rB y A m a n d a F o r r e s t e r • P h o t o g r ap h y b y A l l i s o n P o t t e r
A CRAFTSMAN’S HOBBY TURNS INTO A BUSINESS
RALPH JENSEN WAS ALREADY A SUCCESSFUL WOOD CRAFTSMAN, A
MAKER AND RESTORER OF FINE FURNITURE, WHEN HE STUMBLED
ON THE FIND THAT WOULD LEAD TO HIS TRUE LIFE’S CALLING.
In 2000, Jensen invested a couple of
bucks in a basket of goodies at a flea mar-ket.
The basket included an old, wooden
“I duck hunted, but I had never blown
a duck call. I never even considered it until
this,” Jensen says, holding the call. “I was
just taken by it.”
He took it apart to see how it worked.
Intrigued, he decided to make his own.
His curious hobby turned into a busi-ness:
Ralph Jensen Game Calls. He brands
each hand-carved creation with his logo
— a simple outline of his face and famed
His small Wilmington workshop over-flows
with life and creativity. The shop
includes a woodworking station, a sitting
area, and tools and gadgets lining the walls
high and low. Jensen spends his time here
crafting calls for sportsmen and collectors.
Prices range from under $100 for a simple
call to over $2,000 for an intricate custom,
“Most of my calls, I would consider high-end
calls. They’re carved, not like a normal,
plain call,” Jensen says. “Most of the people
I would say are collectors, or they just want
something that’s old-school.”
He didn’t set out to market and sell the
calls at first, but demand grew through
word of mouth. He began receiving requests
for custom calls, including many from
sportsmen who had lost their hunting dogs,
a family member, or both.
“I’ve done some where I had pictures of
dads, with the dad in like a rocking chair
and the dog lying in front and the columns
of the old home up in Virginia,” Jensen
The wood is often as unique as the carv-ing
itself. Jensen’s calls have come from a
19th-century piano, 200-year-old heart pine
from the bottom of the Cape Fear, a 13th-century
library door from England, and
teak from the deck of the Battleship North
Each call, as well as the reed inside,
requires a fine attention to detail and a very
skilled eye. Reeds must be shaved to ten-thousandths
of an inch.
The craftsmanship makes mass produc-tion
impossible. Some months he makes
about five calls, while closer to duck-hunt-ing
season in the fall, he might complete
over 15. Simple designs take a few days,
while custom calls can take a few weeks.
He reminisces about the hardest call he
has made: a gift for a retired Marine Corps
colonel from his mother.
“It had the Marine Corps emblem in
it. It was the anchor and the rope and all
that stuff,” Jensen says. “Lord, it was hard.
And knowing them, it had to be absolutely
He calls himself semiretired, but still puts
in about 30 hours a week between furniture
restoration and his duck calls. Jensen turned
70 in March 2018 and gives no indication
that he will fully retire anytime soon.
“I don’t really see that in the cards. I don’t
really want to,” Jensen says.
Ralph Jensen with one of the custom-made duck calls crafted in his Wilmington
cutline to come
WBM october 2018