Legend has it that someone threw a wild turkey in Dick Kirby’s crib when he was a baby. This might explain his intense passion for pursuing these cherished game birds for the past 35 years. Kirby’s lust for chasing wild turkeys has driven him to heights in the sport that will never be rivaled. No one has harvested as many wild turkey Grand Slams as Kirby. He recorded his first in 1983, and during the spring of 2007 he hit another milestone, completing a record 25 straight years of accomplishing at least one Grand Slam per year, and on many years double, triple and even quad Slams. He has racked up six Royal Slams and seven World Slams in the process. Kirby now holds an amazing 51-lifetime wild turkey Grand Slams. Can you say driven?
I had a terrific opportunity to hunt with Kirby this past spring and was determined to see what made this gobbler guru tick. What drives a guy to relentlessly pursue a bird all over North America as if he were Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner?
Catching up with Kirby in the spring is akin to trying to call up a gobbler in Alaska. After attempting to hook up with him in each of the six states he’d been hunting during the spring of 2007 (down from his usual 12), I finally pinned him down at his final destination, his home state of New York. We weren’t 10 minutes into our first conversation when he said, “I don’t want this article to be a rah-rah Dick Kirby piece.” He was quick to point out the fact his slams weren’t individual achievements. “My Grand Slams weren’t personal accomplishments, they were feats many people were involved in and a goal I never could have achieved without the help of turkey hunting friends. Achieving these objectives is the culmination of the efforts of all those people’s willingness to share their turkey hunting ground and gobbling birds.”
I planned on abiding by his humble request, but as I sat down to write this I couldn’t help myself. His amazing accomplishments and his drive to complete them are the story! (Sorry, Dick.)
From Barber To World Champion
Half a hundred Grand Slams is only a small portion of the Kirby story. He took to the turkey woods in 1970 and was immediately hooked when he harvested a bird on his very first hunt. After sampling the limited number of turkey calls on the market at that time, he decided to try his hand at making a better one. By 1972 Kirby was making turkey calls for himself and his customers at his barbershop in Orchard Park, New York. Turkey hunting in New York was in its infancy, and sportsmen in the North were just starting to realize the enjoyment and challenge of hunting these wily birds. Word soon got out about the barber from Orchard Park and Kirby’s handmade split-reed diaphragm calls. The demand for his calls grew along with the turkey populations in the North, and in 1976 Kirby took a leap from the barbershop to the call manufacturing business in which he later incorporated into Quaker Boy Game Calls Company in 1981. At about the same time, the world of competition turkey calling was just starting to flourish. To prove the quality of his calls, Kirby hit the contest calling circuit with a vengeance. With wife, Bev, and young family in tow, he traveled every weekend to compete in any calling contest he could find. His competitive nature and his great new raspy style diaphragm took the calling circuit by storm. At that time, the national turkey calling contest world was made up of judges and callers primarily from the South, and a Yankee from New York State didn’t have an easy road of it. Still, with his great calls and his drive to win, Kirby became a world-class contest caller.
Kirby has won more than 100 game calling events, including turkey calling’s U.S. Open, Masters Invitational, U.S. Open Champion of Champions, Grand Nationals (twice) and Grand Nationals Champion of Champions (twice). But Kirby didn’t limit his game calling to wild turkeys, as evidenced by his World Goose Calling Championship, World Moose Calling Championship and World’s All-Around Calling Championship, which includes calling seven species: ducks, geese, turkeys, owls, deer, elk and predators. These credentials place Kirby as one of the top contest game callers of our time. While compiling these amazing wins, he was simultaneously building Quaker Boy Game Calls into one of the leading call manufactures in the country.
Gobbler Quest 2007
Kirby had blazed though the spring of 2007 harvesting 15 longbeards in six states (hunting several Indian reservations in the West for extra tags), then he hit New York. Here, he came to a screeching halt, hunting the first 3 weeks of the season with nothing but jakes called into gun range. By the time we met for our hunt, it was the third week in May and he’d yet to score—New York’s turkey hunting was getting tougher by the day. Foliage was out in full bloom and the black flies and mosquitoes were holding conventions in every wood block we entered. Kirby said, “New York is where I end up each spring’s hunting schedule. It’s one of the toughest states in the country to harvest a longbeard.” Dick noted that the heavy hunting pressure in New York is one of the biggest obstacles, “There are plenty of birds here, but they get educated quick.”
This was definitely the case on our hunt. Evidence of turkey hunters was common in the backcountry of New York’s Southern Tier as we trolled the rolling hills trying to strike a gobble. Kirby is an aggressive turkey hunter, covering as much ground as possible in attempting to find a hot bird. I quickly learned that he’s still going strong at 65 years of age; I had all I could do to keep up with him in the turkey woods. If he strikes a hot gobbler it’ll take hell and high water to keep him from cutting ground to work that bird. I could only imagine what hunting with him early in his career would have been like. At this point in the spring, he’d been hunting for the better part of 3 months without much of break between trips, but he was as excited as a kid to get in the woods on each morning of our hunt.
During our many lulls in the action, I badgered Kirby with questions on strategies, calling techniques and past experiences. When I asked him about the special turkeys he has taken in his past, Kirby would speak of each bird with admiration, remembering every detail of the encounter. His attention to detail is a clear characteristic of the man, especially in his calling. Kirby travels with at least a half-dozen of his handcrafted, custom, curved boat paddle box calls. The evening before each hunt, he “runs” each call until he finally settles on the one to carry into the field. He hears distinct tones in each box that only his 35 years of call-making allow him to distinguish. He’ll then tune three or four of his handmade diaphragms, much like a musician tuning up for a concert.
Determination is another of Kirby’s strong qualities. We hunted hard together in two totally different sections of New York State without pulling the trigger. These late-season gobblers were tough, even for the terminator. Kirby seemed to take it in stride, knowing that it was just a matter of time until he filled his tag.
After 6 days of zero longbeards, my schedule called for me to get back to reality, and I seriously doubted that even the master could harvest a bird in the Empire State in the summer-like conditions. Apparently, I’d forgotten with whom I was dealing, because on May 29, the second to last day of New York’s turkey season, my phone rang and there was Kirby giving me the blow-by-blow on the longbeard he’d just whacked near his home in Orchard Park. Much like a man discussing a religious experience, Kirby explained that he’d located the bird late in the morning and how it came to him on a string, gobbling and strutting each step of the way. You’d think at this point he would have said, “I’m glad that’s finally over, now I can relax for a few months.” Instead he added, “I’m going after his big brother tomorrow.”
Getting In Kirby’s Head
What makes Dick Kirby hound these birds like they owe him money? After spending 6 days hunting and hours on the phone with the man, it’s still hard to say. His competitive nature is a potent ingredient, determination is another strong suit, but if you boil it all down, what I believe drives him most is the simple fact that he loves to hunt the wild turkey. Like an old hound that puts his nose in a hot track, every instinct in his body commands him to pursue it. The same holds true for Kirby: when he hears a turkey gobble, he has to pursue it.
Now as an elder statesman of the sport he loves, I asked Kirby if he’ll slow down now that he’s achieved his momentous 25th straight Grand Slam. He just laughed and said, “Not as long as the body is willing,” and I believe him. I see no end in sight for Wile E. Coyote. He’ll continue to chase his arch nemesis, the wild turkey, across North America as long as there is a season open somewhere.
There are three recognized slams in turkey hunting: Grand, Royal and World. The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has compiled a list of people who have completed each slam. The NWTF records database accumulates records on all wild turkeys currently or previously registered to determine who has achieved Grand, Royal or World Slams. The completion of a slam doesn’t require the kills to take place in a single calendar year.
*Grand Slam subspecies: Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Osceola (Florida) birds.
*Royal Slam subspecies: Four subspecies listed above in addition to the Gould’s bird.
*World Slam subspecies: Five subspecies listed above in addition to the Ocellated wild turkey.-T. R. Hendrick
Owning A Kirby Classic
When not chasing turkeys across the country or working at Quaker Boy with his son, Chris, who now runs the company, Dick Kirby spends much of his time handcrafting custom collectible box calls in the shop at his home. These curved, boat paddle box calls are beautiful works of art with an authentic turkey sound to match. Kirby is now in the process of creating a limited-edition box call commemorating his 25th straight Grand Slam. To get your name on a waiting list for this exclusive call, e-mail Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.