A Legend Passes
News from the National Wild Turkey Federation
hunting lost one of its heroes last week as turkey-call-making
legend, Neil Douglas Cost, of Greenwood, S.C., lost his battle
Wednesday, May 29, 2002,
at the age of 78.
Cost, touted as one of the
most influential craftsman in turkey-call-making history and a
decorated war veteran, died exactly five weeks to the day of
receiving South Carolina’s prestigious Jean Laney Harris South
Carolina Folk Heritage Award for his call-making skill.
He is survived by his two
daughters, Sally Carr Morris of Greenwood and Judy Turner of
Aiken, S.C, his sister, Ruby Young of Tacoma, Wash., and many
friends throughout North America.
Cost was born on Dec. 30,
1923, in Fort Sill, Okla., to Jesse Lee Cost and Maggie Redburn
Cost and was the youngest of five children.
In 1943, Cost was drafted
into the U.S. Army and served during the invasion of Okinawa
during WWII and in several major campaigns during the Korean
Conflict, where he received the Bronze Star and five Purple Hearts
as an infantry medic. He reached the rank of sergeant first class
by his retirement in 1965.
Following his retirement
from the Army and several other pursuits, Cost worked for the U.S.
Postal Service in Greenwood until 1979. Nicknamed “Gobbler” by his
close friends and hunting companions, Cost’s calls are the most
collected of the turkey callers available today, selling for
thousands of dollars each.
Cost’s connection to the
wild turkey goes back to his youth, where as a child of seven, he
killed his first wild turkey. Growing up in rural Oklahoma
during the Depression, Cost and his family had to hunt to survive.
Wild turkeys supplied a good deal of the Cost family’s meals
during this time. When he was either eight or nine, he was taught
by Comanche patriarch Red Elk how to make a turkey call out of a
piece of river-bottom slate and a deer rib bone as a striker.
This connection to the
wild turkey and turkey hunting carried on through his adulthood
and became a very important part of his life.
Cost made his first turkey
box caller in either 1958 or 1959—he wasn’t exactly sure when. He
perfected the tone and shape of his short box caller in 1964 and
used this prototype call as the template for all of his other
All of Cost’s calls were
hand cut and individually tuned and are recognized by collectors
and hunters as some of the best turkey calls ever made. Cost was
most noted for his development of the “boat paddle” turkey caller,
which he developed in cooperation with the experts at the NWTF and
samples of which sell for over $5,000. Cost’s “Fat Lady,” the last
call he built, sold for more than $11,000 on eBay in 2001.
During his turkey-hunting
career, Cost achieved a double Royal Slam, harvesting two of each
of the five North American wild turkey subspecies. He completed
his double Royal Slam in 1983 with the harvesting of two Gould’s
wild turkeys in Mexico. His last wild turkey, an Osceola, was
taken in Florida during the 1999 season, after which health
problems prohibited him from continuing the chase.
Cost was a great friend
and volunteer of the NWTF and donated his hand-crafted calls to
the Federation’s fundraising banquets to raise money for
conservation efforts. For years, he contributed a column on call
making to Turkey Call magazine.
“Neil put class into the
craft of call making. His wood inlays, hand-checkered patterns and
combinations of wood types became the hallmark of his unique
designs.” NWTF CEO Rob Keck said. Cost wrote three books in
cooperation with Scott Branton and Ray Berryhill of Mississippi
State University as well as produced video and audio cassettes
detailing the craft of call making and calling.
“He was eager to share
his talent with many aspiring callmakers and introduced many
novice turkey hunters to the art of building turkey calls. As he
shared through his column in Turkey Call magazine and his books,
Neil freely taught others to build and create these tools of the
turkey hunter, which launched careers and impacted many other
callmakers,” Keck said.
Though Cost’s fat lady has
sung, his influence and passion for the turkey-hunting sport and
the art of call making will never be forgotten.
According to Steve Mann,
also of Greenwood and Cost’s protégé for the past five years,
“Neil was like my second father, and he taught me many valuable
lessons in life. He also taught me a wonderful craft in making
turkey calls and one very valuable trait that I was not good at,
and that was patience. Neil taught me to never sacrifice quality
for quantity and to make the very best call you can make. Neil
taught me so many things, too many to mention. Neil was my mentor,
my teacher and my best friend.”
An exhibit of Neil Cost’s
craftsmanship, including his 1964 prototype short box call, can be
viewed at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Wild Turkey Center
and Museum in Edgefield, S.C.
About the NWTF: In 1973
when the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded, there were
an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys and 1.5 million turkey
hunters. Thanks to the work of wildlife agencies and the NWTF’s
many volunteers and partners, today there are an estimated 5.6
million wild turkeys and approximately 2.6 million turkey hunters.
Since 1985, more than $150 million NWTF and cooperator dollars
have been spent on over 18,000 projects benefiting wild turkeys
throughout North America.
The NWTF is a
450,000-member grassroots, nonprofit organization with members in
50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries. It supports scientific
wildlife management on public, private and corporate lands as well
as wild turkey hunting as a traditional North American sport.
For more information on
the National Wild Turkey Federation, call (803) 637-3106, check
out our web site at www.nwtf.org or e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.