Duck Calling: Beyond the Basics
By: Drew Myers
The importance of speaking the language of waterfowl
When learning to call ducks, much effort is centred on the quality and volume of the sound you can make. Learning to use a duck call is fun and challenging, but does little to put birds in the bag. Quality calling is important. You must sound like a duck. But, how and when you call makes the biggest impact on your success.
A highball is your first strike call. Many calling manuals suggest that a highball is used to get a bird's attention from a great distance before shifting to another call, such as a greeting or feeding chuckle, when birds come close. True words, but a highball is much more useful. When calling in large marshes or fields with few trees or other high obstructions, the highball can make your hunt.
In open spaces, you often need to use highball after highball to get the birds' attention and convince them to come in. This is often the case during the late season or when birds are in large groups. If you see large groups of mallards and black ducks winging around the field or marsh, but ignoring your decoys, really make some noise. Often, you will get little response at first, but with continued calling you will see the ducks start to skip wing beats and become a little unsure about where they want to land. This is good.
Once the birds come closer, hit them with greeting calls and feeding chuckles, but don't stop calling. When you do, the birds often drift away. If through continuous calling you entice the birds to look at the decoys, keep at it until it's time to shoot. This type of aggressive calling will leave you heaving for air, but it's also the most satisfying and challenging.
On a smaller scale, you might want to ditch the highballs and use the greeting call, feeding chuckle, and humble quack more effectively. Greeting calls attract and reassure ducks on smaller potholes, beaver ponds, and creek holes when highballs are simply overkill. In these areas, try a quick greeting call or two and then switch to the feeding chuckle once the birds react to your call. This series works especially well when there's a strong wind.
The greeting call is also great for preventing ducks from landing. One of the most aggravating things that can happen when calling ducks occurs when birds land on the far side of a pond or marsh. You don't get a shot, and they become live decoys for the next flock that comes by, often drawing birds away from you. Loud, aggressive greeting calls, as birds are about to set down in the wrong place, often make them reconsider, stay aloft, and come to your decoys to present you with a shot.
On calm days, a simple series of quacks, mixed with feeding chuckles, can really bring in ducks. When there's little or no wind, quacks let the ducks know you're there. Ducks like nice, calm weather, and are generally contented to paddle around feeding and loafing. When ducks are content, they're more subtle in their communications. Mimic this by using simple random quacks. They're often all it takes to bring birds into shooting range on calm morning and evening hunts.
It's not just the quality of the sound you make that puts birds in the bag, but also how you use calling to attract birds to your spread. This season, paying more attention to how and when you use the calls in your repertoire will have you bringing more birds home at the end of the day.
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