As the days become shorter and the nights cooler, the thoughts of avid sportsmen around the Northern Neck turn to the pleasures of hunting. One young resident has been hearing the sounds of ducks and geese quite often, not outside his window, but inside his workshop. This sixteen-year-old entrepreneur, Connor France, has been turning out handmade calls inside the small, tin-roofed shed that once housed his father’s seeds and farming tools but now is filled with a stack of cedar and pine, an old-fashioned lathe, carving tools, old decoys, and several types of reed inserts, all implements of this young craftsman’s trade.
Six months ago Connor had no idea that today he would be running his own business. As a member of his high school’s Beta Club (Academic Honor Society), Connor entered the woodworking competition at the annual state convention held in Richmond at the end of March. Having a deeply ingrained love of building like his grandfather, Woody, as well as a love of hunting and all things outdoors, Connor brainstormed ideas for the competition that would link his two passions. No stranger to using calls for all types of hunting, Connor decided to try his hand at making his own. He knew he needed a lathe to create what he saw in his mind’s eye, but lathes were expensive and he had limited funds. Determined to overcome this problem, Connor sought to build his own manually-powered lathe. After much internet research and watching how-to videos of other successful lathe makers (and some trial and error), Connor, with the help of his father, made a foot-powered lathe from scraps of wood and other materials. His next step was a search for the appropriate wood to carve. An excursion into the woods behind their home provided plenty of cedar and pine, and Connor’s
vision began to take shape in his hands.
While drifts of snow covered the ground and frigid temperatures brought school to a halt, Connor used his time away from the classroom to work in his grandfather’s shop, perfecting his craft. His first duck call was turned out in February, and after many hours, he had the process down to an art. When Connor took three calls to the March convention and won third place in the state, friends and neighbors became interested in the calls and placed orders for their own one-of-a-kind hunting tools. Northern Neck Calls was born.
After the many months and hours Connor has spent at the lathe, he has found that the most difficult part of the process is “getting all the imperfections out of the call, all the nicks. It has to be perfectly smooth. One of the most frustrating things occurs when there is a crack in the wood that doesn’t show up until after I have already spent hours carving a call. The call is no good and I have to start from scratch on a new piece of wood.” Connor considers the most enjoyable part of the process to be “choosing wood that has a unique grain that really shows up in the final product, but most of all, shaping the different calls so that no two are alike.” Because he prefers duck hunting, Connor admits that he has spent more time perfecting the Mallard call. He is also expanding his call line to include wood duck calls and plans to have them for display and sale at several of the upcoming Ducks Unlimited shows in the area. He is numbering his calls and is proud that his first call is owned by his grandfather who believed in him and encouraged his work.
In addition to making calls, Connor
has spent this past summer crabbing, mowing lawns, and doing odd jobs, but he admits that he cannot wait to start “calling in the ducks” and putting his work of the last few months to the test. Anyone interested in contacting this enterprising young craftsman may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-493-8250.