By Frank Haertlein and Danny Batastini
With the knowledge gained from 44 years of combined varmint calling and predator hunting experience the authors provide an insight into the vague beginnings of a sport that has it's start in states like Texas, California and Arizona.
Although predator hunting has been around in some form or another since the earliest beginnings of man, modern day varmint calling had a vague beginning in states like Texas, Arizona and California. Varmint calling has been a popular activity in the southwest for almost 50 years and in recent years, has become popular across the United States I think in part to the ever expanding range of the coyote. Some old-timers credit the father of Murray and Winston Burnham for getting it started. No one really knows for sure but what is known is that it all started in Texas in the 40's. By the early 50's it had begun to gain a following in many of the western states. Individual sportsmen and sportsman's clubs soon began to recognize the challenge of varmint calling. It was only natural that it's popularity would spread.
In February 1957, the first "World Varmint Calling Championship" was held in Chandler Arizona. Held out as an event open nationwide, it was composed mainly of varmint hunters from Arizona, Texas, California and a few other states. That calling contest was won by a California caller named Jim Dougherty with F.B. (Rusty) Farrel from Waco, Texas taking second and another Californian, Doug Kittredge taking third. As is generally recognized, it was after that contest that the sport of varmint calling really took off. Varmint hunting became popular enough that you soon found many hunters organizing together and forming varmint calling or predator hunting clubs and chapters. We have heard of the existence of organized groups in Texas, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California and, we're sure, a bunch more we haven't heard about yet. Beginning sometime in the mid to late 50's in the state where varmint calling got it's start, the first group to organize was the "Texas Wild Animal Callers". Shortly thereafter the "Arizona Varmint Callers" became organized and in 1959, California started it's first varmint hunting club known as the "California Varmint Callers". To my knowledge, the only club still going strong out of these
three is the California Varmint Callers. If any reader has information otherwise they are invited to respond and set the record straight. The California Varmint Callers changed it's name to the California State Varmint Callers because of a need to officially affirm their nonprofit status. Recently, there was a division within the California State Varmint Callers organization. Arising from this division is the original California Varmint Callers and thus is know by that title. The California Varmint Callers has remained essentially unchanged since it's founding in 1959. In recent years another group in Arizona has formed into the Arizona Predator Callers. All of what we know about this organization is that they are an outstanding group of hunters. Even a few California Varmint Calling members have given their support to this group by becoming members.
The California Varmint Callers became an accredited sportsman's organization that worked closely with state and federal wildlife management departments in providing data on predatory animal and other varmint populations. By hunting in areas where livestock depredations were high, varmint hunters were providing a much needed service to farmers, ranchers and others.
Good varmint callers are highly efficient when it comes to control of animal depredation. A few, good varmint hunting teams in an area of high livestock depredation can provide much needed relief. By working together, varmint hunters lobbied against nondiscriminatory (i.e. poison) predator control methods as too many incidental kills of animals were occurring (eagles, owls, hawks, fox, badgers, ferrets, bobcats, etc.). The philosophy is now as it was then that varmint hunters should be given the same rights as other hunters when it comes to management and control of the animals they hunt. Varmint callers played a large part in the elimination and/or restrictions placed on the use of poisons in animal population control. It was not uncommon to have researchers from a university come to the hunts in order to develop information for their animal studies.
With the growth and popularity of the varmint calling contests, varmint hunters from the Arizona and California clubs soon organized their big yearly get together. In the words of Jim Dougherty;
|"it was the calling contests that cemented the foundations of the sport and brought it to center stage within the hunting fraternity. These gatherings, held in many states under various banners, drew large crowds. There was the annual world event, a national championship, various state contests and a multitude of combination calling events wherein contestants battled in a variety of game calling categories that resulted in individual division winners as well as the high overall calling champ. In this environment, numerous multitalented outdoorsman were drawn either to enter or just listen and exchange views while enjoying the camaraderie that existed".|
The California and Arizona sponsored World Varmint Calling Championships and the National Varmint Calling Championships were the first of their kind.
The calling contests were a means to test the abilities of various individuals and teams in their calling skill but the calling contests eventually progressed to the point where individuals and groups would schedule various hunts in order to put these skills to the test. At the peak of the Arizona and California hunts, as many as two or three hundred "teams" consisting of two people per team would converge near the Colorado river for a weekend of varmint hunting.
The organizer's rational was that "since these people were out hunting anyway, we may as well organize them and share our experiences". All varmint hunters wishing to enter the contest were required to pay a registration fee. The money was used for awarding token prizes for various categories of hunting prowess. Federal and state representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Services would be on hand to educate hunters on any newly closed areas and other important information. Even the California Highway Patrol would be on hand to brief hunters on any issues of concern to them. Event organizers such as George Allison from California and Jack Naperella from Arizona would take the podium and provide instructions to the hunters. Extreme emphasis would be placed on the rules and conduct requirements of the hunters. After a final role call to check for eager beavers who may have slipped away during the briefing, the bell was sounded and the hunt began.
Out of these events came legends like Rusty Ferrel and Bowen Weems of Texas; Doug Kittredge and Jim Dougherty of California and the incomparable Sam Dudley of Arizona. Some became commercially involved in making varmint calls. Among the call manufacturers were the Burnham brothers - Murray and Winston; Wayne
Weems of Weems Wild Calls fame; Jack Cain of Circe game calls and Johnny Stewart who pioneered electronic game callers. But recognized as the foremost among them was the late Sam Dudley. To some, he was "the finest varmint hunter ever to put a call lanyard around his neck and slip a round up the spout of his .243". The calling contests not only allowed the contestants to get together and swap old hunting stories around the campfire but also allowed the game call manufactures to perfect their call designs. These historic and original contests were the foundation of modern day varmint and predator calling.The knowledge, skills, techniques and equipment thus developed are responsible for the present day form of varmint hunting. They have made the sport understandable and thus available to future varmint and predator hunters.
The Varmint Calling Championships were conducted within a limited time frame and a clearly defined set of rules. They were very similar to the many fishing derbies and contests of today. Beginning Saturday at noon and after completion of the formalities, all teams would be ready and waiting. At the sound of the bell, each team would fan out to their favorite spots. The rush of varmint hunters was reminiscent of the start of a demolition derby. In getting to their favorite spots, some teams would cover hundreds of miles during the hunt. California, Nevada, Arizona, Mexico, Utah or any other place that could be made within the allotted time frame was fair game. All teams wishing to have their animals scored would have to be at "check-in" held during Sunday afternoon of the hunt weekend. The hunts eventually progressed to who could out-do whom within the California and Arizona organizations. The Arizona based teams were considered the best but, eventually, it was the California based teams that tended to dominate. Some individual teams from Arizona were always considered the best. When the incomparable Sam Dudley showed up, many teams would resign themselves to second place. Varmint callers were - and are - a special breed. Again, the words of Jim Dougherty sum it up best.
|Those who choose the sport are, in most cases, the type of individual sportsman to whom a different approach has an allure. Varmint callers are a special breed reveling in the wide open elbow room kind of places. They are adventurers, in a sense, who enjoy hunting some of our smartest animals in a one-on-one atmosphere where anything can happen and usually does".|
Having hunted virtually the entire west, we have seen the back country as few people will ever see it. The same can be said for virtually any varmint or predator caller. The seemingly endless, unspoiled tracks of land, the hidden canyons and valleys, the rugged Rocky Mountains stretching as far as the eye can see, the abundance of wild animals, the clean air, the promise of a new day filled with excitement and adventure are memories we will always treasure. But today, there are many people who want to deny you all that.
In time, with the "sudden, overnight awareness of our deteriorating ecology" and the critical comments of "environmentalists" the get together eventually ended. These so-called "environmentalists" suddenly and instantly knew everything there was to know about nature. Never mind that the range of the coyote has expanded into regions where it was never known to have existed before or that human population growth has done more to harm animal populations than any group of hunters or sportsmen would or could if they wanted to. Never mind that there is an increasing call for the use of poisons to control predatory and other animal populations.
Many times we have heard the hunter's lament about how many of their favorite areas are now closed because of all the houses. In the relatively short time that we have been hunting, we have seen many of our favorite areas ( and we mean a lot of areas! ) closed to hunting because of the ever increasing number of homes and industrial developments. The same people that built these homes then come around and tell us that our hunting is hurting animal populations. But, please, never mind that their building of homes has caused a permanent reduction of animal habitat. The building of homes and industrial developments does permanent harm to animal populations. Hunting is a temporary condition of a renewable resource. If these anti-hunting environmentalists truly believed in their stand then they would give up their worldly possessions ( including their cars and gasoline, their wooden furniture, their homes and their bank accounts) and live as the beasts. Fat chance of that happening!