We recently asked
Wayne Carlton to give us a little history of himself and how he pioneered part of
todays hunting industry.
The game calling part of the industry actually started when I was a kid
growing up in Florida. I had an uncle, Harvey Beckham, who was the Daniel Boone of Florida
in his day. He knew how to call alligators, raccoons, turkeys, and crows. As kids we used
to call it swamp waving. We loved to follow him.
Many Sunday afternoons we would walk through woods and wade through
swamps with Uncle Harvey. He taught me the importance of calling. Once when coon hunting,
his dogs led us to a big oak tree. I was shining a light to see where the coons were so I
could shoot them, but they wouldnt look at us. My uncle did a coon and a dogfight
call. That made all the coons look down to see who was whooping up on "Fred", a
coon that had fallen out of the tree.
It created such havoc! When those coons all looked to see who was
fighting, I started shooting. We killed 12 coons out of that one tree. When we had a
negative situation because we couldnt see any eyes, Uncle Harvey imitated something
to make those animals respond. What a lesson I learned!
Uncle Harvey chased the same whitetail deer for two years; it had a
27-inch spread that was slightly curved on the left side. He finally killed that big
whitetail. That was Harvey. That was what made him who he was; everybody looked up to him.
The excitement of calling, seeing the owls and turkeys and other critters come to him,
planted the seed in my own life.
After I came home from the Navy it took me two months to utter my first
sound on a diaphragm turkey call, which had just been introduced. Because I didnt
have to use my hands to call I became a tenacious turkey hunter. I was not that good, but
I was persistent. Hunting turkeys created a lot of discipline in me. My wife and I moved
out West when I was 32. We didnt know where we were going to live. I didnt
have a job; we had two kids and a dog. We settled in Montrose, Colorado in August. I heard
elk bugling that first September and it sounded almost like a turkey whistle so we started
calling elk with a diaphram turkey call.
For six years we called elk for all of our friends, and some folks who
werent our friends. It finally dawned on me that maybe we were on to something. A
writer, Rich LaRocco, from Outdoor Life, did a feature article, "Calling elk
with a turkey call". LaRocco told me to get a couple calls, a grunt tube, and some
cassette tapes to teach people how to do this. My wife and I put some recording equipment
together; I went in the studio and recorded my first audiotape. We got on the market in
April and sold about 7,000 from April until August. But when that article hit in August,
we did 71,000. We were on top of the elk world because nobody had a diaphram elk call at
the time. We started with five products. When we sold we had 108 products and were doing
around $1 million in annual sales.
Q: What is the key to being a success in that industry?
A: One of two things. You either need to have a lot of
money so you can promote your idea, or you have to have an idea unique enough to promote
itself. I didnt have the money, but I had a unique product: the diaphragm elk call.
Elk calling was becoming more and more popular, and I was just the fortunate one to market
that elk call first. We had that first year to ourselves. Then Larry Jones, who had been
in the market a year longer than me, came out with his call. He had clients who were more
loyal to him than to me.
We did real good the first year; we did OK the second year, and after
that we started growing. We had a unique product; nobody else had it. That was the
beginning. Why were we successful? Its different for different companies, but for me
personally it ended up being that I was a good public speaker. We were doing seminars on
how to not only call elk, but also how to hunt elk. People enjoyed hearing the hunting
stories. They enjoyed seeing the videos; they enjoyed the seminars. We gained quite a
following just from the seminar circuit.
Q: Once you got so big and sold your business, you started
doing some other things? Do we need to be looking for any new products from you in the
A: You saw the super sneakers in the show from
Carlton. Ive designed some pretty neat products over the years and Ive
actually gotten the patent on three of them. But the latest thing, the super sneakers, is
for the person who goes hunting and is trying to get close to wildlife. Theres an
awful lot of pressure just trying to get there: hiking, turning a rock over, scraping a
boot on a rock or these silly felt pads. They take the stress out of doing that. I think
out of anything Ive come up with, super sneakers are one of the better deals.
Q: What product are you most proud of?
A: Since the diaphram elk call got us to where we are, then I would
have to say that was the most important thing. That opened the door for everything else.
The diaphram elk calls were probably the most successful.
Q: Where do you think your largest target market is now and how does the
economy affect where youre trying to market your products?
A: I have always been a Western guy. I design
products that will work in the East, and will certainly work in the Midwest. For instance
we have a whitetail buck and doe grunt that really calls deer in like no other. Its
got a real high-pitched grunt to it that seems to stimulate them. But Ive tried to
focus on the West. I knew I didnt have the money to buy the market back East where
there were a ton of guys with every kind of call you could imagine. But I wanted to make
sure that I knew the West better than anyone else. And thats what Ive tried to
do: design products that would work in the West like our shoulder panniers. A Western guy
hiking in the canyon doesnt want to carry a backpack around, but nobody back East
would think twice about it. We also have super sneakers. We hunt on a lot of rocks out
West. If youre sheep hunting or goat hunting in the mountains above Timberline,
thats an awful lot of rock. And you have something that takes all that noise out of
the stalk. Were not going to sell a lot of that back East. My market is out West.
Q: Do you think the current state of the economy is having an
effect on how you market your stuff?
A: I think it is overall. I think sales are down
industry wide. But Ive been in the business 20 years, and Ive seen it cycle
and do that several times. Theres nothing wrong with that because its just a
business cycle. However, its not good for dealers or for the guy whos not
managing his sporting goods store as efficiently as he should. It shouldnt affect
the people who understand how to survive this sort of thing, however. Its just part
of business. I do find that when the economy is like it is right now, people need to get
on the phone, call the dealers, and find out how they can help. Do you need a videotape of
the product whether its an elk call or super sneakers? Do we need to do a seminar to
enthuse your local guys? Just dont sit on your hands and wish it would go away. Make
it go away. People like myself need to make suggestions on how dealers can motivate sales
and get their clients out of the humdrums.
Q: Where do you feel like the hunting industry as a whole, will be
in the future?
A: Everybody says we have fewer hunters per capita
than we did 20 years ago. Thats kind of a misnomer because there are more people
than there were 20 years ago, a lot more people. I do not see a reduction in the number of
hunters. As a matter of fact, I see more people going hunting. So in some respects, I wish
the numbers were true, but I dont think they are. We could be losing habitat to some
degree. Where guys were turkey hunting before, there are houses now. So that pushes those
individuals to another part of the country. Hunters condense where game is available.
Around Montrose, Colorado I really like turkey hunting in the spring. I
dont want to do any more seminars here because it gets people excited. They think,
" Ill go try that," and another guy is in the woods competing with me for
the same turkey. Thats what I experienced this morning. The only problem was I
missed it. My old man taught me how to turkey hunt. He said that youll remember the
ones you missed more than the ones you killed.
Q: I know you are affiliated with quite a few non-profit
organizations. Could you tell our readers which ones you are affiliated with and why you
A: Im affiliated with the National Wild Turkey
Federation (NWTF), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), and the Mule Deer Foundation
(MDF). Also Safari. I think all sorts of people enjoy hunting a particular species of
animals. Turkey hunters all want to hunt turkeys. Then, by golly, they need to be a member
of the NWTF. I dont care if the NWTF headquarters is in Edge Ville, South Carolina.
Theyre doing more for wild turkeys than any other organization in the world. The
same thing holds true for elk. How dare a hunter go out and hunt elk and not be a member
of a conservation group like the RMEF.! Why not help that effort? Im a strong
supporter that we need to be members of conservation groups that protect and enhance the
habitat of the species that we love. A duck hunter needs to be a member of Ducks Unlimited
(DU). Theres absolutely no question about it. When I do seminars Im surprised
how many people are not a member of anything.
Q: Youve got to give back a little bit. It seems that in
todays market there arent a lot of ethical hunters. Theyre really
wrapped up in whats in it for them.
A: Well the payback, what you would call the
etiquette, is not there. Guys say, "Heck Im not sending them 25 or 50 bucks. I
dont even know them. I think we need to support conservation. An interesting tidbit:
I was sitting in on a meeting where some women were trying to determine how to keep so
many deer from being killed on the highway. So I went to the meeting. I was just
dumbfounded at how these sweet little old ladies thought that if you were a Republican you
were against any conservation or anything for wildlife. The moderator kept talking about:
Democrats this, and Democrats that, and how bad Republicans were. I finally told her,
"Maam, you got to be nutty as all get out if you think Republicans dont
have anything to do with politics." Hunters for the most part are the ones who create
conservation. It isnt the anti-hunters. Its not you folks sitting here. You
didnt start a conservation group; you are trying to figure out how to keep deer from
getting killed. Were trying to improve their habitat so they have a better life
while theyre living here. Yeah, we hunt, but being Democrat or Republican
doesnt have anything to do with it.
Q: Theres been a lot of misconception when it comes to
those issues. It would be nice if we could educate the whole public as to what the hunter
really means to the animals, because if we take the hunter away there will be no animals
A: And you got it dead center.
Q: So we have something to look forward to from Wayne Carlton?
A: Yes, were manufacturing. I just completely
redesigned the elk call line for Hunter Specialties and weve got some new calls
coming out. We took the old fighting cow call and put a bell on the end of it and put
total flops on it. I think I showed it to you at the show. It is a heck of a good call.
Q: Are you still affiliated with Hunters Specialties?
A: Yeah, as a matter of fact we are at the end of our
five-year agreement and are renegotiating for another term. Were going to continue
to design products and do videos. Were toying with whether we want to do a TV show
Q: One more question: Im well aware of your love for
hunting. Given that, if time and money were not an object, where and what would your dream