With Ronquest and Stephens doing the calling, several more groups of mallards followed suit, and we kept Tank busy retrieving fallen birds. During breaks in the action, I had the rare opportunity to listen as Stephens—one of the most talented callers of his generation—shared some of his hard-earned knowledge.
“It’s the level of intensity that really separates great callers from good and average callers, and that’s true both in competition calling and calling ducks,” he said. “You have to work hard and practice, and you have to have the right call. But what really sets the champions apart is they are absolutely mentally focused on what they are doing. These guys can maintain that intensity throughout a calling contest, and great duck and goose callers can maintain the same kind of focus on the birds while they are hunting.”
By midmorning, each of us was close to bagging a limit of mallards. But the hunt was far from over. I noticed that our decoy spread included a single white-fronted goose decoy. I had written it off as a confidence decoy until a large formation of whitefronts (commonly called specklebellies) appeared over the reservoir. Stephens reached for the speck call on his lanyard and greeted the distant birds with a series of piercing two-note calls. A few of the geese answered back, and gradually the flock veered in our direction. Stephens continued to echo the geese in the air, and as the flock approached the decoys, all the birds set their wings and broke into a chorus of shrill cries that raised the hair on the back of my neck.
Peering through the branches above me, I could clearly see the striking black barring and white face patches on adult birds sailing in a lazy circle above us. Stephens reassured the wary flock with soft clucks and alternated the pitch of his two-note calls. These tactics had an overpowering impact on the geese, and several of the birds broke away from the flock and dove toward the decoys, side-slipping on the way down.
After watching mallards decoy all morning, the geese looked huge as they glided into the buckbrush hole with their pumpkin-orange feet outstretched. Stephens called the shot, setting off a thunderous fusillade of shotgun fire. Several specklebellies crashed and hit the water, and everybody clamored out of the blinds to help retrieve the prized birds. Over the next hour, we decoyed two more flocks of whitefronts as well as several more mallards, allowing each of us to take a limit of both geese and ducks by 10 o’clock.