Waterfowl hunters should know the basics in call design and how to pick the right call for a particular setting and set of conditions.
Over the years, I've made a practice of naming my duck calls. The two I use most frequently are Dominator and Convincer. To me, they are more than inanimate instruments of acrylic and wood. Instead, they have life and personality. They embody my hopes, and they help me (sometimes) to fulfill my hunting dreams.
Most hunters probably don't go to quite such lengths in "bonding" with their calls, but I'd venture most have favorites upon which they place high value. This is why picking out a new call is such an important exercise. Selecting a new call is like taking on a new hunting partner. You will experience a lot together.
So what goes into this decision? How does a hunter sift through the hundreds of combinations of brands, materials, styles, etc. to select the one call that's best for him? I know that many hunters ascribe to the "sounds good" method. They blow a new call at an outdoor store or sport show and it sounds good, so they buy it on the spot. Or, they like the way a friend's call sounds, so they order one like it.
Certainly, personal preference is important in buying a new call, but there should be more order to the process. A hunter should make a selection based on what he needs as well as what strikes his fancy.
Rick Dunn of Echo Calls (Beebe, Arkansas) says selecting a duck call should begin with knowledge of various call options and how to match these options to the buyer's requirements.
Dunn explains, "A duck call should be selected according to where and how you intend to use it. Several options affect a call's tone, range, sharpness, etc. These options include high volume or low volume; ringing tone or mellow tone; single reed or double reed; and acrylic, wood or polycarbonate construction. The better a buyer understands these different features, the more able he is to select the call that will best serve his purposes."
Dunn says when considering a new call, the first question a hunter should ask himself is, "At what distance do I typically call to ducks?" Hunters who call at long distances (open lakes, big rivers, etc.) should select a call that is louder in volume and higher in pitch so the notes carry farther. Conversely, hunters who call mostly to up-close ducks (flooded timber, flooded fields, beaver ponds, etc.) should pick a call that is softer in volume and pitch. In these situations "reach" is less important, and sounding "ducky" is more important.
Different calls are designed for different calling settings and conditions.
Dunn continues, "Choosing between a single-reed and a double-reed call is a matter of personal preference. Single-reed calls have more range (musically speaking). They can blow high and loud or low and soft. They're more versatile than double-reed calls. They're also a little more difficult to master. Most contest callers use single-reed calls.
"However, there's nothing wrong with double-reed calls," Dunn continues. "They take more air to blow, and they don't have as much range as single-reed models. They always have the same pitch. But most double-reed calls have a 'sweet spot' that's very realistic-sounding to passing ducks. So the choice between a single-reed and a double-reed call is really a matter of what you like and what you're used to."
The vast majority of duck calls sold today are made from acrylic, wood or polycarbonate.
Dunn says acrylic is a very hard, dense material, and calls turned from acrylic are typically sharper and louder than calls made from wood or polycarbonate. (They don't "soak up" any of the sounds.) Many open water calls are made from acrylic.
Wooden calls normally are softer and mellower than acrylic calls, and they are a better choice for close-up calling situations.
Polycarbonate (a molded plastic) calls fall between acrylic and wood in terms of sharpness and loudness.
Dunn adds that acrylic calls don't take as much care as wooden calls do. He explains, "Wooden calls are porous, and they tend to absorb moisture and swell. They should be taken apart after each hunt and allowed to air-dry. But because of their high density, acrylic calls won't swell, and they're very consistent with their sounds."
Another consideration is how much the end of a call is reamed out. Open water calls are reamed for more "megaphone effect" that produces louder notes. Softer calls are reamed very little.
And last, what's the difference between a $140 custom call and a $30 mass-produced call? Dunn responds, "You can call ducks with both of them. However, the custom calls can be finessed more. They'll make soft whines and other subtle sounds that mass-produced calls can't make. Also, a custom call can be tuned specifically to a buyer's calling style (how much air and moisture he puts into the call)."
So in summary, these variables should be considered in the initial phase of choosing a new call: distance, volume, type of material, and cost. Then, after working through these options, the "sounds good" test should be applied to make the final selection. Then all that remains is to name your new call. What about Mesmerizer, Spellbinder or Persuader?