Lessons in Waterfowling #1
Basic Fowl Language
by Johnny "Dr. Duck" Everhart


As a young boy, many of my winter and spring dinners 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. For years my father and his friends had leased a duck lake in the bottoms, and in 1953 they 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, and finally we started bagging some ducks.

Today, I consider myself a fair caller. I can fool some 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'll 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, in my opinion, learning how to use it is 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 freeze 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 most likely five or more 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 blowing the word "f-o-o-t" into the call without sounding the word, making sure you end the note with the "t." This brings the air up from your diaphragm and comes out as a "quack." After you've learned to make the first "quack," go down the scale to the tune of "Three Blind Mice." F-o-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-t. When these quacks start to sound like a duck, add a couple of longer notes to the tune. F-o-o-o-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-t.

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're holding a tennis ball between your hand and the barrel. Rocking this hand back and forth will throw the sound in different directions and sound like two or three different ducks on the water.

One simple lesson like this and you'll 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 keep his eyes on the ducks, watching every wing beat and their response to the call. If the ducks are far away and not headed in your direction, call louder and longer (remember they are traveling 40-50 MPH with feathers in their ears). When the ducks are coming toward you, but still fairly distant, soften your call. When the ducks are in close, don't stop calling, just soften the notes accordingly. (If the ducks hear silence all of a sudden, they remember being in this situation before and experienced shots afterwards, so they might flare off.) If the ducks should turn away, turn the volume back up. If you see one duck in the flock respond to your call, then call to that duck as if it is the only duck. Convincing that one duck may lead the whole flock to your spread.

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 in your area 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 with 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 and didn't keep their eyes on how the ducks were responding to the calls. That's why it is so important to hunt with friends that can help each other with their calling 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'll let them know if they'll get any shooting or not. In other words--calling is very important!

Since I've been in sporting goods business all of my life, many customers have asked me which duck call is the best. I have a lot of friends in the call making business and personally have collected over 2000 calls, 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 or competition, buy a more expensive one and hang it on the same lanyard. The number one call in my opinion is Haydel's CAJUN SQUEALER. It cost under $20, is made of moisture-proof acrylic, and it's nearly impossible to hit a sour note on it. I call it a "Meat Call" because it produces MEAT!

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 CDs and DVDs on the market to teach you how. Or call--I'd be glad to help you get started--but promise to email and tell me about the thrill you had calling your first flock of ducks that glide into your decoys.

Remember, it's the sunrises, sunsets and friendship in the outdoors that really count. QUALITY NOT QUANTITY. To take waterfowl for food is just an extra. Never shoot more than you need, take a youth or a friend, take a dog, have fun, always pack a camera, and keep improving your calling skills.