A True Box Call Artist - Niles Oesterle
Turkey hunting in the spring has been described to me as being "like a war," and if that is true, one must be extremely careful about the weapons you bring into battle. Turkey hunting is a passion in which the most important weapon you bring is not your gun. Certainly it is important to have an accurate gun and solid load that you have practiced with and are secure in your effective range. However in the turkey woods you can have the most expensive and accurate gun in the world and still not have a chance at a bird if you don't have a good call and a grasp of how to use it!
There are quite literally an unlimited amount of call options out there, and numerous types. Perhaps the most common and most used call is the "box call." The reason for this is that it can be used to make a wide variety of calls and can be learned quite quickly by a novice. When turkey populations were just being reestablished across North America, the availability of a good box call was low. The only source for one of these terrific calls was often a few local craftsmen who meticulously produced these calls, handcrafted and toned perfectly. But as involvement has increased and a market has been established, they are now being mass-produced.
Today we are going to talk with Niles Oesterle, one of those artists who handcrafts a number of calls including the box call. Niles sells his box calls online through his website www.boxcalls.com. Making box calls is truly a labour of love for Niles, and he selects the wood for each one specially and endows them each with their own unique look. The sound is perfected by this artisan slowly to get the perfect tones he wants and they look as good as they sound! Despite their value as a real work of art, he expects them to be used rather than put up on a shelf to display. His calls are well-known and highly regarded as perhaps one of the best custom box calls on the market, and his reputation is stellar.
Niles is a true gentleman and one I have been privileged to share the turkey woods with. As we walked last fall together, I found as much enjoyment in chatting with him about family, life, and the outdoors as I did in the hunt! Although that hunt didn't end with a bird that day, I had made a new friend and was better for the time we spent together.
Q. How long have you been making box calls, and what made you want to get into creating them?
Niles: I started Eight-Hooter Wildlife Calls in 1978 and began building one piece sound chamber custom box calls in 1985.
Q. Is there a different tone for each subspecies of turkey and do you have to take account of that when creating the box call or will they all respond to the same sounds?
Niles: With the exception of the Ocellated turkey of the Yucatan, a box call will call any of the sub-species of wild turkey. There are subtle differences in tone between the subspecies, however, hunters need not worry themselves about this, as they will have many more pressing issues to deal with when calling in an old gobbler.
Q. What is your favourite wood to use in creating a box call and why?
Niles: I have always been partial to Vermont Butternut for its’ fantastic sound. I also really like Missouri Persimmon and Fiddleback Maple.
Q. I know that you used to make a variety of other calls, and my son has an owl hooter you made. Do you still make calls other than the box call and if so, what else do you make?
Niles: In addition to the Box Calls, I do still make a few old style Owl Calls and a Crow Call. Back in the 1970’s there were 14 different calls in the Eight-Hooter line, everything from Predator calls to Deer calls.
Q. Have you ever tried your hand at making calls for other hunts/species or do you stick to turkey calls?
Niles: Today, I spend most of my time only on custom box calls.
Q. How long does it take you to fashion one of your box calls from start to finish?
Niles: That depends on the wood species and the critical match of woods for the sound chamber and lid. Generally there will be 10-12 hours devoted to a custom box call.
Q. When creating a box call, what types of tools do you use? Do you stick mainly to hand tools or do you use power tools as well?
Niles: I use a table saw and drill press to rough out the basic blocks; after that it’s pretty much all hand crafted.
Q. You are well known as a premiere builder of custom box calls. How many people are on your "waiting list" for calls right now?
Q. You often place a special inlay or design onto the box calls. What would you consider to be the most beautiful or special box call you ever made and can you tell us about it?
Niles: The call featured on the opening page of my website (pictured at right) was one of my all-time favorites. The sound chamber is Redwood Lace Burl and the lid is Birdseye Maple with accents of Ebony, Muskox horn and Walrus jaw bone. The base is laminated Spalted Persimmon and Rare Mud Cured Osage Orange.
Q. Do you have an estimate of how many calls you have made over the years?
Niles: Box calls, about 600
Q. What do you think of the machined, mass-produced box calls we are seeing at the big box stores? Can any of them compete with a hand-crafted one?
Niles: The mass produced calls have come a long way over the years. They certainly are capable of calling in a wild turkey, but will never compete sound wise or have the historic significance in turkey call lore, as fine handcrafted custom calls, in my opinion. Think of it this way, if you play a guitar, you might choose a Sears Silvertone. If you are really serious about your guitar playing you might desire a Martin or a Gibson. They are all guitars, but with many, many differences.
Q. I know making box calls to be a labour of love to you and expect I know the answer to this. Do you ever expect to retire from making them?
Niles: Probably not, although I have cut way back, and pretty much now only take orders from former customers and a few very serious newcomers. Now, I am concentrating on finishing up that long waiting list, and of course, turkey hunting whenever I am able to.
We thank Niles for his time today. As mentioned, if you are interested in learning about his uniquely crafted box calls, you can go to www.boxcalls.com . You absolutely will not be disappointed. His box call is an effective weapon that will help you to talk turkey as realistically as possible. Many a roaster has undoubtedly been filled with successful harvests from Niles box calls, and many more will come!
Contact us and let us know!