THIEF RIVER FALLS -- Cory Loeffler has had a passion for geese -- watching them fly, trying to lure them into the decoys with a well-delivered call -- since an uncle first took him hunting a dozen years ago.
It's basically a lifestyle, he says; perhaps, even an obsession.
"It goes far beyond interest," Loeffler, Thief River Falls, said. "I don't know if you can pin it down in too many words."
Last month, Loeffler, 25, took that passion to new heights by winning the Masters title in the North American Goose Calling championships. Held March 7 in Moline, Ill., the competition attracted about 20 of the top goose callers in the country.
As North American Masters Champion, Loeffler officially joins the ranks of the goose-calling elite. Five past or present world champions competed in the recent North American championship, and Loeffler now is ranked No. 5 in the Drake Waterfowl Power Rankings of goose callers.
The rankings confirm what a lot of people in the area have known for a long time:
This guy definitely knows his way around a goose call.
That's where the passion comes into play.
"There's no classes in high school in 'Goose-ology,' that's for sure," Loeffler said. "It's just tons of hours studying geese, learning about their language and vocalizations and taking the noise that comes out of a goose's mouth and trying to duplicate it with a few pieces of plastic."
According to Loeffler, the goal in competitive calling is to tell a story and paint a picture that mimics the sounds and actions of geese in the field; all within the confines of a 90-second routine.
"That's what the judges are looking for -- a well-practiced and well-thought-out routine," Loeffler said. "And you have to tell the story right.
"There's a lot of practice, but you have to practice the right things, too."
For Loeffler, winning the North American championship was especially sweet because he performed the routine on a call he manufactured. In 2007, Loeffler launched the DRC Call Co. -- short for Death Row Calls -- and now produces a line of seven goose and duck calls in the basement of his Thief River Falls home.
Made from colored acrylic, the calls are shaped on a computerized lathe using a program Loeffler wrote. With the help of a friend, Kolton Kilen, Loeffler then assembles the components, shaping the reeds and tuning each goose call before shipping. Another friend, Josh Dokken, tunes the duck calls.
"We make everything that goes into them," Loeffler said.
In a market Loeffler describes as "real trendy," winning the North American championship with one of his calls definitely helps spread the word about the product -- especially in this Internet age.
"The bigger the contest you win, the better it is for business and publicity," Loeffler said. "That's one of our biggest pushes is the contest stage. We try to advertise and promote that to show people we've proven ourselves."
About the contest
According to Loeffler, calling contests typically consist of three rounds. During the North American championships, the top 10 callers from the first round advanced to the second round, and the highest five scores after the second round moved to the final stage of competition.
A panel of five judges scored the routines, Loeffler said, with each caller's high and low scores thrown out for each round. Loeffler earned the highest scores in all three rounds, finishing with 785 points, a mere two points ahead of the second-place finisher, who also just happened to be the reigning world champion.
Contestants performed the same routine each round.
"When you're blowing a contest, it's all based on the previous round's score," Loeffler said. "You have to blow well every single round. The third round is a big one. Only five move on, and the top 10 are all good. It's nerve-wracking."
It didn't help, Loeffler said, that he drew "the bullet" to call first in both the first and second rounds. In competition, callers draw numbered chips from a hat to determine calling order in a process known as "drawing the pills." Drawing the bullet, Loeffler said, is never a good thing because the judges tend be more cautious about awarding high scores.
"That's a bad omen generally," he said. "But I figured I'd set the bar as high as I could."
The strategy worked, and the judges liked what Loeffler had to say with his routine. Despite twice drawing "the bullet" to call first, Loeffler felt pretty good about his routine, too.
"I knew I was pretty well on my game that day," he said.
Learning the ropes
It hasn't always been that way. Loeffler said he was about 17 years old when he competed in his first calling event at the East Grand Forks Cabela's store.
"I got my butt kicked," he said. "I got cut in the first round."
The experience motivated him to work harder, and since then, Loeffler has racked up an impressive collection of plaques and trophies that covers part of a basement wall. He won the Minnesota state goose calling title in 2007, and that same year, he and Kilen won the two-man championship at the North Star Regional, held as part of the annual Game Fair near Anoka, Minn.
He also competed in two previous North American championships, placing fifth last year and getting cut after the first round one other time.
He calls in about 10 competitions a year. And while his company also makes a line of duck calls, Loeffler said he only competes in goose-calling events.
"Not a ton of guys do both contests," he said. "A few guys dabble in both, but I'm definitely a goose guy. I like the freedom of a goose routine."
Like a musician who memorizes a song, Loeffler says he knows each note of his routine.
"There's a lot of voice inflection involved with different notes," he said. "At first, I never thought it would be possible to memorize all of those notes. But when you practice enough, I guess it just comes."
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.