I met Earnest C. Hale, Jr., in 2002. He is still going strong in Belle, Missouri, selling outdoor stuff, tags, licenses and I imagine, giving free advice. Some things never change. Here’s the story from the afternoon I spent in his shop. ~BB
Earnest C. Hale, Jr.
Shivers ran up my spine when I heard those high-pitched sounds bouncing off the walls of the small room. “Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk.”
I thought, “Enough, already. This is worse than hearing fingernails on a chalkboard or feeling a rough, dry towel with chapped hands—this grating, high-pitched noise of a turkey in heat.”
No wonder it works so well to call in male turkeys. They probably just want some peace and quiet and are coming over to tell the female to hold down the noise.
But, I was the one who had asked Earnest C. Hale Jr., of the Hook and Hunt in Belle, to demonstrate how to tune a turkey call. For this task, he pulled down a tried-and-true Lynch turkey box call off the top shelf from behind the counter.
A tag dangled from the old wooden box that read, “Thirty years. Full retirement.” Hale said, “I won a state championship down at Hermann with this one 20 years ago . . . I could sell it for three times what it’s worth.”
“Ah, come on Earnest, you know you took it out of retirement at least once last year,” said Kent Griffith, Hale’s sales associate in the store. Hale just grinned.
Hale sells a wide variety of turkey calls in all shapes and sizes. In addition to selling a turkey call, Hale will tune it, too.
To demonstrate how to tune a new box call, he took one off the rack. First, he made a yelp call on the untuned box. Even to the untrained turkey-listener’s ear [namely, mine], the box didn’t sound nearly as sweet as the old one on the shelf.
Hale then took a screwdriver and loosened the top screw. He scrounged around under the counter, found a piece of fine sandpaper, and started working on the top edge of the box, the part that’s under the handle that moves back and forth.
He said, “Once in a while you have to cut a little wedge of wood and put it in the bottom here and change it around to different places because sometimes it’ll have a dead spot in the wood, and it’s actually soft . . . and when you pinch that [the side of the box] in there it changes the tone completely.”
Soon, the call from the box sounded sweeter. It still grated on my nerves a bit, but I supposed that’s the price you pay for hot, crispy turkey breast fresh out of the fryer.
Hale’s final tip for using a call box, or any other turkey call, was to “practice, practice, practice.” Oh well, hearing the turkey squawks isn’t as annoying as hearing my little sister honk away on her saxophone, practicing the only tune she knew—“Glo Worm.”
The Moonin’ Story
And if you happen to stop in to buy a turkey call or something else from the well-stocked outdoors store in the Ozarks, you might want to discuss Hale’s method of bow fishing. He believes he originated the practice of “bare-butt bow fishing” a few years ago when he was out on a river at night with some friends.
When he went to sit down in the back of the boat, wriggling his way past the generator for the lights, he caught the crotch seam of his pants on a sharp edge. He said he heard a loud ripping sound, and then discovered that he’d sliced clean through his pants and underwear.
Of course, the boys took advantage of the situation, shining the spotlight on Hale’s backside. Let’s just say there was a full moon on the river that night, and it didn’t impair anyone’s ability to fish at all (between bouts of laughter, that is).
After that episode, Hale had a bunch of tee shirts made with “bare-butt bow fishing” on the front, and an advertisement for his store on the back. The line of shirts quickly sold out, and can be seen on some of the citizens of Belle to this day. However, he gave me [which I still have to this day].
So, if you want to meet the guy who started a trend in the outdoor world, or who can tune a turkey call, or sell you just about anything in the hunting and fishing world, just stop by and visit Hale at his shop on the junction of Hwys. 28 and 89 in Belle.
Now located at 927 East Main Street in Linn, Missouri, visit Hale’s Hook & Hunt on Facebook. Call (573) 897-0777.