A lot of people with whom I have hunted ducks and geese are under the mistaken impression that I can’t blow a call worth a hoot.
Some have been subtle, casting disapproving glances as I wail away oblivious to the veering flocks. Others are more direct: "Shut up! You’re scaring the bejeebers out of those geese. Heck, you’re scaring me." One confiscated my calls, another threw them out of the blind.
I’ve been bribed, coerced and threatened; all attempts to silence my trusty calls. But, it was after a hunting partner asked to borrow my goose call then accidentally dropped it in the mud, then, when I reached to pick it up, accidentally stepped on it, mashing it deep into the swampy underbelly that I thought maybe I’d seek professional assistance.
I called Brad Harris at Lohman Manufacturing Company, makers of game calls, instructional videos, cassettes, booklets and other stuff for the outdoor-minded. I told Harris I had "a friend who wanted to learn how to call waterfowl" and asked if he had any tips I could "pass on to my friend."
First, he said, start with a good-quality call that’s easy to blow, preferably one with a light, single reed that doesn’t take a lot of air pressure to produce sound. "You should start with something that will give adequate sounds quickly," he said. "Generally, to build excitement, beginners need to see improvement in a hurry."
The Lohman World Class Goose Flute and the Sweet Talker Duck Call are good beginner calls, Harris said. The Goose Flute has a choke tube that restricts airflow and the smaller the tube, the easier it is to blow, he said. When you learn how to control airflow really well, then you can progress to the pro-class calls. But beginners should stay away from double-reed or heavy-blowing calls because they require greater air control to master. Harris said he often hunts with the Goose Flute, because it’s easy to blow. "I don’t have to blow my lungs out to get a good sound," he said. "I like hunting with it because I don’t wear myself out during a long day of calling."
Don’t be afraid to experiment, Harris said. "There are a lot of good calls out there and every one is different," he said, "There’s not a call out there you can’t pick up and, with practice, be good with it.
"Don’t be afraid to try several types of calls. Try different ones. Some calls just fit certain people better. Just because so and so is good on a particular call doesn’t mean it will work for you. Take the time to find one that suits you."
Second, Harris said, work on the basics. Start with the basic quack of a duck or the honk of a goose. Don’t worry about making different sounds in duck or goose language. "Learn to master the basic sounds first and foremost," Harris said. "If you have the basic sounds, you can get immediately involved in calling. There’s nothing I hate more than going to a duck blind or goose pit and being told I can’t call. The excitement is getting involved in the calling. Not letting someone call, especially a beginner, can ruin someone real fast. In fact, you should center the hunt or the calling around the beginner. Just having the opportunity to call is what it takes to be a good proficient caller. Usually, if you get someone immediately involved in the calling, it will create a monster and they’ll go on from there on their own."
Beyond that, Harris said, you should acquire (and apparently listen and pay attention to) audiocassettes and videotapes. "Once you have the basic quacks of a duck and the honk of a goose, once it becomes second nature, then you can work on mastering the complete language," he said. "You have to walk before you can run."
A good classroom for study is your local state park or wildlife area, where you can find ducks and geese and listen to the real thing.
And, don’t think you can’t do it and don’t discount the importance of hunting skills, Harris said. Some hotshot callers "like to think it’s extraordinary and only they can do it, but that’s not true," he said.
"Some of the most consistent takers of game are guys you’d call only fair callers. They’d never win a contest, but they know the bird they are hunting. Most of the guys I know wouldn’t have a chance of winning a calling championship but put them in the blind and they are very good at what they do. They’ve spent extra time learning about that animal and on scouting and honing hunting tactics. Calling is a tool that if you do everything else right, it makes you look good."
And, if you stick to basics, just starting with the basic quack or honk, you’re not going to scare off incoming ducks or geese. You don’t have to be right on with the basic calls, Harris said.
Sounding the perfect sound "is not as critical as a lot of people want you to believe," Harris said. "If geese or ducks want to come into the area, they will. And that goes back to doing your homework and finding a place where they want to go. The basic quacks and honks are not going to scare anything away. Just keep it soft and very basic."
But calling precision becomes more critical when you become more aggressive, more demanding _ "trying to make ducks and geese do things they don’t want to do," Harris said. Then, he said, it’s important to know what you’re saying in the bird’s language and knowing when to be aggressive at the right time and when to back off at the right time.
And, most importantly, practice. "The best practice in is the field," he said, "While you’re practicing and calling you’re learning what makes the animals tick, what sounds they make and what those sounds mean and when you should make what sounds to make waterfowl do things they normally wouldn’t do."
So, that’s what I’ve been doing all this time, practicing. Now, if my hunting partner would just give my calls back ...
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