Have you ever walked outside and listened to the Snow Geese or Canada’s and wonder what on earth they could be screaming about? Or how about a group of mallards working a marsh and all you can hear is chuckling or that lone hen screaming out a cadence. What about the whistle of Woodies screaming through the timber? What goes into these seemingly worthless conversations? I’m guessing a lot and although there are literally hundreds of different call manufacturers out there and thousands of different calls, nobody truly knows exactly what they are saying. The best we can do is play the mimic game and hope we don’t offend somebody in the process!
I think the most rewarding and fulfilling thing about duck and goose hunting has to be learning the lingo. Making those groups of ducks and geese truly believe that those decoys are real to get their legs out and finishing into the decoys. That’s the challenge that keeps me heading to the marsh or field every year. Sure shooting them is awesome. Eating them is fine. Getting boats brushed and hidden is all part of the game, but truly studying why ducks and geese say what they say WHEN they say it is to me the ultimate goal in waterfowling. I once had an old waterfowler tell me that anyone can learn a language, but only the gifted can learn to speak to waterfowl. To successfully and religiously fool these amazing and wary birds, you must first take the Rosetta Stone class for waterfowl.
Study, study, and study some more. Make sure you put as much time in the off-season as you can listening to ducks, and geese and watching their reactions to certain calls. It’s amazing what these geese are teaching their young right now. Remember in a few short months these goslings are going to be cocky teenagers that think they know it all, and it’s because of the school days they’re attending now that they will have all the survival skills needed to make it past the gauntlet of hunters this fall. As they begin to fly, you need to listen to these family groups. You will be amazed at how vocal mom and dad are and how quick the young ones are to react. Really pay attention when they get to their food source. It could be a park edge, or a winter wheat field, or even a freshly mowed yard. Make sure you pay attention to how the parents on the ground talk to these birds. You will hear sounds that you never heard while hunting because you were too busy bursting blood vessels blowing your new $160.00 acrylic call. You’ll be amazed that a lot of times, less is more.
Listen for comeback calls, aggressive calls, feeding murmurs and more. More importantly get a feel for how the birds react when they are talking. Then when practicing try to mimic what you were hearing. The key is not necessarily sounding the same, but getting close and knowing WHEN you say what you say.
I recently was fishing and happened to have one of Field Provens double reed polys in my pocket. As I was casting to no avail I saw some drake mallards chasing a hen all over. She was doing things in the air I don’t think the best Top Gun pilot could do trying to stay away from those boys, and cussing at them to where a sailor would have been proud. The thing is, the more she scolded them, the more they chased. I let out a quick four-note sequence that made two of those drakes turn like I had them in a trance. They made two passes and landed no more than 10 yards to my left completely aware of me standing in the water.
Now I’m not exactly sure what I said, but I do know that whatever I said to those two lover boys, I had them at hello. I’m not saying that this will happen every time this fall, in fact it probably won’t more than it will, but I would of never known had I not heard and seen that hen that day. Knowing when to hit them hard, or back off, or let out soft lone quacks, or catch them on the corners is more important than having the best boat or decoys. This isn’t learned by listening to a DVD, or tape. It’s getting out and watching the language of waterfowl unfold at a rest area, or refuge. It’s not taking a gun one day and taking a video camera. It’s trying things outside the box you normally wouldn’t do. You will fail at times, but you will also succeed and learn from those failures. As the popular saying goes “In Order To Succeed, You Must First Be Willing To Fail” holds true to calling waterfowl, don’t worry about failing because those failures will lead to future success.
The last thing that every waterfowler needs to know is you don’t have to win contests to be a good duck or goose caller. In fact, you don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money on duck and goose calls to be an effective waterfowler. I once was sitting in the blind on a slower day and heard what I would describe as a cross between a park duck and a Kazoo. It was the most God-awful noise I had ever heard and it was right behind the boat. I stood up annoyed that some guy with his new call had setup so close only to get busted by about 30 mallards eating into the spread. I could not believe a real hen mallard sounded so awful! If this were someone in my boat I would of asked him to stick that where the sun didn’t shine. However as it were I watched a good group of mallards with one nasty sounding hen retreat into the refuge.
The moral to that story is don’t think that because you haven’t refinanced your home to buy more of the latest and greatest duck and goose calls, and you don’t sound like everyone else on the marsh that you’re not going to kill ducks. It has more to do about knowing when to use that call, than knowing how to sound like everyone else on the marsh. I have seen many ducks killed over a single loan hen quack, while the rest of the marsh is trying to sound like a mallard free for all concert.
Lastly, to be the most efficient at calling learn from the real thing. Every call manufacturer has an instructional DVD out and they will help you get confidence, but every one of those DVD’s will also tell you that listening to the real thing is far more important. Good luck this summer and get to know your waterfowl, and learn that lingo!