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Banding Together for Waterfowl

7 Deadly Duck Calling Mistakes

Avoid costly errors and improve your calling this duck season
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Story at a Glance
  • Even the best callers make mistakes, and these mistakes are what most often cost birds in the bag.
  • A key to effective calling, according to Fred Zink, is to read and understand the body language of ducks while they are working.
  • A common mistake is failing to adjust your calling tactics to changes in weather and duck behavior.
  • It's a good idea to add a quieter finishing call to your lanyard.
  • You have to have confidence in your calling ability, and this only comes through experience with live birds.

2. Poor timing

In addition to calling too much, Zink says that duck hunters often call at the wrong times. "Timing is everything in duck calling," Zink explains. "I have hunted with a lot of guys who were excellent callers in their ability to sound like ducks, but they didn't really have a grasp on when to call. I've also hunted with guys whose calling didn't sound all that good, but they knew when to call and were much more effective hunters."

The key to effective calling, according to Zink, is to read and understand the body language of ducks while they are working. "I keep my duck call to my lips at all times so I can call at the exact moment that ducks get confused or start to hesitate," he says. "As long as ducks are circling my decoy spread and are flying steadily and making the turns as they should, I don't blow my duck call. But as soon as they get indecisive, I'll hit them immediately with one or two five- to seven-note greeting calls. Telltale signs are when the birds start to move their heads and necks a lot from side to side or when their wing beat or flight path starts to waver. That's when you blow your duck call. If you wait for them to start to slide away, it's often too late."


Veteran Louisiana call maker Rod Haydel has developed a similar calling philosophy. "I like to call at times that will make it easier for ducks to get into my decoys—in effect, acting like an air traffic controller," Haydel says. "For example, when ducks are circling downwind, I try to call at the moment that will turn them in a position that will give the birds a straight and easy approach to the decoys. You don't want to call and turn ducks at a time that will make them have to work harder to line up for landing."

Haydel believes that not all ducks are callable, especially late in the season. He has a good tip for calling these wary birds. "When ducks are turning well to your call but have been circling several times without committing to your decoys, try giving them a greeting call as they circle behind you upwind," he says. "This will sometimes turn them back over your blind, giving you a passing shot that you otherwise wouldn't get. This can put a lot of birds in the bag late in the season when ducks have gotten very wary."

3. Failing to finish

In duck calling, as in business, it's all about closing the deal. Unfortunately, many waterfowlers come up short in their ability to coax waterfowl to fly those last 20 yards into gun range. Missouri outfitter Christian Curtis says finishing is the most challenging aspect of calling, especially in this era of intense hunting pressure. "Nowadays, ducks have been hunted all the way down from Canada, and they've heard and seen it all many times," says Curtis, an Avery pro-staffer who has numerous state and national calling titles to his credit. "If you don't get ducks to commit quickly and you give them a chance to start circling over and over again, they are going to find something they don't like. This usually happens after only three or four passes. On windless days when your decoys aren't moving, one or two passes might be all you'll get. Your calling has to force ducks to make that decision quickly.

"When the birds get 75 yards out and you drop your call, that's when they'll slide off and start circling," he continues. "When I'm finishing ducks, I like to use a lot of five-note greeting calls, feeding chatter, and short, sharp quacks. As birds get closer, I increase the speed and urgency of my calling. But I also lower the volume. I call just loud enough for ducks to hear me. If you call too loud when ducks are working close, you'll blow them out. The secret to finishing ducks is to call aggressively enough to get them to go ahead and commit without flaring them."

And Curtis says many hunters have a hard time controlling the volume of their calling. "Sometimes this is because of the caller, and sometimes it's the call," he attests. "It's pretty difficult to finish ducks with a loud, open-water style call. A good solution to this problem is to add a quieter finishing call to your lanyard. Blow the louder call when ducks are working farther out and then switch to the softer finishing call when they get close. There are a lot of timber-style calls on the market today that work well for this purpose."

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