by Gary Koehler
The morning dawns cold in northeast Arkansas duck country. There is no ice where we are headed, although a couple of degrees less would make for a close call. It does not take long, however, for the opening in the flooded timber to begin warming up. Not incidentally, I find myself surrounded by what must be considered the equivalent of a duck-calling all-star team.
On one side is Kent Cullum, who represents one-half of the 1999 World Team Duck Calling Championship duet. On the other side, left shoulder propped up against a tree, is his partner, Christian Curtis. Down the line is Charles Petty, a fixture in the final round of the World's Duck Calling Championship for a decade. And, among other assorted accomplices, no one need be told into which end of the call to blow.
Witness the mallards, gadwalls, wood ducks, and wigeon that arrive out of nowhere and flutter down through windows in the tangled overhang to see what all the excitement is about. Cullum, Curtis, Petty, and friends are hosting the party, greeting miscellaneous winged guests with a full-blown repertoire of duck talk that many birds cannot resist. No one person assumes center stage. No one person directs the overhead traffic. This is a team effort, and the raucous method works wonders.
"You can practice it [working with a teammate] but the best thing you can do is hunt together and learn what works that way," says Curtis, a Missourian who spends a good part of each waterfowl season laboring as a guide. "When two people are calling, and you are working as a team, one can be calling like one or two different ducks, and the other can be calling another way. That sounds like several different ducks."
And that's the whole point of this exercise: creating auditory enhancement so convincing that ducks passing by figure that they owe it to themselves to join in on the fun. This is accomplished by creating the illusion that your decoy spread is a flock of resting or feeding ducks. Mallards, in particular, perceive safety in large assemblages of their brethren. Efficient team-calling techniques enhance your chances of bringing birds to the gun.
"You learn to tell what's going on just by listening to your partner call," says Cullum, an Arkansan who teams with Petty to manage a waterfowling guide service headquartered in Jonesboro. "You blend in your calling with what he's doing. It's not a back-and-forth thing. When we are calling together, I listen to him-to what he's doing-and I try to do something opposite, to sound like more ducks. If he's doing a lazy hen, then I might be doing a coarse hen, or a bouncin' hen."