Scott Rowe: From collector to master craftsman
Scott Rowe of Crawford Texas and owner of Z-Rowe Calls was nice enough to give us some of his time and do a question and answer session. Scott has worked the last few years to become truly an amazing custom call builder anyone would be thrilled to have on their lanyard and collection. His calls sound is only upstaged by his professionalism and great customer service.
BTB: What age did you start hunting and who got you started?
SR: I went on my first duck hunt at the age of 11. I had an older cousin (Zane Rowe May) who was a huge role model for me and someone I really looked up to. He was an avid outdoorsman and was always in the field hunting or fishing. Even though he was 7 years my elder, he always made time for me and made sure he taught me the right way to do things. I can still remember the night before he took me on that hunt. We sat and talked about what to do and what to expect. He talked to me about gun safety and how to handle that old Belgium Browning A5 I would be using the next morning. I don’t think I slept much due to the excitement. But the next morning I shot my very first duck sitting in a make-shift cane blind on the bank of the Farm Pond just off the Red River in Southwest Arkansas. Ironically enough, that first duck happened to be a Mallard Drake.
BTB: You started D.C.E. (Duck Call Exchange) a few years ago and seem to have a love for calls, when did that start?
SR: I think if you ask anyone that knew me back when I got my first duck call, they would tell you since that day, I have had an obsession with calls. I am pretty certain I have annoyed just about everyone in my life with the sound of a duck call. The first call I ever owned was a polycarbonate Rich-n-tone call that came with Butch Richenback’s cassette tape. I listened to that tape more times than I can count in an effort to sound like Butch. A few years later I bought my first acrylic call from Butch. Four years ago, while sitting at my kitchen table, I mentioned to my wife that I wanted to start a Facebook group where people could buy/sell/trade duck calls. She said, “why not”...so I asked a few of my call collecting buddies what they thought about it. A few thought it was a good idea...some didn’t think it would really work. But I went ahead with it and Duck Call Exchange was born. It has been a lot of fun...a lot of work at times...and a few times I wondered why I had gotten myself into this mess. If I had it to do all over, there is no doubt in my mind that I would do it again. I have learned so much about the history of calls, I have found out about some unbelievably talented call makers that I may not have known about otherwise and most importantly I have made countless friends that will be in my life forever. And for that I thank the Good Lord above. BTB: When did you first start tinkering with turning calls and when did you decide to turn it into Z-Rowe?
SR: As I previously mentioned, I have been obsessed with calls since the day I got my first one. The thought crossed my mind once or twice that I would love to make a call one day. But I had no one in my life that could teach me the “how to’s” of woodworking, much less how to make a call. So even when I thought about making a call, it was short lived and ended with the thought that I could never do that. However, the thought never really went away. As the years went on, my passion for learning how to make a call only grew. I had some help learning how to work a lathe but no help in learning the art of call making, but I was determined to do it. I didn’t want to make them to sell, I just wanted to make one for myself. My goal was to make one call that could replace the 2 I carried on my lanyard...one call to do it all. I finally made that call out of a piece of old bois d’arc by using a lathe, drill press, a small hand saw and some sand paper. I didn’t have a jig at that time, but after a lot of sanding, I made it work. I loved the sound, however the call’s looks were pretty awful. It looked so bad that I would only use it when I was hunting by myself. You have to know my hunting buddies. We don’t let anything go...we give each other a hard time over everything. And I knew if I took that call out, I would never hear the end of how ugly it was. I kept it a secret for a few years actually. But one night while my best friend (Jeff “Tank” Brackman) and I were driving to Arkansas to hunt with a few guys from Echo Calls, we were blowing calls in my truck. I told Tank I had a call I wanted him to try, but he had to close his eyes and try it. He obliged and gave her a run. He then opened his eyes and said, “this thing sounds great, but my God it is ugly. What is this?” After a lot of convincing by my friends, and a few years of pressure from them, I finally decided to try and replicate that call. I know there was a lot of dumb luck involved, but the toneboard jig I use today was made from that very call I made over 6 years ago. BTB: Did you have any mentors when you started and people you exchanged ideas with or did you kind of figure it out on your own?
SR: As most people who are involved in hand making calls know, finding someone to offer up the secrets of the call making process is pretty difficult. A lot of it you have to learn on your own. I truly looked up to the guys like Rick Dunn, Billy Starks and Butch Richenback. I always thought if I could learn from guys like that, how great it would be. I was fortunate enough to have a good relationship with Butch for several years. I wasn’t able to learn from him hands-on, but he taught me quite a bit in our weekly phone conversations. There is one guy that I have to give a lot of credit to in helping me learn the process in a more efficient way. That guy is Josh Raggio from Raymond, MS. Josh and I got to know each other really well through Duck Call Exchange. After quite some time passed, and a little trust was built, I received a phone call from him one day. During that phone call he told me that his wife had said that he really should invite me to their home and for him to help me with what he knew about call making. I’d love to give him credit for the idea, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Thanks Anne! Today, Raggio and his family are now like a part of my family. I love each and every one of them very much. I’ll never forgot what he has done for me and how he helped me learn part of the call making process. I believe I would still be making calls if he hadn’t helped me along the way, but I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. And, I am forever grateful to him for what he's done.
BTB: I remember when you first announced Z-Rowe calls were available for purchase, it was met with mixed reviews before anyone ever picked up one of your calls. I have personally watched a guy who some said was just another CNC outsourcer to a very respectable and amazing hand turned call maker, what was that like?
SR: By nature, I am typically the type of person who thinks about every move I make and also every result that could happen because of what I do...good or bad. I have to admit that when I decided to start Z-Rowe Calls, personally I don’t think I did a good job of this. I decided to go about making my calls in reverse of what a lot of call makers do. Where a lot of people will hand make calls for quite some time and then potentially outsource their calls to CNC production, I had a few orders of CNC calls produced using the call I hand made before I started selling my hand turned calls. I had 2 reasons for doing it this way. I wanted to see if people liked the sound of my calls and I also thought that I could use the income to get better equipment for hand making my calls. If I had it to do over again, there is not a doubt in my mind that I would have done things different. I would have hand made every call that ever left my shop. After being part of the call making world for several years now, I truly understand why the guys who make each call by hand feel the sense of pride that they do in their work. I understand why it is so personal to them when someone praises their work or criticizes their work. I know that when a person puts themselves or their work out in the public, they also need to put on a couple extra layers of thick skin. It’s no different for a call maker and it was no different for me. I’m the kind of guy that wants everyone to like me...it’s a trait I get from my mother. I’m also the kind of guy that takes things very personal. So when there was some opposition and a few less than authentic statements made about me and my calls...I took it very personal and I just couldn’t understand the motives or logic behind it. As time went on and after conversations with others, I eventually learned to focus on the positives and not the negatives. It took some time and there were a lot of sleepless nights because of some things that were said, but it truly made me a better person. I believe God put me in those situations as a way to grow to become a better friend, husband, father and follower of Christ. I made the decision last year that every call leaving my shop will be hand made by me. That is a decision I do not regret. It definitely slows down the process and the patience my loyal customers have with me in getting their call made is greatly appreciated. But when a person gets a Z-Rowe Call, they know without a doubt it is hand made by me and only me. They know it wasn’t made by a machine...they know it wasn’t made using a duplicator...and they know it wasn’t made with a metal lathe. It was made exclusively for them...one step at a time...one call at a time.
BTB: What's the future of Z-Rowe Calls?
SC: We never know what the future holds. I don’t know what the future holds for Z-Rowe Calls. I don’t see myself turning this into a full-time operation. I’m just enjoying the art of hand making calls and continuing to learn all that goes with it. And as most call makers can tell you, if you are hand making every call, trying to make enough of them to support you and your family is an almost impossible task. At the moment, I have been patiently waiting for the completion of my new shop in Crawford, TX. It should be going full speed very soon. After I get settled in, I’m sure I’ll start thinking about the future. I have a lot of ideas running through my head and new things that I want to try. I want to use what I have learned in call making and cross over into hand making other items. Not just different calls, but other things that are by and large not made by hand any longer. We will just have to see what happens with that idea. As for the immediate future, I’m just ready to get back in the groove again. I’m anxious to make the first few calls in my new shop that will be a limited edition and something I’ve never made before. I’m ready to hear the sound of the lathe spinning and saws cutting. And most of all, I’m ready to see a block of wood turn into a finished duck call.