Editor’s Note: Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Crew of Pinson, Alabama, 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, he’s finished in second place 10 times in regional and state calling contests. In 2006, he finished 16th in the World Duck Calling Championship because his calling routine was interrupted when a fire truck siren overshadowed his calling, requiring him to call again at the end of the contest. 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, what’s your favorite call?
Crew: I like the Hunter’s Specialties’ Custom Series Acrylic Timber Duck Call or the Custom Series Wood Timber Cocobola Duck Call. These calls aren’t just for timber hunting, but anytime ducks get in close, this call can be deadly effective. Anytime I want a softer, more-natural sound, I use the Timber Duck Calls.
Question: What’s one of the most-common mistakes made by beginning duck callers?
Crew: They don’t cut their notes off clean. Most beginners run their notes together. Often a novice will make one note and chop it up with his tongue. To solve this problem, start each note with the same amount of air pressure as the last note. You can stop a note by bringing your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Then when you drop your tongue back down to make the second note, you should have the same amount of air pressure going through the call that you had on the first note.
Most people grunt into their calls and do each note with a different breath of air. But to make really good, clean, crisp calls, you want to make several quacks with the same breath of air and the same amount of air pressure going through the call. The best way I can explain how to call is when you start your call, use one breath of air to complete that call and stop-and-start notes with your tongue.
Question: What three calls does a duck hunter who just wants to take ducks and not win contests need to know?
Crew: First, let me explain that it doesn’t take much duck calling to call in a duck, especially if you’re where ducks already want to come. The quack is the most important call. If you’re in the right place, you can call in 90% of the ducks that will work your decoy with nothing more than a quack. Then you need to know a greeting call and a come-back call. But the good news is all three of these calls are based on a single quack.
The first thing most beginning duck callers want to learn to do is the chatter, sometimes called the rolling-feed call that sounds like digga-digga-digga-digga. This call is usually made really fast. But this call isn’t natural, and you don’t need this call to bring ducks into your decoy spread. One out of every 10 times I hunt, I use a feed call. If you’re not in an area where ducks are feeding, for instance in the middle of a lake where ducks are resting, then a feed call is totally inappropriate because the ducks aren’t there to feed.
Question: How should a beginning duck caller start?
Crew: For the first week or two that a beginner practices with a duck call, he should only practice the quack because all other calls are based on a quack. The better and more realistic you can make a quack, the better you’ll be able to call ducks. Then work on putting five to seven quacks together in a series. As you blow the series, make each quack a little faster and drag out the note a little longer. The first quack is long, and then each successive quack gets shorter. The quacks fade out as you run out of air.
Remember, a mallard hen’s lungs are about the size of a pecan, so she doesn’t have a lot of air. To learn how to make a good quack, try using the word “hut.” The more you practice, the better your quack and your series of quacks will become. Learning to call ducks isn’t like making instant pudding. Most people want to blow duck calls they’ve just purchased from the sporting good stores and cause ducks to fall out of the sky. However, if you’re going to be an effective duck caller, you have to practice, and the more you practice, the better you’ll be able to call ducks.
Question: Where do you practice?
Crew: I use to wake my parents up in the morning blowing a duck call, and I’d still be blowing it at night before I went to sleep. I blew my duck call all day, every day, regardless of where I was at the moment. I’d carry a duck call fishing with me, and I’d blow it over at my friend’s house. Everywhere I went, I’d blow a duck call. However, one of the things I’ve learned is that girls don’t like to hear you blow a duck call. For some reason, girls just don’t appreciate duck calling. I never have figured that one out.
Question: Why do you like the Hunter’s Specialties’ Cocobola Wood Timber Duck Call for beginning duck hunters?
Crew: A beginning duck caller can make all the calls he wants to make to take ducks with this call. You can do every sound a hen mallard makes from medium range to close-in range. It won’t be a great call for the loud, ringing hail call, but most places where most hunters hunt, the timber call will be deadly effective. This call’s expensive, but it’s really easy to blow, and it doesn’t require the caller to use as much air as other calls. Also, a wood call’s more forgiving than an acrylic call. It has a really soft, mellow sound, helping to cover up some of the beginning hunter’s mistakes. All callers make mistakes, from world champions to beginners.
Question: What do you do if you’re calling to ducks and you make a mistake?
Crew: Keep calling. Even mallard hens make mistakes in their calling. Mallard hens have made some of the most-awful calling I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m convinced that a mallard hen can’t win a calling contest. Not every duck sounds the same, and not every duck makes perfect calls. Live hens will miss a note or have a flat note, and I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to affect live birds when they hear those mistakes.
The secrets to learning how to call ducks include: enjoy blowing your call; spend time blowing your call; don’t worry about the mistakes you make while calling because they happen to all of us; and, watch how the birds react when you blow a call. Duck hunting and duck calling can be plenty of fun. Get a Hunter’s Specialties call, start blowing it, and watch what happens when the ducks hear it. Even after the season, you can have plenty of fun calling ducks.