The Star Democrat
Calling champions converge at 50th Waterfowl Festival
Millington native Trevor Shannahan wins top honors
EASTON — It’s a good thing the 2021 World Waterfowl Calling Championships were held indoors at Easton High School. Were they held outdoors, thousands of geese and ducks would no doubt have descended upon the competitors, each of whom possessed the uncanny ability to replicate distinct waterfowl sounds.
The final event on Saturday, Nov. 13, the second day of the contests, made clear that contestants gathered as both rivals and as dear friends, in many cases. They hailed from as far away as Alaska, as far south as Florida, and as close as Easton and Millington on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
At the 50th Waterfowl Festival, the 44th duck and goose calling contests were truly mesmerizing. To suggest these young men were simply good at imitating the calls of birds would be a gross understatement.
Beyond the almost supernatural replication of goose and duck calling sounds, these contestants had moves like Jagger and LeBron, and the artistic expression of da Vinci. As they orchestrated carefully rehearsed performances they moved their mouths, hands, arms, and bodies in countless ways to achieve the exact sequence of sounds needed to win.Theirs was a full body sport to be taken seriously by those in attendance.
Teddy Hoover of Preston turned 34 on the second day of the championships and has been competing
since he was 12.
“To get started, an interested contestant should obtain a goose call which can cost anywhere from $25 to upwards of $300,” said Hoover. “And you get to compete against a close, tight-knit group.”
Hoover added that he has six out-of-state contestants staying at his house.
Fifteen-year-old James Steel of Swedesboro, New Jersey, has been competing since he was eight years old and won the Junior World Live Duck Calling Championship.
“Practice makes perfect,” said Steel. “This is part of my routine on which I focus, practicing at least two hours a day.
Alden Pugh, 14, of Berryville, Virginia, won the Junior World Championship Goose Calling Contest and admitted he was exceptionally nervous.
“My nerves were insane,” Pugh said. “The kid competing next to me said he could hear my heart beating.”
Junior duck calling contestants were asked to portray in 60 seconds a picture of live ducks sitting on water, flying in the air, and making their natural sounds. For the junior goose calling contestants, they were challenged to get the attention of an imaginary flock of geese, call them close, lose them, call them back, and land the geese in what were staged decoys — all in 90 seconds or less.
While the junior competition dates back to 2014 for duck calling and 1976 for goose calling, 2021 marked a first for the championships, introducing two new team contests.
Pairs of contestants linked up for the new World Championship Team Live Duck Calling and World Championship Team Live Goose Calling categories. Cory Niccum of Gardener, Kansas, and Mike Benjamin of Rochester, Minnesota, took home the first-ever Team Duck Calling Contest, while Benjamin would win again for the Team Goose Calling Contest with his teammate, Trevor Shannahan of Okeechobee, Florida.
Trevor Shannahan, originally from Millington, Maryland, enjoyed a first — and a last — during the event. After winning the first-ever team goose competition, he would go on to compete in his final event ever — the World Goose Calling Championship of Champions. Competing only every five years, contestants in the championship of champions event must retire from competition after winning.
In addition to winning both of the team contests, Mike Benjamin took home first place wins in two additional categories: the World Championship Live Goose Calling Contest and the World Championship Live Duck Calling Contest.
Arguably the event’s “pied piper” of waterfowl calling, Benjamin has been competing since 2007 and reports having made some of the best friends he’s ever had while competing for eight years in Easton.
After sweeping four categories, Benjamin was asked if he had anything to say to the audience.
“When you’re on a roll, you better butter it,” he joked.
Lee Williams of Southerland, Virginia, took home the event’s largest cash prize of $7,500 (among other prizes) by winning the World Championship Goose Calling Contest. As the longest running goose calling championship in the nation, this contest required competitors to paint their own unique picture of goose calling in 90 seconds or less in a kind of free style assortment of different communications on the part of the bird.
Waterfowl calling competition requires patience and a lot of practicing according to the contestants. And if you are afraid of losing, the sport is not for you.
“Don’t be afraid of losing,” Niccum said. “You will lose more than you win.”