How to Call Ducks
A duck call is essentially a musical instrument--a woodwind, in fact--that you blow into to imitate the distinctive sounds that ducks make. Learning duck calls that will entice ducks to land within close range of your position will improve your odds of having a successful hunt. Here are some tips on choosing the right duck call for the right occasion.
Choosing Your Duck Call
Choose between a single-reed or a double-reed call.Typically calls are made with either one reed or two reeds and a wooden, acrylic, or polycarbonate sound chamber that amplifies the sound.
- A single-reed call has a larger range, both in terms of volume and sound control, but is a little more difficult to master in terms of technique. This would be a good option for the advanced (or at least experienced) caller.
- Double reed calls are quieter but easier to control and easier to vary in terms of sound. A double reed will require more breath, but is generally a better option for the beginner. Making accurate sounds is more important than volume and double-reeds have a reliable "sweet spot" that sounds very realistic.
Select between an acrylic, wooden, or polycarbonate call.While the notable differences are few between the different materials that make up the sound chamber, knowing the subtleties will provide you with a good guide if you're planning on buying and a smart use when you plan to use them.
- Acrylic calls will make a loud, sharp noise. These are useful for open-water and long distances. They're also very easy to take care of, extremely durable, and will stay clean in the elements, but are the most expensive option by far.
- Wooden calls make a soft and mellow tone that some say is more accurate. They're inexpensive, but more difficult to take care of, though they will last for a long time if you do.
- Polycarbonate calls are generally the same price as wooden calls and offer a sound somewhere in between the sharpness of the acrylic call and the softer tone of the wood. They're water-resistant and reliable.
Consider volume.If you're going to be hunting on open water, or it's particularly windy out, you're going to need a call with a lot of volume. If you're going to hunt from a blind, or with decoys the ducks come right up to, it would be better to have a softer call that offered more finesse in terms of sounds. When you know where you're going to hunt, you can pick a smart call for the job.
- Talk to local hunters and sporting goods dealers to check out available calls and learn about popular varieties.
Try making a call.Detailed instruction guides are available to guide you through the process of carving a wooden duck call, fitting it with reeds, and tuning it to the proper specifications. This allows you the option of customizing your call and designing it creatively.
- Cheap do-it-yourself kits are also available, but these are often low quality.
Learning Basic Calling Technique
Hold the call properly.Most often, you'll hold the call by the sound chamber, wrapping your fingers around the hole to mute it as you would a harmonica. Conversely, you can hold the call like a cigar between two fingers and mute the end with the palm of your other hand.
Blow from your diaphragm.To find your diaphragm, cough into your hand. The muscle you use when you cough is the best way of forcing air into the duck call and making the most accurate sound.
- You don't even have to have your mouth open to force the air this way, so practice with your mouth closed. Think of it less like you're blowing a bubble and more like you're trying to get something out of your lungs.
Control the air with your throat and your mouth.Duck calls are short, repetitive, sharp bursts of sound, not long drones. Practice cutting the air off with your throat, making anoofsound.
- When you're pushing air with your diaphragm, open your lips slightly and put the call up to them. It's a good way to trick yourself into doing it perfectly.
Put the call between your teeth.If you can make a full "quaCK" sound, cutting off the air in an accurate sounding approximation of a duck's quack, you've got the right technique down.
Try learning old-time hand-calling technique.Much more difficult than calling with a good duck call, the hand technique is worthwhile to know in situations where your call might be broken or forgotten in the back of the truck. It's also a great way to score points with old-timers.
- To do a hand-call, curl your thumb into your palm and close your fist around it. Next, dip your clenched fist in water to trap some water in the crevice your palm makes. This helps to put an accurate sounding "rattle" in your call. Blow between your thumb and palm, changing the shape by flexing your thumb slightly. This will take lots of practice to get right, but then you'll always be able to call ducks with or without a call.
Learning Particular Calls
Learn the quack.A quack is the most basic kind of duck call. The best-sounding quacks have a definite end sound to them. A beginner will usually make quacks that sound more likequa-qua-qua. Make sure you're cutting the air off with your diaphragm to get the rightquaCKsound.
- The lonely hen call is a variation of the quack and is very effective in attracting male ducks who are otherwise wary of duck calls. It is a long, drawn out sound, more likequainCK.
Use a greeting call the first time you see ducks in the distance.This will consist of about five notes in descending tone with an even, choppy rhythm. The tone should sound something likekanc-kanc-kanc-kanc-kanc.
- Pleading calls attract ducks that are flying overhead. The goal is to sound like a lone duck on the water pleading for other ducks to join it. The first sound is the longest, an attention getter, and the next sounds recall the greeting call: "kaaanc-kanc-kanc-kanc-kanc."
- The "comeback call" sounds a lot like the greeting call and should be used if the greeting call fails. It's the same basic tone, but more staccato, making a single sound:kanC.
Try a feeding call.Feeding calls are not an often-used call, but are useful in rounding out a series of calls. It's basic tone should sound like:tikki-tukka-tikka
- When using this call, you should vary the volume slightly, starting loud and getting quiet, before building it back up again.
Use a hailing call only when ducks are far away.Your hailing call should be loud and not too complicated, though live ducks often have more complex hailing calls. Some professional callers think this is an overused call.It sounds likeaaaaink-aaaaink-aaaainkand should progressively get quieter.
Learning When, Where, and How to Call
Use the appropriate call for the occasion.If you're hunting on a small body of water where it's not too windy, choose a duck call that isn't too loud, or you'll scare the ducks. A double-reeded wooden call is perfect for the job. On large bodies of water or when it's windy, you need a loud duck call. An acrylic call would be more appropriate.
- If you only have one call, vary your calls to compensate. Remember: accuracy is the most important thing.
Call sparingly.Watch the ducks for reactions to your calls. Calls are to be employed when you've spotted a group of ducks flying overhead and you want to attract them to land as close as possible to your position. Calls are most effective when they're used sparingly, and they must be done correctly if you hope to fool the ducks.
- Watch the ducks for their reaction to your calls.If you see them flying over-head and change their direction to your position, don't keep skronking away at full-tilt and risk ruining your cover. Wait for them and see what they do.
- If you're calling more than once in 30 seconds, you're probably calling too much.
Eliminate other distracting sounds while you're hunting.If you're listening to Waylon on the portable radio super-loud, your whistles will make poor accompaniment.
Don't call if the ducks seem attracted to your decoys.If you're hunting with decoys and the ducks are clearly attracted to them, don't risk ruining a good opportunity by blowing your lungs out.
Be patient.Ducks will often swoop around, dive, leave, come back and land several times before they decide to jump in front of your sights. Be consistent, avoid frustration, and wait.
Practice.Listen to commercial CDs of duck calls. Listen and practice at home or in the car. Also spend time listening to real ducks in the wild. While you're calling, you should be actively listening to the sounds the real ducks are making so you can imitate them in response.
Clean and tune your duck call after using it.Wooden duck calls especially will need drying out and wiping down after use, so the wood finish won't wear and crack.
- Unscrew the reeds and check to make sure they haven't broken or chipped, which will affect the sound of your calls. If they have, replace them.
- Before you remove the reeds, use a felt-tip pen to mark how far down the reeds are screwed into the call so you can replace them at the same depth. Misaligning the reeds will result in a changed tone and make it difficult to reproduce your calls.
- Whistles are very successful in calling ducks because it's difficult to do wrong. Be sure to use the whistle for the species of duck you see passing overhead.
Sources and Citations
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Video: Duck calling tips for beginners. Making it hum.
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