Rais-A-Ruckus Game Calls: Hand Crafting Quality In Monroe, Georgia
By Nick Carter
“We ain’t got no saw, so you boys best hold on.”
It was fair warning in straight Cajun. Jeff Guidry backed up the 18-foot welded aluminum duck boat, goosed the throttle and slammed the bow into a 5-feet-in-diameter cypress stump. It took a few tries for the hollowed-out old swamp sentry to buckle and fall before 10 feet of timber were loaded among the shotguns and decoy bags along with the morning’s harvest of mallards and wood ducks.
“We were riding on top of that log like redneck Christmas,” said call maker Tim Rupard, recounting the boat ride across Henderson Swamp. They were hunting Louisiana’s vast Atchafalaya Basin, where Interstate 10 bisects the wetlands between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Here, an 18-mile bridge carries hundreds of thousands of drivers across bayou that spreads for miles. Although many have seen it from the road, few venture into the labyrinthine interior. It is a special place.
It was a special time for Rupard, who owns Rais~A~Ruckus Game Calls. His son Jonathan, recently returned from the Army, joined him for the hunt. Along with Louisiana pro-staffers Jeff Guidry and Jared Hall, they stayed in a cabin, ate blue crabs and shrimp and killed a pile of ducks. They also collected that piece of wood Rupard would later turn into some of his most beautiful and meaningful work.
With a saw, the huge cypress stump was rendered down until Rupard was left with just the large round knot of wood, the burl Guidry had spotted from the boat and called a “cancer knot.”
“I knew from past experience the outside of the wood would probably not be any good. It just gets real soft, like cutting balsa wood,” said Rupard. “But I knew that burl was going to be something crazy special.”
Rupard waded with sharp tools into the cracks and fissures of the burl to find useable wood. He cut 20 rectangular blanks that would become 14 mallard calls and six wood duck calls. After boring perfect circular holes through the center of each blank, he used the lathe in his Monroe, Georgia workshop to carefully turn mementos of the trip for each member of the hunting party.
Gorgeous bird’s eye figure extracted from the burl stands out in pale reddish brown. Polished to a smooth and lustrous shine with more than a dozen tediously applied coats of finish, the calls pay suitable homage to a tree that sprouted in wet soil long before I-10 brought humans to the swamp. Bald cypress regularly survives longer than 600 years. The trees can live as long as 1,200 years. Rupard estimates the wood in his cypress calls to be on the older end of that range. For perhaps a millennium, a knot on the side of a tree waited deep in the swamp for a group of waterfowlers to recognize the beauty that lay within.
“You may never, ever, see any wood like it again,” Rupard said.
He numbered each call in the series and considers it a feather in his hat that an older gentleman—a woodworker, not a duck hunter—once bought a matching woodie and mallard set of the cypress calls. The man paid a dear price for two calls he didn’t even know how to blow. Rather than the sound, the beauty of the wood and craftsmanship sold the man on the calls.
Birth Of A Passion
But, for Rupard, turning ducks is as important as turning wood. A passion for hunting came long before call making or Rais~A~Ruckus Game Calls. As a teenager, he called his first ducks into shotgun range with an inexpensive call bought at Walmart and decoys fashioned from duck-shaped foam planters purchased at a flea market. He was hooked. Soon he purchased his first good duck call, a wooden Rich-N-Tone, which his friend and future pro-staffer Adam Marlowe taught him to blow.
Rich-N-Tone (RNT) began Rupard’s obsession with game calls. During a hunting trip to Stuttgart, Arkansas, a visit to the RNT shop intrigued him. He met champion caller and RNT founder Butch Richenback. Rupard got his calls signed and watched the work of the man he referred to as “the legendary grandfather of all duck call makers.” Years later, when Rupard began turning calls as a hobby, he called on Richenback for advice when his finishes weren’t holding up. Although RNT production was well beyond finishing each call individually at that point, Richenback freely shared his knowledge from the hand-made days. Rupard still uses some of the materials and techniques he learned from Richenback. Others he has honed over years of experimentation and trial and error.
An aspect that has not required too much tinkering is the insert, which contains the reed and soundboard critical to a call’s sound. Rais~A~Ruckus is looking into the possibility of producing its own soundboards, but for now Rupard believes Echo makes the highest quality single and double reed polycarbonate inserts available. Rupard tunes each insert individually during the assembly process.
A call’s sound is most dependent on this insert. The resonance of the barrel affects the tone and volume that exits the exhaust. Every caller has personal preferences. Some prefer the louder high-pitched tone of acrylics. From the stages at calling contests, the tonal versatility and volume of a single-reed acrylic call blasts piercing high-ball calls across convention center floors. A bright and loud sound is also useful in the blind for distance calling and open water. But in the blind there is no one call for every situation.
Wood with polycarbonate is what Rais~A~Ruckus chooses to work with mostly. The colors and grain patterns of wood barrels are pretty to look at, and the density of a particular wood affects its resonance and the sound of a call. There’s a reason many musical instruments are made of wood. Wood produces a rich, mellow sound that is pleasing to the ear. Depending on who runs it, wood also sounds awfully “ducky,” especially for the subtle calling needed in close quarters or when hunting call-shy waterfowl.
The Sound and Style of Wood
Rupard lights up in discussing the qualities of different woods. Cocobolo is a favorite in the world of duck calls. It is beautiful when finished, but perhaps more importantly it is extremely dense, sometimes dense enough to sink in water, and produces a sound close to that of acrylic. It is also very durable, which is important for a call headed to the gritty dampness of a blind. This tropical hardwood comes from South and Central America and is harder to find in quantity than some other woods, which means a high-quality cocobolo call can be pretty expensive.
Another wood Rupard likes turning is English walnut. “It’s really, really dense and absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “It can be difficult to get a hold of, but to me it is even prettier than cocobolo.”
Bloodwood, Indian black palm, Cherry, American black walnut, and Iroko, also known as African teak, are all woods Rupard enjoys working with. They all have attractive aesthetic qualities when finished and produce tone and volume that appeal to different callers in different situations. Osage orange holds a special place in Rupard’s heart, though.
A small North American tree, Osage orange was used by Native Americans to make bows. In its natural state it is a nasty character, with gnarled limbs, inch-long thorns and fruit that exudes a stinking latex-like skin irritant. It’s not a shrub one would use in landscaping. But in the hands of a craftsman, the heart of an Osage orange can be manipulated into gorgeous and useful objects. It is very dense, extremely durable, and with its yellow hue gives an appearance of three-dimensional depth known as chatoyancy. The tree is a metaphor Rupard uses when speaking to youth groups about every human’s worth in the hands of God. Rais~A~Ruckus is a Christian company, and Rupard says he feels called to utilize it in ministry.
All the wood that makes it to Rupard’s lathe is hand-selected. Some interesting burls and crotch wood come from walks in the woods, but most of it comes from Peach State Lumber in Kennesaw, Georgia, where Rupard knows a man who holds back unusual wood for Rais~A~Ruckus. Craftsmen working on larger projects such as cabinetry typically seek uniformity in wood grain. Rupard wants the exotic oddball stuff that gives his calls a unique look. After all, part of the joy of owning any type of custom work is the knowledge that there will never be another item exactly like it.
Uniquely Hand Made
“Each one is going to be just a little bit different because I hand turn them,” Rupard said. “And although I can turn calls one right after another and you can’t hardly look and tell the difference, there is a difference. No matter what, I can’t make them exactly the same. They’re not machined. Every single thing is hand turned. I try to put a little finishing touch on each call that’s just a little bit different from the last one I did or something else that I’ve done.”
And it’s also not likely you’ll run into many hunters with Rais~A~Ruckus calls. Hand turning each call means production volume is low. Their calls are only available in nine stores in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. They have a website where they sell a few calls, and Rupard takes custom orders, as well. A cool custom job he has begun doing uses duck bands to construct bands for calls. It provides the added durability that a regular brass or aluminum band does while also displaying the band from a duck the customer killed.
From the lower-end calls sold at stores to the high-end custom work Rupard crafts to-order, Rais~A~Ruckus strives to produce hand-made calls that sound good and have the durability to hand down to children and grandchildren. They are backed up by an unconditional lifetime guarantee.
So, years down the road, if your call cracks because you left it hanging from the rearview in the July heat or even if your retriever gets a hold of it while she’s bored during the off-season, Rais~A~Ruckus will fix or replace it.
Rupard will walk out to his shop. He’ll sharpen his tools to a razor edge. And with his yellow lab Winston sleeping in the wood shavings near his feet, he’ll turn you a new one. Or maybe it will be Winston’s grandson nudging the back of a knee for a pet. Five generations of retrievers from the same bloodline have reveled in cold and wet work for the Rais~A~Ruckus family. From Drake, Rupard’s first of this line of retrievers, through hard-working and loyal Woodie, there has always been a lab to keep Rupard company in the blind and the shop.
With a succession of dogs, each animal retains certain working characteristics while displaying a personality of its own. Similar to a line of good hunting dogs, the call Rupard returns to you will be crafted with the same care and quality he puts into every call he makes, but it will be different than anything he’s made before.
Nick Carter, of LaFayette, Ga., is a freelance writer, photographer and editor of Coastal Angler and The Angler magazines. His new book “Flyfisher’s Guide To North Carolina & Georgia” is an encyclopedia of the area’s best trout waters, available on Amazon. Signed copies are available by emailing the author directly at [email protected].