Dennis Custom Game Calls
The Call Of The Wild
text and photos by J. Mark Shoup
associate editor, Pratt
the modern waterfowl hunter, the margin between success and failure
can often be measured with the simplest of instrumentsa duck
or goose call. In fact, the art of calling waterfowl has become
so refined that competitions are held nationwide, elevating not
only the skill of callers but the quality of calls.
Don Dennis, of Blue Springs, Mo., is a call
maker who has been part of this evolution. He makes no ordinary
duck calls. The hand crafted and finely tuned calls are prized by
waterfowlers from California to New York, from Alaska to Texas.
A Dennis call is even honored in Ducks Unlimiteds National
Headquarters collection in Memphis. They have won three Missouri
Open championships, three Missouri state championships, two Kansas
state championships, and four Kansas regionals.
This isnt counting the times Dennis
has won competitions with them himself. But what really makes Dennis
calls so special is that they are created by the hands of a hunter.
Like a piano tuner or a violin maker, the creator of a wildlife
call must be able to play his instrument well, and Dennis can. "Im
an old mallard hunter," says Dennis. "Theres nothing
like the action of duck hunting, and calling mallards is my favorite
Born in 1931 in Independence, Mo., Dennis didnt begin hunting
ducks until 1946. He and his father had hunted upland game together
for some time, but ducks would become their passion. They hunted
all types of habitat, from the marshes of Squaw Creek National Wildlife
Refuge near Mound City, Mo., to the backwaters of the Missouri River.
Because live decoys had been outlawed more than a decade earlier,
calling was a necessity. Unfortunately, neither Dennis or his father
knew any good callers at the time.
that first effort which still hangs in Dennis workshop is
a bit crude. The bore is off-center, and it looks as if it could
have been carved with a pocket knife. He learned quickly however.
One year after that first primitive quacker come off the lathe,
a Dennis call won the Missouri State
Championship and went to the World Championship
in the hand of Pete Clagett, a Kansas City caller who had won the
Worlds a few years earlier. In the next few years Dennis blowing
Don Dennis duck calls earned two regional championships and qualified
for the World Championships in Stuttgart four times (1966-69), finishing
"My first call was a Stofer," Dennis
recalls, "and I had to go around to contest and listen in order
to learn. Dad was always my main hunting partner, so we learned
together." In 1954, after a stint in Korea with the U.S. Army,
Dennis thought he would test his skills in calling contests. In
his first competition, he finished a respectable fifth. He was hooked,
and entered yearly after that. In 1964, he decided to make his own
calls. "I kept complaining that the calls never sounded just
like I wanted," says Dennis, "so my wife said, 'Why don't
you make your own?' So I did." Well, it wasn't quite that simple.
He already had a couple of calls made by Arkansas craftsman Chick
Major, so Dennis and his wife took a vacation to Stuttgart, Ark.,
to see if Major would let him watch the call making process and
give him some tips. Major obliged the curious young duck caller.
"I talked to Chick several times and watched him work. Then
I came home and bought a lathe." Dennis relates this all in
a matter-of-fact tone that suggests anyone could do it. "I
didnt know what I was doing at first."