The pot calling the turkey back: Call making guru Daryl Stubbs
Since he began turkey hunting in 1980, Daryl Stubbs has mastered the craft as well as anyone else in the Lowcountry. Hailing from Cheraw, Stubbs is a longtime resident of James Island; he retired from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources as a biologist. Daryl’s pursuit of the wild turkey has led him across our great country. He has hunted turkeys in New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Florida and, of course, South Carolina. “And I have been successful in all those states!” Stubbs declares with pride.
Crucial to successful turkey hunting is effective turkey calling and throughout the years, Daryl has amassed an impressive collection of turkey calls. “When I go hunting, I take a variety of calls,” he says. His hunting trips and passion for calls have introduced him to many craftsmen in the sport. “I always take a box call made by Gary Anderson, a retired Methodist minister in Ohio. Pat Strawser makes a good one, too.”
Stubbs owns an ornate trumpet call fabricated by Don Bald of Illinois — consisting of pre-banned ivory, sterling silver and desert ironwood. One of his Turpin hen box calls was carved by Irving Whitt and boasts artwork from Kelly Puckett. He also has a pair of wing-bone calls made from Rio turkeys by Gary Bunofsky. Callmaker of the Year and Champion of Champions Marlin Watkins of Ohio made a long box call, now in Daryl’s possession. His arsenal also includes calls of renowned sportsmen and craftsmen such as Jody Harrison (Preacherman), Jimmy Schaffer, Bob Harrell, Bobby Ray, Scott Basehore and others.
The best hunters are not always also sporting artists, but they are often kindred spirits united by a passion and commitment to cultivating their talents. An obsession with turkeys and a search to understand them on a deeper level eventually led Stubbs to make his own calls. Stubbs made his own diaphragm calls in the past. Several years ago, he tried his hand and ear at creating slate calls or pot calls — a label he prefers for this practical and diverse turkey call.
“My first pot call was three-quarters of an inch thick and made from a piece of oak I got from Lowe’s.” Back then, he didn’t have a drill press or a band saw, so as best he could, he drilled the center hole and sight-drilled four larger sound holes. After discussing subsequent improvements, Stubbs reflects on his early work: “That first pot call I ever made still sounds better than 90 percent of the production calls you could walk into a store and buy.”
Stubbs’s calls now are all one inch thick and he likes to begin with a square block of wood that is four by four inches. “First, I drill the center hole and the nine sound holes,” he says. He traces the circles with an existing call. “Next, I mount it on my lathe and I turn it to round on the lathe. Then, you make a pedestal in the middle for the sound board. I use slate, aluminum, or glass for the sound board.” Stubbs purchases pre-cut sound boards. “Most slate calls are three inches in diameter with a two and one-half inch soundboard; others are three and a half inches with a three-inch soundboard.”
Stubbs’s vast expertise as a woodsman has sharpened his keen ear for what he expects in a call. “Through a lot of experimenting, I have found that if the sounding board is close to the the calling surface, it sounds a lot better — at least to me. I like mine about one-eighth of an inch apart.
“When I take it off of the lathe and sand it, I’ll go to 400-grit sandpaper. I put on two coats of teak oil and let it dry for 72 hours. I apply polyurethane, glue on the sounding board and then, hopefully, it sounds like a turkey,” he says.
Daryl has made pot calls from many different types of wood. His brother-in-law gets him a lot of kiln-dried wood scraps, from which Stubbs fashions his pot calls. “I like wood with a lot of figure or grain to it. The more dense the wood of the pot is, the better it sounds; the resonance coming out is a lot better,” he explains. Stubbs has worked with all sorts of woods: sycamore, mahogany, ipe, canary wood, purple heart, hickory, rosewood, bloodwood, Osage orange and cedar.
“This one here’s made of worm-eaten oak,” he notes, describing the call I ended up buying upon my visit to his shop. He also has made his own laminates for call boxes. For instance, one consists of sycamore in the center, with Osage orange and walnut on sides. “Black palm is an extra hard wood that makes a great call, but you need carbide chisels to cut it.” Other unique calls are made from many small pieces of wood glued together by the mother of one of Daryl’s friends.
“You can make these calls as pretty as you want — as far as design-wise,” Stubbs continues. But he is a perfectionist when it comes to performance. “When I make a call, if I put the striker on it and I don’t like the sound, I destroy it,” he says.
Stubbs’s calls are versatile. All are capable of mimicking the gobble, yelp and kee kee run sounds of wild turkeys. “They can make a gobbler yelp or a hen yelp, which are done with different cadences. On my calls, you can play the bottom or the top of the call. With a pot call, the most important thing is the angle you hold the striker where it meets the surface. You create a sound chamber with your hand. How tight you grip the pot also determines the sound,” he instructs.
The strikers are made of different woods. “Diamond wood is some of the best striker material. I glue up handles for the strikers. “They make acrylic and carbon strikers, but I’m a wood kind of guy, myself. Different woods for strikers will changes the pitch. Some like a high pitch; others like a raspy sound. Those green laminate diamond woods are hard to beat.”
Stubbs knows a great many people in the turkey hunting community and word of his calls has spread to that fraternity. Friends have encouraged him to enter his calls in national competitions, though he is presently content to share his work with local turkey enthusiasts. “I have probably given away as many calls as I have sold,” he suspects. “I guess I would say I have made close to 200 calls and I probably have sold 100 calls; I’ve got 25 or so on this table that are for sale right now. Most of my calls go for between $45 and $60 and they come with a striker. All of these turkey calls will work,” he excitedly assures.
Several of Daryl’s calls are particularly close to his heart. “I went to Texas last year and I completed a Grand Slam,” he tells us. A Grand Slam occurs when a turkey hunter bags a bird from each of the four subspecies found in the United States — eastern, Rio, Osceola and Mirriam’s. “This call is made from sycamore,” Stubbs goes on. “The soundboard is slate, the surface is glass and the feather inside is from a Mirriam’s.” Another quarry for his Grand Slam, the Mirriam’s was taken in South Dakota; additional calls contain feathers of the other three American subspecies.
Stubbs recently donated a pot call to Quail Forever, for an event held at Boone Hall Plantation. The last I heard, the bidding had gotten up to $110.00. “The funds from the Quail Forever event will be used in the Francis Marion National Forest. It was special because that’s where I cut my teeth turkey hunting,” he says.
As a hunter, “killing a bird with a call I made is icing on the cake,” Stubbs explains. A Lowcountry veterinarian was the first hunter to kill a turkey with one of Stubbs’s calls. “I talked to an inshore fishing guide who said he killed two turkeys last year with my calls. I said: ‘Hell, that’s as good as killing the turkeys yourself!” he tells me with a smile.
To secure your own hand-made pot call before the start of turkey season, call Daryl Stubbs at (843) 209-5596. While you’re there, you might also pick up a gun sling hand-woven from paracord.
Daryl does have one condition, though: “When you kill a turkey with one of my calls, I expect you to send me a d*** picture!”
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.