It may not be "Duck Dynasty," but a Detroit Lakes partnership has found its own small niche in the duck call business - it allows hunters to put cremated ashes from their beloved hunting dogs into the duck call itself.
No, you don't get a mouthful of ashes whenever you blow the duck call-Deadshot Custom Call Company uses custom high-grade acrylic resins and hermetically seals the ashes into the duck call, said co-owner, founder, and self-described "head quack" Brian Rubenstein.
The ashes are "only in the top collar of the call, not in the main body of the call," he said. "I wouldn't really want to be blowing on my dog's ashes ... but even if you did, they're like a rock."
Rubenstein, of Detroit Lakes, launched the company about a year ago.
"I literally can't keep up," he said. "This has exploded over the past three months."
An avid hunter, he was missing Haley, his yellow Lab and hunting partner for 13 years. Her cremated remains were just stored in a closet, and that didn't sit well with him. He considered scattering her ashes outdoors, but then she'd be gone forever. So he thought of a better way-the duck call that became the Man's Best Friend model.
"I did a prototype a little over a year ago, I did a test product for friends and family-it's complete heirloom quality, it lasts a lifetime," he said. "It kind of turned into a success."
So much so that he needed some help, and made a partner out of an old friend, co-owner and "head-honk" Wade Erickson of Fergus Falls.
"My partner is my best friend of over 23 years, we've hunted together for many, many years," Rubenstein said. "Our different personalities make it more of a success."
For all kinds of hunting partners
Deadshot Custom Call Company offers two models to attract ducks and geese-a traditional call, and a call that holds the ashes of your loved one. And it doesn't have to be canine ashes. The company has received a number of requests to use the cremated remains of beloved family members.
The first one came from a man whose grandfather had died and been cremated six years earlier. When the customer was young, his grandfather had taught him everything about hunting, and given him a lifelong love of the sport. And he wanted to memorialize some of his grandfather's ashes in a duck call.
Rubenstein, who is a very active in Ducks Unlimited (he's a life sponsor) understood how the man felt. But he wasn't sure about the legal and ethical aspects of meeting the request. So he researched it, even talking to a funeral home operator, who told him there's not a lot of restrictions on how cremated remains can be memorialized-including putting them into duck calls. So he went ahead and did it.
Since then, he said, "we've had quite a few requests (involving human ashes) no two are ever the same."
Some people display the Man's Best Friend duck calls at home, some use them for hunting ("it's a totally usable, practical call that will hold up to anything out there," Rubenstein said) and often hunters simply wear them on a lanyard around their neck.
"With this, you're holding your dog, holding that memory next to your heart," he said. "We've been hunting ducks for 25 years, and always wanted to do something special for our fellow hunters-this makes it feel like your hunting partner's back again, in that special time in the fall."
Buyers have a choice of an insert built by Deadshot Custom Calls or an insert made by Echo Calls of Beebe, Arkansas. "It allows us to get our customers into a high-end call at a low-end cost," Rubenstein said.
Deadshot Call Company sells its traditional-type acrylic calls for $75 to $100. They are all hand-made to the customers specifications, and the price depends in part on the color, design and engraving.
That's a good price for an acrylic call, Rubenstein said. Name brand high-end calls can go for $125 to $225, and they aren't customized.
The special Man's Best Friend models go for $150 to $175, again, depending on the specifics, since each one is unique.
The deadshot calls are perhaps twice as heavy and twice as thick as other duck calls on the market, he added. "We feel better resonation within the bore, it blows easier, it has a wider mouth," he said.
Customers love to customize
And buyers are taking advantage of their ability to customize, he said.
An 18-year-old from Hibbing special-ordered seven matching traditional calls, for himself and six other kids in his hunting party, with their names engraved and each one numbered from one to seven. "He heard about it on Facebook," Rubenstein said.
Often, customers put their dog's name on the call. A Bagley woman honored her white Lab with an ivory-white colored duck call engraved with "Jake" on the side.
A Bemidji man memorialized his two dogs, Honey and Thunder, with their ashes in two separate duck calls, one honey-colored and one thunder-black, each with their name engraved on the side.
There are "Thin Red Line" calls for firefighters and "Thin Blue Line" calls for law enforcement officers.
Rubenstein is entirely self-taught. He learned to work with acrylic resins and he learned lathing. "The first one I did blew up in the garage," he said with a laugh. "Too much pressure on the lathe."
The partners have honed their craft through "many, many hours of constant turning (on the lathe) and constant attention to detail," he said. "It's all done by hand-we bring it to that shine and polish through a sanding and polishing process."
His first few duck calls each took about an hour and a half to make, but the more he does, the more accomplished he becomes-it now takes him 17 or 18 minutes to make a call, he said.
Rubenstein said his design is patent-pending, which means the company is approved for one year and then has to go through the patenting process.
His company also makes goose calls and predator calls-which around here mostly means coyotes.
The name Deadshot Custom Call Company was submitted in a naming contest by Charity Reese of Detroit Lakes, who lives near Deadshot Bay and who also developed the company's logo.
The product was a hit at the Red River valley Sportsmen's Show, and the company plans to be at trade shows in Little falls next month and in Anoka for two weekends in August.
If you attend a Ducks Unlimited banquet, you may well see some of the company's products.
"We donate calls to Ducks Unlimited for a fundraiser," Rubenstein said. "We provide reduced cost or free calls depending on chapter affiliation-it allows them to help the ducks."