Date: October 23, 2013 | Story: Susan Darcey | Styling: Mandy Keener |
A Stuttgart native’s duck call collection contains pieces of history worth quacking about
Kids love collecting, especially when there is a good story behind each item. For John Stephens, growing up in Stuttgart, the Duck Capital of the World and home to the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest, collecting duck calls seemed to be a natural fit.
Stephens, a three-time World Duck Calling Champion and president of Stuttgart’s Rich-N-Tone Calls, began hunting with his father at the age of five. The hobby later evolved into an impressive duck call collection, career and eventually a lifestyle. “My grandmother had my granddad’s duck calls and she gave them to me when I was nine or ten years old,” says Stephens. “They are handmade by older call masters.” This gift piqued an interest in young Stephens and he began taking calling lessons from world champion and local legend Butch Richenback, who whittled and created his own duck call which has become the foundation of Rich-N-Tone Calls. It wasn’t long after, Stephens, at the age of 12, began adding to his collection, searching for unique calls and gathering as much information as he could about each one. He spent most of his time in the Rich-N-Tone shop with his mentor Richenback, who passed on everything he had learned from one of Arkansas’ most popular call makers, Chick Majors.
According to Stephens, the history surrounding duck calls is just as impressive as the hand-carved pieces themselves. “In the late 1890s and the early 1900s hunters would sit on their boats, and while they waited for ducks they would carve calls with their pocket knives,” he relays.
While Stephens’ grand collection continues to grow with a variety of different style calls from different makers, Arkansas duck calls remain a focus in his collection. “I have tried to get calls from all the Arkansas call makers. They are some of the more collectible pieces and the most sought after,” he says.