Knight & Hale Pro Staff Poised to Rock Grand Nationals
Chris Parrish is a given. The man who lives with a turkey diaphragm in his mouth always is a lock to vie for the top prize in the National Wild Turkey Federation's Grand National Turkey Calling Contest. The Grand Nationals is considered the Superbowl of turkey calling contests.
But what's special about this year's contest is the number of other Knight & Hale pro staffers who've qualified to compete. In addition to Parrish, six other Knight & Hale pro staffers will compete this year, and stand an excellent chance of making the cut and even standing on stage when the winner's announced.
All callers who've qualified for the Grand Nationals will call, then the top 12, plus the World and Grand National Champion from the previous year, will call in the finals. Making this "cut" is evidence of the caller's prowess, and any caller making the cut can be considered one of the best in the world.
Knight & Hale pro staffers qualified for the Grand National Turkey Calling Contest, Senior Division are:
- Chris Parrish (Mexico, Mo.)
- Mark Prudhomme (Georgetown, S.C.)
- JR Adkins (Rogersville, Tenn.)
- Kerry Terrell (Brooklet, Ga.)
- Keith Wahlig (Villa Ridge, Mo.)
- Steve Stoltz (St. Louis, Mo.)
- Rod Pettit (Olathe, Kan.).
Chris Parrish, of Mexico, Mo., is automatically qualified as a past winner of the Grand. He's won the contest twice in the past (2002 and 2003) and has won the coveted Champion of Champion contest an unprecedented five consecutive times. The Champion of Champion contest is open only to callers who've won the regular Senior Division.
The man known as one of the best callers in the world has taken a new tact toward preparing for this year's contest. "Unlike in the past," Parrish said, "I've been spending a lot of time listening to wild birds and building my calling around that. I've changed my calling to be more realistic than ever before."
Parrish is the man most of the Knight & Hale callers look to for advice on their calling and deserves a lot of credit for the impressive number of Knight & Hale pro staff Grand National qualifiers.
"Everyone on the team has a good chance to make the cut if they call clean and keep their nerves under control," Parrish said. "If I had to pick, I'd say Steve Stoltz, Kerry Terrell and Mark Prudhomme have a great chance of being in the top five just because of their experience. Keith Wahlig and Rod Pettit, though, have come on very strong and are the most improved callers on the team."
Mark Prudhomme is another regular for our team at the Grand Nationals. He won the Owl Hooting Division of the contest last year and placed high in the Senior Division. In fact, Prudhomme has reached unprecedented hooting heights, winning the 2005 World Hooting Championship, 2006 Grand and 2006 U.S. Open Hooting Championships. In 2004, Prudhomme teamed with Kerry Terrell to win the Team Challenge in which two callers set up a scenario with calls of various animals in addition to turkey.
This year Prudhomme continues his tear through the contest circuit. He won the Tarheel Open, North Carolina State Owl Hooting Championship, North Carolina State Gobbling and the Myrtle Beach U.S. Open Qualifier and the South Carolina Resident portion of the turkey calling contest and the owl hooting championship.
"I feel like I'm calling better than I ever have," Prudhomme said. "I feel really good about the team event with Kerry Terrell because he's calling so well too."
Prudhomme repeated the advice that most of the best callers offered to those considering getting into contest calling: "Listen to live turkeys and practice, practice, practice," he said. "There's no shortcut and that's all you can do."
Those sentiments were echoed by Steve Stoltz, who when interviewed was in his truck with a Knight & Hale Spit'n Feathers CD playing in the background.
"It's all about muscle memory," he said. "Within hours after you listen to something you lose tone and rhythm, so the more you listen the more you're able to replicate that. I listen to live turkeys off and on all year, and really pour it on after the rut. The more you listen, the more you're able to replicate the sounds and rhythm." Stoltz said that it's a myth that most contest callers run different calls on stage than when hunting. "The call I'll be using this year is the same call I hunted with last year," he said.
This year, Stoltz and Parrish will reunite to compete in the Team Challenge again. The pair won the World 2-Man Championship and look now to win the Team Event at the Grand Nationals.
Keith Wahlig has been a member of the Knight & Hale pro staff for nearly 20 years, and has been through a lot in terms of contest calling. He was the hot caller back in the 1980s and early '90s, even taking fourth place at the Grand in 1985, then surgery derailed his abilities.
"I couldn't sleep at night but could sleep anywhere during the day," he said. "I had sleep apnea and almost wrecked when I nearly fell asleep driving, and that prompted me to go to the doctor. I had a deviated septum and the surgery removed my tonsils and a lot of skin in my throat."
Wahlig still could call, but not to the level of top-rate contests. He kept his dream and his determination, and with the help of friends and fellow callers, slowly climbed back onto the circuit. He recently won the Missouri Open, competing against the best in the industry, and that's given him the confidence boost needed to compete well in the Grand.
"Determination is the key," he said. "Young callers should go to every contest they can and have the determination to win. Every one of us started at the bottom and worked our way up, and that's just what you've got to do."
When other team members were asked whom they thought had the best chance of winning the Grand this year, Kerry Terrell's name was repeated over and over. Terrell won the Georgia State Championship in early January and is riding high heading into his third Grand National contest in as many years.
"I'm real confident," Terrell said, "but my goal with every Grand Nationals is to just make the cut – if you make it into the top ten, anyone has a chance to win."
Terrell made the cut for the finals in each of his previous appearances at the Grand Nationals, and feels that this year is his best shot yet at winning the whole kit and caboodle.
"I've never felt like I had the whole package, but this year I think I’ve got it all together," he said. "A lot of time it's not so much how you sound but how you present your calls to the judges – putting realism into it, doing all of the little things like half-yelps and getting a clear first note."
Rod Pettit has been contest calling for 11 years and was the 2002 Kansas State Champion, and joined the Knight & Hale pro staff in 2006. He won the Nebraska State Open to qualify for the Grand. He describes himself as self-taught, which resulted in some bad habits that held him back.
"My biggest advice to young callers is to find someone to mentor you – someone to stop those bad habits before they begin," he said.
Pettit credits Chris Parrish and Keith Wahlig as two who helped him break his bad habits and improve his calling.
"My favorite thing about competition calling is the camaraderie with the callers," he said. "All the friends I've made through the sport is what pays off. The friends you make is what makes it all worth it."
The Knight & Hale black horse is JR Adkins, a young, enthusiastic caller who qualified for the Grand in 1999, then took off from calling contests a few years. As often happens, the bug never left him, and working shows with Knight & Hale just made the desire to compete grow stronger.
"I'm so excited to be back in the game," he said. "I like calling in contests because it elevates your game in the turkey woods. Most hunters who aren't on the circuit don't pick up a call until the season. By calling in contests, you keep your confidence.”
Adkins won the Clinch Mountain Open in Tennessee to qualify for the Grand. Again, JR credits Chris Parrish as the person whose helped him the most. "It's always tough to beat Chris," he said, "and he's calling really strong. I'm just glad to be back in the game."