"Calling All Ducks" - The Proper Use of Duck Calls

by Naomi K. Shapiro

Two Duck Calls and Steel Shot Shotgun ShellsAccording to guide Phil Schweik, duck hunting is not usually a sport for the uninitiated hunter. Yes, someone can go out and puddle jump ducks and get their share, but to be consistent in getting flowage, reservoir, or big, open-water ducks, you've got to be proficient in a number of techniques, including "calling," decoy location, and concealment. We'll be discussing each subject in separate articles. Today we're going to talk about the proper use of duck calling.

Duck calling requires proper "technique" and knowledge. No one should sit and aimlessly "babble" with calls, and expect ducks to come in. Ducks are used to hearing other ducks! So if you expect that ducks will come in if you do some squawking with any type of call, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

There are any number of different types of calls. Ducks are always at different distances -- they're flying by, they're far out, they're coming in. Nothing is static. When you have ducks that fly by you, and they have seen your decoys, that is the time to use an "attractant" call, or a feeding-type call. If they've landed on the water, outside your decoys or gun range, you may want to use a feeding call or "come-on-over-all-your-buddies-are-here" type call. All calls are different. Different sounds, different calls for different species... mallards, pintails, wood ducks – whatever. They're all different, and there is never any set scenario to follow. You need to get "educated." There are three ways to do that:

  1. Get a video/DVD/CD and watch it. There are companies and individuals who deal in these things, and you can watch and watch and watch again, and then do some practicing, until you get the hang of it.
  2. You can physically get out with someone who knows what they're doing, and who will teach you what to do. It takes more than one "lesson." Patience is needed. You're not going to become an expert caller after one outing.
  3. Phil Schweik's favorite is to simply listen to the ducks and imitate their sounds. That can take years to master.
  4. Best suggestion is to use the three methods in conjunction with other. It'll take time, but it'll be worth it.

Schweik says the most common mistake is that hunters call too much. Once you make that first call the ducks know where you are, as they will surely hear you. Keep squawking and they're going to fly right by. Make one or two calls and then hunker down and wait. Ducks may fly by even up to a mile from where you are, and you start swearing to yourself about missing them – and then, voila - -suddenly they bank and come back.

They may make two or three passes and then decide to land. If the ducks fly by and seem interested, but don't land, that's the time to make a subtle, quiet call -- like a feeding call or a "coaxing" call telling them to join their buddies (the decoys). What happens often, is that as the season progresses, the ducks become more and more cautious, and they will make numerous passes to determine whether it's safe to land. Once they feel safe, cup their wings, and get ready to land, they'll float right in, and that's the time you jump up and shout: "Take 'em!" Phil Schweik prefers shooting while the ducks are still in the air, as he deems this method "more sporting." Some hunters will fire when the ducks land.

It must be said that no matter how hard you work, or how good you are, things don't always work out. Sometimes the ducks will simply not land, or will fly by with impunity. Just chalk it up to experience, and wait for the next group. Be happy to know that there's always a "next group."

Posted in: Waterflow Hunting