By John Felsher
Two Alabama men earned world championship titles during the 2021 World Turkey Calling Championships, held recently in Mobile.
Kenny Weiss Jr., 24, of Mobile won the gobbling championship to earn his second world title in three years. In 2019, he won his first world championship, also in his hometown. That year Weiss took the owl hooting honors. In 2021, Mitchell Johnston took second and Wayne Dozier placed third for gobbling.
“It’s really exciting to win my second world championship in my hometown,” Weiss says. “I’m glad to have the championship back in Mobile. I felt really confident about my calling when I finished, but a lot of tough callers competed. I felt I did a clean run, but I had some serious competition.”
Craig Wolfe of Auburn won the open division championship by only 3.5 points. Wade Watson placed second, followed by Wayne Dozier. In the open division, the contestants could make sounds with the calls of their choice.
“I’ve been competing for 12 years, and this is my first world championship,” Wolfe says. “The competition is always tough at these events. I just wanted to do the best run I had ever done. I felt pretty good after I finished, but there’s always something I could do better. I like that the contest is held in Alabama, so I didn’t have too far to travel to compete.”
For the friction competition, callers could only use friction calls, which make sounds by rubbing two objects together. In this event, Ben Chamberlain of Claysburg, Pa., earned his third world championship title. The 44-year-old has been competing in turkey calling contests for 34 years. Chamberlain beat Tanner Norris by half a point. Bruce Saale finished third. Only six points separated the top nine callers in the highly competitive contest.
“This one means more to me than my first one,” Chamberlain says. “When someone wins a world championship, it’s special. I’m proud and excited. I knew when I walked off the stage that I had called well. I had one of the cleanest runs I’ve had in a long time, but I didn’t know if I was going to win. Many great callers competed.”
More than 70 of the top turkey callers in the world came to Mobile from at least 18 other states. Competitors performed a list of designated calls for each event. During the competitions, judges hid behind a screen so they couldn’t see the competitors. Event staff assigned each caller a different number for every event. To avoid the appearance of bias, the judges only heard the number, so they didn’t know the identity of anyone on the stage during the scoring. Top scores often came down to fractions.
“At this level, everyone has to be almost perfect,” says Kenny Weiss Sr., the event organizer. “We saw some very close scores in all the contests. We had people come from all over to compete. This contest is sanctioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation, so the world champions qualify for life to compete in the NWTF Grand National Calling Championships.”
In other competitions, Shane Martinez won the owling event, followed by Tater Rich and Robert Huber. One of the more popular spectator events, the team challenge involves two callers acting out given scenarios as if they were turkeys. J.R. Lanham and Mitchell Johnston won the challenge. Matthew Presley and Shane Martinez came in second, followed by Wayne Dozier and Jared Lowe.
In addition, callers could compete in various age and skill divisions. Callers 10 years old or younger competed in the poult division. Those between the ages of 11 and 15 competed in the junior division. The intermediate division included callers 16 to 20 years old. Anyone of any age could compete in the amateur division if they had never won a previous championship.
Lann Wilf won the amateur division, followed by Travis Godwin and Cassie Berkhimer. In the intermediate division, Matthew Presley placed first with Godwin second. Chase Roberts won the junior division, followed by Berkhimer. Mason Johnston topped the poult division with Isabella Sanderson taking second and Tristan Williamson earning third.
The first World Turkey Calling Championship took place in Mobile on Jan. 4, 1940, but it went elsewhere for decades. Kenny Weiss Sr. was instrumental in bringing the contest back to Mobile in 2019. The 2020 contest was canceled due to the pandemic.ν
For more information, call Weiss at 251-605-6077 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at email@example.com or through Facebook.