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John Stephens | Photos By Steven Drake | 9.25.2019

Following the Call: Honoring a Waterfowl Tradition

  • Pursuit: Waterfowl, Everyday
  • Environment: Timber, Workwear

My love of the history and tradition of the American duck call goes way back. I was eight years old when my parents handed me an old shoe box of calls that had once belonged to my grandfather and his brother. The calls fascinated me, and it wasn’t long before I started my own vintage collection and began attending duck calling competitions. Eventually, I was spending what would become invaluable time with Butch Richenback at his Rich-N-Tone Duck Call shop here in Stuttgart, Arkansas, learning everything he had to teach me.
John Stephens turns calls in his shop
Turning the calls consumed me: being able to create a piece of art by hand and use it as a tool to call ducks was all I could think about. I knew I wanted to be a part of the history and tradition of the American duck call – to make my own custom handmade calls like Butch and his predecessor and teacher, Chick Major, had done. But I thought I’d just piddle in my garage as a hobby and then maybe take up the torch when it came time for Butch to retire, just as he had done with his mentor. But like most well-laid plans, things took a turn and changed that course.
John Stephens crafts a duck call in Stuttgart, Arkansas
Butch’s health had turned poor and, when I was only 26, he asked me to step up and take over his business. I was excited to be handed this rare opportunity to turn my passion into my vocation. And at the same time, I had my reservations and feared letting people down: I had some big shoes to fill if I was to successfully take over a company that had been solely tied to one man.
Rich N Tone duck call designs hang in the shop of John Stephens
Seventeen years later, RNT Calls is thriving, and I am also living out my dream of creating my own handmade duck calls: J Stephens Calls is the culmination of the time-honored methods and vintage styles, today’s performance standards, and my own unique interpretation of and approach to the craft. What started as the preoccupation of a young boy has led to the fulfillment of a lifetime, and I am proud to play a part in keeping alive the rich culture of duck hunting and call making right here in Stuttgart.
John Stephens watches ducks fly with one of his own ducks calls in hand