Perhaps we have all left calls overnight in our vehicles, or in the blind, at one time or another. Howard Harlan says that's one of the worst moves duck hunters can make. "After using a call all day long, they take it and leave it in their pickup truck," Harlan says. "Duck hunting is done in the wintertime.
My point is, this is an instrument into which you are putting moisture. If a wooden call gets cold overnight, down to freezing, that call is going to expand, and it just might break. Take your call inside with you. Dry it out. Let it air out."
"Manufacturers match reeds to the tone channel to give the hunter the right sound right out of the package," says 1964 world duck calling champion Mick Lacy of Big River Game Calls in Dunlap, Illinois. "Calls can be tuned, but keep in mind that almost all double-reed calls are put together with a wedge that is stacked on top of the tone channel. Putting the components back together in the right order may not be as easy as you might think."
Lacy suggests marking the placement of the pieces with an indelible pen before taking the call apart. Haydel advises scoring the pieces with a sharp knife. Either way, you will know exactly how and where the pieces originally fit. "By some means, you should make a mark on the tone channel so you know where the reed was before the call was taken apart," Lacy says.
"You need to know reed length and block length, or how much of the reed was exposed. Once you have marks where the wedge goes and how far the reed goes, you can play with it until you find the sound you like. The distance you might move the reed is as little as 25- to 50-thousandths of an inch. It does not take a lot to change the sound."
Haydel says reed replacement is likely for those who hunt long and hard. "The guy who hunts every day should probably replace the bottom reed of a double-reed call at least once a year," he says. "Reeds can crack and break, and sometimes they just get out of whack. Having an extra set of reeds with you and knowing how to change them can save the day if something should happen to the reeds in your call."
Most call makers make replacement reeds available to their customers. These reeds come in varying degrees of thickness and are cut, or trimmed, in slightly different manners. Reed thickness is matched to fit the call. You can manipulate the reeds in a double-reed call to find a sound you like, but do so with caution. A slight modification can make a big difference in how the call sounds. Be careful not to crimp the reeds.
One of the most basic things you can do is gently move the reeds in and out. By doing this, you can create a higher or lower pitch in the call. "Lengthening the reeds, or pulling them out, will make the call blow harder, and you'll get a little deeper (coarser) sound. It will take a little more air to make it function. Shortening the reeds will make the call blow softer, and you'll raise the tone to a higher pitch," Lacy says.
"You can also move the wedge from its original mark. If you move it back, the call will blow a little raspier. If you move the wedge block forward, the call will blow a little smoother and a little higher in pitch," Lacy says.
Reeds can also be trimmed, or cut, to change the pitch of the call. Harlan recommends using barber scissors or a similarly sharp instrument when doing this. Keep in mind that if you trim the reed too much, you are going to lose a lot of the call's bottom, or gravelly, sound.
Hunters who use the Arkansas-style single-reed call sometimes trim the corners of the reed to find the sound they like. This, however, is touchy business. Most custom call makers would prefer your returning the call to them if modifications are necessary. Experienced single-reed call users sometimes sand their reeds, if ever so slightly, to make them thinner. The thinner the reed, the easier it is to manipulate with your breath. The shorter the reed, the finer the tone.
Keep the inside of your call clean, year-round. Make sure the reed, or reeds, are in good condition. And take time to learn what your call can and cannot do. Listen to live ducks whenever you can. Try to imitate the sounds ducks make, not those of your buddy.
"You do not have to be a world-champion-caliber caller to call a duck," Harlan says. "And you can help yourself simply by taking care of your call."