When it comes to talking about himself, Rick Dunn is a man of relatively few words. Despite having ascended to the pinnacle of duck calling in Arkansas – 1997 World Champion – he’s much more comfortable talking to his quarry via one of his self-designed Echo duck calls than he is to those who would give suitable acclaim to his accomplishments.
One exception to Dunn’s “silence is golden” philosophy is when it comes to the men and women who, like him, live for the sport of duck hunting.
“The thing I love most about living in Arkansas is the people in Arkansas,” he said. “It’s a little bit more in the slow lane than say, New York City. I don’t think I could get along there. The people are great and the duck hunting is fabulous. There’s no way I would ever leave Arkansas.”
Beginners and experts alike make the pilgrimage to Echo Championship Calls in Beebe in the hopes of catching a moment of his time or angle for a spot in his hunting party during duck season. Such encounters always end the same way, with the visitor coming away with a bit more knowledge and even more admiration for a gracious master of the sport.
"A lot of duck calling is experience and common sense," Dunn told Gary Kohler while on a hunt for Ultimate Waterfowling’s WF360 website. "One thing that will help duck hunters more than anything is learning to read ducks, their movement. You learn that from experience, from being out there watching them."
Kohler went on to describe the master’s technique: “Five mallards, four drakes and a hen, circle wide behind the blind. Green heads glisten in the sun. Dunn reaches out with the wooden call – but not at all aggressively – and bends them back on a line to the hole. This will be all but the hen's last mistake.”
Born in Jacksonville in 1950, Dunn began hunting and fishing at a young age with his older brother Danny. At 16, the family moved to Florida where Rick graduated high school in Lake Worth and attended Palm Beach Junior College on a baseball scholarship. In 1974, he and his wife Audrey moved back to Jacksonville and he went into the plumbing business with his brother.
One year later, he tried his hand at making a duck call for his own use. His first attempts weren’t up to snuff by his standards and he gave them away. But his third try delivered just the tone he was looking for. As he took it out for the first time, a fellow hunter offered to buy it right off his lanyard.
Echo Championship Calls was born, although it would be 20 years before Dunn took what he called a “leap of faith” to move it from a side business to manufacturing calls full time. Today they’re sold wherever in the nation serious duck hunters can be found.
“I have had the pleasure of visiting with Rick at his shop in Arkansas and also hunting with him the last two seasons,” wrote Julius Reynolds in his 2002 book Sunrise on the Santee.
“Rick works for most of the year making and stocking thousands of Echo calls for the coming season. But when hunting season begins, he likes to hunt every day. Calling the birds, not shooting them, is his enjoyment from duck hunting. Many times he has said, ‘You do the shootin’, I’ll do the callin.’ ”
By 1983, Dunn decided to give competitive duck calling a try. His first victory came at the regional level and it set him on the path to even bigger things. He showed remarkable consistency at the Stuttgart World Championships with nine top ten placements in 11 tries, capped by the 1997 world title. Dunn’s impact on competitive calling is even more pronounced when one considers the champions he’s coached, those who competed using his equipment or were inspired by his duck-calling acumen, freely shared with anyone who asks.
“Rick Dunn of Echo Calls gave me some great advice over 25 years ago on how to consistently harvest ducks,” said Buster Cooper, president of Bust-A-Duck Guide Service, in a 2012 issue of Greenhead magazine. “Scout for ducks daily. Be where the ducks want to be. Ducks go to two things: Food and other ducks.”
Dunn has gone to similar lengths to educate hunters on successful use of his product, from YouTube videos to giving a beginner a quick lesson in the store, and he has even been known to assess a customer’s technique over the phone. His simple philosophy – in duck calling and in business – is as straightforward and honest as the people his company serves, enjoying the sport he loves best.
“At Echo Calls, we make duck calls for the serious duck hunters who want serious results,” Dunn said. “Therefore, we strive to make our duck calls the best there is on the market and that’s exactly what they are. As soon as you stop striving for perfection, you’re only settling for second best.”