Kevin Croteau is carving a name for himself.
Croteau has a passion for wild turkey hunting. "It's my favorite kind of hunting,'' he said the other day. He became so enamored of the sport that two years ago, he began making friction turkey calls out of exotic woods and other materials -- fancy, polished calls that fellow hunters have noticed and started buying. One he donated to the National Wild Turkey Federation sold recently for $150 at auction. Another was auctioned for $100.
Not bad for a 16-year-old high school kid from Ramsey who only began turkey hunting a few years ago.
"I'm probably one of the youngest call makers in the nation,'' said Croteau, a modest yet self-confident and articulate 11th-grader who is active in 4H and high school track.
And loves hunting and fishing.
He started his small business, Last Strut Custom Calls ("because if they come in, it will be their last strut") in his parents' garage workshop, where he added a lathe, drill press and band saw. He has repaid his parents for the equipment with his earnings.
He makes friction calls -- also called a slate call or pot call because they are essentially a small bowl with a piece of slate, glass, aluminum or other material on top. A hunter scratches the surface with a striker to mimic the sound of a wild turkey. Kevin sells his field-grade wooden calls for $35 to $40. He also makes calls out of Corian, the rock-hard countertop material, which he sells for about $50.
"I like the Corian calls, because they look cool and make a nice sound,'' he said. "But it's really hard to work with, it's so dense. I have to constantly resharpen my tools because it dulls them so quickly.''
He makes the wooden calls the same way, on the lathe, using a variety of wood, including red oak, walnut, osage orange, cherrywood and Brazilian cherry. He also makes the strikers, too, on his lathe.
An outdoors kid
Kevin bow hunts for deer and hunts pheasants and ducks. "And I love fishing,'' he said.
Said his dad, Mike: "He's had a passion for the outdoors ever since I took him fishing to Canada when he was 8.''
He and his dad and relatives went turkey hunting for the first time when Kevin was in seventh grade. "We went to South Dakota,'' Kevin said. He didn't get a bird that year, or the next.
"A couple years later, I got my first one, and I was addicted,'' Kevin said. "It's my favorite kind of hunting, hands down. Hearing that gobbler getting closer and closer as you're calling, and then you see them come out of woods in the clearing, and he's strutting and gobbling his head off. And he comes into your decoys. It's just a thrill.''
He worked on his calling, competed in some contests (finishing second in one) and then decided to try making his own. He met a call maker from Oklahoma on a turkey call website who has given him advice, encouragement -- and more.
"He sent Kevin a huge box of wood and slate and said 'have at it,' '' Mike Croteau said. "He's just a super-nice guy.''
Kevin's first attempts were rough.
"It was trial and error,'' Kevin said. "But it was fun, so I kept trying. I experimented for about a year.''
Now he believes he has perfected his call. He figures he has made about 40, donating some for fundraisers, giving others to family and friends, and selling some.
"He makes a dang nice call,'' his dad said. "I had to wait awhile before I finally got one. I don't really know how he got the seed planted for turkey-call making, but he knows his woods and has a good ear for the sound of a turkey call.''
The calls are relatively simple. There's the 4-inch diameter bowl turned on the lathe and a sound board to help amplify the sound sandwiched between the slate, glass or other surface glued on top.
There are other types -- mouth calls, box calls, push-button calls and wing-bone calls, among them -- but many like the friction calls for a key reason: "They're easy to use,'' Kevin said.
Word is filtering out, and he's been making some sales. The hunter who bid $150 for one of his calls at the Turkey Federation banquet ordered three more calls from him.
"I'm such a perfectionist, if it doesn't sound like a wild turkey, I won't sell it. It's got to be perfect,'' he said.
"I don't do it for the money, I just do it because I love to turkey hunt.''