In a highly competitive market, Chillicothe's Rick Perry has made a name by selling quality calls at reasonable prices
ick Perry has always been fascinated by music. But he's played only two instruments in his life: duck calls and goose calls.
While that's no way to get signed by a record label, Perry's sound is obviously sweet to the ears of numerous waterfowlers.
Since going full-time into call making in 2001 with his Winglock Calls business, Perry has grown from a bit player to a significant presence in the overcrowded field of callmakers.
That's no easy task given what's happening in the waterfowling world. As recently as 10 years ago callmaking was dominated by a few main producers. When you picked up a catalog or visited a store, you typically had the same handful of choices.
No longer. Now due to the ready availability of parts for calls, the number of callmakers has skyrocketed. Pages of waterfowl catalogs are packed with names of different companies.
'There's 100 percent more (callmakers) out there than there were five years ago,' Perry said. 'It's a duck-eat-duck world.'
Yet while Perry wishes he'd gone national with his call-making business earlier, he's made a name by selling quality calls at reasonable prices. It helps too that Perry is as generous a person as you'll meet, always willing to give a free hat or call to a youngster.
The bulk of his business comes from his Web site (www.winglockcalls.com), though he does have calls in Cabela's catalogs and at Gander Mountain and Presley's Outdoors.
In recent years Winglock has typically sold more than 9,000 calls and between 60,000 and 70,000 feet of string goods — mostly for lanyards which waterfowlers wear to hold calls. Perry's wife, Shelly, does most of the lanyard braiding.
'We don't make any more than a normal person would make at a job, but we can stay at home and pay all our bills doing this,' Perry said. 'We sit home, watch ‘The Price is Right' or ‘Law and Order' and braid lanyards.'
Perry, 50, started calling ducks at age 12 thanks to older brother Randy. Before long Rick Perry joined the competition circuit, where he won an Illinois state duck calling championship and competed in three world championships (where his best finish was ninth).
In 1996 Perry quit competing, but he never stopped hunting and calling ducks. After all, the hunt is why he started making 'Louisiana-style calls' in the first place 23 years ago.
What began as a hobby to pay for hunting trips grew into a business when Perry quit a 24-year job at Alcoa Building Products in Princeville shortly before that plant shut its doors.
Today, Perry keeps busy sanding, buffing, finishing, assembling, tuning and packaging calls in various rooms of his Chillicothe home. While he's on his fourth wood lathe, he also hires two wood turners and two machinists to provide parts.
'I couldn't keep up with demand,' he said. 'I decided it's better for me to spend my time finishing and tuning calls than to sit at the lathe all day.'
Ironically, Perry's busiest time of year comes during duck season. So instead of sitting in a blind for 52 days of a 60-day duck season (as he did in 1999), Perry is lucky to get out a few times each week. Back problems have also limited his hunting.
When he does head for the marsh, Perry brings a wooden version of his Old School call.
'Everybody says cocobolo, cocobolo, but my favorite wood is hedge,' said Perry, who is actually allergic to that Central American hardwood. 'So I blow a hedge duck call and a hedge goose call. And if I wasn't blowing hedge, I'd blow walnut.'
Like any musician, Perry has strong opinions about his instruments.
is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail email@example.com