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Old-Time Ways: Mouth-Calling Ducks

Mouth calling is a lost art, but a few hunters still practice it
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  • photo by Chris Jennings
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by Keith Sutton

Do you really need a duck call to convince ducks to land in your shooting hole? Most of us do. But even with a call, we're not always successful at imitating the "come-on-down-and-join-us" language of mallards and other waterfowl.

A few rare duck hunters, however, actually live and breathe duck hunting. And I mean that literally. When they call ducks, they do it with their own breath—no duck calls, just what their hands and lungs provide. These are the "mouth-callers."

One such individual was Thomas E. Walsh of Greenville, Mississippi, one of 17 contestants in Stuttgart, Arkansas' first World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in 1936. At the time, it was the National Duck Calling Contest, and no one expected anyone but an Arkansas boy to win, for they were the best. When the winner was announced, however, the citizens of Arkansas were stunned. Thomas Walsh had won, and to make matters worse, he gave his demonstration without the use of a duck call, using only his mouth. Afterward, Walsh noted that he kept trained callers (live duck "decoys") in his backyard, and for 11 years they had been teaching him the trade.

Only one other person would ever win the championship without the use of a duck call. His name was Herman Callouet, another Greenville, Mississippi, native. He won the 1942 calling contest.

Mouth calling is a lost art, but a few hunters still practice it. In the "Arkansas Duck Hunter's Almanac" by Steve Bowman and Steve Wright, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission biologist Greg Mathis describes two such individuals, James and Mike Harris, who hunt southwest Arkansas' Sulphur River bottoms. When calling, these me double a thumb over and grip their fist tightly around it. The man's hand "actually looks like he's holding a duck call," Mathis said. "But there's nothing there. He takes his fist and shakes it in the water and then blows through it.

"I don't know how it works. But it sounds real good."

Apparently, the ducks like the sound of it, too. The Harris duo's hands-on calling produces limits every season, just like duck hunters did it 100 years ago.

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