By John Pollman
There are few sounds that get a waterfowl hunter's heart racing like those of a Canada goose. A single, distant honk is often all it takes to send hunters racing to close blind doors and scrambling to bring a lanyard full of calls to the ready.
More often than not, the call of choice for modern Canada goose hunters is the short-reed, which has turned the goose-calling world upside down with its ability to produce a wide variety of realistic sounds.
Learning to blow a short-reed, however, can be a lesson in humility. Clucks and honks can come out sounding more like squawks from a party favor, and consequently, some beginning callers simply give up before they ever really get started.
Longtime waterfowl guide and accomplished goose caller Steve Bierle appreciates the versatility of the short-reed, but knows that learning to blow one can be a frustrating experience.
'You can't just pick up a short-reed off the shelf and make it sound like a goose,' says Bierle, who serves as a field expert for Drake Waterfowl. 'It would be like trying to pick up a new musical instrument and expecting to immediately produce great sounds. It takes time.'
Bierle says there are three common stumbling blocks faced by beginning callers and offers the following tips on how to turn frustration into success.
One of the first hurdles faced by beginning callers is also one of the most important skills required to blow a short-reed properly, and that's using proper hand position.
Bierle explains that your hands are what provide the back pressure needed to make the reed break and are also used to change the tone and pitch of the call.
'With your thumb and forefinger wrapped around the bell or exhaust end of the call, use the rest of your fingers to form a tunnel for the sound,' Bierle says.
Callers can create additional back pressure by wrapping their other hand over the exhaust end of the call, using varying degrees of constriction to change the pressure.
'Every call is different, so you need to experiment with the constriction of your fingers to see how much back pressure is needed,' he says. 'Eventually, you'll find a combination that works.'
Add Some Air
Unlike resonant-chamber calls, short-reeds are not blown by puffing up your cheeks, and this is another area where beginners can get stumped.
Instead, Bierle says callers should pull air up from 'the gut,' using their diaphragm.
'Think of a bottle of soda. When you shake up the bottle, there is that burst of pressure built up inside that you release when you twist the cap. To blow a short-reed, you need to use air that has some pressure behind it. You have to 'shake that bottle' every time you are going to blow into the call,' he says.
Once you've got the hang of how to operate a short-reed call, the final step is learning to produce the basic sounds made by a Canada goose.
Bierle recommends using a two-syllable word like ga-wick to produce the basic Canada goose honk. The first syllable brings the middle of the tongue up, acting like a dam for the air built up behind it. When the tongue drops on the second syllable, the caller should feel - and hear - a release of pressurized breath.
'The most important thing is to keep the tip of the tongue anchored behind your bottom front teeth,' Bierle says. 'The middle portion of your tongue is going to do the majority of the work.'
Callers can produce a basic cluck by speeding up the process, turning ga-wick into the one-syllable word gwick. From there, the sky is the limit.
'Once you're comfortable with those basic sounds, you can start to vary the speed and alter the pitch of your calling by opening or closing your hands,' Bierle says. 'A short-reed can make just about any sound that a goose makes. You just have to be willing to put some time into it.'