STUTTGART, Ark. – Antonio “Duckman” Jones stood out in more than one way at the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest.
A fixture in the town that is the Duck Capital of the World, Jones became the first black man to win the prestigious title, topping a field of 67 callers Saturday during the 76th Wings Over the Prairie Festival.
“It’s very, very humbling,” Jones said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Jones, 25, has long been a member of the tight-knit duck calling community, learning under the wing of renowned call maker Butch Richenback of Rich-N-Tone, a former World’s champ.
“I’ve been with him through thick and thin – it started when I was way more thin,” said Jones, who also works as a duck guide in the area.
Jones stood on a rainy stage posing for pictures after topping a field that included first runner-up Robbie Iverson of Ottawa, Ill., and last year’s champion Brad Allen of Judsonia, Ark., the second runner-up. Jones scored high with the judges in all three rounds, allowing him to walk away with the duck call trophy and $15,000 in cash and prizes.
“Man, he’s got duck,” said former champ Todd Copley, one of the five judges. “His nickname is Duckman, but he’s just got duck in his low end. He’s just awesome.”
Copley tried to explain how Jones, who had never qualified for the World’s Championship, happened to win in his first appearance.
“That doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “When it’s your time, it’s your time. Everything comes together; the stars are aligned.”
Jones, of White Hall, Ark., said that he made promises to himself after missing out in qualifying by one point last year. Although he’d been competing for years, he said he put more effort into his routine this past year.
“I was young and all kind of stuff happened,” he said. “At 19, 20, 21, you have other stuff on your mind. Last year, I set a goal to qualify after getting close. This year I told myself I was going to qualify, whatever it took. And I did. Once I qualified I set myself another small goal to make it three rounds -- to at least place in the top 10.”
Jones, who reached the World’s by winning the Show Me Regional in August, said he felt good about his performances as the finalists walked on stage to reveal the results, but he had no idea he would be named the winner.
“When you’re calling with that caliber of guys – there were several world champions -- I think you need bipolar medicine, because it’s up then down, up then down,” he said. “I had no clue.
“I knew I was in the running. When they had the tiebreaker, I didn’t know what position I was, but I knew I had to at least be in the top five.”
Jones said the key was hitting the long blaring notes to open his routine, which can go no longer than 90 seconds.
“The hardest thing to do is the triple comeback call,” he said. “I knew I hit it all three times. My strong point is my duck. Once I got out of the comeback call, I knew.”
After being named the champion, fellow callers and friends rushed the stage to congratulate Jones. He received his trophy and a $1,000 check from RNT’s John Stephens for using their call. He shook hands and was hugged by dozens of well-wishers.
Jones downplayed being the first black man to win a World’s Championship.
“Everyone has their different sports they like to do -- mine was duck hunting,” he said. “After I got calling in competitions here, this whole community really took me under their wing. How I learned to duck hunt was from friends and family.”
One of those who helped mentor Jones was call maker Buck Gardner, who also holds a title. He was one of the judges for the competition, and made sure to find Jones and congratulate him, as well as school him, about the title.
“I’m really proud of you,” he told Jones. “You’re going to be a tremendous influence on kids, both black and white, so make sure that you stand up straight and do right.”