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An Emotional Grand National

Shane Simpson

Shane Simpson

By: Shane Simpson – CallingAllTurkeys.com

The 2014 National Wild Turkey Federation’s Grand National Calling Championships are in the books and an emotional one it was. As a competitive caller, I was there to witness some great moments in our sport as well as the sadder times that life can throw at us.

Just days before the start of the GNCCs, the NWTF lost one of its finest members, Mike Halter. A native of Tennessee, Halter was a founding member of the Cherokee Chapter of the NWTF in Tennessee and served as the chapter’s vice president, president and secretary. Halter received the “Roger Latham Award” in 1998, the “Rare Breed Award” in 2009 and inducted into the Tennessee Turkey Hunters Hall of Fame in 2001. Over the last 25 years, Halter helped organize numerous contests and also worked as an emcee and judge on the state and national level. He served as the registration chairman for the NWTF’s Grand National Convention where he personally greeted and handed out registration packets to arriving callers.

Mike Halter

Mike Halter

I remember my first trip to the Grand Nationals several years ago and Mr. Halter was the one that handed me my first packet. Like he did with other callers, we spoke for a few moments and then Mr. Halter gave some me some encouraging words and wished me luck. I didn’t really know who this guy was at the time but that memory stuck with me. When news spread of his death, it was clear what a big impact Mr. Halter had on those in the competitive calling community and can be seen in the words of those that knew him best when word spread of his passing.

“Mike was the most dedicated, hardest working NWTF volunteer that I ever met. Kindell and I had dinner with Mike 2 weeks ago and we were looking forward to Nashville. Gonna miss ya my friend.” – Greg Keeton, Ohio

“I talked to Mike a lot on the phone. One heck of a man and no matter how busy he was, he was always ready to talk turkey. Love ya buddy.” – Jesse Martin, Kentucky

“A really good guy. Mike will be missed. He loved the calling contests and we should all take a minute to think about Mike next week when we do what we all like to do so much.” – Pat Strawser, Pennsylvania

“He was one of the special ones for sure. Always looked forward to seeing and talking with Mike at the registration booth prior to the convention, as well as throughout the weekend.” – Shane Hendershot, Ohio

“Truly very sad news! All of us who so much enjoy the world of the Wild Turkey have certainly lost one of our finest brothers. Hard working for the most worthwhile of causes with endearing friendliness to everyone he came in contact with.” – Denny Gulvas, Pennsylvania

“My dad enjoyed spending time with the callers! He would spend extra time listening and critiquing runs!! He would give extra time and attention to young callers to encourage them and support them! He knew that they were the legacy and future of calling. He loved the friction calls the best and liked a raspy sound! He would always tell me that every caller comes on the stage with a 20 and it’s up to them what happens from there!! If they miss a lick then they drop to a 19 and so on!! He would also say you don’t have to insult a man by giving him a 8 or 9, if I give him a 15 he is not winning that contest.” – Rachel Halter (Mike Halter’s Daughter)

On the first morning of this year’s GNCC, a lone chair was placed next to the judges booth with Mike Halter’s name on it. Placed in the chair was a score sheet and judges cap. Mr. Halter would be there in spirit as the NWTF began its 2014 Grand National Calling Championships.

The Owl Hooting Championships started off the 4 days of competition and when all was said and done, James Harrison of Missouri had claimed the top spot, followed by Sadler McGraw in second with Caleb Payton, Dan Dumas and Carl Drake rounding out the top 5 respectively.

In the Gobbling Division, I watched as the top 5 were announced and it came down to 2 of my good friends, Joe Slaton and Douglas Herman with Herman claiming the top spot. All while this was happening, Douglas’ daughter was in the audience anxiously watching and couldn’t wait to get on stage to congratulate her father. See the emotional moment right here.

The Team Challenge brought yet another memorable moment as James and Cody Harrison became the first father and son duo to win the team event at Grand Nationals. James says that the win together is one of his proudest moments. “I remember taking Cody to contests when he was just a baby. To see him grow up and come full circle to where he is today is just an amazing journey. Words can not describe the feelings that I had when we won. To look at him and see his excitement and happiness and that we did it together, that’s what counts. To win a National Championship together is just priceless and I will cherish that until the day I die.” Harrison later said.

James and Cody Harrison

James and Cody Harrison

On Championship Saturday, Jesse Martin became a two time winner of the Head 2 Head Championship and later in the morning, we watched as a new champion was crowned in the Friction Championship. Pat Strawser finally claimed the top spot after many years of trying. To cap off the day, the Senior Division Championships. The competition was tight but when it was all over, Shane Hendershot took 5th place, Scott Ellis claimed 4th, Billy Yargus in 3rd, Jesse Martin placed 2nd and Matt Van Cise became the Grand National, Senior Division Champion for the third year in a row. That was an incredible achievement in itself but what happened next was truly inspiring. As the crowds dispersed, some of the callers quietly gathered with Mike Halter’s daughter for a group picture and tribute to her father. Van Cise then did something very special and presented Rachel Halter with the 2014 Grand National Senior Division Championship trophy. Matt’s gesture is a testament of just what a huge impact Mike Halter made on the NWTF and contest callers.


While speaking with Rachel Halter about this article, she wanted me to share the following message:

I have tried to write my experience and feeling about the weekend of grand nationals several times!! I still do not have words for the amount of love and support everyone gave me but the honor, respect, and support that all of the callers gave to me and my family would have truly made my dad proud to be loved and to have known these honorable men and women!! The NWTF has proven to be more than an organization-it is an amazing family!! I have been attending the convention and/or calling contest with my dad since I was 9-10 years old! Now at the age of 32, I have grown up with several big brother figures and father figures that I might only get to see a couple times a year! So I guess my story would have to start with this- If you were ever around when my dad left me to judge one of the many contest he was judging over the weekend you would hear the following instructions before he left me “see that girl right there, she is mine! You take care of her like she was yours while I am gone!” And that is what my NWTF family has done! But it was taken a step further when the callers took the time to not only support me and encourage me during this time but each of their actions during this weekend honored my dad beyond words!!! But I would of never imagined that following Matt’s 5th win of the GNCC he would present me with his trophy!!! And to hear him yelp on stage after presenting me with the trophy, the yelp that my dad said no one had ever compared too, was simply priceless!!! My dad was never a champion caller but that one act showed that all of the callers considered him a champion in his own right!! I will never forgot that moment-it was a moment when a daughter feels the powerful impact that her father has made in the world!! I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to you all! You have made this difficult time more bearable! Thank you for the stories, the laughter, and mostly the love you have shared with me!! I cannot wait to continue on my dad’s legacy of running great and fair contest! Mostly because I will be getting to see my family, sharing stories remembering my dad, and making new memories with you all!!

With all my love and respect, Rachel Halter

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