Seneca native answers the call
“I feel like I am still improving and the results definitely show that, but I keep pushing myself to get better with each call I make,” Brian Byers said.
Byers, a wild game call maker, has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a call maker while a college student at Kansas State University. Byers is a 1996 Nemaha Valley graduate and a 2001 mechanical engineering graduate from Kansas State, and it was while he was a student at Kansas State that he first dabbled in call making.
“I grew up in a family and with friends that loved the outdoors,” Byers said. “I listened to my Dad talk about the great duck hunting that used to take place south of Seneca so I have always had an interest in hunting and calling in game.”
While he was a student at Kansas State, he read in a Field and Stream magazine about making a turkey call that pushed him down the path of call making that he is now on.
“It was my first project, a homemade turkey call made out of a piece of slate I came upon, a corn cob, and a turkey wing bone,” Byers said. “For Christmas, after that venture, I received a howler coyote caller and a tape for instruction and I called in a coyote with it and I was hooked.”
Upon graduation from college, Byers took his first job with Caterpillar, Inc., in Peoria, Ill.
“I have had no art training or formal instruction, but I have spent a lot of time reading on internet forums,” Byers said. “On those forums, is where I began to learn how to make my own calls.”
Byers began to collect custom made predator calls in 2002 and it was then that he decided that it was time to make my own.
“I made my very first coyote call in 2005 out of piece of hedge,” Byers said. “It worked great and I actually called in a coyote with it. It was a distress call.”
That was all that it took for the fire to be stoked for future call making.
“I began to make calls and give them to guys when they would take me out coyote hunting,” Byers said. “I had a drill press, a small lathe, and some turning chisels and a desire to make calls.”
What started out with a call or two being made turned into quite a few being turned out. Byers stated that he has now made around 50 to 60 coyote calls.
“I have sold a few but most of them have been given to family and friends as gifts,” Byers said.
Byers continued to use internet forums for information and ideas, and as a result of that he began to upgrade the quality of his calls.
“I found out that I could sell the fancier calls for more money so I began to put checkering on the calls, like you see on fancy gun stocks,” Byers said. “It took longer to make the calls with the checkering. A call with three panels of checkering would take me about 10 hours.”
Byers constructs his coyote calls out of hedge, or osage orange as it is called, and cocobolo.
“I like the cocobolo wood because it is good quality and it has an oily factor that makes the call waterproof and machines nice,” Byers said.
Over the years, Byers has donated many calls he has constructed to the Nemaha County Pheasants Forever banquets held every November, and the calls – under great demand – have contributed many dollars to the cause.
“I enjoy donating those calls to the Pheasants Forever,” Byers said. “I really hope the guys who buy them use them because I build all of my calls to be used.”
In 2008, Byers turned his interest in coyote call designing to exploring the possibility of constructing duck calls.
“My duck hunting heritage began to call and as I began to hunt ducks here in Illinois I decided to make duck calls,” Byers said. “I made my first duck call out of a fresh piece of hedge. The call I made sounded terrible!”
It was this self-evaluated failure that drove Byers to research and acquire information from other call makers.
“I would buy calls and then take them apart to find out how they worked,” Byers said. “A call is no good if it does not sound like a duck!”
In October 2009, Byers traveled to Reelfoot Lake, Tenn., to attend a waterfowl festival. It was at this festival that Byers turned the corner in his duck call construction and design.
“I met and talked with other call makers,” Byers said. “I was seeking help and wanted to build a rapport with other call makers and they were glad to help and critique my work.”
Byers then dove into his call making more seriously. The calls he was now constructing were made out of cocobolo, ironwood, African blackwood and osage orange.
“If I had to pick my favorite wood to use it would be African blackwood,” Byers said. “It is easy to acquire, machines well, and its natural oiliness makes the call oblivious to moisture.”
Byers estimates it took about 40 calls before he was satisfied with the sound he got out of the calls. All of the calls that Byers makes are working calls.
“I was making 10 to 15 calls a year and giving them to friends and trading them with other call makers,” Byers said.
In 2011, Byers took a huge step that would define his career in call making and set the stage for the future.
“I had a mentor that I learned under that taught me how to make calls with the checkering on the barrel. In April 2011, I entered one of my checkered calls in a fancy call making contest in St. Charles, Ill.,” Byers said. “That call took second place!”
It was also at this time that Byers decided to try his hand at making calls with carvings on them. Carved calls are the most sought after calls and bring the most money on the market.
“Fancy carved calls are mainly made just for competitions,” Byers said. “I went back to my mentor and began to learn the carving methods for calls.” Byers’ mentor, Wes Townsend, carved his own decoys as well as his own calls.
In 2012, Byers turned out his first carved call which took him almost 50 hours of work to complete. Byers returned to the contest in St. Charles in April 2012 and entered his carved call and a checkered call.
“My carved call took second place and my checkered call took first place,” he said. “The great thing was that my checkered call won Best of Show in the Amateur Class!”
By winning the Best of Amateur Class award, Byers was now forced to move up a level in the competitions he entered.
“I now had to compete in the ‘Pro’ level in the contests,” he said.
In 2013, Byers entered two contests with the first being in February at the National Wild Turkey Federation contest in Nashville, Tenn., and the second being in April at the St. Charles contest.
“My checkered call took first place in my division at the Nashville show and then it was awarded Third Best of Show,” Byers said. “I did not place at the St. Charles show and this really changed my focus because I knew I had to pick it up a notch if I was going to compete.”
In 2014 and 2015, Byers took back-to-back first-place finishes with his checkered calls at the NWTF show in Nashville and in 2016,he placed second. In 2017, Byers turned a corner with his call making and the rewards soon followed.
“2017 was my best year,” he said. “I entered a carved call and a checkered call at the Nashville show and my carved call was awarded Second Best of Show and my checkered call was awarded Third Best of Show.”
Byers then entered a new contest that was held in July 2017 at DuQuoin, Ill., and his checkered call won the Best of Show. In 2018, he returned to the DuQuoin show and this time his carved call won the Best of Show. Byers was finally earning the recognition for his call making that he had been working for.
“I am probably more well known for my checkered calls,” Byers said. “I feel like I am continually improving, and last year I turned out seven carved calls but I am still enjoying it and am still pushing myself to get better.”
Since Byers started competing in call making contests in 2011, his duck calls have won 22 blue first-place ribbons and 20 red second-place ribbons at the different call-making contests.
Byers is a member of the Call Makers and Collectors Association of America and has been since 2009. He served as Vice President from 2014 to 16, and then served as president from 2016 to 18. He also has served as the contest coordinator from 2012 to the present at the Reelfoot and St. Charles contests.
“I have to give credit to the friends that I have made that have taught me and mentored me over the years,” Byers said. “Without their help, I would not be where I am today.”