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How-To: Call Ducks

Sep 30, 2011, 1:01 AM EDT


By Bill Miller

If you put too much stock in contest calling you’d think you need to have the skills of a Juliard-trained concert musician to fool a greenhead within range of your shotgun. Not true! Contest callers have some laudable skills, but calling ducks can be a whole lot simpler than that.

“Meat hunters” generally count on three basic calls to put birds butt-up on the pond – the hail call, the come on-in or come on back call, and some version of feeding sounds. I have a fourth weapon in my arsenal, and that’s the mallard drake grunt.

I equate the calls and when to use them to high school kids in the cafeteria. You walk in. Everything’s loud and raucus, but above the din you hear one kid call out to another friend, “Hey Bill! Come on over here, I want to talk to you!” That’s the hail call, and it’s made by saying “M————————ak, m—-k———————ak, m———-k–ack, mack, mack, mak, mak.” into the call, from down in your belly. Don’t puff your cheeks and blow. Force the air up from your diaphragm as you say or nearly cough the words into the call. As your skill progresses you can make it louder and longer.

Now the kids have got together at one table. They’re laughing and joking and talking louder than is actually necessary. They are setting up plans for what they are going to do on Friday night. It duck talk, that’s the come on in or come on back call. “Hey, let’s go to Joe’s for pizza on Friday.” “No I got a better idea, let’s TP the principal’s yard.” “No you’re all crazy. Let’s do a bonfire out back of the Miller place.” You make it on the duck call by saying, “H—-u—-t, h—u–t, h-u-t, hut” into the call. Give them a little bit of this as ducks are setting up their first pass, but not too loud or harsh.  Then only blow at their butts – in other words only when they’ve turned off and seem to be going away.

Finally, the kids are all together on Friday night eating pizza and wings. They’re ravenous and there’s just a lot of eating noise going on – grunting, slurping, chewing, swallowing …. that kind of stuff. In duck speak that’s the feeding chuckle.  But what you’ll here contest callers doing is not really a feeding chuckle. The only time you’ll hear that rapid, “ticket, ticket, ticket” from mallards is when they are flying. Real feeding ducks do a lot more grunting and gabbling.  Go out to a preserve where the ducks are safe and hanging out and sneak up to the shore and listen. Take your duck call along and figure out how to reproduce that low hum yourself. You’ll find that in the field it’s a lot more attractive to ducks than that hard-to-do contest chuckle.

My secret weapon is the drake’s grunt. And for that you by a separate whistle call that you can use to call teal, pintails and woodies as well. But for the drake mallard grunt you just say/blow/grunt “divot” into the call with as much rasp as possible.  It gets legs out and wings locked on close birds better than anything else I know of.

Cadence and rhythm is the most important thing in calling ducks during hunting. You can get away with an odd sound or two, but you can’t get away with bad cadence. Again, the best place to tune into that rhythm is listening to real ducks out on that marsh.

As a last reminder. remember, this isn’t goose calling. You blow a goose call. You grunt a duck call from your diaphragm with no air in your cheeks. And with geese once you start calling you don’t stop until you’re shooting.  With ducks you’re far better off calling to little rather than too much, at least once you have your attention.

Now listen to ducks and practice and you’ll soon be a competent meat caller yourself – and that’s all you need to be!