Mr. Petty finally gets his title

STUTTGART, Ark. — Mr. Petty got his title ... and tears ... and hugs. Now he just wants his trophy back.

Charles Petty, 61, who has qualified for the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest a record 23 consecutive years, finally walked away from the Chamber of Commerce stage with a huge trophy, only to give it away.

It wasn't the World's title he sought for nearly a quarter century, but the Senior World's title was nearly as sweet.

Petty, of Harrisburg, Ark., said he was glad to have sunglasses on to hide his tears. The emotion of winning was one thing; the congratulations of numerous well-wishers who offered hugs choked him up even further.

"There's not any words that I could use to describe this," Petty said. "It's just that everybody knows me, they were just as excited that I won. That was emotional. The winning, it was great, but the people ... "

He earned the "Mr." through his years of earning his "ticket on the bus." That's what the competitors call it when a caller qualifies to the World's Championship through the many state or regional competitions.

Petty began duck calling at 38 in Georgia. His first mallard call cost $4.50. Being a "good caller," he won a local Ducks Unlimited contest and moved up to state events. To better compete, he ordered a call from Butch Richenback's Rich-N-Tone calls in Stuttgart, but since it couldn't be delivered in time he drove the 475 miles to pick up the $100 call.

He notes that he's worn out many calls since in his zealous attempts to win the World's title, and said that if he had won his interest might have waned. But he relishes all the connections he's made in his duck calling family.

Petty has been close to the title. He finished second and third and was in the top 10 for nine consecutive years. In over two decades, he's made a lot of friends in duck calling circles.

"He is at the top of the 'friends' list," said Wings Over the Prairier Festival Chairman Bill Free. "He has the respect of all the callers."

With white hair and beard, he might appear like the grandfather, but his longevity and prowess garners awe of his much younger peers.

"They went from calling me Charles to Mr. Petty," he said. "We're a family."

"At 61, I'm still competiing with these guys. Some are 17, 18 years old. I didn't make the first cut (in the World's), but I blew better here than I did in the Seniors ... I had a lot stiffer competition, but I blew a lot better."

And he said he'll be back. He wants to qualify for 25 consecutive years and "then we're going to have a retirement party."

First he's going to get his trophy back. His mother, 83, drove up from Georgia to see him win, and he said it was an emotional walk over to her.

"I gave it to her," he said of the trophy, "but I'm going to get it back."

Third time a charm for Free

The third time was a definitely a charm for Shelby Free.

Free won her third Women's World title, this time in somewhat of a cakewalk, in her hometown.

"Beat them by one or two quacks," Free said. "I won all three rounds, and that's how I wanted it to be."

Free topped her nearest competitor by nearly 10 points in each round, totallying 788, far outplacing second-place Priscilla Rickman of Dyersburg, Tenn., by 39 points.

Yet Free was concerned she has lost her touch just a day earliler. In the Chick & Sophie Major competition for high school seniors, she squawked. And it happened again in her warmup.

"I started to get nervous again and I told myself, if you're not nervous, you're not up there," she said.

Free has worked with instructor Butch Richenback of Rich-N-Tone calls leading up to the competitions. He had her perform three clean routines before letting her leave, and some nights that would be 10 minutes and other nights more than an hour.

Free went to Richenback after she squawked, and he corrected her quickly.

"He just told me to keep my throat open," Free said. "And before I went up, I just took a deep breath I did my best ... Three clean rounds."

Women's World
Winner: Shelby Free, Stuttgart, Ark. 788
First runner-up: Priscilla Rickman, Henning, Tenn. 749
Second runner-up: Kayla Wilson, Stuttgart, Ark. 749
Third runner-up: Hallie Horton, DeWitt 744

Junior World's Championship
Winner: Devlin Hodges 783
First runner-up: Wyatt Boomhower 777
Second runner-up: Austin Hebert 768
Third runner-up:Jon Mark Horton 750

Senior World's
Winner: Charles Petty, Harrisburg, Ark. 774
First runner-up: Butch Richenback, Stuttgart, Ark. 765
Second runner-up: Jim Bedgood, Selma, Ark. 762
Third runner-up: Curt Schueneman, Mankato, Minn. 759

Winner: Tyler Clement
First runner-up: Seth Hartman
Second runner-up: Joseph Gentry
Third runner-up: Preston Ellis

Jr. Women's Worlds
Winner: Kelsi Mashburn
First runner-up: Sydney Freeh
Second runner-up: Olivia Jane Wilkes

Chick & Sophie Major
Winner: Jake Lay
First runner-up: Brady Stoppel
Second runner-up: Jordan Lynch
Third runner-up: Tyler Breashears