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WV Craftsman Creates Custom Calls

June 8, 2017
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Retirement has definitely changed over the years. Retirement used to bring the connotation of being "put out to pasture". Today, retirement has become synonymous with reinventing oneself, starting second careers, and finding time to pursue the things in life you are truly passionate about, but your primary profession before retirement left little time for.

Take for instance, Dave Klingensmith, a U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran who become a construction worker in 1972 after his military service. He possessed strong technical skills, high intellect, and a driven work ethic, which enabled him to rise through the ranks until he became the superintendent for a major construction company. After retiring from the weighty responsibilities of his construction career, Dave and his wife, Amber, decided to acquire property in West Virginia; where Amber spent considerable time at her maternal grandparents growing up, went to college, and then lived for 13 years.

They found 88 picturesque, very rural acres in French Creek, Upshur County and after initially putting up his workshop, Dave and Amber built their own home in West Virginia from 2005 to 2008. They maintained the home in Austintown, OH where Dave was raised and that has now become their secondary residence.

Article Photos

Amber and Dave Klingensmith proudly display a variety of hand-made custom turkey calls, deer grunt tubes, and a call display box that French Creek Game Calls create for discriminating hunters. Photo by Grey D. Berrier II

I first met Dave and Amber at Fin Feather Fur Outfitters in Boardman as they shopped for a replacement magazine for her .17 HMR in April 2016 and then sat down with them at their Austintown residence earlier this year to learn more about Dave's transition from construction superintendent to turkey call craftsman extraordinaire.

Growing up, Dave hunted the many farms in the Austintown area and honed his hunting skills roaming the woods around Kane, PA with his uncles and cousins. It was only natural that he would take up turkey hunting on their West Virginia property in 2005. Knowing they had built his workshop first and it was fully stocked with an extensive variety of woodworking tools and equipment, which Dave could very competently operate; Dave's son recommended his dad try his hand at making his own turkey calls. Dave started out making a few box calls, but soon switched to creating pot friction calls.

By Dave's own admission, his first ones were rough, but with extensive experience on the wood lathe and a little time, he perfected his craft. He soon learned the best diameter for his pots, the correct height for the internal pedestal, the optimal distance between the striking surface and the sounding board, and the ideal number of holes to drill in the bottom of his pots to obtain prime sound resonance. Some parts of the construction/assembly process required extensive trial-and-error, so the premier glue for attaching the striking surface and sound board (it needs to be permanent, but flexible) and the superior hand-rubbed finish (so the wood remains highly polished, yet never absorbs moisture) are closely guarded secrets.

Fact Box

Based on the amount of time, effort, and attention that goes into each individual call, Dave estimates he has made over 600 custom calls in his career.

Dave Klingensmith's new hobby evolved into a home-based business, French Creek Game Calls. Curious by nature, when he came across a sizeable piece of somewhat rare acacia wood, he became the first call maker in the country to make turkey calls out of acacia wood. Dave's exquisitely crafted and authentically sounding turkey calls first caught the attention of the President of the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Foundation and subsequently led to the National NWTF President having to have one for himself.

As word traveled around the Mountain State, demanding turkey hunters wanted to get their hands on a pot friction call with the French Creek Game Calls label. Additionally, French Creek game calls have become the preferred turkey calls of many well-known hunters and videographers, such as Dan Bayus of Tineman Tuned-In Archery; Zach Lamb and Stanton Posey from Average Outdoorsman; Shawn Keaton from Hopkinsville, KY; and Dave's cousin, Pat Klingensmith of Canfield, OH. Numerous wild turkey grand slam achievers on record at the National Wild Turkey Federation have used Dave Klingensmith's calls to complete their challenging harvest of all four wild turkey subspecies found in the United States.

Like fine musical instruments, Dave personally makes and tests each one of his pot friction calls. He utilizes woods from around the wood, some rather exotic, including acacia, bocote, Bolivian rosewood, chechen, curly maple, marble wood, Osage orange, and purple heart; while also offering woods harvested right from his property, such as black walnut, cherry, hickory, maple, poplar, and sycamore. Even his strikers are works of art coming off his lathe as they are made from either babinga wood, Bolivian rosewood, or a colorful black walnut/cherry/hickory laminate. Dave obtains all his friction surfaces from Pennsylvania and currently offers models with acrylic crystal, copper, slate, and black-anodized aluminum. He is constantly experimenting with new woods and materials, and plans on incorporating ceramic striking surfaces in 2017.

Based on the amount of time, effort, and attention that goes into each individual call, Dave estimates he has made over 600 in his career and plans on continuing to turn out approximately 100 per year for the outdoor shows he and Amber attend, along with additional ones on an order-by-order basis.

French Creek Game Calls make excellent gifts; and based on their high quality and splendor, they are destined to become family heirlooms passed from one generation of turkey hunter to the next. Dave personally guarantees each one of his calls 100% and will personally repair or replace them for life. (He noted the biggest threat to his calls is leaving it on the dashboard of a vehicle in the hot sun, since the intense heat from the sun's magnified rays can potentially warp the acrylic crystal.)

Dave and Amber like taking their products to the people and they focus on many of the festivals offered around West Virginia. Their biggest show for sales each year is the Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens, WV during the third weekend in March; which coincides with when many turkey hunters are eagerly looking forward to the opening of spring gobbler season. Their other primary shows are the National Hunting and Fishing Days of West Virginia at Stonewall Jackson State Park in September and the Mountain State Forest Festival held in Elkins in early October.

In addition to his wide assortment of pot friction calls, Dave also started making a variety of wooden deer calls and grunt tubes with stainless steel reeds in 2012. His "camo" edition, which includes multiple laminates of black walnut, cherry, and poplar is the most requested.

Along with his turkey and deer calls, he also makes custom call boxes, which are elegant pieces of fine, hand-made cabinetry, complete with laser engraving. Box #1 was made on request for Bill Looney, owner of Amma Bama Fishing Lures, producers of world-class wooden muskie lures. Each display box is individually numbered and so far, Dave has painstakingly turned out distinct call boxes up through #23 for his delighted customers.

French Creek Game Calls require some preparation before use, as I learned after I received my first one from Dave back in April 2016. He recommends you use 60 or 80 grit sandpaper to roughen up the striking surface with a crosshatch sanding pattern. (He likes a 2"x 2" piece of a sanding belt for its durability.) First scuff in one direction and then go across those marks at a 90 angle until you get the surface dull. He also recommends roughing up the end of your striker with the sandpaper. Dave cautions against ever touching the face of your striker surface, since the oil from your fingers will collect dust. Additionally, he shared that slate will "gum up" if wet, while acrylic crystal, copper, and black-anodized aluminum will work wet. (Good to know for those damp or rainy spring hunts.)

Dave's advice for getting the best sound out of a call is to practice, practice, practice; like you would with a musical instrument. His personal preference is an acrylic crystal call. Dave relayed some advice he received from Clyde Campbell, a former National Turkey Calling Champion and call maker himself. Clyde told him you never meet a wild turkey in the woods that is a professional caller. It is important to spend time in the woods, listen to actual turkeys, and then imitate those birds.

Dave also shared some old West Virginia turkey hunting wisdom that runs contrary to what many spring turkey hunters practice. In the woods, hens fly down and start feeding (looking for grubs and acorns) at first light. Bigger gobblers start roaming the woods around 10 to 11 AM after the bred hens go to nest. Dave said he knows many older WV turkey hunters who don't get out of bed until after daylight and then don't head to the woods until 9 AM in anticipation of the big gobblers out looking for unbred hens. He knows many of these veteran turkey hunters fill their tags year-after-year when many less experienced and less successful hunters have already left the woods for the day.

Amber Klingensmith is also an experienced turkey hunter herself and she too shared her thoughts on turkey hunting. She started off by encouraging more women to get started, since the future of our hunting heritage is our women and children. Amber relayed the turkey's keenest sense to defeat is their vision, making it extremely difficult to not be spotted. She attributes her calling skills to mimicking turkeys she's heard in the woods while deer and squirrel hunting. She said her periodic turkey calling never bothers the deer and squirrels, and her kee kee run calls effectively bring turkeys in every fall.

Dave and Amber's favorite turkey hunting story is how they both harvested spring gobblers from the same blind within mere minutes. Amber called her bird in at 7 AM, and while she was cleaning her bird in the workshop, she heard Dave's gun go off when he took the biggest of three gobblers that responded to a purr.

Clearly Dave Klingensmith's greatest motivation for making superior turkey calls are the results he gets back from the guys and gals who harvest turkeys with his calls each year. He and Amber never tire of receiving phone calls, Facebook posts, and having folks come up to them at shows to share how a French Creek Game Call did the job for them. It's simply amazing what a highly-motivated retiree with the right skills and a whole lot of passion can do in their second career!

If you are interested in adding an exceptional French Creek Game Call to your hunting necessities, either a turkey or deer call, there are several ways to contact Dave and Amber Klingensmith for more information, pricing, or to place an order. You can call them at: 304-924-9221 or write them at: 648 Beaver Run Road, French Creek, WV 26218.

Or check them out at Creek Game Calls, and while you are there, you'll want to scrutinize the many photos, videos, and posts from their very satisfied hunting customers. A French Creek Game Call is a wise investment in your hunting future and you'll quickly learn why their motto is "West Virginia's Best Call Ya'll".



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