If you’ve ever thrown away an old wooden duck call or sold one for a buck at a garage sale, you might have made a big mistake. Some of the most sought-after vintage calls sell for well over $10,000. And really special ones might be worth enough to pay off your mortgage.
Last weekend, I attended the Fin and Feather Expo at Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake. This event replaced the old Reelfoot Waterfowl Festival that had gone defunct a few years back. There was a great mix of new and old, with all the latest and greatest products and a ton of vintage calls. It was the old stuff that drew my attention.
I had no idea there was such an interest in old custom made duck calls, but it is serious business. There were hundreds of folks in attendance hoping to find a special piece of history to add to their collection. Many of them were carrying around brief cases full of goods, like they were in a James Bond movie.
I learned there are certain types of collections. Some people collect Reelfoot Lake calls. Others collect Arkansas calls or Missouri calls or Louisiana calls. There are Big Lake calls, metal reed calls, double reed calls and many other types of collectibles. The whole culture is extremely interesting.
Rob Hurt is a serious collector from the Reelfoot Lake area. So naturally, he specializes in Reelfoot Lake calls. He was glad to see so much activity taking place at the expo.
“Moving to Blue Bank has made this a very successful event. The number of vendors doubled from 18 to 36. The crowd more than doubled. And we had call makers and collectors from 21 states,” Hurt said.
Hurt had numerous tables lined with calls for sale or trade. Most of these tables were outside, but he had a special table set up inside his room where the big deals took place. He is so into collecting he actually has a business focused on it called Feathered Finds.
“The most I know of any call selling for was $18,000. I personally sold seven calls for over $5,000 each. I also bought two collections that included calls made by Doc Taylor, Val Leonard and Johnny Marsh,” Hurt said.
Johnny Marsh was a well-known Reelfoot Lake metal reed call maker who started building during the 1940s. He passed away in 1983. Now his calls sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Hurt has 148 of his calls.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase my first collectible duck call. Hurt sold me a Johnnie Cochran. Johnnie was a third generation duck call maker from Reelfoot Lake. I couldn’t afford a call made by his grandfather, Sundown Cochran, or his father, Son Cochran. They go for big bucks. I heard of a trade that took place for a Sundown call valued at $16,900.
Billy Hatch is 82 years old and has been building calls since high school. He turned his first on a lathe in shop class. Hatch builds Reelfoot Lake metal reed and Arkansas style calls. After speaking with him for a little while, I went ahead and purchased one of his calls, too. He told me what makes his calls special is that they sound “ducky.” I figure someday it’ll be worth a lot more than what I paid for it.
“Earl Denison was the first custom call maker I ever knew. I watched him make calls in his shop in Newburn, TN. Once a year he held a duck calling contest in his store. That’s how I got interested,” Hatch said.
Those attending the expo looking for modern day waterfowl equipment weren’t disappointed, either. Tons of decoys, clothing and accessories were sold.
“As far as the venue goes, you couldn’t ask for anything better. Being right on the water at one of the most historic duck hunting lakes in the country made the event much more enjoyable. I think it was a big success,” said Glen Cunningham, President at Muddy Water Camo.