Ducks Unlimited Podcast

In this episode of the Ducks Unlimited podcast, host Katie Burke interviews Len Guldman, a call collector, firearm specialist, and decoy collector, at the RnT Callapalooza event in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Len tells the story of his unusual introduction to waterfowling. The conversation touches on Len’s gun collection and what was uniques about early waterfowling shotguns. Len also shares some of his best stories of finding duck calls. He also speaks on the emergence on duck calls on the larger auction market.

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 Hey everybody. Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. I'm your host, Katie Burke. And today on this show, I have Len Guldman. He is a call collector, firearm specialist or dealer, decoy collector, which we still, I still don't know what he collects, but we will get into it. All right. Welcome to the show, Len. Thanks Katie. And thank you for having me. All right. So where do we begin? As I said this earlier to you all fair, but I found out, got set up for this interview through Ryan Graves. He's a good friend of the podcast. He's come on once before and well two times before. He's a, he's a repeat guest. A repeat guest. Yes. I had him on when I interviewed John Stevens, which we are here in Stuttgart at

00:40 Len Guldman Call of Palooza. My first visit to Call of Palooza, but you're… I've been here three years out of the five that they've had it. It's a really great event that John Stevens here at RNT puts on for callmakers and collectors. It's primarily aimed at current callmakers and giving them an opportunity to show their wares, share talents. And it's just a great event that's put on this time of year.

01:08 Katie Burke Okay. So I have a question about, I've asked this a few to a few people. I know quite a few, and I've had them on the podcast, quite a few contemporary decoy makers. Correct. Cameron McIntyre, Marty Hanson. I just interviewed Jerry Tolton. I also, I know George Drunk. I've been to his place. One of the things that comes up with decoy makers versus, like there's a lot more contemporary callmakers, right? Absolutely. So what my question is, because there's two types, well, three types of decoy makers. You have your decorative decoy makers, which I really don't put them in the same category because these, but there's two types of gunning decoy makers, right? Correct. There's more mass produced. They're turning things on a lathe. And then you have these guys like Cameron and Marty and Jerry who are- Chisels and files. Yes. Okay. So why do you think, what do you think the, why there's such an entrance, there's such a narrow entrance into decoy making versus into call making? Why is there so many more people going into calls versus decoys?

02:12 Len Guldman Well, I think that's a fairly easy question to answer. A duck call, average using call, going to be acrylic, fairly easy and quick to produce, whether it's by a CNC machine or hand turned on a lathe, it's going to be a whole lot easier to do that and a lot cheaper

02:31 Katie Burke to market than a hand carved decoy. Right. So then I guess let's say versus custom calls. So are there versus custom calls rather than the mass more? How would that differ?

02:44 Len Guldman Well, it definitely does. You've got a lot of different forms of the higher end custom calls, whether they be checkered, scrimshawed, materials are made out of a lot of that type of thing. So the price is going to go up relative to the hours that it took to make it. So you get a guy hand carving a decoy, it's probably going to be about the same hours as a guy making a high end contemporary duck call that's checkered and raised panels and that type of thing. Beautiful woods. I actually have a full set of Marty Hanson decoys that I gun

03:21 Katie Burke over.

03:22 Len Guldman He makes calls as well. And he makes some phenomenal calls. Super talented guy. And I think that would be a question that would be relevant to ask him because he can do both. Right. That's true. And that's very rare. Yeah, that is. There's not a lot of guys that make both decoys and calls. And you can look back through history. And that's the case as well. Back to the turn of the last century, you had a few guys like Charlie Perdue. He made decoys. He made duck calls. Right. Skippy Bartow in the 50s made decoys and he made duck calls because they kind of went

03:59 Katie Burke hand in hand. Why do you think they didn't do it? So to give a little back, so I know why they didn't on the East Coast because calls making was just not a tradition on that. It's a Mississippi flyaway specific tradition. Now it has grown to be the Pacific flyaway, but it started and was primarily Mississippi flyaway. So I understand why, because decoy was born in

04:28 Len Guldman Why do you think for the Mississippi flyaway, they didn't necessarily do both? I think that it started with more, of course, Indians used calls that they made out of reeds to call ducks. And that was more of a planes thing. But I think that decoys became very, very popular in the Great Lakes and on south. And then you get callmakers really didn't start until you hit Illinois. And some of the great callmakers early days came from Illinois, but then on south from there. So you get into Tennessee, Arkansas, but the

05:06 Katie Burke original older calls, they were Illinois. Yeah. So that might be the answer right there is that. So in Illinois, that's like Perdue. He's an Illinois callmaker. He did decoys and he did calls. And then as you go into Tennessee and Arkansas, you didn't need decoys. So maybe that's the answer is that just location and opportunity is violated.

05:27 Len Guldman Correct. And you get here and it's the stopping ground. So you've got millions of ducks versus

05:34 Katie Burke up there, you're catching them coming through. So yeah. And you're hunting them in timber here. So by the time they've committed to the timber,

05:43 Len Guldman you don't need a decoy to bring them all the way. Yeah. You rely on kicking the water and they don't need, they're not using their vision,

05:49 Katie Burke but they are using their ears. Yeah, that makes sense. Cause Marty, of course, is Wisconsin. So that's a different situation as well. Well, Marty does it because he loves it. And he's very, very good. He is. He is one of my very first interviews actually. Great guy. Yes. I love Marty and I was very sad. I think this is the first year I haven't seen him in Chicago in a very long time. I did not make it to Chicago. I've been so surprised because you don't know this about me, but I've had three kids and every time I see him, I'm pregnant. And he's like, why do you keep… He'd have been very shocked to see a skinny me. So I'd like to know a little bit more like with this, you've been to Chicago to that and then this event. So can you describe kind of how, since I haven't been here, what the difference of these two events are and how they're the same, how they're

06:38 Len Guldman different? Well, Chicago is geared not only to all sporting artifacts, primarily decoys. It started as a decoy show and it spread from there, but you can find everything at Chicago, whether it be fish traps or old signs or duck calls, turkey calls, decoys, whatever, cigar store Indians versus this is very specialized towards more contemporary current callmakers. It's dedicated to the art of callmaking. And that's what John loves. John Stevens from R&T. That's

07:18 Katie Burke his deal is bringing back the art of callmaking. I guess it's promoting that and trying to bring more people aware of that and into that

07:27 Len Guldman fold. Well, guys that have a common bond, they share a lot of information. That's one beautiful thing about this collecting fraternity is that they're more than willing to share. In the old days, guys didn't like to share stuff. And today, these guys are more than happy. Guys like Brad Samples, they will teach you from the ground up how to build a call. And they love to share that information and knowledge. And it may have taken them 15 years to get where they're at today, but they will tell you everything that you need to know to get

08:02 Katie Burke started. And that's great to share that. And that's what this is all about. Yeah, that's really neat. So you get to kind of, so you're learning from makers about how, why they make things the way they do and what they're making. And then on the other end of that, as I'm guessing, did collectors bring some calls here to like, kind of show each other and…

08:24 Len Guldman John Stevens is a tremendous vintage call collector. He has an incredible collection, which is on display here. And he loves that part of it. But on the other hand, he makes a living selling duck calls and making duck calls. So he promotes the vintage call side of it as well. But we don't have quite the turnout here of vintage call guys as we do

08:48 Katie Burke contemporary call guys. So is it similar to Chicago and like, will y'all actually trade at all? Oh, absolutely. So you'll have like everything in.

08:58 Len Guldman Oh, sure. Yeah. And there'll be a section here for vintage calls. And there'll be hundreds and hundreds of vintage calls. Got your eye on anything? I don't, because they're not set up yet. But I do know a few things that are coming.

09:09 Katie Burke I was just saying, I know how all of y'all work and you've already talked about it.

09:14 Len Guldman Oh, absolutely. I want to buy what's under the table, not what's on top of it.

09:19 Katie Burke That's what I mean. I was like, because I have been around you guys. I know you've already had those conversations. Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

09:25 Len Guldman Did you bring anything for anyone else? I brought a couple. Yeah. Gonna make some deals. Of course. And that's the fun part of it. And that's one of the reasons I got into call collecting is because for me, it's getting to hunt 12 months of the year versus I can only hunt ducks 120 days, but I can hunt calls all year long. So that's the fun part

09:49 Katie Burke for me. As Ryan says, the other duck season. Exactly. Okay. So let's go back and give us your intro into the outdoor world, hunting and all of that. So let's go all the way back. All the way back. Well. All the way back. Introduce us to you.

10:06 Len Guldman I got involved with the outdoors, I think probably seven or eight years old with my grandfather up in Nebraska and my uncle who lived in Montana. My parents didn't hunt, my dad didn't shoot any of that stuff. So it was very unusual for me to go that direction. But because of watching them shoot, I fell in love with the idea of hunting and being outdoors and getting to know that side of modern life. And it just always stuck with me. I started archery hunting when I was about 11 years old, 10, 11 years old. I started field archery and then actually killed my first deer with a bow when I was 12 years old in Colorado, which is where I'm from. That's even harder to do. I was very lucky. But anyway, the deer ran into my arrow. It's funny because I had shot all my arrows at squirrels and grouse. And I had one arrow left when a deer actually happened to walk under my deer skin. How excited was 12 year old you? They'll probably have to cut this, but I sat in the tree stand, the deer jumped my arrow and it hit him square in the butt. Oh yeah. Okay. But it hit the femoral artery. And he ran about 50 yards and laid down. And I didn't know femoral artery from carotid. So I sat and went, wow, I think he's going to die. So I took out my huge giant bowie knife, which had to be very cool at that age. And I carved into the tree, let it bleed, which was a popular Beatles song at the time. I think it was let it be, but maybe. It was let it be. Okay. Yeah. At that point it wasn't. That's great. I love that story. So anyway, I went from archery to I got into a very unusual sport through a friend of mine in junior high school, falconry and birds of prey. So I got to enjoy the only blood sport that you can release ahead of game unharmed. You can trade the bird off for another piece of meat, release the rabbit, release the duck, whatever. And that it is the oldest sport. So I did that for many, many, many years and pursued not only a long wing falcons, but hawks. And I got into hunting ducks with the birds, which was an extreme thrill. There was nothing to me more exciting than watching a falcon come down from a thousand foot stoop where she was just a dot in the sky and you couldn't see her, but you could hear the bells on her legs and you could hear the whistling of her wings when she came down diving for ducks. And so that is how I really got to enjoy the outdoors, to be part of nature in its truest sense.

13:11 Katie Burke Right. Right. Yeah. You're like literally witnessing nature. You get to witness something that most people will never ever see. So I asked this to a lot of people about that moment when they're in the outdoors. And it seems to be a similar answer, but you probably have a little bit of a unique one where you just kind of have that awe inspiring moment where you just kind of, I don't know, it's

13:36 Len Guldman hard to explain what a name for that moment that makes you fall in love, but I would think It was early and it wasn't my deer hunting with a bow, but it was flying a falcon. She had made her first real kill because she was what they call an IAS bird that I raised as a young bird. And so she didn't know how to hunt. I had to teach her to hunt. And in other words, I was the mother teaching the young falcon how to hunt. So it took a lot of time in the very first wonderful stoop that she made and killed a Drake Mallard. I sat on the side of that pond just in total awe. And looking around, I was all by myself, never flew a bird with other people. It was a loner sport just because of the nature of it. It's very uncompetitive. It's you and the bird. And I sat on the side of the pond just in total awe and just fell in love. I'm at the foot of the Rockies in Colorado. Yeah, that's the pretty ideal setting. A beautiful pond all by myself. And that's where I got really in love with everything

14:48 Katie Burke wild. Yeah, that's amazing. So, okay, tell me about training a falcon to hunt. What does that

14:53 Len Guldman entail? Training a bird to prey is unlike training any other animal because it's all based on conditioned response. You cannot, if your falcon is a bad girl, you can't spank her. Not do it more than once because she's gone. She can just fly away. And it's conditioned response where the bird is kept not hungry, but keen. So there's a fine line there between starving a bird to do what you want it to do and keeping her keen and in good condition because if she's not in good condition, she can't catch game. Right. Yeah, she has to be healthy and strong. Exactly. So it's all based on conditioned response to where you have trained them to come to you for food if they miss the intended quarry, which happens a lot. They only are successful maybe every third or fourth time less than that in the wild. But a well-trained falcon will come back to a lure, come back to a live lure if she's missed the head of game that she's after. So it's all conditioned response. You're offering her food and she's coming to you. Okay. And do they imprint on you? Is that how it works? A young bird absolutely will. And those are the least desirable birds there are. Really? Yeah, absolutely. Because they have no manners. It's like an untrained kid. It's wild and crazy. It's like having a toddler. Yeah, they scream all the time.

16:16 Katie Burke I got a couple of those.

16:17 Len Guldman Try the conditioned response part. Yeah, they don't work. The potty training has been real fun. So yeah. Okay. I would have thought of the opposite though. I would have thought the imprinting would have been… No, no, no, no. As a matter of fact… Because again, it was a lab. The loyalty there… There's no loyalty with the bird prey. They're a wild animal that you have trained to be able to come live in their world. So is there an alpha response? I guess birds don't have that. No, they don't. And there are a couple of species of birds of prey that do become somewhat attached to you. Because they're solitary animals. Very solitary. Harris hawk is one and a deer falcon is the other. They will become actually closer than any other species of bird, but they are wild and they can fly away at any time. And I had that experience. The very first flight off of a long line, they never look back. Oh, that's pretty disappointing. You all that work and you're like… So it's a month and a half, two months of training for a bird that you trap out of the wild that already knows how to hunt is a much better hunter, much better behave. And they're the ideal bird to fly.

17:34 Katie Burke I just actually learned… This is actually really timely because I learned this yesterday, how you trap them. Well, I didn't know this because we have an intern right now in the science department at Ducks Limit and he is an ornithologist. And Nick Wiley also are… Oh, I forget his title right now, but it'll come to me later. But he used to be chief scientist and now he's chief operating officer. But anyway, they were going to tag something. They were going to ban a couple of predatory birds and you basically put a mouse in a cage. With nooses all over it.

18:09 Len Guldman With nooses. I was like, I didn't realize. Yeah, that's how they did it.

18:12 Katie Burke Yeah. That's called a ball shat tree. Okay. A ball shat tree. Yes, ma'am. Learned a new term today. So yesterday I learned what the thing was. And he had did it himself They tried the newer version of how to trap them and then that didn't work. So they're going back to the old mouse from the pet store. That works.

18:33 Len Guldman Little nooses. Yeah. Whatever. But yeah, it was a very, very inspiring hobby to be in. I'm going to call it a hobby sport. Loved it, but it's very, very time consuming. So when I got into business in my mid twenties for myself, I didn't have time to train the birds adequately. It's a full time job, literally, when you're flying falcons. Do you have multiple when you're doing it or just have one that you're working with? You could only at that time have two birds of prey. There were several levels of falconer, novice, you had to serve internships underneath a master falconer. Wow. You were an apprentice. This is not for the light of heart. It's a lot of work. It really is. There's multiple tests you have to take and you have to have a big facility to home the birds, house the birds in proper equipment, that type of thing. But it got me involved heavily into the outdoors. And that's where I transitioned into the firearms work because I had to give up the birds timing wise to run a business, which so happened to be a firearms business.

19:50 Katie Burke Yeah. So when did you become interested in firearms? Because I mean, you're doing all

19:54 Len Guldman this. Are you becoming interested during this at the same time, like simultaneously? Yes, semi-simultaneously because of course you used guns at certain times to get food for the birds or whatever. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I was raised with pellet rifles on. You're not going to the pet store and… No, mice are too expensive. I did raise quail. That works real well because a bird of prey you can't just feed her hamburger, she'll die. You can't just feed her nothing but steak, she'll die because birds of prey have to have roughage. Okay. That makes sense. Because their system is designed around all those bones and fur going together and creating

20:35 Katie Burke what's called a casting that they… The pellets, yeah.

20:39 Len Guldman …come back out and that's what cleans out their digestive tract. So it's necessary that you get wild game that has small bones and fur and whatnot. Yeah, and I'm guessing they don't want anything bad. They want… Well, no, they'll definitely stuff you put in the freezer like a duck or a rabbit or… Oh, they will? Oh, yeah.

21:01 Katie Burke Absolutely. Yeah. To them, meat's meat. If you hand it to them, they're happy. Yeah. And it's just… And you're a young kid though, it's cheaper just to go hunt for them. Exactly. Yeah. So were you growing up like… Were you like growing up like in the country area? Like where were you in the city? Like how were you…

21:16 Len Guldman I lived in the suburbs to where I could walk and be in wide open fields and that type of thing. Yeah. At the edge of suburbia, which is now the middle of Denver.

21:27 Katie Burke Right. I'm sure. Yeah. Yeah. It's not suburbia anymore. Nope. Okay. Okay. That makes sense. All right. So what do you… When you get into firearms,

21:38 Len Guldman where does your interest first go? I started in the firearms business and that's where I learned good stuff from bad stuff. And I became a collector. Obviously, you fall in love with certain classes of firearms, which at first became lever action rifles, because that was one of my first real guns that my dad gave to me was a Marlin 22 lever action rifle, Model 39. I started collecting Marlin rifles and then I mature into nicer, although the Marlins were very high end guns towards the end. Yeah. I was like, now you're okay. Yeah. Which my entire Marlin collection went to Richard Ellis. Yeah. Our friend Richard. He sold that back in 1999. And I fell in love with double guns, whether they be shotguns or double rifles, but my true love is double rifles, which are, they look like side by shot shotguns, but they shoot rifle cartridges. All right. So why double rifles? They were the highest form of quality firearm building back in the day. The craftsmanship was phenomenal. All the good guns were built in England pre World War II, pre 1930, even pinpointed further. They were sold to the elite princes, princesses, maharajahs, Indian, whatnot. And so that to me became what I wanted to collect primarily.

23:14 Katie Burke And after the Marlin collection, I went into double rifles. So is there, can you narrow it down even more in double rifles?

23:22 Len Guldman Big calibers. Big calibers. Okay. Heavy, dangerous game guns. Okay. All right. That's cool. And then what are the makers of? I don't, I don't know much. There's several companies back in the day that built the highest quality, Holland and

23:39 Katie Burke Holland, Purdy, Rigby, Jeffries. They built side by side shotguns as well as double rifles. So what they have like, cause you talk about this, like there's like one guy that makes

23:51 Len Guldman is it, is he making them for each? Is there a guy at each place or is he kind of making? Yeah, no, it's somewhat like today's manufacturing process where you'll have several stations, but one guy would typically build the gun from start to finish. He would be capable of stocking it, barreling it, doing the action, mating the action to the barrels, regulating

24:13 Katie Burke the gun, engraving the gun. They were real craftsmen in those days. It's a cottage industry. So what I'm asking, I guess what I'm wondering is since they'd have this one guy that specialized in this, so was he training the guys that ended up going to different manufacturers?

24:30 Len Guldman Absolutely. They had apprentices just like it is today as far as carrying on the tradition. And then it got a little more broken up to where there was a guy that did the barrels and one guy did the stocking. But in the early days, it was one guy did it from start to

24:48 Katie Burke finish and he wear a trench around his bench, walking around, working on that gun. That's such a lost art.

24:54 Len Guldman Oh, it's totally lost art. And there are no companies today that build guns by hand. It's all CNC equipment.

25:03 Katie Burke Yeah, I just wonder, this younger generation of hunters love the old stuff. And it's been really interesting because we just did a camo exhibit and they like buying up all the old camo and they just love the old style thing.

25:18 Len Guldman Well, camo manufacturers would probably want to shoot me for saying this, but my granddad hunted in a red and black lumberjack jacket. There was no such thing as scents or atomizers to cover your scent or any of that stuff. The number one scent was keep the wind in your face, and your problems are solved. You don't have to worry about all this stuff.

25:45 Katie Burke So I don't know. I love the old stuff too. Yeah, I do too. That's really interesting. Well, let's take a quick break and then we'll come back and get more into the calls. Absolutely love to. Yeah, let's get back. Where are we going from here?

26:09 Len Guldman Calls. So when did you get into call collecting, calls in general? How did that like evolution? My call collecting started, I guess more of as an assortment than as a collection because my younger days growing up, I'd try a call and if it didn't work for me, I'd throw it in a drawer and buy another one. And they were cheap plastic acrylic calls back in those days. And before long, I had probably 20, 30, 40 calls in a drawer. And my dad finally gave me a set of Iverson matched pair duck and goose call checkered that was made out of rosewood and it was just gorgeous. And that is probably my first set of real collectible type duck calls, even though they were made in the seventies, they were still beautiful and a work of art. And I couldn't bring myself to hunt them. They didn't blow to my style anyway, but I put them up on a shelf in my bedroom and thought, darn, I got that drawer full of calls, I'll put them up there with them. And that's how my collecting started.

27:21 Katie Burke So I just took off from there. That's crazy that your dad who doesn't hunt bought you Iverson.

27:27 Len Guldman Did not hunt, but he knew that I loved and he promoted my hunting. I mean, he'd take me hunting and just pick me up later. And as a real young kid, I can remember him dropping me and my friend off to go duck hunting and his dad would come back and pick us up at the end of the weekend. We lived off the land for the whole weekend, Friday to Saturday, Sunday night. So yeah, that's, I've just really enjoyed the art of duck calls and whether it be, I'm primarily a vintage call collector, but you get to a point where they're harder and harder to find. And so I've moved a little bit into more of the contemporary calls, but primarily the higher end collectibles. Custom.

28:23 Katie Burke Custom, high art, yeah, beautiful woods, checkering, that type of thing. So after you decide you make the personal statement that I'm going to put these up here and I'm going to start collecting calls, where do you go from there? Like what avenue do

28:40 Len Guldman you start going down? Like types of calls you start collecting? Well, I started looking at other avenues. Okay. These are beautiful calls. What else is out there? So you start looking in trade journals and that was just prior to eBay. So that was not available quite yet. But I found out about the show in Chicago and would travel to that and you could always find good old calls there and very collectible. And I started following books on duck calls.

29:14 Katie Burke So Howard Harlan's type.

29:16 Len Guldman The Howard Harlan, Donna Tonelli, Jim Fleming had a book on more contemporary current call makers at that time. I started collecting in 95, seriously collecting. So I've been doing it a while and there were several shows around the country that you could go to and find duck calls, vintage duck calls.

29:42 Katie Burke Right, because you're in Colorado. So that's not, you're not going to find many call collectors in that area.

29:49 Len Guldman In a way, that's a blessing because I didn't have a loyalty to Illinois calls or Arkansas calls. I loved them all. It didn't matter. If it was made in Minnesota, I loved it. If it was made in Arkansas, I loved it. So I didn't have to have a loyalty and focus my collection on just Tennessee calls. I wanted them all. And I went to pawn shops. I went to flea markets, wherever I thought I could find a call. And believe it or not, Colorado, a lot of people from this part of the world retired in Colorado, Estes Park or somewhere

30:28 Katie Burke like that. So we come across a few out there. I've come across some really nice old calls. Yeah, I wouldn't think about that. But you have no competition.

30:36 Len Guldman Oh, there's a few other call collectors. Yeah, but even in 95? Oh yeah, there was a couple. I ran into a guy actually at a flea market. I saw a duck call two or three tables up and I was making my move and this guy beat me too. And it's like, what are you doing? Are you a duck hunter? That's not a good duck call for duck hunting. He says, no, I collect these. And it's like, oh, okay. And we got to be friends. Okay. That's my next question. You got to be friends.

31:03 Katie Burke We got to be friends and duck hunting partners at the time. Oh, that's amazing. So that's another thing I find common with collectors. You usually find either a friend or a mentor early on. Was that similar for you because you were

31:21 Len Guldman in Colorado or how did that work? I got to know guys across the country, Joe Tonelli, Bob Christensen, these guys that had been doing it for years longer than I had, Howard Harlan, and learned from them. Pretty much got their leftovers. If they already had it in their collection, they'd call me and say, hey, I ran across another one of these. You interested? So that's how I tracked down calls. It was very much a networking thing. Like I said, it was pre eBay. Once eBay hit, it became a lot easier, just like a lot of things did. And in the early days of eBay, it was pretty easy to come up with some nice calls. Now it's not quite as easy. Yeah, it's a much different situation. The beautiful thing about collecting duck calls or even decoys or old guns, whatever it is, they're still out there. There's still phenomenal calls coming to market, fresh, what they call fresh to the market.

32:21 Katie Burke There are, you know, there wasn't a good decoy, but yesterday I was in the museum. I go to the museum every morning, check on exhibits, just kind of show my face. And this guy came up to me and had a picture of some masons. This is what he had. He didn't know what he had. But I mean, they were just standard repainted, you know, a couple of bills were placed. They weren't worth anything. But he has them and he has no idea what they are. So that's eventually

32:50 Len Guldman one of those guys who has three decoys or three calls from his grandfather. They're going to be something nice. The sad thing about decoys with the advent, you know, the old wooden blocks they hunted over in those days. The sad thing about those is when the plastic decoys hit the market, they got burned up in fireplaces. You know, what do I do with these old things? And they just went into a fireplace and got burned up. Duck calls have always been useful. So

33:21 Katie Burke I think it's easier to find. They don't also keep you warm very long. No, no, not worth burning. And they fit in a drawer. Yeah, that is, we were talking about that. I interviewed Gigi Hopkins. Wonderful interview. I very recommend listening to it. But she was, we lamented over the fact that every

33:43 Len Guldman story of a collector ends up with and the sack of decoys was burned. Oh, yeah, we had a bunch of those, but we burned them.

33:53 Katie Burke It's a very sad story, but you're right. It's a very different way of going about it because a lot of times when people recommend to collectors to get started, they recommend to find your niche, you know, so you're not buying everywhere and buying a lot of things that don't, you know, waste your money on things. You didn't go that way. You went a different way. So, okay, how would you describe your evolution of collecting and how you decided what you're going to collect and what you're going to keep, what you're going to sell? Like, how

34:24 Len Guldman did you decide to find tunes? I had a conversation when I first got started collecting, it didn't matter if it went quack. I wanted it. And before long, I had several hundred duck calls that were virtually worth the, you know, they're 30, $40 calls. And I was talking to Joe Tonelli one night on the phone. He says, you need to slow down. He said, he probably said it not as nice. No, not quite as nicely. Ryan can do a much better job than I. So he said, you know, stop and think of what you're doing here. At the rate you're going, you're going to have 2000 duck calls in no time flat, but you're going to have a lot of nothing, right? You know, air. Yeah. And that's great if that's what you want. But I didn't want that. I wanted higher end stuff. And he says, stop buying, get rid of those trade for, you know, maybe it'll take 10 of those to get one of these. But in the long run, you'd rather have it. Right. So I'm not a firm believer in more is not better. But my wife tells me that. So I decided, okay, I'm going to focus on the better calls, checkered calls, artsy or higher calls, more famous calls by rare calls, that type of thing. And that's, that's kind of where I went. I still have over 2000 calls, but they're high end calls and not so much of the lower end stuff. If somebody like Charles Grubbs made low end calls and high end calls, I have, I want them all. But he's a real famous guy in duck call history versus, you know, folks or I just want high end folks, the old folks, stamped calls, that type of thing.

36:20 Katie Burke Yeah. Okay. Cause that's a lot of variety of style. Do you have a preferred style?

36:28 Len Guldman A lot of question. Checkered, sexy looking. So Arkansas or no? My favorite duck call. Yeah. What's your favorite? All around is without a doubt an Ira Ferguson. That is the cream of the crop for me. I love carved produce. I've got a lot of carved produce, including crown stoppers, but the checkered winged panel calls, hookers, carved calls, those are incredible. Beckhart carved calls. Those are the ones I are my favorite. Head and shoulders above the rest.

37:07 Katie Burke So that's why you're looking for that. Are you still looking for that white well of that Bechert out there? I've already got it. You already got it. When did you get?

37:17 Len Guldman The finest duck call ever made was a call that JT made for family. Yeah. The three, there's two. There's two known, supposedly one unknown. Yes. That's what I mean. You've got one. That is without a doubt the finest duck call ever, ever made and new in the box. You have it in the box. Nobody had ever seen a JT Beckhart box. No. Big Lake duck call that was absolutely brand new

37:48 Katie Burke in the box. So you have one of them. The other one is with Jay Cucci's collection. Jay Cucci's collection. It came into auction at Chicago. Well, the audience can't see this, but I'm looking at it and yep, that's it. Oh my gosh. That to me is the finest duck call in existence. Yeah. Well, I don't think it's just to you. I think that's to the collective community. It's the holy grail. Yeah, it's the holy grail. But there's one more out there, supposedly. There is. That's what I said.

38:11 Len Guldman The white well of duck call collecting is still floating around. But does it have a box and is it brand new? Who knows? Yeah. We don't know. We don't know. Don't know. So I forget, was it for his daughters? Has he made three of them? I don't remember who was Free's daughter. I actually bought it from a family member that came to me. And that call has a really funny story. It had been stolen from the family. The guy put it on eBay. Everybody thought it was fake, of course. Some people knew it wasn't. And the police tracked him down, got the call because of his eBay posting and returned it to the family. And a couple of years later, I had seen the call and knew about it. But he didn't have the box pictured. But that family member contacted me and said, are you interested in this call? The family wants to diversify themselves of it. It's become a real issue. And I said, absolutely. And he came from back here all the way out to Colorado to hand deliver it. And I got it. Wow. What a phone call to receive. When was this? Oh, that's been 20 years ago, at least. Yeah. Are you lucky? Rather have luck than skill. That's true. That's 100% true. I did not realize that you were the only one who had that call. I should have known that. Yeah, that's pride and joy. Although I have several others that, again, Ferguson's… If there's one call you can look at and put a finger on, who made that call? It's Anira Ferguson. Right. It has a very unique… Very unique, very few of them out there. He made it in both Arkansas style and Real Foot style. And I've got both of those. I think there's only a couple of the Arkansas style.

40:04 Katie Burke Yeah. So they're mostly Real Foot style. That's what I've seen. They're very beautiful call. Yeah. I wonder where that other Becks… Who knows? Hopefully they get burnt in a fire.

40:15 Len Guldman Fell in a lake. Who knows? I mean, even though that was a very expensive call in its day, that was probably a $10 call. Yes. So although it was made for family, people didn't look at things like they do today. They weren't collectors. They didn't

40:33 Katie Burke collect things like we do now. No, that was a utilitarian object. It was a tool with a purpose. A pretty tool for family. Yes. Yeah. He just made that special for us. And it sat in a drawer in a sock, wrapped up in a sock for 70, 80 years. Well, it's like the other one that Jay Cucci has was in a woman's underwear drawer for years. Exactly. All right. So now at your point in collecting,

40:59 Len Guldman what is it that you're searching for? What am I looking for? Yeah. What are you looking for? At this point, pretty much duplicates of the higher end calls. I will never pass the opportunity at a Pickle or another Clifford or something like that. But I would say there's a few makers that I'm missing. Not as important to me as the other ones because they may be plain or whatever. But the higher calls will always interest me. Yeah. And it's trade material. Yeah. It's also trade material. Yeah. So I mean, they are, again, I know from talking to Ryan, because that's really how he built his collection is by amassing trading. Yeah. Absolutely. That helps you get the next big one you want. Sure. It's a business in a way. Well, kind of. Yeah. But your focus is on getting more. Exactly. And all of them. Right. There's no such thing as too many duck calls. I bet your wife disagrees with that. No, she doesn't. She does not. Oh. She thoroughly enjoys it. You're lucky that way too. Well, she's a hunter. So as a matter of fact, she's guided by Ryan Graves. Oh, wow. Yeah. That makes me very happy. There's not a lot of women hunters out there. It makes me happy. Nope. Of course, with Ryan, she had to say, are you going to shoot these ducks going by? Because you're on your phone and my dog wants a retreat. It's over there whining. Yeah, exactly. That's awesome. I love that. She loves to hunt. She's big turkey hunter, waterfowl hunter. She says she does it for the dog, but I don't know if I believe that. But yeah, to me, waterfowl hunting is about dog work. I love that.

42:35 Katie Burke I grew up and my dad would never train a dog. He had two children and we were the dogs for many, many years. He's back. You're on a collar again. So my brother, when he got to college and had his own money, he bought, I guess right out of college, he had his own money, had the time to train one when he was in grad school. That first dog, I love that dog so much. It was the first time. We never really had a dog and we were like, finally. We got to feel what it was like to- You weren't the dog anymore. Yes. I love that dog so much. It was very different, which people are usually surprised to hear that because I grew up hunting. I'm like, yeah, no, my dad would never-

43:18 Len Guldman Never get a dog. I think it's a huge part of waterfowling today is the dog work. It always has been, but that- A good dog makes a big difference. Oh, absolutely. And a bad dog makes a big difference. Yeah, a bad dog will ruin a hunt. But yeah, just to watch their desire and their ability, it's just incredible. My dog, and I never, I swear, I never trained her to do this, picks up the decoys, but she will swim through those decoys to pick up a duck on the far side. I never told her to do this. She learned it on her own and she knows when the hunt is over. Oh, wow. When you get out of the blind, she starts picking up decoys. The only downside is she has sharp teeth and I'm constantly putting clear silicone and tooth marks to keep them from sinking. But yeah,

44:14 Katie Burke things like that, that's all part of the whole experience to get to enjoy that. So another question I like to really ask collectors is advice for people that want to get it, especially because we're at Call of Palooza and this will be an event that has people that

44:33 Len Guldman might get interested in collecting. What is your advice you would give to somebody that's interested? Probably pick, be a little bit more specific, whether it's contemporary calls, vintage calls, whatever. Everybody starts out like I did where they just get as many calls as they can, but focus, pick something and focus on it. I would much rather have one high end call than 100 low end call because A, 100 calls takes up a lot of display space versus one call. And down the road, I think that's probably, I see this in firearms, high end firearms versus middle of the road firearms. The market will go flat in the middle and there's always somebody for the low end and there's always somebody for the high end. But the middle of the road stuff can fall flat and it's the same with decoys, same with firearms. Yeah, you're right. Did you look at Leland Littles auction today at all? No, did not.

45:35 Katie Burke It was very like exactly what you're saying. They had a lot of long rifles in there, which I'm not particularly interested, but you probably would have been. But yeah, it was like the high end stuff, like exactly as you would expect it. The low end stuff, you know, state of that. And

45:52 Len Guldman then it was, yeah, it was definitely a flat. We hear so much about how flat the economy is and blah, blah, blah, blah. You know what? The air is thinner at the top, but there's still a lot of people out there with a lot of money. And they still buy these high end firearms. There's only so many of them out there and it's just like high end duck calls. There's only so many of them out there. Those will always command a huge premium and they're going up at a huge rate. So it's not only a collection that you get to enjoy and part of what you love,

46:25 Katie Burke but you've got to look at it as an investment. Yeah, you have to. The last few, like Guy and Dieter, even Copley has had calls lately. What are your thoughts on

46:36 Len Guldman calls coming into these bigger auctions? Like they're typically decoys and sporting art. I see it. Well, I mean, it is folk art. It is sporting art. Oh yeah, I agree. So it belongs there.

46:47 Katie Burke It does belong there, but it's new really to their…

46:51 Len Guldman Fairly new. Guy and Dieter has done it much longer. Much, much longer. But Steve O'Brien had some great duck calls 20 years ago. Oh, did he? When he first started, yeah. I bought several really nice calls from him. But I think it's a great avenue for everybody to get a shot at something and jump in there and play. Yeah, it's probably going to bring top dollar unless people are sleeping, but it gives everybody a chance to play. And it's a great avenue for people to dispose of a collection, whatever. I see it in the firearms market more and more and more every day. And there's new firearms auctioneers coming on board. Well, Guy and Dieter just started doing a full firearms thing. Well, that made sense for them.

47:44 Katie Burke It did make perfect sense. I talked to John several times and he would say, we'd have to basically step over shotguns to get the decoys.

47:52 Len Guldman And that made no sense. And especially, Wes Dillon's a duck hunting friend of mine, partner, and he comes and hunts. We hunt a lot together. I'm going to interview him this year. Yeah, he's a great guy. And probably the most knowledgeable firearms guy I've ever met. He actually started the Cabela's Gun Library and then moved to be the curator of James Julia's auction for the firearms division. So super, super knowledgeable guy. He's handled more high-end, one-of-a-kind type guns than anybody I know. When I was at the Colorado Gun Collector's Show just a week ago, there were probably 10 or 12 booths that were auctioners coming on. So it wasn't just Richie's or Guy and Dieter, it was Poulins, of course, is huge. There were people I'd never heard of. And again, that's online stuff. A lot of it's online. But there's auctions all over the country for firearms and you'll see it happening with

49:00 Katie Burke decoys and duck calls and sporting art and everything else. So it's just inevitable. Yeah. I talked to John a lot about what you're going to do. Oh gosh, I just forgot his name. That works for John. It does and the impact that has had on new collectors. Anyway, I have it. Dave Neibull? No, no. It's a young guy that he is kind of running that and I can picture his face right now.

49:27 Len Guldman Oh yeah. Okay. With Guy and Dieter.

49:29 Katie Burke With Guy and Dieter that he's running that. But he's running decoys for sale and we were talking kind of like the impact that it had on new collectors and it's good. I think it's a good

49:41 Len Guldman thing. It's great. It's like eBay. Yeah, but it's eBay with security. Yeah, exactly. And you don't get that everywhere. And that's what I tell people that ask me about firearms. Is this auction, is this a good gun for me to buy? It's like, you know what? I can't tell from a picture. If it's been re-blued, refinished, whatever, but do they offer aid? Do they honor their description? If they say it's an original gun, do they honor that? And that's who you want to deal with. And Guy and Dieter, those guys, they all write great descriptions and they live with it. If you get the item and it's not what they described it as, you get to return it. So that's huge.

50:27 Katie Burke It's insurance. Yes, exactly. Well, all right. So I've taken up a lot of your time and… No worries. I don't know if we covered what you wanted. So is there anything that you would like to add for our audience?

50:42 Len Guldman Other than I think it's great what you're doing. I think that's really cool. It opens things up to a lot more people, people that have never been exposed to duck calls. Now they're getting

50:55 Katie Burke exposed to it because a lot of people follow to you. That's huge. I mean, I grew up in ducks limit and I grew up duck hunting, which our audience obviously knows. But I grew up in the Mississippi Delta and we are strangely void of historic calls and decoy making. It's a odd little

51:13 Len Guldman hole in the waterfowl world. A lot of that is because the time length that has passed since those calls were so widely used, they've scattered all over the country. It's amazing where I have found high-end, beautiful quality, vintage duck calls from all over the country. And I think a lot of it is because Arizona, people went to retire in Arizona. They lived in mass. So basically you're telling me I need to go to Florida and… Everywhere. Find the cotton tops and say, what have you got in your drawer? That's his advice guys. Well, all right. This has been really fun. Absolutely. Thank you. Enjoyed it immensely. All right. Thanks, Len, for coming on the show. Thanks to our producer, Chris Isaac. And thanks to you, our listeners for supporting wetlands and waterfowl conservation.