The gadwall is underrated, especially if you ask Mike Boyd, a waterfowl guide on legendary Beaver Dam Lake near Tunica, Mississippi (662-363-6288). Here, the gray duck is often the bread-and-butter bird. Gadwalls seem to have a split personality when it comes to calling and decoys. Birds that are new to an area often commit to a spread immediately, with or without calling, while those that have been around awhile can be incredibly wary.
Gadwalls do have their own lingo. Drakes make a nasally meep, meep, me-meep sound, while hens emit a soft, mallard-like quack. Many of their calls can be easily reproduced on a mallard call or a special gadwall call, such as Haydel’s GW-01 (haydels.com).
Boyd typically relies on standard mallard-calling techniques when gadwalls are working his decoys because he believes it’s easier for birds circling high over the flooded timber to hear louder mallard quacks. But he occasionally mixes in a few soft quacks imitating hen gadwalls when birds are circling at close range. “It’s not pretty at all, not like the classic hen mallard call,” he says of this sound. “But it can work.”
Serious diver hunters often live and die by their decoy spread, and many consider calling to be far down the list of important skills. But Tony Toye of Big River Guide Service (608-375-7447), who hunts divers on Pool 9 of the upper Mississippi River, will seldom let a flock of canvasbacks, bluebills, or redheads fly by without “growling” at them on his mallard call.
“I love calling,” Toye says. “Any duck I see, I’m calling at it. For divers, I think calling can be effective all the time. I know I’ve seen it work.”
Toye explains that while divers may not have a mallard’s wide vocabulary, the birds are far from silent. “If you have divers land in your decoys, they will often answer right back if you call to them,” he says. “We’re usually hunting near big rafts of these birds, and they make all kinds of different noises.”
While Toye has tried special diver calls in the past, he can replicate the most important diver sounds on his mallard calls. “I just use a regular mallard call and make the quick brrrt, brrrt, brrrt sound on it,” he says. “I’m fairly aggressive with it. If the birds pass me, I’ll follow up with a mallard comeback call.”
He carries both single- and double-reed mallard calls, but has no preference for calling divers. “I’m usually calling at mallards, so if divers come by, I’ll just use whatever call I have in hand,” Toye says.