Raggio Custom Calls

originally published Winter 2017

From the moment you enter the Raggio Call Shop, you can tell Josh Raggio is passionate about the world of duck calling. His showroom is filled with calls—some he’s made, others gifts from other makers, a few as old as the 1930s.

“There’s a story behind each call,” he says.

Raggio has made over a thousand duck calls since he began in 2013. What started out as a hobby quickly became a business when Raggio Custom Calls was named a Garden & Gun Made in the South Finalist in 2014. Now his beautifully-crafted calls are being recognized far beyond Mississippi.

“I just wanted to make myself a call,” says Raggio. “I never thought it would be a business.”

Raggio grew up in Raymond, Mississippi. His father, an avid duck hunter and caller, introduced him to the sport at a young age.

“He instilled in me that same passion for waterfowl,” says Raggio. “It’s in my blood.”

He displays his dad’s old duck hunting journal in his showroom and keeps his own journal with details of each hunt. He’s already started a call collection for his son, Jett, born earlier this year.

When he first started making calls, Raggio had a small work area in his grandmother’s garage. Once the Garden & Gun feature pushed him into the spotlight, he realized he needed a bigger space where he could work without being exposed to the elements. The biggest selling feature of the house he and his wife, Ann, bought in Raymond several years ago was the woodworking shop out back.

“We joke that we bought a shop, and a house came with it,” says Raggio.

Now he has his own private space to craft his calls, complete with showroom and cozy seating area. One wall is covered in signatures from friends, customers, and visiting call makers. When he’s not at his day job at Puckett Machinery, Raggio can usually be found out in his shop, cutting calls or playing his guitar.

“It’s my getaway,” he says. “I love hosting people, and I wanted the space to be inviting, where we can just come and hang out.”

Raggio says handmade calls like his are a rarity these days. While many duck call makers use duplicators to mass produce, he hand-turns his calls one at a time. And you won’t see any stickers or commercial labeling on his calls—just sleek, classic design.

Raggio Custom Calls

“I’m a traditionalist,” says Raggio. “My goal is to make a beautiful call that sounds good.”

The process itself takes a while to perfect. Raggio uses over 30 kinds of wood to make his calls, but his favorite is Yellow Cedar Burl. He starts off by checking the moisture content of the piece of wood and making sure it’s suitable for use before drilling out a space in the middle for the insert. He then uses a lathe to hand-turn the barrel into the desired shape. But the insert is the trickiest part. Each call’s insert makes a custom sound that can take months to get right.

“It’s a musical instrument,” Raggio says. “Sanding it down too thin can keep it from having that necessary ‘ducky’ sound.”

Raggio says it took him about six months to get a sound he was happy with, and he created his own tone board jig to replicate it. Once the barrels and inserts are cut and pieced together, he adds the band and paints on a clear, waterproof layer over the call to protect it. He also recently bought a machine that allows him to engrave the metal bands by hand.

“It adds a whole other element to the call,” he says.

Though all his calls appear uniform when lined up, Raggio says he can spot the differences in each one. He keeps a drawer of “mess-ups” as a reminder of the hours of trial and error from when he was teaching himself how to use the machinery.

“If you’re passionate about something, you can do it,” says Raggio. “I’m so thankful that I did it the hard way. I want to create an heirloom that people can pass down one day, a call that will hopefully have a lot of stories behind it.”

Raggio was named the Mississippi State Duck Calling Champion in 2009, and one man placed fifth in the World Live Duck Calling Contest using a Raggio Custom Call.

But making calls isn’t the only way Raggio is contributing to the duck hunting community. In 2016, he began hosting what he dubbed “Call Nights,” where people gather to enjoy a meal and just talk about the art of duck calling and hunting. Raggio wanted an educational component to these Call Nights, so he invited experts in the industry to come and share their knowledge.

“I want to teach the art of duck calling to the next generation,” says Raggio.

These Call Nights soon grew to include live bands, contests, and giveaways. People offered to sponsor the nights and even had Call Night t-shirts and hats made. Some of the celebrity experts included caller legend Billy Starks and John Stephens of RNT Calls, one of the largest duck call manufacturers in the U.S.

For the Call Night that Stephens attended, Raggio had over 140 people in his backyard and over 4,000 people watching on Facebook Live. Stephens gave away 150 duck calls that night and gifted Raggio with his own custom call.

With so many fans of the Call Nights, everyone wants to know when the next one is, but with duck hunting season fast approaching, Raggio has his hands full. He says he hopes to host about 2-4 Call Nights a year.

“It’s going to be hard to top the last ones we did,” he says.

Raggio is also excited about his next big project—having a space at the Circle Seven Outpost & Provisions loft at Garden & Gun. About once a month, Raggio will travel to Charleston, South Carolina, and craft calls by appointment, allowing him to add that personal touch for out-of-state customers. With each one-of-a-kind call he sends out, Raggio includes an invitation to his shop in Raymond.

“I want to offer an experience and a bit of hospitality,” he says. “Ann and I like taking care of people.”

Besides selling to Garden & Gun Mercantile and Upper Duck, Raggio also makes custom calls for businesses like Ameristar Casino. Even major league baseball players are sending him their bats so he can use the wood to make them each a personal call.

For now, Raggio says he’s keeping his business relatively small, focusing on the personal aspect rather than quantity. He says he enjoys using the extra income to give back to others, whether that’s purchasing socks for the homeless or sponsoring a Stop Hunger Now meal packing.

The purpose of his duck hunts has also changed. He says it’s more about the fun of calling and spending time with his friends than the number of ducks he gets. “I still enjoy the hunt,” he adds. “I just appreciate the art behind it more now.”

You can purchase Raggio Custom Calls through upperduck.com, ggmercantile.com, or at circle7online.com. Raggio also periodically posts calls for sale on Instagram @raggiocustomcalls. For more information, you can contact Josh Raggio at 601.201.6576.

-Abigail Walker

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A freelance writer from the Deep South with a love of reading, writing, dramatic storytelling, indie music, and her corgi pup.

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