I was raised in a large extended family. My daddy’s side was in the restaurant business, and my three uncles went hunting for stress relief after working long hours in the restaurants. My dad was raised during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and he never wanted to be in that lack of money situation again. So, he worked all the time. He took me squirrel, duck, and rabbit hunting, but my uncles were passionate about quail hunting.
My uncle Gus had a world-champion quail dog, and I went on hunting trips with him and his friend the late Buck Dearman. Uncle Billy took me deer hunting at the Ten Point Deer Camp in Mississippi. When I was 11 years old, I had a .30-30 lever-action rifle and took my first deer. I learned to love the hunting lifestyle and hunting became my stress reliever too. When I was a little fellow, my job at the restaurant was to stand on top of wooden Coca-Cola cases and make tea for the ladies who served in the restaurant, as well as making salads and working in the restaurant like the rest of my family. I always looked forward to those hunting trips with my dad and my uncles. When I went to college, I majored in business with a minor in biology. Even in college, hunting was a major part of my life.
When I was 11, I had made my own duck call like my Uncle Gus had–a Jake Gartner Duck Call. When the turkey population in Mississippi began to expand, and everyone was getting into turkey calling, I decided to get into it too. Mr. Buck Dearman said, “Will, I really like these stacked frame diaphragm calls, but they fall apart. Also, they’re made from lead and I don’t like that heavy lead in my mouth. Will you see if you can make a better one?”
I figured out how to do it, made a stamp and die and learned about manufacturing turkey calls. In the spring, I’d go to outdoor shows, especially the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) banquets, and sell my turkey calls. I thought I might be able to start a turkey calling business, get out of the restaurant business and go hunting all the time. Eleanor Roessler was the lady whose father, Jack Hamm, leased an island from a company. This company bought hardwood that was used to make the sides of station wagons. Miss Eleanor was making a fat triple-reed stacked call back then, and a man named Brasi Dantone, was making stacked frame calls as well. I made a different size frame than these other call makers did, and I bought condoms and sliced them up to make my diaphragm calls. So, Primos wasn’t the first company to promote stacked frame calls, but we were the first to promote them nationally, and that really set our company apart in the early days.
Image courtesy John Phillips