The two young men who advanced to the World Duck Calling Championship competition in Arkansas, last year, will have another chance at the elusive title again in November.
Ryan Sherbondy, of Acampo, and Colby Stillwell, of Willows, were the top callers in the men’s open division, at Saturday’s California State Duck Calling Championship.
Sherbondy, 20, last year’s Butte Sink Regional contest winner, finished three rounds ahead of five other callers to capture the 2020 California Duck Calling Championship, earning his spot in the World Championship, which will be held Nov. 21-27, in Stuttgart.
Stillwell, 19, last year’s State Champion, also advanced to the World Duck Calling contest by securing his spot as the 2020 Butte Sink Regional champion.
“Colby and I just flipped flopped this year,” Sherbondy said, on Saturday, in a scaled back version of the festival because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of a large two-day event, the Butte Sink Regional and the California State Duck Calling competitions were both held on the same day in Veterans Memorial Park, in Colusa. The event is hosted each year by Kittle’s Outdoor & Sport Co., and usually includes a number of calling contests, including goose and two-man meat.
Jake Kurtz, 15, of Danville, won both the Butte Sink Regional Intermediate title and the California State Intermediate Championship. He has two more years before he can compete in the men’s division, but will advance to that level with a number of competition wins under his belt. He has three prior wins at the junior level.
“I’ve been calling all my life,” said Kurtz, a sophomore in high school.
Colt Callison, 11, of Sutter, earned his first win in the Junior Duck Calling Championship.
All title winners – and their runners up – earned a variety of plaques, ammunition, cash, or gift cards.
Sherbondy and Stillwell earned airfare to the World Duck Calling Championship, sponsored this year entirely by Kittle’s.
Reg Bravo, master of ceremonies, said because of the COVID-19 uncertainty, event organizers did not seek out their usual sponsors, just in case the event was shut down by Public Health authorities.
While the vendors and large crowds were absent this year, Bravo said he was just happy to see the contestants competing on stage with just their families and supporters in attendance.
“It shows you can’t keep a corn-fed country boy down,” Bravo said.
Sherbondy and Stillwell have been competing in the state competition in Colusa for the past 10 years, starting out as junior callers. The pair will now have three months to prepare for the men’s World competition, which hosts a large number of very skilled State Champions and callers from around the globe.
Both young men hope to see an advancement in their standings over the 2019 competition.
Sherbondy, who was in the top 30 in 2018, made it into the top 15 in the second round last year, but missed advancing to the top 10 after a small error; a mistake he does not plan to make again.
“I’m going to try and prepare myself better; blow a lot more air through the duck call than I have in the past,” Sherbondy said. “It will be a more confidence building thing.”
Sherbondy, who is attending Chico State to become a pest control specialist, said with COVID-19 curtailing social events, he anticipates having a lot more time to practice.
“I plan on going through the routine, which I did on stage today, about 10 times a day,” he said.
Sherbondy said he uses a Rich-N-Tone Duck Call, and will use the same call in the World competition.
Stillwell, who is also working and attending college, said he will also spend far more time practicing between now and November, after having an early elimination last year.
“I was doing really good in the first round when I hit a high note,” he said. “That cost me going into the second round.”
Both Sherbondy and Stillwell grew up hunting with their families, and have been calling ducks and winning titles in competition since they were young children.
The World Competition is Stuttgart is the longest running waterfowl calling contest in history, but even Stillwell is uncertain what the pandemic will do to the event this year.
“A typical year, it’s a large gathering with a lot of people,” he said. “It’s a giant big festival.”
The youngest competitor on Saturday was 6-year-old Colton Muniz, of Colusa, who competed in the junior division.
Muniz has been learning the music of the mallards for about three years.
“I like to see ducks when they come,” Muniz said. “I like to look at them, hear them, and see the cool stuff they do.”
Also up and coming in the calling world is 17-year-old Bronson Lasley, of Penngrove, who placed second in his first men’s open competition on Saturday.
Like Sherbondy and Stillwell, Lasley has been competing at the State Championship in Colusa since the age of 10, and not only has Junior State Championship titles, but World junior and intermediate titles, as well.
Sherbody said competitive duck calling is a fun sport to get into and encourages all the younger callers to keep up the good work and seek out help from others in the competition world.
“The people are great and the community is great,” Sherbondy said. “Everyone is willing to help make you better. There won’t be a non-supporting person in this. It’s a great passion to get into.”♣