by Wade Bourne
During hunting season, I used to keep an apartment on Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake. The mallards that hung around a nearby boat dock were what I’d call semi-wild, but I would sit and listen to them for hours. They made many different calls—long and short hail calls, single quacks, drake raehbs, and feeding chatter. I was always amazed by the variety and subtlety of the sounds they made and by other ducks’ responses to their calls. But I was especially intrigued by their feeding calls.
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The guttural chatter of an individual hen usually consisted of three to five staccato notes in quick, repeated series. When several hens were chuckling simultaneously, the overall sound they produced seemed nearly continuous and was quite loud. Hens would produce these calls when they were feeding and at other times as well. For instance, hunters commonly hear ducks make a “rolling chuckle” when they are flying overhead in the predawn, headed to a feeding area. This call is steadier and more drawn out than the feeding chatter ducks make while on the water or ground.
So what’s the deal with the chuckle? Most hunters chuckle with their calls when ducks are circling close. Is this an effective way to finish birds, or is it an irrelevant call with a reputation greater than its true effectiveness? What role should it play in a hunter’s calling strategy?
In my years as a writer and television host, I’ve shared blinds with some of North America’s best hunters and callers, and I’ve heard many different styles and philosophies regarding the feeding chuckle. Some hunters think of the chuckle as a contentment call, and they chuckle quietly and almost monotonously (like the rolling chuckle) as birds work their spread.
But I’ve hunted with others, including world champion callers and longtime guides, who use the chuckle as a main pillar of their calling routine. Instead of using it subtly to indicate contentment, they chuckle aggressively and loudly to convey excitement or urgency to circling ducks.
For instance, I once hunted with an Arkansas guide in Bayou Meto who blew a broken tuk-a-tuk, tuk-a-tuk as mallards swung over the treetops. He never backed off this rhythm. It was as if he hypnotized the birds with his staccato notes.