YOU COULD call it a coffee-table book, but somehow that doesn’t seem right. It’s the sort of book that you bring to the lodge, that you come back to after a frigid morning—a book that you flip through, idly first, then with interest. Like all good books, this one—Calling The Wild: The History of Arkansas Duck Calls – A Legacy of Craftsmanship and Rich Hunting Tradition—forces you to consider the depth and history of something familiar. And then it gets you hooked. In a sense, it calls to you, draws you in.
For 400 pages, Mike Lewis, a White Hall-based lawyer and lifelong duck hunter, delves into the evolution of duck-call design, beginning with J.T. Beckhart, father of the Big Lake-style checkered call, and ushers the reader through the modern day, offering a complete portrait of the craft vis-a-vis profiles of more than 50 Arkansas artisans who’ve shaped the duck call as we know it today.
In the introduction, Mike writes about finding a passion for the calls, something which first took root around 1980, when, at 16, he bought a Chick Major “Dixie Mallard” call for $15. “For many years, it was the only call I used, and I still occasionally take it out today,” he writes. “It seemed like everybody I knew used a Dixie Mallard.” Not long after getting bitten by the collecting bug, however, he realized just how much of the history surrounding call-makers had disappeared—something which he’s sought to rectify through the publication of this book.
But while there’s no doubting his interest in calls, there’s also little doubt that, like any hunter, he still knows the instrument is a means to an end. It’s about those cold mornings, about those hours spent looking up into the sky.
“The hardship and suffering on frigid mornings is quickly forgotten as the birds circle overhead in response to your pleading, begging and sometimes demanding calls,” he writes. “Not every hunt ends in success, but the hunt is always worth it.”