Super Yelper Turkey Calls: Specializing in hand-crafted wooden friction calls since 1979.

Talking Turkey

Northern Virginia Daily
April 15, 2006
By Natalie Austin
Daily Stall Writer

Holding a small cedar box and scratching it with a chalk-covered piece of wood, Richard Shively produces a "cluck," "purr" and a "yelp" that sound a lot like a gobbler voluntarily strutted into his dining room on a recent morning.

A variety of his signature Super Yelper Turkey Calls spread out on the table, Shively demonstrates how each sounds a little different than the other.

I've got a God-given gift for my ear," says Shively, who has been making turkey calls for the past 27 years and hunting the birds for 50.

He is interrupted by the telephone. A hunter from South Carolina wants to know if he can buy one of Shively's calls.

With the opening of spring gobbler season in Virginia on April 8, Shively expects the phone to ring a lot.

"I've heard people say these are the best darn calls they have ever heard," says the 63-year-old sportsman, who recently added another national championship to his many awards.

Named for the former Virginia slave who designed the device at the turn of the century, the Jeremiah Stevens Award for Best Sounding Scratch Box Call is an award Shively is proud of, he says, holding a plaque he brought home for the honor.

He earned the distinction earlier this year during the National Wild Turkey Federation's 30th annual Convention and Sport Show in Nashville, Tenn.

"Call makers enter our contest because it's North America's premier call-making contest and if they win this contest, they know they're the best there is," says Rob Keck, chief executive officer of the federation, in a press release.

Shively has been competing and winning at the convention since 1994, also bringing home in a sixth place this year for his calls. Attended by an estimated 40,000 people, the convention included judging by a panel of experts of an estimated 400 entries in 13 categories, which also included divisions for ducks and geese. The calls, some of which are judged based on their decorative value, alone, are submitted months ahead of judging for the contest, the largest of its type in North America.

"Some of the calls in the contests sounded better than the turkeys," says Shively, laugh.

An auction is held following the judging with some entries bringing thousands of dollars.

Shively won't even try to estimate the number of turkey calls he has made and sold, saying only that the number is in "the tens of thousands."

"I have the first one I ever made; it is crude," says Shively, who continues to build them by hand in a shed behind his house. Each scratch box takes 27 steps to create, he says, opening a storage cabinet of tiny pieces of wood he has pre-cut and are ready for assembly.

"You cannot mass produce the scratch box," says Shively, who sands and resands until the call gives him the sound he wants.

His calls also include the Pro-Automatic, a call operated by holding the box in one hand and pushing a pin inside. The sliding motion "produces a full range of turkey talk," according to one of Shivey's brochures, and can be operated with very little movement by the hunter when the turkey is close. The Super Yelper scratch box also comes in a fancier laser-engraved version, and in a limited edition box set, which comes engraved with his like­ness.

Shively's expertise has landed him in books — including one by renowned sportsman Earl Mickel — and behind podiums for seminars over the years. With all of the information out there on turkey hunting and callers on the market, times have changed.

When he first started hunting, Shively says tips were well-guarded secrets among sportsmen. For many hunters, bagging a big gobbler remains a challenging game of out­smarting these elusive birds.

The call maker, however, stops short, of attributing any human-like intelligence to these big bearded birds.

"The only reason the turkey has survived are his keen senses — his eyes and his ears," he says.

Moving and over-calling are two of the biggest mistakes hunters make, he says. Shively lets the bird lead the conversation.

"If he wants to gobble a lot, I call a lot," he says.

On opening morning of spring gobbler season, Shively took his 12-year-old grandson out to call in some birds» The goal of the morning was to observe, not kill, which suits Shively fine these days. It took about 15 minutes to call in a turkey, using one of his scratch boxes.

"It's harder to photograph or get a video of a turkey than to shoot them," he says. "When you go up there to photograph and play with them, that's when you learn."