While duck hunting last season, I had the misfortune to share a public
wetland with another group of hunters. That's not the misfortunate part.
The drag was that one of the members of their hunting party fancied himself
as a "caller." If one speck of a mallard appeared on the horizon, that guy lit
into more "Highballs" than Dean Martin during a night out with the Brat Pack!
The ducks veered away every time he called (or should I say over-called).
In a frantic effort to call them back, he then went for his wood duck call
and/or pintail whistle. Heck, he even blew a few times on a snow goose call and
there wasn't a snow within 200 miles!
Ducks: A Poor Caller Hurts Everyone Around
Needless to say, nobody experienced too much shooting that day. But the fiasco
did provide a valuable lesson to anyone there who was paying attention. And
it's this: calling can be an extremely good thing (even absolutely critical at
times). But it can also be a terrible detriment if a hunter calls poorly, or
calls too much.
When I talk about calling with novice hunters, or kids just starting out,
the first lesson I try to impart is to learn calling from the critters
themselves. If it's duck calling for example, go to a local park where there
are a lot of relaxed mallards. Sit down, and just listen. You'll learn that
with the exception of first light, ducks are very quiet birds. You hear very
few loud, drawn-out hail calls after the sun lights up the world. Instead,
ducks will feed and preen and make very soft quacks and chuckles during the
afternoon (if they make any sound at all). With that in mind, it's unnatural to
scream out loud hail calls after the morning flight is over. Talk the way they
talk and you'll fit right in.
The same thing can be said about turkey hunting. Listen to those hens and
try to emulate the sounds they make. Count the number of yelps in a yelp
sequence, and pay attention to that hen's attitude and activity while she's yelping.
That way you can get a feel for what two dramatically different yelp sequences
might mean. You're basically trying to translate a foreign language here.
Calling Turkeys: Tempo Is Key
Also with turkeys, be most in tune to the tempo of their calling. A world-champion
turkey caller once told me that the cadence of the call is much more critical
than the exact tones you make. As he said, you can make terrible yelps, but if
the pace is natural, you can still be effective. He also said that some of the
worst turkey calling he's ever heard came from real, live turkeys! And it's
true. Listen to turkeys in nature and you'll hear wild hens make some of the
worst "clunkers" you ever heard. But their tempo is always on-the-money.
The "less-is-more" theory applies to both turkeys and waterfowl. Here's a good
rule of thumb: try to talk back-and-forth to a specific bird. With geese,
there's often one bird in a bunch that's the most vocal. He sort of speaks for
the group. Talk to that one bird, and give back everything he gives you.
If it's one quick honk, match it. If it's a double-cluck, then double-cluck right back. Do this for turkeys, too. One of the best tactics for taking a tom is to
call in the hens because where they go the toms follow. Match a particular
hen in the flock, call-for-call. If you can bring her in on a string, the other
girls in the group will follow and Mr. Gobbler won't be too far behind.
Deer Calling: Volume Key
Calling for deer is the same game. Way too many deer hunters blow their grunt
calls and snort-wheezes too much, and too loudly. A real buck grunt is a very
muted sound, coming from deep within a buck's throat.
If it's during the pre-rut or rut, and there are no deer around that I know
about, I like to give one soft grunt about every 15 minutes just in case
there's an unseen buck within earshot and I can get him to answer or come in.
When I do hear a buck grunt, I give him his exact sound right back (just like
with the birds). Don't over-call him. Just answer him. Also, avoid calling if
he's looking right at your exact location (especially if you're in a
treestand). They can pinpoint the location of a call, and if their ears tell
them the call came from 20 feet up in a tree, they'll smell something fishy.
As with every nuance of hunting, experience is the biggest thing. The more
time you spend in the field, hunting, and observing, the more proficient you'll
become with your calls and your calling. The good news is that call companies,
such as Hunters Specialties, keep making calls that are easier to use and more
realistic-sounding than ever. They even provide how-to CDs and DVDs that will
give you a huge jump-start in being able to "talk the talk" in the woods and on
Hopefully this short article has helped you understand that less can be more
when it comes to calling. I just hope that the duck hunting loudmouth reads it,
and keeps his calls in his pocket on his next outing (especially if I'm hunting
the same wetland).
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Editor's Note: Babe has shared his love of the outdoors with TV viewers for more than 25 years. Babe will share his tips and outdoor adventures weekly on sportsmansguide.com. In 1984, Babe's "Good Fishing" program debuted and later his "Outdoor Secrets" show became popular with hunting enthusiasts. Babe's programs appear on the Outdoor Life Network, WGN, Fox Sports Net, Fox College Sports, The Men's Channel, Sportsman's Channel, Great American Country, WILD TV, and Comcast. Babe also writes hunting, fishing and conservation columns that are carried by up to 350 newspapers each week. Winkelman sponsors include Chevrolet, Miller High Life, Johnsonville Brats, Crestliner Boats, St. Croix Rods, Browning, Hunter's Specialties, Nikon, Minn Kota, Optima Batteries, Mathews, Honda, and many more.