The Ricky Joe Bishop Story

Turkey Calling Champ and Inventor... How a Local Hunter Became a Full-Time Outdoorsman

Daryl Kirby | April 2, 2002

There had to be a grin under Ricky Joe Bishop’s camo face mask. The big gobbler was committed, and Ricky’s calling was sounding sweet.

The bird was sounding off each time the slate call put out those tantalizing clucks, yelps and purrs. This old bird was convinced a sultry hen was calling his name.

Ricky has hunted turkeys all over the world, won the biggest of the major calling contests, and shared the turkey woods with some famous names. But this hunt and this bird were special. Special because of the call that was bringing the gobbler in.

For the first time under hunting conditions, Ricky was trying a Pump-Action Friction, a new call he dreamed up, developed and perfected.

Many turkey hunters know the name Ricky Joe Bishop. He’s won the NWTF Grand National calling championship twice. He’s won the Realtree Grand America, four Georgia State Championships, and countless smaller contests.

What many people don’t know about Ricky is that he has dreamed up some of the best new products to hit the woods in the past five years, and he has parlayed his inventive mind into a full-time career in the hunting industry.

Ricky was born and still lives in the Warm Springs area of southern Meriwether County. Like most kids who got interested in the outdoors, Ricky’s first experiences were hunting small game, especially rabbits.

“There weren’t many turkeys in the late 70s when I first started thinking about hunting,” Ricky said. “There were a few guys hunting them, but not many.

“One memory I have is of this old gentleman, Mr. Cotton, who was high up with Game & Fish then. When I went to church one morning he showed me how to make a pill-bottle turkey call with stretched rubber over the end. That was the first turkey call I made. I was 12 or 13.”

Ricky went on his first turkey hunt when he 14 years old.

“My good friend Mike Middlebrooks, the guy I grew up hunting with, had a Yamaha 100 motorcycle. There were four of us on that thing. I don’t think we saw or heard anything, but that was the first turkey hunt.”

The turkey population was expanding through the rolling ridges of the western Piedmont where Ricky lived and hunted, but deer hunting was the big thing as Ricky progressed through his years at Manchester High School.

Ricky with a 1995 Meriwether County gobbler after an opening-morning hunt with GON.

“Turkey hunting was something we got into my senior year in high school. The state population was only about 200,000 birds, but Talbot County was open to turkey hunting, and we were just a few miles from the Talbot line.

“I killed my first bird in 1980,” Ricky said. “I was working in a print shop on third shift. I had stayed up all night, and then met up with my buddy Mike to go hunting. I was using an old trough-style call — an old Ben Lee that had a strip of slate down the middle. Back in those days all you used was a box call or a friction call.

“I turkey hunted real hard for the next four or five years before I got to where I could go out and kill a bird pretty consistently.”

By the late 1980s, Ricky was one of the better turkey hunters and callers around. He also was heavy into bowhunting, and he was competing in 3-D archery tournaments.

The urging of a friend got Ricky started down a different path.

“A local VFW lodge out of Greenville started putting on a small turkey-calling contest. A guy told me about it and got me to go up there. I ended up winning the first one I entered. We were back in the kitchen calling out through the little opening where you pass your plate through,” Ricky laughed.

In 1989, Ricky made his first trip to Unicoi to compete in the NWTF State Championship, and he placed sixth against the top callers in the state.

“The first year I did good was 1992 when I placed second. My first big win was the State in 1994. Then I  went on to win the Grand Nationals that year.”

Ricky has won the NWTF Georgia State Championship four times to go along with his two Grand National calling championships.

That’s the most prestigious contest in the nation, with 54 guys from all over the United States. Guys like Walter Parrot, Chris Parrish, Joe Drake, Preston Pittman, and Eddie Salter.

“That year it was sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon, and after I won they flew me and Preston Pittman to L.A. We were on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. We had a dressing room with our names on it right across the hall from Shelly Long, who was on Cheers then. I won the Grand National again the next year, and after that I got to go onstage at the Grand Ole Opry.”

After that second Grand National win, Lohman Game Calls approached Ricky.

“I had already started tinkering and inventing things,” Ricky said. “When you’re in the printing business, you have a lot of time to think while the press is running. The first thing I did was the Contender Bowsight in 1990. I developed it and sold the idea. I got a royalty for each one they sold. It wasn’t much money, but it was something.

“Lohman wanted to upgrade their slate. I took the housing they were using and started trying different glass and slates, but I couldn’t make it sound any better. One day I cut a hole out of the back of a Yoo-Hoo can and used the piece of aluminum behind the slate, so the sound reflected off it. We called it the Thunder Dome, and I had good success with that. Then I started building a lot of diaprahms for them — basically contract work to build the calls.”

At that point Ricky was able to quit his job at the printing press and live a country boy’s dream — working full-time in the hunting business. Ricky’s most successful invention so far has been the Lohman Pump-Action Yelper. It began a series of products from Ricky that didn’t just sound good, they were innovations that made it much easier for a novice to sound really good on hard-to-master calls.

Ricky’s Innovations: Top Row (L-R) Contender Bowsight, Thunder Dome Slates — Crystal, Ceramic and Aluminum. Middle Row (L-R) 812 Double Champion, 813 Double Elite Champion, Pump Action Yelper, Inflection Grunt, Universal Striker. Bottom Row, new products for 2002 (L-R) Mouth Yelper, Pump Action Friction, Compact Call with Ultimate Striker, and the Inflection Predator Call.

The catalyst behind the Pump-Action Yelper is the same one that spurred Ricky to work on an easier, more consistent sound out of a slate call. Ricky worked lots of trade shows where newcomers to turkey hunting would try to use a slate call, but they couldn’t easily be taught how to hold the call and how to work the striker properly. The result is the Lohman Pump-Action Friction.

“Basically, I designed the call to make it easier for guys to use friction calls,” Ricky said. “From working with people at trade shows, they’d pick up a slate and try it, but it takes time to make a friction call sound good. Once you get it set, you just use the push button. The Pump-Action takes the error out of it. At that moment of truth when a bird is on you, you’re not going to make a bad sound.”

Ricky said the best part about his life in the hunting business is the great hunts he’s been on, including a deer hunt in Montana with Jeff Foxworthy.

Ricky Joe (left) helped Realtree’s Bill Jordan (right) host a GON Kids Dream Hunt. Ricky’s turkey-calling abilities helped open doors with some of the most well-known names in the outdoor world.

“I’ve met some famous people, but what I really like is working the trade shows, meeting different people.

“Especially when a guy walks away from your booth and you know you have just shown him something that’s going to make him a better turkey hunter. That’s a great feeling.”

With an inventive mind and knack for tinkering, hunters can expect more innovations and products from Ricky Joe Bishop, all with beginnings in Warm Springs, Georgia.

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