Blowing a duck call is a lot like a golf swing, there are lots of ways to make it happen. Sometimes you’re eloquent, smooth and fundamentally sound. Sometimes you’re herky-jerky, unique, against the grain but somehow equally effective.
There are even days when a guy sounds like he is blowing a kazoo and the ducks just pour into the decoy spread. But odds are a duck hunter’s success rate is dictated by his ability to work ducks and draw them within shooting range with consistent, effective calling techniques.
The first hurdle for most callers is to realize there is a big difference between blowing a duck call and calling ducks. Many duck hunters sound like a million bucks until ducks start working. Then they proceed to blow too loud, blow at the wrong time, blow the wrong routine and end up spooking ducks out of the hole.
The sounds coming out of the end of the duck call might be good. What is often missing is knowing when to do what, mixing cadences, changing volume and adjusting the routine when ducks don’t want to participate.
Then there are the different theories of calling ducks hard, all the way to the water, versus starting loud and finishing soft once ducks appear to be locked up on the decoys. The two theories often are associated with being aggressive and using lots of volume when working ducks in on competitive public land and using more coaxing on private ground.
Greenhead has assembled an all-star lineup of champion callers and guides to share their strategies on working ducks Arkansas style. Hopefully our readers, from the inexperienced caller lacking confidence to the hardcore veteran, find a tip or two to help them get more ducks with feet down in the decoys.
President, Rich-N-Tone Duck Calls
1995, 1998, 2005 World Champion
- Most people associate timber hunting with soft calling. I, on the other hand, do just the opposite.
- I grew up hunting rice fields and reservoirs, because I came from a farming family. I also was fortunate enough to guide for over 10 years at Russell McCollum’s Wildlife Acres in Stuttgart after I graduated from college. McCollum’s woods are one of the best flooded timber areas in the state.
- I believe you can be more aggressive and call louder in the timber than in a rice field because you have three-dimensional objects (trees) to hide in and to disguise the exact location where the sound is coming from. The duck has to break the trees before it can pinpoint where the sound is coming from, and then it is too late. Not to mention that the sound reflects off the water and the trees, which produces a louder sound, so live ducks sitting on the water in the timber in turn are louder as well.
- In the rice fields we hunt we are calling at ducks that are trading back and forth from reservoirs and nearby river bottoms. These are not migrating ducks or high ducks, so we are not trying to break the ducks or get their attention from a long distance. So in this situation I like using a medium to low volume call.
- The ducks already have an idea where they are going, plus there are no three-dimensional objects in a rice field like trees in flooded timber. This makes it easier for the ducks to pinpoint your location. I try and call more sparingly and softer in this situation. I call just enough to keep them interested and try and call to the decoys.
- What I mean by this is call more on the corners or when they are behind me so that they think the sound is coming from my decoys and not my pit or blind. By doing this it takes the attention off your blind or pit location and puts it on the decoys and helps close the sale on your spread.
Bust-A-Duck Guide Service
- If they’re coming to the decoys, don’t call, let them come. That’s the hardest thing for a duck hunter to do.
- Hit them hard when they are at a distance traveling. If they respond, work them in softly. If they don’t respond to the call, let them go. Save your breath for the ones that want to work.
- A lot of callers in the blind will help. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad at calling; it just needs to sound like a lot of ducks. Listen to real ducks while hunting sometimes. There are some very sick sounding live ducks out there.
- Rick Dunn of Echo Calls gave me some great advice over 25 years ago on how to consistently harvest ducks. Scout for ducks daily. Be where the ducks want to be. Ducks go to two things: food and other ducks.
- Move early — if they’re landing a hundred yards away from you at daylight, they will be doing it all day. MOVE. And last — location, location, location. This advice has paid off for Bust-A-Duck hunters over the years.
Co-Owner, Refuge Calls
Judged the World Duck Calling Contest in 2010
Four top 5 finishes in the World’s Championship
- Calling ducks varies from day to day, sometimes hour to hour, no matter where you hunt. Hunters have to change their calling tactics from place to place as well. Most of us make two mistakes while we are hunting and that is we either call too much or too loud.
- When our group is hunting in fields or really any open water, we try to be more aggressive in our calling, especially on the corners so that the ducks do not get too far past us but not too soon on the upwind side either. One of the biggest mistakes I see from hunters is that they call too soon on the upwind side and they don’t give the ducks enough room to make the turn to set up. If you don’t let the ducks get far enough past you and aggressively call at them too soon,they will not have enough room to land in the kill hole when they make the turn.
- Ducks will end up pitching off to the side or they will keep circling and circling and eventually lose interest and leave. When you hit them out in front at the right time and they turn and are coming in do not be too aggressive with your calling. Watch their wings and as long as they are sailing into you and cupped up there really isn’t any need to call other than some soft feed calling and clucks. If they start to pick up, then hit them a little harder until they are back where you want them.
- When we are hunting in the timber I like to change my calling strategy up a little. When we see groups of ducks high we like to get everyone calling to get their attention. Once the ducks start responding we let the better callers start working the ducks.
- The one thing we don’t do is call too loud. The callers will still get after them on the corners and we work hard to prevent the ducks from getting too far downwind because it is easy to lose the ducks, especially if you are hunting public ground or if there are other ducks working off in the distance. When the ducks get upwind let them get far enough out in front of you then hit them and turn them so that they can get set up to commit to your hole.
- Once you have them lined up and they are cupped up and coming in, we don’t like to call much. We go by the adage if they are doing what we want, don’t call too much if any.
Owner, Echo Duck Calls
1997 World Champion
- Typically, late season, softer calling is preferred a lot more than louder calling. Early in the season, ducks will work with stereotypical loud calling to get their attention and soft calling to finish the ducks off.
- The key is to read the ducks. You can tell if they do or don’t like your calling routine and when they don’t … adjust.
- For field hunting, typically a setup will have more decoys in a field and the decoys will help you where loud calling may not be necessary. But then, sometimes, loud calling helps depending on the ducks’ behavior. It’s kind of one of those things where if they can’t hear you, you’ve got to go louder. Just enough volume to get their attention is the rule.
- If you call loud all the time, a lot of times you’ll get the ducks to circle but when they come in and hear that loud calling they’ve already been there and done that; they’ve been educated and will stay outside of shooting range. Having a go-to, low-volume feed call or clucks and quacks are mandatory for finishing ducks to the decoys.
- River hunting is a lot like field hunting except at river hunting a lot of times you’re calling at ducks that are further away. In river hunting you might be calling ducks that are a half mile off in the distance. Field hunting is between 500-600 yards and in timber, typically, the most you would call at is 200 or 300 yards. With enough volume, ducks can and will turn towards your calling if the conditions are right even at a half-mile.
- A hunter really needs to be able to call at all volumes to be effective. Typically you can tell by the first or second note if the ducks can hear you and do or don’t like what you are saying to them. Be ready to adjust tempo, frequency and volume to improve your success rate when typical calling strategies aren’t working.
Owner, Black Dog Hunting Club
- When to call hard and when to call soft? Who knows? The ducks do. It’s like being a baseball pitcher. You have to keep pitching till somebody swings and then try it again to see if it works. Every day is different and every duck is too. Some days they want it hard and loud and some days they want it soft and sweet.
- Weather can be a big factor. In the high wind and rain (or even better, sleet and snow), you can usually call more aggressively. The ducks barely can see and they barely can hear. They want to hear it all the way to the ground. On bright, bluebird days they may want it soft and sweet. Blowing softer and softer the closer they get.
- Pressure is by far the biggest factor. By the time the ducks get to Arkansas, they have heard it all and seen it all. The fact that they have survived the “Mississippi Flyway Gauntlet” means that they are pretty smart. You better have your whistle right.
- The calls have changed, the ducks have changed. When I was a kid, callers blew Yentzen double reeds and Dittos, called “coffee grinders” by some. They grunted when they blew and would turn red as a beet if they had to blow very long. Then in the mid-’70s, the Stuttgart-style single reed started to become very popular. It was more of a musical instrument that could be tuned and adjusted to sound any way the caller wanted. In the right hands, they were absolutely deadly.
- In the ’80s, along came the little Haydels. They were easy to blow and easy to learn to use. They would be tuned straight out of the package and worked like a charm. The ’90s is when the “Duck Boom” hit and the call industry went ballistic. Now they come in every shape, style, and color. The trick is finding one the ducks like and you feel confident blowing.
- Calling hard or calling soft? Let the ducks tell you. You can’t call like you’re mad at them. You can’t beg them in, and you cannot be a “One Tune Tony.” It’s not as much what it sounds like but what you say and when you say it. Good callers watch the ducks and it just comes out naturally.
- The best callers I know call like they just don’t care.