A call to teach

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It starts with first-graders. About 20 beginners come four nights a week for a month to learn the basics of blowing. Like a music instructor teaching scales, Richenback starts with how to blow a "hut" and a "took-a." He teaches proper technique for expelling air into the call and how it should be held.

"These classes have never been about winning it's about learning," Richenback said.

Chuck Wallace brings his son, Tripp, 60 miles one way each week as the 12-year-old prepares for the Junior Worlds. A lifelong hunter from the area, Wallace has seen his son pass him in calling prowess.

"When Tripp started, all he could do was just go 'hut, hut,' " Wallace said. "Butch has taught him everything. He just coaches him on every aspect of long call, hail call, feed call. He knows everything. He can hear a duck call and in two or three minutes he can have any duck caller sounding good."

Tripp has been under Richenback's wing for five years, and he makes his progression sound easy.

"He'd show me how to do it right." Tripp said. "And then I'd go back over it, and if I did wrong again, then he'd end up showing me how to do it on his call."

Is he tough?

"Yes sir," Tripp answers quickly and respectfully.

"He keeps them all pretty straight," Chuck adds.

In addition to a tap here and there from the staff of Richenback it's actually about a half-inch diameter dowel -- Free, daughter of Wings of the Prairie Festival Chairman Bill Free, said she doesn't mind the occasional, inspirational yell.

"I'll be working on the bottom end of hail call," she said, "and he's like, 'Sound like those ducks! I want you to sound like those ducks out in that pond!' He'll get on you if you're not doing the right thing, but he helps."

Close relationships have been developed between teacher and student. Greg Hubbell Jr., last year's Junior World first runner-up receives long-distance input.

"He's the Grandpa I never had," Hubbell said. "He's my calling Grandpa. I call him up almost every week, talk to him, he listens to me. He's always there for me."

Richenback is there for a lot of callers. Forrest Carpenter, first runner-up in last year's Chick and Sophie Major competition, arrived at RNT near the end of classes to get his routine assessed before his second world's competition. He watched as the competition class, including reigning Junior Women's World champion Kelsi Mashburn, wound things up.

"There are 6- and 9-years-olds blowing routines in here that would make 40-year-olds jealous," said Carpenter, a freshman at Northern Colorado. "It's a testament to these kids working hard and practicing a lot, but you have to give just as much credit to the coach.

"I wish stuff like this happened all around the country ... Actually, I kinda don't because these kids would be so good they'd be beating me."

Last year's World's first-runner-up J.D. Stanley was next to blow for Richenback. The 23-year-old moved from Denver to take a job making calls at RNT. Family friend of past world's champions John Stephens and Jim Ronquest, both of whom work at Rich-N-Tone, Stanley is a lifelong duck hunter and guide who wants a world title.

"He's the best ever at explaining how to do something on a duck call to anybody," he said. "I think with the kids, they respect him. He doesn't put up with anything and they get treated like adults but they're 10 years old.

"He treats them the way they should be. Have responsibility for what they're doing and pay attention. You see it when they first start in the classes. It's like the military; they're all in straight lines."

Stanley said he can only hope being in the presence of such duck calling greatness rubs off.

"It's definitely a draw to work with him," he said. "From John and Jim, more so from hearing them call. Butch teaches you. He tells you how to do it. He's the best at breaking a routine down and putting it back together."

Speaking of putting it back together, Richenback was among the last to blow a routine as he himself prepared for his first competition in 33 years. Everyone in the room stopped to watch and listen to the 62-year-old, who says he's only 2 as he started over when he received a heart transplant. He told his classes he would be competing in the Senior World Championship Duck Calling Contest on Saturday.

"I'll probably pass out in the first round. I haven't blown since 1975," he said. "It's the only chance to see me blow in a contest because I'm never going to blow again."