4. Getting stuck in a rut
Another common mistake made by duck hunters, according to Curtis, is failing to adjust their calling tactics to changes in weather and duck behavior. "You can't just call the same way every day and expect it to work," Curtis says. "You have to adapt your calling to the conditions and find out what the ducks want to hear on that particular day. On a sunny, windy day, ducks may respond well to loud, aggressive calling, while on a still, cloudy day, they may work better to feeding calls and single hen quacks. Mix up your calling and see how the first few flocks respond to different calls. If they react favorably to a particular call or style of calling, go with it."
Haydel also encourages duck hunters to experiment with their calling techniques. "Back in my younger days, I did a lot of contest calling," Haydel recalls. "There was one morning when I tried every calling trick I knew, and the ducks never responded. So I finally took out my contest call and started ringing it like I was on stage. Sure enough, the ducks started responding, and before we knew it, we had a limit. You never really know what is going to work best on any given day."
Arkansas outfitter and call maker Jim Ronquest concurs. "You want to establish a dialogue with the ducks when you're calling," he says. "Read the birds and see how they respond to different calls. In this way, you can see what's working and then use those tactics to get the birds to do what you want them to.
"Say you have a high bunch of ducks," he continues. "I'll usually hit them with a couple of loud, hard greeting calls. Then I'll see if their wings check or their wing beat slows down a little. If they do, I'll become even more aggressive with my calling, and if they keep coming, I'll keep on calling the same way. But if they slow down, or start to waver a little, then I'll back off and slow down my calling. Or vice versa, if I start calling soft and easy and get a good response initially, I'll stay with it. But if they start to drift, I'll pick up the pace and the urgency of my calling and try to get them back on line."
5. Using the wrong call
Like people everywhere, waterfowlers can be creatures of habit, and many duck hunters use the same call for years simply because it's what they've always used. But Ronquest advises waterfowlers to be more discerning in their call selection. "A duck call is just like a pair of waders—if it doesn't fit you, you won't want to put it on every morning," he explains. "A lot of people get a call and stick with it when they would really be better off with another call. On the other end of the spectrum, there are guys who are constantly switching from call to call without ever really mastering one. They just keep buying calls trying to find the magic flute, and they never really succeed.
"You need to find a call that you like and then learn to do everything that call can do," Ronquest adds. "The best way to find the right call is to blow and experiment with a lot of different calls. We always encourage guys to come by the shop to try our calls, or go to outdoor festivals and shows and visit the booths that are selling calls. Don't be embarrassed to blow all the different calls and to ask the call makers questions. That's what we're there for. There are lots of good call makers out there, and all of us will do whatever we can to get you the call that's best for you."