Editor's note: "The Turkey Hunters" is a blog that profiles notable folks in the turkey hunting industry. In this installment, we chat with history-making caller Emily Oliver, 18, of Crossett, Ark., who recently became the first female to win a world championship when she topped the amateur division at the World Championship Turkey Calling Contest in Mobile, Ala.
T&TH: Emily, how did you get started in turkey hunting and calling?
Oliver: I come from a family of hunters. I tagged along with my grandfather, Larry Linder, who is an avid turkey hunter, for as long as I can remember. At the young age of 5, I was running a video camera, filming his hunts. When I was finally big enough to carry a gun, I bagged my first squirrel and deer at age 9. The next spring, I killed my first turkey, and I got the fever. All types of turkey callers have been within my reach all my life, and I started playing with them as soon as I was big enough to hold one or be trusted to have a diaphragm in my mouth without swallowing it. Competitive calling is a family tradition also. My two older cousins, Frank and Seth, were calling competitively, so naturally, I wanted to do it, too. In addition, my mother, Jami Linder, called in contests when she was in her late teens and early 20s. She was the first — and is still the only — female to ever place in the Grand National Calling Championships Senior Division. I started this adventure at the age of 9, when I called in my first contest, with my sights set on one day beating my mother's record.
T&TH: Who were your biggest mentors?
Oliver: Well first and foremost, my grandfather, Larry Linder. He has been turkey hunting for 45 years and is a charter member of the NWTF. He has been involved in every aspect of turkey calling contests for 28 years and has judged every major calling contest there is, including the NRA All Game Calling Challenge. He taught me to call and has been judging me ever since to improve my calling skills. He's taken me all over the southern and central United States not only for calling contests but for hunts also, teaching me woodsmanship and ethical hunting practices along the way.
Then we have my lovely mother, Jami Linder. She's been my inspiration for this whole journey. Every little girl wants to be just like her mom, and I'm no exception. She excelled in a man's sport and proved that women can do it just as well, if not better.
In the last few years, there have been so many instrumental people in the advancement of my competition calling, but Scott Ellis is the one who really took me under his wing and brought me to higher level. He has also been my rock the last few years during the "night-before-the-contest breakdowns" I tend to experience at the Grand Nationals. I cannot give him enough credit for spending countless hours on the phone and in the practice room to help make me the caliber of caller I am today. Another person who deserves a great deal of credit for my recent success in transitioning from friction calls to air is Jim Pollard. He helped guide me through a personal roadblock with my diaphragm calling. He has watched me grow up on the calling circuit and provided encouragement since the beginning, even when I sucked.
T&TH: Can you tell us some of your greatest accomplishments in hunting and calling?
Oliver: I've been lucky enough to harvest at least one turkey each year since I started turkey hunting 10 years ago. There are a lot of grown men who have not been as fortunate. I have been blessed to have a family willing to go the extra mile, literally, to make my hunts a success. I have harvested three of the four subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States, and in April, I am going to hunt Merriam's in New Mexico to try and complete my grand slam.
As for calling accomplishments, I have finished in the top five three out of the last four years at the Grand Nationals in the Junior and Intermediate divisions. My highest place finish was second in the Junior division in 2009. In 2004, I was the National Junior Champion. I've been the Arkansas State High School Champion and hold numerous state titles in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in junior, amateur, friction and open divisions. I also recently became the first female to ever hold a World Championship title by winning the amateur division in Mobile, Ala.
T&TH: How much do you practice calling?
Oliver: My "Papaw" (grandfather) tells me I never practice enough. These days, calling practice varies according to the amount of homework I have, but I try to get in at least an hour a day. I have a 45-minute commute to my college campus and will practice my diaphragm calling while driving. When at home, I will go sit and listen to our tame turkeys and try to imitate their sounds and rhythms, working them into my stage routines. I usually take the summer off, but Jim Pollard says I don't get a summer break this year.
T&TH: Is it difficult jugging school with calling and hunting?
Oliver: Yes, although I managed to get several courses online, college is extremely time-consuming and has taken away from all of my extracurricular activities. Because of receiving so many scholarships, though, and choosing to commute, I was able to purchase a call press with my refund check last semester and am learning building my own calls. All in all, I have done a pretty good job of balancing all the calling and hunting — and even a part-time job. I just have to stay focused and prioritize, even if this means doing homework in the exhibit hall at the NWTF Convention. I am a wildlife-management major in hopes of one day having a career that will allow me to continue doing what I love.
T&TH: What's the biggest enjoyment you get from hunting and calling?
Oliver: There's no better place to be when the sun comes up than by a big white oak tree listening to the turkeys wake up. When they start gobbling, my adrenaline starts pumping. There's nothing better than talking back and forth with a turkey and working him in your way. That being said, I have to be honest — I also love to watch one flop!
The best thing about turkey calling contests is spending time with a great bunch of people that share the same passion I do. I love getting to travel to new places and make new friends. Winning is great, but it's definitely not the best part of calling experience.