Making a mistake in the field can cost you in terms of the number of ducks and geese you are able to bring home. Unfortunately a lot of the mistakes made involve the use of calls. Knowing when, how often, and at what volume to call are all integral parts of the waterfowl hunt. Much of this knowledge comes with practice and observation of waterfowl, but there are solid guidelines that should be embraced as well.
Calling frequently may seem to up your success level, but in reality it makes ducks more accustomed to your call and therefore likely to ignore it. A call that is issued too often becomes more background noise than actual attractant, causing a loss of interest. This can also happen in heavily hunted areas where it is not only your call that ducks hear on any given day, thus you have to have it all together and working in cohesion: the blind, the decoys, and the ability to call.
After winning more than 20 duck and goose calling titles during his career, veteran Ohio call maker Fred Zink has often weighed in on what he feels is the cardinal sin of calling, which is to overcall.
"You have to think of yourself as a duck hunter not just as a duck caller," Zink said to Ducks Unlimited, "I use my duck call to draw in ducks and keep them interested in my decoys when they are unsure. I don't think of a duck call as some type of magical instrument that can mesmerize the birds."
Photo: Pro Hunter's Journal
Once ducks are in the area of your decoys, it is time to observe their behavior before initiating a call. Decoys alone will go a long way if you let them, and it is when the birds begin losing interest that you want to call rather than the entire time they are in the area. Watch the way they flap their wings and move their heads while in flight as this will give you clues as to whether or not the decoys have piqued their interest. If they give indications that they are going to fly off, that is a time to issue a greeting call. Alternatively, when ducks are downwind and in a good position to approach your decoys, issue a call that will direct them right over to where you want them to be. By the end of the season, ducks will have begun to behave warily and calling is likely to become less effective. As ducks circle and fail to commit, give them a greeting call as they are to your rear, which will hopefully give them the push they need to turn and give you a shot.
Remember that the better the call you issue, the sooner the ducks will come into gun range. The less convincing a call is, the more ducks will circle just out of range, which amounts to giving them more time to survey the area for a reason not to come in closer. This is particularly important to remember on days without wind as your decoys are still. You also need to take into consideration that sunny days versus overcast days will make a difference in what is appealing to a duck. All of this combined will necessitate an ability to vary your calls. Not only do you need to be equipped to make feeding calls, single hen quacks, five-note greeting calls, sharp quacks, feeding chatter, and more, but you also need to be able to adjust your volume. As ducks get closer, your call should become quieter yet speedier and more urgent. The key is to establish a dialogue with the ducks around you so that when you call, they will want to come toward you in answer.
When it comes time to purchase a new call, remember that there is no one size fits all. Many calls make promises of limits reached and sure, some calls are better than others, but the bottom line is that the call is not magic and will not do all the work for you. It will take practice to master any call you buy in order to make it appealing to a duck on any given day. In addition to practicing with your calls, make it a point to take good care of them and clean them. This can be done by soaking overnight in water and a mild soap then rinsing thoroughly the next morning. Remember that after a couple of years it may also be necessary to retune a call, a service manufacturers provide for a small fee or that can be done with a kit you can purchase.
Even the most advanced duck callers can make mistakes, but as long as you learn and progress then no harm, no foul. Practice calling and keep your calls clean, in good repair, and easily accessible to give yourself the best odds. As you continue to hunt and gain calling experience, it will show in the form of bagged birds.
Do you have any calls or calling methods you prefer? Feel free to share them with us in the comments!