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Hunting Illustrated - Magazine of the WestFrom the August/September 2003 Issue of Hunting Illustrated Magazine - posted July 11, 2003

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Home > Hunting Illustrated > Articles/Stories > Wayne Carlton
Corporate Interview – Wayne Carlton of Carlton Calls
One on One with the legendary Wayne Carlton and how he started it all

full version (shorter version featured in Hunting Illustrated Aug/Sept 2003 Issue)

Wayne Carlton

We recently asked Wayne Carlton to give us a little history of himself and how he pioneered part of today’s 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 wouldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t know where we were going to live. I didn’t 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 weren’t 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 didn’t 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? It’s 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 future?

A: You saw the super sneakers in the show from Carlton. I’ve designed some pretty neat products over the years and I’ve 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. There’s 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 I’ve 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 you’re 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. It’s got a real high-pitched grunt to it that seems to stimulate them. But I’ve tried to focus on the West. I knew I didn’t 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 that’s what I’ve tried to do: design products that would work in the West like our shoulder panniers. A Western guy hiking in the canyon doesn’t 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 you’re sheep hunting or goat hunting in the mountains above Timberline, that’s an awful lot of rock. And you have something that takes all that noise out of the stalk. We’re 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 I’ve been in the business 20 years, and I’ve seen it cycle and do that several times. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s just a business cycle. However, it’s not good for dealers or for the guy who’s not managing his sporting goods store as efficiently as he should. It shouldn’t affect the people who understand how to survive this sort of thing, however. It’s 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 it’s an elk call or super sneakers? Do we need to do a seminar to enthuse your local guys? Just don’t 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. That’s 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 don’t 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 don’t want to do any more seminars here because it gets people excited. They think, " I’ll go try that," and another guy is in the woods competing with me for the same turkey. That’s what I experienced this morning. The only problem was I missed it. My old man taught me how to turkey hunt. He said that you’ll 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 support them?

A: I’m 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 don’t care if the NWTF headquarters is in Edge Ville, South Carolina. They’re 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? I’m 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). There’s absolutely no question about it. When I do seminars I’m surprised how many people are not a member of anything.

Q: You’ve got to give back a little bit. It seems that in today’s market there aren’t a lot of ethical hunters. They’re really wrapped up in what’s in it for them.

A: Well the payback, what you would call the etiquette, is not there. Guys say, "Heck I’m not sending them 25 or 50 bucks. I don’t 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, "Ma’am, you got to be nutty as all get out if you think Republicans don’t have anything to do with politics." Hunters for the most part are the ones who create conservation. It isn’t the anti-hunters. It’s not you folks sitting here. You didn’t start a conservation group; you are trying to figure out how to keep deer from getting killed. We’re trying to improve their habitat so they have a better life while they’re living here. Yeah, we hunt, but being Democrat or Republican doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Q: There’s 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 left.

A: And you got it dead center.

Q: So we have something to look forward to from Wayne Carlton?

A: Yes, we’re manufacturing. I just completely redesigned the elk call line for Hunter Specialties and we’ve 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 Hunter’s Specialties?

A: Yeah, as a matter of fact we are at the end of our five-year agreement and are renegotiating for another term. We’re going to continue to design products and do videos. We’re toying with whether we want to do a TV show or not.

Q: One more question: I’m well aware of your love for hunting. Given that, if time and money were not an object, where and what would your dream hunt be?

A: I’m personally interested in this one. I have so much fun doing what I do that Africa would turn me on. I wouldn’t mind going to Africa, but I wouldn’t call it a dream hunt. I think a dream hunt would be one of two things: being able to hunt elk in every state would be a dream hunt; or to hunt moose in all the different providences in Canada as well as in the United States.

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