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Father, son find calling in sounds of nature

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A steady stream of staccato “clucks” emanated from the home of Joe Shehan, possibly indicating that the family was raising turkeys in the back yard.

Only these clucks were coming from the living room.

Shehan and his son, Patrick, have put in the work to become expert turkey callers, and that direction means a dedication to learn and practice turkey vocabulary at every available moment.

As her husband demonstrated the use of a turkey diaphragm call, his face going through different distortions as he worked the horseshoe-shaped device to the proper position in his mouth, Tracy Shehan went about business in the kitchen.

Joe Shehan finally got the call, made of an aluminum frame and covered with latex, positioned at the top of his mouth. Huffing some air from deep in his lungs, he demonstrated some clucks and yelps, the kind of sounds which makes the inquisitive male turkey draw near for closer inspection.

“I just zone out,” said Tracy Shehan, who knows that life with her very avid outdoorsmen is just a bit different than the norm. Even so, she has her own understanding of turkey vocabulary.

“It kind of all sounds the same, but then again, I do know the good ones,” she said.

Her husband and son are the good ones. They have proven that they can talk turkey with the best of them.

A lifetime hunting enthusiast, Joe Shehan entered his first turkey calling contest in 2006, placing second in the senior division at the Indiana Deer and Turkey Expo in Indianapolis. He abilities have improved over the years as he has attended more contests and rubbed elbows with some of the best turkey callers in the world.

Patrick Shehan, a freshman football linebacker and wrestler at Columbus North High School, has zoomed past his dad as a turkey caller.

Last Saturday, Patrick Shehan placed second in the 18 and under division at the Ohio State Deer and Turkey Expo in Columbus, Ohio. Last month, he finished fifth in his age division of the Grand National Calling Championship put on by the National Wild Turkey Federation in Nashville, Tenn.

‘Super Bowl’ of turkey calling

The Shehans call the Grand National “the Super Bowl” of turkey calling.

Patrick Shehan’s ascension as a turkey caller has been noticed. Mitchell Johnston, the owner of Dead End Game Calls of Purlear, N.C., recruited the 15-year-old to represent his company. He now is Patrick Shehan’s main sponsor.

“Patrick is a young man who is a very hard worker and very dedicated to what he does,” said Johnston, who was the senior division national champion at the 2010 Grand National. “It looks good to have him represent us.”

Johnston was asked if Patrick Shehan can become one of the elite turkey callers.

“He’s there now,” Johnston said. “He is a great caller, but he knows that everyone has to hone their skills and refine them. The callers today are getting better and better.”

Of course, the whole idea of turkey calling is to draw out a male wild turkey during a hunt.

“It’s pretty fun and exciting,” said Patrick Shehan, whose expertise in calling is based on his ability to use a turkey friction call made up of a “pot” and a “striker” or “peg.”

The pot would be shaped like a tin of chewing tobacco only made of wood. The striker looks kind of like a round file with a wooden handle. The striker is rubbed in circular patterns on the pot to make the sounds that draw a male turkey closer.

“When they get really close, your heart jumps out of your chest,” Patrick Shehan said. “When you hear them spitting, it’s game on.”

Joe Shehan, who is 41, said he has been turkey hunting with his son well over 50 times over the years and his son has harvested six turkeys.

“If you can get a bird to answer, your heart literally starts racing,” said Joe Shehan, who was the Northside head football coach this past season. “You can hear Patrick’s breathing change. You can see him shaking a bit. But when you see the bird, it’s all business, and Patrick is rock solid.”

Fried turkey is often served in the Shehan household, although guests are informed that it doesn’t taste exactly like the turkeys that are purchased in the grocery store. And once in a while, a shotgun pellet or two finds its way through the cleaning process.

Spitting feathers

Hunting is a lifestyle that is revered by the Shehans.

“I grew up in this house,” said Shehan, who works for Sabic Innovative Plastics. “And I started hunting when I was 16 or 17 years old. I started with deer and squirrel hunting.”

In his early 20s, he gave turkey hunting a try without much luck.

“I had friends from Brown County who would tease me, ‘Did you get your turkey?’ That was for two years.

“They finally got me my first bird. We hunted all day one time ... in Indiana you had to stop at noon ... and I was down in the dumps. It was 11:30 a.m. But they made a call, and a turkey gobbled just over the hill. They called in the bird for me. I was 24.”

He learned that he needed to be more consistent and more stubborn about his calling. “It was like a light switched on for me,” he said. “This is a lifestyle, and it is what we do. You experience the emotions that come with it. There is no better feeling when a turkey comes in and gobbles. You try to give him something he wants to hear, a hen.

“When somebody gets really good at it, we say they can spit feathers out of their mouth.”

‘A lot of practice’

Joe Shehan started to get better, and he began to take his daughter Abigail, now 20, on hunting trips.

“I was terrified of guns,” she said. “I didn’t want to shoot.”

She just liked keeping her dad company at the time but now has taken up hunting herself.

“I’m back in it now,” she said.

But can she talk turkey?

“I don’t call. That’s what they are for,” she said, pointing to her dad and brother.

Patrick Shehan started to accompany his dad on hunting trips when he was 8. He would listen to his father calling but didn’t really try to master the sounds himself.

“I was just messing around with it,” he said.

As his father went to competitions, Patrick Shehan got more serious about calling. It also helped that two years ago he won a drawing from the Dogwood Drummers of Columbus to go on a turkey hunt at Tony Stewart’s property.

Everything was building as Patrick Shehan was listening to the best callers at competitions and all kinds of turkey calls on video and audio tape at home.

“It’s a lot of practice,” Patrick Shehan said. “This year I’ve heard some of the best callers in the world.”

Joe Shehan, who is sponsored by Blackstone Custom Calls of Ohio, said his son listens to turkey calls like most teenagers would listen to music.

“I need more experience and more practice,” Patrick Shehan said.

His dad is trying to help him get better at the turkey diaphragm call, which can cause someone new to the call to have a gag reflex since it is pushed to the top of the mouth.

“It’s not like a whistle,” Joe Shehan said. “You inhale a lot of air, and then, it’s kind of a huff. You press your tongue against the top of it. I’ve choked on it.”

The elder Shehan expects his son to master that call as well.

“I think it’s his passion for it, to be a better turkey hunter,” Joe Shehan said. “There is no size you have to be and no technique to it. Anybody can learn how to do what we do if they want to put their mind to it.”

Patrick Shehan continues to put his mind to it, whether he is in his living room, the car or even at school.

“The teachers don’t like it,” Joe Shehan said with a laugh.

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