Here’s a topic that will undoubtedly get some “I know everything there is to know about it” types of responses. Let me preface this entire piece by saying, I will forever be a student to this art. By no means is my way the only way, and there are things that I do not know. Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk duck calling. This one will be long, so strap in and enjoy.
Where do we even begin, I guess the first step in calling ducks is, well, the call. There are so many different types of calls. The first distinction that one must make is how many reeds do you want in the call. There are single, double, and even triple reed calls. The most common material for a reed is a mylar (or similar) compound. I have heard about people using other types of materials but for the sake of a three-hundred-page article let’s talk about the 99% here. So, the question now is which is the best? Everyone wants the best gear, right? Well I don’t think there is a definitive “best” because there is always that one guy “SiNgLe ReEds ArE HaRd To BlOw”. Well my only argument to any of this is, more reeds = more area to moisture lock. Frankly, double and triple reed calls tend to lock up even in moderate conditions, much less in the rain and snow on a brisk Kansas morning in the marsh. I would advise everyone to pick up a single reed call as early as you can. Double and triple reed calls are much more forgiving, but as you gain experience calling you will switch. Save your money, buy once cry once. My vote (and the other members of AGDC is single reed all day long).
The next big option you will have when selecting your call, J-frame or cutdown style? Can I help you decide which one you will like better? No probably not. A J-frame call will have a much longer note hold ability and will have a nice wide range of tones, volumes, and notes that you can make on it. A cutdown has very little hold, they have tons of volume, raspy whiny barks, and very ducky. Now the largest difference in how they blow, to me at least is it seems like the J-frame is a lot easier blowing, it is all controlled with your tongue and throat diameter to meter the back pressure. When you pick up a cutdown everything changes. You could be able to wail on a J-frame, pick up an RNT Mondo and sound like a third grader with a kazoo. A cutdown will take a lot more air and the back pressure is created more with your hand than within the mouth and diaphragm. I prefer a cutdown, this is a hot topic. There is no right or wrong here, find a call you can blow that fits your style.
One more call option then we will get to the real stuff. Material. Wood or acrylic? What is better? Again this is personal preference, I prefer the acrylic calls, you get a lot of volume, longevity and aesthetically I prefer them. I have personally blown some wood calls that blow amazing and I would be glad to have them on my lanyard, check out any J. Stephens call if you want to see a wood call that will make any true call nerds heart ache. Sound wise I think you will get very similar results out of either material; wood is much more cost effective if you are on a budget (unless you buy a J. Stephens). So, this is all preference.
Let's get to it. Calling in a duck. Talking to them. Where do you even start?
I am going to gear this more toward the beginner, if you are a world champion duck caller, hats off to you boss man you will already know all of this and more. If you are new to the waterfowl world, I hope my insight will be helpful. So, you’re in the blind, marsh, timber, boat, layout, whatever you hunt out of. We’ve all been watching videos of duck calling world championships and hearing those long hail calls that no one has ever used in a duck hole in the history of the world to success. Relax, you don’t have to sound like fifteen million ducks when you’re running a two dozen decoy spread. Which leads me to my first pointer of calling ducks.
Call to your spread size. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are running a ninety-decoy spread you can absolutely hammer those feeds to sound like tons of ducks, but remember you’re trying to fool a bird, that is real. They have instincts that will alert them when things aren’t right, if you have twenty-four decoys out but you sound like two hundred ducks, the real birds will know. I know this probably sounds elementary and you’re going “Well no shit dude…” Yeah next time you’re wondering why that group looked and hauled ass after you hit them with the machine gun feed and your six decoys... Remember this tip! All jokes aside this is hugely important, we’re trying to imitate a group of birds feeding, rafting up and hanging out. Try to imitate what they actually do!
No calling is better than bad calling. We all have that hunting buddy that thinks he’s Antonio Jones on a call but realistically, a wet fart on a hot summer day is more pleasing than listening to him blow the reeds out of his call. Practice, when you’re at home; get fifteen to twenty yards from your phone and record yourself blowing the call. I cannot emphasize this enough; I blow calls every single day. If you record yourself from that distance it will give you a pretty good idea of what you sound like. If you want to watch hunting videos where guys call and sound great I recommend anything that has Dr. Duck in it, or Tony Vandemore. These fellas know how to talk to them. Listen to them and then listen to yourself, you’ll know when it’s right. Videos of real time hunting will be of much more use for learning purposes than Joe Blow standing in front of the camera quacking here and there.
Listen to real ducks. If you have the chance sit and listen to a refuge. Listen to what real ducks actually do when they’re on the water together. That is what you want to mimic. Learn the cadences, learn to speak duck. The coolest part about this is the noises they make on the water are very basic! It’s mostly just quacks in different cadences and volumes. There are variations but for the beginner, a basic five note greeting cadence could finish you some birds!
Feeding Chuckle. To me this is the most important call you should learn. Yes, there are days where they will finish to you screaming at them, even on those days you will utilize the feeding chuckle. On those days where birds are call shy very subtle quacks, and the ever-present chuckle is your best friend. There are ten thousand ways to feed chuckle. They are all right, the more notes you can make, and sound different from everyone else blowing calls the better. That is why the feed chuckle is great, from basic to advanced learn this call.
I’m going to wrap this up because I could go on all day about duck calling! To that new caller who just got their first call and is blowing your lungs out to just figure out that first quack, welcome to the addiction my brother! You have entered the most frustrating and rewarding aspect of hunting. The Call.
Hopefully this article was of some use! Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the tips, take a look in our apparel section linked above.