Famous sportswriter and conservationist Nash Buckingham once said, jokingly, “A duck call in the hands of the unskilled is one of conservation’s greatest assets.” He was quite correct! Thus, most successful waterfowlers must learn to blow a call properly and become competent enough to attract ducks. Some sportsmen and women mimic the sounds of ducks so convincingly well that squadrons peel off from their flocks at high altitude and descend into the decoys as if they were under hypnosis. For many of the most enthusiastic hunters, time spent honing their skills began at adolescence, and their passion for waterfowling extends beyond the blind and into the realm of competition.
Many of the youth duck calling competitions are hosted at Camp Woodie near Pinewood, South Carolina. Since its establishment in 1995 by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association, Camp Woodie continues to raise the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. Through hands-on activities, kids learn how to call ducks and glean other necessary skills to become successful waterfowlers. Stevens Coleman is one of many who started duck calling competitively at Camp Woodie and has participated in a broader circuit. He comes from a family of avid waterfowlers and entered his first competition at the age of 8. Since that time, his enthusiasm for duck calling contests has not waned.
“I have loved competing,” says Stevens, who turns 16 next year.
When he is not using his skills in a blind with Atwell, his father, and Wells, his older brother, he is practicing for the next competition.
Contestants from near and far travel to youth duck calling competitions, drawing a broad spectrum of talent from across the state and nation. “I competed with a kid from Maryland at Schofield’s over in Florence, South Carolina, where I took third place, and I’ve traveled up to Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina, for a competition,” Stevens says. These events draw enough of a crowd to rattle the nerves of any waterfowler willing to blow a duck call on stage, much less a youth under the age of 16. And if that is not impressive enough, the skill level with which these kids blow a duck call would shame a fair number of adults who consider themselves experienced.
Competitors are rated by three judges who are hidden from view. They judge contestants on how they perform various types of duck calls, such as the feeding call, hailing call, and the quack. The contestants have 90 seconds to perform these calls in either the “main street” format or “meat” format.
“The ‘main street’ format focuses on how loud you can perform the calls,” Stevens says, “and the ‘meat’ format focuses on how much you sound like a real duck.”
Competitors with the highest scores advance to another round until the top three are left to claim first, second, and third place. “Some are invited to compete at higher levels after winning at state competitions, but most contests are for winning prizes and qualifying for state,” Stevens says.
At a time when overall interest in the sporting life is waning with each successive generation, youth duck calling competitions serve as a way to keep young people engaged with the sport of waterfowling during the spring and summer. Additionally, these competitions allow youths and adults who are passionate about waterfowling to meet one another, connecting conservationists from across state lines. This would likely make Nash Buckingham very proud.