It’s been more than a month, but still, USA member Mike Anderson is coming to terms with his latest accomplishment. On Nov. 28, the 29-year-old passenger elevator mechanic from Mankato, Minn., became the unlikely winner of the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart, Ark.
Unlikely, not because of his calling ability, but because of past dominance of southern callers in the contest. Add to that problems with his call’s reed that led to what Anderson called “terrible” practices on the Wednesday and Thursday before the Saturday contest.
Duck hunting, and to some degree, calling, are big deals in Minnesota. But in the south, calling, especially, is a “religion,” Anderson said. “It’s like taking your first steps.”
Anderson topped 66 other callers from across the nation to take home the award, sponsored by the Stuttgart (Ark.) Chamber of Commerce. For his efforts, he won $8,000 cash, a new duck boat, a diamond ring, and a big trophy.
“No one from Minnesota has ever done that,” he said of the win. “It’s something I can take pride in … it’s really surreal and humbling. I go home and look at the trophy and can’t believe it could happen to a guy from Minnesota.”
Anderson, who grew up in Brainerd but has lived in Mankato for the past several years, said his level of anxiety was higher than normal heading into the contest – the highest honor for duck callers. Not only was it the biggest stage, but a troublesome reed was cause for concern.
Back in January, Anderson dropped by the Rich-N-Tone office with a duck call that needed work. RNT founder Butch Richenback agreed to do what needed to be done to get the call “right.”
“If you don’t have the call in your hands that fits you, you’re going to struggle,” Anderson said. “And I’d been struggling for two years. Butch made the call that fit.”
Since the mid-1970s Richenback has run the company, and he decided to do the young caller a favor.
“He couldn’t find (a reed) that fit him, so I cut it out by hand,” Richenback said.
Anderson went on to win the 2009 Illinois River Regional in late February that qualified him for the World’s Championship. When he reached Stuttgart, Anderson said he blew out the reed on his call. Again, Richenback was called upon to remedy the problem.
Richenback said he simply “tweaked (the call) a little bit. I got it going like it was,” he said.
“Honestly, I owe it all to Butch,” Anderson said.
On Saturday, Anderson was ready to compete with the world’s best callers. Unaware of his score, Anderson made the first cut, from 67 duck callers to 31. He later found out he was leading after round one, something that surprised the Minnesotan, given his state of mind.
“I wasn’t nervous for this contest; I was actually scared,” he said.
As he grew more at ease, Anderson said he called better in the second and final rounds. He won “World’s” by two points over Tyler Merritt, of El Paso, Ark.
“It was the longest, coolest 15 minutes of my life,” Anderson said, referring to the paring down of the finalists.
Anderson said he’s been hunting ducks since age 8, but his competitive calling dates back about six years; in 2003, he acquired the 2001 World’s Championship DVD, and has been calling whenever he’s not working, since then.
Why competitive calling? “I played amateur baseball, and I’ve always been competitive,” he said. His resume now includes winning the Minnesota State Duck Calling Championship in 2004 (thus earning him a trip to his first World’s Championship in Stuttgart), followed by wins in Illinois (2005 and this year), and Kansas (2007).
Having pocketed his first World’s Championship, Anderson said his goal now is to win the event three times, at which point a caller must “retire.” Retirement also can be attained by winning an event known as the “championship of champions,” which includes, as the name implies, past champs. It’s held every five years, according to Andy Thill, president of the Minnesota Duck and Goose Callers. Anderson gets a chance to pursue the goal next year, as previous winners draw an automatic invitation to the following year’s event.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Thill said of Anderson’s win. “Mike’s a great guy, and he’s been to a lot of contests, so he’s accepted in the south for being a good duck caller.”
That’s important for an event that’s held in the southland, and one that’s been dominated, for the most part, by southern callers. Recent winners have come from Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska and Tennessee.
“It’s nice to have a guy from Minnesota win the contest. It’s been dominated by guys from the south and Iowa,” said Stephen Bell, executive director for the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce. “It was neat, his reaction (to the win). He was really happy.”
“It would equate to a bass fisherman from the South coming up here and handing it to a walleye angler on Mille Lacs,” said Thill.
Anderson said the thrill of the contest was surpassed only by that of his marriage to wife Jill, and to the birth of his children Ben (age 9) and Hannah Rose (2). He’ll take his calling to the field again this year; a Christmas holiday hunt is planned for Kansas, and in January he hopes to return to Stuttgart.
For Anderson, the hunt will be much like his contest routine.
“I want to call to the judges, but keep it like … I’m hunting,” he said. “I keep my heart in the routine.”
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