Call of the wild

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When 11-year-old Elijah Ford did his first turkey call, his father knew there was something special in the making. Daren Ford could turkey call using a mouth piece, but his son could call with his own voice.

Vocal calling is a feat that takes most adults years to perfect, but it seems it's just coming naturally to this Jackson North Elementary fifth-grader. To make the calls, Elijah places his hands over his mouth and uses different pressures of breath and different hand positions.

He learned the skill when he was 10. Now he's heading into his third turkey calling competition this year. In his first competition, held in January in Clinton, Mo., he took third place. He was the only child in the competition who called with his own voice. The other junior competitors used a variety of calling devices. Several types of mechanical devices are used to call: a box caller, a cedar box with striker, a crow call, a diaphragm caller, friction callers, push-button call, snuff box call, a tube caller and a wing-bone caller, just to name a few.

Although Elijah can handle a reed, his father said he's much better with his own voice.

The competitions are sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation and are held in every state. The judges sit behind a curtain and do not know who they are listening to in the competition.

Elijah said he feels more comfortable calling in competitions now, but the first time was a bit nervewracking.

"I had to get the confidence to do it," he said.

Elijah is getting more and more confident about his calling talents. In the future he is looking at getting a sponsor and calling in national competitions. He hopes to compete in next year's national competition in Nashville, Tenn., he said.

National competitions are a big step for the young caller, Daren said. "It gets more complicated."

It may get more and more complicated, but Elijah has plenty of places to practice and many people to practice with. The Ford family owns a 13-acre farm in Jackson that they are preparing for the start of turkey hunting season.

The official hunting season in Missouri is April 21 to May 11, but the youth hunters get their own weekend before that. On April 12 to 13, the callers younger than 15 years old will be able to hunt from one half-hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset. Parental supervision is required. This summer Elijah intends to get his official turkey hunting license.

Daren and his wife, Amy, also have two other children, Caleb, 15, and Ashley, 10. Ashley is learning to call with a mouthpiece. Caleb goes out hunting with his father on occasion as well, making turkey hunting and calling a family event.

Elijah knows how he wants his turkey calling career to go. He wants to eventually be sponsored and compete for money. Children can win savings bonds and scholarships in competitions.

Elijah said he wouldn't mind a little company along the way. He told his father he should compete. Daren has not ruled that out, but to Elijah it doesn't matter whether his father competes or not. "I admire him -- he got a gobbler last year."

Emily Hendricks is a freelance writer for the Southeast Missourian.

Want to learn to turkey call to get ready for the upcoming spring season?

Already know how to call and think you could hold your own in a competition?

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