Years ago, Ramsey stopped by Joe Briscoe’s backyard shop to visit very briefly and buy a couple blue-winged teal calls. The pair swapped stories, shared a quart jar of peach moonshine and pored over Joe’s treasure trove of collectible waterfowl calls. Several hours later, they had become friends. And despite a round of caramel ‘shine the following year, the two have since remained friends. How’d Briscoe get into duck call making and what were his earliest influences? How’d he stumble across the idea for his incredible blue-winged teal call? How’s calling for blue-winged teal different than for other ducks, such as mallards? What are Briscoe’s thoughts on competition calling for mallards versus specklebellies, and on calling for competition versus hunting? This episode is just a laid back yarn between a couple hunting buddies following a great teal hunt.
Duck and Goose Call Maker Extraordinaire: Joe Briscoe
“Did you grow up hunting in this part of the world?”
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Another episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Texas. I’m east of Houston, Texas. The thing about it is that when a guy from Mississippi goes to anywhere near Houston, Texas, I’m basically in Houston, Texas. I can’t tell the difference. I really and truly can’t. I hate it at rush hour, I ain’t going to lie to you. I am with my longtime friend Mr. Joe Briscoe, who is a duck and goose call maker, an avid duck hunter, and a purveyor of fine scotch and moonshine. How are you, Joe?
Joe Briscoe: I’m doing well, Ramsey. Thanks for having me.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I had a great duck hunt with you this morning. We had a good time. You told me Mr. Gene Campbell was a very interesting fellow.
Joe Briscoe: He very much is. He means a lot to a lot of people.
Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up hunting in this part of the world?
Joe Briscoe: In this part of the world, yes. I kind of started up where Gene was talking about on his podcast, in the Wallisville Project, and then progressed into some of that cypress timber that was private. Moved down here, and, of course, you know Tracy Andres.
Ramsey Russell: Exactly.
Joe Briscoe: That’s who broke me in. I was his helper, swamper.
Ramsey Russell: How did you know Tracy?
Joe Briscoe: Tracy was my seventh grade football coach.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. Because I learned something interesting about Tracy the other day, talking to Biggers. Man, folks come in all shapes and sizes, and the last thing on God’s earth that I ever would have guessed Tracy to have done as a profession was being an English teacher.
Joe Briscoe: And he was very good at it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. He’s real good around young people. I can see him being a coach and stuff like that.
Joe Briscoe: You bet. He was a great mentor to me. Still is. I’d go to him with anything.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Joe Briscoe: I wouldn’t think twice.
Getting a Start in Duck Hunting
Ramsey Russell: How did you get into duck hunting?
Joe Briscoe: Well, we’ve got a step further back, because when I was really small, probably three or four, my grandpa would load up the shorthaired pointers, and he had a ‘65 Impala in South Louisiana. They were from Church Point. He would load them up. A kennel, to them back then, was the trunk of a ‘65 Impala. He knocked the lock out, put a rope in it, and I got to ride with him and listen to these dogs wail all the way out of town. I just thought that was the funniest thing ever. So it was my grandpa, my dad, his twin brother, and two more uncles. I would walk as far as I could. I would say, “I need a break” or “I’m tired” or something like that, and everybody would take a turn giving me a piggyback. They’d switch coveys. “Okay, you shot this covey, now you take Joe and I’m going to shoot the next covey.” That’s how I got broke in. If I was good and didn’t throw a fit or anything, then, when we got back to Paul’s house, I got to set up the cans. But all I got to do was just pull the trigger. That was a big deal.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you?
Joe Briscoe: Probably three or four.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, I was little then.
Ramsey Russell: How did y’all end up over in this part of the world, from Louisiana?
Joe Briscoe: Well, my dad and my uncle moved over here in ‘64, basically to go to work. I came along in ‘65. We were always traveling back and forth, but, yeah, I was born here.
Ramsey Russell: We talked about Tracy, who works over with Biggers. He’s a great guide. I was hunting with him, I’m going to say, five years ago. We were down there with Mojo, filming. I had my teal call, and I’ve had a bunch of them. Tracy was down there barking on his. It was a nice little wooden call. I’d never seen one like that before. I go, “Tracy, if you don’t mind me asking, where’d you get that call?” “Oh, Joe Briscoe. JB Calls.” I said, “I ain’t never heard of that guy.” He said, “Well, that might be a good thing, might be a bad thing.” But no, I got your name and number from him, and I called you up. I said, “I want that bluewing call you’ve got.” I don’t remember why. Ooh, I do remember why. I was chasing those bluewings from Mississippi to Venice, clear across the Gulf Coast, down there towards the prairie.
Creating Duck & Goose Calls (Among Other Things)
“So a stop-by-and-pick-up-a-duck-call turned into about a two hour sampling session and looking at all your duck calls.”
Joe Briscoe: You were coming from Brandon down to El Campo when you stopped.
Ramsey Russell: By way of Venice and Welsh and Lake Charles. I hunted right here in Mr. Campbell’s backyard with some buddies of mine, and stopped by to see you. You’d got your little shop there behind your house. I walked in, and, boy, it was a hot day and nice air conditioning. I just wanted to walk in, give you thirty bucks for your call, and leave. As we started talking, you reached over behind you in the refrigerator and handed me a jar. We took a few sips. I think the first one was apple pie. “You like that?” “Yes, sir.” Reached in there and handed me another one. I think it was strawberry. Handed me another one. I think it was peach. I think we went through five or six flavors before we settled into a couple. So a stop-by-and-pick-up-a-duck-call turned into about a two hour sampling session and looking at all your duck calls. Wow, that big green box of duck calls you had. Really, you had some calls, now. You explained to me how you made calls and stuff like that. Then it was getting close to dinnertime, I had to go meet my guys, when you lit up that big old cigar. I stood up and said, “I’m out of here. I ain’t got two more hours for you to finish your Cuban cigar.”
Joe Briscoe: Well, yeah, we talked for two hours, which meant we drank two quarts.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Joe Briscoe: That’s how I timed it.
Ramsey Russell: I didn’t drink no more that day. I just ate supper and went to bed.
Joe Briscoe: Well, you asked me—and I remember distinctly—”How far is it to El Campo from here?” I said, “From right here, it’s ninety miles.” You said, “Hey, I can do that if I sleep.” It wasn’t twenty minutes before, “Hey, where’s the nearest, best hotel off I-10?”
Ramsey Russell: That’s exactly right.
Joe Briscoe: “Denmon’s going to have to do this one without me.”
Ramsey Russell: You’re exactly right. How did you get into duck calling? I don’t know where to start with the story, Joe, because I know you so well. We’ve become good buddies over the years. How did you actually get into duck calling?
Joe Briscoe: Well, back when I was guiding for Sonny Bowman, we would go to some shows and there would be— Of course, Mr. Haydel took care of us, in our day, when I was guiding. That’s all I blew was a Haydel. But as I got deeper into it, I said, “Man, there’s got to be a way,” but nobody would talk. None of the old-timers would talk, and no internet, nothing like that. So I said, “I’ve got to figure this out.” Moving forward, we were in a woodworking shop one day. My dad made accordions for forever, Cajun accordions, so doing the wood was always around. I knew how to handle it, what to do with it. I went down there and bought a wood lathe, got that one running. I think it took about a year before I really got one that I liked and sent it off and had a jig made. That’s when I was jigging them, was the original ones. Now, I’ve got a CNC that cuts one every three and a half minutes. Just the tone board.
Ramsey Russell: Is it there in your shop, or do you send it off?
Joe Briscoe: Oh, yeah. I have the blanks made, based off my original, and then we slip it in the CNC.
Ramsey Russell: You started with a mallard call?
Joe Briscoe: Correct.
Ramsey Russell: And then?
Joe Briscoe: Speck call.
Ramsey Russell: Speck call. My buddies I was hunting with this evening were bragging on your speck call, the other night.
Joe Briscoe: I took this direction that, look, if it’s not easy to operate, I’ll throw it in the trash and start over. It took us eight months to develop those speck guts. David Sword, who hunted for Bay Prairie for a number of years, had four swampers, one day, who went out picking up cripples. He started blowing this call, and all the swampers dropped down. They lit into about thirty specks, I think it was. One of the swampers came back and said, “I couldn’t tell the difference between you blowing the call and the geese in the air.” I said, “That’s the one we need, right there.” Sent it back to where we had started and had that machine to start making those. That’s where it started. We use the same thing in a snow goose call. It’s shaped a little different. The latest and greatest was the sandhill crane call. I’ve sold those all over the country.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joe Briscoe: Yeah. I never thought— I thought it would be based right here, but no. I’ve sold them from Florida all the way to Canada.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, so you started off three years old on your papaw’s shoulders after they took you out of the Impala and let the barking dogs out of the trunk. How did you get into duck hunting?
Joe Briscoe: The progression was: go quail, and then dad and I would shoot dove, and then I had a lot of buddies at school that duck hunted.
Duck and Goose Hunting in Texas
“I made a couple of goose hunts when I was about nine or ten, and I knew then. I said, “This is what I want to do. I’m hooked.”
Ramsey Russell: Still in Louisiana?
Joe Briscoe: No, no, everything’s over here. I only hunted in Louisiana when I hunted quail. Yeah, that was it. I made a couple of goose hunts when I was about nine or ten, and I knew then. I said, “This is what I want to do. I’m hooked.”
Ramsey Russell: Your dad, the accordion maker—
Joe Briscoe: My dad, the accordion maker.
Ramsey Russell: —made a couple of goose calls.
Joe Briscoe: We went on a couple of goose hunts, and that’s when they still had the 808, kind of like a Canada call, but we could tweak it for a snow goose. He took me on the first goose hunt, and I was hooked. From then, we were on the same piece of property until I was about sixteen. We left that place, and I just started shooting ducks up the river.
Ramsey Russell: Well, back in those days when you were goose hunting, were you out there on that Cajun prairie?
Joe Briscoe: No, no, it was right here.
Ramsey Russell: Right here?
Joe Briscoe: Right here. Yeah. As a matter of fact, right up the road from right here.
Ramsey Russell: Huh. Out here in Chambers County.
Joe Briscoe: You bet. When you’re a kid, you’ve got a part-time job, and you’re trying to take all your money, save it up, and buy decoys and things like that. Dad said, “You’re on your own on that.” I looked into Sports Afield, one time, and they were showing how to make a cardboard snow goose decoy. I said, “This is a no-brainer.” We had a grocery store right there, close. Me and a friend of mine went over there, got all the boxes, cut them all out, laid them out in the front yard one day, and just went to painting. No eyes, no colored bills, no nothing. We shot a lot of geese over it, in a Christmas tree blind.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the good old days.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, that was fun. That was fun.
Ramsey Russell: Sounds like, maybe, one of your fondest memories from back in those days.
Joe Briscoe: That, and there was a pond that we hunted up the river. Of course, it used to get pounded. We went one day during the week. A friend of mine, Ralph Perez, and I. We’d known each other since we were fifteen. We were duck hunting together, and we ran up there. No GPS, no nothing. Somebody had told us, “Hey, there’s some surveyor tape on the trees. Just follow it. It’ll take you back in there.” This thing looked like a football field. I won’t tell you the name of the pond, because I still hunt it. But we went in there with a dozen and a half decoys, and we shot ten wigeons and ten gadwalls in about forty-five minutes, and didn’t wait on the mallards. There’s a pipeline that runs through there. It’s almost like a barrier. They won’t come south of that pipeline anymore, and I can’t explain it. But in the flooded timber above that pipeline, we’ve still got mallards.
Learning to Guide Duck Hunts…With a Little Music on the Side
“When Sonny hired me on, I was the youngest guide on staff.”
Ramsey Russell: Well, I know you spent a lot of your career in the oil and gas industry, like a lot of folks in this part of the world. There’s a million different jobs associated with energy. You were still duck hunting. When and how did you get into guiding?
Joe Briscoe: Tracy does taxidermy work, as well. I was over at the shop one night, and I said, “Man, you know what? I’ve still got the itch to shoot geese.” He said, “Well, you can be my helper. It won’t pay much, but you’ll learn it.” There was another guide who was down here, who was very well-known, who was a goose hunter. It was Jack Inman. So I would go with Tracy, and I learned to set a spread. We’d set five hundred shells, and it would take us almost four hours to set that spread. Then we’d go back to the lodge. By then, it was midnight. We’d get up at four, go make a hunt. I’d get to my day job, my part-time job, at one o’clock and work till eight or nine. I just had a sales job at a Western wear store, at that time. That was my goose season. Every day.
Ramsey Russell: Well, sounds like you must have been a young man, to do that kind of stuff.
Joe Briscoe: When Sonny hired me on, I was the youngest guide on staff. I was 24. I was 23, turning 24.
Ramsey Russell: And mad at them.
Joe Briscoe: Oh, I was mad.
Ramsey Russell: Were you making calls back then?
Joe Briscoe: No, I wasn’t, because at that time, Charlie Hess, who invented the short reed goose call— If you’ve heard of him. I happened to have a great relationship with him before he passed.
Ramsey Russell: Is he from Texas?
Joe Briscoe: No, no, he’s from Kentucky. He was. He passed away a few years back. Tim Grounds was real close with Charlie. Ask him a question, and he would help you. When I started making duck calls, I would call Rick Dunn, and I would go, “I’m looking for this.” It all comes back to tone, right? So I would basically come to the fork in the road, and Rick said, “Well, if you try this, see what happens. If that doesn’t work, try this.” He never really gave me the answer. He wanted me to find it.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. You have to.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah. That way, you had to work at it to find it. I’ve always appreciated that. Rick Dunn is a great man, with Echo Calls.
Ramsey Russell: I never will forget that time we were sampling those mason jars. You had this incredible— You had this big, green— I don’t know. I just remember it was kind of the size of a military footlocker. You opened it up, and, man, you just had this treasure trove of duck calls.
Joe Briscoe: That was a cedar toolbox my dad made for me.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joe Briscoe: Yeah. He would make a box when he’d make an accordion. So he said, “Hey, I’ll make something you can put all your calls in.” Said, “Okay.”
Ramsey Russell: You had a pile of them. How many calls did you have at that time? Over a hundred?
Joe Briscoe: Easily.
Ramsey Russell: I saw Chick Major’s. That’s one I remember. I saw Rebel Calls. I saw a lot of just legendary calls.
Joe Briscoe: I had an Echo, Jacksonville— That’s where Rick’s from. That’s when he was still hand-turning them. It’s still got the notch on top, the cork notch. It’s still got a dimple in it from where he put it in the jig. I would hear those tones, and I’d say, “What is that guy doing? What did he do on that tone board to get that tone?” That’s what I went by. I went by my ear because, as I’m growing up, I’m playing music. My dad was still playing music.
Ramsey Russell: Were you playing an accordion or a guitar or a piano?
Joe Briscoe: Oh, heck no. I was playing a guitar.
Ramsey Russell: Sounds like you came from a musical family.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, we did. Growing up, my pa and Aldus Roger were best friends. Aldus Roger is the best accordion player ever to come out of Louisiana. Every time they would go home, Aldus would say, “Show up here.” So I was three and four, and they’re dragging me into these little old beer joints. Of course, it wasn’t a big deal at the time. I look up, and there’s my dad, there’s my uncle, there’s my great-uncle, and there’s another uncle.
Ramsey Russell: Was that zydeco music?
Joe Briscoe: No, no, it’s Acadian.
Ramsey Russell: Acadian. Okay.
Joe Briscoe: What you know as “zydeco” is below the basin. Anything above the basin—
Ramsey Russell: Is Acadian. I’ll be danged.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah. My dad didn’t speak English until he was six.
Ramsey Russell: Really? He spoke French?
Joe Briscoe: He spoke French. Basically, the nuns beat it out of him at school. If you spoke French, they took a ruler and turned it sideways, with that little metal edge, and whack. So they basically beat it out of a whole generation, and they wouldn’t teach us nothing.
Ramsey Russell: Huh. Ain’t that something?
Joe Briscoe: It’s horrible. My dad’s 85, so that whole generation is slowly, slowly going away, and there’s nothing to replace it.
Ramsey Russell: Did his people come from France? Or Nova Scotia?
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, Nova Scotia.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joe Briscoe: Well, yeah, we have the Nova Scotia side.
Ramsey Russell: Would that have been your granddaddy, your great-granddaddy?
Joe Briscoe: Great-great-great-great, I think it is.
Ramsey Russell: Three or four generations.
Joe Briscoe: It’s the fourth. Yeah, because I think the third one was in the Civil War, and that’s a whole different story on its own. That’s where all that came from. My grandparents spoke just enough English to talk to their grandkids. Everything else in that house was French.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. I was talking to Warren Coco the other day, and he was saying that his grandmother spoke French, and he never had a conversation with her.
Joe Briscoe: Exactly. Never. I heard that, too. Yeah, I heard that, and I said, ha, do I know what that’s like.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. That’s crazy. I never knew that about you. In fact, I didn’t know you to have musical inclinations outside of duck and goose calling until you sent me some pictures of guitars you’re making.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah. At the time, I was laid off, and I said, “I’ve got to find something to do. I’m about to go crazy waiting on something to pop up.” I started looking around, and I said, “Man, why can’t I—? I can make this. This is not that difficult.” You call them “Partscasters.” It’s all licensed products. So you buy a body from this guy, a neck from this guy, all the hardware from licensed people, whatever pickups, and put it all together. Bang. It’s a challenge, and I think that’s why I like it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, if you think it’s a challenge for you, you’re talking to a guy that bends four out of five nails I try to drive. So, I mean, I can’t imagine.
Joe Briscoe: Maybe you need to get some roofing nails that have got bigger heads on them.
Perfecting the Call
“So we went to a different bore. Once we did that, it’s the same one that you have and the same one I blow. There’s no tricks to it.”
Ramsey Russell: It’s just like this morning. You wanted to see that mallard duck call I had, and I blew it a little bit, and it did sound kind of bad because I haven’t blown it since last year in Argentina. It’s actually my rosybill, not my mallard, call. I used my rosybill call.
Joe Briscoe: I said, “Man, let me see that insert.”
Ramsey Russell: About twenty seconds later, you handed it to me. I don’t know what you did to it, but it blew good.
Joe Briscoe: Well, I threw some of that marsh grass in it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, yeah. Got some of that tobacco out, I’m sure.
Joe Briscoe: It had a wad of tobacco laying right in the middle of the channels.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that would have been several weeks of blowing duck calls down there. Of course, I’m chewing tobacco.
Joe Briscoe: I wiped the reed down and scraped some of the dirt off the board. But I tell you what, that’s a pretty call.
Ramsey Russell: It is a pretty call. I’ve got to thank my buddy Mike Brian. I brought back a little piece of Argentine wood, one time. It’s actually their firewood.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, you said it was mesquite, right?
Ramsey Russell: Argentine mesquite.
Joe Briscoe: It’s beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Sit still. He’s sitting here rocking like a nervous man.
Joe Briscoe: No, it’s just that when I get in the chair that will rock, I can just rock.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but your audio will come in and out. Tell me this, because it’s real important to me. I love that blue-winged teal call you’ve got. I love that blue-winged teal call. How did you come up with that? Because here’s the deal, you’ve got a product listing, and mallards— That’s the duck call that every duck call maker has got to make, because that’s like the national duck of America. The mallard duck. Y’all don’t get a lot of them down here in this part of the world. I know you get them up north of here; you don’t get a ton of them down here anymore. The speck call, I get. That is coastal Texas. The blue-winged teal call— Just to hear Mr. Gene Campbell talk about it; he’s been hunting bluewings for fifty years, or whatever. A long time. That’s a big deal, down here. I know from hunting in this part of the world for decades now, myself, that y’all get bluewings lots and lots. All the Mississippi and Central Flyway bluewings end up passing right through this rice prairie down here. But then a lot of them stay. Y’all shoot bluewings all season long.
Joe Briscoe: Sure. The ones that get out of here the earliest are the first ones to show back up, and they’re in full plume. They’re beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: Well, how did you come about that? That’s just interesting to me.
Joe Briscoe: I was in the shop one day, and I was making a call for a guy. I went to trimming reeds. He wanted a single reed. I said, “Okay. I don’t make single reeds, but, yeah, I’ll make you one.” So I cut it, and I looked at the reed and said, “That ain’t gonna work.” I just took the whole insert and put it in a drawer. The guy said, “What’s wrong with that?” I said, “It ain’t going to work.” “Well, why not?” I said, “None of your business.” Yeah. I tuned the single reed up. He took it. Fine. I took that back out and cut about another 360 fourths off of it.
Ramsey Russell: When you were sitting there playing with it or doing something, you cut too much, but something snapped and you went, “Wait a minute.”
Joe Briscoe: I heard the tone.
Ramsey Russell: I got you.
Joe Briscoe: When I blew it, I heard the tone. So I field tested it at Marianne Woolley’s, in Provident City, in a blind that had fourteen people in it. I said, “Well, let’s see what happens.” This pond we were on is called the Teresas. Beautiful. It’s a DU project. First group that came over was about forty. They broke to the right. They got to two o’clock. I hit them. Every hit did this. I’m like, “Oh, what have we got here?” About that time, here came another group, same size, and they came to the left. So I hit them at ten o’clock, and they did the same thing. Well, those ducks that were at two o’clock, and all of a sudden—it was the one time that I wanted a video camera and didn’t have it—they just collided. They ran into each other, and I’m sitting there laughing so hard that I can’t blow. They’re like, “Blow, man, blow!”
Ramsey Russell: That’s about the same thing they said this morning. There were four of those little two-man pit blinds put together, and every time we saw teal, they looked down at our blind and told you to blow.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, they did. I knew they were going to gather up at the end of the pond, so I hit them a couple of more times. Well, here they come back, and at ten o’clock. I hit them one more time, and they wadded up right there at about twelve, fifteen yards. I said, “I got something.” We tweaked it a little bit because it was too loud and it would bounce off the water. You could watch the birds that were doing this, and all of a sudden you’d see a wing tip up or out, or a head go the other way. I said, “Okay, let’s see if I do this.” I would wait till the birds got to two, and I would call facing the other way. Then they’d come back to reacting to it. I said, “It’s too loud. I’ve got to bring the volume down.” So we went to a different bore. Once we did that, it’s the same one that you have and the same one I blow. There’s no tricks to it.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the same call that a lot of buddies of mine now blow because they’ve heard mine and say, “Where did you get that?” Of course, you made me some that I’m going to take down to Argentina because, with just a little bit of cadence change, it’s a perfect silver teal call.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, that’s what you were saying.
Listening to the Language of the Flock
“It’s a whole different calling.”
Ramsey Russell: If I just blow it a little bit differently, a little bit coarser, a little bit less high pitched, it’s more of a bark. It’s a silver teal. I believe that, once I put it in the hands of those Argentine guides, they’re probably going to use it to call Brazilian ducks and everything else.
Joe Briscoe: Sure. Because they’ll know what they’ve got that—
Ramsey Russell: They’ve just got to bury that little bit.
Joe Briscoe: All they’ve got to do is hold it here and they can change it up.
Ramsey Russell: They’ll figure it out.
Joe Briscoe: Oh, absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: They’ll figure that out easy.
Joe Briscoe: That thing has been going since probably 2012. I think that’s when I started making those.
Ramsey Russell: Eight years. They’ve been going good, because you were telling about some of the traffic and sales and people calling in sales.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, because of you.
Ramsey Russell: Well, look, man, I don’t use anything that I don’t believe in, and I really do like your blue-winged teal call a lot.
Joe Briscoe: You buried me, that one year.
Ramsey Russell: Let me ask you this right here, because I noticed this morning that you and I sound a little bit different. Later in the morning, it was big flocks. Those big flocks got in from somewhere and started buzzing around. I just noticed that we called different. Maybe a little bit different cadence, but we called in time. It was just a time thing, and I would not have worked a mallard that way. I might not have worked a goose that way, but teal— I know a lot of folks listening just shoot the next duck over the decoys like I do, but may not go out and target bluewings like we do. It’s different than mallard calling. You’re sitting there watching—it could be six, it could be sixty—this discombobulated snake flying at Mach Three. You’re calling to them, and they’re responding. They may be way out, and you turn them. They’re coming to you, and they’re just jiving. But it’s like sometimes, if you quit calling to them, phew, they’re off the track. They go off the rails, and you might not get them back.
Joe Briscoe: You had them coming in, you let off so you could work a little tighter, and then you have to figure out how to bring them back.
Ramsey Russell: They’re so aerodynamic. It’s a whole different calling.
Joe Briscoe: It is.
Ramsey Russell: I read the language of the flock. That’s what I try to read. As long as they’re coming and digging whatever I’m doing, I just keep doing it. I’ll do it until about the time in which I realize, “Wait, I’ve got to drop the call and get my hands on a gun.”
Joe Briscoe: About 2010-2011, I was hunting here with the guys. You’d always get a greenwing hen in before shooting time. She’d come light in the decoys, and you could hear her, just like I was blowing the call. Real slow. She’s happy, content. Nobody’s answering her, so she bails out. That’s what I stick to, right there. That one hen that I heard. I’ve heard a guy in South Louisiana call them with his mouth, but his tone’s right. It’s a very simple call. It’s very easy to operate. One of the junior guides here, I had to work on him a little bit. Had to pull out the old learning stick and teach him how to drive it from his abdomen instead of his chest. Once he got it, the tone came around. I said, “Do you hear that? Because if you don’t, we need to record it so you’ll know.” He blew it for about a week before he cut loose with it down here, and they said, “That sounds good.”
Ramsey Russell: It was a long time ago, thirty-some odd years, that I learned to blow a duck call. I was in my twenties, and just learned to blow a mallard call. Everybody blows from their cheeks or their lungs when they first start doing something like that. A real good friend of mine up in Arkansas gave me a piece of advice. He said, “This one note. ‘Bah!’ That one note. Work on that note. When you hit that note, you’ll feel it in the pit of your stomach.” He said, “If you don’t feel it in your diaphragm, you’re doing it wrong.” Once I hit that note, everything else went together.
Joe Briscoe: There will be people that come by and they’ll blow it and they’re off tone, and I’ll go, “Okay, here’s what I want you to do.” Butch Richenback was the best at this. He’d start those kids at eight years old, and it was “hud.” The first thing you feel when you go “hud” is your side abs right here. You feel them flex. Your diaphragm is your gas tank, and your larynx is your gas pedal. The tighter you hold it, the softer the note you can get. On a couple of those groups this morning, I’d ease off a little bit just to make it a little softer, a little calmer. I thought it worked. We got shots at them, anyway.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, we did. I will stand on a call, like a car horn. Not close. When the teal are out there, I’ll get loud and aggressive. When I’m duck hunting during big duck season at home, I may not have that teal call. I bring my mallard call. Forrest can take a mallard call and sound identical to a gadwall. I cannot. So boy, when there’s gadwalls working—and usually there are—he can grunt to them just right. But when greenwings come straight over the decoys out of range, and they look like they’re disappearing on the horizon, I will stand on it just like a car horn. As hard and loud as I can. It’s unbelievable. A lot of times, they will just wheel around. “Okay, let’s go see what this fool is doing.” It gives us a shot.
Joe Briscoe: I’ve learned that, around here, greenwings have become somewhat tone deaf to a whistle. A greenwing, a bluewing, and a cinnamon teal hen all quack the same. So I started using that on big flocks of greenwings and seeing the same results, obviously, as I am with the blues. So I said, “This is not a sixteen day call. This thing is a whole season.”
Ramsey Russell: That’s right.
Joe Briscoe: And I’ve stuck with that.
Ramsey Russell: Are you making any progress on your shoveler call?
Joe Briscoe: Absolutely not.
Ramsey Russell: Why not? I understood you were fixing to make the JB Calls Spoonzilla Supreme.
Joe Briscoe: No, and there will be no Spoonzilla nothing. Let me repeat that: Spoonzilla nothing. Terry Denmon, if you’re listening: keep on making them Spoonzillas.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Folks, if enough of us call in and ask for a shoveler call, he’ll make one. Trust me.
Competition Calling & Single vs Double Reeds
“I envy folks who have that skill set, but you don’t have to be a champion caller to kill a duck.”
Joe Briscoe: To be honest, the only single reed duck call we make is a teal call. 98-99% of what I make, mallard call-wise, are doubles.
Ramsey Russell: That’s interesting. I do remember that, the first time I got a mallard call from you, I wanted a single reed. I blow a single reed normally. I’ve got some great double reeds, including yours, but I learned to call, and like to call, on a single reed. Why do you choose double reed?
Joe Briscoe: That’s what I learned on.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Joe Briscoe: You can make a mistake on a double and cover it.
Ramsey Russell: It’s easier for most people to sound ducky on a double reed.
Joe Briscoe: Absolutely. You can squeal a single and blow them out of the hole. The doubles have always been there. We tweak the tone board, and I’ve been making that one for the last five years, the TCA, and it’s great. I sell more of that than anything.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the duck call makers. I know you’ve introduced me to a lot of them, and I know you’ve got close relationships with a lot of call makers. Here’s what I’m getting at. This is what made me ask this question. I’ve got to tell you a story. You mentioned Butch Richenback, and we’re talking about double reeds. Back in the day, the World Champion Duck Calling Contest—back in the early ‘70s—was held in Greenville, Mississippi, on the bank of Lake Ferguson. Every man I knew that duck hunted blew a double reed call. Every one of them. There might be a few single reeds around, but I got a Faulk’s double reed that was my grand-dad’s. It’s still tied to a little piece of white nylon trotline. One of the neighbors down the road was competing in the world championship, and I never will forget him showing all us neighborhood kids how he put a little piece of tinfoil in between those double reeds. He said, “I’ve got to get some buzz. I’ve got to have some buzz for the competition.” He would sit on the back porch swing and blow, and if any of the other dads in the neighborhood were out there grilling or whatever they were doing—if my dad was grilling a sirloin—they would go in and grab their duck calls. For a little bit, it’d be just mallards around the neighborhood talking to each other. I’ll never forget the one time I had an opportunity to have a visit with Mr. Butch Richenback. I asked him, “What year was it that you won that championship at Lake Ferguson?” He goes, “What do you know about that?” I said, “I was sitting on the hood of my papaw’s Cadillac.” We always knew the local duck caller was going to win. He was that good. Everybody revered him as the best duck caller. Some unknown guy from across the river showed up with some new-fangled single reeds and won. Blowing a Chick Major’s, as I remember. I didn’t learn all that until much later.
Joe Briscoe: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That would have been the early to mid-’70s. Because of that call, at that time, winning that championship, single reeds became a thing.
Joe Briscoe: Sure. I don’t want to sound the wrong way about this, but I always say that if you’re blowing a single and you can’t blow a single, you’re trying to be a purist but you can’t be. You’re not there. I’ve had no more than a handful of people, in fifteen years, come into my shop who are able to blow a single and blow it correctly and get the right tone. You were talking about call makers. Rick Dunn’s helped me tremendously. Kent Column. I can’t say enough about him. I did not meet, before he passed, with Sonny Kirkpatrick, who made calls kind of around, I think, Natchitoches. I’m not sure. When I started making goose calls, Charlie Hess told me the story about how he came across that goose gut. It was an absolute fluke. There’s a couple of calls that were flukes that came into being. One of them being the teal call. It was an absolute fluke. Stroke of luck, fluke, whatever you want to call it.
Ramsey Russell: It was a good one. You got lucky on that one, I’m going to tell you that. Sometimes a blind pig finds an acorn, and you sure found one with a teal call. I think.
Joe Briscoe: Oh, yeah. Everybody that buys one seems to like it. I just sit out there and keep spinning.
Ramsey Russell: We talk about single reeds and double reeds and competition calls and stuff like that, but competition calling, as I understand it, is a musical performance. It’s running a scale. It’s running a series. It’s a manipulation of music that doesn’t necessarily reflect duck hunting skills. I don’t personally know any competition callers. I know a few who have done well, and they’re great duck hunters. But what you see and hear on stage is not necessarily what you’re going to do in the duck blind, calling. In fact, I’m a lousy caller. I feel like I’ve killed a lot of ducks, I’ve called a lot of ducks in, but my tried and true— I never do a feed chuckle. Ever. I guess if the whole blind breaks out, then I might chuckle a little bit, but I don’t do it. I hit them with the mallard call.
Joe Briscoe: I tell people all the time— They come in, and I say, “Alright, before you leave, give me a feed call.” They’ll run off that machine gun just like they would in Stuttgart. What Stuttgart is, is who can control their call the best. That’s not my game.
Ramsey Russell: It’s like a musical exhibition. Running a scale and controlling notes and stuff like that.
Joe Briscoe: And trying to keep from squealing it.
Ramsey Russell: I can’t do any of that stuff those boys do on stage, so I wouldn’t dare go out there. I envy folks who have that skill set, but you don’t have to be a champion caller to kill a duck.
Joe Briscoe: Oh, absolutely not. That’s where my focus is: making calls that kill birds. When they come in, they’ll do that, and I’ll go, “Look, you need to go to a park with your phone. Take a sack of bread, start tearing it apart, record on your phone, and listen to what those ducks do on a feed call.” Some guy told me, “Man, you are so full of it.” I went, “Hang on one second.” I picked up the phone, I put Kent Column on speaker, and I said, “Hey, give me a Stuttgart routine feed call.” I said, “Now we’re in a timber hole. Give me that.” It’s what I learned as a cut feed. That’s what I drive people to. The only time I’ve ever heard a duck do the Stuttgart type is when they’re flying over before shooting time. They’re talking to the decoys going, “Hey, we’re going over here to feed. Come with us.”
Ramsey Russell: Almost like a “go away” call. I really don’t have a repertoire of duck calls. Especially mallards. It’s just four or five notes. If I’m hunting out in Canada and I can see a duck a mile away, I might stand on it with that hell call because, a lot of times, they’ll hear it and come this way. But it’s just those four or five notes. I’m telling you, in Mississippi, it’s been a long time since I worked fifty mallards. It’s lots of pairs and four packs and six packs. It’s just seeing that one duck, just noticing that one duck that’s reacting. Once they start setting up, I find that quack and I go single note, soft, until they’re in the killing range. If you get one note and just keep softly hitting it, you can tell that that duck, or those ducks, are channeling into that sound. Boom. That’s my entire repertoire of duck calling. I have none.
Joe Briscoe: If we have a soft wind today—if we’re hunting a rice field like we were this morning—I don’t blow a call hard. I don’t. It’s, like you say, four or five notes, and then, when they start working in a little tighter, I’ll put a cut feed on them or I’ll start blowing preening quacks. That’s what we call them when she’s sitting there preening and is as just as happy as she can be. I haven’t had very many instances where it hasn’t worked, I’ll say that. That’s why I keep doing it.
Speaking Speck – Hunting Vocabulary
“It’s simply just clucking and ground scratch, and then breaking it up with a couple of clucks.”
Ramsey Russell: Changing gears on you, because I find this interesting. Speck hunting, to me—and I’ve got some great speck calls—is, literally, I’m a one trick pony. If I can hit that speck, and he answers back? Chances are, if I don’t screw it up, that I’m going to kill it. It’s just a back and forth note. I’ve seen real speck hunters that have got an extensive vocabulary. I was hunting Redbone, one time, with Bill Daniels. I’ve hunted with several great callers, and they start off at different times with a different vocalization. I finally asked one of them, one time, what they do. They said, “Ramsey, you can’t just interrupt. You’ve got to listen to what they’re talking about and understand what they’re talking about, and then join their conversation.”
Joe Briscoe: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: Then change it to, “Hey, y’all come over here.” I just marvel at that, because I’m literally a one trick pony on specks.
Joe Briscoe: Travis Snyder is a dear friend of mine, and he hunts in Canada and kills a lot of specks up there. Now, I don’t even yodel. I won’t even use a yodel. It’s simply just clucking and ground scratch, and then breaking it up with a couple of clucks. There was a video—it probably still is on Tennessee Fish and Wildlife, maybe—where they baited the field and filled it full of GoPro’s. So you had all these ducks, all these geese—
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen that on social media.
Joe Briscoe: Uh-huh. If you noticed that speck—and I probably watched that video about twelve times—he never yodeled. He was just sitting there clucking and ground scratching. When you hear five thousand specks on the ground, it sounds like a big old beehive times five thousand. It’s pretty annoying.
Ramsey Russell: It sure is. Good point. You’ve done a lot of speck hunting, I know, and a lot of speck calling. Don’t you judge, or haven’t you judged, a speck calling contest over there near Welsh?
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, in Gueydan. That used to be considered the world speck calling championship. It’s one round, and that’s it.
Ramsey Russell: Is a speck competition the same thing as a duck competition, are they just running a musical scale, or is it more like a meet and call?
Joe Briscoe: Yeah, more of a meet-type routine. I always tell people, when they go, “Man, why did you score me this?” I come back and say, “Paint me a picture. You see the geese; you call to them. You get them turned; they’re coming to you. You get kind of excited on your call. Now, they’re like, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’ and they start to peel off. Well, you’ve got to get them back and then set them, as we call it.” When I was judging contests—hell, I judged with Rod and Kelly Haydel, one year—I just closed my eyes. I’m like, “Paint me a picture.”
Ramsey Russell: So you can see the geese retreating, and you just close your eyes and listen to the routine, and you can imagine the whole thing setting up until those geese are finished. That’s the distinction.
Joe Briscoe: Absolutely. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Joe, tell everybody how to get in touch with you. How can people listening find out about your blue-winged teal call, your speck call, your mallard call, your crane call, and your terrible moonshine?
Joe Briscoe: The terrible moonshine is only available in-house.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. Yeah.
Joe Briscoe: You can find us on Instagram @jbcustomcalls. Most every call that I make is there. There’s actually some videos on there. I think you pulled some video and put something.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve done some video. This morning, I just happened to be doing a little B-roll when teal came in. I’d already started the video, so I just let it roll. You called them in and killed them. You didn’t kill them, but you called them in. I’ve seen you shoot.
Joe Briscoe: You really want to go there? I’m taking that moonshine back. He’s rotten.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, so they can get in touch with you @jbcustomcalls.
Joe Briscoe: If you want to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t bother with my website. I don’t use it anymore. Instagram is where I hang out.
Ramsey Russell: They can message you and call you.
Joe Briscoe: Oh, absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Go ahead and give them your telephone number, because I know a lot of my buddies that deal with you, call you. I know some of them have even laid the phone down and started calling so you could coach them along and do stuff.
Joe Briscoe: Sure. Well, with the technology now, you can do FaceTime, and I can usually see if you’re blowing your cheeks out or if you’re blowing air from here. It’s (832) 691-8070. If you live in the greater Houston area and you want to come to the East Side, I live in Cove. Anybody’s more than welcome to come to the shop. The door is always open.
Ramsey Russell: Bring a designated driver if you need one. Folks, y’all have been listening to my buddy, Joe Briscoe, of JB Custom Calls in Cove, Texas. Good guy. Makes a great blue-winged teal call. This is not an advertorial. He’s just a good friend that knows a lot about duck and goose hunting and makes a heck of a good call. Thank y’all for listening to Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.