Hunter prowess with a duck call has gotten to be a matter of pride like
being able to bowl strikes or spit for distance.
In 1936, only a year after "live" decoys were outlawed, Stuttgart, Ark.,
held the first national duck calling contest and that contest has grown to be
the Super Bowl for duck callers. First prize has gone from a hunting coat to
$15,000. Only two of the winners over the years have called with their
voice, not a manufactured call.
The first patented duck call dates to 1863 when a fellow named Fred Allen of
devised an external call (others give credit to Elam Fisher of Detroit in
1870). Before that some hunters called with their voice. There were
non-patented external calls at least as early as the 1850s when a Currier &
Ives print showed a hunter with an early model.
P.S. Olt, an Illinois
duck maven who lived for 80 years (he died in 1950 and his first calls hit the
market in 1905), made the first widely-distributed duck call, of hard rubber
and wood. Its sound carried for miles over big water. My first call was an Olt,
the Ford of calls, but the first one on the market with glamour attached was by
Chick Majors, a legendary caller and a pioneer in designer calls. Dud Faulk of
Louisiana devised a softer-toned call that worked in timber hunting where big
sound wasn't needed.
Legends Of The Game
Phil Olt, Dud Faulk and Majors all were legendary callers -- but whether that
was because of their expertise in calling or in making calls is a coin flip.
There are only a few sounds needed in duck calling and most are variations of
"quack," what Donald Duck says when he isn't speaking English. The
exception is the feeding chuckle, a contented,
low-voiced sound. One calling mentor told me, "Just say 'digga, digga, digga'."
The Hail Call is loud and frantic -- an attention getter. The Greeting Call
is softer, a series of "hey, good to see you!" quacks. I use a custom
blaster for yelling at distant ducks and a Faulk call for closer conversation
and feeding chuckles.
One dealer has a questionnaire, which leads you to the proper call for what
you do (i.e. hunt in timber, fields, open water, etc.). You can choose a
tone -- perhaps based on your personality, for the descriptions are "loud and
aggressive," "in-between," "soft and quiet," or
"a little of everything," and the call voice can be a "deep
growl," "mellow rasp," "soft and easy," or (I love
this) "nasally and whiny."
You'd probably want to shoot a "nasally and whiny duck" just on
You call most when ducks are outgoing, not when they're heading toward you.
Let the decoys do the work when they're incoming. If the ducks swing away from
the decoys and look as if they're reconsidering, give them a Greeting Call or a
Because a mallard hen is the most seductive of all calling birds, the
mallard call is by far the most widely-used. It will lure just about any duck,
especially puddlers. But you can get calls that mimic
pintail whistles, wood duck squeals or the sounds of other species.
Physiology Of A Duck Call
The physiology of a duck call is this:
1. A barrel, which functions as the amplifier, much as does the bell of a
2. A mouthpiece, into which, obviously, you blow;
3. The reed (today usually Mylar, but sometimes brass, hard rubber or nickel
silver), which vibrates to create the ducktalk, and;
4. A cork wedge which holds the reed in place.
Not rocket science, as the saying goes, but the design of each of these
components must be a harmonious part of the whole.
Each call is tuned by the maker, a process of trimming the reed and shaping
the "tone board," the extension of the mouthpiece that fits into the
Every now and then when I give a bunch of indecisive ducks a Hail Call and
they wheel and head for my decoys, it makes everything worthwhile.
For a fine selection of Waterfowl Hunting gear, including duck calls, click here.
Joel Vance is the author of "Grandma and the Buck Deer" (softcover $15); "Bobs,
Brush and Brittanies "(hardcover $25); "Down Home Missouri" (hardcover $25); and
"Autumn Shadows" limited edition, signed $45). Available from Cedar Glade Press,
Box 1664, Jefferson City MO 65102. Add $2/book for S/H.