Ryan Crew: Less Is More For Late-Season Ducks

Editor’s Note: Ryan Crew of Pinson, Alabama, a member of Hunter’s Specialties' pro staff and a professional duck-hunting guide, is one of the nation’s top duck callers. This week, Crew will tell us how to call-in late-season ducks.

Question: Ryan, how do you call-in late-season ducks in January?
Crew: I call less at this time of year than I do in the early or the mid-season. Too, I use fewer decoys than I put out at any other time of year. Remember, late-season ducks have seen every decoy spread and heard every duck call made from Canada to Alabama. Since most duck callers overcall, the less and the softer you call, the more natural your calling will sound at the end of the season. Also, at this time of year, the ducks are accustomed to seeing big decoy spreads, so by using a 1-dozen decoy spread, your decoys will look more natural. At this time of the season, ducks easily can become call- and spread-shy, so I use 1 dozen of the most natural-looking decoys I have.

Question: How do you set-up your decoys?
Crew: Setting up a formation with a dozen decoys is extremely difficult, so I set my decoys close together in one little clump to make them look more realistic.

Question: What kinds of calls do you use, and why?
Crew: I use the Hunter Specialties Custom Series Timber Duck Calls during the late season because I can blow them really softly and sound more like a duck than I can with any other call. At this time of year, you can’t blow too much or too loudly.

Most people believe that in the late season, you need to put out more decoys and call more. But I’ve found that the opposite is true. Fewer decoys and less calling result in a more natural setup. Too, by calling a little and more softly, the ducks come in more relaxed and less skittish. Less is more when calling-in ducks during the late season.

Question: If you see a flight of ducks coming in, what call do you use instead of a highball call?
Crew: Most of the ducks you’ll see at this time of year won’t be large flocks of fast-moving ducks. These ducks will be in small flights, milling around and moving from one pothole to another, looking for a place to light. So, I give these ducks a five- to a six-note greeting call to entice them to look at my decoys. Then I use plain quacks.

Question: When the ducks come-in down low, what type of call do you give to get the ducks to set-up to land?
Crew: That’s when I give plain quacks. Simple soft quacks relax the ducks and make them feel comfortable as they come into your decoys. Especially on the last couple of passes, I prefer to use simple plain hen quacks.

Question: What’s the most-difficult duck to call-in during the late season?
Crew: All of them. But if I had to pick one species of duck, I’d say gadwalls or pintails. Gadwalls are wary ducks that always seem to be uptight. They’ll usually circle a decoy spread more than any other species of duck will. I’ve actually seen a flock of gadwalls circle a flock of live ducks on the water 10 times and never land. If live duck calls can’t call-in gadwalls, you don’t have a prayer.

Pintails are also wary, and they whistle instead of quack like other ducks. Pintails are more shy than any other species of duck. I always carry a pintail whistle with me in case I get a chance to call-in pintails. In early season, you can get away with a lot of calling. But in late season, you need to be stingy with the calls and only call very softly and simply.

Question: What blind do you use in the late season?
Crew: I prefer the Hunter’s Specialties Hitman Layout Blind because you can make it disappear in a flat mowed field by using stubble, sticks or brush natural to the ground where you set up the blind. The Hitman is only 17 inches high, making it easy to camouflage. Most hunters want to put cane or sticks on a blind. But if you use large vegetation around a blind, the blind will stand out rather than vanish. I’d rather use natural stubble, so the blind resembles a mound of grass. Using simple calls and natural-looking blinds greatly will increase your chances for taking late-season ducks.