He is a champion, my friend

Your copy of the May-June issue of Turkey Country has had plenty of time to simmer on the coffee table, bed stand, back of the toilet or wherever you catch a few moments of downtime for yourself to read a few pages.

I’d like to invite you to pull it back out of the stack and look at the cover with me. No big time commitment. Simply look at the pretty picture, and allow me to give you the inside scoop.

Doesn’t Mark Prudhomme have the nicest smile? He looks like a favorite uncle. So kind and friendly. I also imagine him as the family friend who would take you fishing or show up unannounced at one of your Little League ballgames.

But this man is a mega contender in the calling competition realm. He was crowned champion in three divisions of the 2012 Grand National Calling Competitions — Owl Hooting, Team Challenge (with Kerry Terrell) and the Wild Turkey Rare Breed Champion of Champions. That’s the most titles any competitor has ever won in a single year. To top that, he now holds 13 GNCC titles — more than any competitor in GNCC history!

No one gets to be THAT successful by being a nice guy. Or do they?

Absolutely, if you’re Mark Prudhomme.

I called Mark to find out how he thought the Turkey Country cover bearing his friendly face turned out, and I was met by a wave of humility.

Here’s one image from the Mark Prudhomme photo shoot that didn’t make the cut. We were trying to have some fun, mixing two aspects of Mark’s life — winning calling competitions and working as a professional land manager. He was a good sport, allowing the photography team to haul a dozen or so of his trophies to the field and load them in a spreader.

He told me how he’d get Turkey Call magazine when he was a kid, remembering when it was just art on the cover, not photos. He was eager to dig into it. And when he started calling competitively, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on The Caller (when it was a stand alone newspaper) to see his name listed as a winner in a state or regional contest.

“It was a lifelong dream to be on the cover of the NWTF’s magazine,” he said. “So when [the magazine staff] called and said they wanted to put me on it, I couldn’t believe it.”

Mark said he enjoyed being a part of the creative process, watching NWTF Photo Director Matt Lindler and graphic artist Ryan Kirby set up the shots.

“It was amazing to watch their minds work,” Mark said. “When I saw the finished cover, I wasn’t surprised that they’d done a good job. They’re professionals. But I was really amazed at how well it turned out. They must have someone who’s really skilled at Photoshop to make me look that good.”

Mark made the cover of Turkey Country not only because of his wicked awesome calling skills, but that he lives his life as a hunter, land manager and family man with the same commitment it takes to be a winner on the competition stage. Plus, he’s just so darn nice about it.

Read more about Mark on page 128 of the May-June issue. Then click here to check out a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the cover.

Discover for yourself how sometimes nice guys finish first … a lot.

Karen’s Little Helpers

Hunting season essentials for when you’re not hunting

Every spring I refine my packing list as turkey season progresses. I leave behind the items I don’t use, like that second slate call that sounds similar to the first one. And add those things I really missed on the previous hunt, as in a could’ve-really-used-that-in-a-torrential-downpour rain suit.

I get by with a little help from my ear buds...and these other handy items.

This year, however, I built a list of things that are my must-haves during hunting season for when I’m NOT hunting. Stuff that comes in handy on the road, in the air and back at camp.

Enough yakety-yakking about ‘em, here’s my list of Karen’s Little Helpers…

I’m not lying, every flight I was on this spring had an irate baby on it. EVERY FLIGHT. I don’t shoot icy stares at the parents. Heaven knows that could be me one day. But there’s something about a kid crying “Mommy” that wrecks my nerves. I can’t tune it out … unless I crank up the tunes. A special thanks to Ozzy’s “Momma, I’m Comin’ Home” and the Judd’s “Mama He’s Crazy” for helping drown out the yelling. I simply pretended the screaming little banshees are backup singers.

Looking down at my feet right now, I’m in desperate need of a pedicure. Why? They spent six weeks in a pair of hunting boots. My tootsies require fresh air, so I pack a pair of platform flip-flops in my bag and wear them whenever I’m not hunting or on the gun range. They also come in handy when staying at more “rustic” camps. I’ll wear them in the shower or even just to keep my feet out of the dirt I just tracked in. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with making a fashion statement.

You travel with me? You’re gonna rock out. I spent hours DJing my way up and down interstates this spring, having a one-woman karaoke party. I simply pump my music through vehicle speakers with that swanky little cable and sing my heart out. Two of my favorite memories from this spring were a direct result of having my tunes ready to roll at the right time. 1) Watching my guide, Jimmy Wright, shake his grove thang to “Baby Got Back” after he sent out a locator call to stubborn Merriam’s in New Mexico. 2) Seeing Under Armour’s Mark Estrada show off his mad air guitar skills to .38 Special while driving to the Oklahoma City airport. Priceless.

This is one I learned the hard way. Cruising up I-77 in West Virginia, there were not one, not two, but THREE toll booths between me and my destination. I’m all about handing over the $2 a pop it takes to help them pave roads, provide scholarships or whatever the money is used for. But I only had $5 cash on me, and it put me in a pickle. Here’s an insider tip, they’ll let you through for $1.95 when you start scrounging for pennies in the cup holder.

Yes, I’m one of THOSE people who messes with her phone while waiting for a gobbler to show up. My iPhone is how I stay in touch with all of you. Facebook, Twitter, checking blog comments, that sort of thing. It is also my lifeline to my family. Having zero bars forces nature time (which really is great), but running out of battery is self-inflicted torture. Since hunters spend a good amount of time in trucks, I always bring along my charger to keep the juice flowing. And, yes, I still make a point to take in the view, stop to smell the roses, stuff like that. I also snap a picture of them and share them with you. That’s why you’re here, right?

Bakersfield Women in the Outdoors event — the sequel

If you see a man at the event, you can safely bet he’s a volunteer. Like these dudes who manned gigantic grills throughout the weekend. The team barbecued more than 700 chicken quarters for Saturday’s lunch, with steaks for supper that evening. (Do they say supper in California?)

The Bakersfield Chapter has a motto for its Women in the Outdoors event — NO HUSBANDS. NO CHILDREN. NO PETS. The focus of the event is the women who come to participate.

“Make up is optional,” event coordinator Kristie Blaylock said in an interview with the National Wild Turkey Federation a couple years ago.

I’m pretty sure they don’t have to twist a whole lot of arms to get women to comply.


I may look tough on the outside, but behind the helmet, head-to-toe camo and super-charged gun, I’m just a sweet little cupcake — looking for paintball blood!

Participants range in age from 14 to even a spry 80-something-year-old this year. And with nearly 60 classes available — from the physically intense (mountain biking, paddle boarding, paintball, skydiving) to the low-key (basic fishing, horseshoes and a variety of crafts) to adventurous (hunting with hawks, field dressing game, RV maneuvering) — there are activities for all interests and ages.

“Our chapter is never afraid to offer a variety of new classes,” said Blaylock, who seems to hold the key to keeping the event fresh each year, which keeps women coming back. And what makes this an award-winning event.

The Bakersfield Women in the Outdoors committee has won numerous awards for this event from the NWTF. In 2012 alone, they scooped up three national awards: winning the best local chapter as well as two that recognized their knack for raising funds for the NWTF’s mission.

I learned how Native Indians lived back in the day — and that the teepee was the first American mobile home.

This event grows every year, like the suburbs of L.A., or perhaps Charlie Sheen’s ego. In 2001, when the chapter held its first event, they hosted 37 women. This year, 527 ladies swarmed a scenic Tejon Ranch valley, popping up tents, parking campers and rolling in cars, some of which had “Women in the Outdoors or bust” written on the windows with shoe polish.

“Planning and executing an event for more than 500 ladies is not for the fainthearted,” said Women in the Outdoors Coordinator Teresa Carroll, who has attended the event in years past. “The Bakersfield Chapter, a virtual army of dedicated men and women, were tasked with preparing and serving meals, leading raffles and games, coordinating and instructing classes — the many small tasks that come together for a big, outstanding event.”


Alex Ravenfeather, wild plants/native living skills instructor from the Survival Training School of California, has a fantastic knowledge of wild plant uses and applications. He showed us the elderberry and how it’s a trifecta plant, meaning you can eat it, use it to treat illnesses and make stuff with it.

A more than 30-person committee led more than 170 volunteers to entertain, instruct, feed and wrangle participants in an orderly event that still managed to maintain a laid-back California vibe.

“Although we stay on schedule, our event is relaxed,” said Blaylock. “Everyone just goes with the flow.”

Check out the Bakersfield Women in the Outdoors event on Facebook for info on this year’s event and updates on future ones.

Carrie Landen (left) was in two of my classes during the event. But I’ll forever remember her as the gal who suggested eating at The Lobster at Santa Monica Pier before leaving L.A.

Bakersfield Women in the Outdoors — a blockbuster event

In-N-Out burgers — it’s the food of movie stars and a must-eat while in the Los Angeles area. At least, that’s what People magazine tells me.

A couple weeks ago, I sat nervously in the LAX airport, waiting for Corinna Slaughter, to meet me at baggage claim. Corinna didn’t make me nervous (though her last name sounds intimidating). We’d spent a couple weeks hunting together in South Africa a few months before. You get to know a person fairly well on a trip like that.

Instead, I was wigging out that I could be solely responsible for maiming or killing Corinna in a collision, while attempting to drive in Los Angeles. When it comes to driving, I’m a total country mouse — a country mouse that didn’t want manslaughter (or Corinna-slaughter) on my permanent record or conscious.

However, we made it through the city by the grace of God and the fact that it wasn’t rush hour. It was actually pretty cool to see glimpses of exit signs for Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard. I’m not one to get star struck easily, but I’ve read enough trashy celebrity magazines to know those streets have a place in pop culture.

Groups of women come to this event together, and often wear matching shirts or hats to show their hometown spirit.

But Corinna and I were headed out of the city, north to Lebec, where we were to attend the NWTF Bakersfield Chapter’s Women in the Outdoors event. It’s the largest of its kind, an award winner. And we wanted to see it.

Not before a quick stop at In-N-Out Burger. I’ve read movie stars go there after the Oscars. (Like I said, country mouse.)

This year was the 12th annual event for the Bakersfield Chapter. And every year it’s held at the Tejon Ranch, the largest private contiguous land holding in the United States. Its 270,000 acres is home to a ton of wildlife, including elk, wild pigs, wild turkey and quail. And for a weekend each May, women from all over the Golden State, the country even, call it home for two days of outdoors fun.

My first class was CPR training, taught by Michael McCormick, a certified Red Cross instructor. I, along with this cool Cali chick, was no dummy to resuscitation after the three-hour class.

I tightened the laces on my hiking boots, slathered on sunscreen and prepared to immerse myself in this legendary event, an event too big to capture in a single blog post. So check back tomorrow for more So Cal fun!

Gee, I sound like a tourist…

The 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch in Lebec, Calif., serves many purposes, such as cattle ranching, a place to film movies and commercials, as well as a destination for the largest Women in the Outdoors event in the country.

Get your call (and laughs) on here

This morning I grabbed the wrong pair of pants from the hamper (I wore them dirty anyway), bit into a bran muffin filled with raisins (which I loathe) and apparently forgot to rinse the conditioner out of my hair. I was, as the kids say, a hot mess.

Then I realized it’s Thursday, not Monday, and that fixed everything. Not so much.

But this hilarious music video by my NWTF coworkers put me somewhat back on track.

Sam McDuffie, our museum coordinator, who moonlights as a musician, wrote the song, “Get Your Call On.” The “fly guys” are Joe Mole (video department) and Chris Piltz (special events).

And if you believe the animatronic old man really came to life, hold on to your fairytale dreams. If you don’t, it’s Robert Abernethy, assistant VP of agency programs, getting his geriatric groove on.

When I think about how this video pulled me from my deep hole of self-pity, I said to myself, I MUST SPREAD THE POSITIVENESS OF GETTING YOUR CALL ON.

It deserves to go viral, people. So do your part! Share this piece of awesomeness!


Six things you didn’t know about champion caller Mitchell Johnston

Mitchell Johnston really emerged on the turkey hunting scene when he took home the title of 2010 Grand National Senior Division Calling Champion. It wasn’t an overnight achievement; he’s been calling competitively for more than a decade, winning more than 30 contests from the local to national, even world levels.

But there’s more to Mitchell than mouth calls and kee kee runs.

His closest friends call him Mitch. Sarah and Cadence call him Daddy. And fellow champion caller Mark Prudhomme says the guys on the circuit know him to be as passionate about turkey hunting as he is devoted to his family.

You can learn a lot about a person by spending hours with them in a blind. I learned that if Mitchell Johnston (right) was a cookie, he’d be chocolate chip. And his friend, Cornbread, would be oatmeal. Not that any of that matters…

I got a crash course in Mitchell by spending two days with him in his hometown of Purlear, N.C. You learn a lot about a person by staying in his home with his family. You learn even more spending hours upon hours with him in a hunting blind, along with one of his closest friends (named Cornbread).

The random stuff I took away from our hours of conversation ranged anywhere from silly to serious. And each little nugget of personal info combines into who Mitchell is today.

Somebody call 9-1-1! Mitchell and Karen are on call! We stopped by the volunteer fire department where Mitchell Johnston lends some of his rare spare time. Did you notice it’s the Champion Fire Department? Get it? He’s a champion caller? Work with me here, folks.

Everyone, meet the real Mitchell:

  1. He called in his first turkey at age 16 — a jake he shot with an old Ithaca.
  2. His wife, Ashley, killed her first buck the evening he proposed to her, which threw a loop in his special dinner plans. But it all worked out. They’ve been married for 9 years now.
  3. Mitchell entered the work force as a high school math teacher. He also coached baseball and tennis. But teaching left him trapped in a classroom when the turkeys were gobbling outside, so he left to pursue another passion as a firefighter.
  4. He delivered his first daughter, Sarah. The doctor knew he was a trained EMT and asked if he’d ever delivered a baby before. Mitchell hadn’t. “Well, right now’s a good time to practice,” said the doctor. So Mitchell went from not even wanting to be in the room to delivering her.
  5. He and Ashley named their second daughter, Cadence, after the rhythm of sounds a turkey makes.
  6. His family wasn’t at the NWTF Convention when he won his Grand National title. But he called Ashley from the stage to tell her the news. (He still tears up telling the story of his win.)

More important than what I found out about Mitchell is what he wants you to know about him.

“It’s true my family and my faith are my priorities in life,” said Mitchell. “It’s also spot on that turkey hunting is my passion. Winning calling contests and now having my own line of hunting calls and products is a dream come true for me.”

One day Mitchell hopes God blesses his company, Dead End Game Calls, to be successful enough to make a living for his family while doing what he loves, which is calling in old gobblers to his gun and helping others do the same.

Want to try a Dead End Game Call for free? Here’s your chance. Mitchell is giving away calls to six lucky Keeping Up With Karen followers — five of his Roadkill Mouth Calls and one Roadblock Slate Call. Go to www.deadendgamecalls.com and click on the Contact Us link. Fill in your name and e-mail address, and write “Keeping Up With Karen” in the subject field. Then feel free to leave Mitchell a nice little message if you want. Everyone who does this by May 31 will have his or her name in the pot for the chance at one of the six calls.

Mitchell says watch your mouth (calls)

I spent two days with 2010 Grand National Senior Division Calling Champion Mitchell Johnston in his hometown of Purlear, N.C., this spring. The idea was for us to kill a turkey or two and for him to make me a better caller.

We had our work cut out for us on the turkeys, which weren’t gobbling, as well as the calling lessons. Let’s just say you won’t find me on the calling competition stage any time soon.

But we did have a breakthrough — I learned to make a somewhat, sort of turkey sound using one of his Dead End Game Calls mouth calls. It was light years beyond the mutant bumblebee hums I’d achieved before.

Champion caller Mitchell Johnston makes a mean turkey call — mean on the turkeys, but easy for us to use. You have a chance at a free one. Just scroll down for details.

I tried his Roadkill Mini-Me (youth model/smaller frame) Batwing 3 cut and actually sounded like a hen, albeit one with a high-pitched, super raspy voice. (Surely, a few toms out there that dig that kind of talk.)

I think my humble achievement was due to Mitchell knowing how to make calls. He crafts each one by hand, using the same latex tension as on the calls he uses to compete (and win) contests.

According to Mitchell, it takes less air to make his mouth calls sing, which I was grateful for, since I’m going to need a lot of practice. My little ol’ lungs can only handle so much abuse.

The same goes for a mouth call.

“When a mouth call is not properly cared for, it can lose its effectiveness and overall tone and volume,” said Mitchell, who gave me these tips to help our mouth calls perform to their full potential as well as give them increased longevity.

1. Keep calls out of sunlight. (ex. Do not place them on the dash of your truck.)

2. Let the calls air out in a shady area, preferably at room temperature.

3. Place the calls in the refrigerator after it has dried out. Many callers and hunters do this, however, I do not. I simply place my mouth calls on top of a cabinet, entertainment center, etc., let them dry out overnight, then close my call case. (Why the high location? To keeps my kids from getting their hands on the calls.)

During my couple days with Mitchell, I got to make my own mouth call. Can you guess which one is mine? It sounds about as good as it looks. (Making a call ain’t easy, people.)

4. Begin using the calls before going into the area you are hunting, which will help separate the latex reeds if they are stuck together. If the latex reeds are still stuck together after a period of time, pull the latex apart by pulling the top reed towards the closed end of the horseshoe frame. Use extreme caution in doing this, because it can tear the latex and ruin the call altogether.

Just so you know, Mitchell has been using some of the same mouth calls for nearly seven years. Talk about rockin’ oral hygiene!

Don’t forget these TLC rules of mouth calls. Yours might last long enough to be an heirloom to pass on to your children. On second thought, that’s kind of nasty. I recommend bequeathing one of Mitchell’s box or slate calls instead. Your kids can thank me later.

Want to try a Dead End Game Call for free? Here’s your chance. Mitchell is giving away calls to six lucky Keeping Up With Karen followers — five of his Roadkill Mouth Calls and one Roadblock Slate Call. Go to www.deadendgamecalls.com and click on the Contact Us link. Fill in your name and e-mail address, and write “Keeping Up With Karen” in the subject field. Then feel free to leave Mitchell a nice little message if you want. Everyone who does this by May 31 will have his or her name in the pot for the chance at one of the six calls.

So spread the word, little birds!

A hunting couple’s love note

Some men tuck mushy cards in their wives’ suitcases when they travel. Others surprise the loves of their life at the airport baggage claim, grasping a dozen roses in their eager hands. Both are gestures of romance that don’t really fit into the Lee-Davis lifestyle.

But I don’t need cards or roses to know my husband, CJ, loves me.

I might, however, be a bit more needy.

My new red dot scope came in while I was turkey hunting in New Mexico. CJ loves me so much, he took it to the range and sighted it in for me. Then he left me careful instructions so I wouldn’t screw up his handy work.

CJ left for Kentucky to hunt turkeys before I returned home from New Mexico. Then I headed for North Carolina (to hunt turkeys) before he returned, so there was no time for airport surprises or card shop visits.

Besides, I don’t think Hallmark makes a I-do-this-because-I-want-you-to-kill-‘em-dead-and-make-me-proud card.

Instead, I got a neat piece of notebook paper with the sweetest scrawling.

No hearts, no flowers, no problem. My man says "I love you" by keeping me shooting straight.

In case you can’t read his handwriting (no worries, I have a hard time too), here’s what it said:

–       Large dial on top turns it on & controls brightness
-       Battery is located under the top of big dial as well
-       Make sure you turn it off when not hunting & make sure you turn it on when you set up
-       Trust me center is the one in the middle of the dot sight
-       Without it being on it will not work
          Best of luck
          Love, CJ

He left the note on the guest bed, next to my freshly sighted in Remington, along with two baggies of shells marked #1 and #2 (in order of the best pattern, if you haven’t already figured it out).

CJ wants to see me succeed in all I do. He’s always there to help me when he can. And I do the same for him. That’s what works for us.

He wanted me to point out, however, that while I think his detailed notes are sweet, I don’t always follow them. I forgot to turn off the scope after my last hunt, which sucked the battery dry.

I have a feeling my next “love” note might take on a firmer tone. Perhaps I need little more tough love than the ooey-gooey kind.


Treat your taste buds (and wild turkey) right, they deserve it

Nothing caps off a long day of hunting better than a heaping plate of stick-to-your-ribs food. Like meat, some kind of starch, with a vegetable or two thrown in to make your momma happy.

Chef James Africano, you had me at goat cheese. This picture just doesn’t do the dish justice (and tells me I need to upgrade my phone). Your eyes are feasting on root beer and jalapeno braised beef short ribs over goat cheese polenta.

If you ever make time to hunt at Vermejo Park Ranch, you’ll find mealtimes are more than pit stops to refuel for the next outing; they are part of the hunting experience. With a menu that includes bison, elk and local produce (including veggies from an onsite garden), Chef James Africano brings the outdoors to each individually crafted plate.

Chef James comes from Colorado but settled in as Vermejo’s executive chef in 2007. He takes traditional ranch meals (meat and potatoes) and turns them into delicious scenery, worthy companions to the amazing peaks, lakes and canyons of the surrounding acres.

He changes the menu weekly, with different specials each night. It’s the perfect plan, because you have the option of digging into the featured item without feeling like you’ll miss out on any of the other ridiculously yummy dishes. It simply gives you something to look forward to the next evening.

Here’s his New Mexico treatment for wild turkey — fajitas! Try it around the campfire or take your skillet inside. It’s a wild fiesta for your mouth!

Grilled Colorado lamb rack. Pan roasted arctic char. Doesn’t sound like your typical hunt camp fare? Tell that to your tummy when you’re finished. I think it’ll beg to differ.

Campfire Wild Turkey Fajitas

1 wild turkey breast (about 1½ pounds)
cut into ½-inch-thick strips
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion cut into long strips
1 red bell pepper cut into long strips
1 green bell pepper cut into long strips
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 fresh garlic cloves
juice of three limes
10-inch tortillas (about eight)

Now get cookin’

After cutting the turkey into strips, place in a large container and pour soy sauce and Worcestershire over them. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and add to the soy mixture along with the lemon juice. Refrigerate for four hours.

Warm a 12-inch cast iron skillet over the campfire or medium high heat. Add vegetable oil and wait for it to just start smoking. Remove half of the turkey from the marinade and carefully add to the hot skillet. Brown the first batch of turkey well, remove from the skillet and add the second half of the turkey strips. Repeat the browning process, and add the first batch of turkey back to the skillet along with the pepper and onion strips. Continue cooking for about 8 minutes, until the turkey is cooked through, and the vegetables have begun to soften and brown.

While the turkey and vegetables are cooking, wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in the oven or over coals from the fire. Sprinkle in the cumin, chili powder and cayenne and stir through. Season the fajitas with salt if necessary. Serve immediately with the warm tortillas and condiments of your choice.

Your wild turkey deserves more than an Old El Paso taco kit in a box. Try this campfire fajita recipe by Vermejo Park Ranch’s executive chef. After dinner, you’ll already be in the perfect spot for sharing the story of your hunt.

My condiments of choice? Sour cream, cheese and a boatload of pico de gallo! Sounds great, chef! Thanks for sharing.

And speaking of sharing recipes, I need your camp favorites for my cookbook project. Hey, if Chef James Africano thinks it’s a cool idea, then it’s a cool idea.

So send them to keepingupwithkaren@nwtf.net.

What’s better?

What’s better than finding a shed elk antler while turkey hunting?

 Finding an entire elk skull!

And what’s better than that?

 Finally killing a turkey!

Thanks to Cally and Annetta Morris for asking me to come along with them to the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. And a special thanks to Pro Guide Jimmy Wright for hanging with us and working his bahonkus off!