Article by Dan Chason, Photography by Brad Arender
Rod Haydel’s Game Calls was founded over four decades ago and continues to evolve with the changing trends in the hunting industry. BayouLife meets up with Haydel to discuss what makes his brand exceptional.
If I had to choose one person that I could spend a day with duck hunting, Rod Haydel would be on top of my list. Not because of his name, prowess with a duck call or product line, but because he is just the kind of guy who has a way of making a slow day in the blind interesting.
I first met Rod back in the early 90s, and we became good friends. I was hosting our television show and had been blowing his duck calls for quite some time. Anyone who knows duck hunting recognizes the Haydel name as its founder, Eli (Rod’s Dad) was a world class saxophone player. He incorporated his love of duck hunting and music into a business. In the old days, unless you had a mechanical knack, you were pretty much limited in what duck calls you could use. Most had the same flaw: They didn’t blow well when wet or frozen. Eli took the concept of the reed from a saxophone and incorporated it into what is still used in all of Haydel’s duck and goose calls. His sales pitch was pretty ingenious. Eli would set up an aquarium anywhere he could find an audience, and would float his hand made duck calls in the water. When a potential customer walked up, he would pull the call from the tank and blow it. And it sounded perfect. The other thing Eli was famous for was the introduction of a double reed in the call for a more raspy, duck sounding call. I remember the first time I blew a DR-85, which to this day is the top selling call made by Haydel’s. I was in love. But I struggled with the speckled belly goose call.
One day in the blind, after hearing Rod sing a goose’s love song, I convinced him to teach me the trick to blowing it. He explained that by placing the end of the middle finger over the end, it caused the reed to double back giving it the signature sound of a speckled belly goose. From that day on, it became my favorite goose call, and there has been many a speck that has ended up on the grill due to its music. I asked Rod one time to give me the trick on calling ducks. He explained it in a very simple manner: There is show calling, and there is duck calling. Many hunters hear a “world champion duck caller” hammer down with hail calls in a high pitched, repeated cadence that works…..for show judges. Rod made the statement, “I’ve never heard a live mallard hen that loud or repeat that cadence that long…it just doesn’t sound like a real duck.” I’ve hunted with Rod hundreds of times, and I have to admit it. When he starts working a duck, whether it is a teal, gadwall, pintail or mallard, it is like watching a master painter create a work of art in front of your eyes. He relies heavily on a chuckle, feeding call and has one huge word of advice: Always call at a duck’s butt, never at their face. He explained that calling a duck is not what most folks envision. A duck is a creature that gains confidence by seeing other ducks in a hole. If that duck is feeding and calm, incoming ducks will respond accordingly. If the caller is hammering at a flight, they will become more wary as it does not sound like real ducks when the cadence is loud and constant.
I have hunted with other duck hunters, who have success with their own methods. But I can attest by the limits Rod and I have harvested, his method works and works well. As far as decoy set up, Rod is a believer in moving a spread as the wind changes. I have reset decoys up to 3 times in one day, while hunting with him. His analogy is that ducks do not like to land OVER feeding ducks. They prefer to bank into the wind and hit an open hole close to the feeding ducks. Little things do make a difference, such as paying attention to wind direction and changing weather such as blue bird skies to cloudy. Staying hidden and avoiding movement, such as looking up, can change a bird watching trip to a quick limit.
Haydel’s Game Calls was founded in 1981. Eli was a salesman for WW Grainger and worked both crafts until going fulltime in 1984 with his duck call business. The first duck call, commercially produced was a plastic call which was one of the first of its kind. According to Rod, this is the reason the call would blow when wet. The expansion of wood when wet is the reason a wooden call will not blow in optimum conditions. The plastic call was a M-81, which today is as valuable to an old duck hunter as his A-5 Browning. Eli covered from Shreveport to southwest Louisiana with Grainger and established many relationships with hardware stores, where his duck calls were first introduced. The calls quickly sold, and word got out that this call was the thing to use. Soon Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops picked them up in the mid-80s and the rest was history.
Rod started with the company as a summertime job for him, making and selling calls. Upon graduation from NLU in 1986, he came full time back to the company with the marketing degree he earned.
Today’s company is run by Rod, his brother Kelly, wife Pam, stepson Heath, Pam’s cousin Donna, and Rachel (the only non-family member) make up the team at Haydel’s. Kelly and Rod personally make the duck and goose calls including tuning. I can attest to his personal attention, as most times that Rod comes on a hunt, his fingers are bandaged, scarred and calloused from the task of putting together calls. I have seen him take the lull of a slow hunt, reach in his bag and start tuning duck calls during our times in the blind.
Rod personally turns out an average of 400 calls a day. This does not take into account the predator calls, deer calls, turkey calls, small game calls and accessories sold by the company. This time consuming effort does not include the many trade shows, personal appearances, or of course, duck and deer hunts that have to take precious time to fulfill.
Things in the hunting industry are constantly changing. Things like changes to styles of hunting for specklebelly goose or predator hunting. Working with family members can be a challenge, as Rod has learned since the passing of Eli in 2013. Eli had full confidence in Rod and took his role as the face of Haydel’s but gave Rod the ability to do what he did best and that was market the products and run the day to day operations of the company. Such was the case with the new speck calls. Kelly had a vision, and according to Rod, took this new project and adapted to the newest trend to allow for the introduction of new product lines with much success.
Rod’s passion is turkey hunting. Rod loves friction calls. He makes a friction call he named the Walnut Glass, which is by far the best friction call I’ve ever used. He also produces a unique product, called the Turkey Flute. This call is designed much like a duck call, but the caller actually “spits” into it to give it a very unique and desirable sound. This call will do every sound a turkey makes from a purr to a gobble.
Rod’s analogy on turkey calls is to keep it simple. They no longer produce mouth calls as with the Flute and Walnut Glass; it allows a turkey hunter, whether novice or pro, to go to the woods with confidence.
Rod will quickly credit his family and team for the successes of Haydel’s Game Calls. His dad had a dream, and luckily he had sons who took that dream and have now further established the company as a leader in the game call industry. This is done by producing a quality product, keeping things simple as to application and design and from maintaining a strong work ethic.
Haydel’s has a long history in the great outdoors that was fashioned by a legendary man, who just loved to duck hunt. From my experiences with Rod Haydel, I can assure you that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The older Rod gets, the more he looks just like his dad. I was honored to know his dad and to have had the privilege to hunt with him. It is a memory I will keep forever. I look forward to my next hunt with Rod, whether chasing deer, ducks or in the turkey woods. I just hope at the end of this duck season, we don’t have time to tune any duck calls while in my blind.