By Wade Bourne
There are two styles of duck calling: passive and aggressive. Passive callers rely on subtle sounds to convey that all is well. This style is especially well suited for call-shy ducks, calm days, or when no other callers are vying for the attention of circling birds.
Aggressive callers, on the other hand, call louder and more frequently. They demand the birds' attention rather than request it. Their highballs are louder, and their comeback calls are more urgent. Aggressive callers try to get a lock on the birds' attention and not let go until it's time to shoot.
When ducks begin circling or dropping toward the decoys, many passive callers chuckle softly or don't call at all. But sometimes close-working ducks respond better to a more aggressive calling approach, and this is when the single-quack call comes into play. This call is the single note of a mallard hen blown repeatedly with about a one-second interval between the notes: quack . . . quack . . . quack . . . quack . . . . It is not a timid call and should be blown with moderate volume and intensity so incoming birds can hear it and steer toward it.
The single-quack should not be confused with the lonesome hen call. The former is a series of quacks with a drumbeat tempo that may extend a dozen or more notes, and this series is repeated continually as ducks are dropping toward the decoys. The latter is two or three contented quacks with much longer intervals between the notes.
I have used the single-quack series for years and have always considered it my secret weapon for finishing ducks. A few seasons back, duck calling "Champion of Champions" Mike McLemore told me that he too relied on the single-quack to bring birds down into the decoys. He said he believed that on most days this call was much more effective than quiet feeding calls for finishing ducks and particularly for drawing them those last few yards over the decoys.
The concept is simple enough. I like to think of the single-quack series as a homing beacon for ducks. It holds their interest and leads them to the source of the calls. The ducks come to the sounds, not the decoys.
When I was an Air Force pilot, I was trained to use flashing lights to guide me to the runway. The single-quack call is the aural equivalent of this visual signal. It is a guide and a focal point for the birds' attention. Just as the lights led me to the landing zone, the single-quack call steers ducks to the caller.
If birds begin veering off course, the caller should get louder and more insistent with the single-quack call, perhaps even increasing the tempo slightly. When the ducks are back on course, the caller should ease up on the volume and revert to a normal tempo. But don't stop leading the birds in. I typically continue directing the birds with this call until they are over the decoys and it's time to shoot.
Many duck hunters are notorious traditionalists and are often hesitant to try new ideas. But I believe the single-quack call would help many hunters decoy more birds. This call is not too aggressive, but when ducks are working your decoys, it's much more proactive than putting your call away and hoping the birds will come in on their own accord. And, of course, if you try the single-quack call and aren't happy with the results, you can always go back to your old style of finishing ducks.
Duck calling is an ongoing, trial-and-error process. It's like a bass angler trying different lures to see which one the fish will hit. Similarly, duck hunters should try different calling approaches: passive or aggressive, loud or soft, high-pitched or mellow notes, etc. Some days ducks will respond best to one style of calling, and on other days, they will respond better to another approach. You have to experiment to see which style works best each day.
Nonetheless, I always rely first on the single-quack call to finish close-working birds, and seldom do I have to change to a more passive calling approach. Each note says, "come to me . . . come to me . . . come to me," and on most days and in most circumstances, the birds do.