OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF DUCK CALLING
By Joe Arterburn
The lack of confidence and fear of embarrassment keeps many duck callers—new and experienced—silent in the hunting blind can be overcome easier than you think.
The answer for hunters hesitant to join the duck-calling chorus because they fear being razzed for producing not-duck-like sounds is simple: Pick the right call and practice.
First, picking the right call is easy once you understand the basics of duck calls, and second, in the world of Internet websites, YouTube, and social media, it’s easy to find instructional videos and information to show you how to produce those sounds.
To start, you should pick a call that is easy to blow, and that means a double-reed call, according to Charlie Holder, president and CEO of Sure-Shot Game Calls. (https://sureshotgamecalls.com)
That may sound like a sales pitch, given that double-reed calls were invented by Sure-Shot founder James “Cowboy” Fernandez (who won a world championship duck-calling contest with the Yentzen call) and George Yentzen more than 70 years ago, but once Holder explains you’ll see his point.
By the way, reeds are thin strips, a mix of Mylar and polyester in Sure-Shot calls, that flex up and down as air moves through them and the call’s tone board, producing the sound.
Single-reed calls were plagued by a number of problems, Holder said, including that they tend to freeze or lock up easier, meaning the reed sticks usually due to moisture from saliva, rain, or accidental dunkings in water. Plus, he said, single-reed calls take more practice to reach a level of proficiency. “You have to force it to do what you want it to do and, consequently, it takes a lot of practice in order to get that done,” he said.
Fernandez and Yentzen invented double-reed calls to address those problems. “The whole purpose of that call was that it didn’t stick, it didn’t lock up, and it sounded the most like a duck out of any call—and anybody could use it,” Holder said. Fernandez also invented the triple-reed duck call, but that’s another story. (Fernandez passed away August 16, 2018. He was 86.)
Holder recommends Sure-Shot’s Yentzen (https://sureshotgamecalls.com/yentzen-classic) and the Special Mallard 650 (https://sureshotgamecalls.com/special-mallard-duck-call/) duck calls because they are “so simple to blow without having to use much air and it doesn’t require as much practice to sound like a duck.”
The last thing you want, Holder said, is to have a novice have a bad experience with a hard-to-use call so that when he or she blows it “everybody laughs, so they throw it down and never want to look at a call again.”
If It Sounds Like a Duck…
It takes little effort, little air pressure to make one of the calls work, he said. “A little bit of air and you automatically get a quack, and everybody knows what a duck sounds like,” he said. “It’s never changed. No matter how many new inventions and new innovations with new materials and everything that comes out, a duck still sounds like a duck.”
The quack is one of three sounds duck hunters should learn, Holder said.
The quack is a simple sound imitating the sound of a lonely hen. There are several ways to make the sound, but they all operate on the same principle. One is to blow into the call like you’d blow out a candle on a birthday cake, a puff of air that shuts off when your tongue hits the roof of your mouth. Or, as Cowboy Fernandez coached, simply huff the word “hoot” into the call, the “T” at the end produced with your tongue on the roof of your mouth produces the “K” sound in quack. “People have a tendency to, when they’re starting out, to make it sound like a kazoo because they don’t cut it off,” Holder said. If you can’t seem to huff the word “hoot” through the call, like Holder (“because I want to say ‘hoot’ and it doesn’t sound right.”), try hissing into the call, more like “hsst,” again cutting off that syllable with your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
“The best thing a hunter can do to learn is start out by just calling with that lonesome hen—quack, quack, quack,” he said. “You’re not yelling at the birds, you’re not flaring them off. You’re just giving the opportunity to see if they’re interested in coming to your decoys.”
The second call to learn is the hail call and it is used when ducks are NOT coming your direction, maybe just flying by and not showing any interest in your decoys. “They are letting you know they are not going to come your way,” Holder said. “They are on a beeline and maybe flying high but they’re not coming to your decoys, and that’s really the point. It’s basically a no-loss situation. There’s no risk whatsoever in giving a hail call because the worst thing that can happen is what’s already happening, they’re not coming to you anyway.”
The hail call is the same as the lonesome hen call, just in a succession of three to five (or more) quacks in quick cadence. Holder starts out with a high and loud quack and continues through the sequence with volume descending as he runs out of breath so the call naturally fades out. “I’m not a calling champion, but from a hunter’s aspect what I do is just run the air out until the quacks go out, starting high and going all the way down to nothing.” The fading call makes it sound like a duck that is moving away, which may add extra attraction to make passing ducks want to come back, he said.
If the hail call works and ducks swing toward you, stop hail calling and go back to the lonesome hen quack and work them on in.
Remember, the hail call is a last-ditch effort to get passing or leaving ducks to show some interest, not for bringing them all the way into the decoys. “If birds are committed, the last thing we want to do is give them a hail call and flare them off,” he said.
The third call to practice and perfect is the feeding call, or feeding chuckle.
“This is the call that Cowboy said separates the men from the boys,” Holder said. “Or, as golfers say, you drive for show and you putt for dough.”
The feeder call is a confidence call, emulating the sound contented, feeding ducks make. Feeding chuckle may best describe it, because it is a series of chuckling sounds made by saying, or more accurately, puffing the word tika repeatedly through the call—tika, tika, tika, tika—continually one after the other. It’s another call which can be blown until you run out of breath. If tika doesn’t work, try tugga, tugga, tugga or even tooga, tooga, tooga. Another technique for “some who are really good at rolling their ‘Rs,’ like my son, can just ‘machine-gun’ through the call,” Holder said.
It’s easy to pick up this call, which is used as ducks approach your decoys. “It’s a call that’s basically coaxing those birds in, saying ‘hey, we’re eating, we’re good, everything’s wonderful here. Come join us,’” he said. “That’s what it is, a finishing call.”
So, those are the three most important calls to learn—the lonesome hen, the hail call, and the feeding chuckle, he said. And, they are all made with the same call, like the Yentzen or Special Mallard 650, which reproduce hen mallard sounds.
However, there is another call you should have on your lanyard, a whistle that will allow you to make sounds of the mallard drake as well as other species. Sure-Shot’s whistle, the Rascal 7-in-1 Call, is another easy-to-use call, Holder said.
With the call, you can emulate the whistling hum of a mallard drake, as well as the whistles of bluewing and greenwing teal; wigeon, pintail, and wood ducks. (Hawk whistles, used as a turkey locator, and quail whistle round out the seven sounds the call can produce.)
“We need a whistle to attract these other species and if we hum into that call, kind of grunt into it, you’ll make the mallard drake call,” Holder said. He said a whistle should possibly be the first call for beginning duck hunters, even before the hen mallard call, because “doing a toot, toot, toot or a tweet, tweet, tweet in a couple different cadences” is easy to learn and “in the event you make a mistake you are still sounding like a teal or a pintail or another species and emulating those sounds can be just as beneficial in the blind with several other guys running their calls.”
“So,” he said, “you’re being helpful with your calling just as if you knew how to blow a duck call like a pro.”
Holder’s recommendation for a third call to your lanyard, in addition to the hen mallard call and whistle, is a goose call that matches the species you’re hunting. That, he said, would be “a three-call set you would be able call any waterfowl coming your way.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
The key to being a good duck caller is to listen, study, and practice, practice, practice, Holder said.
Good callers listen to live birds wherever they can find them, in the wild, or even in city parks or golf courses, to listen to sounds they make, then try to reproduce them. Some hunters watch and listen to pet ducks and he knows a duck hunter who keeps pet mallards in with his parents’ chickens so he can listen to them and try to duplicate their sounds. “He’s listening intently for anything he can pick up as an edge,” Holder said, “maybe a sound he hasn’t heard in the wild or something he can pick up from listening to those birds every day.”
Holder recommends researching the Internet for duck calling how-to videos and for videos and recordings of duck sounds. Sure-Shot’s website features videos of Cowboy Fernandez demonstrating each of the available calls. There are lots of videos from hunters, competition callers, and others from which you can learn, he said. YouTube videos and phone apps can be instructive and Cornell University is a great resource for bird sounds of all species, Holder said. For instance, you can listen to a recording of a mallard hen (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/search/?q=mallard%20hen) and a number of other species with the click of a mouse.
“There’s all kinds of ways of getting better without risking being embarrassed in the blind and having somebody tell you you’re doing it wrong,” Holder said.
And for more tips on waterfowl hunting, visit huntershandbook.com. (https://www.huntershandbook.com/waterfowl)