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Sure, Covington sees a lot of movie stars coming through the “Hollywood of the South,” but Newton County has its own residents who made a name for themselves.
One of those residents is Tom Walton.
He turned his passion for turkey hunting into a thriving business producing Tom Teaser’s Turkey Calls. Tom Teaser's Turkey Calls is a family owned and operated business with products available at retailers nationwide.
Walton is friendly, outgoing and charismatic and he never met a stranger he wouldn’t befriend. That, he said, along with his faith and love for his family are what helped him build a successful company.
The love of hunting
Walton is a lifelong hunter who loves all types of hunting but his true passion is turkey hunting. Walton learned to appreciate the outdoors and began hunting at a very early age, although for many years turkey hunting was just a seasonal sport he enjoyed.
"There is nothing better than God's great outdoors for anyone and I feel very fortunate to make a living doing something I truly love to do," Walton said.
His greatest memories are spending time in the woods with his family. These treasured family experiences and love for hunting have been passed on to his wife, three children and grandchildren.
"My family loves it as much as I do," Walton said.
The Walton women may arguably be better hunters than the men, Walton said. Walton’s wife, Marisa, enjoys deer and turkey hunting, and now the third-generation Waltons are making their mark in the sport. The Walton home has a growing collection of animals killed by the whole family. When the State of Georgia opened turkey hunting season for youth in 2014, Tom’s oldest granddaughter, Ansley Payne, then five, shot her first full-grown turkey on opening day. She has hunted turkeys every year since.
Walton feels very strongly about raising the next generation of hunters, and spends a lot of time hunting with youth.
"If you keep your kids hunting, you won't be hunting your kids," he said.
Walton’s passion for the sport took on new meaning in the mid 1970's when the State of Georgia opened its first turkey hunting season and Walton caught what he calls “the turkey hunting disease.”
"I figured I would go out and learn how to hunt these turkeys,” Walton said. “But I quickly learned it's one thing to hunt deer, but turkey hunting is completely different.”
The call for business
Walton began working for Winn-Dixie at the age of 15, working his way up from bagging groceries to meat department and later in management roles over several stores. He was later recruited by corporate as supervisor of more than 640 stores and was also responsible for making purchasing decisions for Atlanta and Tennessee.
The experience taught him a lot about retail but also prepared him for his own business, Walton said. “But it also meant working longer hours, less time spent with family and as the company went through restructuring, I was faced with the possibility of uprooting my family to a different state, which I didn't want to do."
After much prayer and consideration, Walton made the difficult decision to leave Winn-Dixie after 28 years and started his own landscaping business.
During the five years he worked as a landscaper, Walton continued hunting turkeys and soon came to realize that there were no quality turkey calls on the market. The ones available seemed to be of poor quality and consistency, so he decided to make his own. He began hand making friction calls from the best quality material he could find.
"I would go hunting with my friends during turkey season and demonstrate my calls and they were blown away,” Walton said. “Word spread quickly and soon I was making more calls than I ever expected."
Several key factors helped Walton guide his business in the right direction, which later led to the thriving family-owned and -operated business it is today. Friend and banker Thomas Kephart assisted with financial advice and Walton's retail experience with Winn-Dixie paid off when a friend of his had a connection with Dick's Sporting Goods which in turn opened the door for a larger volume of sales.
His son, Tommy Jr., is marketing director and was instrumental in producing a video showing the quality and success of calls, which resulted in an increase in sales.
Today, Tom Teaser Turkey Calls are available at Dick's Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Academy Sports Outdoors. Walton's daughters, Shay Payne and Leanne Howell help with operations and production.
“With our small, family team we can produce 300 to 600 calls per day,” Tom Walton said. “It took 14 years to perfect the process but now it is streamlined and we can really crank them out.
“In 2016, Tom Teasers will produce 60,000 to 80,000 diaphragm mouth calls and 6,000 to 9,000 friction calls. Each call is handmade to ensure consistency and most importantly that every call delivers realism sure to entice turkeys during a hunt. Turkey hunting is seasonal and mainly occurs in spring, so we work the entire off season to make sure we're ready to ship starting December through early April. Despite our growth, our goals remain the same — produce calls with precision, quality, consistency and realism."
Walton shared a few pearls of wisdom regarding his company success. "Just remember, you need a good job and a good wife to become an avid turkey hunter or you will lose both during the season," Walton said.
On a more serious note, Walton adds, "I give God all the credit for putting me on this path and leading me through this journey and into a second career. The doors that have opened up to me have truly been a blessing. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a big turkey walking right up to you early in the morning. Every time I am out there, it feels like the first time I walked into the woods to hunt. If we can bring that kind of experience to other turkey hunters, we help feed the passion for outdoor enthusiast across the country — and that's what it’s all about."