Calling champ a humble legend
In 2015, on a stage crowded with extreme talent, extraordinary turkey knowledge and calling experience, Billy Yargus heard his name called as the winner of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Grand National Calling Champion contest. One of the greatest accomplishments you can achieve as a caller, he had secured the Grand Champion title as he proudly held his trophy with a million dollar smile.
I had a chance to interview Billy recently, and what a treat it was. The incredible knowledge he possessed was one thing, but I doubt I’ve ever met a champion of anything that is more humble than Mr. Yargus himself.
Most often, what we know about someone is what we learn after they’ve achieved great success. So one of my favorite things to do when writing a piece on a particular person is to find out who they were long before the trophies started mounting and peek inside to what drove them to their success in their respective field.
So I first prodded at who Billy Yargus was as a young man learning to hunt turkeys.
Growing up on a small farm just south of Hannibal Missouri, Billy started hunting in August of 1977 and went on his first turkey hunt in April of 1978.
“My mentor was a man named Russell Roberson. He was a local man that loved to hunt and fish and enjoyed taking kids on the weekend,” Yargus said. “I was lucky enough to have been able to hunt with him for about 15 years before he passed away from a heart attack. The cool part was that our first hunt was a squirrel hunt in August of 1977 and our last hunt was a squirrel hunt in August of 1992. He died the next day.”
Like all of us ordinary hunters, a man who carries the title of one of the best turkey callers to everwalk the earth, started out hunting as a boy with a mentor. We talked for a while about role models and people we looked up to, and Billy went on to share, “I always looked up to Walter Parrott and wanted to be able to yelp the way he could yelp.”
Parrrott set the bar high with what he could do, and long before Billy started calling competitively, he recalled a memory that goes back to the years where Parrott dominated the stage.
“Trying to perfect my turkey calling all started back in the ’80s after seeing Walter Parrott for the first time at a turkey calling contest that was held in Hannibal, Missouri,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in competitive calling back then, and I was there with my mentor Russell Roberson looking at all the new turkey hunting gear. That’s when I heard Walter Parrott yelp for the first time. Walter had the best yelp I’d ever heard anybody do. I remember Russell coming sitting down next to me and asked me what I thought. I told Russell that I didn’t know who this guy was sitting in front of me earlier but, he sounded just like a real turkey. When I pointed out who I was so impressed with all Russell could say was, ‘Well boy, that’s Walter Parrott, he’s the Grand National Champion.'”
So with a dream in hand and a sound in his mind, a younger version of Billy Yargus would set out to accomplish his ultimate goal — a Grand National title that would put his name in the history books among a man such as Parrott. He just hadn’t realized it yet.
Billy recalled, “Although I started turkey hunting in the spring of 1978 I didn’t start competitive turkey calling until 1996 and I really only started competing to get better turkey calls. I had no idea it would turn into what it is for me today. God has truly blessed me.”
When two people have passion for the majestic turkey in common, it’s never hard to carry a conversation, as was the case with Billy and I. We chatted a while longer, and since he and I both have a family, we talked a little bit about children and young people hunting and the story he shared next really, and truly put a smile on my face.
“Every time I watch someone take their first turkey it is a great experience but, I’ll never forget when I took my youngest daughter on her first turkey hunt and she killed a nice gobbler,” he said. “We went on and I was able to take a nice gobbler myself. What made this hunt one that I will never forget is on the way home my daughter looked at me and said, ‘You know what dad?’ I said, ‘No, what?’ She said, ‘This is the best day of my whole life.’ That is what I’ll never forget.”
When I previously mentioned how humble Billy is, this is exactly what I was talking about. He was patiently taking the time to chat with and answer the questions of a young and not well known journalist like me. He honestly and openly discussed memories and moment from his childhood. He shared stories about him and his family, and was as pleasant as a person can possibly be.
As we continued our conversation, I asked Billy what some critical mistakes are of turkey hunters that are still green and his answer was fairly simple: “I would say the beginners biggest mistake would be calling to much, calling to loud, and looking for a turkey rather than watching for movement.”
When I asked about what he believes to be something all turkey hunters should know, Billy shared something that he was once told by another famous caller, Larry Shockey: “He told me you don’t have to be sitting against a tree to kill a turkey and since then I’ve killed several birds standing up leaning against tree.”
A story here stuck in my head as the 2018 spring season approached. With a hot gobbler fast approaching, I couldn’t seem to find a spot that would suit me. I was just on the crest of a ridge top and the approaching bird sounded as if he was skirting the edge and would be out of sight. So, I took Billy’s advice. I slipped out about 25 yards, placed a hen and jake decoy in the ground, stood beside a tree, and wouldn’t you know it, I killed a turkey while I was standing. That was a first for me, and all because Billy wasn’t afraid to share a few tips with me.
So I went on to ask Billy for more insight into the sport while I had his attention and he shared a little about the calling stage versus calling in the woods.
“When I’m on stage I’m trying to impress people. When I’m in the woods I’m trying to have a conversation with a real bird. There’s not much of a difference other than the birds are a little easier to impress most of the time. I think the foundation to turkey calling is hunters trying to sound as much like a real live turkey as possible,” he said.
The fact is, I could spend hours putting words on the page about Yargus, his kindness and his unfathomable turkey knowledge, but I don’t have to. The above displays all of the aforementioned. In closing, all I can say is, if you see Billy around at one of the many shows he attends, don’t be afraid to stop and take the time to say hello. I guarantee he’ll take the time to say hello back and greet you; he may even take a little time to talk some turkey with you.
John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.