NOTE: Three weeks ago, we introduced you to White Oak resident Emily George, a student at Virginia Tech and an aspiring outdoors communicator. She shared that she knew of a fellow Fredericksburg-area resident and Tech student who was availing himself of the school’s high-tech woodworking shop to design and craft some great turkey calls. It seemed like a good story to share so we offered her this space this week.
A Virginia Tech student from Spotsylvania is combining his passions of turkey hunting and woodworking to hand-craft turkey calls using resources available in the school’s Build-lab.
Hunter Strother, 22, a senior majoring in building construction and an employee at the Build-lab, designs and constructs pot-and-peg turkey hunting calls.
Strother said his passion for turkey hunting stems from his youth, hunting with his dad, Jimmy Strother. They hunt small and big game together, but turkeys have always been their “obsession.”
Strother said that fervor influenced him to begin designing his own calls. He’s met other hunters who make calls with materials such as wing-bones or turtle shells. The rarity of hunters who design their own calls motivated him to begin making calls for his own turkey hunting endeavors.
“There’s something that appeals to me about making your own call and harvesting a turkey with it,” he said. “It would be another sense of satisfaction I’ve never had before.”
Building quality turkey call can be challenging, but Strother realized he had a unique opportunity at Virginia Tech.
“I had this resource at school that I really wasn’t taking advantage of other than for school projects,” he said, referring the lab. “It was underutilized and I figured while I’m there at school, I would use what is available to me.”
The Build-lab is available to students and the community with resources for woodworking projects.
He uses a variety of high-tech machinery and equipment to make his calls. Table saws, sanders, band-saws and a drill-press are the primary types of equipment he uses. Strother also uses a Computer Numerical Control machine that he considers to be a vital part of his call-making process. This machine is digitally controlled and cuts out the shape of the call per the measurements he enters in the computer.
“It brings the traditional way of making turkey calls into the future, compared to typically making them on a lathe,” he said.
Strother also uses a laser-engraving machine to engrave the name of his family-owned farm on the call’s surface.
Cherry, walnut and oak are among his favorite hardwoods to use for the calls. There are many components to making a call aside from the type of wood. Glass or slate materials are useful for the soundboard and striking surface, but ceramic and copper are also functional.
“There are so many subtle and different ways to change the harmonics of the calls – the thickness of the bottom, the number of holes in the back of the call, the size of the components within the call,” he said. “That’s what I’m continuously experimenting with, trying to get it just right.”
Sam Obenshain, a fellow building construction major at Virginia Tech, said Strother’s calls are always unique.
“The first one he made was good, but to see how they have gotten better over time is really neat,” Obenshain said.
Strother and Obenshain hunted turkeys together last spring with one of Strother’s calls and had a gobbler respond. Obenshain said just having a gobbler call back is a “test” to show the success of the craftsmanship.
“We’ve had some bad luck when it comes to turkey hunting, but you can tell that he is getting the sound down and will be successful hunting with one someday,” Obenshain said.
Strother said the sounds that appeal to a fall or spring turkey depend on the conditions of the hunt and how a hunter calls, and little to do with how the call is designed.
The most recent call he made is three-quarters of an inch thick from the bottom to the top, with a slate striker surface over a glass soundboard. He considers it to have turned out “pretty well,” but not precisely how he wants it. Fine-tuning his measurements and materials is a dynamic process.
Strother has yet to harvest a turkey with one of his calls, but hopes to in the upcoming fall turkey season. He and his father train turkey hunting dogs and avidly participate in that increasingly rare style of turkey hunting.
Selling his turkey calls and, perhaps, other types of game calls through a small side-business someday is in the back of his mind. For now, he is focusing on meticulously crafting the tonality of his turkey calls once he returns to school for his final semester this fall.
“I’d love to see my friends in the hunting community harvest turkeys with calls I’ve made. I think that’d be pretty cool,” he said.
The Strothers’ favored calls are on display in their home. Hunter picked one up and gave it a few strokes with the striker, glancing up with humble pride and noting, “You ain’t going to get much better than that on these purrs and clucks.”