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No turkey calling contests this season

Every outdoors person’s thoughts turn to spring as March approaches this time of year.

Even while we are drowning in the persistent snow and cold, we are longing for trout season and spring gobbler seasons to arrive. These activities keep each participant socially distant from others, as a rule. So, it was quite disappointing when the National Wild Turkey Federation had to postpone one of the most popular and meaningful events of each year — the Grand National Turkey Calling contest. Here is what the NWTF said about this through CEO Becky Humphries.

“Increasing COVID-19 cases nationwide and travel restrictions in place in numerous states, the NWTF decided to postpone the contest scheduled for Feb. 19-20 until a later date when conditions improve for hosting larger gatherings. That date has not been set at this time.

“While we are disappointed we can’t hold the Grand Nationals at the beautiful Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife Museum, Aquarium and Whitewater Conference Center in February, it is prudent for us to postpone the event in the light of current conditions to ensure the health and safety of the contestants and our volunteers and staff. Current and anticipated travel restrictions would also prevent the level of participation necessary to uphold the integrity of the most prestigious turkey calling contest of the year.”

“Increasing COVID-19 cases nationwide and travel restrictions in place in numerous states, the NWTF decided to postpone the contest scheduled for Feb. 19-20 until a later date when conditions improve for hosting larger gatherings. That date has not been set at this time.

“While we are disappointed we can’t hold the Grand Nationals at the beautiful Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife Museum, Aquarium and Whitewater Conference Center in February, it is prudent for us to postpone the event in the light of current conditions to ensure the health and safety of the contestants and our volunteers and staff.

“Current and anticipated travel restrictions would also prevent the level of participation necessary to uphold the integrity of the most prestigious turkey calling contest of the year.”

The contest annually draws more than 150 of the world’s best adult and youth callers, and even with limited divisions and restricted participation planned for this year, about 100 people were expected to participate and work the event.

Contestants who are currently registered will receive a refund of their registration fees, and contest staff will provide updates as more information becomes available at nwtf.org/gncc.

Well, who can guess just when this great contest will be held again.

I have participated in many calling contests, as a judge or as an emcee. Never have I been a contestant. I know the sounds in the turkey’s language when I hear them but I’m only a mediocre caller myself; good enough to call a turkey to my position but not good enough to compete with the hundreds of champion callers.

I don’t have the starch to spend the hours practicing that it takes to become a great caller. I had enough of that when I was practicing the piano as a child and not enjoying it at all. These days I am thankful that my parents would not let me quit since I play that instrument at my church each week.

I remember when calling contests were a chief source of entertainment before it became the event for determining who in all the land imitates turkeys the best. Calling contests now offer trophies and cash prizes for wins. The contests were dominant in the South before making their way to the north.

One of the first to become popular in the north was famous turkey hunter Ben Rogers Lee, a man I was fortunate enough to have hunted with a few times, and from whom I learned some neat turkey hunting tricks when I was a novice in the sport.

I’ll share with you the trick he taught me that works well both in spring and fall turkey hunting but which most of today’s hunters seem not to believe: that scattering a flock and then calling them back together works equally well in the spring as it does in the Fall. If you can scatter a spring gobbler from his hens in the spring, he will be frantic to find them again and will be a patsy for the first yelps he hears after the scatter.

So now is the time to make a trip to the store and stock up on your favorite diaphragm calls and spend some of the boring time stuck at home to do some valuable practicing. It may drive other family members bonkers however. It isn’t just learning the pitch of the calls but also the rhythm.

Turkeys call with emotion. If they are mad, you know it by the high pitch and agitated rhythm and so on for each different emotion they may be feeling. So calling successfully is a matter of listening to how turkeys sound when they call and how you can best imitate it.

Every champion has a piece on YouTube or a video they have recorded and they are immensely helpful to novices in the matter of learning to call turkeys.

Next comes the matter of choosing which brand of mouth call you want to use. This is a matter of picking and choosing probably may types and brands before we settle on our favorite.

If you are a rank beginner, I’d advise starting out with a double reed mouth call. The more reeds in a call, the deeper and raspier they sound but the harder they are to operate. Start with double reed and move up from there so you learn how to produce the good sounds.

Beginners often give up trying the mouth call because they can’t make a great sound the first time they try it. But there is much to learn, how to get the tongue to push that mouth call up to the roof of your mouth and getting a decent sound from it.

The first sounds that emerge from anyone’s first attempts usually sound like glorified squeaks. This will provide the family with a bit of comic entertainment. But keep at it, the sound you want will finally slip from your lips and you’ll be ready to try it in the woods.

Remember that it is really not the temperatures that cause gobbling to start but hormonal activity. That is usually beginning in February so I suspect that neither snow nor blowing wind will stop hormones. I’m sure that gobblers are hard at it by now. Whether the snow has melted enough for hen turkeys to be searching for a nesting site is another question.

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