Calls of the wild
Durk Stark learned from an early age the way that being in the woods or beside a body of water in the wild can connect a person to the outdoors.
He grew up hunting waterfowl and whitetails in the Alexandria area. It was during these hunts that he developed an appreciation for the rich tradition of hunting in America.
Now from his home in Pepin, Wis., Stark captures the allure of that hunting heritage by making wing-bone turkey calls.
These calls were a favorite of turkey hunters almost 40 years ago. But as wild turkey numbers continued to grow, the growing number of hunters created a demand for new and easy to use calls. Now the box, slate and diaphragm have become the calls of choice for most hunters in search of America's largest game bird.
Ever the purist, though, Stark was not about to conform to modern technology.
"It's a different sound that's in the woods that you can't buy in the store," he said of the wing-bone call. "It's a much sweeter sound. It's also that sense of tradition and being connected to that."
That tradition extends back as far as 6500 BC. In 1940, on an archaic site in Benton County, Tenn., a number of Native American artifacts were unearthed prior to the construction of a dam that formed Kentucky Lake.
Among the discoveries were wing-bone yelpers made from the bones of wild turkeys. Microscopic analysis show they were crafted together in much the same way that call makers do today.
Over his years of hunting, Stark has found that using handcrafted materials has helped him remain connected to this heritage.
He started by making his own cedar arrows and restoring bamboo fly rods. It was not until he moved to Wisconsin in 1992, though, that he was introduced to turkey hunting.
"Growing up in Alexandria, there weren't any turkeys around at that time," Stark said. "Being a new parent, you often are not able to get in the woods as often as you like to. I needed to find things to do in the winter time."
His interest in wing-bone calls was spurred after reading an article on them in Turkey and Turkey Hunting magazine.
After a Thanksgiving meal, Stark collected the wing bones of the turkey, making his first call in 1992.
"I just started doing it for my own personal interest," he said.
But what started as a hobby has grown into a successful business. Stark works full-time as a special education teacher and also home-schools his daughter with his wife.
Through all of this, he finds time to make between 110 and 250 calls a year through his business, Custom Wingbones by Durk.
He, along with many other call makers, is dedicated to preserving a tradition once established by the Native Americans. This is not limited to call making, though. He applies these same principles to the woods, hunting only with a bow.
"The only way I hunt anything is with bow, whether it's turkey, deer, carp or coyote," Stark said. "I love to hunt. If I loved to kill, I'd use a gun. A bow puts me closer in contact with the animal. I have to be a better woodsman and have a cleaner shot."
His art reflects this approach to the sport. Around 90 percent of the calls he makes today are collectors' items, many of which have earned him a number of accolades.
Stark took second place at the Grand National Custom Call Making Contest in the decorative wing bone category this past spring. The calls for the event were later auctioned off for almost $2,000.
In 2006, he took second place at the Minnesota National Wild Turkey Federation convention in the wing-bone category and honorable mention at the Midwest Nationals that same year.
Along with the awards, he was recently commissioned to make a special edition call for Pheasants Forever's 25th anniversary.
"I never would have imagined that my artwork and call making would have ever went down this path," he said. "I am very grateful for other call makers who have given me feedback and guidance as well as a very patient wife and daughter who have also had many interesting things happen in their lives because of my call making business."
Much of his work can be seen at Wild Wings Galleries in Lake City, and those looking to commemorate a special hunt with one of his calls can contact Stark at email@example.com.
"I continue to be very grateful and appreciative of anyone who purchases one of my calls for hunting or the many others who appreciate the artwork and want them for collector pieces," he said.
Calls range from $90 to $200 for a set of calls in a black walnut display box, with each one helping to preserve a tradition too often forgotten.
The Alexandria Echo Press and Red Wing Republican Eagle are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.