For Don Morshead, competing against the best turkey callers in the world was the thrill of a lifetime.
On Feb. 15 the Platteville man had an opportunity to live a dream nearly two decades old.
Morshead, 54, was one of 55 callers that qualified to compete in the Senior Division of National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Championships Calling Contest at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Competing against many of his idols, the very same men he has studied on outdoor channels and DVDs, Morshead more than held his own.
In Friday’s Senior Division preliminary round, competing from a wheelchair, he scored 301 points out of a possible 400 and finished “in the middle of the pack.”
Morshead couldn’t remember his exact finish but guessed it was somewhere “around 25th or 26th.”
The top 12, as well as last year’s champion and the reigning world champion, qualified for Saturday’s finals.
Matt Van Cise, the 2012 NWTF Senior champion, of Brookville, Pa., defended his championship outscoring Jesse Martin of Mount Sterling, Ky. 466–465 in the finals. J.R. Lanham of Bunker, Mo., finished third (461).
“It was really neat, probably the best time of my life,” said Morshead of competing at nationals. “They had this great big stage with my name on a big screen with all these people watching out in the audience. They even had a backstage area that was only for the competitors. It really felt like the big time.
“I got to meet all the best callers in the world, all the guys I watch on TV every week. And they were all great guys. They all wanted to help me out.”
Morshead was accompanied at nationals by his wife Betty.
“She is great,” said Morshead. “I couldn’t do any of these competitions without her. She drives me and allows me to do something I love.”
Morshead, who graduated from Potosi High School, was forced to compete in the wheelchair after a fall down steps in late November at his Platteville home resulted in cracked heal and a hematoma around the ankle in his left leg — his only leg.
Morshead no longer has his right leg, though he does use a prosthetic leg and when he walks its barely noticeable. But after the fall he couldn’t walk until early February, a week before Grand Nationals.
Morshead’s leg was amputated 4½ years ago due to complications from diabetes — a disease he has lived with since age 9.
He can no longer work due to the medical complications triggered by the debilitating disease. He has also had two kidney replacements and briefly contracted lymphoma from the anti-rejection drugs he was required to take after one of the replacement surgeries. The lymphoma is now in remission.
Through it all Morshead has kept a sunny outlook, and most of all, his intense passion for turkey calling. Perhaps because of the wheelchair, or because he was a first-year national qualifier, or maybe because he was the only caller competing without a sponsor, Morshead became a pseudo-celebrity of sorts.
“People I didn’t know from Adam started coming up to me saying, ‘You’re Don Morshead, right? You were really good. Nice calling. Keep up the good work,’” Morshead said. “I think I had about 50 people come up to me and say something.”
Without the ability to work Morshead takes advantage of his free time practicing his calls two to three hours a day, even when he was confined to his bed.
Morshead qualified for the Grand National Championships with a first-place finish at last March’s Wisconsin Turkey Calling State Championships in Kenosha.
It had been his goal to qualify for nationals since he began competing in sanctioned contests in 1997.
Now the bar has been raised.
“Now that I made it to nationals I want to make the finals,” said Morshead. “That’s my goal for the future, to make the finals.”
Morshead will look to qualify for the 2014 NWTF Grand Nationals this weekend at the 2013 Wisconsin State Championships, which will once again be held in Kenosha.