by Gary Koehler
Bernie Boyle would be the last one to tell you that it takes a world-class competition duck caller to bring birds to your decoys. His 30 years of waterfowl hunting experience have personally proven much more valuable. Still, Boyle's time on stage has also provided benefits. He is convinced that contest calling has made him a better field caller.
Boyle, the defending world duck calling champion, has qualified 17 times to compete in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the site of the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest, winning twice. Overall, he has won 25 calling contests in nine states.
"I got into contest duck calling because I wanted to get the ducks in close," Boyle says. "And to do that, you have to sound like a duck. To get better in the field, I got better by competition calling. It's all about practice and learning the call.
"I don't do anything like a competition routine in the field," he continues. "When I'm hunting, I basically rely on a five- or six-note mallard hen call. That's the same call that gets ducks from east to west. It's very simple, and it works everywhere."
Any knowledgeable hunter who has ever attended a duck calling competition ("meat calling" contests do not count) quickly recognizes that contest routines do not reflect the typical behavior of a hen mallard. The ear-piercing 20- or 25-note hail call that competition callers thrive on, for example, would be an impossible task for a live duck. Contest routines are exaggerations of a duck's vocalizations.
"The difference between competition calling and calling in the field is that you have to put all the basic calls into a routine. These calls are blown in succession," Boyle says. "In the field, these same basic calls are used only at certain times. If you take the pieces out of a routine, you can call live birds with them.
"The highball, or hail call, has been a part of duck hunting for a long time. A lot of people say it doesn't attract ducks, but I guarantee you it does. I have called ducks for years. At certain times, like on a real windy day when the ducks are far off, the hail call can work and put ducks over your decoys."