Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville
Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler; images by Darrell Chitty
Justin Metz has a musical ear and an artistic eye, and he puts both to work crafting his gorgeous duck calls that are in demand all across the country. And he does it all in a little well-equipped workshop in the wooded paradise called the Tunica Hills.
He had the good fortune to be born into a family that for generations lived close to the land---loggers and hunters, cattlemen and self-sufficient farmers, horticulturists and of course hunters. His favorite memory, back when he started duck hunting as a young teen, was heading out at 3 or 4 a.m. for the simple cottage on the edge of Cat Island swamp; he could hear the television blaring way down the road along Bayou Sara creek, because Uncle Moochie and Uncle Dump were both hearing impaired after years of running chainsaws and heavy machinery. There was always coffee brewing, breakfast on the table even at that hour, and after a brief visit, Justin would be off into the swamp waters, with ducks coming in, the excitement of a brisk north wind in his face, and he felt like he was in heaven. He was hooked.
Louisiana, with its abundance of waterways and swamps, is the most important wintering area for over 3 million North American waterfowl every year; Louisiana Wildlife Insider calls the sheer size and diversity of our wetland habitats integral to meeting the life cycle demands of millions of waterfowl migrating up and down the Mississippi Flyway. But Justin Metz was not satisfied with the commercially stamped duck calls available in big box stores, and so in 2011, after years of sitting and listening to ducks from his blind, he knew he could mimic the sounds that convinced them to commit to come in and land.
Duck calls are made with a barrel and insert, a tone board and exhaust. The reed on the tone board vibrates when air passes under it to a channel on the tone board; that’s where the sound comes from, and then the air travels out of the exhaust. It’s the curvature of the tone board and the thickness and length of the reed that gives the variation of sound. The type and density of the wood also affects the sound; the tighter the grain in the wood, the crisper the sound. Consequently Metz Calls uses an assortment of exotic woods like African Blackwood, Cocobola, Osage, as well as local woods like Black Walnut and Cherry and Buckeye Burl. To seal the wood, he soaks his calls in burnt linseed oil, just like all the old callmakers used. Some of his duck calls now are also acrylic.
Once he had perfected the shape and sound of his duck calls, Metz began adding artistic touches like carvings, many with specific meanings, all hand turned and freehand engraved. He makes his own bands as well, turning out what are essentially working pieces of fine art.
Before he and his wife Misty had children, they travelled to sportsmen’s shows where he would sell thousands; now, as a business owner, raising a family and serving his community as a member of the parish council governing board, he doesn’t travel much, but sells his calls in a number of retail outlets. He estimates that he has sold calls to duck hunters in every state and even in Germany.
One special design shows a carved flying duck, rice fields and a raised state map, with the lettering “Bring Them Back,” a reference to the declining duck presence; the 2018-2019 duck season was called the worst in 50 years. Justin, head of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter, attributes this decline in the number of migrating ducks and geese in this area to a number of factors, including a shift in migration routes westward, much of it due to man’s footprint; also loss of habitat, changes in Midwestern agricultural practices like no-till farming leaving grain spillage on the ground to provide food for ducks between crops, too much rain and high water, mild winters and fewer northern cold fronts.
In south Louisiana, vast flat fields of sugar cane aren’t suitable for ducks, and many rice farmers in southwest Louisiana are now growing GMO rice, a very abrasive grain less desirable as a food source for waterfowl. But the state will always have thousands and thousands of migratory waterfowl and consequently thousands of enthusiastic duck hunters tempting them from blinds in wetlands and swamps, many using one of Justin Metz’ works of art, noted as much for beautiful craftsmanship as for exacting tone.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination; check locally for coronavirus mitigation requirements, please. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).
2840 Cypress Village Drive
Benton, LA 71006