published Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Person to Watch: Duck-call maker Orr talks about his craft secrets

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    Gary Orr, 24, of Soddy-Daisy, has been making custom duck and goose calls for the past two and a half years.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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GARY ORR

Age: 24.

Hometown: Lakeland, Fla.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Austin Peay State University.

Family: Wife, Traci.

Favorite television show: "Duck Dynasty."

Hobbies: Fishing, bow fishing.

Pro career: Orr, a former Soddy-Daisy High School and Austin Peay State University quarterback, was the starting quarterback for the Chattanooga Generals in their 2011 American Indoor Football league debut. The team won, 62-0, but folded after its second game (and second win).

In the past year, Gary Orr has been the defensive coordinator for the Soddy-Daisy High School football team, quarterback for the Chattanooga Generals American Indoor Football league team and second-place finisher in the World Championship Live Duck Calling Contest.

"I don't want to sit here and think I'm pretty good and go up there and get beat real bad where I just get embarrassed," he said, referring to an upcoming calling event.

Excellence is part of his life philosophy.

"If I'm going to be a bear, [I'll] be a grizzly," he said. "I want to see what I got."

It fits, then, that Orr also decided to make his own duck calls and now handcrafts them for clients of his side business, Darkwing Custom Calls.

Orr moved to Chattanooga 10 years ago and was introduced to duck hunting shortly after he came.

"I just kind of fell in love with it," he said. "I had to learn on my own."

Eventually, Orr's desire for the best led him to making his calls.

With a lathe, a band saw and a drill press, he began experimenting a year and a half ago and launched his website (DarkWingCustomCalls. com) a year ago. He said he's not aware of anyone else locally making custom duck or goose calls.

To date, Orr's sold nearly 120 custom duck, goose or turkey calls -- 95 percent of which are handmade -- and is trying to get them in stores. They range from $25 to $100, he said.

Q: What is the primary aim of a duck or goose call?

A: Just bringing [the birds] closer is the most basic principle. ... If they've been hunted real hard, you're going to want to try to change their mind that they don't want to land over there; they want to land with you. And [in] doing that trying to sound as realistic as possible. [It's] just convincing them to come where you're at. You're trying to make them [think] like you're a flock of ducks.

Q: Why is a handmade duck call better than a machine-made call?

A: It's just the quality and the craftsmanship. ... Back in the '40s, '50s and '60s and up into the '70s and '80s, that's all people had. And those calls now are super rare, and they're sought after a lot. The biggest [dealers such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Sportsman's Warehouse], all their stuff's machined. Just with my stuff, I try to give every single person I sell a call to the same quality I would put on my lanyard. It's just the detail. ... And it's the customer-service part. Because I'm not out there selling 80, 90, 100,000 calls a year. I may sell one every two or three days, maybe one a week, so [with] each one I want to make that customer happy. I'll get a call at 11:30 [at night], and a guy will say, "How can I improve on this call?" And I'll sit there, and I'll talk to him for an hour.

Q: What makes your call superior to others that are handmade?

A: My thing is just the realistic sound ... because I made them and I designed them from literally scratch. ... I think my stuff sounds better. It sounds more like a duck. That's my selling point, especially [with] hunting here in Chattanooga. There's not a lot of ducks, [but] there's a lot of duck hunters. To be successful day in and day out, you have to have something that sets you apart from the everyday Joe. And that's what I designed my calls to do.

Q: How did you refine the sound your calls make?

A: My wife and I will take our dog to Chester Frost [Park] probably four or five days out of the week in the summer in the evening, and I'll just go listen at ducks because that's what you've got to do. I'll just go listen to them, and I'll be like, "Oh, I've never heard that before."

Q: Is the skill in the call itself or in the blowing?

A: I'm still getting better even now just by practicing, and making duck calls has made me 10 times a better duck caller.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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