A Master’s Guide To Talking Quack Smack.
While chasing web-foots though the marshes and wetlands of southwest Louisiana for the last 50 years, Eli Haydel of Bossier City, the founder of the worldwide Haydel Game Calls, one of the nation’s leading duck callers and a member of Louisiana’s Sports Hall of Fame, knows how to read ducks.
“The most important factor in bagging ducks is not the hunter’s skill in calling, but rather the hunter’s position and decoy spread,” Haydel explains. “If a sportsman is in a flyway where ducks normally feed, loaf or roost, he can take his limit of web-foots without ever blowing a call.”
However, even if a hunter has a well-designed decoy spread positioned along a major flyway, a call can bring in birds that may not come just to decoys alone. To successfully call ducks, you must know which ducks will and won’t respond to calls. Haydel names birds that will come to calls, “working ducks.”
Rules of the Road
“A sportsman must decide whether he wants to take ducks or call ducks,” Haydel emphasizes. “If he wants to call ducks, he can play with his call and the birds. But he probably won’t bag as many ducks.
“If I have ducks coming to my decoys, I don’t call until the birds have passed over the decoys and are leaving the area. As a last-ditch effort, I’ll give a hard, loud, five-note comeback call with a sense of urgency. If the wing beats of the ducks don’t change, and the birds don’t start to turn, then these ducks aren’t going to work.
“If a flight of birds passes 50 to 60 yards in front of the decoys and flies left to right in front of the blind, the altitude will determine if those ducks will work to a call. High flyers in a tight V usually have a destination in mind. But low -lyers are worth calling.
“If a flight of ducks is simply flying together, and one or two of the birds in the flight are sailing and looking down, this group of waterfowl is searching for a place to light and can be called. However, the best way to call these birds is to wait until after they’ve passed by the blind.
“During late season, mallards often pair up for courtship prior to northern migration. I only make a short greeting call to them. Occasionally they’ll turn but usually don’t.
“I’ll often use a pintail whistle to call ducks. The pintail, a wary duck, will light on the water with a wide variety of other ducks. When passing ducks hear the pintail whistle, they’ll assume the flock sitting on the water is safe and secure, if they turn and come to it.”
When a flight of ducks passes on the left or the right side of a blind, sailing with their wings locked and their heads looking down at the spread, hunters usually can coax in these ducks.
“Generally, these ducks already have made up their minds to light in the decoys,” Haydel explains.
When a sportsman attempts to call pintails into decoys, he or she can break Haydel’s rule of not calling to approaching ducks and still have success.
“I start blowing the pintail whistle even as the birds approach the decoys to calm them down and assure them that the decoys are in fact live ducks and continue to blow,” Haydel reports. “Pintails usually will circle decoys and carefully look them over more times than a mallard will.”
If pintails turn to fly off, Haydel changes calls and gives the comeback call of the mallard hen.
“Although the pintail drake makes a whistling sound, the hen quacks like a mallard hen but gives a deeper call,” Haydel advises. “If a flight of pintails is leaving the decoys, by quacking like a mallard hen with a series of five pleading, fast quacks, I get the pintails’ attention and then resume using the pintail whistle.”
A squadron of teal may zoom past in formation and still return and light in the decoys, although they’ve given no appearance of wanting to work to the decoys or the calls.
“Sometimes teal will fly around the region, look at two or three more potholes, fly right back and drop into your spread,” Haydel comments. “Or, they’ll sit down outside your decoys far enough away from the blind that you can’t shoot them. Once I see teal coming toward the decoys, I’ll make my calls sound as though several teal in the decoys are calling the flying ducks. I often can pull a flight of teal that’s intended to sit outside the decoys into my spread and in front of my blind. Generally teal flying low to the water can be worked into the decoys.”
Gadwalls, also called gray ducks, get wise late in the year, but early in the season they’re fairly easy to call. “Even the most inexperienced caller can do well with gadwalls,” Haydel says. “A gadwall’s call is like someone drinking too much Cherry Bounce in the blind, rather than the smooth descending chromatic scale of a mallard. But this duck doesn’t even seem to trust the ducks in its flight. Gadwalls may light on the water 300 yards apart. If they’re flying in tight bunches, they’re probably in the mood to be more social, will come into your decoys and respond to your calling.”
Haydel considers diving ducks like bluebills, redheads and canvasbacks to be the easiest ducks to read and call.
According to Haydel, “Once these ducks hear a call and decide to come into the decoys, they generally will come in without any hesitation, even with shotguns going off and their companions tumbling from the sky. A guttural, garbled sound like a feeding call will bring diving ducks down.”
Haydel also has a classification for what he terms a hypnotized duck. “A hypnotized duck will fly away from the decoys and then circle and return to the spread at the same height it was at when you began calling. When you call to that bird a second time, it will turn at about the same spot and fly over the decoys again at the same altitude. I’ve seen a hypnotized duck follow this same pattern through eight different passes over the decoys.
“To bring this duck down, you must let it fly past the point where it normally turns back to the decoys, which generally is much farther away from the blind than the bird has flown previously. Call to that duck loudly with a pleading call to return. Give soft, feeding quacks as it comes into the decoys. Sometimes this technique will de-hypnotize a duck and bring it into gun range.”
Haydel utilizes several tactics to convert non-workable ducks into working ducks. If a flight of mallards comes and goes away from the decoys, rather than utilizing a mallard call, Haydel may blow a pintail whistle or a blue wing teal call. If Haydel hunts late in the season, he may use a variable-tone call to sound like two different ducks calling from the water at almost the same time.
“If you’re hunting in an area with a lot of hunting pressure, listen to the calls the other sportsmen are giving,” Haydel advises. “To effectively work ducks, give different calls but not any more than are absolutely necessary to bring the ducks into the blind. If ducks are working and are committed to your decoys and your blind, leave them alone.”