by Matt Young
A wise old waterfowler once told me that a duck call is one of the best conservation tools ever invented. Blow a call well, he explained, and you will bring ducks in close enough to clearly identify individual birds and make clean kills. Blow a call poorly, he continued, and most of the ducks you see will keep a safe distance from your blind.
Of course, most waterfowlers' calling ability falls somewhere in between these two extremes. Some days, many duck hunters can work wonders with a call, bringing flock after flock into their decoys. But other times, especially in bluebird weather, their same calling efforts are met with indifference or, even worse, hasten the departure of working flocks.
Even the best callers make mistakes, and these mistakes are what most often cost birds in the bag. In duck calling, as in so many endeavors, knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do. On the following pages, Ducks Unlimited interviewed four of North America's best duck callers—Fred Zink, Rod Haydel, Christian Curtis, and Jim Ronquest—to find out the most common calling mistakes made by duck hunters and, more importantly, how to correct them.
1. Calling too much
Having won more than 20 duck and goose calling titles during his career, veteran Ohio call maker Fred Zink knows the value of good calling. Therefore, many hunters might be surprised to learn that Zink believes the most common mistake that separates good callers from average or bad callers is calling too much.
"A duck call should be used as a tool rather than just for making background noise," Zink says. "In areas where hunting pressure is intense, ducks get wise to calling pretty quickly because they hear it every day. Aggressive, continuous calling can work in migration areas or other locations where there are large concentrations of waterfowl, but in most of the places I hunt, less is more in regard to calling.
"You have to think of yourself as a duck hunter not just as a duck caller," Zink continues. "I use my duck call to draw in ducks and keep them interested in my decoys when they are unsure. I don't think of a duck call as some type of magical instrument that can mesmerize the birds. All the other aspects of duck hunting—being in the right place, setting a good decoy spread, and concealment—are more important than calling. But when a duck call is blown correctly at the right times, it can make the difference between success and failure. A duck call is the finisher, but everything else has to be in place for it to be effective."