Colby Stillwell and Ryan Sherbondy have been familiar faces at the California State Duck Calling Contest in Colusa for the past nine years.
The two teenagers secured their spots at the World Duck Calling Championship in Stuggart, Ark. in November, after winning the two qualifying contests at the annual waterfowl festival this past weekend. The contest was held at Veterans Memorial Park, across the street from Kittle’s Outdoor & Sport Co., which sponsors the annual event each year.
Sherbondy, a 19-year-old from Acampo, earned his spot at the World Duck Calling Championship on Saturday, when he won the Butte Sink Regional contest.
Stillwell, 18, of Willows, earned his spot at the World Championship after winning the men’s open division in the State Championship on Sunday.
Both teens have been competing in duck calling contests since they were kids, but Sunday’s win was the first qualifying contest for Stillwell, who previously won multiple individual adult divisions or championships as a junior caller.
“I started calling just for fun when I was about three or four,” Stillwell said. “I got into competition calling when I was 12. It just took off like wildfire. Ever since then, it’s been a lot of good luck and with a lot of help.”
Although Stillwell has competed at the Arkansas contest three times, this year’s World Championship will be his first hunt for the prestigious adult title in open calling.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Until then, Stillwell said he will spend a lot of time practicing for the historically tough competition. After that, he plans to play baseball for Butte College, while preparing for a career in firefighting.
“I want to work seasonal in firefighting and guide waterfowl hunters in the wintertime,” Stillwell said of his future.
Sherbondy also started calling as a youth. He won the 2013 Junior World Championship and the California State Duck Calling Championship in 2017 and 2018, but a world title has been elusive.
“There is a lot of competition,” he said. “I was out in the first round, but placed in the top 30 or 40.”
But Sherbondy said getting tips over the weekend from world class callers like three-time World Champion Logan Hancock, of Arkansas, and four-time finisher Keith Allen, of Missouri, two in the panel of judges at the Colusa event, has helped bolster his confidence that he will rise this year in the standings.
“I’m going to prepare myself a lot better than I have in the past two years,” Sherbondy said.
For their wins, Sherbondy and Stillwell each received $750 in cash to pay for airfare to the world competition and other prizes. Daniel Ault, placed second in the State Championship; Stuart Mattos placed third; and Stuart McCullough placed fourth, also winning an assortment of prizes.
Callers, who were judged more on technique and accuracy than just sounding like a duck, competed in nine different categories over the coarse of the weekend, including junior and intermediate duck and speck calling, goose calling, the two-man meat calling, and more.
“We love this sport but we realize there are very few of us out there that do,” said Allen, after judging the competition on Sunday.
Allen said he was impressed with the amount of people who attended the Colusa competition, because duck callers put a tremendous amount of time practicing a sport that few people can relate to.
“It makes us feel good, because it means a lot to us,” he said.
Hancock, who has won three of the last four World Championships, said he has competed all over the United States, and found Kittle’s and sponsors to put on one of the best waterfowl festivals in the country.
“Y’all have something special here,” Hancock said. “This town has something to be proud of, and I hope I get invited back to this event. It’s really special.”
Vendors had just about everything for waterfowl enthusiasts, including custom duck calls, decoys, art, and more.
Vendors included California Waterfowl Association, Pardy, Red Sky Calls, Willows Creek, Waterfowl Chaser, Kupt Up, Pacific Skyway Guide Service, Fiocchi Ammunition, High Guide Service, Riceland Custom Calls, Vavery, Pacific Flyway Decoy Association, Fish Dog, Bardown Waterfowl, Chick Ripping Lips, Quack Lanyards, Fabarm, Wack Stack, Duck Buddys, and Steve Codorniz Custom Ammo Cans & Paracord.
Gene Carter, of Sutter Basin Duck Calls, has been at the Colusa event every year since it started.
Carter started hunting at the age of 10, and more than four decades later, he turned his passion into a commercial business by making and selling custom duck calls in 2008.
“It sounds like a duck,” Carter said of his calls. “It’s different that what you hear in completion. It mimics the birds.”
The event coincided with Kittle’s 20th anniversary sale on hunting and fishing equipment, which continues through Aug. 31. ■