When Tank had brought the last bird to hand, I asked Ronquest about his calling strategy. “For me, calling is all about realism,” he said, hanging a heavy greenhead on a duck strap. “These birds have already made up their minds and are coming back here to loaf during the middle of the day, so you want to imitate the sounds loafing ducks would make in this particular environment. Listen to wild birds in the places that you hunt, and then imitate the sounds they make.
“But that doesn’t mean you can call the same way every time you hunt in a certain area,” he continued. “Weather can affect the way ducks behave, and it can affect the way your calling sounds to the ducks. Take today for example. This is a good windy morning, and the birds are talkative and responding well. But if the wind were to lay down or if we were to get some cloud cover, we might have to make some adjustments on how we call. And that’s where reading the ducks comes in. You have to watch the birds and see what calls work best. Once you figure out what works on that particular day, keep giving them more of the same until they start acting differently.”
As the sun climbed above the horizon, bright light filtered through the tangled buckbrush, illuminating the decoys, and the wind rose in powerful gusts, rippling the water around us. “Get ready, boys. This is about to get fun,” Ronquest said with a knowing smile. “This is a mallard day.”
Almost on cue, flights of mallards returned to the reservoir from feeding in surrounding rice fields. The birds were clearly looking for company, quacking and chattering and breaking up into smaller groups as they made their first pass over the buckbrush flat. Stephens and Ronquest went to work power-calling a formation of mallards free-falling from high altitude above us. They never let up as the flock made several swings over the decoys, pleading with the birds with comeback calls when they turned away and then reassuring them with soft quacks and feeding chatter when they sailed over the spread. On the sixth pass, the flock finally committed, offering us easy targets as the mallards hovered to land among the decoys directly in front of us.