22 Brian Byers as well? Because you were seeing them do it. Most of my checkered work still all by hand. But my carvings, I've got a couple hundred dollar Dremels really, it's a power carver. So you're using dental bits and you're using power and to move all of the wood and remove the stuff. So Wes told me just carve everything away that doesn't look like a duck.

26:43 Katie Burke I know. I don't think I could do it. I grew up painting and things like that. It's like the opposite. Like you're building from, you're building up, not building down. And I don't know if I could, it just blows. I don't know. It's so different. Though I saw that you painted for the first time you were standing. You weren't bad at it.

27:04 Brian Byers Every show here recently, we've had seminars or classes and I try to take or attend every single one of them that I can. Cause you always learn something with them. And I've never painted before. And when Joe Booker and Emily Booker, I saw that they were doing this class. I'm like, I've got to take this. I want to try it. I want to see what that, cause Joe makes some fantastic work and Emily's just right there. And I've got a couple of Joe's collection and I just think that they're fantastic. And I'm like, you can't appreciate the work that they do until you try it yourself.

27:39 Katie Burke You don't really know how difficult it is.

27:41 Brian Byers That's the same way that I was with checkering. You can't appreciate the checkering work until you try it yourself. Put yourself in their shoes to see what they went through. And then

27:49 Katie Burke you're like, Oh my gosh. How long does it take you to check your call? Anywhere between four or five days to three months. It's funny, this is off topic. I think about the older shotguns have all the checkering on it and they do it by hand now. But man, if they still, I can't imagine. They're selling these out. You're a custom maker. So I'm sure you have your order and you know what you're going to do. You don't. I don't take orders. You don't take orders. No, I like to be creative and work on what I want to work on. And then whenever I get done, then I bring it to a show like this. Okay. Yeah. So like, well, Steven says the opposite. He takes an order and then he goes down. So you want to, so you're selling whatever you think is what you want to make. That's

28:40 Brian Byers a nice way of doing it. That's the way I could do it. I could do it the other way. It turns into a job if you got to take orders and then it's no fun. Because then you're like, well, if I could go fishing this afternoon, but I got to work on these duck calls. Hey,

28:52 Katie Burke I want to go do this. No, but I got to work on these duck calls. And it just takes the like fun out of it. Yeah. I 100% get it. Because that's when I started college, I was an art major and I just stopped. I couldn't do it. I didn't like being told what to do. So it makes sense to me. I didn't realize that's how you were doing. So you're just making whatever you want to make and then hoping somebody's going to buy it. Trade. Yeah, trade. So, okay. So yeah, it takes you that long. So it's, yeah, I wish they still did it. Because the one thing I like about when I look at these old calls, if you see the checkering, I like sometimes the imperfections on them, how they like got off the line. Because I mean, it's so finite. So I mean, it just makes, I don't know, it adds a humanity to it that they slipped. And I like that. Do you like, does it drive you crazy if you slip on it? Absolutely. You're like, I'm not going to sell them that one. It bounces off the floor. Yeah, I do. I like that about them. I always look for it. Whenever I hold an old checkered call, the first thing I'm going to do is try to find the imperfections in it. And I think

30:07 Brian Byers that's almost cooler than the being perfect sometimes. I try to be as perfect and as clean as I can be. You probably won't find too many of those.

30:16 Katie Burke No, well, you know, I find, I don't find in any of the contemporary ones, you find any mistakes. It's usually the older ones, like, because they were doing it for a living or they were guides. So they're, they're not, they're probably not taking the time that you're taking to get some of these checkers in. Yeah. Because they're, there's some that

30:34 Brian Byers are pretty sloppy too. But they didn't have the nice tools that we got today. No, that's true.

30:41 Katie Burke Some of them were making their own checkering tools. Yes. Do you have any old checkering tools? Have you collected those at all? I've kind of stayed out of that. Yeah. I know. I know like with, there is so many comparisons between call making and decoy making and like, that's the thing that's become like, you know, like Cameron McIntyre, which I mean, he has collected all of his old, like it's all old tools. He doesn't use anything, really anything new. And he's, yeah, they're using all the tools they originally, he's basically living like an old decoy carver, but, and which is, he's a little bit, he's a little bit unusual in that way. But yeah, it's, it's interesting. Can you, as the maker, can you like talk about those, like, relations, like how those things relate in certain ways?

31:27 Brian Byers Like the comparisons between call making and decoy making? A lot of it's handcrafted. So there's some big parallel there. And then there's competitions. There's call competitions, the artwork side of it, and then on the decoy side. So you've got, you know, does it float upright? Is it got to stay in the water for so long before it tips? Things like that. On the decoy side, where we have the same things on the call side, they study the artwork, you get judged on the artwork. You have, you know, a range of scale of is it good? Is it bad? And then best of shows and decoy side, duck call side, it's just, there's so many parallels between the handcrafted side of those two. It's very interesting how similar they are.

32:10 Katie Burke Yeah. It's, I talked about this a lot before, but as a maker, I'd like to talk to you about it because we, and I think I've done it in a few interviews, but you'll have a different perspective because you are a carver. So decoy, the gutting decoy community is just, there's not as many, it's kind of, it's decreased over time. There's not as many carvers out there, but it is not the same with calls. They have stayed pretty consistent and actually

32:38 Brian Byers been growing. Almost exponentially growing the amount of people that have started making duck calls. So do you have a theory of why that is? Like why call making is growing in that way? The tools that we have available are so prevalent. It makes it easier. And then you just, there's

32:59 Katie Burke a lot of people want to call in the duck, what the duck call that they made. But they don't want to hunt over their own decoys.

33:05 Brian Byers No, I don't, there's more work involved or there's a perception there's more work involved to make decoys.

33:12 Katie Burke Yeah. Is it just like size? I don't know. Could be. Yeah. It's interesting. I've been thinking about that over the years and I talked to Mark a little while ago because he does the NWTF competition and we kind of came up with this theory and I don't know what you'll think about it, but you know, okay. So we described it as like with decoy making, they were all these people making gunning decoys and then plastic decoys came out and a lot of them shifted to more the decorative stuff because the war competition really kept that going, that side of decoy making because that was a good shift for them to continue to make money. And then now they're starting to go back to that tradition in the last 20 years to 15 years to gunning decoys. But it hasn't really been that way. And we were wondering if we put the theory like because the competition has always been there to have to help promote call making and celebrate call making and give some reward if that had something to

34:14 Brian Byers do with maybe the fact that it continued on and never it didn't dip as much. It's just human nature to be competitive. And you see what everybody else is doing and you want to do a little bit better and you want to see if you can beat them. And so it's just the promotion of the contest getting a little bit better every year, a little bit better every year, a little bit better every year. It's just something to shoot for and reach for goals and hey, I want to have been the best of show this year. I want to see if I can win such and such place at this competition. It just set a goal and work towards it. And with these competitions that we have, there's three or four of them throughout the year and you just continually push yourself to get a little bit better.

35:00 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Yeah, that makes sense. So how long have you been competing in the NWTF? Chris Johnson I think 11 or 12 years. Nicole LiBaire Okay. And so how many calls do you enter? Do you do different categories? Do you just stick to one? Do you pick what you're going to do?

35:19 Brian Byers Chris Johnson Primarily I do checkered division. Nicole LiBaire Okay. Chris Johnson And then I'll do a carved or an open division. And then recently I've been putting in laminated division. But more decorative side than the working call side.

35:32 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Okay. And just I don't think I know that. I don't know if I know this, but everything is judged by sound, right? Does every category have a little bit of a sound?

35:41 Brian Byers Chris Johnson The decorative side is judged by sound. There is a category with that, but it's primarily focused on the artwork. But there is an element of sound.

35:52 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Yes. Just like with decoys, they have to float and sit upright. A duck call has to sound like a duck call. Yeah. Even if it's beautiful. This is a silly question. But on the really highly decorative stuff, it's really decorative. Do you even care what it's like when it hits their mouth? Like if it's super decorative?

36:13 Brian Byers Chris Johnson You still have to pay attention to all those details.

36:15 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Yeah. Even though some of them will be like all rigid and bumpy and they'll have it really decorative.

36:22 Brian Byers Chris Johnson But when you put it to your mouth, you don't want it to hurt. You don't want it to be if you're just not comfortable, it's still going to be a duck call.

36:29 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Okay. Yeah. I didn't think about that. I just think because the ones we've had in the museum that are really decorative and I know obviously I'm not going to blow somebody's duck call. But I think about that and I'm like, huh, I wonder what that feels like if they thought about

36:42 Brian Byers it. Because some of them can be. Yeah. Chris Johnson There's some early ones that are a little bit rougher, but here, you know, the contemporary stuff, that's always a factor. Nicole LiBaire Yeah. So how many different categories are there now at the NWTF for calls, for duck calls? Chris Johnson I think there's around, I think Mark would know better. I think there's around 10 divisions that are decorative and like close to 15, 20 on the working side. Nicole LiBaire Yeah, that's a lot. And how many people do you think are in? Chris Johnson I think there was close to 50 callmakers. Nicole LiBaire And how many when you started? Chris Johnson Oh, half that.

37:19 Katie Burke Nicole LiBaire Wow. That's huge. That's a big growth. Does that make it more fun for you that you have more competition? Like, oh, that's what I would like about it. Yeah.

37:27 Brian Byers Chris Johnson Yeah. What's crazy is we're all friends. The guys that compete are all friends. And we push each other, but when we get down to it, we're all friends.

37:37 Katie Burke Yeah. No, I get it. This is an extreme, a different place. But I'm an ultra runner and I run trail races. And yeah, it's a community. It's like, we're all pushing each other to do something really stupid and hard. I don't know why, but it's a community. And that's part of it. And I'm sure for y'all it is too. And they're like, well, and I talked to, actually, the best I can think about it is I talked to, do you know who Gigi Hopkins is? So Gigi Hopkins, she's a bird carver. She's in her early 90s. And she wrote the Massachusetts decoy book and she's to restore decoys and she's a bird carver. But she talked about the first time she went to the ward competition. And this is before the internet and she didn't know of anyone else in the world that carved birds. She's lived in this insular environment where she's the only person she knew that did this. And she went to the very first ward competition and she met other bird carvers. And she describes it. She does a wonderful job describing the excitement she felt to be around people that shared her interest, that did what she did every day, that they could share tips and things they had tried and failed and to have that just kind of ability to talk shop about something she didn't even know people were doing. And I'm sure it's similar. I'm sure. Very similar. Yeah. You're getting to finally like, you know, I did this this year and this is what happened. And you can kind of be like, what do you think happened? But you can kind of compare notes of why things happened the way they did. Yeah. So you're doing a lot. Do you do that when you're here at Call of Wuzit? Y'all

39:23 Brian Byers get to like, kind of think about this. Oh, yeah. There's a lot of decorative competitions here. No. But a lot of the guys that do the decorative stuff are here and we talk and talk about old competitions and tell stories. And it's crazy how we're all on the same wavelength too of the styles and the techniques that we use. And we don't sometimes we don't talk to each other, especially when we got a competition coming. Right. But when we turn in our entries, they're so similar. Because we're like on the same wavelength. Just because we know each other, we're friends for so long, we just think alike. And we turn each other's entries in and we're looking at them like, how'd you come up with that? How'd you come up with that? And we don't even talk with her so

40:07 Katie Burke similar. Yeah. Yeah. Because I'm sure you all keep it pretty tight until then. That's really fun. So in your time of entering the competition, the times that you've done well, like did you know, did you have a feeling that that's how it was going to go? Or were you just surprised that, I don't know, do you kind of have an idea going in like this is a winner? No. Yeah. None whatsoever.

40:31 Brian Byers No. Because it's always somebody's come up with something new with every single competition. Really? And it's just, are you going to have an idea that's better than the next guy? You know, and some of these guys are going two and three rungs up, you know, every competition where I'm going like one run up on the ladder. I'm like trying to catch these guys and they're just like catching another gear going, pulling away faster than I am. So it's never have no idea

41:05 Katie Burke what you're going to end up once you turn it in. Yeah. So you just, yeah, you just bring it in a way. Yeah. Do you get there? So y'all get to see everybody's once they've turned them in and you're like, you're like, uh-oh. Yeah. Absolutely. Yep. Oh, did you see what he did this year? And then do you get to like get them to tell you about how he did it after? Will they do it or will they keep it? Depends on the person. Yeah. Yeah. A lot of us share. Some of us don't. Some of us share quite a bit. Yeah. Well, you'd be able to handle the calls that put in. Does everybody get to like pick them up and things? Okay. So you'll get to look at it and kind of, I'm guessing as someone who makes a lot of calls, you can guess, make some educated guesses

41:49 Brian Byers when you see a call. So that's the fun part. Okay. Where we can do something and the other guys can't figure out how we did it. And then it drives them nuts. Yeah. Then you don't want to tell them. Yeah.

42:03 Katie Burke I didn't even think about that because yeah, you're, I mean, you're both making like, yeah, educated guesses on what they did and how they did it. So do you like then go back to your shop and just start trying to figure it out? And sometimes that works out. I guess so. And when that happens, I'm guessing sometimes you figure it out and then sometimes you find another way to do it. Yeah. Or something new. Yep. So that's great. That's awesome. Cause then that's how y'all are constantly pushing each other to calls are constantly getting better. Yeah. Yeah. That's really cool. I never thought about it. So what, what are you looking, what are your kind of goals? You have any like, I know you're in between, like you're moving and you're not thinking about carving right now, but what are you kind of looking forward to like with your call making

42:54 Brian Byers and like, what are you kind of like, what are your future plans going forward? I really enjoy doing the decorative stuff. I try to enter every decorative competition that there is just to push myself to see how good I can do. I really like teaching other people how to check her calls. The last two years down here at CallaPalooza, I've had a four hour class where we've had students come in and I teach checkering and I like to see the new guys starting to enter into the decorative side. They're learning the decorative, the artwork side of the duck calls to where they're getting into that. So that's fun watching those guys start and evolve and getting better. Yeah. How many hours do you think you need to put in in checkering before you get good at it? Oh, it takes probably two or three calls worth to start getting a good feel for the call and the checkering tools of how they react to

43:49 Katie Burke the wood and stuff. But I've been doing it for 12, 13 years now and I'm still getting used to the tools. Put in your 10,000 hours as they say. Wear out three or four tools and then you may have a good start. Yeah. Do you have any advice for someone that's wanting to start getting into call making? What

44:11 Brian Byers advice would you give someone who's thinking about moving in there? Come to the shows that we have, talk to the guys that are there. The guys that are there are very willing to share, to help get you started. That's how I started. I went to the Real Foot Show and learned so much from guys there. And then I'm just trying to pay it back. So I talked to a few guys out here earlier this morning about getting them started checkering. And so just come to the shows, show some interest and guys will

44:41 Katie Burke talk to you all day long. Yeah. Maybe do some reading up on duck calls before you get there. Don't have to even do that. Yeah. That's funny. That's one thing that I've gotten from a bunch of collectors. They're like, yeah, you need to go read some stuff. Tell me you know something. Then we'll go from there. All right. So is there any last thing you'd like to leave with our audience

45:04 Brian Byers that we haven't talked about? There's so much fun in collecting duck calls. There's so many knowledgeable people out there that will help you on collecting duck calls. Come to the shows,

45:17 Katie Burke talk to some people and learn it, enjoy it because it's so much fun. It is. I do recommend it. This is my first time at a call only thing. I've done it in Chicago and stuff like that, but I haven't done just call of clues, which is just calls. Well, thank you, Brian, for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it. All right. Thanks to our guests, Brian, and thanks to our producer, Chris Isaac. And thanks to you, our listeners, for reporting Wetlands and Waterfowl Conservation.