When you hear a sound, it’s different from how your prey hears that sound.
It varies slightly, but it’s different enough to completely entice certain actions or responses from them.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how game calls work and what they do, then it’s time to break it all down.
While you might not use this information on every single hunt, it’s important to know why your efforts are getting you the return that they’re getting you, and how you can adjust your call patterns to change the outcome.
Hunting calls create noise on the output, but there’s some science to what goes into them that determines what happens.
The good thing is, you can completely change the outcome with a little bit of training, and manipulate every sound to suit your hunt.
What Exactly Are Game Calls?
Game calls are generally used in waterfowl hunting, but they can also be used in other types of hunting as well.
They’re reed-based systems that rely on user input of breathing or blowing into the end of the call.
Game calls attract your prey of choice to your location.
There are single and double reed systems available, and they are made out of three different materials.
Each of these materials, being acrylic, wood, or polycarbonate, will have different sounds even if they use the same reeds.
Game calls echo inside of the chamber, which gives them unique rings.
If you’re hunting waterfowl, game calls are an absolute must.
Generally, they will lure your prey into a false sense of security, and depending on the call patterns that you master, you could entice them to approach you, making for a much easier kill.
The Science Behind Calls
To know why a duck call works, we have to break it apart piece by piece.
A duck call primarily consists of five areas that affect the sound: the reed system, the tone board, wedge, barrel, and an insert.
- Reed System: This is where the magic happens. Your reed system vibrates and releases a sound. Reeds can be different sizes or lengths depending on the manufacturer to create different pitches and tones.
- Tone Board: This is actually part of your insert, which holds the reed in place. Without this, you would just be blowing into a reed that would wildly move around the casing. These exist because simply putting a barrel around the reed isn’t enough; there would be no echo in the barrel.
- Wedge: Your wedge, much like the tone board, holds your reed in place. However, the wedge doesn’t impact the sound in the same way.
- Barrel: Sometimes referred to as the casing, the barrel is designed to house the working parts of a duck call. The material partially dictates the overall sound.
- Insert: The nozzle where you put your lips and blow air into. These can vary in size, though they’re commonly very thin and narrow to allow increased airflow with minimal effort.
The History of Game Calls
Game calls have been around for ages.
While the Robertson family might have been the most popularized memory of the duck call, they were actually used as far back as 4,000 years ago.
Way back when Native Americans used to find small bones and put them together to make whistling sounds that were just similar enough to turkeys to trick the birds into a false sense of security.
That, as far as we know, was the first duck call.
Before duck calls as we know them were in existence, or any game calls for that matter, hunters would master the ability to manipulate their own sounds to reel their prey in.
With a heavy focus on using their hands to redirect sound and mastering different noises and words to use, they were able to bring their prey closer.
The very first patent for a duck call later came out in 1870, to a man named Elam Fisher.
However, duck calls had been around for twenty years prior, though they were a well-kept secret among the duck hunting community.
We would later find out that the first duck call to be popularized happened in 1863 thanks to a man named Fred Allen.
The problem is, he never thought to patent his design.
Fast forward to 1890, and duck calls were changed forever.
The modern barrel design was created by blacksmith by the name of Victor Glodo Jr., and then innovations began to slow down ever so slightly.
Tone board designs began popping up by the end of that decade, as well as a company started by Phillip Sanford Olt.
In fact, that company he made (1905) still uses the exact same technique over a century later, and they’re still making duck calls.
His company was one of the number one providers of duck calls for a few decades.
From about 1905 to 1940, we saw a lot of different designs in duck calls.
Some of the most notable was a brass and rubber design from a man named Charles Ditto.
We don’t really use brass for a lot of duck call construction anymore, but it was a brand new way to attract prey, and it was exciting at the time.
I can’t make a complete history of this without mentioning Phil Robertson, who’s had a corner on the duck call market since 1972 when his patent was filed.
His son Willie popularized the business and turned it into an empire, and since then, we’ve practically perfected duck and game calls.
There’s not a lot of game call use indexed throughout history.
It’s mostly a North American thing, so you’ll find that most decoy makers and game call creators were either American or Canadian.
Different Types of Game Calls
Game calls have enjoyed a slight upgrade in recent years with modern technological upgrades.
Let’s go over some of the basic reed designs that have changed that define different types of game calls.
- Manual: These simply refer to non-electronic game calls that you’re able to manually use with your hand and mouth.
- Electronic: Electronic reeds are rarely talked about because quite frankly, there’s no need to have them. It’s just another way we’ve made something manual into something electronic. These have limited battery lives but can help you out with more complicated sounds. They’re not as mobile as manual game calls, so account for the extra carry weight if you’re considering one.
- Closed-Reed: Closed reed systems are pretty easy to use in comparison to others. You can just blow (once you master different quacks) and hear the duck call right away. It requires little manipulation compared to open-reed designs.
- Open-Reed: Open reed systems are a little more difficult to use than closed reed. Your hand cups the output at the base of the read, and depending on how you move your hand or open your fingers up, the sound will vary.
Now, these are the different ways calls are designed, but there are specific game calls that you also need to know about.
- Mating Calls: As you might expect, these are used in mating seasons to bring attention (and excitement) to predators and prey alike. This is a surefire way to lure in whatever it is that you’re hunting, provided that you’re using it in the right season. An out-of-season mating call could be useless. You can get specific game calls that create higher tones for mating, or you can learn to make this call on your own with a standard manual game call.
- Aggression Calls: These are like the opposite of mating calls. You’re going to use these to lure in bucks during the rut, mostly. This entices them by challenging them rather than trying to lure them into mating. Just be careful when you use aggression calls, and be sure to have a hunting buddy with you when you do. Play it safe with aggressive animals.
- Positioning Calls: With birds of prey, such as turkeys, this call tells them “Hey, there’s more of us over there,” and repositions them. This also allows you to reposition yourself and get a better vantage point to take a shot if that’s what you’re trying to do.
- Distress Calls: These can vary from species to species. These are primarily used as predator calls, simply because prey will hear this call as a sign of “Oh, I don’t want to go over there.” Predators will come in closer to try and corner whatever they believe to be distressed.
A Little More Knowledge in the Bank
We learn something new every day, right?
Game calls have more to them than meets the eye, and now that you’re an aficionado, it’s time to impress your hunting buddies with all your newfound knowledge.
At the very least, it’s important to know how they work so you can troubleshoot your calls if you’re ever in need.