Time to Learn: Waterfowl Calling 101

By Ryan Graden

Waterfowl hunting is a science. Collectively there are so many factors that play into your level of success in the field and it takes years to even begin to understand it all. I started hunting ducks and geese at an older age than most. At twenty years old, I was introduced to hunting Canada Geese in cut corn fields and nearly ten years later I still cannot get enough. Training hunting dogs is what got me into the sport, but I quickly became fascinated with learning bird behavior, how important your field (or water) conditions are and of course learning about how to set up decoy spreads based on hunting location, weather, time of year, etc. One element of waterfowl hunting that I never took the time to learn is calling; which is arguably one of the biggest difference makers in the sport.

I’ll admit, for years I coasted through my hunting seasons relying on great hunting locations, top of the line decoys, and a few hunting buddies that knew a lot more about hunting than I did. Likely I am not alone, and while I always pulled my weight in the blind by helping set decoys, work on the blind, and train an exceptional retriever to pick up our birds there comes a time when you realize the importance of quality calling. There are days where you are just setup in the right place at the right time; the wind is perfect and birds just want to be where you are. Those days are few and far between! Then there are days where you need to convince birds that your spread is the place to be. This is done by quality calling; a skill that most waterfowlers continuously work on.

Learning to call can be intimidating, at least it was for me because I have been fortunate enough to hunt with great duck and goose callers. I did not want to be the guy in the blind who sounded awful on the call. While not all situations in the field require excessive calling (or maybe not calling at all) I have realized more and more that it is a skill I’d like to learn. The first step in learning was to consult fellow Avery Pro Staff member and life-long friend Brandon Geweke. Brandon has hunted waterfowl his entire life, and is largely experienced when it comes to calling ducks and geese. I asked him a few key questions about learning how to call and wanted to share them in this article.

Ryan: For someone who has minimal to no experience, which is easier to begin with: Duck or Goose calling?

Brandon: Ultimately this depends on what they plan to hunt! If the answer is “both”, then I believe goose calling is more appealing to a beginning caller because goose hunting is much more interactive between the birds and hunter. There are more notes and sequences involved in calling geese compared to duck calling.

Ryan: What particular styles of calls are easier to blow or learn for a new caller?

Brandon: How to choose between single and double reed Duck calls. The double reed is much more conducive to a beginner, but this does not mean that they are a “beginner” call. Experienced duck callers still use double reed calls extensively. The double reed call allows you to get a great duck sound without using as much voice as a single reed (easier to blow and more forgiving for a new caller). The single reed is a bit tougher to blow, requiring more voice and air on the part of the caller. The upside of the single reed is the volume and distance of the call, as well as the fact that it can produce a raspy sound that sounds like multiple birds (the ability to change tones), unlike the double reed. I started out on a double reed, and now blow a single reed call. My lanyard always has both on it. For goose calling I would highly recommend starting with a Short reed over a flute call. Short reeds may be a little more difficult initially, but the sound of a short reed is much more lifelike compared to a flute call. Flute calls take a completely different air flow than a short reed uses. For a beginner this will only build bad habits.

Ryan: What hunting scenarios require calling the most?  How can a new caller account for their lack of experience and still set themselves up for success in the field?

Brandon: I would say the time of the year is one of the most important factors, along with overall location. Early season ducks and geese will be more forgiving of unnatural or poor calling; they have been pressured less and have NOT wised up to various calls. In the late season, when birds have been heavily pressured and gained experience, is not the time for beginning callers to be practicing new routines or going outside of their skillset. This will expose you, and ultimately cost you birds. It is always good to keep things simple; simple quacks or clucks will add life to your spread.

Ryan: Are there any tricks that helped you learn and improve your calling ability?

Brandon: Today it is so easy to go online and gather information. Reading articles is good, but you can easily view videos that bring audio and visual elements to help you learn. I still contend that the best tactic is to go watch birds at a park, conservation area, or marsh. Spend time watching them, and listening to their sounds and overall interaction. Try to see how the group of birds sound while new birds are landing, and see if you can identify patterns. This is the best education you can get.

Ryan: How long do you think it takes a typical “newbie” to learn how to call?

Brandon: Of course this can vary from person to person. I equate learning a call to learning an instrument. It may start out foreign to you, but over time you begin to grasp things like (hand placement, airflow, ect.). Plan on at least two-three months for beginner stages, and then it builds from there. I am a lifelong hunter and I am still learning more and more about calling today. The process never ends!

As a hunter who is just beginning in learning to call ducks and geese, Brandon’s information was very informative and helpful. My takeaway was that when you are not an advanced level caller, you can still be successful if you know how to use your call correctly. Very basic calling tactics (clucks, quacks) can be just enough to keep birds interested if used correctly. Trying to do more than you are capable of is only going to hurt your success. I find myself practicing in my truck while driving around (maybe not the safest way to practice) so that I can hear myself really well. The field is not the time to practice; the field requires calling with a purpose to finish birds. Like anything in life, practice is what you need to do, but also take the time to observe ducks and geese naturally and focus on their communication. Those are the sounds you are ultimately after!