Living the dream: Ham is a calling champion and call designer at Primos Hunting

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023

EAST LINCOLN  — Southwest Mississippi is home to the 2023 National Wild Turkey Federation Grand Nationals Gobbling Champion Travis Ham. He was a guest at the Lincoln and Lawrence County Southern Mississippi Longbeards banquet Tuesday night. 

Lincoln County is home to a facility which produces calls and other outdoor gear for Primos Hunting which has helped fulfill Ham’s lifelong dream. 

Ham is a native of Magee. He got his start in calling competitions through the Family Wildlife Supper event held by Clear Branch Baptist Church in 2017 and said a judge listening told him he had the talent to compete. His first Grand National was in 2018 and he has qualified and competed for the event each year since then. In 2021, there was not a championship event due to COVID. 

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Ham won the gobbling division championship by imitating a Mississippi Eastern Wild Turkey at the 2023 NWTF Convention held in Nashville last February. It was a big honor and one he had worked towards since finishing third runner up in 2022. 

“Finishing third runner up gave me the drive. I knew what I needed to do to get better. I have studied more turkeys and listened to different gobbles,” Ham said. “Each species has a different gobble. I gobble like the Mississippi bird. I study their scenario and how long they gobbled. Does the gobble have a rattle to it, is it deep. I then try to sound like them. I put together the scenario like how it would be in the woods. From all my experience throughout the years of listening to them against a tree gave me a good idea on how to get the sound right. I try to sound like a turkey, not a turkey caller.” 

In the Grand National Competition, callers moved around a stage gobbling for the ears of judges hidden underneath a blind. The judges are unable to see competitors and are trying to place themselves in a hunting situation as callers perform their scenarios. 

Ham said scenarios are made up by the hunters. One of the challenges is taking the hunting scenario of a gobbler in the woods which might last for 10 minutes and condensing it down to one minute. As an example, he imagines a turkey shock gobbling at a crow or barred owl on the limb or perhaps the tree yelps of a wild turkey hen. He then builds a scenario of the bird coming in. 

A tom doubles or triple gobbles when they get hot and Ham replicates it on stage in response to a hen’s cutting. After the bird is fired up, Ham might walk off the stage gobbling so it sounds like the bird is fading away. 

One of the things he did to make the scenario more realistic for the judges was by spitting and drumming a few times. Toms spit and drum as a vocalization heard in close proximity. If you can hear a deep and faint “chhhkkk woouump” of a gobbler it means he is within at least 100 yards if not closer. 

“By spitting and drumming in the scenario it brings more realism. It is what he does when he is in full strut,” Ham said. “That is what the judges are listening for. They are listening for a real gobbler. They want to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the woods and you are painting a picture of a turkey in front of them. Spitting and drumming makes it sound more realistic.” 

A dream job

He said everyone dreams of winning a grand national calling championship but he is living his dream. At the age of eight, Ham killed his first turkey with a 20-gauge shotgun and was from then on addicted to chasing spring thunder. 

In second grade, he would watch videos his family had on VHS tape of Primos Calls, now Primos Hunting. His boyhood dream was to one day work for Primos but did not think it would be his job to work for Primos and hunt. 

He said he told his friends he would one day be a part of Primos and had a mindset he would make the hunting industry. By high school, his parents told him the chances were slim. Ham went to college and welding school where he started work as a welder. 

In 2015, his welding career ended abruptly due to him having testicular cancer and was out of work for a few months. It was a rough few months. 

“The doctor told me I had to exercise with the chemotherapy. Luckily, it was turkey season. I turkey hunted every single day. It is what kept me going,” Ham said. “Turkey hunting saved my life. I love turkey hunting so much because of that. If it was not for it I don’t know what would have happened. Turkey hunting kept me alive.” 

By May 2015, he was cancer free but his doctors told him he could not continue as a welder as the chemicals could cause cancer to come back. His friend worked at the Primos Warehouse in Brookhaven and he told Ham the company would be a good fit. 

“I thought he was pulling my leg,” Ham said. His friend put in a good word to his boss. Ham got a phone call a few days after his job interview and was hired in June of 2015. 

At first, he worked on the production line building calls and other products before he became a sprayer for their products. Competitive calling in 2018 earned him a promotion to call designer with the company. Studying turkeys and calling competitively help him build better turkey calls. 

“Dreaming as a Kid I never would have figured I would get this. Everyone dreams about something,” Ham said. “It was a humbling experience. I was shocked and could not believe I was working for Primos. I have been here ever since. Anyone who has big dreams knows they can come true if you set your mind to it.I love my job but it is more than a job.”

Now he designs calls and if the people above him in the company approve the design they make the calls and sell the calls. Primos, Real South Hunting and Mossy Oak are sponsors for his championship calling. 

Ham has one piece of advice for hunters before they hit the woods on March 15. 

“Don’t be a turkey caller. Be the turkey when you are out in the woods,” Ham said.