Wednesday, April 30, 2003
She started at age 5 and has won the Ohio women's state championship twice.
ATLANTIC, Pa. (AP) -- You could say Kirstin Hays' talent is for the birds.
She wouldn't mind. The 8-year-old is gobbling up awards as an elite turkey caller. She began calling at age 5 and has won, among other competitions, the Ohio women's state championship the past two years.
"Personally I've never seen anybody with that kind of ability," said Matt Van Cise, of Grand Valley, the 2000 World Turkey Calling champion. "In my opinion, there's probably only three or four kids in the nation with that kind of ability, and she's the only girl."
Kirstin grew curious watching her parents, Shawn and Jennifer Hays, prepare for hunting with a diaphragm call -- a small, arch-shaped device that sits on the roof of the mouth.
Kirstin asked if she could try.
"We were a little hesitant because we were afraid of her choking," Shawn Hays said. They relented and were amazed by her ability.
"She was making noises that some 30-year-old men still can't make," he said.
The real test
After some practice, he took her into the woods, where she called in a flock of 30.
"I was excited," Kirstin said of the birds' approach. "I was a little nervous because I couldn't move a lot."
Dad caught it all on videotape.
"She's got freak talent," he said.
Kirstin, who lives in the small town of Atlantic, about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh, practiced various calls and soon was going to seminars and calling competitions. Her first win was at the Erie Outdoor Sport and Travel Expo's 9-and-under division.
The father-daughter team has earned a sponsorship from a call manufacturer and they perform demonstrations at banquets.
"I like it. You get to go to a lot of contests in different states," Kirstin said.
"She's a talented and remarkable young lady," said Rod Koivisto, president of the Northwest Thundering Toms Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. "She's a typical 8-year-old girl. She's somewhat shy, but when she puts that call in her mouth, she's unbelievable."
Her biggest accomplishment was finishing eighth in the Junior National Calling Championships this year in Nashville, Tenn.
Now, she's practicing with Van Cise.
"Realistically, she's got a chance to do well in all categories, not just juniors or women's," he said.
Shawn and Jennifer Hays say some of their daughter's award money is being saved for her education. The rest, Kirstin can spend as she wishes.
One wish is for a pony.
She satisfied another wish recently when her dad took her to Missouri, where 8-year-olds can hunt when accompanied by a parent.
She shot a 251/2 pound turkey that she called in herself.