There’s a new age of turkey calling competition now in the air

Across the state right now, many turkey calling contests are being staged.

Some of these are strictly for fun and local entertainment, but most are deadly serious events. Called “sanctioned” contests, they are approved and often sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation, the winners from the sanctioned contests from all over the nation will meet at the national convention of NWTF for the Grand National world championships..

This is a prestigious event. Here you find the absolute best of callers from every state gathered to compete. It is pressure unbelievable for each competitor. But they found a way to make this contest even more difficult.

Until last year’s contest, judges were carefully secluded behind drapes or some other barrier from which they could hear the contestants calls but could not see them. This was done to prevent any bias from showing. A judge could not vote higher for a friend or relative who was calling.

It seemed the fair way to conduct such a contest but last year, the powers-that-be at NWTF decided that new changes were needed to add interest and more hype and liveliness to the Grand National championship.

So, when the hundreds of hopeful callers descended upon the Nashville hotel where the competition was held and the various contests had pared the field of competitors down to the 12 best of the nation, they were faced with the reality of the new rules. And at first, it didn’t go down so well with them. After all, who among us really relishes changes?

This time — and try to imagine the pressure on the callers of this new arrangement – the judges are seated at a table that is also on the stage, watching the contestants as they call. After a contestant competes, the judges are no longer anonymous people marking a ballot but now get to verbally critique each contestant and to explain why they gave them whatever scores they gave them.

Frankly, I’d be hesitant to judge a contest under such conditions and I have judged many a contest in my day. I’d be hesitant to call in front of judges that I could see as I called. I would think it to be quite a distraction.

Since I can ever remember, judges for calling contests were always hidden behind curtains or screens expressly so they could not see the contestants. Even knowing that the judges could not see them, some contestants over the years have put on dramatic performances as they called competetively. Dancing, stretching, whirling, wearing costumes, making faces, all, I suppose mainly to entertain the watching audiences since they knew the judges could not see them. The barrier between contestant and judge meant that judges would not be able to score callers on the basis of personality, or showiness but would score strictly on what they heard.

There were a couple of “way back when” hunting buddies that were taking part last year; Preston Pittman of Pittman calls, who I hunted with in Texas, and Larry Scartozzi of New Jersey whom I was hunting with in New Jersey when I killed one of my finest gobblers, a double-spurred bird.

Some contestants were happy to have their calling critiqued right after their calling turn, although others did not like being criticized so openly and publicly. It did eliminate the rush and shuffle of contestants bombarding the judges demanding to know why they got the score they did on certain calls.

When a contest has 40 callers in it — and each caller has to make at least six or seven calls — it is difficult to remember afterwards how a contestant that was, say No. 3 out of 40 was scored for a particular call. About all a judge could say was that that was the way he/she saw it at the time.

Also, a nervous, more timid, contestant finds the pressure of judges watching him, knowing he is going to get a verbal takedown shortly, find that just too stressful.  So the face of turkey calling contests has changed radically. Some loved the new venue and others hated it. It will discourage some callers from competing but eventually this change will level out.