I didn’t start waterfowl hunting in earnest until I was a teenager. Up until then, I was fixated on small game and bowhunting for whitetails. That changed on a wood duck hunt, way back in a slough full of cypress trees, not far from where and friend and I deer hunted. I can still recall the way the ducks flew like rockets, swirling around the trees within yards of us before shooting time. There was something about the way the sun painted the sky amber and the ducks whistling by that left a lasting impression on me. Though I remember missing way more than I’d like to admit, we left with a stringer of woodies - and I with a passion that hasn’t stopped burning since.
Aside from a 12 gauge, my duck hunting gear didn’t amount to much then. Neither did my knowledge about waterfowl. So I tracked down every quack addict I knew and picked their brains about gear, calls and what I would need to know. Their advice proved invaluable, and helped me quickly grow from rookie to seasoned waterfowler by the end of that year.
Starting out with the right equipment is key, and one of the first pieces of gear you’ll need is a call. The best duck call for a novice is one that is simple and easy to use. Watch videos online for calling tips or, better yet, find an experienced friend to take you hunting; witnessing technique firsthand is the fastest way to learn. Then, during the off-season practice regularly, as it’s the only way to become a proficient caller.
Choosing the Right Call
Where are you hunting? Answer that question before you begin shopping for a call. Timber hunting typically requires a call with a soft volume and pitch, as the ducks will be closer. You’re not looking for one that can reach ducks hundreds of feet in the air, but rather a natural sound. On rivers and lakes, high volume and loud tone is important.
A single reed call works in timber, as well as open water, as it has a wide range of tones, perfect for soft or loud sequences. Once mastered, a single reed is the most natural-sounding call. While a double-reed will have less range, it’s easier to master, and thus a better choice for a beginner. Calls built with acrylic tend to be louder than those made of wood or polycarbonate. Wooden calls produce a softer sound (good for timber), but require more upkeep.
For a beginner, we recommend a double- or triple-reed acrylic call. You won’t have as much upkeep to worry about and mastering it will be much easier. Often, novices can learn to produce natural sounds relatively quickly, and take part in calling during a hunt.
Best Duck Calls
The market is flooded with mallard calls. You can spend as little as $20 and even a few hundred more. For your first call, keep it simple. The Duck Commander Triple Threat call is one of the best on the market for a first call. It has three reeds, which allows for an incredible level of control - making it easier to use. It excels at producing ducky sounding cadences, no matter the call: lone hen quack, feeding and hail. Taking it apart is a breeze and it won’t stick as often as a double-reed will.
A reliable double-reed, the DR-85 made by Haydel’s, is a no frills duck killer. Don’t let it’s clear plastic exterior fool you: Not only is it easy to use, but it’s dependable and has an incredibly realistic pitch.
When it comes to mallard drakes, wood ducks, teal, widgeon and pintail, you can call all with a whistle. Most call companies make one, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Whistles are the easiest calls to master and many beginners will have a fun time blowing one of these in the blind. If you’ll be hunting wood ducks, the Duck Commander Wood Duck call is hard to beat. It produces quality cadences, perfect for those first few minutes of daylight to draw in some woodies.
A whistle is the best duck call for a variety of waterfowl, including mallard drakes.
With these three calls on your lanyard, you’ll be more than equipped to hunt ducks in any flyway, all season long. Practice a few days a week until you master each vocalization from the species you expect to hunt. Along with some quality decoys, a reliable shotgun and a seasoned hunting partner, you can’t go wrong.