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Call like a Champion

Secrets of an unforgettable Arkansas waterfowl hunt
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Less than 48 hours later, I found myself in a natural brush blind listening to two of the world’s best duck callers in stereo. To my right Ronquest was bearing down on an RNT Daisy Cutter, shaking the surrounding brush with rolling feeding chatter that could be felt as much as heard. To my left, Stephens was blowing greeting calls on a Short Barrel, each note so raspy that you could almost watch the sound waves cut through the wind and reach distant birds.

Hunkered down in the brush with us were NaturalGear President Leland Sykes, Mark Wardlaw of Delta Retrievers, David Carrington of Avery Outdoors, RNT creative director Blake Fisher, and videographer Kade Arnell. Handling the retrieving duties was Tank, a four-year-old black Lab co-owned by Wardlaw and Ronquest. Despite the size of our group, we had excellent concealment. Stephens created the ingenious natural blinds during the offseason by transplanting heavy clumps of mature buttonbush, commonly called “buckbrush.” He carefully pruned the limbs to create shooting holes and installed sturdy wooden benches anchored on metal posts for seating.

The weather was also in our favor. The first arctic cold front of the season had just roared down from Canada, bringing clear skies and a hard north wind. As dawn broke over the Grand Prairie, a variety of waterfowl traded beneath the last morning stars. But we were in a mallard hole, and Ronquest and Stephens focused their attention on the scattered bunches of “big ducks” working the flooded buckbrush. No one could accurately describe my hosts’ calling as sounding like “sweet music.” In fact, nasty might be a better description. When it comes to calling mallards in thick cover, nasty will beat sweet every time.

Their calling had a powerful effect, drawing several pairs and small flocks of mallards over the decoys with their wings cupped. The birds seemed mesmerized by the incessant calling, spiraling downward in ever-tightening circles until they finally came straight down into the decoys, their bright red feet glowing in the dim light. We bagged several drake mallards during the first hour of shooting time, giving Tank plenty of retrieving work in the flooded brush.

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