Add these truly Southern techniques to your calling, and the ducks will be putty in your hands.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Master duck caller Barnie Calef of Rapid City, Iowa, works with Hunter’s Specialties as a waterfowl specialist, and guides hunters to ducks and geese in Iowa.
After winning three World Duck Calling Championships in 1989, 1999 and 2000, Calef has become one of the most-recognized experts on duck calling in the nation.
At one time, I thought northern duck hunters had the best calls and could call better than southern hunters, but when I began duck hunting with my buddies in the South, I heard them mimic the same subtle sounds ducks made, and realized how skilled southern hunters actually were.
By the time ducks reach the South, they’ve already been exposed to some of the finest calling in the world, from Canada all the way down the flyway.
Therefore, southern hunters can’t bring in as many birds by using the same calls northern hunters use. Instead, southern callers have to learn the finer points of duck calling.
That’s why the calls known as the Cajun Squeal and the Bouncing Hen have become so popular in the South. Ducks realize that pure, beautiful calls, with clean, distinctive notes like those of an opera singer, come from hunters, not ducks.
But when the birds get down South, they hear a different sound — calls with a country twang to them.
When ducks hear these new calls, they think the homeboys are talking, so they’ll likely come in and see what all the commotion’s about.
I heard the Bouncing Hen and the Cajun Squeal calls for the first time about four years ago. I had heard ducks make these sounds before, but I hadn’t paid much attention to them.
But the first time the duck call of Greg Hood, the owner of Southern Game Calls, made those sounds, I couldn’t believe how good they sounded. The precision of these calls blew me away, and I decided then and there, I had to learn how to call like that.
To convince an unassuming flock that you’re a “good ol’ duck,” spice up your calling with the Cajun Squeal. To make the Cajun Squeal, compose a five-note greeting call, but instead of making five distinctive notes, squeal between each note. Basically, squeak the call at the end of each note, hit the next note, and then squeal the call before you hit the next note.
This call works wonders to turn a flight of ducks into decoys.
You also can dupe the ducks into thinking you’re a southern bird with the Bouncing Hen call, which sounds like a hen mallard with hiccups. You make the Bouncing Hen call by sending “out, out, out” sounds into the duck call.
Then, in-between each note, hit the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue. The call actually has an accent on the end of the note.
For the most effective sound, slur each note, rather than making clean, distinct notes. Mallards don’t hit every note clearly and distinctly like an opera singer but, instead, slur their notes like a country-and-western singer.
Whether you hunt in the water, mud or fields, you’ll bring in the birds by making your calls a little more country.
I’ve had days when ducks have come to my blind but won’t respond to my greeting call. I’ll even change to a different greeting call but still not get a response.
Finally, when I hit the ducks with the Cajun Squeal or the Bouncing Hen, suddenly, the ducks will turn, come in, lock their wings and get blasted.
In one of my videos, footage shows a group of ducks that comes by our blind in Missouri. I give out a greeting call, and at first, the birds give absolutely no response.
But then I go right back at them with a Cajun Squeal, and they just fall out of the sky toward our blind.
Northern hunters simply haven’t mastered these secondary duck sounds as southern hunters have. I believe southern hunters just know how to tell the ducks what they want to hear.
Ducks in both the North and the South will respond to Cajun Squeal and the Bouncing Hen calls. Hunters who learn to use these country calls will bring in birds much more often than hunters who don’t use them.
It’s All About Timing
Southern hunters not only call better than their northern neighbors, they also call at better times. Timing is everything, and determining when to call depends on the area in which you hunt.
For instance, when I hunt in flooded timber where there’s limited vision and the ducks can’t see decoys from far away, I want to get the ducks’ attention quickly.
To do that, I want to sound just like the ducks. I’ll even kick the water to make a splash and try to simulate the sights and sounds of feeding ducks.
When I hunt big rivers and reservoirs, I call loudly to ducks in the distance and try to get them headed my way. I usually call the big-water ducks as soon as I can see them. Hopefully, I’ll bring them to within working distance before they get distracted by other hunters.
Once ducks focus on your spread and fly toward you, they’ll less likely get pulled in different directions by other hunters.
Oftentimes when hunting in big-water regions, you’ll have to compete with other hunters for the attention of the ducks. Whoever talks duck best, wins.
If I have competition at a hunting location, I will call any ducks I see, even from a half-mile away. I’ll give a loud, high, ringing hail call, just like the call I’ll use in competition.
Once the birds come within 150 yards, I don’t give any sounds that don’t sound like a duck.
At that point, I’ll basically give a six-note call, which I consider the best call to use in the field for ducks. When ducks are young and wander away from their mother, they learn to respond to the six-note quack, which their mother uses to bring them back to her quickly.
I believe when a hunter makes that same six-note call, he uses his most-powerful means of bringing in the most birds in the shortest period. Almost any time and any place you use it, this call will deliver the ducks.
You can vary the six-note quack with a four-note quack. But remember this rule of thumb: The more notes you blow, the shorter the notes need to be.
Conversely, the fewer notes you blow, the longer you need to make the notes.
If you blow a four-note quack, really drag out each note, and make the actual call longer. If you blow a six-note quack, make each note shorter and choppier.
You can determine whether to give a four-note or a six-note quack by watching the way the ducks respond when you call to them. I typically start with a six-note call, using short, choppy notes.
If I don’t see the ducks turning toward me or cutting their wings, then I give six faster quacks. If those fast quacks don’t get a response, then I reduce the number of quacks I give but make them harder and much more aggressively.
Your ability to read the ducks’ body language and understand which calls they will and won’t respond to determines whether or not you call ducks.
Once the ducks tell you the type of call they prefer, by locking their wings and swinging toward your decoy spread, emphasize that call. Learn to give the ducks the calls they want and like.
No instructor can teach you duck-hunting success with a “do” list or a magic call if you don’t also learn to understand what the ducks tell you when you call them. Knowing how to read the ducks’ response is just as important as knowing how to call. The greatest call given at the right time still won’t put ducks in the decoy if that’s not the call the ducks want to hear.
Taking the Swingers
One of the most-frustrating things in duck calling is when ducks swing away from your decoys. Sometimes ducks will have their wings locked for their final approaches, and then for some reason, they start flapping, pulling up and swinging away from the decoys.
If you hunt in a high-pressure area, you can’t wait for the ducks to get out 150 yards before you start calling; you don’t want to give the ducks a chance to get distracted by other hunters.
Instead, start hitting those ducks with calls when they’re about 60 yards from your blind. You want to keep them tight to the blind and interested in your decoys.
When I jump on swinging ducks, I’ll blow the call really hard and fast to try to turn them around and back into my decoys. Most of the time with that fast calling, you can at least break off one or two ducks from a flight, even if you don’t turn around the whole flight, and those couple of ducks will drop into the decoys.
At that point, you must decide if you want to take them, or if you prefer to bet on the larger flight to circle back in and come to the blind.
If you can break two or three ducks away from a flock that swings away, and those two or three ducks come into your decoys, go ahead, and take them.
I always follow this rule: Take the ducks that come to your decoys and don’t worry about the ducks that are 60 to 80 yards away from your blind.
Calculate your Chances
I’ve swung 10 mallards as many as six or eight times before and finally brought them into my decoys. Often, if mallards are serious about lighting in your decoy spread, they’ll make one swing over your decoys and then come right in to where you’re waiting.
However, if ducks circle and almost come into your decoys three times, but never set their wings and stretch out their feet, then you most likely never will get a shot at that flight.
This rule is one that can be broken, but typically I’ll follow the “three-swings-and-you’re-out” rule. If you don’t take the shot on that third pass, you may not get a fourth pass, especially if you hunt in a public area where hunters battle for the birds.
Always remember that your ability to read the ducks is your best asset.
Knowing the effects of certain calls on the ducks will tell you the type of calls to create and how many passes you can allow the ducks to make. Every day and each flock are different. That’s what makes duck hunting so much fun, and why I love this sport so much.