Editor’s Note: Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Crew of Pinson, Alabama, one an up and coming star in the world of duck calling and duck hunting, has been calling ducks for 12 years. He’s won the Alabama State Men’s Division Duck Calling Championship twice, the Alabama Intermediate Division four times and he’s finished in 2nd place 10 times in regional and state calling contests. Crew is a member of Hunter’s Specialties’ Field Staff and Calling Team and conducts duck-calling seminars around the nation. This week, we asked him to tell us how to call ducks better.
Question: Ryan, last week you said that the most-important calls to use for ducks were the quack, the greeting call and the come-back call. How do you give a come-back call?
Crew: The come-back call is important for a hunter to know how to blow. But knowing when to use the come-back call is more important than knowing how to use the come-back call. The standard five-note greeting call is the same as the come-back call, except you give the call faster. You never want to call at ducks when they’re coming straight to you because they’re doing what you want them to do. Leave the ducks alone, if they’re coming straight at you. When the ducks go past you, call at their tail feathers or when they start to turn the corner.
A come-back call is given when ducks are flying away from the ducks on the water. Therefore, it’s a natural call to give. Also, the ducks have less chance of seeing you when you turn to blow the call at them as they’re flying away from you. Even if they’re at the side of you, the ducks have to look back and around to see you. Ducks can pinpoint the sound you’re making just like a turkey can pinpoint a turkey call. So, you don’t ever want to call to ducks when they have a chance of seeing you. The come-back call is more urgent with a faster cadence than the greeting call, but it’s basically the same-sounding call.
Question: When do you use the chatter?
Crew: We have to give the chatter call in contests, but it’s not really a call I use very often when I’m hunting. Instead of a chatter, a fast, rolling, stop-and-start call, I give little pecks, which are little one-note calls that sound like a period at the end of a sentence. I’ll also drag out notes and mix it with some little quacks when I use this feeding call. The rolling chatter is really fast and impressive, but it’s not the type of call you need when you’re hunting.
Question: What does someone need to do if they want to get better at calling ducks?
Crew: Hanging their duck calls up at the end of January and not picking them up again until two weeks before duck season is one of the biggest mistakes waterfowlers make. I suggest that duck hunters keep their duck calls in their cars because most people spend a lot of time in their cars. Much of the time you don’t have anyone riding with you, so you can practice your duck calling.
Your call doesn’t sound the same in a truck as it does in the open, but you’re building up air pressure and keeping the muscles in your mouth, tongue, lips and lungs strong so you can blow a duck call effectively. You need strong muscles in your tongue to cut the notes off and make clean, clear calls. If you stop exercising and then start back exercising, you won’t be as good as you were when you quit. But if you practice one or two days per week, you can keep all the muscles you use in your calling in good shape, and you’ll continue to get better.
Question: Most people who teach hunters how to duck call tell them to grunt into the call, but you tell the beginner not to grunt into the call. Why?
Crew: Most of the time, when a person tries to grunt into the call, he’s trying to grunt out each note from his diaphragm, and he doesn’t make clean calls. Instead of grunting each note out, you want to have a steady stream of air coming from your diaphragm into your mouth and going out into the call. To stop and start that steady stream of air, you want to use your tongue. By stopping and starting each note with your tongue, you’ll get clearer, cleaner, crisper quacks and calls. You blow from your diaphragm, but instead of going uh-uh-uh with your whole body shaking every time you grunt, you want to blow one steady stream of air from the diaphragm and start-and-stop each note with your tongue.
If you’ve watched some duck callers, their whole bodies will shake each time they make a note because they’re trying to grunt into the call. But if you blow from your diaphragm and use your tongue to start and stop the notes, you’ll notice your body doesn’t shake with each note. Your tongue is like a valve that opens and closes to let air out under pressure, and that’s what you want to think about to call correctly. If you’re grunting into the call, you’re not keeping constant pressure going out through the call. If you have to take five different breaths of air to make five notes, you’re not calling ducks correctly. You want to use one breath of air to blow all five notes. This way, each note will be consistent because it has the same amount of air pressure coming out of the call as the previous note. As you start running out of air, your notes will get shorter and softer just like when a hen mallard runs out of air and her notes get shorter and softer.
Question: Ryan, what’s another big mistake hunters make?
Crew: Many hunters who can blow calls really well aren’t effective duck hunters because they don’t know when to blow their calls and when not to blow them. They believe the sounds they make with their duck calls are the most critical element to turning a flock of ducks and causing that flock to come in with wings cupped, feet outstretched and dropping into the decoys. But I’ve learned that the most important aspect of duck hunting is when you call to the ducks, and what you say to them when you call.
I’ve seen plenty of mallard hens call terribly, but they can turn a flight of ducks and bring them into the hole because those hens know what to say and when to say it. So, one rule of thumb to always remember, when in doubt, don’t call. But, do learn how to call, what to say and when to say it by getting out in the field and calling to ducks. Watch the way the ducks react when you blow a call at them. Does their wing beat change? Do they turn? Does the flight break up? Or, do they just keep going? The way the ducks react to the calls tells you what they want to hear and when they want to hear it.
On different days, various flights of ducks want to hear several things at different times. There are no shortcuts for learning to read ducks. You just have to spend time in the field watching the birds in flight, calling to them and watching how they accept or reject your calls.
Question: When someone asks you what type of call should they start blowing to learn to call ducks, what do you tell them?
Crew: I usually suggest they start out with a double-reed duck call. A double-reed’s easier to blow, and the reeds working together take a lot of pressure off the caller. The double-reed call produces a lot of the rasp and the vibrations’ sounds, rather than the hunter using his throat to make those sounds.
In fall 2006, Hunter’s Specialties began producing double-reed calls. You can get the Custom Series Ringer 2 in a single- or a double-reed call, or, you can get the Custom Series Timber Calls in a single- or a double-reed call. These calls are more forgiving and don’t show your mistakes as bad as a single-reed call does, and they’re much easier to learn to use to call ducks.
Question: What’s the quickest way to become a good duck caller and impress your friends with your ability to call?
Crew: Find out where the ducks really want to be the day before you hunt, reach that spot early, set up, get well hidden and put out your decoys. When ducks are flying past or flying over, use a single quack or nothing more than a greeting call – a series of five quacks. You already know that the ducks want to be where you are, so 90% of the battle’s won.
If you’ve practiced at all, you should be able to give a quack and a series of five quacks. Call very little, and let your decoys do the work for you. Your duck hunting buddies will think you’re brilliant. There’s no call made that will bring in more ducks than hunting where the ducks already want to be. This tactic works every time.