Chick Major is an Arkansas legend and as with most good legends, there are conflicting accounts as to how he first got interested in making duck calls.
One version puts him on a hunt along the Arkansas River near Conway with a companion who was having difficulty with his sugar cane duck call. Major offered to take a look at it and, fascinated with its construction, went home and started to learn how to make one on a borrowed lathe in his Conway home workshop.
The other story goes, Major picked up a piece of Kentucky walnut on a business trip and asked his pal Clyde Hancock of Stuttgart to make him a call. The wood stock was large enough to produce two calls, one of which was made by Hancock. Major took the remaining block in one hand and a knife in the other and whittled his way into history.
Whichever version accurately portrays the spark for Major’s signature creation, this much is certain – few people are as inextricably linked to a piece of sporting lore as Darce Manning “Chick” Major is to duck calls and duck calling.
Decades before professional athletes made brands must-have equipment simply by wearing them, Major established his original Dixie Mallard, made and sold for years in Stuttgart, the undisputed champion call by dominating duck calling competitions.
Major’s win in the 1945 World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest put Dixie Mallard on the map, but it was the string of titles by he and his family that followed – 28 in about as many years – that really solidified the company’s reputation.
“(We were) dubbed the World Champion Duck Calling Family back in the 1950s and 1960s,” said daughter, Dixie (Major) Holt. “We were the original ‘Duck Dynasty.’”
The title is no mere hyperbole. Rough estimates place the overall number of titles won on Dixie Mallard calls at well over 200. Of the 28 titles won by the Major family (plus son-in-law Eddie Holt) 20 were world titles in various divisions. These included Chick’s wife Sophie, 1950 and 1964 women’s champion and stepdaughter Brenda, winner of the 1955 Junior World Championship and three-time Junior International champion.
Another stepdaughter, Pat Peacock, not only won all of the women’s world divisions, she’s the only woman to win the men’s world division (1955 and 1956) and claim the men’s Champion of Champions crown (1960). Peacock’s accomplishments landed her in Sports Illustrated, an endorsement deal with Servus Rubber Company and put her on a two-year national tour promoting Stuttgart and, not coincidentally, her family’s duck call.
“We were somewhat of an attraction because at the time, young girls didn’t typically call ducks,” said Brenda, who with her husband Don Cahill still operates the family company from their home in Morrilton.
Major backed up the hype with calls that stand up to this day. A natural craftsman and perfectionist, his calls were made by a sportsman for his fellow sportsmen. He is considered a key figure in the development of Arkansas-style calls, characterized by a one-piece insert with a straight reed and curved tone board. The design was known for delivering a mellower, more duck-like tone than a metal-reed call.
The company steadily upgraded equipment through the years. Dabbling in various model improvements, the company is credited with producing the first hand-turned acrylic duck call during the early 1970s.
The success of Dixie Mallard inspired others to take up the art and business of duck calls. The late Butch Richenback, founder of Rich-N-Tone, practically grew up in Major’s Stuttgart shop, performing odd jobs and learning the finer points of calling and call- making from the master himself, starting when Richenback was eight. In fact, he held his mentor in such esteem, Richenback didn’t launch his own call company until after Major’s death as a sign of respect.
In addition to generations of hunters, Chick and Sophie Major also touched the lives of many young Arkansans through the memorial duck calling contest that bears their name. The event, held during the annual Wings Over the Prairie Festival in Stuttgart, is contested by high school seniors for bragging rights and a college scholarship. More than $88,000 in scholarships have been paid out to 35 schools in 13 states since the scholarship started in 1974.
“(Chick and Sophie) had a special place in their lives and hearts for the Grand Prairie and its youngsters,” Holt said. “Their dedication to Stuttgart was demonstrated time and again as ambassadors of the art of duck calling, duck call manufacturing and duck hunting.”
“(Chick’s) generosity of spirit made sure few left his workshop without a duck call. He always had a ‘cull box’ that had calls with slight imperfections and he let those with limited resources search and choose just the right one.”
Chick Major’s affiliations included Ducks Unlimited, American Duck Hunters Association and Arkansas Wildlife Federation, to name a few. He is also an inductee into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame. Upon his death in 1974, journalist Garner Allen wrote of him:
“Chick Major was no fireside sportsman. Years afield in quest of quail and duck brought the crinkles born of greeting thousands of Grand Prairie sunrises to the corners of his eyes. A natural man, full of gentle mischief as anyone startled by Chick’s phenomenal ventriloquistic talent can testify. He was genuine, as true as the tone of any call his manual and vocal wizardry ever produced.”