The Main Street stage was the focal point for a large camouflage-clad audience November 24 in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder, the crowd swelled throughout the day as 62 competitive duck callers from across the United States competed in the Super Bowl of the duck calling world—the 77th Annual World's Championship Duck Calling Contest. For the second time in three years, Brad Allen of Judsonia, Arkansas, hoisted the huge trophy above his head after claiming the title of World Duck Calling Champion.
After taking top honors in 2010 and finishing as second runner-up in 2011, Allen returned to Main Street poised, confident, and equipped with a crisp contest routine that he had honed during countless hours of practice. Once again, he had his sights set on the top prize. The competitive juices were flowing.
"People keep asking, 'Which one felt better?' but both wins were great," the 39-year-old Allen said. "The first was so emotional—to finally get there after 10 tries in 12 years and they hand you the trophy. This win was a competition issue, and I was more fired up."
"It's the history and the tradition that I enjoy," Allen added. "Seeing some of those names on the list of winners, like Chick Major and Butch Richenback, I'm just honored to see my name on that list—let alone twice."
The 1936 World Duck Calling Champion was awarded a new hunting jacket, worth about $6. As the contest grew, so did the prize package, now worth more than $15,000 in cash and other awards. With the larger purse, the competition has intensified and, as the contest plays out throughout the day, bystanders witness both excitement and disappointment.
"The contestants take so much pride in blowing on that stage on Main Street," said Marty Simpson, rules committee chairman for the 2012 World's Championship Duck Calling Contest. "I am back in the contestants' trailer, so I get to see them all before they come out. They are nervous and many try to stay busy cleaning their calls. They know there is a crowd out there and this is the biggest stage in our sport. It's a cool thing to see."
The World's Championship Duck Calling Contest got its start in 1936 and has blossomed into the centerpiece of a weeklong "Wings Over the Prairie Festival," complete with carnival, a duck gumbo cook-off, mallard queen contests, and a celebration of a community embracing its nickname: Rice and Duck Hunting Capital of the World.
The field of competitors was cut to 33 following the completion of the first round. Seventeen callers remained after the second round. Each of finalists then performed a third 90-second routine. After scores were totaled, a six-way call-off was required to decide the championship.
His Rich-N-Tone Calls (RNT) cap pulled down low over his brow during the final round, Allen maintained a consistent, high-quality performance that separated him from the rest of the field. David St. John of Conway, Arkansas, claimed runner-up honors, while Rob Bevins of Belle Plaine, Iowa, was third, and Jonathan Mortin of Trumann, Arkansas, finished fourth.
In representing Stuttgart-based RNT, Allen’s victory marked the call company's seventh world championship in the past 10 years. RNT calls count 16 men's world titles overall among its 98 calling contest championships.
"The tradition that RNT has is mind blowing," Allen said. "I am just thankful to be a part of it and honored to be able to bring it back to the RNT shop and celebrate the win. It's humbling, I promise you."
The road to becoming a world duck calling champion began back in 1988, when Allen's father took him to Stuttgart's Wings Over the Prairie Festival for the first time. Allen said that he had no intention of ever competing. Rather, it just became a family tradition to attend.
"Back in 1998 I tried to qualify and didn't make it," Allen said. "After that, I only missed one year and really focused on my calling. My duck season doesn't last just 60 days--it lasts all year because I am practicing and competing."
By rule, Allen has one more title to win before he is no longer eligible to compete. He said he understands that becoming a three-time champion is a lofty goal, but will continue pushing for that rare trifecta. He said he knows the caliber of callers is improving and this year's competitors will refine their routines and be even better in 2013. While he plans to compete again next year, for the moment, Allen is relishing in this year's victory.
"I am going to keep my nose to the grindstone and work hard at it," Allen said. "The best part of the contest in general is looking at the other competitors and past winners--these are the biggest names and legends in this business. To see my name on that list is humbling. I like to think that when I retire and I'm washed up, someone will look at that list of winners and see my name on it."
See other duck calling competition winners from the 2012 Wings Over the Prairie Festival.