Basic Fowl Language
As a young boy, much of my fall and winter diet consisted of roast wild mallard. Since you are what you eat, this may explain why I spend most of my time in the marsh.
I was introduced to duck hunting at the age of nine. Each season, my father and his friends would lease a duck lake in the bottoms and let me tag along. They all wore duck calls around their necks, but very seldom used them. During my first season I watched countless flocks of ducks pass by our spread of decoys. I realized that if someone in this group didn't learn how to call, we were all going to starve.
At that time, there were only about a half-dozen different calls on the market. And the only how-to audio instruction available was a 78 LP record produced by the Olt Call Company. I bought the record and started practicing nearly every night using a Faulks call. By the time the next season rolled around, at the ripe old age of ten, I was good enough that my dad and his friends let me do all the calling, with occasional success.
Today, I consider myself a fair caller and I can still fool some of the ducks most of the time, and most of the ducks some of the time. But not I, or anyone else, can fool all of the ducks all of the time. If you live around waterfowl all your life, you will naturally learn fowl language. Add on several seasons of hunting experience, and you will soon learn how to tell the ducks what they want to hear.
The average duck hunter spends some serious money on clothing, decoys, guns, dogs, leases, etc. But a good call can cost less than a box of duck loads and is, in my opinion, the most important tool of the sport.
What type of call you choose will be a personal choice that only you can make. The old calls I started out with were made of wood and metal. Moisture and changing temperature would cause them to swell or shrink and eventually loose their sound in the middle of a hunt. Most modern calls are built with plastic internal parts that can stand up to weather, and allow hunters to blow sweet notes all day long.
Duck calling is based on the sound of a mallard hen. Her call is from five to seven notes. These notes are all you need to learn to talk a flock into taking a closer look at your decoys.
If you are a new caller, start off by saying the word "f-o-o-t" into the call, making sure you end the note with the "t". This brings the air up from the diaphragm, and comes out as a "quack". After you have learned to make the first "quack", go down the scale to the tune of "Three Blind Mice". "F-o-o-t, f-o-o-t, f-o-o-t." When these "quacks" start to sound like a duck, add a longer note before and after the tune.
You can create a bit of back pressure and gain more control over the tone by cupping your free hand over the end of the call as if you were holding a tennis ball between your hand and the barrel. Rocking this hand back and forth will throw the sound in all different directions, as in a flock of ducks on the water.
One simple lesson like this, and you will probably be a long way from national competition, but good enough to fool a few ducks. The trick to getting better, is learning when and how loudly to call. Here are a few basic tips.
The caller (or callers) should always have an eye on the ducks, watching every wing beat and their response to the calls. If the ducks are far away and not headed in your direction, call louder and longer. When the ducks are coming toward you, but still fairly distant, soften your calls. Don't call when the ducks are in so close that calling might give away your location. If they should turn away, start calling again. When a flock is lead by a hen mallard who is quacking, answer her right back in the same way. That usually closes the deal.
I've seen days when you couldn't call too much and other days where it seemed like mum's the word. Every day is different and every flock has their own attitude. New flights of mallards tend to decoy easily, but flocks that have experienced a lot of hunting pressure can become decoy and call shy. If you are out there on one of those new flight days, you'll have the time of your life.
Whether you are just starting to call, or you've been calling most of your life and would like to improve your skills, the best tip I can offer is to never hunt someone who can't take criticism. I've hunted with a few people that I wished would have kept their calls in their pockets. They either called way too much or way too loud. That's why it is so important to hunt with friends that can insult each other without any hard feelings.
When your buddies complain that it was your calling that scared off the last flock, each of you should take turns calling solo. Try to help each other. That is how you can have fun and get better at the same time. When someone new is planning to hunt my lakes, they usually ask how good the blind is. I tell them to let me hear a sample of their calling and I will let them know if they will get any shooting or not.
Since I have been in sporting goods most of my life, many customers have ask me which duck call is the best. I have a lot of friends in the call making business, so I will probably step on some toes, but there is one call that stands out from the rest. It's not a fancy call, so if you want one for show, buy a more expensive one and hang it on the same lanyard. The number one call in my opinion is Haydel's VTM-90 (Variable Tone Mallard). It cost about $15, is made of moisture-proof acrylic, and it is near impossible to hit a sour note on it. There is a hole in the barrel that you cover and uncover with your finger to make the sound of two different ducks.
I believe, with proper instruction, anyone can learn to blow a duck call in thirty minutes or less. If you have no one to teach you, there are several good audio and video tapes on the market to help you learn how. Or call me. I'd be glad to help you get started. But promise to write and tell me about the thrill you had calling in your first flock of ducks and watching them glide into your decoys.
Remember, it's the sunrises, sunsets and friendship in the outdoors that really counts. To take waterfowl for food is just an extra. Never take more than you need, have fun, always pack a camera and keep improving your calling skills.