On another memorable day, I watched two expert callers work together to lure birds in. They blew more of a chatter than a rolling feed call, and they adjusted their volume according to what the ducks were doing. If the birds were sailing tight around their setup, they chuckled at a low volume. But if the ducks began showing any hesitancy about decoying, both callers picked up the volume and intensity of their chatter, which was far more compelling to the ducks.
One of these callers was John Stephens, president of RNT Game Calls and a three-time world champion caller. Stephens is far more aggressive with his chuckling than most callers. “If I want to break ducks my way,” he says, “I’ll chuckle louder and with more force. I give them something that will hold their attention and work them tighter around my setup. This is especially important when you’re hunting in an area where other hunters are trying to call the same ducks.”
Stephens says this more aggressive chatter will work in open areas as well as in timber, but he tones it down in the open when the ducks get close. “In the woods, the ducks can’t see the setup as well, but in a field or on open water, they can see everything and can pinpoint you if you’re too loud for too long,” he explains.
There’s one more option with the feeding chuckle: using it sparingly or not at all, relying instead on single quacks, persistent quacks, and even silence to finish working birds. I’ve spent many days on Reelfoot Lake with guides who never chuckled. Instead, when they had ducks circling, they’d quack them right into the decoys, as if they had them on a string.
So, back to the question: What’s the deal with the chuckle, and how should hunters use it in their calling routine?
I believe hunters should not think of the chuckle as an actual feeding call but rather as a call they can use to express certain behavioral conditions such as excitement or contentment. Remember, ducks use it relative to feeding, but not only when feeding.
Above all, hunters should never forget that different calling methods (louder, more insistent calling versus quieter, subtler calling) work better on different days. I believe the same is true with chuckling. Try different approaches and see how the ducks respond. By adjusting calling styles each day to what the birds want, you will be far more effective than if you use the same routine on every hunt.
—From the May/June 2008 issue of DU Magazine