Calls of the Wild

by Feb 1, 2021Art & Culture, North Brunswick, People

Outdoorsmen and collectors flock to local craftsman Ralph “The ‘Stache” Jensen of R.H. Jensen Game Calls.

“Most of my duck calls are in here,” R.H. “Ralph” Jensen says, opening the door to a hunter’s haven. Suspended in mid-flight near the ceiling are an impressive variety of mounted ducks and a vibrantly colored turkey that he bagged himself. Above the couch is a mounted deer head and opposite are approximately a dozen duck decoys on shelves.

“All of these decoys were given to me by the craftsmen who carved them in trade for my duck calls,” Jensen explains, his smile framed by his signature handlebar mustache. He then directs me to a different shelving unit where his finished duck, goose and turkey calls are stored.

Ralph Jensen Game Calls NC

Creativity is integral to each call that Jensen crafts. Customers often bring him old pieces of wood that are meaningful to them, such as a 13th-century library door from Bath, England, and the stock of a gun that belonged to Spanish-American War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Admiral Anderson. Most of Jensen’s calls, however, are made out of antique burled walnut (his favorite) or 100-plus year old riverwood, which is reclaimed lumber from the bottom of the Cape Fear River.

Jensen estimates that he has made 1,000 different calls since he carved his first one in 2000. Many of his calls are commissioned by hunters who want to commemorate their loyal hunting dogs. For these custom requests, he creates templates from photos they provide and then carves the designs into the calls. The carving process takes about two hours, but that does not include the time it takes to first transform a block of wood into a useable call.

In addition to carved ducks and dogs, Jensen also offers the option to incorporate interesting inlay materials.

“Look at this one,” he says, handing me an elegant duck call featuring black-and-white diamond-shaped inlays. “Isn’t that pretty? Those inlays are ebony and ivory piano keys.”

If you’re looking for something more exotic, you can request that he incorporate pieces of ivory from the tusk of a Siberian woolly mammoth into your call.

For any call to attract wild game, it has to be tuned to sound like the desired game bird. The overall sound is produced by vibrations of a reed, similar to a clarinet, but it’s the reed’s length and thickness that affects its tune. Since the reeds need to be much smaller and thinner than that of a clarinet, Jensen cuts and shaves wood to create his own reeds. Initially he crafted them out of heart pine but later moved on to other materials, including cedar wrappings from cigars.

When out on a hunt, Jensen recommends utilizing a double-clasp lanyard to retain both the mouthpiece and the barrel in case they become separated. Otherwise, the calls are maintenance free. Unlike musical instruments, the reeds on the calls rarely if ever need to be replaced (but if such a need arises, he is happy to replace them for his customers).

Leland NC Ralph Jensen Game Call

What started out as a hobby has slowly grown into a sought-after product line. Initial sales were largely the result of local word-of-mouth recommendations, but then the power of the Internet introduced Jensen’s quality craftsmanship to hunters across the country. “I’ve shipped calls to almost every state, including Hawaii,” he says.

Indeed, it was the creation of the R.H. Jensen Game Calls website that landed him the largest order of his career. “Copenhagen [Tobacco] commissioned me to create 305 duck calls for an online promotion they were holding,” he says. Featuring a duck rising in flight out of two tobacco leaves, the calls disappeared within minutes of the event going live.

“That put me on another level of what your mind says you can do and what you actually can do,” he says. This realization led him to accept the recent Garden & Gun magazine request for calls to be featured on their field shop website.

“I don’t know what kind of orders to expect, so I have multiple calls in the works,” he explains. The designs he shows me are varied: a mallard in flight, a Labrador retriever, a Boykin spaniel and a turkey call made out of a teak plank from the USS North Carolina.

Regardless of where you purchase one of Jensen’s calls, you can be certain you’ll receive a quality product that combines form and function. Each call is a showcase-worthy piece of artwork that preserves history and attracts live fowl. As his company’s motto summarizes, “For a call with class, go with the ‘stache.”

Want to see them?
R. H. Jensen Game Calls
(910) 231-6865

Photography by Laura Glantz