GROWING UP IN RURAL KENTUCKY
As the sun sets over his five-acre property in Smithfield, Ky, Shawn Pendergest peers out over the land he has called “home” for his entire life.
Located just a few miles up the road from where he grew up, the 41-year-old has loved living off the grid.
“Not a lot of people, but there are a lot of coyotes,” he said, as he counted a handful of houses amongst a sea of pristine and virtually untouched land.
He thinks back to a few years ago, when he first got the idea for Freedom Game Calls, a business he literally built with his bare hands.
Crafting turkey and duck calls isn’t a skill he was “born with,” he admits.
In fact, starting a small manufacturing business never even crossed his mind until later in life. (More on that later).
Making calls, for now, is his part-time gig.
Full-time he is the owner of a lawncare business. It’s a trade he learned growing up on a pig, cattle, and chicken farm.
“Every day it was ‘such and such farmer needs help today. Run on over and give him a hand,’” he said. “That was my summer. Not much playing. Just a lot of fixing lawnmowers and helping farmers.”
THE HUNT THAT CHANGED IT ALL
His love for hunting began when he was 15 years old. That year, his godfather, Paul Morris, took him on his first hunting trip.
Pedergest still remembers the weight of the Remington Model 788 resting in his hands.
“My first hunt and I got my first doe. About 190 yards out,” he remembered.
It was a Monday.
The following Thursday, on just his second hunt ever, he took home his second doe harvest.
And that was big news around the Pendergest household.
“Back then we didn’t go on ‘trophy hunts.’ What we killed, we ate,” he said. “We weren’t super poor, but we were poor. So two doe made for a lot of food. I was extremely proud of my contribution to feeding my family.”
The hunting bug was planted.
But his passion for crafting custom calls didn’t come until many years later when his brother took him to Arkansas for his first duck hunt.
“Sitting in the blind, shooting the breeze, setting the decoys; it was so much fun,” he said. “I was hooked.”
When he returned to Ky, his cousin gave him some used geese decoys to practice with.
There he was one fine morning, Pendergest recalls, sitting on the dock, waiting for the sun to come up, when he noticed a flock coming his way.
“Already? They are already heading for the decoys?” he remembered thinking. “I had to rush to get my gun out and fired when I had a good view.”
He got his first goose.
It was banded.
The Hunting Gods, it seemed, were begging him to keep going.
THE BIRTH OF FREEDOM GAME CALLS
With his new love for the hunt, he naturally wanted to invest a little more into ensuring more successful trips to the outdoors. It didn’t take long into his shopping experience to feel overwhelmed and daunted.
The kicker, he said, was seeing a $150 price for a duck call at Bass Pro Shops.
“That’s a rich man’s game,” he said. “It’s quality was not even close to the custom calls I had used. And there isn’t a significant sound difference between brand name calls anyways.”
His only next step: get to making his own call.
With no background in woodworking to speak of, he took a pocket knife, a drill, and a slab of pinewood, and did just that.
He admits it was about as basic a call as one will ever see.
“It quacked. Not horribly, but not great either.”
Determined, Pendergest kept at it, finding the materials he needed to build the best call he could, by any means necessary.
He gathered all the donated and discounted wood he could in town, got a cheap table top lay, and set up a small station in his shed.
Soon, he was able to make a call barrel from a piece of old oak taken from his barn, and attached it with a nice silver ring unit.
He labeled it “FREEDOM GAME CALLS #1,” with the name “Paul Morris” etched on the bottom.
Pendergest later delivered that call to his godfather, who was now dying of cancer.
“It was a very, very special moment for me,” he said. “He was the reason I got into this. I knew all along I wanted my first one to be dedicated to him.”
(Morris sadly passed away in 2017. “Call #1” now remains in Pendergest’s safe, as it is now one of his most valued possessions.)
Then, after coming home from work one evening in 2016, Pendergest took a long look at his wife, Sarah, and said “I want to do this full time. I want to make calls. And I want to give a portion of it back to veterans.”
“Let’s do it,” she said, without a moment’s hesitation.
She decided to helm the marketing and social media aspects of it, and immediately got the Facebook business page going. Pendergest wasted no time in spending $40 to register for an LLC.
He then set up a small station in a 30×48 building he was using to store lawncare equipment. After making dozens of calls in this small space, the Hunting Gods again intervened when a massive summer storm hit Smithfield, completely destroying his shop.
The insurance money from that loss, he said, went to building a new 32×32 enclosed garage complete with an 8-foot porch and small office.
After a long day of work at the lawn care business (which begins at 5:30 am), he would then spend his free time after hours making calls.
“On most weeks I’d get into the shop around 10 p.m., after my wife has gone to bed, and I’d be working sometimes until 1 a.m.,” he said. “I am in the zone. It’s my flow state. I just love making them.”
No two calls are the same.
Each is cut from a different section of a dozen different types of local wood, including Walnut, Red Oak, Hedge, Cedar, and even Spalted Tiger Maple.
His turkey calls, for instance, are made with crystal glass sound boards and bead-blasted friction sound plates; and he turns his strikers out of the same wood, making sure it all sounds oh-so-smooth.
When one call is completed, he takes a step back to look over it in detail, appreciating that there will never be another like it again.
“It really is a special feeling, looking at my finished work,” he said. “I take great pride in it.”
PROBLEMS AT BIG BOX STORES & SOCIAL MEDIA
Big box stores, he laments, didn’t have the same appreciation for his work.
Cabela’s, for instance, told Pendergest that he needed enough stock to supply every one of their 70+ locations. Clearly, as a one-man team, he didn’t have nearly enough calls to meet that requirement.
“Not to mention, I had to have UPCs for every call,” he said. “I would have to have countless UPCs to make and keep track of. That can get very expensive and time consuming.”
Selling on social media sites like Facebook, he said, has been “decent,” but he finds it hard try to keep customers engaged.
“I don’t have time to post four times a day,” he said. “And yet I know if I don’t people won’t buy.”
Selling on Etsy, Amazon, or any other major e-commerce marketplace?
“I am just one of countless people trying to sell something amongst an endless sea of products,” he said. “I don’t have much of a shot.”
TACKLEHACK & PENDERGEST’S DREAM
After following his Instagram page for some time, Adam Gifford, the CEO of TackleHack, reached out to Pendergest on social media last year.
“He was making some of the best quality calls,” Gifford said. “And as a Kentucky native, I knew I needed to meet him and hear his story.”
Pendergest resonated with TackleHack’s mission to help give small batch manufacturers like himself a venue to get their products seen, he said.
“A service that actually gives a voice to a small hunting company? It’s exactly what I have been needing.”
It offers a more personalized look that helps his branding and marketing, and frees up a lot of his time.
“Ultimately, my biggest challenge all along has been getting more customers to see my calls,” he said. “TackleHack is genuinely concerned with fixing that problem for me.”
In the end, Pendergest stands firm on his dream to one day hang his hat on the lawn care business and make calls full time.
“I’d not only be doing what I am most passionate about,” he said, “but I’d be with my wife and two kids all day on my own property.”
“And that that’s a good life.”
KEEPING HIS WORD TO VETERANS
Staying true to his word, Pendergest takes at least one veteran a year on a hunting trip of their choice (deer, turkey, or water fowl) and donates 5 percent of all FGC proceeds to the Disabled Americans Veterans charity.
Note: We here at TackleHack also hold this charity near and dear to our heart. That’s why we encourage all of our visitors, customers, vendors, fans, friends, family and everyone in between to visit the DAV website and make a donation of an amount comfortable to them. Much love!