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Banding Together for Waterfowl

10 Tips from Top Callers

Experts share secrets for calling late-season ducks
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9. “Call” Divers With a Flag

Jeff Coats of Bel Air, Maryland, has guided waterfowlers on Chesapeake Bay for 15 years. He specializes in hunting divers from boats over big, open-water decoy spreads. His clients typically take canvasbacks, redheads, scaup, buffleheads, and other species over his spread of more than a hundred decoys.

Coats “calls” divers with a flag instead of a duck call. “I use a black cotton flag that’s 24 by 24 inches,” he says. “I rig it on a 36-inch pole. When ducks are passing at a distance, I stand up tall in the boat and wave the flag over my head. It’s just a big left-to-right, a slow wave. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, over here!’ When the birds see me and turn my way, I put the flag down and let them come on to the decoys.”

Coats says flagging is especially effective when divers are skimming along barely above the water’s surface. “When the birds are low, they can’t see my decoys from as far,” he says. “So I flag to them to get them to flare up off the water. It’s a lot easier for them to see my decoys if they’re 50 feet high than if they’re two feet high.”

10. Finish With a Hiccup

 Brian “Bubba” McPhearson of Madison, Mississippi, supervises the waterfowl calling division of Primos Hunting Calls. During duck season, if he’s not making calls, he’s using them, mostly on mallards in this state’s duck-rich Mississippi Delta.
“By the time ducks get this far down the flyway, they’ve heard a lot of calling, and they’re hard to finish,” McPhearson says. “So when they get tough, I blow a quiet little ‘hiccup call’ because it’s a call that’s rarely used in the field.”

McPhearson describes this call as a series of five to six notes with an extra half-note separating the long notes. “It sounds like ‘wank-a, wank-a, wank-a. . . .’ You make the half-note with your tongue, pushing air up against your teeth. It’s almost like a stutter note or a little squeal at the end of each long note.”

McPhearson uses this call when ducks have circled his spread a couple of times and have turned back for one more look. “It’s a convincer,” he explains. “I don’t know why it works, but it does, especially with ducks on public areas that have been called to a lot. They like it, and they come to it.”

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