“Times have changed and I’d not be able to do it again,” says Ryan Graves in speaking of his impressive antique duck call and duck hunting memorabilia collection. What started as a childhood hobby buying duck calls–because they were cheap–has grown up into an expertise that takes him neck deep into waterfowl’s nostalgic past, and throughout modern-day United States with other call collecting associates. He gives Ramsey a tour of his collection–and a glimpse into the stories that collection represents–in today’s episode.

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Ramsey Russell: Tell me how you got into collecting duck calls.

Ryan Graves: Man, honestly, late 90s. I’ve always collected stuff, always collected old baseball cards and end up being as infatuated with duck hunting as I am. It just came natural. I loved history. Well, in Du Quoin, Illinois, I go to a flea market they had every other Sunday, and I was buying baseball cards, and I would see duck calls there and I’d buy them and really didn’t know what I was buying. I just thought they were cool because they were old and cheap. And come to find out, I was buying old D-2 duck calls.

Ramsey Russell: They were old and cheap. They ain’t old and cheap no more, are they?

Ryan Graves: No. Not old and cheap anymore, not by any means.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today, we are diving deep into duck call collecting. And I mean, what a collection this man has got. Mr. Ryan Graves, Mayfield, Kentucky. I’m glad to be here, man.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, absolutely glad you’re here.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about growing up. How did you grow up? I mean, you’re obviously a duck hunter. I went out there to your mud room. You obviously duck hunt, man. What a great place to get dressed in the morning,

Ryan Graves: Man. Honestly, I live in Mayfield, Kentucky. I was born and raised in southern Illinois and Marion-

Ramsey Russell: Which is not far from here?

Ryan Graves: No, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes. Yeah, not at all. This is where my wife is from. And just friends through duck hunting, introduced us and ended up landing here. But anyways, I don’t come from- Growing up in Marion, Illinois, the culture has always been goose hunting, duck hunting. My dad and both of my grandpas hunted. But growing up, my dad didn’t, he probably hadn’t duck hunted since probably the early 80s. I was born in 78. And the reason he didn’t duck hunt as much is like he didn’t have anywhere to do it. He used to goose hunt a couple of farms and stuff, and those fellas passed, so when they passed away, he didn’t have anywhere to do it. So, I was never brought into it through the family. But one thing that I was always introduced to was guns. My dad always shot sporting clays, so we shot sporting clays all the time. We would go on pheasant hunts and release quail hunts and stuff like that. And it wasn’t until probably my 8th grade year, just through some friends, we’d go out duck hunting. Now when I say duck hunting, this would have been like early to the mid 90s. It was not a good organized duck hunt. We would go out to the strip pits around Crenshaw and stuff. We would jump shoot. But it wasn’t until about 95, 96 that I got invited to go on a duck hunt. And I joined the Fin and Feather club in high school.

Ramsey Russell: What was the Fin and Feather club?

Ryan Graves: It was just like these clubs that high schools have.

Ramsey Russell: Must have been a pretty big high school.

Ryan Graves: It was FBLA, and this was just for kids that like to hunt and fish. But anyways, so I’d gone on and off for several years, but I got invited to go with a buddy and his cousin took us. And I first got to see what it was like to an organized hunt. Put out decoys, call-

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about that hunt.

Ryan Graves: It had been along the Mississippi river valley in southern Illinois. And we walked in to an area around Oakwood bottoms, if you ever heard of Oakwood bottoms. At that time, I didn’t really know what to expect. My hunts going up to that through the years were very sporadic. we would jump shoot ponds, we’d pass shoot Canadas, stuff like that. And he invited us to go with and my buddy’s cousin.

Ramsey Russell: Was it on a club or private?

Ryan Graves: No, it was actually public property, but it was very hard to get into and these guys have been hunting it for a long time and they were quite a bit older than us and they took us in there and I’ll still never forget it, just looking out over to bluff and the Mississippi river, they all got to talking to them with their duck calls. And it was, I don’t know, probably a group of 30 or 40 mallards just absolutely ate us alive. And I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been right since.

Ramsey Russell: Really. Did you hit a duck that volume?

Ryan Graves: I did. I remember it. I killed a mallard hen, I think our first two shells, I think I just flocked shot. I was so excited. But I remember I was shooting my granddaddy’s old- because like I said, going up, that I hadn’t really ever taken this stuff too serious. So, my grandpa had an old Sears and Roebucks shotgun, an old pump Sears and Roebucks shotgun. And a funny part about that was leading up to that time, I didn’t even know that we shouldn’t be shooting lead shot. So, me and dad shot so many sporting clays, that’s just what I grabbed. I hadn’t been formally introduced to the sport. But anyways, I had that Sears and Roebucks shotgun, I think the first two I  shot or whatever. But I remember a mallard hen going out and I folded it up and I kind of look at my duck hunting. I had probably killed a duck before when we were playing around as kids, but that would have probably been like my first good organized hunt. So, I always claim that as being my first duck. It was a mallard hen.

Ramsey Russell: Haven’t been right since.

Ryan Graves: Have not been right since.

Ramsey Russell: Where do you hunt now?

Ryan Graves: Well, we have a club out of Union City, Tennessee. A couple friends of mine, known final fight outfitters down there. And we just have a group of close friends that we have a club and Wexa. We have spots all up and down. Not all up and down, but they got a couple of farms of field by end of river. Then we have some other stuff. We hunt around some rivers.

Ramsey Russell: You’re in middle school when you kill your first duck, you ain’t been right since.

Ryan Graves: That would have been playing around late middle school when we hunted those strip pits. But I would say around my sophomore year, that would have been what probably killed my first duck.

Ramsey Russell: When did you buy your first duck call?

Ryan Graves: That would have been around 97 or 98. I had gotten really into collecting vintage baseball cards. Yeah, well, I’d been collecting the vintage baseball cards for years. Going back to all this, my dad finally had saw that I had taken an interest in this duck hunting stuff. So he’s like, we’re going to get you a shotgun. So, he went and bought me an 870 shotgun and realized that I had been taking some of his lead shot. I just didn’t know any better. Son, that’s illegal. You need to be shooting your steel and all that. But I’d said dad had hunted years before, it had been several years. So he went and got out of his gun cabinet, and he gave me his- got his duck and goose calls out. He had a G&H Decoys duck call, I say, G&H Decoys? I don’t think they ever made them. They just branded them and sold them. And he had an old Ken Martin goose call, and he gave me those. And I don’t know, it’s just almost like a light bulb went out, I say, but I would go to flea markets and stuff and look for baseball cards. And when I’d see old duck calls.

Ramsey Russell: Put me on a timeline. Where were you living, and when would this have been that you started buying some of these old, cheap duck calls that no longer are old and cheap?

Ryan Graves: That’s when I live in Marion, Illinois.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Ryan Graves: All my family, both sides of my family, is from Marion, Illinois. I’m 44. I graduated from Marion in 1997. So that would have been like- I remember I’d just go to these flea markets and stuff, and I’d say that I finally started accumulating them around then, and then I learned about what OLT was. And around then, that’s all I thought all duck calls was, were OLTs. Next year, I went to school at Western Illinois University, and that would have been late 98, so that would have been like, when eBay came out. So, I started looking for them on eBay.

Ramsey Russell: OLT duck calls.

Growing Collection of D-2 OLT Keyhole Calls.

And this is before I knew of fads of the cut down keyholes and stuff like that. I just bought them because they were old, and I thought they were cool.

Ryan Graves: OLT duck calls. And this is before I knew of fads of the cut down keyholes and stuff like that. I just bought them because they were old, and I thought they were cool – I mean, I had absolutely zero vision that these things would ever be worth anything. So, I just would just buy them and stockpile them. Come to find out just so many years later that these things were hot and desired, and I started putting them on eBay. To go back even a little bit more, there’s a book out there it’s called Duck Calls of Illinois, written by Robert Christensen, Bob Christensen, who turns out that at the time, I didn’t know him, but now, just a few years later, he became a mentor of mine. And to this day, he’s a very close friend of mine. But a friend of mine’s parents bought me that book, which would have been probably 98, 99, Duck Calls of Illinois. So, I started going through it and just reading about them. Finding stuff at flea markets it’s not common. So, then I just started buying OLTs and stuff off of eBay. I mean, we’re talking a dollar two here. I was in college, I drank and party like most other college kids, but I didn’t do it as much as they did, especially during Duck Season. When I went to school up there, that was a month before our season come in back home. So, I went up there, I wanted to explore different areas and do all that. But anyways, I started buying these duck calls when I was up there on eBay. There was times I lived in a fraternity house and I’d get two or three packages a week in there. And looking back on it now, these were spending four and five, six bucks here and there. Then there was a time I probably had 125 or 150. And they’re like of the D-2 OLTs, the Keyholes. Then they came with fad. Then all of a sudden, these things I had a couple of bucks invested in were selling on eBay for $200. As far as the collectible calls go and all this stuff like what you see up there in my den. That’s just all stuff that I always wanted to collect. I would see the stuff in the books and, so the money that I would, so I’d pilfer around with these cheap, lower calls and buy them and sell them, make some money, and I would invest them into the word of the higher end stuff.

Ramsey Russell: Back in the day, your child. You’re buying some of these D-2 OLTs for a few bucks. You’re selling them for more later. What was your first real duck call? I’m going to call it your first real duck call. Did you buy it knowing it was a collector? Did you just find a deal on it? And what would that duck call have been.

Ryan Graves: The first two that I had would have been my dad’s, the ones that he gave me. Which I’m talking about, Ken Martin-

Ramsey Russell: What you showed me up in this room up here when you started falling down that Rabbit Hole.

Ryan Graves: I got you. Okay. Actually, the first one I got, and I’ve still got it. It was an old OLT, but it was one of the earliest ones. They call them a B-4 and it had the slider on it to go back and forth. And I say, and those were hotly desired very early. Not as many of them were made. And I say, and that one right there is the one OLT that I wanted to hold on to then. That was the nicest one that I know of through the years I’ve come to, which I didn’t show it to you up there, but I got the first OLT calls that really.

Ramsey Russell: You do have them?

Ryan Graves: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Ryan Graves: They’re called the OK-OLTs.

Ramsey Russell: Where do you go from something like that? I mean, you’re out of college, you got a job, you still got this passion, you’re still duck hunting. When did you fall off into? I mean, I have seen your collection on displays at rich and tone. I’ve seen on display at Ducks Unlimited in Memphis. That’s a long way from buying a few OLTs.

Ryan Graves: It is. And I would say, if you would have ever told me back in those days that it would have come to this, I would have never have believed you. Mainly that guide. And there was a point, too, when I finally decided that this stuffs worth a little bit of money. When I graduated, I went to school to be a, I want to be a game warden. So that’s what I graduated to do, law enforcement and outdoor recreation and all that stuff. Well, that was in 2001, 9 to 11, so there was nothing, no jobs to be had. Main thing that I always wanted to do was duck hunt, wanted to be involved in the waterfowling industry somehow. And anybody that wants to do this has got to have an angle to get in there. And this was just kind of my angle. I pilfer around a little bit with contest calling that just really wasn’t ever my thing. But I saw there was a time I actually remember thinking to myself, it’s like I need something to finance my hunting, because going to Canada just about every year, and just all the hunting and traveling that I wanted to do, I needed something to help subsidize. I need another form of income. So, then I just started buying. And I will say this is back on eBay. This is before smartphones. This was before Facebook. And like I told you upstairs, I would never be able to have this collection today if I were just getting ready to get started.

Ramsey Russell: I want to move back around to you actually getting started. That’s what I’m trying to sink my teeth into. So you had buying OLTs. You’re buying and selling a little bit. When did you go after the first decoy that you knew? I mean, the first duck call. And it’s not an old, you got a lot of wooden stuff up here. You got a lot of antiquities. I would call it museum quality type stuff. When did you fall into that rabbit hole? What was your first one? You said, yeah, that might be a good deal. Or did you know it was a good deal?

Ryan Graves: Well, kind of not. One thing I’ve always had an eye for higher end things, whether it be collecting baseball cards or what. When I was a kid, I did not collect 1986 tops baseball cards. I saved my money from mowing yards and all that. And I went and bought Mickey Mantles. Not the highest grade stuff, but whatever I wanted, I wanted the nicest stuff. So, when I decided that collecting duck calls was something I wanted to do, which like say I was in sales and now I’m a school teacher, my wife’s a school teacher. So, I don’t have tons of money at the end of the month to invest in this stuff, it’s very valuable. This is the stuff that I wanted to collect. I did whatever it took to make that happen. And when I say whatever it took is, I mean, I worked my ass off. That’s where it got to. Then, I guess original question, one of the calls that, the main one that I thought was the premiere at the time, which was just a standard Cedar Charles Perdew duck call.

Ramsey Russell: Perdew?

Ryan Graves: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: You know, there’s a lot of conversation, I’ve asked this before, but there’s a lot of speculation that what we think of is the American duck call originated in Illinois. OLT is a fine example. But there’s also Pekin, and apparently there was a couple of brothers up there, market hunted back. When do you believe that? Maybe the conventional duck call was an advantage to the Illinois.

Ryan Graves: Yeah. When a lot of the earliest duck calls probably going to be your tongue pincher style that originated in Europe and came over here. But that is not what we know a duck call to be today. No duck calls that we know today all came from the state of Illinois.

Ramsey Russell: Around Pekin.

Ryan Graves: Pekin, Illinois is where OLT come from. But your two earliest call makers, and there could have been people that went off made calls here and there. But as far as commercially goes, commercially sold calls go. Your first two were going to be Charles Grubbs and Fred Allen.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Ryan Graves: Yep. I say now Charles Grubbs is from the Hennepin area and all that.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve been there.

Ryan Graves: Now you brought up the two brothers. Now I can show you some pictures of those two brothers were associated with the Swan Lake club up in Henry. I believe their last names were the Wood brothers. If you’ll read Wayne Capooth’s book talking about duck calls, he talks about the two Wood brothers. So evidently, he’d come up with an article or something that stated that. So then there was another one a call maker up there named Old Bill Haskell, that was talked about in that thing, I do have an Old Bill Haskell call. Very few of them. Then right there in Henry, it talks about a man by the name of Sam Horner. Sam Horner from Henry, but probably came up with the first, what would have been called the Illinois River Duck call out of Henry. We don’t have any evidence of that. That’s all gone to history. But Charles Grubbs would be the one that really gets the award for being the first. In all, actuality is from Fred Allen, from the Mississippi river valley in the same area, just on the Mississippi side. It kind of goes back and forth. Those two kind of always argued about who was the first to do it commercially. Well, either way. But what I’m getting at, the Fred Allen call, if you take one of them apart, which I can show you some of those upstairs, there’ll be more of the three piece calls, which is what’s known today is like the Louisiana style call. Those are Fred Allen’s. The real foot style call all originated from Charles Grubbs, so everybody calls it Glodo style. In all reality, it should be called the Grubb style. Then what you call which that same thing too. A lot of people call them Tennessee styles. But then the traditional jframe call that you see today, which would be your riching tones, your echoes, that all come from the D-2 OLT.

Ramsey Russell: Albeit.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, I say. And the D-2 OLT back in those days, they were the most mass produced. Now, like in the late 80s, late 1880s and stuff, Grubbs and Fred Allen both sold calls through mail order catalogs, stuff like that. They were all wooden. Fred Allen sold a lot more of them than Grubbs did. The Grubbs, like the ones I showed you up there. There’s less than ten of those known to exist.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Ryan Graves: And the big long one that I showed you, there’s about five or six of those known.

Ramsey Russell: Where do you find calls like that?

Ryan Graves: Well, actually, those come-

Ramsey Russell: I don’t eBay anymore, maybe? You got to do some digging in some shops. People that are dealing with this kind of stuff now.

Ryan Graves: I had mentioned earlier, know one of my earliest mentors in this stuff was Bob Christensen, wrote the book Duck calls of Illinois. And him and I have- I first contacted him probably 2007, 2008 about old duck calls. And funny part is, when I first called him, he’s like I’m busy, call me back later. I told him I found some stuff. I was a young kid. I don’t think he really took me serious then. So, I sent him some pictures and shoot, it wasn’t five minutes later, he’s calling me back. He’s like, man alive. He said you get time sometime, you ought to come up here. So, I thought well, when do you want me? I got in the truck and drove up. I mean, I’ve always been like that. Somebody like that offers for you to come to their house. Absolutely, 100% I’m going to be there. I want to be a sponge. I want to learn. I want to take in everything I can. So he kind of took me under his wing. And Bob, he was a hunter a little bit, but more so than anything, he was a real studious man. He was a teacher as well. He taught high school. Just a very smart individual. He spent no telling how much time in the University of Illinois library in Champaign and Northern Illinois University library up there in DeKalb. Just studying all this stuff, come to find out, all the years he’s been from nation he gathered from all the families and all this stuff. He eventually wheeled down to me. I’ve got all that stuff upstairs.

Ramsey Russell: What was it initially about Perdew? Because here’s the deal. Having been up that neck of the woods, when I hear the word Perdew, I think decoys. You think duck calls. Who was Perdew? Tell me about Perdew. Who was it?

Dreaming of Hunting with Perdew, Grubbs, and Glodo.

I’d like to take Charles Grubbs, Charles Perdew, and Victor Glodo out, because there’s a lot of questions, I’d like to ask those three.

Ryan Graves: Charles Perdew. He was a very interesting cat, man. We could do an entire podcast on Charles Perdew. Anyways, Charles Purdue was just from Henry. He’d come and gone a little bit from there, and he had a gun shop. But there was a time he found out that he was a little bit of an artistic guy. From talking to some family members over the years, you’ll find out he was a very interesting character. And one thing that I’ve always heard about Charles Perdew is like, nobody worked harder at it, but at the end, he still never had a dime. He was never organized. 50% of the orders he probably took never got filled. But anyway, he was just a very interesting individual. And it was thought that he had never made calls up until. Everybody thought that he’d made calls up to 19 o’4, 19 o’ 6. But I’ve got one of his earliest calls up there, and we were at a call show one day and got to looking at it, and one of my best friends, John Stevens, who’s also a collector, he’s got to look at it. He said, did you see that here on the band where it scratched? 1898. I’m like, no, I hadn’t seen it. And he’s like man, I got bad eyes. But he said, even I can see that. And I looked at it, and it is right there on the band, 1898. So, it’s almost kind of like we’ve been able to trace it back, that he was making calls even before when it was originally thought, and also too. So then makes me think, some of these early calls that we think are Perdews. Are they Perdew’s or are they Sam Horner’s? So, I’ve always told everybody, if I could take out three people that I want to duck hunt with tomorrow that are from the past, I’d like to take Charles Grubbs, Charles Perdew, and Victor Glodo out, because there’s a lot of questions, I’d like to ask those three.

Ramsey Russell: Talk about all some of the other call makers you’ve got. You’ve mentioned Glodo, you’ve mentioned Grubbs. Talk about them as people. How much do you think their duck call sold for when people drove up to the shop and bought one.

Ryan Graves: You know, back then, I think Perdew was getting a buck and a half for them.

Ramsey Russell: How much is a Perdew call worth today?

Ryan Graves: Well, the thing is, Perdew’s, he’s got their standard cedar calls, and there’s all the way up to variations of those. It could depend on the stamps. It depends how many german silver reads or german silver bands are on it, to his painted ones. I mean, I’ve got them Charles Perdew duck calls, like two of the fancy ones that I showed you, those are worth $7500, $8000 apiece.

Ramsey Russell: He was selling them for maybe $4 or $5.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, actually, I’ve got order forms up there, $15.

Ramsey Russell: And that was a lot of money back.

Ryan Graves: Oh, yeah, that was a lot of money. And so many he would take orders for, and he just never filled. And one of the funny things I’ve learned about Perdew is, Perdew was a ladies man, he loved woman. He was big into bicycles. He had a two seat bicycle, and they always said that every woman in the town got to ride on his bicycle, but his wife. But also too, you’ll hear stories, like I said he was never on time. You find so many letters of people writing Perdew, wanting to know where their stuffs at that they’ve paid for. Some of the stories I’ve heard of, if I had ordered a dozen decoys and he’d gotten them done, and they was there, and I just hadn’t come to pick them up yet. Just say Miss Anita goes over there and says, Mr. Perdew, I’m wanting to get Ramsey something for Christmas, and just goes over there and just sits on his lap and scratches the back of his head or something. She says, I want a dozen decoys. He’s like, well those are right there, you can take those. There was a lot of that.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Ryan Graves: There’s a lot of Perdew stories out there. But he made decoys, and he made duck calls for- he ended up dying in 1963. If you look at the Illinois River book, the dates for everything is covered from 1863, from like when Grubbs and F. A. Allen started to 1963 when Perdew died. But we’re talking about some of the other ones, Charles Grubbs. Charles Grubbs is probably one of my favorite. He was a decoy maker. He was call maker as well. He started out as a market hunter, he’s hunted up there on Lake Senachwine. He had a little hotel up there. He’d run hunters out. But he really kind of gets credit for being the first to make what we consider to be duck calls as we know them today. And his are probably the rarest and the hard to find. And when you find his earliest ones, like the examples I show you, they’re very sought after.

Ramsey Russell: Is Perdews still your favorite old duck call maker?

Ryan Graves: Well, I would say probably. And here’s the thing about my collection personally, is when you see the stuff that I got, I go everything from a historical angle. So pretty much everything I have is pre 1960 mainly, even probably pre 1940. Perdew’s are definitely some of my favorites. But as far as a mysterious character and overall would probably be Charles Grubbs, because his calls are so hard to find.

Ramsey Russell: He from Illinois also?

Ryan Graves: Yeah, he was from Senachwine. He lived everywhere from Chicago. He’d come down. He’d run a hotel there on Senachwine Lake, run hunters back and through. I think even a Hennepin, I think there’s even still a blind up there they call Grubbs Point. That area up there is definitely where duck calls as we know them today originated.

Ramsey Russell: You got a lot of duck calls. You got a lot of memorabilia. Walk me through the top 30. Tell me what’s represented in that cabinet.

Ryan Graves: Well, that cabinet there, I’ve got a cabinet that I keep my favorite 30.

Ramsey Russell: Your favorite 30?

Ryan Graves: My favorite 30. I’ll alternate them from time to time. If you look at them in there, your most valuable calls a lot of times are going to be your checkered ones. There’s not many checkered ones in there, but I’ll tell you what is in there. And that is some of your earliest. And I don’t collect anything that I can go out and replace tomorrow. To me, it’s almost kind of like going duck hunting. If it was super easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Ryan Graves: So, everything I have I couldn’t replace tomorrow. So, if I go up there, you’ll probably hear me say some of my favorites. I’ve got about 300 favorites. Yeah, but like the Jack Batley. Jack Batley was a barber from the central Illinois river valley. He made calls and it would probably been about the 1880s. They’re very crude, but they’re very folky. And he would take and wrap them in line for whatever, and they’re very scarce and hard to come by. There’s like three known to exist. I’ve owned two of them and I’m gonna still have one in my collection, but it’s kind of like the I don’t keep up with. It’s kind of funny too, a lot of people think that I’m infatuated with duck calls. I’m really not. I’m infatuated with waterfowling history and waterfowling artifacts.

Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to say, I was sitting here thinking, I can’t understand if you go to a show and stumble across one that somebody don’t know what they got or just happened to be something you’re real interested in. Or if somehow, you’re like this, putting together this puzzle, like, what’s that show with the guy with a bull whip? The movie where he’s putting together these and real digging into the history and digging into the antiquities. Come on. What’s the guy, what’s the guy with the fedora and the bull whip?

Ryan Graves: Oh, I know who you’re talking about.

Ramsey Russell: And the horse.

Ryan Graves: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: But he used to just dig deep and put together puzzles and try to chasing. It’s like a game.

Ryan Graves: Exactly. And I guess with my collection, I just want the best representation of historical artifacts.

Ramsey Russell: Raiders of the Lost Art.

Ryan Graves: But I just want the best representation of duck calls that I can put together. And most of everything that I’ve got up there, farm fresh stuff that I have on my own, not all of it. A lot of the pieces, I acquired from Robert Christensen, Bob Christensen, a good friend of mine. But what I was saying is a lot of people think I just love duck calls. I love historic waterfowling artifacts and duck calls happen to be part of it.

Ramsey Russell: Well, you showed me an old hunter’s journal up there.

Ryan Graves: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And talking about how. What was that back in the 40s?

Ryan Graves: Back in the early 40s? I think there’s some hunts in there that actually go back to the late 30s, but anything to do.

Ramsey Russell: There were days that the ducks were stale and didn’t come in.

Ryan Graves: That’s what I was telling you. What I’ve noticed, the more I dig back into the history of stuff, is that the more we think things have changed, the more they’re really just the same. So you go through-

Ramsey Russell: I think history continues to repeat itself.

Ryan Graves: It does. And everybody talks about, my grandpa said back then, days were, skies were black. And so many of those stories grow with the years, the numbers that they saw back then. And I have no doubts, and I know it was because.

Ramsey Russell: Keep going.

Comparing Modern and Historical Hunting Journals.

And his journal, I keep track of journal of all my hunts every year, and it’s just not all that much different than mine.

Ryan Graves: I researched so much about it. But anyways, go back and read through this journal and stuff. It’ll talk about, sat out there all day, saw a ton of high ducks, wouldn’t respond to a call. This is dating all the way back to the early 40s. And this hunter’s journal came from the Rice Lake area up on the Illinois river valley, which is now a state area, but used to be a private gun club. So, then you’ll go through it and the thing is, just say this guy 140 days in a year, I’ll go through it. And his journal, I keep track of journal of all my hunts every year, and it’s just not all that much different than mine. You’re going to see, like out of 40 days, there’s going to be good days in there, there’s going to be days you kill ducks and there’s just going to be days that man should have stayed home. And same thing cloudy overcast no wind, there’s actually up there, it says didn’t see shit. He typed that in there or he didn’t see shit. Just like it was today. So, I say it just wasn’t all that different back there. But we could talk for days about how I think hunting has changed back then and why it’s changed.

Ramsey Russell: We’ll get you back on here and talk about that. You know what? I don’t collect duck species. But I do, I mostly collect experiences. And what I’ve learned is like, in my pursuit of species, it’s where that chase takes me. And I look back at people, lodges, stories. You come into these little orbits like me and you and stuff like that, and it’s been a rewarding part. So where has your chase for these duck calls taken you to shows to people? What doors does it open for you beyond the duck call?

Ryan Graves: Honestly, it’s crazy Ramsey, because if I think about it, if it wasn’t for that stuff, I wouldn’t have a wife.

Ramsey Russell: You met your wife collecting duck calls?

Ryan Graves: Well, not through collecting duck calls, like through duck hunting and just duck hunting friends. And there was a time, like in the late 90s, I decided that this is what I want to do. I don’t turkey hunt, I don’t bass fish, I don’t deer hunt. I duck hunt, I duck and goose hunt, and I collect old duck calls and decoys and all that stuff. And I was going to do whatever I had to do in life, like work wise and stuff, to position myself to give me the most opportunities to do that. So fortunately, this has taken me, I’ve been all over Canada.

Ramsey Russell: Well, you’ve met a lot of historians. You were telling me you were a consultant for the auction house.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, I do some consulting for auction companies. But as far as hunting goes, I’ve been in some of the best clubs out in the butte sink, California, the coast of Louisiana. I’ve been very fortunate, friends that I’ve met through just hunting and especially duck calls collecting, because outside of my own, I have helped many collectors assemble their collections because there’s a lot of times that still to this day. I might find something and it’s going to be way above my price range. So I have friends that, I still help build their collections and stuff like that. I pass it on. But yeah, it’s taken me all over the country hunting and the friends. And if I didn’t have ducks and duck calls. I’d have to go find friends and everything else. Everything like you say is intertwined into this lifestyle.

Ramsey Russell: Kind of like birds with feather flock together.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve listened to some of your other podcasts too, and you talk about like say I’ve been in some of the best clubs in the country, from the Mississippi Flyway to out on the west coast.

Ramsey Russell: Were some of those invites because they collected duck calls? Okay, they were in that circle.

Ryan Graves: But my point being is here I am a school teacher and there’s guys in there that are multimillionaires, but when we were in there, everybody was duck hunters. You know what I mean?

Ramsey Russell: You’re bound to meet a lot of nice people.

Ryan Graves: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: But it’s been my observation. I’m just going to throw this out here because you’re a very nice guy. I met your family, met your kids, your wife, and you’ve welcomed me into your home. We’re having this great conversation, but I have bumped into a few people that do what you do that are not nice people at all.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: Not one damn bit, are they? I mean, I’m talking, they drive battered old trucks and beat widow women out of stuff they want. And I’m going to throw it out there. I’m just going to tell this story. I’m up in Illinois and I’m very excited to go meet somebody that I’ve heard got this great collection. And I go in and I don’t know if he’s inebriated, I don’t know if he’s sleepy. I don’t know what the deal is. He knew I was coming. I skipped dessert and drove a long ways to get there, and he was rude and he said oh, my wife, I talked to you. And everything I’d say she’d, huh? And I tell you how I describe them, Ryan. They really reminded me of just like some unsavory couple that might have been on an Griffith show, and she’s yelling, and I say well yeah. And finally, I smiled and said, ma’am, do you not understand my accent, or am I not talking loudly enough? And I’m a loud talker? You know what she said? And I grabbed my bag and started beating it out the door. I’m like, this has been a colossal waste. This guy had a lot of stuff he could have talked about, but it wasn’t about that. To him, it’s like pounding chest. This is my fortune. And I heard a lot of unsavory stories about people like that. And I would have skipped the part where I happened to walk back in and caught them talking about me. That’s when I left. In a few, I’m like boy, this is a way. But it just left a very unsavory, left a bad impression on me of who people like it are in the collection world.

Ryan Graves: And unfortunately, this stuff is worth a lot of money. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And for whatever reason, one of my earliest mentors, who duck hunt, always told me that there’s two things that can really come between friends, and that’s women and ducks. Well, he wasn’t a collector. So, I’ve since added something to that, and that’s women, ducks and duck call, decoys collectibles.

Ramsey Russell: It’s agreed something going on.

Ryan Graves: Honestly, money is not even so much. I don’t care if it’s. I have seen grown men act worse about a duck call than they would if you tripped and pushed their wife upside and spit on them. I don’t care if it’s calling contest or collecting them. There’s something about duck calls, old decoys. Something about will just make guys lose their absolute mind. Unfortunately, you’re correct. I mean, there is but I’ll tell you, anybody listening to this, I don’t want to think, man, I don’t want to get in that hobby because of that. Because for every butthole out there, there’s 100 guys that are standing-

Ramsey Russell: And I’ve seen that in a lot of different circles. There’s always them kind of people, but they’re the minority, aren’t they?

Ryan Graves: Yeah, they’re absolutely the minority. But to get back, and I don’t know if it’s just guys are naturally competitive or what, but sometimes, this collecting turns into a competition, I mean hell, I’m not in any competition with anybody. If we start, if it comes a money competition, I’m telling you I’m out. Everything that I’ve got up there comes from hard work and I work my ass off to get it. And if it comes to a competition, and it has come into competition, I’ve seen it. I’ve unfortunately got caught in the middle of two friends that used to be friends that are no longer friends because of I had something they both want. But I don’t know it’s not a competition. And anybody that’s truly got an interest in this stuff, if they truly want to learn about it, I invite them to come over. I’d love to show them what I got. And there’s nothing about bragging. My Instagram page and all that stuff that I started, I started that because I’m passionate about the history of the sport. I guess it’s kind of hypocritical to say I’m not a huge social media guy. If you look at my Instagram, you don’t see pictures. I don’t post personal hunting pictures and all that, because to me, that’s not what it’s about. I post old hunting pictures, but I’m trying to get people interested in the history of the sport. I had a guy a couple of months ago. He asked me, do you even hunt or do you just collect this stuff? I’m like, why would you ask me that? He’s like, you don’t ever post hunting pictures. Well, somebody wants to see hunting pictures. I’ve got some just the house, but that’s not what I created Instagram for. It’s almost like social media has become like a bragging spot where I kind of wanted it to, because I will say when it comes to collecting, when it comes to ages, it’s very top heavy. So when I’m 44 years old, I’m probably one of the youngest people that have a collection that I’ve got of vintage duck calls. John Stevens is in his later 40s. There’s a few in their 50s, but then you might take a jump and it’ll be in the late 70s, early 80s. As somebody that’s passionate about this as I am, you got to get people interested in the history of the sport because you’re not going to start collecting this stuff if you don’t care about the history of the sport. And that’s kind of where I went with my Instagram page and all that. But it’s just odd what social media has really kind of turned into. It’s just kind of like a pissing match of-

Ramsey Russell: Well, did your interest in the venerable history of waterfowling come before or after these wood duck calls began to build? Was it before? I have to pull your mic a little bit closer. Was it before or after which came first?

Ryan Graves: Well. Getting into the hunting at the beginning, I didn’t really realize. I always knew there was always hunting around, but I didn’t realize there was old decoys and all that stuff out there and old duck calls until I got that book the Duck Calls of Illinois.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Ryan Graves: And when I got that and saw that it was out there, then I guess it would have been 2000. I say I was still a student at Western Illinois University in April. Every year, they have the big decoy show in Chicago. I drove up to that in April of 2000 and got to see all that stuff and it’s just kind of like, wow. From pretty much that time on, I’m very interested in this stuff and I want to be very involved in it. Honestly, you’d asked me earlier about a time frame, I guess some of these questions I had never really thought about.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s like I got into duck hunting and I collect ducks, whatever you want to call it. But I’m just wondering if you started off as a young man child, really buying these duck calls. And at some point in time, it became a deeper meaning to you beyond just this collection of antiquity. Now it’s more about the waterfowl history.

Ryan Graves: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: And I’m just wondering if holding those calls and thinking about if I was sitting there picking up any one of those calls up in your room and just sitting in that chair looking at it, don’t you wonder where that guy was sitting? Like, how many mallards he called that bird? What his journal look like?

Ryan Graves: When you walk into my den up there, you’ll see, I don’t have a tv up there. I don’t have anything. I got low lights and I got a fan up there and I got a chair. And so many times I’ll just go up there and sit. After wife and kids go to bed, and I’ll just sit there. And it might be two or three different calls I’ll pick up. I’ll just go sit there in my chair because there’s some up there that are just were carved or checkered with non conventional tools. And you just sit there and think, like, who did this? There’s some of them up there. There’s one I got up there. It’s got an old dog carved into it with an H, and I’ll just sit there. Who’s H? Which come to find out there’s so.

Ramsey Russell: Many stories in so many that are lost.

Ryan Graves: Yeah. And you look at this stuff, and it’s kind of like Trench Art, because I collect a lot of unknown calls too, that I don’t know the maker of. And the reason I like those arts, is because they probably only made a few calls. They’re not works of art, but they’re very folky, they’re neat. I just sit there and think. You can tell there’s nothing true about them when you look at them. The holes aren’t round. They’re not symmetrical in shape. I got Ken Martin’s personal call up there, which is neat. And it’s one of the few that he carved. But he carved it 1955 during the 1955 goose season.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Ryan Graves: And it’s got 1955 carved in it. It’s got a goose carved in it, and it’s got his initials carved in it. And he took him the entire 1955 goose season sitting in the pit of doing that.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a pretty cool OLT you have with the ducks engraved in it.

Ryan Graves: Yeah. That call I showed you, that’s a D-2 OLT. It’s one of the only carved ones that exists. And I’m trying to think of the name right now out of Missouri, something like Phasian or something like that, which was a vintage guy that carved gunstocks and all that. So that call supposedly belonged to the head of a duck club up north. People I talked to didn’t know which one it was, but whoever it was, it was probably belonged to a very affluent businessman of sort. And the other thing about duck calls too, is they’re very personable items, and there’s so much about them that add character, because I might call you sometime and be like Ramsey, you got two or three dozen decoys I could borrow or maybe your boat or something, but I’m never going to call you and ask if I can borrow your duck calls.

Ramsey Russell: True enough.

Ryan Graves: That’s just a very personable thing. And so many of these, they just have personalities to them. Waterfowler’s duck call, they’re very sacred to him.

Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot of stuff I loan you, but my duck call and my dog ain’t one of them.

Ryan Graves: Exactly. And that’s why duck calls are so personable and almost kind of why I’m so collectible, because they’re just so personal.

Ramsey Russell: You said if you had to start again, you would not be able to assemble your collection.

Ryan Graves: That’s a fact.

Ramsey Russell: Because what happened, do you think? What happened and when did it happen that the value, the collectible value of this folk art exploded?

Dr. Jim McClary and the Pasadena Collection.

Dr. Jim McClary, he had the best collections that exist, whether it be duck calls, decoys, he had the finest examples.

Ryan Graves: I saw that. Well really, as far as, like on the auction scene and all that, it would have probably have been in 2000. There’s a famous collector and doctor from Pasadena, Texas, named Dr. Jim McClary. He had the best collections that exist, whether it be duck calls, decoys, he had the finest examples. Well, Sotheby’s had a big auction in New York, and that auction right there, it blew all the estimates out times ten. That is kind of like when things gotten big. Now, as far as like myself, I can remember sitting in the dorm room at Western Illinois University, like thinking I’d see an old duck call on there and I would have to write on my hand that it went off on $730 on eBay, there was no smartphones. Now smartphones have apps you can put in your bid, in a bid in the last 2 seconds for you. So, I had to go up through my dorm room and I had to wait for dial up the ding, ding, ding, try to get on. So, I was able to get things very cheap on eBay. I say, if it wasn’t for eBay, I wouldn’t be able to have the collection I do. So many things that up until about 2010, I was able to. Some of the nicest things I have up there came off eBay. The sellers, just mostly pickers, go to estate sales. They find the stuff, put it on there. And up until about 2010, that’s when Facebook started, that’s when smartphones, then on a smartphone you got an app. So now everything is at your fingertips, if you had to make a conscious effort to sit in front of eBay for hours at a desktop and look for this stuff, nobody did that stuff until then. It made it convenient we do it on the phone. And when I say, I would never be able to assemble this, and that’s because now everybody looks at eBay, and if there’s an OLT duck call on there, nobody knows what it is.

Ramsey Russell: Well, I get one or two or five emails a year from people that went and cleaned out their uncle’s basement or something. And you can just tell by the sense of urgency in the email, they think they might have found the jackpot. You don’t look like it to me. I don’t know. And I’m like no.

Ryan Graves: And I’ll tell you, I get four or five of those a day. Yeah. And I’ll tell you a funny story like this past year, we’re in fort on summer vacation, and I get an Instagram message and it says, would you be interested in buying a James Beckhart Duck call? So I’m like, so I went and looked on there, and I went to the profile who sent it to me, and it’s a very attractive younger girl from Los Angeles, California. So, I thought boy, this is a scam.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, sounds like.

Ryan Graves: Boy, this is a scam. Well, I said send me a picture of what you got. So she sent me a picture of it, and I thought, man, this is going somewhere. Now send me a picture of it and I want you to take and put a $20 bill next to it. Send me a picture and she did. And I said, then I want you to write your name on a piece of paper and stick it. I was 100% convinced that I was fixing to get taken advantage of. A pretty woman in the duck call-

Ramsey Russell: What in California. Where’d she get something like that?

Ryan Graves: Well, come to find out, this was a 100% legit deal. Her great grandfather was from Phoenix or something, but he was born and raised in Arkansas. And she found this duck call and some stuff she inherited. She didn’t even know what it was. And on the top of it, it stamped J.T. Beckhart. And so, she just went and typed in J.T. Beckhart on Google. And it took her to an article I wrote for Mossy Oak two or three years ago. But it was just funny at first. And so, I told her and she didn’t know what it was worth and ended up giving her. I bought it for a friend and ended up giving her $12,000 for it. She was just elated.

Ramsey Russell: I bet she was.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, she was just elated. But I told her, and it was probably one of the best transactions I’ve ever done. Like smooth she overnighted the UPS, and the next day she called and I said, I apologize for being so hesitant at first. I was like, but if I had to count how many pretty women from Los Angeles, California, have contacted me about a duck call, I could count that on one finger. And she just kind of laughed and thought it was funny. But she’s, oh, I can see that. But that stuff still does happen. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to.

Ramsey Russell: Are you ever going to sell pieces in potter and hole your collection? I mean, I know you didn’t buy it for that.

Ryan Graves: Yeah, no, not while I’m alive.

Ramsey Russell: You bought it to enjoy?

Ryan Graves: Yeah. Not while I’m alive.

Ramsey Russell: It’s gone up in value. It’s insured. But what does it mean to you? See what I’m saying? It represents something beyond. What is that that it represents?

Ryan Graves: I think it just represents my love of waterfowling, my love of being a duck hunter, because that’s truly at the core, outside of God and my family.

Ramsey Russell: You could really enjoy some duck hunting if you had the money that represents modern day duck hunt. It must be something about them good old house sign days that means something to.

Ryan Graves: I don’t know. I enjoy it. I love them. And I always tell everybody, being a collector is something you don’t learn to be. I think it’s a trait you’re born with. My parents were collectors, but I just have such an attachment to that stuff. And I’m not saying I won’t. If somebody comes in here and everything’s for sale.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, right.

Ryan Graves: And makes me an offer I can’t refuse, I’ll carry it out for them. But I’ve always said I would probably collect this stuff if it was not worth anything at all. That’s just how much I love it. I do. There’s not much. And there’s people that have larger collections than I got. I’ve got 300, 350 calls. There’s guys that have several thousand, and I don’t want several thousand. I don’t like clutter, but I want historical, significant pieces. There’s calls out there I don’t have that are high dollar calls. And the reason I don’t have them is because there’s no historical significance to them other than them just being nice, neat calls.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Ryan Graves: To me, they have to have, and I do not want them in mint condition. I want them with patina. I want them to have been hunted. Because to me, like you talked about, I want to sit there and think about, there’s nothing that I like more than to find in a farm fresh old duck call that nobody’s touched in 100 years. And I take that wedge block off of the old German silver read, and it’s just like it’s stuck on there with like green glue and whatever that is just build up over the years. There’s just something to it and you hold that and you smell it, and it just smells like an old library or whatever that, just like an old book. What I’m trying to point out, just that smell. I don’t know, there’s just something to it. I mean, I can’t really explain what it is that I just love about this stuff. And it’s funny too, a friend of mine, there’s a piece up there that he wants. And the thing is, there’s people that collect. I’m not a completist. They’re wanting to put complete collections together. I’m not a completist, I want historical pieces and I want the ones that I want. I’m not trying to put together a full set of everything. When you do that stuff, that’s how you end up with 2 and 3000, 4000 calls. That’s just not what I’m after. But I don’t know, there’s a connection to it. I’m just an old soul. What’s that word? That people are just a personality type. I just have a connection to the past. I love it and a lot of it too. I sit there and think about how hard I had to work and how much the miles I’ve driven to go pick some of it up. I don’t know, actually I just have an emotional attachment to it. But if somebody wants to buy one, if they buy one, they’re buying every single one of them.

Ramsey Russell: One or all.

Ryan Graves: One or all of them. Because if I look up there and there’s an empty hole where I had something that drive me nuts. Nostalgic. That’s what I was trying to find. I’m a very nostalgic person.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to Ryan Graves, Mayfield, Kentucky, waterfowl historian of epic proportion. And what is the name of your Instagram account?

Ryan Graves: rkegraves.

Ramsey Russell: rkegraves. Thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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