Calling ducks is a skill, an art that very few people master, but it’s one that waterfowl hunters need to know how to do.
Great decoy spreads, excellent blinds and camouflage are all important, but knowing how and when to call, what calls to blow and how to do so efficiently is paramount to becoming a great duck hunter. If we can’t get ducks in front of our blinds, we’re wasting time.
Like all things at which we want to excel, it takes a lot of practice to be able to consistently call ducks into gun range, but there are some basic calls that most hunters can blow well enough to fool a few birds and add to the excitement of duck hunting.
Antonio “Duckman” Jones of Stuttgart, Ark., won the world duck calling championship in 2011; he offers these tidbits of advice for calling ducks. “There are really only five calls hunters need to master,” he said, explaining that many other calls are mostly used in duck-calling competitions and are seldom used in hunting situations.
For hunters to become more successful at calling in and killing ducks, they need to learn these five calls:
• The basic “quack.” This call is the most basic but also one of the most-overlooked and seldom-used. Jones said the quack needs to be used, but he said too many hunters say, “Qua, qua, qua” and leave off the ending of the note. Finishing the note will make the call more convincing.
Hens are often seen sitting on the water, offering a basic quack from time to time; do your best to mimic the sound to put ducks at ease, when in sight and when not. It is one of the best finishing calls to use, the best go-to call you can master.
• The “greeting” call. This call is used when you first see ducks at a distance. When you first spot them, start the greeting with a series of loud, drawn-out quacks that get faster towards the end of the sequence: “QUAAAAACK, QUAAAAACK, QUAACK, QUAACK, QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.” Repeat the call.
“Anytime I see ducks, I am blowing the greeting call” Jones said.
This can be the one call, along with the quack, that will convince ducks to investigate your spread and put ducks on the water.
“I love the greeting call; in flooded timber, this can be the best call to use to get ducks that are circling to drop right in on top of your position.” Jones said.
• Feeding call. This is one of the harder calls to master and even more difficult to use in the heat of the moment. It is mostly used when ducks are headed your way, having spotted your decoy spread, and you are trying to make them feel comfortable.
“This is the most overused call in the series” Jones said. “Many hunters do not blow it correctly.”
The feeding call is to be used as a last-minute coaxer to get the final commit from ducks, and that’s it. Many hunters, Jones said, will “blow the feed call like a machine gun…. They blow it way too fast and they sound nothing like a feeding duck.”
Slow down the cadence and use shorter sequences to sound more convincing. Mix this call up with the greeting call, and it can be a great call to use. But as Jones said, use it sparingly.
• Hail call or “high ball.” This is one that really should be used only when you can’t see ducks anywhere along the horizon. It’s loud and really reaches out there. Ducks that are flying in sight of your set will not like the volume of the hail call, so use it sparingly. But when there are no ducks in sight, this is one that you will need to alert ducks you cannot see.
Duck hunter Cory Holcombe of Central, S.C. said, “Too many hunters like to hear themselves blow the hail call just to hear themselves. Honestly how often have you heard a real duck use this call? Not very often, so use it sparingly.”
Holcombe said that when it comes to calling ducks, it is easy to “over-volume” them. “Tone it down, and you will often have a lot more success,” he said.
• Comeback call: This is just like it sounds; ducks are coming in, and for some reason, they change their minds and high-tail it out of there. A quick blast of the comeback call has the potential to turn the whole flock around for at least one more look. Often, it will bring them right back and into the middle of your decoy spread.
This call is very susceptible to cadence. It should be blown in a sequence of five. Five blasts and stop. Wait and give five more, Holcombe said the cadence is everything when it comes to bringing ducks back that have flared. Too many calls in this sequence will not sound natural.
“Remember, you are trying to sound like a real duck, so think like a duck and try and sound like one,” he said.
Knowing when to blow the calls and doing so effectively will change your duck hunting. For hunters who enjoy calling, being able to bring ducks into gun range really adds to the thrill of the hunt. Waterfowl hunting is as addictive as any kind of hunting; those who have a taste of the wetlands know that hunting “fowl” is a fine way to spend most days.