CORSICA — With only a few minutes of refreshing his skills, Shawn Kotchey took first place in the elk calling contest at the Elk Expo in Elk County recently.
For any who know him, that is not the impossible task it seems. Kotchey has a ear for tones and has been making game calls for several years. He first learned how to do game calls when he was 8 years old. His uncle, who had gotten into game call contests via his best friend Tim, “Uncle Timmy” to Kotchey, took the time to show him how to use a mouth piece game call for turkey. The 8-year-old Kotchey would then call his uncle almost daily to demonstrate a call and ask, “How does this sound.”
He said his uncle had a lot of patience with him as a young boy learning to do game calls. “He was always like, ‘hey, you’re doing a good job’ not like some people who would probably get annoyed that their nephew was calling every day. In describing his uncle, Kotchey said he was very positive, always, ‘hey, this is a good thing.’ “
Kotchey is co-owner of Millcreek Valley Game Calls with his mother. His parents have always been supportive of everything he has done and so after working for other game call companies when he decided to branch out on his own, she stepped up to handle the financial backing, while he hand makes the game calls, visits the stores and does the packaging.
“I grew up in a very good time for turkeys – the (turkey) population just exploded in the early 1990s,” Kotchey said, adding that “we went around countless times just scouting, calling up turkeys and learning how to do it.”
Those times were “some of the best memories,” he said.
“My dad taught me deer hunting but my uncle was the one who really got me into the turkey stuff,” he said.
Kotchey describes himself simply as “I’m the turkey guy.”
He says he has a “some kind of fascination with their language” and every part of turkeys.
His game call business officially began in 2010. Kotchey however took a long journey from that 8-year-old boy to the humble man he is today who wants to offer hunters a good looking, quality handmade game call that will last them a lifetime.
Thiel Lutheran College sought him out for its wrestling team but he’d only attend for a year before entering the U.S. Marines. After his tour of duty he was in a Military Police Unit Reserves even though he had not been military police during his active duty. The training he learn there along with his training as a Marine, led him to the career of police officer.
He worked as a police officer from 1998 until 2005 in Butler, Pittsburgh, but mostly in New Bethlehem in Clarion County. He then became a school resource officer in Cranberry, Venango County. He went to SRO school for two weeks at NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) in Illiniois. He said he was the “first one pretty much in the area that went to the school and got certified. There were (retired) cops in the school but they really didn’t know what to do.”
“I believe it was my calling,” Kotchey says of being an SRO, but added that if you “want to have a family, (you) can’t live off $14 an hour.” He now makes more as a guard at a maximum security prison – SCI Forest – in Marienville, where he began working in 2005.
In 2000 Kotchey was diagnosed with PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – from his time in the military and as a police officer. A neighbor who was a Vietnam veteran was the spark to start his game call business by telling him he needed to pour his energy into something and asked what he liked to do. Kotchey noted he always liked woodshop in school but it had been a long time ago. Larsen taught him woodworking which Kotchey combined with something he loved – turkey hunting – and began to make turkey calls.
Today Kotchey is a certified instructor for NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation) and a certified hunter safety instructor with the Pa. Game Commission – with a speciality is turkey hunting. He has traveled the country giving seminars on turkey hunting, is a guide for turkey hunting trips in Colorado and has even written articles about turkey hunting. He has placed in more than 150 calling contests throughout the United States in elk, turkey and owl calls. Kotchey has also won more than 60 awards nationwide for the game calls he makes. Those awards are based on the look of the game call and the sound it makes.
It’s cost him a fortune over the years to figure out how to make a game call so that it gives the sound he’s looking for and does so consistently.
He said his friend David Tilburg once noted that while essentially they were making animal calls, they were also kind of making musical instruments. Kotchey says once he started thinking about animal call design in that light, he began to research and get into tone woods and looking at what Gibson guitars are made of.
“I started looking at it in a different perspective. He sort of told me to step back and look at it and he was right,” Kotchey said.
He also noted that another good friend, Denny Gulvas from the DuBois area, is one of the leading researchers for the recordings of the wild turkey. “Every once in a while he’ll play one over the phone for me,” Kotchey said. Such recordings helps Kotchey to determine if he’s getting close to the sound he wants with a turkey call, adding that he can always count on Gulvas to give him an honest opinion. He also noted that when he’s making a deer call, he calls the deer experts.
Kotchey also enjoys going to the Elk Expo. He said this year’s event had a lot of people but he wished the weather would have cooperated a little more.
Last year he sold out of the grunt calls at the Elk Expo and almost did this year.
Kotchey says he loves the Elk Expo and meeting the people there. During the slow times sitting at the booth, he noted, they’d call people to the booth by picking up the elk bugler call and doing a call on it. People, he said, would come to the booth and ask what had made the sound.
It wasn’t until he was at the expo this year, displaying his game calls, that he learned there was an elk calling contest this year. “I said I really haven’t practiced you know. (“Uncle”) Timmy was the world champion elk caller for Quaker Boy in 1984 or 85.” He and Kotchey have a natural ear for tones and so Kotchey called Timmy (his uncle’s best friend) who gives him a 15-minute refresher course over the phone on how to do an elk call. Kotchey says he practiced a little in the booth before the contest.
“All the contestants are there and they draw your number. The judges turn their backs to the contestants to keep it fair,” Kotchey says, describing the event. Each contestant took their turn making a call. Then it was time to announce the top three callers.
The judges “get to third place and I’m like whew –OK I didn’t get third. Well did I place now? Then they go to second and no and then first place –Shawn Kotchey and I’m like ‘Holy crap. OK, awesome!’”
A friend and colleague who was at the expo told him, “’You can add it to the resume. You ought to add that to your line (of products);’ “ Kotchey said. “I did make some elk calls for the show.”
Kotchey then decided to put the elk game calls on his website. “We’re a game call company, I’m making elk calls.”
It has only been a few weeks, but the added product has gone over well. He has already gotten some orders and several inquiries on elk game calls.
Kotchey offers four different types of game calls –turkey, deer, elk and predator – on his website. He says he tries to come out with something new each year and sometimes there are three to four new calls in a year.
In 2019 he’ll be unveiling the Shady Lady turkey call. He says the “shady” part is the hunters using the box call because they are calling that gobbler in and he has no idea that they’re marching him to his death.
Kotchey noted that he’s learned its better to have people wait for the anticipation than to throw something out that isn’t as good as it could be.
He follows Gulvas’ advice to “never be satisfied but always continue to work for perfection even though you’ll never get there –just never be satisfied.”
He loves to invent new things and keeps a pen and paper by his bed to write down any ideas he may awake with. He also gets ideas via feedback from clients and emails from customers.
“I love that kind of stuff. It’s a lot of stuff I don’t think about,” he said.
The Elk Expo was not the only award for Kotchey that weekend. There was a Mississippi State From Osceola contest to which he sent three calls. One of them took third place out of 50 pot calls from across the country.
When he’s asked how he knows if he’s doing pretty well in the industry, Kotchey says, “Well, if I can consistently stay in the top three of either a call contest or a call making contest I would have to say we’re doing something pretty good. That we know what we’re doing.”
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To learn more about the game calls Kotchey makes, call (814)-379-9647 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.