February 13, 2012
By Craig Lamb, OutdoorChannel.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mark Prudhomme scored his fourth consecutive world turkey calling championship, earning the 2012 Champion of Champions title at the Wild Turkey Bourbon/National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Championships.
“This is the Super Bowl of turkey calling and to win it a fourth year in a row is amazing when you think of the level of competition,” Prudhomme said. “Skill levels get more advanced each year and that makes it harder to stay on top of this game.”
Earning turkey calling’s most prestigious title requires using five different instruments by the official NWTF rules. To the average turkey hunter those rules and technical standards set by the judges can be mind-boggling.
Scores are formulated by a panel of expert calling judges seated below the stage and out of view of contestants. Required calls are gobble, yelp of the excited hen, assembly call, cluck-and-purr call and kee-kee run call. To make those sounds the finalists use a box call, slate and peg, diaphragm, tube, and wing bone.
The combined score is used to determine final rank. In this competition the judges’ skills were put to the test. Prudhomme’s 1,596 points edged runner-up Mitchell Johnston’s effort of 1,558 points. Kerry Terrell was third with 1,547 points, followed by Scott Wilhelm with 1,533 points.
Prudhomme, 46, of Georgetown, S.C., works as a plantation wildlife manager on a private hunting preserve in the state’s game rich low country. His vocation puts him in the middle of the very quarry he’s imitating on stage at calling competitions. It’s the edge he feels keeps him in top form for consistently winning at the top level.
“Being a top caller technically is one thing, but to really be on top of this game you’ve got to be a great woodsman,” he said. “The really successful callers combine practice time with simply being in the woods listening to the birds. Woodsmanship is right up there with the calling.”
Advanced calling skills and being in the woods are two mandatory criteria for competing at the top level. A third qualification is mastering all five types of calls used in the Champion of Champions. Failing with just one call used in the highly competitive event results in automatic points deductions from a final score.
“Champion of Champions is such a great event because you have to master all types of calls,” Prudhomme said. “That’s so important in a turkey hunting situation, too, because not every bird is going to respond to one type of call. So that’s what makes this such a special contest.”
Not surprisingly, one of the hardest calls to master happens to be the favored call of the master of calling champions.
“I really like the wing bone,” Prudhomme said. “The wing bone call has been around a long time. It still calls turkeys today and it’s one of the hardest to master. I’ve probably worked harder on mastering the wing bone than any other call. It’s the oldest and most traditional of all the calls.”
To stay in tune and on top of his game, Prudhomme spends at least two hours each night on a given call.
“It’s too much to try and practice with several devices in a given practice session,” he added. “I like to recall whatever new sound I’ve heard the turkey make in the woods and refine it with my calling technique.”
Prudhomme has competed in calling contests since 1996. He provided a surprising answer when asked which is harder to outwit, another calling contestant or the live bird.
“I’ve been whipped by both of them,” he admitted. “Turkeys will allow you to make a mistake and no two hens sound alike. Here in this championship, you have to be absolutely perfect and there’s no room for making a mistake. Its really harder here than in the turkey woods.”
For the average turkey hunter who stays out of the competitive calling arena, Prudhomme offered this sage advice.
“Having confidence in your calling allows you to have more confidence on the turkey and what you need to do to call it in,” he said. “Sometimes you have to step out and use different type of calls that you’re not comfortable using.”
“That’s the greatest part about this sport,” he added. “It’s always a challenge to outwit a bird because each one is different. You never know what it might take to call in and be rewarded with that trophy.”