STUTTGART, Ark. Teaching people how to sound like a duck is Butch Richenback's life calling, and if you don't do it right, he might whack you with a stick.
Not hard, mind you. Just enough to get your attention. Shelby Free, 16, has felt his correcting wrath aplenty over the past 10 years.
"I come up here a lot during the summer, and we just sit down, chat," the competitive duck caller said. "I'll start practicing, and he'll get that stick and he'll hit me if I'm not doing something right."
One might call it a love tap. Richenback is said to be a touch gruff, yet he admittedly has a soft spot for kids. Besides a stint as Stuttgart's mayor, he's been director at the town's youth center, coached youth football and baseball team and his free duck calling clinics for nearly 40 years.
"When it comes to doing something for those kids, that comes first," he said. "I was taught when I was young that you don't help people just to get something. It's just that you're supposed to help."
While his Rich-N-Tone Duck Call business continues to churn out hand-crafted duck calls by the thousands, the building on the outskirts of town doubles as a factory churning out world champions. The place was abuzz this week in preparation for the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in downtown Stuttgart.
On the eve of the contest, Richenback, a World's Champion and a Champion of Champions winner, was busy wrapping up his four-week clinics for beginners, semi-advanced and advanced callers. They will compete in the Youth Duck Calling Contest, Richenback's sponsored competition during the Wings Over the Prairie Festival.
The final class of the night is for his competition callers, the youth who have excelled through practice and Richenback's guidance. They move on to respective divisions in the World's Championships on Friday and Saturday.
Before, in-between and after the classes, those preparing for the Championships come to "Mr. Butch's" office and "blow." Richenback, who has had a hand in guiding most of the recent world's champions, listens to routines and gives his honest opinion. And his assessment is gospel.
"He is duck calling. That's how you define Butch," said Greg Hubbell of Belmont, Calif., whose 13-year-old son receives special advice from Richenback. "Nobody knows more about calls; nobody's trained more world champions. Nobody's trained more people."
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