Sounding Natural—Stick to the Basics
Keep your calls sounding natural by sticking to the basics. Fancy calling is best left on the stage for calling judges and should be used in the blind in only the rarest of circumstances.
The greeting call is what I use when I first see ducks at a distance. It’s a series of five to seven notes in descending order at a steady, even rhythm (Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc).
The comeback call is used when ducks don’t respond to your greeting, or when you want an immediate response such as in the timber. It’s more urgent sounding and has a faster series of notes (Kanckanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc).
A pleading call is usually followed by holding the first note a little longer than the rest of the notes (Kaaanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc).
These three series make up about 75 percent of my calling. Another 20 percent are single quacks and a little feed calling. As you can see I’m not much on 30-note hail calls. I have yet to hear a live hen call in this manner. I try to sound as natural as I can.
Most mallards I hear feed calling in the typical “ kitty, kitty, kitty” fashion are flying. This is what I refer to as chatter. The sound of ducks actually feeding is more broken up and erratic-sounding (da-dit da-dit dit dit, da-dit dit). In addition, I have found live hens only call to others after they have flown over the pond or passed their location. Usually she’ll give them only one comeback call consisting of three to seven notes.
Keep these points in mind:
- As long as the ducks are coming in forget calling.
- When they start an erratic wing beat, hit them with a comeback call immediately to bring them back on line.
- If they look as if they may drift off-line use single quacks and feed calls to bring them back online.
- Try calling at birds as they circle when they quarter into the wind. This will make it easier for them to set up for a landing zone into the wind. Anticipate their swing and call to set them up into the shooting hole.
- Remember your whistle and mix these sounds in with your mallard call. Youngsters can blow these with ease and feel partly responsible for bringing the ducks in! The mallard drake sound should not be discounted either, especially on a windless day.
- Always start high and come down the scale smoothly with no “start up note”.
- If possible use a call that applies to the species you’re trying to attract. Talk their language; for example, use a blue-winged teal call to call in blue-winged teal.
- When team-calling let one person be the leader and the other just fill in. Don’t compete against each other.
- Realize that all ducks are not callable and that real ducks do not call in all the ducks all the time.
- Be different! If what you are doing isn’t working…CHANGE. Don’t get stuck in a rut!
- Many areas of California are famous for their numbers of pintail and widgeon. Don’t forget the whistle. Usually I switch back and forth between my mallard call and a pintail whistle. If you have a novice caller (or even a kid with you), this call will keep him occupied and feel like he or she had a part in bringing in those birds. Always try to sound like the species to which you are calling.
- Many other complimentary calls will help you add realism, such as a gadwall call or even a blue-wing or cinnamon teal call.
Hopefully these points will help you sound natural in the marsh, which is so very important during the late season and the farther south you hunt. A northern caller can get by with a lot more mistakes and has a chance to experiment a bit.
Up until now, I have discussed 95 percent of my calling in the field. What about the other five percent, you ask? You didn’t think I was going to let you in on all my secrets did you? OK…EXPERIMENT!