California Boy Preps for World Duck Calling Contest
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In the town of Belmont, California, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley, you might hear strange noises coming from one of the houses. First the sound of a full-grown elk, then the cry of a wild duck, and then a Canadian goose. Really, though, all are the sound of a 12-year-old world champion animal caller.
David Gorn has more.
(Soundbite of crowd)
DAVID GORN: At the after-school care program at Weston Middle School, the kids wrestle with homework, wrestle with each other and just generally be kids.
(Soundbite of playing kids)
GORN: One of the boys here, Greg Hubbell Jr., excuses himself because it's time to practice. He takes his little camouflage bag out to the edge of the soccer field, digs in it for a second, stands up straight and then let's fly.
(Sounbite of animal sounds)
GORN: Greg Hubbell has a calling. Hubbell may be a seventh grader in an upscale suburban town, but he's also one of the best wild animal callers in the world. He won his first world title at age seven and has his state titles in duck calling, wild turkey calling and elk calling. The only title that has eluded him so far is the duck calling world championships and that happens in Stuttgart, Arkansas, this weekend.
Mr. GREG HUBBELL JR. (World Champion Animal Caller): Last year I lost by one point. I got second place. Just makes you want to get even more. This year I want to get it. It's my goal and the contest is on Saturday and I'm pumped.
GORN: A competitive caller uses a wooden caller that's sort of like a whistle, which seems a little like cheating, but not if you think of it as a kind of musical instrument. In a way, Hubbell doesn't speak duck, he plays duck.
Now, Greg and his father, Greg Hubbell Sr., take duck calling very seriously. So does Greg's mentor and teacher's Stuart McCullick(ph) who says it may sound simple but there is one thing every duck caller needs.
Mr. STUART McCULLICK (Teacher, Weston Middle School): Well, we have to start with basics. You know, the basics are you have to build a quack, you got to sound like a duck.
GORN: Apparently, it's a God-given talent to be able to quack. After mastering the quack, McCullick says, that's when it start to get complicated.
Mr. McCULLICK: Quack in a string which is like five notes, you know, if you got a quack it's more like, quack, quack, quack. And if you go through them and put five together…
(Soundbite of mimicking duck)
Mr. McCULLICK: Okay? So you want to build off of those.
GORN: And once you master the intricate sounds of a hail sequence - a greeting sequence - a feed call, there's one more thing you need, McCollick says.
Mr. McCULLICK: I've had a lot of kids that don't have a lot of natural talent like Greg has that don't have the desire. He wants to be good and that separates him.
(Soundbite of animal noise makers)
GORN: Back at the soccer field in Belmont, a few of Greg's friends joined him and pretty soon they're all picking up animal noise makers. There's an owl.
(Soundbite of mimicking owl)
GORN: And hawk.
(Soundbite of mimicking hawk)
GORN: And, is that a chimpanzee?
(Soundbite of mimicking chimpanzee)
GORN: In a way, it's kids having fun.
Like his classmates, Greg Hubbell is a seventh-grade kid. He loves baseball, plays percussion in the school band. He's a boy who's eager to please, but he's also eager to compete. He knows that most pre-teen kids would cave under the glare of lights and high expectation, but he says he's not only ready for it, he wants it.
Mr. HUBBELL: I like the pressure and the crowd, it kinds of give me more energy to do better. I mean, after I (unintelligible). It's great, I mean, once I finish my routine people go crazy.
GORN: Just how crazy everyone goes will be determined at the finals this Saturday. So even though his friends may sound like a herd of wheezing dental drills, if it sounds like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, that's Greg Hubbell.
For NPR News, I'm David Gorn.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
And I'm John Ydstie.