April 17, 2023
Crawford’s Facebook account broke the news, prompting a flood of tributes and responses from fellow duck calling competitors, waterfowl industry leaders, and friends and family.
“Hello Everyone, We regret to inform you that Trey was called up to the big hunting grounds in the sky today, Thursday, April 13,” said the social media post. “He was surrounded by loved ones and passed peacefully. He lived an amazing life and was surrounded by amazing family and friends. If you met Trey, you’ll never forget him. He loved the life he lived. He is in a much better place and free from any suffering.
“Please keep him and our family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Getting to Know Trey Crawford
Crawford was part of a tight knit Arkansas duck hunting community, and the even tighter circle of world class calling competitors. Over the course of a career that lasted more than four decades, he did what no other caller has ever done.
Born on Nov. 27, 1959—a day before Texas resident James “Cowboy” Fernandez would win the world duck calling title in Stuttgart, and the only man to do so with a double-reed duck call—Crawford would start out his own amazing career at an especially early age as he grew up near Newport, Arkansas.
“I started duck hunting when I was 5 years old and entered my first [calling] contest in 1969 when I was 10 years old; that was the year I won the Jackson County Junior Duck Calling Championship," Crawford told writer Buddy Gough in a 2007 story that appeared in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper. "On the same day, my father won the Northeast Arkansas Regional Open and my brother won the Jackson County Senior Division."
But as good as all of that was, it would get better a few years down the road as America celebrated its Bicentennial birthday. Crawford had plenty to celebrate by year’s end, winning the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in downtown Stuttgart on Nov. 27, 1976, his 17th birthday.
Even more amazingly, according to Gough’s story, he won the Chick Majors calling contest on the night before his birthday and the Arkansas state championship the next morning. But none of that held a candle to what was about to happen that evening with a world championship title.
"It was a heckuva birthday," Crawford told Gough.
Indeed it was, and amazingly enough, that all happened while he was a high school student at Northeast Senior High School in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Despite being a teenager while winning a World’s Championship title, Crawford was far from done, embarking on a duck calling career that has few rivals.
Becoming a Champion
A decade later in 1986, Crawford would do it again, winning the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest held annually on Main Street in downtown Stuttgart on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This time it would be as a resident of Mayflower, Ark., a place that Crawford would reside in in 1993 when he won his third world championship duck calling title.
With that win at the age of 34, Crawford would join a select group of eight competitors who have won three world championships, a point where world champion duck callers are forced into retirement by contest rules. In addition to Crawford, other three-time winners of the Stuttgart title include J.E. Jake Gartner (1947, 48, 49); Edward Holt (1969, 70, 71); Mike McLemore (1973, 74, 77); Barnie Calef (1989, 99, 2000); John Stephens (1995, 98, 2005); Brad Allen (2010, 12, 13); and Logan Hancock (2015, 17, 18).
But even with his third World’s Championship trophy in hand, Crawford wasn’t done. In 2000, he would win the Champion of Champions contest in Stuttgart, a calling competition held every five years and open only to previous world champions. When a caller wins that C-of-C contest, he is retired from contest calling for life, at least where Stuttgart sanctioned calling contests are concerned.
No matter how you look at those stellar results, Crawford had a competitive duck calling career unlike anyone else, being the first man in the history of the World’s Championship contest—which dates back to 1936 when the first contest was held in Stuttgart—to win championships in three different decades. In Crawford’s case, he won in the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. Only Barnie Calef matched that feat, winning his own World's Championship titles in 1989, 99, and 2000.
Add in Crawford’s Champion of Champions victory in 2000, and he won Stuttgart level titles in four different decades and in two different centuries. He also won titles in his teens, his 20s, his 30s, and his 40s, marking an incredible path of high level calling contest consistency in a field where it’s particularly hard to win even one title by itself.
Finding His Calling
In addition to his World’s Championship prowess, Crawford also won three Arkansas State Duck Calling Championships in his career, those titles coming in 1976, 1979, and 1982. He would also take home the U.S. Open duck calling title to add to his gaudy resume.
There was also a World Team Meat Calling Championship with late call maker Wayne Betts, who lived in Rogers, Arkansas. Crawford actually moved to Rogers at one point earlier in the 21st century, managing the Whole Hog Café in Bentonville. After Betts made a last second call for Crawford prior to the 2000 C-of-C contest, the two became good friends prior to Betts’ passing in 2022.
While Crawford held full time jobs during his lifetime, he also made a nice career out of duck hunting. After reportedly winning a $1,000 savings bond and a 30.06 hunting rifle for his 1976 World's Championship win, he would go on to be a much in-demand hunting guide for nearly two decades, guiding as much as 125 to 165 days a year with yearly starts in Canada and then working down the flyways to various hunting camps.
On a personal note, I met Crawford at one of those camps back in 2005 when he worked as chief cook and guide for the Webfoot Connection duck and goose hunting operation near Rochester, Texas. The meals were good, Crawford's calling skills were world class, and he was an incredibly interesting gentleman to talk about life and hunting as everyone sat around the lodge at night.
He was talented, likable, and a pleasure to hang out with at camp. Oh yeah, and he could call and shoot pretty well too as I recall.
On the morning after his death, tributes poured in for Crawford from all around the duck hunting and contest calling world, including from three-time world champion Brad Allen.
“Very sad about the loss of our good friend, Trey Crawford,” posted Allen on his Facebook account. “He was truly one of the best to ever pick up a duck call. We miss him already, but know he is with our Lord in Heaven!”
The official Facebook account for the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest also posted a message concerning the former champion’s death, as well as his legendary calling ability spread out over the decades.
“This proved that his calling style withstood the test of time, something no other caller has done,” noted the Facebook post. “Trey would continue giving back to the sport by volunteering his time to judge contests and mentor other callers coming up in the ranks.
“Trey was naturally a revered caller and very well known for his feed call. His call was strong in all parts of his routine, but his feed call set him apart. According to his peers, his call in the woods was just as strong. Please keep Trey’s family, friends, and duck calling family in your thoughts and prayers. He will certainly be missed and the legacy he leaves will not soon be forgotten.”
And then in perhaps the most fitting tribute of all, the World’s Championship Facebook page noted that services for Crawford are tentatively scheduled for April 22 and that there was one special request.
“For those that have hunted with him or spent time calling with him, please bring a duck call to the service.”
Amen to that and rest in peace Trey Crawford, you were one of a kind with a duck call in your hands.