JERSEY SHORE - Mike Longnecker, of Jersey Shore, is well versed in a second language - that of wild turkey.
On Feb. 5, he put his dedication to turkey calling to the test at the Eastern Outdoor and Sports Show. The 17-year-old competed in the 37th annual Pennsylvania Turkey Calling Contest, an event sanctioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation.
He took fourth place in the youth division and second place in the related barred owl calling contest.
Surrounded by a crowd of spectators and contestants warming up, Longnecker got into a zone of his own and began to practice. He was using a diaphragm, which he said is a difficult call to learn and master.
In addition to using a diaphragm, callers could use friction, box and push-button calls.
He was one of 18 youths in his division, which included callers age 17 and younger. Each was called up by the number they drew at the start of the contest and asked to do four types of calls - cluck, purr, hen yelps and their best call, in that order.
As Longnecker started through his calls before the judge, he moved around the floor, one arm wrapped in a sling from recent shoulder surgery. Sometimes he held his hands to his mouth, other times he would reach out his good arm, making the shape of a beak and mimic calling to his hand, opening and shutting the "beak" as a wild turkey would do when calling.
"There were three grand national champions and many well accomplished callers," he said. "It felt great to compete, and I feel that I called well. You can't win them all though."
He also competed in the owl hooting contest, using a Harrison Hoot'n Stick made of bocote wood and manufactured by Hook's Custom Calls.
After a few minutes, Longnecker wrapped up his first time at the state contest. That wasn't his first competition, though. In fact, he has a slew of them on his calling resume. He's been imitating turkeys since he was 12 years old.
While squirrel hunting with Tim, his dad, Longnecker heard a wild turkey.
"I heard my first bird gobble and I started buying calls and it just took off from there," he said.
Spring gobbler season is his favorite because the birds are more vocal then.
The high schooler spends several hours a week practicing and tweaking his clucks, purrs and kees, trying to master each one of the many manmade turkey calls available.
He treats competitions seriously, bearing down on his practice time in late December and early January, right before most contests start.
"I try to get an hour in every day," Longnecker said. "My parents have learned to block it out pretty well."
He enjoys making his own calls, too, mostly strikers, and even markets them on the Internet at keepthefevercustomstrikers.webs.com.
Longnecker writes a blog called "A Caller's Journal" at turkeyhuntpublicland. com /blogs/?cat(equals)22.
He uses websites such as YouTube to watch other calling contests and study the sounds and methods.
"I am trying to mimic all those sounds the birds make," he said. "I also have several CDs of wild turkeys talking in the woods.
Soon after he heard that first gobbler in the woods, Longnecker launched himself into the competitive calling circuit.
"In 2009, I entered my first contest, and I took dead last," he said. That was at the Cross Forks Calling Contest.
He came back the next year and took first place with a friction call, which he made himself using a lathe in his basement.
In 2011, he took third at the Kettle Creek Valley Outdoor Show and, since then, his calling career only has grown.
This past summer, Longnecker became a pro-staff member at Hook's Custom Calls, a company that makes handcrafted turkey calls and is based in Arkansas. He had sent company owner Scott Hook some digital sound files of himself calling.
"It kind of started there," Longnecker said. "The more we talked, (the more) he liked my calling."
This spring, he will represent Hook's at local sporting good stores. The company also sponsors him at calling events.
He hopes to make it to the Grand National Calling Convention in Tennessee this year, representing Hook's there, too.
Longnecker also likes to make turkey calls. A few weeks ago, he entered the Grand National Callmaking Competition, the largest turkey call-making competition in the U.S. He mailed in two of his calls, a laminated striker with a padauk peg and a maple burl top and a Brazilian cherry with a corian top.
Held in Nashville, Tenn., by the National Wild Turkey Federation, the competition involved a panel of judges who graded the entries on appearance and sound quality.
One of Longnecker's calls took sixth place in the decorative striker division. He has yet to find out which call was chosen by the judges.
"The most complicated call by far is either the diaphragm call or the trumpet call, mostly the diaphragm. It takes a long time to master," Longnecker said.
The diaphragm call is hands free.
"It goes in your mouth and you push air up through it," he said, adding a caller must move his jaw up to create different sounds.
Friction calls, he said, go by many names, such as pot or slate calls. They usually are made with slate, aluminum, glass or crystal. Sounds are made by using a striker to hit a surface in about a 3-inch diameter.
Box calls are common.
"You have the box and a paddle (and) you work that over the box and create the sound," he said.
Tube calls are held in the hand and a caller tries to create a baffle effect by blowing air over the latex, while dropping his jaw to make sounds.
A trumpet call is used by creating a kissing motion.
The push button is just as simple as pushing a button, back and forth, on the side of the call.
All of these calls can be used in competition. In the woods, each call works best at a certain time, Longnecker said.
"Typically, first thing in the morning when I am in the woods, I have a diaphragm call in my mouth and a slate call in my hand," he said. "That is good for the early morning yelps."
When he wants to locate a bird, he uses the box call.
"That really creates a lot of sound and really can go the distance," he said.
For medium-range hunting, he switches over to a slate or diaphragm call.
"And when you get into close range and you want to remain completely still, you want to use a diaphragm call," he said.
His favorites are the friction and diaphragm calls.
The cluck and purr is the most complicated sound to make with a diaphragm call, he said, but it may be easier on other calls. The "kee kee" run call is the most difficult on a friction call.
He said he still is working on improving his diaphragm calling.
So how does a caller so young make such strides in so little time?
"Well, first and foremost, is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He has given me the talent and ability," Longnecker said.
His other advice? Practice, practice, practice "and listen to the birds," he said.
"To become a better caller, you have to be out in the woods listening to them and talking to them," he said. "Get out in the woods or find a local hunter and talk with them, too."