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Arkansas Legend: Butch Richenback


In order to describe Harry “Butch” Richenback, you cannot simply paint a verbal portrait of one man. You must understand that he was two different men. Not only that, these two personalities were polar opposites that somehow defied the laws of conventional thought, emotion and perhaps physics, to blend seamlessly into one larger than life individual. He was a student, a teacher, a Marine, a mayor, a youth baseball coach, a champion duck caller and the most revered duck call maker in history. He was not a father, but rather a father figure to countless children over the span of many years. He was often loved. He was often hated. He was always Butch.

Butch Richenback

His exterior was tough. Imagine if General George S. Patton had been a duck call maker instead of pursuing a military career. His hard-nosed, no nonsense approach to his craft made his calls the standard in the industry. An apprentice of legendary call maker Chick Major, he founded Rich-N-Tone Calls in 1976. He was an innovator who designed calls that were smaller and easier to use. They had a unique shape with a mouthpiece inspired by a Coke bottle. He used a Mylar reed rather than the rubber version being used at that time. He is also credited with turning the first call made of acrylic. Each call was perfect. Any imperfections and the call would be sawed in two and discarded.

He approached duck calling competitions with the same intensity. He won the Junior World Championship in 1957, the World Championship in 1972 and the Champion of Champions contest in 1975. However, it was his coaching of competitive callers that produced an even greater legacy. He was a molder of champions. His calls have won over 100 World Championship Titles and countless state, regional and youth contests. For Butch, calling competitions were serious business. There was no time for mincing words when evaluating a caller’s ability. If you did not want Butch’s opinion, then you better not ask. Brutal honesty was his only form of communication. Whether you were a competitive caller or simply a hunter in search of the perfect call for the field, it was his way or the highway.

Despite his gruff exterior, tough talk and moodiness, Butch had another side. Where most individuals with these qualities tend to avoid children, he had a soft spot for them. Following honorable service in the Marine Corp, Butch was the director of the Stuttgart Youth Center from 1969 to 1994. He instituted an annual Youth Duck Calling Clinic in 1969. The clinic lasted four weeks, and the kids would then take the World’s Stage prior to the World’s Championship Contest to perform their newly acquired skills for the crowd of proud family and friends. During the clinics and youth seminars he performed throughout the country, it was not uncommon to see Butch give a call to a kid in need.  In his eulogy of Butch, Marion McCollum, owner of Mack’s Prairie Wings, said, “Butch gave away a fortune in duck calls to kids over the years. A fortune!” The kids flocked to him in such a way that he was labeled, “The Pied Piper of Stuttgart.”

Butch was equally involved in working with the youth baseball team in Stuttgart. He coached high school, several parks and recreation teams, and American Legion. He often reached into his own pocket to pay for equipment if the funds were not there.

Butch Richenback

Butch loved Stuttgart and sat on the city council for eight years and was elected mayor in 1994.  He held that position until health issues forced him to step down in 2006. After suffering heart attacks, his condition had deteriorated severely. He received a heart transplant in 2006. This did not keep Butch down long. With his second chance in life, he quickly resumed his work and continued working with the youth. After a valiant fight, Butch would succumb to a rare form of lung cancer on June 29, 2015.

I can personally say that Butch was a friend and mentor to me. That will always be one of the true honors of my life. I spent many hours with Butch watching him work on calls while helping me become a better caller. We traveled together and passed the time talking about the art of duck calling and life itself. I, like many competitive callers around the country, have my fair share of “Butch stories.” These stories are swapped around the campfire like young boys trading baseball cards. His direct, unrelenting approach to life created many comical scenarios that have reached near mythical stature. They could easily fill a best-selling book if ever compiled.

Butch lived in a modest home and was a man of modest means. He didn’t worry about monetary investments. He invested in the lives of thousands of children. Many of these are adults now with children of their own. These investments will continue to produce dividends for many years to come.

Butch Richenback was inducted into both the Arkansas Game and Fish Hall of Fame and The Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2005. He was also given the Duck’s Unlimited Jerry Jones Sportsman Award in 2012. He remains the most respected duck call maker in history. He is a true legend, truly missed.

Butch Richenback

Story courtesy of Arkansas Wild. Photo courtesy of Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce.

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Brad Allen won the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is the owner of Elite Duck Calls in Searcy, Arkansas. He resides in Judsonia with his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Hannah.

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