Learning the Quacks of Life
Duck calls have certainly come a long way in the last fifty years. It use to be that there were only half-a-dozen or so to choose from, mostly made of walnut, with wood inserts holding the reed.
The old-style calls limited the amount of calling you could do. The wooden inserts holding the reed would swell from dampness and freeze up, prematurely ending many hunts of the past. Avid hunters carried 3 or 4 calls, switching to the driest one as need be.
Nowadays, you can open any major catalog (Cabelas, Herters, etc.) and see dozens of call makers offering their wide variety of goods. Walnut is still around, but there is also silicone, acrylic and polycarbonate with double reeds, rubber wedges and tuning holes. The number of choices can confuse the new kid in the blind when selecting a call.
For the most part, the new materials are moisture-proof and trouble-free for all day duck hunting. But, paying $50 to $100 for a call, (Although they may look more impressive hanging from your lanyard.) doesn't mean it will sound any better to the ducks than a $20 call. Don't get me wrong, there are some fine-sounding high-dollar calls on the market, but first, and most importantly, is a proper understanding of the fowl language.
To understand how to blow a duck call, today's market also offers a variety of instructional video tapes. Some that I have seen were made by Buck Gardner and Eli Haydel. But, the best "video" of all is live teaching from someone you hunt with and who calls well.
I believe anyone, with proper instruction, can learn the basic five notes of a mallard hen in less than one hour, and be able to call and decoy ducks.
Let's start with a basic, moderately-priced call. My favorites are Primos Wench or Haydel's VTM-90 (variable tone mallard). These are both acrylic calls with double reeds, and always sound good right out of the package. They cover the full range of the mallard hen, from soft to highball, and either can be purchased for around $20.
Most beginners try to blow too hard. Simply take the call in the fork of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger. Cover the mouthpiece of the call with your lips, letting no air escape around the outside edge of the call.
Now blow through the call the sound f-o-o-o-t, to make a single quack, starting the sound bringing the air from your diaphragm and ending the note with the "t", bringing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
Practice over and over this single note until it sounds like a mallard hen. No use attempting to quack more notes until you can do one note with confidence.
Next you are ready for the "Three Blind Mice" method. Everyone is familiar with this tune. Practice this f-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-t, f-o-o-o-t, just like the song, until you like what you hear.
Now, by adding a longer f-o-o-o-o-t note before, and a shorter f-o-o-t after the tune (going down the scale) you will have blown the basic five notes of a mallard hen. Which is all you need to call ducks.
Here are some additional tips when calling:
The caller or callers should always have their eyes on the ducks, watching how they respond to each note of the call. Sometimes a hen will call back and lead the flock into the decoys.
Always call louder at distant birds and softer when they are in close. Learn to tell the ducks what they want to hear, not under or over-calling.
Place one or two hen decoys (calling hens) close to the blind. These are regular decoys that represent where your calls are coming from.
Always try to finish over the decoys. Too often hunters will quit calling as the flock approaches and the silence alarms them, causing them to flare off, making poor targets. At least one hunter should call until the ducks are over the decoys ... blowing soft notes to reassure them that everything is okay. This is how you get the ducks to break flight and hover over the spread, giving you a slower-moving target.
After a few years under your belt, I'm sure you will be able to speak fluent fowl language.