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Can A Turkey Calling Contest Attract New Hunters? This Group Thinks So

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Thousands of people have flocked to Nashville this week - people are always in Nashville - for the annual convention of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The centerpiece, happening this weekend, is the calling contest, where contestants try to mimic the bird so well that judges are convinced there's a live turkey in the house. Emily Siner from member station WPLN was at the youth competition last night, where the next generation of turkey callers (mimicking turkey gobble) were strutting their stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEY CALL)

EMILY SINER, BYLINE: A wild turkey would never come near this cacophony. This is the hallway where kids and teens are practicing for the Grand National Calling Championships. But then, inside the huge auditorium, there's silence - until.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEY CALL)

SINER: The math behind this contest is simple. The more you sound like a wild turkey, the higher you score.

SHANE SIMPSON: Also, the cadence of the bird when it yelps.

SINER: Shane Simpson is an avid turkey hunter and competitive caller. His daughter Brooke won her first calling competition at age three.

BROOKE: Walking around, going louder and quieter, going faster and slower.

SINER: And ever since, Brooke has been one of the only girls in whatever contest she's competing in. She says boys do not intimidate her.

BROOKE: I think I can just be - be as just - as good as them or better.

SINER: Now 10 years old, Brooke is one of the top young turkey callers in the nation. She uses hand-operated instruments that create friction and can imitate, say, a yelping hen.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEN YELP)

SINER: The whole point of turkey calling is to be a better hunter. So when kids get interested in this part of the sport, they're more likely to try the hunting part, which is something the National Wild Turkey Foundation wants to see.

MANDY HARLING: Well, we've seen a decline in hunters - pretty much a decline since the 1980s.

SINER: Mandy Harling is the director of Hunting Heritage Programs. And part of the foundation's mission is recruiting new hunters - including kids - but also city dwellers who want to find locally sourced meat or people who want a closer connection to nature. Harling points out that hunting fees and taxes on ammunition help pay for wildlife conservation. And another target audience? Women.

HARLING: If you can teach a mom to hunt, mom will take her kids in the woods.

SINER: Harling knows this firsthand. She never hunted as a child.

HARLING: But I married a hunter. I happened to go turkey hunting with him one day. And I loved it. It was kind of crazy. But it's so much fun. And there's so much skill involved in it.

SINER: She now takes the whole family. But being a female hunter has had its challenges. When Harling started, women's gear was so bad that she had to hunt in her husband's clothes - not very comfortable. She says she also did not enjoy having him as her teacher.

HARLING: But to learn from another woman, you know, and take all those expectations out of it really helped me personally.

SINER: And more women hunting means more role models for girls like Brooke Simpson, who's currently waiting for her time in the spotlight at the youth calling competition. Brooke walks on stage with her instruments. The stage is decorated with a hunting landscape, including a stuffed turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Caller number five, whenever you're ready, plain yelp of the hen.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEN YELP)

SINER: On the strength of that and three more turkey calls, Brooke takes third place. This is the best she's ever done at the grand nationals. And beating her in second is another girl. For NPR News, I'm Emily Siner in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.