There are eight calls every serious duck hunter should have in his or her repertoire. Learn these, and you will be able to bring ducks closer in nearly every hunting situation.
Click the icons to hear champion caller Greg Brinkley, maker of Drake Brake Duck Calls in Marion, Arkansas, demonstrate each call sound.
1. Basic quack
As easy as it sounds, some callers never master a basic quack, and then wonder why the ducks don't come into their spread. Todd Heidelbauer also stresses the importance of learning to end the quack. "One of the first things my grandfather [Frank Heidelbauer] taught me was to end my quacks. People use 'qua qua qua' when there needs to be a clean, crisp, 'quaCK' instead. Stick to the basics and end your quacks, and everything else is second." The Heidelbauers should know; Frank Heidelbauer designed and began making their popular calls in 1952.
2. Greeting call
"I use the greeting call when I first see ducks at a distance. It's a series of 5 to 7 notes in descending order at a steady even rhythm, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc," says Rod Haydel. Rod Haydel should know; he's part of Louisiana duck calling royalty-the Haydel family of Haydel's Game Calls.
3. Feed call
For a basic feeding call, say "tikkitukkatikka," into the call raising and lowering the volume slightly. "I don't feed call a lot," says three-time World Champion caller and call maker Mike McLemore. "Callers should learn to use it to add variety, but it sounds better to the caller than it does to the ducks." Haydel adds, "Most mallards I hear feed calling in the typical 'kitty, kitty, kitty' fashion are flying, while ducks feeding are more broken up and erratic sounding, like 'da-dit da-dit dit dit, da-dit dit.'"
4. Hail call
The hail or highball call is an overused call in the minds of the pros. "Don't use a highball within 100 yards of the ducks," says Jim Olt of P.S. Olt Company. "But when you do use it, blow high, hard, and loud. However, nobody should use it unless they know how and when. Hails are the loudest of the lot." Rod Haydel agrees. "I'm not much on 30 note hail calls," he says. "I have yet to hear a real hen call in this manner. I try to sound as natural as I can." If you decide to try your hail call, start with a long, strong, Aaaaaaink...Aaaaaink.., aaaaink, aaainkaink and taper off as it progresses.
But remember to use the hail call sparingly, and as Haydel says, "If the ducks are coming in, forget calling."
5. Comeback call
"The comeback call is used when ducks don't respond to your greeting or you want an immediate response, such as in timber. It's more urgent sounding and faster, like Kanckanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc," says Haydel. "Also, I have found live hens only call to others after they have flown over the pond or passed their location. Usually she'll give them only one comeback call." Olt adds, "Just remember that a comeback call is fast and hard, with about 5 to 7 notes. Don't overcomplicate it."
6. Lonesome hen
The lonesome hen is an often overlooked call that can be very effective, especially when ducks are call-shy. The call is nothing more than widely spaced, irregular, nasal, drawn-out Quaaaaink quacks. Some callers have used it to pull birds sitting on the water for long distances. "You can derive your lonesome hen call from your basic quack. Learn to quack correctly and the rest will come from that," says Jim Olt. "Your lonesome call should be spaced out, and quick, with several seconds between. If the quacks are too close together it scares the ducks. And keep in mind that the lonesome hen is somewhat low and throaty."
7. Pleading call
"The pleading or begging hail call is used to get the attention of ducks flying 75 to 200 yards above you," says champion caller Greg Brinkley. "This call is a series of 5 t o 6 quacks that are really dragged out to sound like you are begging the ducks to land. A pleading call is a Kaaanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc sound, and its first note is usually held a little longer. The pleading call is a drawn-out, slightly faster variation of the comeback. Many callers save the pleading call for stubborn ducks that refuse to come in. It's the caller's way of literally pleading with the ducks to come into or return to the spread.
8. Whistling - Mallard, pintail or wigeon
Whistling works! Rod Haydel swears by a whistle. "Most of our most successful hunts last year were late in the season using whistles in conjunction with our mallard calls. We try to identify the ducks before we call to them so that we can speak their language," he says. "Whistles are also a great way to get youngsters involved in hunting, because there's no way they can mess it up."