Communicating with wood ducks and mallards: Stubbs Game Calls
By Ford Walpole
The beautiful variety of game calls from Daryl Stubbs. Image provided.
For Daryl Stubbs of Stubbs Game Calls, just about every aspect of life has revolved around the outdoors. He initially enrolled in forestry school in Florida but eventually transitioned to a different conservation job with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Division. There, he began as a technician and advanced through the department until retiring as a wildlife biologist.
For the last 20 years of his career with DNR, Stubbs assisted with the Artificial Reef Program. Currently, he works three days a week at Palmetto State Armory, a part-time retirement position in which he has “a great relationship with the manager and assistant manager.”
A passionate hunter, Stubbs has been collecting turkey calls for years. Among his 300 calls, he has “the work of some of the best custom turkey call makers in the United States.” A favorite includes a trumpet call from Don Bald in Lebanon, Illinois. “His calls sometimes have a waiting list of two years. This trumpet call has a mouthpiece made from pre-ban elephant ivory.”
Three-and-a-half years ago, Stubbs tried his own hand at fashioning turkey calls. He explains his primary motivation: “I started making calls because I wanted to kill a turkey with a call that I had made myself!
“I have since changed the design of my turkey calls and added a lot of customization,” he explains. In spite of his subsequent improvements, “that first turkey call still sounds better than 90 percent of the production calls in the country.”
A true craftsman, Stubbs is constantly mastering his work and is not easily satisfied. “If a call does not meet what I am expecting, it will never be for sale,” he says. Regarding a turkey call, his expectation is that it will “have turkey in it.” He picks up a call and begins working it, commenting: “This one has a little pleating sound; that’s a good call right there!”
To enhance his pursuit of turkeys, Stubbs “started making owl hooters to use as locator calls to find turkeys on the roost first thing in the morning. Crow calls also work as locator calls and are effective any time of day. Turkeys are liable to respond to just about anything!” he laughs.
Since Daryl is also fond of deer hunting, he recently began making grunt calls for that sport. His grunt calls include an adjustable reed. With them, you can mimic a buck grunt, as well as a doe or fawn bleat.
Most years during the winter — between deer season and turkey season — Stubbs was focused on wild hog hunting. But this past year, he decided not to renew his membership in his hunting club, so he turned his attention to turning duck calls. For now, he devotes his time to creating calls for mallards and wood ducks, two of S.C.’s most popular species of waterfowl.
Stubbs grew up in Cheraw, where his father was the coroner and undertaker. “When I was coming up on the Big Pee Dee River, I was very into duck hunting. We mostly hunted wood ducks around beaver ponds. I was raised hunting wood ducks, and I just love them! The wood duck is a beautiful bird with a high-pitched call, and it eats good, too!”
Since even Daryl’s early turkey calls proved superior to those marketed by big box outdoors stores, he likewise identified a need for better duck calls. “I knew there was a desire for good duck calls. A lot of duck hunters really like these handmade calls. Many people are not impressed with acrylic production calls. They like the aesthetics and sound quality of a handmade wooden call,” he says.
As a craftsman who is also a sportsman, Stubbs is keenly aware that each different hunt is an individual experience. The same applies for his handmade calls: “No two calls look the same. I actually prefer that each call is unique,” he notes. Picking up a couple of pot calls, he continues: “The calls look a little different on the ends or the bottom,” but both are sure to call in a bird.
The colors of these game calls match the brilliant green heads of the mallards they are meant to attract. Images provided.
For his duck calls, Stubbs turns all the wood and orders premade bands and inserts, which come with reeds. Since they include manufactured inserts, “duck calls are more of a given. The design of how thick or thin the bottom of the call is will tell how easy it is to play,” he says, demonstrating a food chuckle with a mallard call. This year, friends and clients have worked Daryl’s calls to harvest ducks in Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and S.C.
Perhaps the most striking feature that adds to the uniqueness of each Stubbs Game Call is the serendipitous wood from which it was fashioned. “I have bought very little wood,” he says. “A lot of people give me wood,” he adds while shuffling through blocks of future game calls in the workshop of his James Island home.
“Here is some black cherry, sycamore, purpleheart and canary wood. I also use oak, cypress and walnut. I love oak: It is pretty, very dense and makes for good sound quality in a call, especially with a turkey pot call,” Stubbs says.
“The holly that was given to me is green. I take the branches or trunks and paint the ends, which helps it dry out and seals it, so the wood doesn’t split. Holly is a light wood, and it makes a great call.”
Daryl’s acquisition of wood for his calls often includes its own story. He has batches of heart pine from the 1850s, from a house built in 1867 and out of a barn constructed in 1898. “I actually have done some horse trading for wood; I have swapped calls for heart pine. I traded an owl hooter and a turkey call for 50 feet of four-by-four heart pine from a house built in 1867.”
A friend permitted Daryl to hunt deer and turkeys on his Cheraw property. When the landowner was tearing down a shed constructed in 1898, he gave Daryl the heart pine. From the valuable and historical material, Daryl has built turkey pot calls, mallard calls and wood duck calls.
Brian Carroll of Marine Marketing Group, Inc., helped Daryl design the logo for Stubbs Game Calls. In addition, Carroll gave him some unidentified pallet wood, from which Stubbs ripped the two-by-four boards into two-by-twos and subsequently produced owl hooters.
Daryl’s workshop includes necessary but basic functional tools: a lathe, a small drill press, a small band saw, a sander and a chop saw. In making his duck calls, Stubbs puts a block of wood on the lathe and turns it. From there, he drills a hole for the insert. He sands the call down to 400-grit. He prefers his calls to have an “all-natural” appearance, so he applies four coats of polyurethane to protect the device from the elements.
Through making game calls, Stubbs has gotten to meet a lot of people — all fellow hunters. “Selling turkey calls has gotten me a fantastic place to go turkey hunting,” he notes. He hopes marketing duck calls will likewise facilitate additional duck hunting opportunities.
Besides duck calls, turkey calls, owl hooters, crow calls and grunt calls, Stubbs also makes wooden bowls, ensuring that his clientele need not be limited to sporting enthusiasts. His duck calls range in price from $45 to $65, depending on the wood. “Heart pine and walnut make prettier calls, and the wood is more difficult to turn, so the price goes up with those,” he says. Turkey calls are $45 to $50 dollars and come with a laminated wood striker.
With a fine-point Sharpie, Stubbs writes his logo and date of completion, adding a personal touch to his unique game calls. For some of his turkey calls, he ordered an aluminum surface and had Stubbs Game Calls imprinted with a laser engraver. To order your own handmade call and enhance your next outdoor adventure, check out Stubbs Game Calls on Facebook, e-mail email@example.com or call him at (843) 209-5596.
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.