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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Reading Ducks

Consider duck body language when calling
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  • photo by Jason Kral
Image of
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.

Bryan Hanson:
Use "natural calling" on field-feeding ducks

Bryan Hanson makes and sells Heartland Custom Calls, and he hunts geese and ducks throughout the northern plains and Canada's prairie provinces. He mainly targets geese in dry grain fields, but he and his partners routinely shoot ducks over their goose spreads. He says calling is less critical in fields than over water, since ducks are coming to land and feed with the geese. Still, he says good calling can coax ducks in for closer shots, and their responses to various calls give important clues as to what calls to blow and when.

"I pretty much use a natural approach when calling ducks," Hanson states. "I typically use a standard hail call when they're coming toward the spread. When they break down, I'll let them come as far as they will without calling anymore. But if they start away, or they're going to land out of range, I'll give a comeback that's generally the same call but with a heavier first note and maybe a little more urgency in following notes."

When a flight of ducks starts heading away, Hanson watches carefully to determine if the birds are really leaving or simply circling. "If they're flying straight away, not curving at all, then I'll blow the comeback before they get 100-120 yards away. I don't want to let them go too far before trying to pull them back.

"But if the birds go downwind, still have their wings cupped, and are curving even a little bit, I stay off the call and let them come back on their own. Then, when they're approaching, I may blow a single, soft quack with a few seconds between notes. I've heard ducks on the ground do this when a flight is coming in. It's a reassuring call that draws the birds to the source of the noise."

When he's in a goose spread and sees ducks flying cross-country at long distance, Hanson waves his T-Flag at them. "This can attract the attention of ducks that are too far away to hear a call. A lot of times they'll see the flag and turn, and they'll spot the decoy spread and come to it. Then I might blow some occasional quacks as they get in close."

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