“You’ll go out hunting and you’ll introduce yourself and people will know who you are,” 31-year-old Jonathan Clouse said. “It’s very humbling to have that feedback.”
For the past eight years, Clouse has been designing and building his own calls in a shed behind his house in the Quincy community near Amory.
“It’s kind of like music. You develop an ear for what the call sounds like,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error. You go from tearing up three to building one.”
After a while, his buddies started requesting calls, and then their buddies noticed and placed orders. From word-of-mouth beginnings, Clouse started a Mississippi Duck Calls Facebook page, and the orders have been coming in ever since.
“They call me or write me on Facebook. It works great,” he said. “I’ve made calls for Ducks Unlimited. I made calls for Delta Waterfowl. I built calls for people as far out as Texas and as far north as Maine. They’ve been all over the United States.”
He’s an electrical lineman for Monroe County Electric during the day. At night, he usually can be found in his work shed with Sam the hunting dog nearby.
“Sam is covered in sawdust a pretty good bit,” Clouse said. “Old Sam, he’s been with me through it all. He’s the dog. You don’t ever hear him complain. He’s just a good dog. Old Sam, he never cancels a hunt.”
With Sam panting and stretched out on the concrete floor, Clouse gets to work. He prefers thick grain wood. Bodock is one of his favorites, but he’s also worked with cedar and walnut. He once made a specialty order out of acrylic.
He gouges the barrel and the insert on his lathe, and he vigorously rubs both with sandpaper. He wants the wood as smooth as glass.
Through that trial-and-error process he mentioned, Clouse made a metal jig to serve as a consistent guide when he converts an insert into a tone board. He cuts the reed from an 8-by-10-inch sheet and wedges it in place with a piece of cork.
Then it’s time to see if he got the sound he was after.
“You kind of get a feel for it. You know when it’s exactly what you want,” he said. “A lot of folks want that old, raspy hen, and you want an echo to it.”
After a few test blows, he decided a new call wasn’t raspy enough for his taste, so he took out the tone board and cut a couple of dog ears into the reed.
The resulting quacks satisfied his discerning ear, but there was more work to do.
“The end of my duck calls, I want to shape it like a Coke bottle,” he said. “Wherever you put your lips, it feels natural.”
His laser engraver is in the family laundry room. A hose runs outside a window to vent the smoke created when the C02 laser burns his logo into the wood. He designed the logo that features an outline of the Magnolia State with a duck flying by and the words, “Mississippi Duck Calls.”
Clouse figures he’s sold more than 1,500 calls. They range from $60 to $200, depending on the material.
Each one takes about an hour to make. Sam’s usually there from start to finish, but Clouse also welcomes other visitors.
“I enjoy them coming to watch while I build it,” he said. “The little kid that comes with his dad to get his call made, I’m introducing this to him. I might be influencing him.
“It’s easy to go to the store to buy your kid a duck call, but if you bring your son or grandson to watch their call being made, I think it makes it a little more special.”
His daughters, Avery, 5, and Anley, 2, are too young to go duck hunting with their daddy, but Clouse was excited about the prospect of taking Avery dove hunting for the first time.
Their mother, Natalie, goes with him to outdoors shows and oversees the booth when Clouse competes in duck call competitions. He’s reached the Mississippi state regionals, but he’s never won the finals. That’s something he’ll keep working toward, but his duck calls offer other rewards.
First, there’s the act of making them, which Clouse said never feels like work.
He also marvels at the very idea of attracting ducks on the hunt with a call he built using his ingenuity, some blocks of wood and assorted materials.
And there’s a third joy.
“It’s rewarding to watch that guy take my call and kill ducks with it,” he said. “It puts a smile on his face.”
Clouse paused and pointed to Sam, who was covered in sawdust and lounging on the concrete, and then added, “And it makes his dog happy.”