Top-Notch Turkey Calls

From his small workshop in Chatsworth, Georgia, Anthony Ellis turns out some of the country’s finest trumpet calls

Photo: kathryn mccrary

A deer antler yelper (left) and several trumpet calls.

The call itself looks simple enough—a turned wooden barrel and mouthpiece fitted together by a small metal ferrule so that the shape mirrors that of a miniature clarinet. But any hunter who has ever attempted to coax a turkey into gun range with a trumpet knows that this is the hardest call to master. That learning curve steepens when a call is poorly crafted, some being all but impossible to play. But hold a trumpet turned and tuned by a master—say Zach Farmer or Billy Buice, Charlie Trotter or Frank Cox—and you will recognize that there is an art to the design. Every decision at the drill press and lathe affects sound so that dialing in the length, taper, and internals can take a lifetime to perfect. Maybe that more than anything is what makes Anthony Ellis so special. Simply put, the forty-one-year-old call maker from Chatsworth, Georgia, is a natural.

photo: kathryn mccrary
Ellis at his shop with the first prototype of his XT trumpet, made of lignum vitae and mammoth ivory.

Ellis, who owns and operates AGE Trumpets, took two of the highest honors at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s annual Grand National Callmaking Competition last year. He won first place in trumpets and the coveted Tom Turpin Award for best in class. That’s a high task for anyone, but consider the fact that just five years ago Ellis had never turned a block of wood in his life.

“My buddy Simon Bishop—he’s a fireman here in Murray County and makes pot calls—kept trying to get me to come to his shop because he knows how I
like to tinker,” Ellis says. “I finally went up there one day and made a cherry striker. A light bulb went off while I was making that striker, and I thought, I’m going to make me a trumpet. I thought, shoot, I can make one of those just to see if I can kill a turkey with it.”

Ellis ordered a lathe of his own, but he was too excited to wait. Before it even arrived, he turned his first
trumpet on a drill press with a cheap chisel set. “Then I got my lathe and started making them nicer,” he says. “At first I made five different barrels and three different mouthpieces, different sizes and different lengths on the internals. Then my uncle and I just played around with them until we figured out what played and sounded the best.” Ellis turned those first few calls in 2015, and by the next year, he was already placing at the Grand Nationals. The following year he wound up taking first and second place in the amateur air-operated class.  

Born and raised in Chatsworth at the foot of the Cohutta Mountains, Ellis runs a small body shop with his uncle by day that was started by his father. Now on his third lathe, he turns calls in a small garage outside his home and has a hard time keeping up with orders. As with all of the most sought-after call makers, customers can expect a waiting list, with Ellis’s current production out ten to eleven months.

Most often turned from blackwood, ironwood, or Osage orange, his trumpets are sleek and beautiful, with simple lines that allow the figure of the wood to shine. But more than that, they draw easily, requiring very little air to operate, with a smooth and distinct rollover between the high and low notes of a turkey’s yelp. Likewise, his barrel design makes creating and controlling back pressure—the key to creating sound with any suction call—a breeze for beginners. Ellis currently offers three trumpet models (his XT having won at the Grand Nationals), along with other calls, including a Jordan-style yelper, a Chibouk pipe call, and a mini paddle-style box call. He recommends his T6 trumpet or the XT for beginners, noting that the longer trumpets tend to be easier to play. 

Like most turkey hunters, Ellis didn’t start out using trumpets, but all it took was one morning in the woods with one of his early models to steer him in the direction he went.

photo: kathryn mccrary
Ellis shapes a trumpet from Georgia Osage orange wood.

“I can remember my uncle and I were over at the John’s Mountain Management Area, one of the hardest-
hunted places around here,” he says. “Usually we’ll hike back a ways and try to find some birds that haven’t been messed with, but since it was during the week before work, we stayed close to the truck. I remember I hit a box call, I hit a slate call—this was back when I carried tons of calls—a mouth call, and nothing was gobbling. I thought, well, shoot, I’m going to hit this trumpet. I yelped and five turkeys gobbled. Within forty-five minutes, we had a bird at thirty-five yards. That convinced me how realistic sounding they are.”

Anyone who’s spent time chasing them knows that public-land gobblers are the harshest critics of all. At this point, the judges have spoken. AGE Trumpets are pure turkey.