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Ultimate Duck Calling Challenge

Is a caller's true test on the stage or in the blind? Both, claim many of today's champions, who say that competing in contests makes them better hunters.
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Story at a Glance
  • Your contest routine and duck hunting are two different things.
  • The difference between competition calling and calling in the field is that you have to put all the basic calls into a routine.
  • Duck calling is like anything else - the younger you start, the better off you are going to be.
  • Many calling contests are won and lost, in the last few seconds.

Mike McLemore, one of only five men who have won the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest three times, says that competition calling is a good way to get youngsters involved with hunting.

"There's something about contests that intrigues kids and turns them on," McLemore says. "The thing about young people is that they will often practice more than adults will. Before they get their driver's license, they don't have much going on.

"Calling comes easier for some than for others. Whether it's kids or adults, they have to be willing to put some time into it. Those who stay with it will begin to see the improvement. Kids who learn to call, well, they feel a lot more a part of what's going on when they're actually in the blind hunting."

Living proof is Kelley Powers, who grew up a West Tennessee goose and duck hunter. By age 26, Powers had won every major Canada goose calling contest in the nation, including the World, International Invitational, Avery Worldwide, and Winchester World Open.

"Calling on the stage is a formal, set routine," Powers says. "In the field, you are on Mother Nature's clock. Personally, everything I use on stage I use in the field. I'm not saying I use everything all the time, but the arsenal is there if I need it."

Goose calling competitions have retained a more hunt-oriented tone. That is, there is less exaggeration and more realism to contest routines than those of the duck calling fraternity.

"I think that contest goose calling is more appealing to the average person to listen to," Powers says. "It's a more accurate representation of the species we are trying to call. People recognize that.

"Generally, your top contest guys are good hunters in the field, too. I think that most of us do this to become better hunters. Tim Grounds (perhaps the most successful contest goose caller of all time) always says that the best feeling you can have when you are calling is ‘fooling them,' fooling the geese. It's not just about shooting them, it's about getting to a level to communicate with them."

On stage, the communicating is done with judges.

"The perfect contest routine is all about the flow," Powers says. "What I mean by that is that the judge relies on sound. It's like listening to a song. If it's got an erratic flow, it's probably not going to be a hit.

"Judges want to hear your hail, come-on, comeback, and laydown calls. The laydown call comes at the end, when you're demonstrating what you'd do when the geese are fixing to land. That's when finesse comes into play in the contests. That's where many contests are won and lost, in the last few seconds."

Kind of like what goes on in the field.

What's up with Iowa?

Stopping short of hanging wanted posters bearing their likenesses, it is a given that Barnie Calef, Bernie Boyle, and Todd Copley are marked men within the competition calling circuit. Iowans all, this trio has combined to win five of the last six World's Championship Duck Calling Contests in Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Calef, a Hunter's Specialties pro-staffer from Cedar Rapids, claimed back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000. He won his first championship as a relative youngster in 1989. In late November, Calef figures to be in the thick of the action when the Champion of Champions competition unfolds. This event, with contestants limited to past world champions, is held once every five years.

"We are actually working on a new call right now, so I've not practiced as much as I should. I have not blown a contest routine seriously for about two years," Calef says. "But I am not going to go down there unprepared. I'm going to go down and do my best."

Boyle, of Danville, who now produces his own line of calls (Mallard Mauler), was graded best in the world in 2002 and 2004 after finishing second to Calef in 2000 and runner-up on two other occasions. Boyle is currently ranked number one in the world on one website, www.callingducks.com, which tracks contest callers. Copley, a Des Moines resident, is the third amigo, claiming top honors in 2003.

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