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6/13/2002 - Article/Press Release

A Legend Passes
News from the National Wild Turkey Federation

Greenwood, S.C.—Turkey hunting lost one of its heroes last week as turkey-call-making legend, Neil Douglas Cost, of Greenwood, S.C., lost his battle with emphysema

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 calls.

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 or e-mail questions to

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