Local brothers talk turkey

Matthew Presley raises his first place trophy above his head. He won the Grand National Calling Championships in the youth division during the event in Nashville, Tennessee, last month. Courtesy photo

When Front Royal resident Mary Presley married her husband Cliff, she had no idea there was a “turkey language.” Now her two sons are fluent in it.

Tyler, 18, and Matthew, 13, raised in a family of turkey hunting enthusiasts, recently turned their lifelong hobby of imitating the wild birds into a successful trip to the Youth Grand National Calling Championships (GNCC) on Feb. 13 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Matthew left the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center with a first-place trophy and a $150 cash prize after winning the GNCC’s Youth (ages 11 to 15) Division Championship, while Tyler walked off the stage with $360 and a second-place trophy from the Intermediate (ages 16 to 20) Division Championship.

“It meant a lot,” Matthew said of his championship win in a phone interview. “I have been working on it for a long time. I finished second for two years … three years ago maybe. I’ve been working hard since then and I finally got it.”

Matthew, who said he’s perfected his technique by studying his seven pet turkeys, won the Junior Division with a total score of 354 points – about 12 points ahead of the runner-up – while Tyler’s score of 356 was about 12 points shy of that of Intermediate Division champion Hunter Wallis, of Pennsylvania.

Tyler Presley shows off the trophy he won at the Youth Grand National Calling Championships in Nashville, Tennessee. Courtesy photo

Participants in the youth championships are required to perform four randomly selected turkey calls out of a possible eight during the competition and are provided one minute for each call. Judges provide a score for each call on a 0-20 scale, with 20 being the most realistic replication of a wild turkey.

Youth participants are permitted to use any method for generating turkey calls during the competition, Tyler said.

“We use mouth calls made by Dead End Game Calls,” he said, referring to the North Carolina-based company. “We also use pot calls, like slate calls and glass calls. Some people use box calls, but we mainly use diaphragm calls, mouth calls.”

The Grand National Calling Championships, run as part of the four-day National Wild Turkey Federation Convention and Sport Show in mid-February, consists of eight divisions for callers of all ages. Tyler Presley said the GNCC draws a large crowd, while his mother called the convention “turkey heaven.”

“At the Gaylord Hotel down there in Nashville there’s over 50,000 people that show up there to the (NWTF Convention),” Tyler said, “and there’s a lot of times people like to listen to the callers as well, so it’s a big deal down there.”

Matthew Presley, 13, left, and his brother Tyler, 18, practice turkey calls while inside the family's pet turkey pen in the backyard of their Browntown Road home in Warren County. Matthew boasts the national champion honors in the junior age group (11-15) and Tyler recently won the world champion turkey calling in the intermediate division age group (16-21). Rich Cooley/Daily

That atmosphere had little effect on Matthew.

“I don’t get as nervous as much because I’ve been doing it for a long time,” said Matthew, who has competed in Nashville for the last six years. “But you always get a little bit nervous before you go up there in front of that many people.”

Earlier this month, the duo switched places at the World Championship Turkey Calling Contest in Stuttgart, Arkansas, as Tyler won the Intermediate Division and Matthew was the junior runner-up.

Matthew said he began practicing his turkey calls around the age of 4, while Tyler began around the age of 6. Though the boys’ father “doesn’t have the nerve” to participate in turkey calling competitions, Tyler said, it was Cliff’s call-making hobby that got both of his sons interested in the sport.

“Him making the calls, trying to get it to sound like a turkey, we kind of wanted to get in there too and try to sound like a turkey. It kind of evolved into going to competitions,” Tyler said. “Our family’s always been turkey hunters and always loved the turkey and trying to promote the turkey and conservation.

One of the pet gobblers is shownat the Presley home. Rich Cooley/Daily

“That’s all we think about 24-7 pretty much,” he added with a laugh.

That passion for turkey hunting also led to another achievement for the two brothers last year, when Tyler and Matthew each completed the “grand slam” of the sport, accomplished by harvesting the four subspecies of wild turkey – Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s – found across the continental United States. The Presley brothers did it in one season.

“It’s a pretty big accomplishment. A lot of grown men would like to do that,” Tyler said. “And for brothers to get it in one season – and that’s also a big deal, is having it in one season, like one spring season. It’s challenging.”

Mary Presley said her sons’ recent exploits – the two also swept the junior and intermediate championships of the Dennis Campbell Classic Open Turkey Calling Contest at the Western Virginia Sport Show in Fishersville last month – have resulted in a minor celebrity status among the turkey hunting community.

“The boys have been calling for so many years they’re actually starting to get recognized by even the young as well as the old walking around,” Mary Presley said. “When we did the grand slam last year we were walking in Denver Airport and two grown men came over to say hello to Tyler and Matthew because they recognized them from their calling.

“It’s kind of funny to be recognized nationally in this sport and then you come home and the boys are like, ‘Nobody knows about this, it’s turkey calling,'” she continued with a laugh.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com