Turning Tekton duck calls, a spiritual craft
When he was growing up in Southern Maryland, Joey D’Amico spent most of his time outdoors pursuing white-tailed deer and playing golf. After college, Joey worked as a golf pro at Bulls Bay in Awendaw, and his proximity to the Santee Delta quickly introduced him to waterfowl hunting. “Twelve years ago, I was hunting 30 days a year, trying to slip into the I’on Swamp.” By the time he moved to Charleston, Joey had between 10 and 15 spots “depending on the tide and people.” Besides the Santee Delta and the ACE Basin, he also traveled up to the lake, where duck hunting is not dependent on the tide.
“After three or four years, I started making trips west,” he continues. “I have a friend in Oklahoma City who had access to property where we can hunt quail or ducks or geese.” Joey has hunted in North Dakota a couple of times and is able to “sneak a hunt in” when visiting family in Maryland; he often works the western shore with childhood friends in blinds that have been in their families for generations.
Joey now has permission from friends and a mentor to hunt a property in the ACE Basin. “We planted golden and Japanese millet in a field with native, moist-soil plants such as smartweed, sprangletop grass and foxtail. We flooded it this year for the first time in many years, and I am hoping the birds will imprint for seasons to come.”
D’Amico reflects on his diverse outdoor passions, and relationships born from them: “Golf is like sharing a blind with somebody; you get to know people real quickly. For me, I’ve always been drawn to good people in golf and hunting. When you hunt with somebody, there’s an appreciation for game and a teamwork aspect in calling and setting decoys. There is also a sacred respect; guys tell me their favorite spots, but even though it’s a public marsh, I would never go there unless I am hunting with them.”
Many of Joey’s friends tend to be older than he is. “I guess I’m an old soul. I like to do things the old way. I feel like you always learn more going hunting with people who have experience and wisdom.”
Unlike many sportsmen whose passion remains focused on the pursuit of their quarry, Joey’s focus quickly became more expansive. “I had grown up around hunting, and I just fell in love with Lowcountry duck hunting. I immediately knew I wanted to train my own dog, build my own boat and make my own calls.” To this end, he trained Jackson, his 12-year-old black Lab. He has yet to build his own boat, though he has designed some plans for future projects. However, for the past five years, Joey has been crafting his own custom duck calls.
For Joey D’Amico, turning duck calls is not merely a hobby; it’s a passion born from his own spirituality. He explains the moniker of Tekton Game Calls. “I was reading my study Bible, and I realized that in the first Greek translation of the Bible, Joseph was referred to as Tekton, which means ‘artisan.’” Since his first name is also Joseph, it seemed an appropriate name in honor of the artisan who taught Jesus his own woodworking craft.
To hone his woodworking skills, Joey became a member of the Charlestowne Woodturning Group. “I knew I wanted to do work with the lathe and get into turning. Before the pandemic, we had between 30 and 40 people meeting every third Wednesday of the month at Chris Hostetler’s cabinet shop on Fleming Road.” Most other members of the woodturning group specialize in bowls, platters, barrels and pens, but D’Amico is the lone call maker in the guild.
He explains the challenge of being a call maker in the Lowcountry. “The culture of duck hunting in South Carolina focuses more on the prestige of the land: the rice fields and swamps, and caring for that habitat. In places such as Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware, you have the history of the call makers, carvers and boatbuilders — watermen who guided people on hunts and carved decoys. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Illinois, you might have as many call makers in the same county as we have in the Carolinas.”
Fortunately, Joey has cultivated relationships with regional call makers. “Brad Samples in Greenville is a great mentor. Chris Owens in Florence makes a lot of my blanks. Ron ‘Stump’ Laun of RM Custom Calls in North Carolina has given me great advice.” Though call makers are technically in competition with one another, they respect passion and craftsmanship among members of their unique fraternity. “If a call maker knows you’re willing to put in the time and aren’t just looking for a shortcut, they are usually willing to help you. They don’t necessarily tell me what to do, but instead, they offer suggestions so I can figure out new techniques on my own,” Joey explains.
The materials for Tekton calls are as diverse as the sounds they are capable of producing. “I got this maple in Summerville, and I’ll use it on a hunting-style call. I got some African blackwood through the woodturning group; it’s a clarinet reject because it’s got a lot of sapwood. This hedge or Osage orange is called bois d’arc by Cajuns. I picked up this cherry and cedar from trees that had fallen on Broad Street.”
The art of call making brings out the natural beauty of a variety of types of wood.
Tekton Game Calls have emerged on the market and are rapidly making a name for themselves. “Chip Ervin with Grady Ervin & Co. was the first brick and mortar store to carry my calls. Social media has been good for me. In 2019, I sold 176 calls. Forty percent went to Chip, another 40 percent to social media sales, and the rest by word of mouth to people around town. My calls are now on the Hunters Wholesale website, which is really cool!” Joey says.
When the pandemic subsides, D’Amico hopes to expand his brand to sportsmen shows such as the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and the Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classic. “I sent calls in that made a showing at the National Wild Turkey Federation contest in Nashville. Right now, I have made it to the finals of the Beyond the Blind Head-to-Head Call Makers Competition, which is being held virtually this year. This contest is unique because it combines both how a call looks and how you make it sound.”
A true artisan, Joey is never satisfied. “I’ve bought or hoodwinked back most of my early calls. I have improved on my abilities and want you to have the best. As a call maker, I am always trying to make the best call I can. I just figure that since I’m a duck hunter, I know that I want a call that looks and sounds a certain way. My calls have gotten good feedback from people I have hunted with in Arkansas and Louisiana.”
Tekton Game Calls range in price from $100 to $250, from functional hunting-style calls to ornate decorative models. One of Joey’s calls recently was auctioned off at a Ducks Unlimited banquet for $800.
With hand-turned calls, no two are alike.
As he blows a call in the garage workshop of his James Island home, Joey explains his objective: “At the end of the day, this is what I hear in my head as to what a duck’s going to sound like.” With the garage door open, he even has the good fortune of communicating with mallards that frequent his neighborhood pond.
“I want to make a good call that people want to buy and pass down to their children. Not every call looks the same; there’s always a slight variation, and that’s part of it with a custom, hand-turned call. I don’t want to make an average call — I want to make a call an average caller can blow!”
For more information, visit https://www.tektongamecalls.com, or contact Joey at (843) 290-9569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images courtesy of the author.