The Man Behind the Call
Mike Benton and Challenger Duck Calls
Article by Trent Livingston and Photography by Brad Arender
Quack, Quack, Quack! You realize there are more to these words and their sounds when you sit down for a few with Mike Benton of Challenger Duck Calls. The story is two-part in a sense. Mike grew up in a generation where necessity was the Mother of Invention. You see, Mike and his forefathers found that a simple, but certain, technique could change the way duck calls sound. The technique would give the hunter, with developed and refined calling skills, a greater chance to persuade ducks into decoys than other hunters could. Thus, the cut-down call was made to increase the decibel level at which a hunter could call. The other being craftsmanship, yes, a big word, but suited for a man who started with a Yentzen call at eight years old, and who now sits atop one of the finest craft duck calls in the hunting industry, Challenger Duck Calls.
Today’s duck calls range from polycarbonate, acrylic, wood, plastic, titanium and carbonate. All the bells and whistles can run you upwards to $500 with over a thousand from which to choose. For Mike, who will fine tune your Challenger if need be, it is all about the craft. The craft is handed down and given freely to those who will carry on the livelihood of cut-down calls. Originally starting in 1997, with two other partners buying in for some injection molds and numerous trade shows, Challenger hit a period of growth but then slowed severely. Mike chose to buy out his partners and let the call business sit for a while. Being a 37-year retiree of AT&T, Mike knew a thing or two about having to adjust to schedules and demand.
Resurgence in the business happened just when Mike thought the flight was over with the advent of social media. The Internet gave Challenger Duck Calls the ability to share the craft worldwide and changed business overnight. Now, Challenger Duck Calls are sold via social media and at one place locally, Louisiana Purchases on North 18th in Monroe, where he keeps about 6-10 calls on the shelves. His packaging is a photo of Mike and his dad way back hunting out of a blind on Wham Brake. The nostalgia of his duck call packaging can be instantly seen and felt. You can’t wait to get the call and start work on this one-of-a-kind, custom-crafted, cut-down call.
But wait, as Mike states, “Put up all of your other calls first!” I knew what he meant. “You can’t have any easy stock shelf call on your lanyard and try to call a Challenger…. It just doesn’t work that way.” Cut-downs take a certain bit of work and tons of practice to make them sound like your winged prey. Even then, you may just have to give Mike a call for a custom filing of your call….and no he doesn’t mind one bit. He wants you to be the most successful caller you can be. That is just how Mike Benton is and how Challenger Duck Calls have become the custom craft call of the duck hunting industry.
On the afternoon we met, his long-time friend, Kevin Hudson, was there when I arrived. It was enlightening to sit and listen to them discuss how they came to the current knowledge base in the art of duck calling. You see, there are many styles, opinions, variations, modes of etiquette, in the world of duck hunting, and more importantly, the use of a duck call. The settings, the group of hunters, the type of weather and the time of year all determine their approach to calling the ducks. As Mike stated, “It kills me to know the duck didn’t know what I had to say….” Mike continued, “Some say calling loud or loudest scares the ducks away, a recurring theme for many a hunter, but I say if I can see them, I’m going to try them.”
We see it every day in the hunting world. A new decoy, new type of boat motor, new type of boat, overhauled engines with more horsepower, use of layout boats to name a few. So as I listened, cut-down calls seem to be one of the first adaptations to the primary tool for duck hunting. The way in which your call can give you just a little bit of an edge over the next group of guys is what we all want. Mike and Kevin added, “There is nothing better than having four to five guys using the Challenger together in unison, listening to what each other is doing, then translating that up towards the ducks.”
“You just have to see these ducks, barely visible, hearing the guys using the Challenger and dropping like bricks out to the sky into our decoys!”
I have to tell on myself for just a second. Mike asked me, “Trent, how did you get word or hear about Challenger Duck Calls?” I stated my wife, Cassie, texted me your number and told me to get with you for the story. Mike shrugged a bit and said, “Ok.” Well, that didn’t sit, for I knew Mike really wanted to know how we got word. So, I asked my wife…..here is the interesting part….”I bought you his call last year from Louisiana Purchases!” Needless to say, I didn’t make a hunt last year nor break out my Challenger Duck Call. So, I told Mike my funny story and promised him that this year I would take all my other calls off my lanyard and run just with my Challenger. So, I would ask that each of you check out Mike Benton via Facebook or get down to Louisiana Purchases to buy your locally made, custom-crafted cut-down Challenger Duck Call. I promise you won’t regret it!
May your limits be full, and your travels safe!