It was Todd Heidelbauer’s junior year of college when his grandfather, Frank, asked if he could help finish that season’s orders of duck and geese calls. It was somewhat a strike of fate, as Todd, a track athlete at Augustana University, was injured in a car accident that left him nearly unable to run. With extra time on his hands as he recovered, he agreed to help his grandfather finish the orders.

Over 20 years later, Todd is carrying on the family tradition, making the Heidelbauer Mallard Toller the same way his grandfather did. Paramount to its design is its durability, volume, and the mallard rasp it produces. It’s a piece that becomes a heirloom to hunters, one that doesn’t get replaced, and instead, is passed down.

Todd attributes the time spent with his grandfather carefully crafting each piece as the start to a lifetime of custom work, as over the years Todd’s started other business ventures all centered around unique, hand-crafted items.

He still remembers the conversation he had with Frank at dinner one night, when in his aging years, Frank told him the duck calling business he’d built over his lifetime was going to have to end.

“He teared up and said, ‘It just breaks my heart to say no to people,’ because that’s just the type of person he was. He didn’t want to let down any of his customers,” said Todd.

In the hunting world, Frank was an acclaimed duck call maker. He sold the Heidelbauer Mallard Toller to hunters all over the world, including Germany and Tanzania. In the 1950s, he became a world goose calling champion.

After working in business for a few months after graduation, Todd decided to quit his job and make the family business his full time work. At that time in 1996, “There were enough orders to equal three years of the salary I was making at my suit-and-tie-job.”

Heidelbauer custom-made duck calls are now in their 66th year of business. Todd makes them all in a shop a few blocks from his home in Brandon, which is also home to his other business ventures. In 2004, local businessman Tony Bour contacted him about purchasing a shutter business, and three days, later he bought the company now known as Heidelbauer Shutters.

His work with shutters is one he describes as putting the final touch on a new house.

“The greatest thing about both businesses is the wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet,” said Todd. “With the shutters, I work with local people, and with the duck calls, I get to meet people from across the country.”

Along the way, Todd has also owned a business building custom-made pool tables and also makes handmade urns.

Although his dream has always been to be a self-starter and business owner, “I would have never dreamt what those businesses would be.”

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Frank passed away in 2002, but he was able to see the business enter its 50th year, which they celebrated with a special edition call.

Each call is personalized with the owner’s name and year, making it an heirloom piece. The  Heidelbauer Mallard Toller sells for $360.

To support waterfowl conservation efforts, the Heidelbauer donates duck calls to Ducks Unlimited across the U.S.

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