Contest calling is the Hollywood of duck calling, but calling in the blind is different than calling on stage. Judges expect a rehearsed routine including a specific list of elements. Successful calling in the blind results from reading the birds and adapting. You adjust what you’re doing and experiment to learn what they want that particular morning and place.

For example, a key requirement in contest calling is to produce a perfect staccato feeding chuckle. The caller must train his tongue, lungs and diaphragm to say “Tick-it, tick-it, tick-it” into the call in long, rapid succession. These contortions of the tongue are among the most difficult initial skills for the beginner.

Problem is, it doesn’t sound that much like real feeding ducks. To me, “tick-it, tick-it, tick-it” is the sound a flock of mallards makes in flight. The on-the-water or in-the-stubble feeding sound is deeper and more guttural. More of a “gutttt, gutttt, gutttt, gutt, gut.” Try listening to real, feeding mallards and see if you don’t agree. Practice duplicating the sounds you hear.

Next to listening to live ducks and practicing to imitate what you hear, recorded or online instruction is your best bet. Great callers and hunters like Sean Mann offer outstanding instructional aids.

Another call, not part of the contest routine, is the nasal, single-note grunt of the drake mallard. Hen mallards do nearly all the talking. Highballing, greeting, and social quacks are all hen talk. Greenheads say one word: “BrrrshhhT. BrrrshhhT. BrrrshhhT.” It’s not a call to attract attention of far-off ducks, but at feeding chuckle ranges it’s deadly. With skittish flocks, drake grunts seem especially seductive to individual birds. When a flock makes a ripping, just-out-of-range pass, grunts will frequently peel out a bird or two and convince them to lock wings and lower landing gear.

The tool for making the greenhead grunt is a duck whistle, and the great thing about them is you can also use this same call to make the calls of pintail, widgeon, wood duck, teal, and gadwall. All of these other calls can be employed to your advantage, whether focused on the specific species or pressured mallards.

Pintail, widgeon, and teal calls can all be described as whistles, but with varying frequency, tone, and emphasis. Wood ducks make more of a whistling scream. Gadwalls make short quacks or burps similar to the greenhead grunt, and the hens quack like a Suzie, but it’s more reedy and airy.

Each hunter should focus on what he/she does best. If you have a hunting buddy who is an exceptional caller, let him do his thing with the high-end calling to get the ducks’ attention. Then when it’s time to finish ’em, you join in with the quiet stuff. Throw in real feeding sounds, the grunts, the whistles. It’s what closing birds expect to hear, so it will convince them to set wings and lower legs.