June 04, 2014
No kid ever wants to be summoned to the principal's office. It can only mean one thing — you're in deep trouble. So when young Rod Haydel was told to collect his belongings because the scariest man in the second grade wanted to see him, he was understandably worried.
"I didn't know what I had done€¦but when I got there, there's dad standing in his camo," Haydel said. "I said 'what's going on?' and he says 'I'm checking you out of school.' Then he gave me a little wink, and said 'the flight is on.'"
That wasn't the last time Haydel, now the president of his family's famous call company, would be pulled out of class by his father Eli, the founder and CEO of Haydel's.
The two chased ducks together each fall on Louisiana's Red River, and it was these trips where Rod says the sport put its firm grip on him, driving Haydel to become a champion caller at the worlds in Stuttgart and also one of the most respected (and probably copied) callmakers in the industry.
"You always want to prove to your dad that you're a hunter and you can do this without him," Haydel said. "We were teal hunting up on the river€¦they put me in a blind by myself for the first time. When they came to pick me up, the water was up to my neck as I was wading to pick up ducks (after a triple)."
Like so many established duck call companies, Haydel's started small. Eli worked two jobs, salesman for W.W. Grainger by day and musician at night, playing "swamp-pop" on his saxophone, a genre that can best be described as Louisiana's version of the blues.
But, the family's patriarch was obsessed with creating his very own call. And after placing in a few local competitions, Eli took the plunge, leaving dozens of hand-made calls at hardware and sporting goods stores in his sales territory. His marketing hook? The calls still blew when wet.
"He had a little display built with a fish bowl that he would fill up with water, and put a yellow rubber ducky in there," Haydel said. "And on that rubber ducky, he would hang a noose, and under the water, there would be a call hanging there. We had a sticker on there that said 'blows when wet,' so the customer could pick it up, try the call, and see that it actually worked."
Week after week, Eli would sell out. During the summers, Rod and his two younger brothers, Cliff and Kelly (Kelly is still with the company), peddled the calls, earning extra money towards college.
Rod went off to Northeast Louisiana University on a music scholarship — he played the sax just like dad — and quickly turned his focus to a degree in marketing to help further his father's new company.
From the day he graduated, Rod was at the Haydel's shop, churning out calls and running the business. With the continued success in sales of duck and goose calls, Haydel's soon began to move into predator, deer, hog, turkey and small game calls.
It only made sense, as Rod began to pursue more types of game.
"We wanted to expand our company, and expand into the turkey calls and all that, so I felt like I needed to (hunt those animals)," said Haydel, who shoots an old recurve bow during deer season and makes his own arrows out of cedar. "Dad always jokes around that his wife wouldn't let him shoot anything with lips. So I was kind of self-taught as far as deer and predator hunting. I thoroughly enjoy any kind of hunting where you can call game to you."
Most any question you ask Haydel turns into a story, and then another. He's not a braggart, a result of his upbringing. He grew up around seasoned duck hunters in camps owned or leased by dad and grandpa.
Whether it was taught or inferred, the Haydel boys always knew their place, like towards the back of the food line after the morning's hunt or calling in birds for a couple of older hunters who had never blown a call€¦and letting them do the shooting.
"When you're in line at camp, you don't want to be the meat hog, taking all the meat out of the pot," Haydel says. "You gotta look out for the guy in line behind you. You know what I mean?"
Those don't sound like the words of a modern business owner. Presidents and CEOs are supposed to be ruthless, cunning and cutthroat. But when you make a quality product any duck hunter would be thrilled to stick on his lanyard, maybe you don't concern yourself much with stepping over the other guy in an endless scramble to the top.
"It's a really tough market to be in," Haydel says. "You see hot items come and go over the years, but I think the way to stay in this business is to have good, solid products. You can probably think of a few gimmicky type products that only lasted a couple years, and then nobody used them anymore."
A self-described piddler, Haydel always has a project going around the house, or a new hobby, usually dedicated to the outdoors. He builds his own gunstocks and does the checkering too, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise since his first passion is crafting perfect duck calls.
In the offseason, Rod fly fishes for largemouths and redfish, and hand-makes the flies out of deer hair. He's also a proud life-long Louisianan, who loves cooking up those delicious bayou delicacies the region is so famous for.
"We definitely enjoy life down here," Haydel says. "We like to cook. Most men even like to cook, and that's not just necessarily something you throw on the grill. My grandfather, father and brother love to cook. It's being able to kill game you take yourself, cook it and get it to the point where it doesn't taste like an old piece of leather."