By Will Brantley
When most hunters think of duck calls, they think of mallard calls—and for good reason. Mallards are the most common and most vocal of North America’s ducks, and hunters who can accurately reproduce the raspy quacks of a mallard hen can lure just about any species of dabbling duck into their decoys.
But quacks aren’t the only sounds made by ducks, and in certain areas of the country, hunters have improved their success by imitating the wide range of sounds made by wigeon, pintails, teal, gadwalls, wood ducks, and divers. Although many of these calls are subtle compared to a mallard highball, including them in your repertoire can add realism to your calling. And realism is always a good thing when it comes to calling ducks.
As the director of conservation planning at DU’s Western Regional Office in Sacramento, California, Dr. Fritz Reid is a busy man. But come duck season, catching him at his desk can be difficult at times. Reid is an avid duck hunter and has a reputation for being one of the best pintail callers in the state’s waterfowl-rich Central Valley. Pintails, along with green-winged teal and wigeon, are the primary species here. Consequently, many waterfowlers in this region consider whistles to be more important to their hunting success than mallard calls.
Reid says California duck hunters call pintails using multispecies duck whistles, like Wingsetters, as well as old-style police whistles. “You’re just trying to make a rolling chirp, sort of a two-part call,” he explains. “Pintails will really respond to a good whistle, and quickly go away from a bad one. Subtlety is what you want. Whereas ducks like green-winged teal want strong whistling, with pintails, you need to make a couple of chirps and then stay quiet and give them time to respond to you. It’s almost like how you call when mallards are committed to the decoys, except you have to be subtle all the time while calling pintails.”
When the birds are acting particularly wary, Reid breaks up his pintail calling with an occasional wigeon whistle or two. He also uses a mallard call to imitate the soft chuckles made by hen pintails. “This call sounds like an abbreviated version of the mallard feeding chuckle,” Reid explains. “I never use the chuckle if they’re committed, but if they’re swinging or going away, this call can pull them back in.”