By Brad Hicks
Talking turkey is paying off for A.J. Silvers.
The Unicoi County High School freshman placed 6th in his division in the turkey calling contest that was part of the 41st Annual National Wildlife Turkey Federation Convention & Sport Show, held the second week of February in Nashville.
An event that occurred around a decade ago would serve as the catalyst that brought the 15-year-old Silvers to the big stage in Nashville where he had the opportunity to display his calling prowess to the crowd of outdoors enthusiasts attending the convention.
When Silvers was about 5-years-old, his uncle purchased a turkey.
“Every day after school I would go out there and I’d sit there and listen to it,” Silvers said, “and I’d copy the exact sounds it made. That’s what got me into calling.”
Silvers has been an avid hunter for most of his life, even before he began learning to call. It wouldn’t be long before his ability to emulate the sounds of a turkey hen would work in his favor. Silvers bagged his first turkey at the age of 6.
Silvers first learned to call using a technique referred to as “natural mouth.” As the name implies, a caller utilizing the natural mouth technique relies not on equipment to mimic the sounds of a turkey hen but rather he or she can produce naturally.
It was around two to three years ago that Silvers began entering wildlife calling competitions. Since then, Silvers has managed to pick up one local sponsor – the Erwin-based Spur Ridge Calls.
To earn a spot in the NWTF Grand National Calling Championships held last month, contestants, prior to the event, had to finish first in at least one NWTF-sanctioned qualifier. These are held regularly throughout the year and throughout the country. Silvers won the qualifier held last June in Knoxville.
The NWTF Convention & Sport Show is a yearly four-day event attended by thousands of campers, fishermen, hunters and other lovers of all things outdoors. Silvers said around 300 or so gathered to watch the wildlife calling championships.
“It was just so nerve-wracking being up there,” Silvers said.
Silvers competed in the junior division of the NWTF Youth Grand National Turkey Calling Championships. This division is for contestants aged 11 to 15. Silvers said the division was made up of around 20 other competitors from all over the country.
Silvers was the only contestant in his division from Tennessee.
From the kee-kee run to the plain old yelp of a turkey hen, the day before the competition contestants are provided with a list of calls the judges wish to see them perform. It is then up to those competing to determine the best way to produce the requested sounds.
“It’s your choice of whatever calling utensil you want to use,” Silvers said.
During the Grand National Calling Championships, Silvers not only relied on the natural mouth technique where he has been honing for years to simulate the yelp of a hen, he utilized calling equipment such as a slate, box call and diaphragm to produce the other sounds the judges had called for.
Although Silvers feels he could have fared better, he did not walk away from Nashville empty-handed. His talent netted him a full sponsorship from the Mountain City-based Appalachian Custom Calls.
And Silvers will again compete at the NWTF Grand National Calling Championships in 2018. At that time, he would compete in the intermediate division, which is for contests 16- to 20-years-old. He won his way back onto the big stage by placing first in his division in a NWTF-sanctioned calling contest held Saturday in Summersville, W.V.
Until then he returns to Nashville for the Grand Nationals, Silvers intends to continue participating in qualifying events throughout the area and region.
“I’m hoping to go to one in Arkansas next year around this time,” Silvers said. “The Worlds is what it’s called.”
Effective wildlife calling is like a good conversation – there is interaction from both sides. The best part of turkey calling, Silvers said, is creating the perfect sound and receiving a response from a nearby gobbler.
A turkey produces around 10 sounds that can be emulated. Silvers said copying these sounds to the point of fooling a turkey is not that difficult for him. However, producing sounds close enough to impress humans seems to be a different story.
“To get a sound to make a turkey gobble, it’s not too hard,” he said, “but good enough for judges, that’s a year of practice.”
Silvers said he intends to continue perfecting his craft. He added plans on continuing to enter wildlife calling competitions in the years to come.
“You could make a living off doing this,” he said.