Hunting isn’t easy.
It requires rock-solid focus, concentration, and the patience to remain entranced in the hunt even after hours of silence or inactivity.
Then that moment finally happens—your waterfowl appear in front of you, and it’s time to sound the call to lure them in.
But you’ve never used a duck call before, and the sound that comes out isn’t attracting them.
In fact, they could end up leaving if you sound like a duck in distress.
Or, you could avoid all of that.
There’s more to duck calls than simply blowing into a reed—you have tons of different sounds to try, and some that will work better in certain situations based on how you judge them.
It comes down to situational awareness and having the skill to make the right sound at the right time.
If you’ve never used a duck call before, strap in: this is everything you need to know about duck calls before you ever set out on a single hunt.
What Are Some Duck Calls That You Can Mimic?
Every single duck call is going to start with a basic quack, and you’re going to upgrade from there.
I want to preface this by saying there are endless combinations of notes, lengths, and quacks/words you say into the reed that can change your call.
Pitch, tone, and muffling your sound all do something different as well.
I’m not trying to overwhelm you, so let’s start with the basic quack, and the three main patterns to try out.
All calls start from here. A basic quack is going to be performed by saying “qua qua qua” into a duck call.
This emulates a basic, ducky sound that you can use to manipulate into other sounds. Mastering this is a necessity.
When basic calls don’t work, a comeback call will alert nearby ducks and get their attention.
At least, most of the time. A comeback call should be about eight notes long at the very most and sound like “kanc” when it comes out of the reed.
This one sounds a bit silly, but it lets other ducks know “Hey, I’m a duck and I’ve found food.”
You have to master these in a series of quick quacks by saying “tikku tikku” into the reed over and over again, then leaving a long silence.
Sometimes referred to as a mating call, you can use this to call shy ducks over to you when your other calls just aren’t doing the trick.
Space these out by saying “quaaaaack” into the reed, emphasizing on that long a sound.
Try this a few times and wait, they could still be a bit shy.
Different Types Of Barrel Materials
The reeds are going to produce a noise, and that noise is going to be different based on the barrel material.
Your barrel is one of the five components found in most duck calls.
These are the three main types of materials used to make calls.
An old-school pick that’s still pretty popular today.
Wooden barrels produce a slightly muted sound compared to acrylic and polycarbonate but in a good way.
It sounds more natural. In my experience, wood calls are the hardest to maintain, but they feel the smoothest to use.
Wooden duck calls are resilient to damage, but humidity can be a real pain.
Acrylic is similar to polycarbonate, but often times it can be a little less expensive to produce, and a bit less durable.
There’s nothing wrong with getting acrylic duck calls, I just wouldn’t put them in my back pocket.
You get a very sharp tone out of acrylic duck calls, which can be excellent for long-range calls. Not so great for finishing calls.
Polycarbonate is made pretty tough nowadays, and it’s somewhere in between wooden and acrylic barrels in terms of strength.
Again, I wouldn’t put this in my back pocket, but that’s just me. Lanyards will do the trick.
Polycarbonate duck calls are going to be decently sharp with their tone, but not quite as high as acrylic.
The Difference Between Single Reed And Double Reed Systems
Single reed systems often require a little more force to blow into and can make a wider variety of sounds.
Double reed systems will take an even amount of pressure to blow into, but the sound scale can be limited.
Reeds are what produce the sound when you blow into the call.
Single and double reed duck calls both still use a barrel for echoing, tone board, etc., but the output is just a little bit different.
You’ll also find that many single-reed calls require a mouthpiece to channel air into and create that sound, but double reed calls can be shorter with a very stubby mouthpiece since the air is being distributed between two reeds instead of one.
As it stands, double reed duck calls are usually used by beginners more often than they are used by seasoned duck hunters.
You have more versatility with a single reed call, allowing you to toy with more duck call patterns and sound ranges.
You can still use both types of calls at any level of proficiency.
Why Does The Barrel Material Matter?
As far as the sound is concerned, it’s because the barrel material is going to produce an echo when you blow into the call.
Acrylic, wood, and polycarbonate all sound different.
Wood is going to be a bit muffled since the wood will hold some of the vibrations, while acrylic and polycarbonate are a lot sharper, and produce higher pitches.
Your tone board vibrates from the input in the reed and rattles against the material as well.
It doesn’t jingle around, but the vibrations from the tone board are going to transfer into the barrel material just the same. It’s going to make an impact.
How Should I Hold A Duck Call?
You can hold it in one of two ways.
Use your thumb, index, and middle fingers to hold the reed in the middle, while your pinky and ring fingers cover the hole at the bottom.
You can move these fingers when you blow into the reed to manipulate other sounds.
Either that, or you pinch the base of the barrel with your thumb and index finger and use your middle, ring, and pinky finger to cover the hole, raising them when you blow into the call.
It’s up to you, but don’t make the rookie mistake of holding it firmly with all your fingers like it’s a recorder from grade school.
How Does The Weather Affect My Duck Call?
If it’s raining, it’s going to dampen the sound of your call.
Your call has to travel through the air, so excessive wind and rain can get in the way.
However, if it’s raining too much, then you’re probably not going to be out there anyway.
It can get a bit backward when it comes to wind.
You want some wind so that your call sound can travel, but you don’t want so much that it’s overwhelming or alarming.
Later on, we’ll discuss why windless days are not good for duck hunters.
How Do I Take Care Of A Wooden Duck Call?
Wood is prone to expansion from humidity and temperatures.
The internal moisture percentage of most wood is around 9% to 11%, but never above 17%.
That’s when you start running into problems, such as the potential spread of mildew and moisture damage.
One of the biggest risks is actually when the moisture drops to be too low, such as if you store it in a heated garage throughout the winter, where the wood can split and break.
If the wood in your duck call breaks, it’s going to ruin the sound. It might still be usable, but not for long.
To take care of your wooden duck calls, make sure you have a case and you’re not just leaving them out in the open.
Store them in rooms between 50° F and 72° F, and with humidity control as well.
Most air conditioners and central AC units will regulate the humidity in your home, so you don’t really have to do anything over-the-top here.
Do I Need Multiple Duck Calls?
I would bring at least two.
A single reed, and a double reed call. Single reeds are often louder since all the air is being blown into one reed; it’s not being separated.
All that power goes through one reed, one tone board, and it makes a pretty loud sound. This is what I would use for a long-range call.
However, if you’re trying to do a finishing call, which is at short to mid-range, then you’re going to need a bit of diversification.
You can either have another single-reed if you can control the sound (muffling it with your hand, etc.), or you can get a double reed to make the process a little bit easier.
When Should I Use A Duck Call?
Ducks talk to each other through quacking.
While they’re not communicating direct messages, they have different tones and patterns that signify that they’re in trouble, that they’ve found food, or that it’s mating season.
Duck calls can manipulate this sense of security from ducks.
If you’re good at using your duck call, you’re going to make multiple sounds in different situations that can attract movement based on timing.
Duck calls are excellent tools, but they’re not always necessary.
Between decoys, calls, and concealment, you’ve got a good arsenal of gear at your disposal. You should only call if:
If Ducks are Losing Interest in Your Decoys
They’ve landed, they’re meandering around, but they’re not fully locked into your decoys. They’re not approaching.
Instead of letting them get away, a quick quack followed by a comeback call could be enough to coax them back into a false sense of security.
They Landed Far
Our decoy spreads don’t always work. They don’t always attract a ton of attention.
Ducks might actually see a large spread and say, “Well, there’s no room for us there,” and land farther out on the field.
Since you want them within shotgun range, a call could bridge the gap between them and your decoys. It could be enough to lure them over.
If They’ve Overflown You Completely
You shouldn’t use a duck call if they’re flying directly overhead, but if they overlooked your decoys and just kept flying, then there’s no reason to just sit still about it.
You can call once they’re about 200 yards away from you, just be sure to make it nice and loud so that they can hear it.
This is where poly and acrylic calls come in handy as compared to wooden ones.
Why Windless Days Are Not Good For Hunting
Windless days mean that ducks are going to roost, and then they’re not going to get down.
They’re comfortable, they’re sitting still, and why should they move? There are no predators around.
It affects their movement for sure, but it’s also going to show every little mistake you make on that duck call.
There’s no wind to combat the sound; it’s traveling out from the source (you) with nothing to muffle the noise or change it in the slightest.
IF your calls aren’t working, you’re going to have to try other measures.
This is where you need to rely on your decoys.
Your call might be rendered useless by this, so it’s important to have a pod spread setup (where you can rely on two clusters of duck decoys to get the job done instead).
Duck calls are important, but they’re just one piece of equipment in your duck hunting arsenal.
I’d rather sit and watch decoys do their work than ruin my chance of ducks getting closer to me with a bad call.
Common Duck Call Mistakes, And How to Avoid Them
We all have to start somewhere, but the beginning usually isn’t glorious.
We all make mistakes while hunting, but these duck call-specific mistakes can really make hunting a lot harder if you don’t pay attention.
Buying Overly Expensive Calls
I’ve done an entire guide on duck calls that are specifically designed for beginners, and you’ll find that none of them are even in the ballpark range of fifty bucks.
There’s no reason for a beginner to go insane and spend a lot of money on a call with the assumption that it’s going to make you sound better while hunting.
Master duck hunters can still use cheaper calls and make fantastic sounds with them. It’s not about how much it costs.
Listening to Hunters Instead of Ducks
If you’re tagging along with a hunter on your first trip, then it’s good to listen to their advice, but to take it with a grain of salt.
At the end of the day, listen to the ducks and how they quack and communicate with one another.
It’s going to give you way more info than any hunter could because it shows you “This is how they’re behaving now,” and lets you adjust your call accordingly.
You’re Not Making the Right Sounds
There are words, like whit and kwit that you should be saying into your reed.
Making overly aggressive sounds won’t attract ducks as you want to. You’ll be out of breath and with no results to boot.
You want to engage your diaphragm when you’re blowing into a call, and make sure it doesn’t sound like a kazoo.
Not Using the Right Calls
I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to know 100% of the time beyond the shadow of a doubt, which calls you should be using right now at this exact moment.
You have to judge the ducks, their positioning, the weather, the time of year, and roll all that together into a judgment call.
It’s not going to be perfect, but you should approach every single duck call in a strategic manner.
Don’t get overly excited and just go for a basic quack because you’ve been waiting for two hours and a flock just came down; take it slow.
Everyone still makes mistakes. I still make mistakes.
You just have to try to be as alert as possible, and judge your calls based on the situation you’re presented with.
Better Equipped For A Quality Hunt
Duck calls and duck decoys, along with some solid hunting apps, are half the battle.
When you know how to manipulate your duck calls and emulate multiple call patterns, tones, and pitches, you’re on your way to becoming a duck whisperer.
While duck calls aren’t easy to master, they’re ultimately rewarding.
Stick to double reeds in the beginning, upgrade to single reeds, and make sure you utilize every single instance that you use a duck call as a teaching moment along the way.
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