The Duck Call
6 Must-Learn Duck Calls for Waterfowl Hunters
Doug Mauck - PHJ Field Staff
Have you been having trouble calling ducks and getting them to decoy for that perfect shot? Calling to ducks is an art unlike any other. A duck call is simply an instrument; and like all instruments, time and practice are necessary evils if you really want to learn how to "play". Here are a few tips to help you get started duck calling, or to possibly help you improve your current technique.
First and foremost, you must find a call that fits you and the way you exert air into a call. A mistake I see made by many waterfowl hunters is purchasing a call that a fellow hunter has and recommends, or perhaps a really expensive call, because they assume it must be "the best". Wrong! It’s not the look, price, size, etc. that makes the call, it is the person that's pushing the air through it that most influences a call's ability to bring ducks into your shooting hole. That being said, before you buy a call go to a store that has a good selection and try several out, including models from various price ranges. You might very well find that an expensive call produces the best sounds for you. But you might also discover that a more affordable call works equally well for your style calling.
Once you have found the call that fits YOU best (not your buddy), it is time to practice with the call. I stated earlier, time and practice will teach you how to use and become very familiar with your duck call. The way I learned to call was sitting in my room with my duck call and a recorder. Calling, recording, listening, refining…calling, recording, listening, refining…over and over again. After practicing like this it wasn't long until I was able to take my call into the field and start working live ducks.
I use 6 different kinds of calls while hunting ducks, all of which are important for waterfowlers to learn if they want to increase their odds of calling and killing ducks.
1. Basic Quack
The basic quack is simply a very basic version of all other kinds of calls. It is a single note that must be crisply cut off at the end. I blow the basic quack by saying QUACK or WHACK into my call; not QUAck or WHAck It fits in anywhere with one exception. DO NOT use the basic quack at the same volume and tone 4 or 5 times in a row. This is the sound that mallards make when taking off from the water and might communicate "danger".
The greeting call consists of usually 5 to 7 notes. I blow the greeting call by saying QUACK-QUACk-QUAck-QUack-Quack. The notes are blown to sound as if they are getting shorter and shorter as you go on. This is typically the first call that I use when I first spot a bird(s) in the distance. If you're hunting "big water" or the ducks are more than 200 yards away you may need to start with a Hail call. A hail call is a little more advanced call, however. For the purposes of this article, let's stick to the basics.
The feeding call is a mixture of very short notes put together in a very quick sequence. I blow the feeding call by saying TIC--TIC--TICA-TICA-TICA-TICA-TIC--TIC-TICA-TICA very quickly. I generally don’t use the feeding call unless the feeding call is being made to me by the birds in the air. The feeding call adds lots of variety to a call and can be used straight from or straight into the basic quack. It can also be used to make it sound like several ducks are "chattering", adding realism and audible feedback to the ducks to help convince them that your decoy spread is actually live ducks.
The comeback call is the "go-to" when you are dealing with one of those finicky birds that won't react to anything else. It usually consists of 10 to 15 notes that sounds much more aggressive and close together. I blow the feeding call by saying QUACK--QUACK--QUACK--QUACK--QUACK-QUACK-QUACK-QUACK-QUACK-QUACK QUACK. Do not over-use the comeback call and do not use it until the bird has shown no desire to come land in your spread.
5. Lonely Hen
The lonely hen call is great to use when trying to lure in those birds that hang out on the edge circling and circling time after time. It usually consists of 4 to 6 squeaky and drawn out quacks. The quacks should be more spread out and sound as if the duck is suffering from a cold. I blow the lonely hen call by saying QUAAAACK---QUAAAACK---QUAAACK---QUAACK---QUAACK. I use the lonely hen call to help pull in weary birds and lone drakes.
6. Quick Quack
The quick quack is deadly effective and extremely simple to blow. It is rate that I DON'T see this call work when used at the exact right time. I must first give credit where credit is due. This call was discovered, mastered and taught to be by my Dad, and has been very effective over the years at helping us bag more ducks. The quick quack consists of 2 to 3 short and sharp quacks. I blow the quick quack by saying QUACK QUACK. I use the quick quack when I am calling a duck that has circled several times right outside of shooting range or when a duck is directly off to either side of the blind just outside of shooting range. Once the quick quack is used the duck will, more times than not, stop on a dime and come hard into your decoy spread so you'd better be ready!
Now that you've read about these six calls, here is a quick and simple video to let you hear what they sound like.
Once you feel confident in your calling and have taken some time to practice, then it is time to put the calls to use in the field. Even more important then knowing HOW to blow these calls is knowing WHEN to blow them. Try to spend some time listening to live ducks that are flying and sitting on the water. This will help you familiarize yourself with when to properly use these calls, and give you a better sense for the cadence and inflection you should be using to sound like a live duck.
A Few General Duck Calling Tips:
Never call when a bird is directly over your duck blind. This will give the duck an opportunity to pinpoint your location exactly.
Only call to "tips and tails". By saying this I mean never call to a duck coming directly at you, just let him come. But if you see wing tips or tail feathers, that is the time get on your call.
In the early part of the duck season it is easier to call to ducks and you can typically call a lot more. The birds are not yet call shy and are often still oblivious to hunters. After the season has been underway for a month or so, the birds start to become more knowledgeable to our tricks. Try to not call as much during this time and let the birds work a little harder with less calling. As the season begins to come to an end less calling is often going to work better. The ducks can become pretty "call shy" by this time and may be harder to get to decoy.
Remember to be different and try new things when calling. If what you are doing isn’t working then change it, experiment, perhaps try another call or re-arrange your decoy spread.
Calling to ducks is one of the most fun and rewarding parts of the hunting experience. When a hunter works hard to get a duck to decoy and it pays off, it is extremely rewarding – sometimes even more rewarding than making a great shot. Don’t wait until a week or even the night before opening day to start becoming familiar with your calls again. Time and practice will pay off and are absolutely necessary to good duck calling.