Vail Valley locals changing the game call game

Ben Koelker of Reel Ultra Premium Game Calls displays a sheet of calls after they have been chisled, but not yet individually cut. The company produces the calls from a small commerical space in Gypsum's Airport Gateway subdivision.
Pam Boyd/ |

Finding your call

Elk, deer and turkey hardwood calls all sell for $39.99. Exotic wood versions of the calls sell for $49.99. For more information about Reel Ultra Premium Game Calls, visit the company website,

GYPSUM — From a nondescript commercial space along Lindbergh Drive, Drew Rouse and Ben Koelker believe they are manufacturing a product that can be a game changer for hunters.

Those were their words — “game changer.”

Judging by early response to their patent-pending products, the pair isn’t engaging in hyperbole.

Rouse and Koelker are both the brains and brawn behind Reel Game Ultra Premium Game calls.

“I did buy one and I like it and I am going to try it out next hunting season.” Jeff ShrollTown manager, Gypsum

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Just a spark

Small enough to fit in your pocket yet a sound big enough to fill a forest, there are elk, deer and turkey call varieties. In fact, the idea of having an easy-to-operate, pocket-sized game call was what sparked the invention.

According to Rouse, the pair started testing their ideas back in 2012. Their first prototype was a mug-sized block of pink foam. What it lacked in aesthetics it made up for with functionality.

The two were testing the sound of their prototype at a friend’s Bellyache Ridge residence one evening. Shortly after they finished bugling, a bull elk showed up at the driveway.

“We thought maybe we were on to something,” said Rouse.

Dozens and dozens of prototypes later, the pair has honed in on a design that features a piece of compressed foam sandwiched between two pieces of hard wood. The size and channeling of those wood pieces depend on the species the hunter wants to call.

Ease of operation is key to the Reel Game call. “You can play it like you would play a musical instrument,” Koelker said. “Our call is exceptional with its ease of use.”

Serious hunters

Rouse and Koelker’s partnership in Reel Game calls evolved from their previous pro skier and photographer relationship. Rouse grew up in the Chesapeake Bay area but he and his father used to visit Colorado to ski. In 1999, Rouse opted to move to the area to chase his dream of becoming a professional skier.

Koelker grew up in Wisconsin and was working in a microbiology lab when a buddy talked him into moving to Fort Collins. From there he made his way to Avon so he could ski and bike. But it was his work as a photographer that brought him in contact with Rouse.

During the course of the skiing collaboration, the pair discovered they were both passionate hunters. Their shared enthusiasm for the sport led to the discussion that sparked the Reel Game calls idea.

As their website details, “From a simple study of elk and human vocal cord anatomy an idea was hatched to take the mouth reed out of your mouth and make it more user friendly. Inventor and co-founder Drew Rouse took his background in the ski manufacturing industry and applied it to designing a new type of game call, and co-founder Ben Koelker used his mathematics and analytical skills to bring Reel Game Calls to a full production model.”

Full Production

The Reel Game Calls operation is a classic cottage industry. At the beginning, it would take hours for Rouse and Koelker to make a single call. After hours and hours of computer programing, they can now produce dozens of calls from a single board. Their small commercial space in Gypsum’s Airport Gateway subdivision houses the woodworking, assembly and packaging operation for Reel Game Calls. Their sales operation is primarily conducted online but recently the pair has branched out to various hunting expos in the region. They said the one-on-one demonstrations of their product have brought rave reviews.

“That’s the real game changer — the sound and the ease of use,” Rouse said. “We are going to start recording the looks on people’s faces when they use it for the first time.”

Too bad they didn’t start capturing those looks a couple of weeks back, at the International Sportsmen’s Expo in Denver. Rouse said he was manning the Reel Game Calls booth when a customer came up and tested a call. The fellow was very interested in the product and asked Rouse where his operation was based.

“I told him we were from Gypsum, and the guy said ‘I am the town manger in Gypsum. How do I not know about this?’” Rouse said.

“I did buy one and I like it and I am going to try it out next hunting season,” Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll said. He noted he already knows how to use traditional elk calls, but he was attracted to the ease and compact nature of the Reel product.

“And the fact that they are in the Gypsum community is amazing,” Shroll said.

Next steps

The Reel Game Calls guys hope that the company’s relative anonymity will be short-lived. They are traveling to hunting expos in Iowa, Utah and Arizona next month and hope their little company will net interest from a big retailer such as Cabela’s. In the meantime, their product can be purchased at a few retail locations and online. Their friends encourage the pair to try a flashy product promotion, such as pitching their idea to the producers of “Shark Tank.” But Rouse and Koelker are content to continue on the hunting expo and website marketing path for now.

Marketing time

“If I don’t have time to go skiing, I don’t have time to go on Shark Tank,” Koelker said.

The product did get a boost from the Jay Scott Outdoors Western Big Game Hunting and Fishing Podcast. After a podcast featuring Reel Game Calls was posted, Rouse and Koelker found themselves inundated with orders.

“It was everything we could do to keep up with the orders for three months,” Rouse said. The demand didn’t slack off until hunting season ended.

“This has been a lot of fun. It’s definitely been challenging,” Rouse said. “It’s a lot more fun than working for someone else. Isn’t that what they say about entrepreneurs? They are the people who work 80 hours a week for themselves rather than work 40 hours a week for someone else.”

Elk, deer and turkey hardwood calls all sell for $39.99. Exotic wood versions of the calls sell for $49.99. For more information about Reel Ultra Premium Game Calls, visit the company website, http://www.reelgame

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