Champion perfects call of the wild turkey

Parrish has held “champion of champions” title for four years.
Friday, March 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:38 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

CENTRALIA — Chris Parrish is a different type of champion.

He doesn’t bask in the glory of his accomplishments. He puts family first. He hasn’t let celebrity get to his head. He will never go on strike or demand a bigger contract.

Parrish, a Centralia resident, has a rare talent. With the aid of a latex mouthpiece, he is able to replicate the 31 different calls turkeys make.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but all animals have a vocabulary,” Parrish said.

Over the past 25 years, he has taken his talent to turkey- calling competitions across the nation. In that time, he has crafted what some consider the greatest turkey call in the country and possibly the world.

Steve Stoltz, who has competed against Parrish since the mid-1980s, said Parrish has the greatest call he has heard.

“The difference between Chris Parrish and a regular turkey caller is that he sounds exactly like a real turkey,” Stoltz said. “Most turkey callers that compete just go up on stage and blow a turkey call. Not Chris.”

Last month, Parrish competed on what Stoltz calls his sport’s grandest stage, the Super Bowl of turkey calling, The 2005 Wild Turkey Bourbon and National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Calling Championships in Nashville, Tenn.

Parrish delivered by taking first place in the team and champion of champions competitions and placing second in the senior open. 2005 marks the fourth consecutive year Parrish has been named the champion of champions. He walked away from a weekend’s worth of work with a pair of trophies and $6,000 in prize money.

“Winning is the ultimate; there is no other feeling,” he said.

Parrish took an interest in turkey calling as a young hunter. He began practicing calls in his bedroom.

“The better you can reproduce a call, the more successful you are in the woods,” Parrish said.

Parrish entered and won his first turkey calling competition at the age of 13. He became a turkey calling prodigy of sorts and began impressing many veteran turkey callers.

In 1994, Parrish won his first world championship. Since then, Parrish has been at the top of competitive turkey calling. His impressive resume includes four national titles, five world championships, three team championships, two Senior Opens, two Mid-America Opens and one U.S. Open.

“He has been the most prolific, highest money-winning turkey caller of anyone in the industry since 1994,” Stoltz said. “No one has topped his total winnings and major placings (first or second). He is the Michael Jordan of turkey calling.”

For Parrish, turkey calling is not a hobby; it is a way of life. He has earned upwards of $10,000 from competitive turkey calling every year since 1996, making as much as $19,900 in a year. He works professionally as a product designer for Knight and Hale Game Calls. An avid hunter, he has been involved in programs on the Outdoor Channel and the production of “Turkey Traxx,” a turkey-hunting DVD.

Instead of music, he listens to tapes and CDs of wild turkey calls.

“Chris has made this hobby into a career,” his wife, Kathleen Parrish, said. “Not a lot of people can get up every day and do what they love.”

When Kathleen attended her first turkey-calling competition, she could not help laughing. Today, she sees turkey calling as serious business, working as her husband's harshest critic to help him prepare for contests.

“I respect the fact that this is something he has taken seriously since he was 12 or 13 years old,” she said.

Parrish doesn’t take much time off. He practices a couple times a week in the off-season and daily when he is preparing for a competition.

“If you don’t have drive and you’re not consistent, you’re never going to be the best,” he said. “No matter what I do, I want to be as good as I can possibly be at it.”

His accomplishments in turkey calling have given Parrish some national exposure. In 2002 and 2003, he showcased his skills by making appearances on “The Howard Stern Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but Parrish doesn’t let it get to his head.

“I don’t believe in that stuff,” Parrish said. “I am just a guy who has been blessed and I love to hunt and call.”

Parrish’s 2-year-old son, Rusty, has Parrish re-thinking his priorities. Parrish said he will always love hunting and calling, but looks forward to spending more time with his family and talks of retiring from competitive calling. He said he hopes his son will be able to see him win back the world title. Parrish will get that opportunity at the world championship in Birmingham this June. When he chooses to put aside his competitive mouthpiece to concentrate on other things, Parrish will go down as one of the most successful turkey callers in history. Still, he said will never feel completely fulfilled.

“A true competitor can never be satisfied,” Parrish said. “Until I grow feathers, I won’t be happy.”

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