By Nick Green
The lathe whirled as he pressed his wooden-handled shapers into the block of acrylic. The dull hum of the lathe and rhythmic ‘tap,’ ‘tap,’ ‘tap’ from the acrylic pieces hitting the window above him sounded like a metronome keeping time.
Dimly lit, the shop hadn’t quite woken up with the songbirds and pheasant cackles that morning. A small lamp sat on the worn workbench beside him — shining its light on what would soon be artwork or a utilitarian tool in the right hands.
‘Quack,’ ‘quack,’ ‘quack’ sharply broke the shop’s silence. “Just right,” he said, as he set the turned piece of acrylic aside. “There’s a science to this and a little bit of knowing what you want,” he said as he grabbed a reed and cork out of a drawer.
“Competition or easy-blowing,” he asked. “Whatever I can make sound good,” I replied. “Easy-blowing it is,” he said.
Starting with a block
Brandon Chedister, 24, has been turning duck calls since he was 20. Through trial and error, he has crafted a sound that was proofed by friends and family — all of whom are serious waterfowl hunters.
Chedister started duck hunting at 18. Accompanying his stepfather, Dean Noble, on Saginaw Bay and the surrounding marshes soon became his penance. He placed decoys, sat quietly and listened. And then he listened more — trying to absorb everything he could from the old guard.
At 20, Chedister decided he wanted to try and turn duck calls — if nothing else, at least for something to do once the last sunrise in the marsh ended for the season and the last Canada goose made its pilgrimage south.
He bought a bargain lathe and started turning. More than 100 faulty calls litter his shop, old lanyards and his shelves — they are a reminder of the time, effort and failures that it took to achieve his own unique sound.
It took Chedister two years — and lots of equipment upgrades — to develop the perfect rasp and responsiveness he wanted in his calls. Greenwing Customs was born.
After his day jobs at General RV as a lot transportation specialist and as a furniture-delivery man at night, Chedister makes his way to his grandparent’s garage where his shop is portioned off.
“I spend lots of nights out here until one or two,” Chedister said. “I never have a bad time when I’m here, and it keeps me thinking about that next cupped up mallard decoying or longtail buzzing the diver spread.”
There aren’t many 24-year-olds that have the work ethic and drive of Chedister. From founding Greenwing Customs to investing in better equipment to further his craft, one can’t help but view him as an old soul with an unparalleled work ethic; he’s the kind of person you want to watch the marsh wake up with and have next to you when the mallards start circling.
Turning calls has taught Chedister patience, too. Patience that has translated into all aspects of his life — relationships, family and duck hunting.
“It used to be that I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about the hunt the next morning, what our spread would look like and how many ducks we would take,” Chedister said. “And, after turning (calls) for a while, something changed in me: it was about the experience and journey, not the kill strap’s weight.”
In just over four years, Chedister has started to build a cult following and has turned several hundred calls — each marred by the imperfections only hand-turning can bring.
Plans are in the works to start offering acrylic, precision-turned, machined calls in the next year. Chedister has found a shop to take his favorite calls’ specs and reproduce them into something automated machines can build.
“I don’t think I will ever get completely away from hand-turning, though,” Chedister said. “There’s an intimacy and a story behind each of the calls I turn by hand. People will always want that — they want that story and heritage that has built who they are as waterfowlers on their lanyard.”
Plans to start a website and sell more branded gear are also in the works. And Chedister’s savvy business sense will pay dividends for him in the future.
Through all of Chedister’s trials and tribulations, though, his friends and family have been his worst critics.
“I remember an old guy I hunted with telling me a call I turned was junk and it better served its purpose at the bottom of Saginaw Bay,” Chedister said. “That’s the stuff that drives me.”
In his free time, Chedister also trains retrievers. An industrious man, there isn’t much Chedister isn’t willing to tackle in the world of waterfowling. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in 20 years with his own, well-known retriever program, kennel and duck call business.
Last fall, I was fortunate enough to accompany Chedister on several hunts. To learn the proper way to call from someone rooted in the tradition of call making is an opportunity that has shaped who I am as a hunter and caller.
Hand placement, cadence and air flow all were covered by 7 a.m. on our first hunt.
“Keep blowing,” he said. “You’ll get it.” And I soon did.
And just like that, the flip was switched on the lathe. It came to a slow halt. He unscrewed the mandrel and pulled the unpolished block off, examining it under the lamp next to him. “Not perfect, but it will quack,” he said. “Then again, none of them are perfect. And that’s why they are all unique.”
Handing me the call, he asked me to blow a greeting call and several quick quacks. Quickly, he pulled out the barrel, took off the reed and cork and started to sand on the tone board all in one motion — almost like he knew exactly what it needed.
“There,” he said, “that’s tuned to you.”
The smell of polisher stung my nostrils as Chedister wiped a small coat on the call. After one final inspection, he declared it finished and fit for a lanyard.