Smile When You Call

For most duck and goose hunters, calling is at the heart of the waterfowling experience. In skilled hands, a call adds a powerful dimension to a hunter’s setup—sound. The right sounds at the right time can erase the birds’ innate suspicion and truly convince them that a decoy spread is nature rather than an artful imitation.

Duck and goose calls, by Bill BuckleyFrom the human perspective, consider the difference between watching an old silent movie and a modern film. Dialogue and sound pull the viewer into the story and help make the experience seem real. By contrast, a silent movie appears one-dimensional—a shadow of reality, decoys without calling.

Few moments in waterfowling are as rewarding as when a perfectly timed comeback call “flips” a greenhead on the downwind edge of the decoys, compelling him to cup his wings, utterly convinced, and plummet toward the spread. The sight alone is sure to bring a smile to a caller’s face long before anyone clicks off a safety and rises to shoot.

My own calling career—actually, it’s been more of a journey of noisy mediocrity—began with such a smile. My father, cut from the same cloth as scores of other Americans now referred to as the Greatest Generation, returned from Europe with two purple hearts, a bronze star, and wounds that would not allow him to enjoy a game of catch with his sons. But, thankfully, he found that he could still swing a shotgun, and he resumed his passion for wingshooting and eventually shared it with his boys.

One sunny November afternoon when I was nine or maybe 10, we took our boat blind up the winding tidal creek behind our house. Dad put out seven black duck decoys, raised the grassed panels of the blind, and settled in to enjoy the afternoon. He took out his duck call—a wooden metal-reed from Herter’s—and blew a few five-note calls on the pretense of prospecting for any birds that might be sitting up the creek. Mostly, I sensed, he was hoping that I would develop a greater curiosity about calling, as unlike baseball or football, duck hunting was something we could share as father and son.

It was a quiet, calm afternoon, and soon after Dad lowered his call, we could faintly hear a drake calling. The bird was on the water but around several bends in the creek. Dad called again—a lonesome hen series and then a little chuckle. The drake responded. Its calling was slightly clearer now, and louder still following a few more lonesome hen calls. After 15 minutes of this, a black duck drake swam around the corner and pulled up, cautiously eyeing our decoys. Dad called softly, and the black duck steamed ahead again. As the drake swam into shooting range, a huge smile spread across my father’s face, and I could tell that what he had just done—calling a swimming black duck into the decoys—was something he considered an accomplishment, a true test of waterfowling skills and one that he had passed while his son looked on in wide-eyed amazement. Before I even jumped the black duck and shot it, I was committed to learning how to blow a duck call. More than anything, I wanted to know the unconstrained feeling of achievement that I could read on my father’s face.

Since that November afternoon so long ago, I’ve smiled a few times while calling ducks, and I’ve had the greater pleasure of seeing my son do the same. Along the way, I have bought, tuned, and tossed aside many more duck and goose calls than I could carry on a dozen lanyards. As technology has improved the range and realism of waterfowl calls over the years, I’ve tried to grow as a caller. As a result, I probably switch out calls on my lanyard more often than I should. But here on the verge of my 44th year of waterfowl hunting, these are the calls I’ll carry on my lanyard this season: a Haydel’s VTM 90 double reed tuned loud and raspy for marsh hunting, or for rice fields on blustery days; an Echo polycarbonate Timber double reed, a new addition that suits my calling style well and seems quite versatile; a Zink PH-2 double reed that’s smooth as honey; and another Zink PH-2 that’s tuned a little raspier. The other two loops on my lanyard are reserved for goose calls: an acrylic Sean Mann whitefront call and a new Zink Power Spec when I’m hunting the Arkansas rice fields. I’ll switch one of these out with my Zink Paralyzer SR-1 when I’m hunting Canada geese in Virginia.

How about you? Which calls have earned their way onto your lanyard?

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Nathan said,

    Echo XLT(made into a double reed)
    Haydel DR-85
    D.C. 5 in 1 whistle

  2. 2

    C M said,

    Well written! I’ve got 4 calls on the lanyard, Duck Commander DC100, BrownSugar, DuckPicker, Buck Gardner 6 in 1 whistle. The DC’s are money…

  3. 3

    Doug said,

    I am trying to find a goose call that allows me to make the low, guttural krrrramp sound. I have tried several and haven’t found one yet that has that good deep growl. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for the help

  4. 4

    Tom said,

    Doug: Those guttural sounds are certainly important for finishing geese. With many of today’s short-reed calls, it’s relatively easy to master high-pitched clucks and honks but more difficult to produce low, guttural sounds. I switched from another short-reed to the Zink SR-1 for that reason, and after lots of practice, I can now produce a deep growl with it. Creating the proper backpressure through hand positioning is crucial. Zink Calls sells an instructional DVD that I found very helpful in getting good low-end sounds out of this call. Other call makers offer similar DVDs. There are lots of good short-reed calls on the market today, and most are quite versatile.

  5. 5

    Doug said,

    Hey Tom. Thanks for the information. I remember as a kid I used an old Faulks call which at that time allowed for the deep kaaaarump that always finished so well. I will definetly have to try the Zink SR-1. I currently use an older Hadel which is pretty good but I know there are better calls out there.
    Thanks again for the info.
    Doug

  6. 6

    Mark said,

    S&K (Cedar single reed) call out of Louisiana. $40 a call and it produces the most realistic sound I have ever heard. I fell into that herd of hunters who thought thier call had to cost $150 dollars to sound good. Now I wouldnt spend over $40 again.

  7. 7

    Justin said,

    I have 3 double reed Echo calls and a whistle but I have a Zink double reed in the mail. I have each Echo tuned to sound a little different. I’ve always blown and Echo but am anxious to see what this Zink is all about. Duck calling can be very important for killing ducks but don’t forget that a good decoy spread with movement will always kill more ducks than a great duck caller on a bad decoy set up.

  8. 8

    Doug said,

    Hey Mark. Do you have a web site to order one of those S & K Calls. It sounds like it might be what I am looking for. I also am going to pick up the Zink’s SR-1 also but I would really like to have a couple on the lanyard.
    Thanks
    Doug


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