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Reading Ducks

Consider duck body language when calling
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  • photo by Bill Buckley
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Story at a Glance
  • Calling ducks is a two-part process.
  • Callers must know when to call and how to adjust their calling to the disposition of the birds.
  • Ducks' body language can tell you what they like and don't like.

Calling ducks is a two-part process. First, callers have to make good sounds—hail calls, come-ons, lonesome hens, etc. They must be good musicians with the duck call—able to hit the right notes. Any hunter with any musical talent, a good instructional tape, and a little practice can learn to sound "ducky."

But the second part of being a good caller is more complicated. Callers also have to know when to call and how to adjust their calling to the disposition of the birds. They must be alert to how ducks respond to various calls, cadences, and volumes, then fine-tune accordingly. This is called reading ducks, and expert callers know this is a critical part of pulling birds in.

"Every day is different," affirms veteran caller Steve Barnett of Huntingdon, Tennessee. "It's as if the ducks change moods. One day they might be anxious to work, and they'll respond well to loud, excited calling. The next day conditions may change, the ducks don't want much calling, and you have to tone it way back. You just have to try different approaches with the call and watch how the ducks respond. This is how you zero in on what's working best."

"Your first bunch of ducks is your indicator of what's going to happen that day," explains Richie McKnight of Dawson Springs, Kentucky. "If you call to them and they flare, then you'd better start easing off on the call," he says. "You just try to figure out what appeals to them based on the way they respond to the style and volume of calling you're using."

"Ducks have a body language that tells you what they like and don't like. If you learn how to read this body language, then tailor your calling to the signals they give you, you'll be a lot more effective caller," says Bryan Hanson of Watertown, South Dakota.

Each hunter develops his own theory and style of calling, and these theories and styles vary depending on location and hunting conditions. But the common thread is that callers who know how to read ducks and respond accordingly will be far more successful at tolling these birds in. Here is how these three experts take visual cues to be more effective callers on each hunting day.

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