Duck calls are more diverse than the ducks they entice. There are cheap ones, expensive ones, mass produced calls, and calls from mom & pop shops. They’re made of plastic, African wood, oak, and air craft grade specialty materials I’ve never heard of. But they all have one thing in common. They can be horribly misused to the detriment of the hunter operating them. There are several calling mistakes that keep birds alive every season. Here is a look at the most common ones.
Too Much Calling
The biggest calling sin is calling too much. The offenders are far and wide. From novice duck callers to the pros, a lot of duck hunters would be better off with their call in their pocket. A duck call is one of many tools in a duck hunter’s arsenal. Let good scouting, concealment, and effective decoy spreads do their jobs as well. If all those are right, sometimes calling isn’t even necessary. Give the birds a few greeting calls to get their attention, then put the call down, cover your face, and prepare to call the shot. Oftentimes, hunters talk ducks out of checking out a decoy spread… especially heavily pressured ducks.
Forgetting The Finish
Overcalling can burn you, but sometimes birds need to hear a little more before committing to the decoys. If birds continue to circle your spread, you have to get them down or they are going to spot something they don’t like. Some short greeting calls, feeder chatter, and a few soft quacks is all you need to get the job done. Remember, these ducks are not a half mile out. Keep the volume down and if you are hunting with someone else, work as a team. When you are duckless, practice your finishing sequence so that you sound good together. A lot of hunters will carry multiple calls and have one just for finishing. Some callers swear by a more narrow call for this purpose, since the air is being pushed into a smaller tube. I’ve found that I’m better off controlling the volume with my lungs and using a wide call. Blow a variety of calls and find what’s most comfortable for you.
The Wrong Practice
Every duck hunter worth his salt has spent countless hours blowing on a duck call while heading to work or business meetings. It’s almost a cliché at this point. It’s a great way to utilize your time, but it’s not the best way to practice calling. Get out to a refuge or park and listen to real, live birds. Interact with them. Try to land birds that are flying in. One of my favorite exercises is trying to keep them from landing. I’ll give them all kinds of goofy sounds to get them fouled up as they try to land. It’s a skill that has come in handy several times. The idea is to get acquainted with what birds like and what they don’t like in a no-pressure situation. If you mess up, it’s no big deal. Your calls will also sound a lot different outside than they do from the cab of your truck. Actually, they will sound just like they do when hunting.
I’ve hunted with guys who literally bring a buffet of food with them to the blind. They love to snack while hunting. Inevitably, they have a mouth full of donut when ducks hit the horizon. The rest of the donut becomes fish food as this guy grabs his call and starts quacking. You think his call might have a few crumbs in it? Even if you don’t bring a concession stand along for the hunt, your call can get dirty. Once the reed and other components of the call get gunked up, the sound and tone of the call can go downhill.
If your call is plastic, soak it overnight in soapy water. The next morning, run water through the call to clear any debris that was loosened up while soaking. It’s also a good idea to run dental floss through the reeds. For a wood call, skip the soak and just run a little warm water through it. Then let it dry out before putting it back in your bag. This is all preventative maintenance. However, every two or three years the call will need new reeds and tuning. High quality call makers offer this service for a reasonable fee.
Calling ducks is one of the most rewarding elements of duck hunting. However, calling is not without it’s setbacks. The best thing a hunter can do is work on calling all year long and don’t be afraid to experiment. Without failure, success is bland.
by Chris Larsen