If you want something done right, sometimes you just have to do it yourself.
Frustrated by store-bought turkey calls that didn’t sound anything like the birds he was hunting near his family’s home outside Rock Hill, Darrin Dawkins decided to make his own. “They just didn’t have the tonal quality, I felt, of a true wild turkey,” he says.
Darrin Dawkins demonstrates his turkey calls
Dawkins, a member of York Electric Cooperative, studied his collection of calls, listened to birds in the wild, and tinkered some in his backyard shop. Through trial and error, he was soon making his own box calls and enjoying successful hunting seasons.
That was 18 years ago. Today, Dawkins is considered one of the country’s top makers of custom box, paddle and friction calls.
“Two distinct qualities go into every call Darrin Dawkins makes,” says Jim Casada, editor-at-large for Turkey & Turkey Hunting magazine. “Exquisite craftsmanship and the ‘fine tuning’ of turkey sounds which can only come from someone with a keen ear for ‘turkey talk.’”
When he’s not working his day job in a paint and body shop, or out in the field testing his calls, Dawkins can be found in his tidy backyard shop carefully chiseling away at handselected blocks of wood, shaping each call to achieve the perfect sound. He produces about 40 to 50 box calls each year, and every client is advised upfront that it won’t be made overnight. “I tell people that it may be a year or even two years to build a certain call,” Dawkins says.
While most of his custom box calls sell for $150, his parquet call, which contains seven different woods, sells for $600. His paddle calls go for $200, while his pot calls fetch $100. Before shipping his work, Dawkins often plays his calls over the phone to make sure customers are happy with the sound. All calls come with a full, money-back guarantee, and despite having sold calls in most every state and Canada, he’s never had a return.
Because Dawkins makes calls for hunters all over turkey country, he’s learned to create calls with signature regional sounds. Hunters in the northeast, for example, prefer a higher pitched call. In Alabama, callers generally lean toward a deeper, raspy sound. Here in South Carolina, "hunters who use my calls like them because they’re livelier, more life-like,” he says. “The pitch doesn’t seem to matter as much.”
For all his success, Dawkins still considers call making a hobby—a way to stay connected with his fellow turkey hunters between seasons. “The biggest satisfaction I get is just having people call back after buying a call and using it,” he says. “They tell you how successful they were and how they gained confidence in their calling ability through having a good call.”