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.

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!