Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What's the possession limit on duck calls?

These are my waterfowl calls. That long black thing on the left is a gadwall call. The orange and pink ones next to each other? Mallard calls. That olive drab number? It's an 8-in-1, but I use it mostly to call pintail and wigeon. Above that is a honker call, and to the right is a snow goose call.

You'd think from looking at this fine collection that I must be a pretty good caller.

You would be wrong. And with duck season opening in just 18 days, I'm becoming acutely aware of that problem.

I'm actually a decent whistler. During my first season, Boyfriend got me the 8-in-1 and gadwall calls for Christmas. I immediately went online looking for audio of duck sounds and diligently mimicked them in front of the computer, much to the amusement of our cat. I got the hang of those calls pretty fast.

But I couldn't stay in the safe haven of whistles forever. Heading into my second duck season, I inherited Boyfriend's Quackhead mallard call when he upgraded to a J.J. Lares. I tried it, but I could just never get the right sound out of it. I was relieved when that call just up and died (probably from disgust at how I was abusing it).

For some reason, Boyfriend did not give up on me. In fact, he upped the ante, buying a Basin Abomination snow goose call for himself, but giving it to me almost immediately.

The snow call is piercingly loud, and insanely difficult. More often than not, when I blow on that thing, it sounds like I'm torturing the neighbors' dogs. I did a little practice in the back yard one day before the season started last year, and literally, one of the neighbor girls came rushing over to find out what was wrong. I was that bad.

It was so loud that I could only practice in the car, where I was well contained, and then the echo was so bad that it hurt my ears. So, uh, yeah, I didn't practice much. I gave that thing a half-hearted toot a couple times at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge last year and then quit so I wouldn't be one of those idiots people write about on the hunting forums.

Maybe goose calls are just too hard, I told myself. So I bought a Duck Commander mallard hen call this spring. But I never could get anything better than a chuckle out of it. And I got a free KumDuck call this summer at the California Waterfowl women's shoot, but I didn't do much better with that one.

So now, with the season 18 days away, you'd think I'd be hitting those calls pretty hard to get the hang of them.

You'd be wrong again. I have not been practicing at all. Instead, I decided to go out and buy a honker call.

But this time, I'm going to master it, I swear!

I practiced all the way home from Sportsman's Warehouse. When I walked in the door, I found Boyfriend kneeling on the living room floor, his nose deep in a barrel of grapes fermenting in our living room. I gave a little toot to surprise him, and he rocketed up and slammed backwards into the front door.

He assured me that it wasn't me - that he'd actually gotten a super strong whiff of alcohol at the precise moment I blew on that call. I'm not so sure I believe him, but it was nice of him to say that.

Despite that traumatic beginning, I'm still really trying on this one. I've taken it on the drive to school two days in a row. I pull up to stoplights, pop in the tape that came with the call, position my car so that none of the adjacent drivers can see me, and furtively raise the call to my lips.

And the music that issues forth sounds something like a sixth-grade clarinet troupe at its first practice.

Guess I'll be doing a lot of pintail calling this year.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Blessed said...

I can use my whistle calls pretty effectively and I'm not bad on my goose call - a Buck Gardner short reed call but we won't talk about my regular duck calls - hubby says I need to practice more, he's right, I know...

Kristine said...

I never really thought about having to practice calls, but I guess you would have to practice. I can't imagine what I'd sound like.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Were you in band as a kid? A duck call is the worst of both worlds - a reed instrument (which can be finicky), but the reed is buried in a mouthpiece like you'd see on a brass instrument, so you have to get your mouth just right on it.

The goose calls also take a LOT of lung strength. The only goose call I'm doing decently now (there are about seven you can do on this one call) is one that requires me to suck in my diaphragm hard halfway through the call. It's tiring!

You can see why I'd rather just keep buying new calls...

ironman said...

Our Mutual friend Curtis once got pulled over while practicing his calling in his truck, apparently a goose call looks alot like a crack pipe to a passing officer Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!
it was the funniest thing I had ever heard.

Tom Sorenson said...

Impressive writing - I sure do admire your talents with words at least...even if you don't think you're the world's best waterfowl caller!

I can't say anything about calling waterfowl because I've never tried - but I can sort of know what you're talking about because I have the same problem with the 8 billion different elk calls on the market. I just kept buying till I found one I could make a reasonable sound with!

Josh said...

Just keep trying! And remember, a flock of honkers sometimes also sounds like a 6th grade clarinet troupe, so you are on the right track.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Holly, now you've touched a soft spot with me. Waterfowling is my favorite - which you probably picked up reading my blog - and all I can say is practice, practice, practice. You've got a couple nice instruments there so keep trying. Although honker and snow calls are pretty difficult ones to master. For mallard calls I have always been an Iverson devotee. I think his single reed, wood calls are one of the easiest to master and have a pure, raspy tone. You'll spend a few bucks but it is well worth it. Good luck this season!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks everyone! Ironman, that's hilarious about Curtis. And Josh, your observation about honkers is right - I just hadn't thought of it that way.

Live to Hunt, you're right. It's all about practice - shooting, calling, the works.

It's just so easy to be lazy when you're good at whistling - in a refuge full of bad quacking, good whistling stands out to ducks (in a good way).

That said, I need to master the goose calls. One place where I hunt (Yolo) is decent for honkers, and Delevan is loaded with snows. I've got snow deeks, and I've gotten snows to come pretty close with good deke arrangements, but when they don't hear a peep from their peeps, they just look for another pond.

mdmnm said...

With snows it sometimes seems like volume (rapidity) is the biggest thing. I was in a blind with a couple of biologists using honker calls but just hitting high notes and between the three of us we got quite a bit of interest. One caller just can't hit enough notes to sound like a bunch of snows talking.

sportingdays said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon said...

My solution to practicing in the car - ear plugs! I was learning how to run a goose call over the summer, and I would spend my lunch breaks at the park, windows rolled up, with ear plugs in. I don't know why people kept staring at me? ;)

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your post, while searching for duck call images, and smiled and laughed like crazy.

This is my first year at waterfowling, and calling, and am horrible with any music instrument.

There never seems to be the perfect place to practice throught the work week.

At home: the wife, daughter, dog, and neighbor's dogs all go nuts. Fun in itself for a laugh and grin.

At work: I feel ashamed to bust out the calls, for fear of non-hunters wondering, "What the heck was that?", and that I might be borderline insane, more so than they already think.

In the car: Agreed on the passing officer comment, as my sisters had a similar comment about my Buck Gardner Double Nasty II..."It looks like a one hitter!" LOL!

I hope you're still at it, and wish you luck this season. Ours starts the 24th and 31st this month, in the respective zones.

I have found the call purchasing to be simiar to fishing lures...I'll likely buy more than I'll ever need or use, but it's good to have the variety "Just in case you need it."

Take care, Jason from central IN

NorCal Cazadora said...

Jason, thanks for commenting!

This year, I'm working with a Wingsetter Raspy Hen - a low-dollar call that allows me to get lower tones (I'm always too shrill on regular calls). I've also got a Zink Calls CD of duck sounds - real duck sounds - that I listen to in my car, quacking along with the real ducks. (And I haven't yet been accused of smoking crack in my car, though I do get some funny looks). I'm feeling optimistic about calling this year. Some things just take practice.

And I still maintain that whistling is a GREAT alternative - teal (super easy), wigeon (again, easy), and pintail (best with Wingsetter 8-in-1, but requires skill and practice). Makes you sound different than all the other ordinary quackers out there. And if you've got gaddies where you hunt, get the Duck Commander gadwall call. Totally easy to use, and very effective. I've watched spoonies do a U-turn when I've blown that thing. (And spoonies taste fine where we hunt.)