I’ve been practicing like mad these last ten days or so in preparation for embarrassing myself in competition at the Ducks Unlimited 2011 Canadian Duck & Goose Calling Championship and as such, have managed to squeeze some “interesting” sounds out of my goose call (since I’m not competing in the duck contest). Most have been pseudo-goosey and by next Friday night I hope to have a reasonably sound (no pun intended) routine ready for August 20th.
However all this huffing and puffing into a length of hollow acrylic got me to pondering about the language that we are presenting to geese and ducks. Sure, the standard calls are pretty, well standard. For ducks, or mallards at least, everything is based on a ‘quack’ sound. The hail call is just a loud, long series of clear quacks, the come-on call (as it is popularly known) is just quacks that are sped up and blown with some urgency and excitement. The feed chatter, often argued to be the toughest of the duck calls to make, is (in my opinion) just a very fast series of very short raspy, guttural quacks. This video from Echo Calls (not a sponsor, although I wish they were) shows some of the finest contest-style feed chatters I’ve ever heard. Most hunters I’ve met (and yours truly as well) cannot do this, but it is still pretty awesome. Goose calling, for Canada Geese specifically, is similar in that most calls, in hunting or in contest calling, start with a cluck. A honk is a loud, drawn out cluck, approach work or come-on calls are a series of rapid double and even triple clucks, moans and lay down work could be described as variations on the first part of a cluck without the break in the call, and so on. Not an encyclopedic (or even a marginally correct assessment) of waterfowl language but just what I’ve been mulling over in my mind as I get quizzical looks from my neighbours and lower everyone in the proximity’s property values with my constant noise. At least I shut it down for two hours on Sunday while my next-door neighbours had an open house with their realtor. No one wants to buy the house next door to the place that sounds like a duck and goose convention for three straight hours every evening.
So given that I generally understand the basics of waterfowl calling, here are some of the calls that I wish were formally recognized by serious callers. Most are scenario specific, and all are completely made-up. Enjoy.
The “Please Don’t Call So Loud” Call
This one is ideal for those rare occasions when you may have celebrated the arrival of hunting season a little too hard the night before the hunt (admit it, it happens; just try to be safe out there, okay?) and you are nursing a headache in the blind. I imagine that through a duck call it would sound like a feeble, squeaky quack, and for a goose hunter just a half-hearted, plaintive moan. It would signal to the birds that if they just wanted to continue to go along on their way, you wouldn’t really be bothered by that at all. It would signal other hunters in your party, on the off chance the birds actually committed and tried to decoy, that everyone should just let the birds land without being shot at, since the sound of a shotgun report might actually make your head explode open like an over-cooked bratwurst on a grill.
The “You Didn’t See Anything…Honest” Call
This one actually exists, because I think I’ve both heard and performed this sound. It is usually an inappropriately loud and totally uncharacteristic series of calls made by an embarrassed hunter that has just inadvertently moved and spooked the flock just as they were about to drop the landing gear. Usually accompanied by flaring birds and much swearing from others in the blind, sometimes the non-guilty join in and this call is almost always continued in desperation for over a minute, long after the birds have made a beeline for the next county. It ends when the offending hunter incredulously looks around and says “Who the hell moved?!” while casting accusatory looks at everyone else in the party.
The “Wha’ Happened?” Call
This call is made after a hunter empties their gun at birds that were so close and moving so slowly that they were ‘sure things’ and despite this, misses everything completely. Accompanied by geese pumping their wings powerfully away or ducks trampolining straight up and out of sight, it is an attempt to convince those birds that you just missed cleanly to come back for a second look. It differs from any accepted comeback calls because it usually sounds angry, since the poor nimrod doing the calling absolutely cannot believe they just wasted three shells (okay, two if you shoot a side-by-side or an over-under) at birds that should, by all rights, be laying belly up in the decoys. The birds can sense this anger (and likely saw you rise to shoot) and thus they rarely, if ever, return. In a tale related to this call, I was once hunting geese with my Dad on a foggy Thanksgiving Monday when the ceiling was twenty feet at best. I could hear geese but rarely could I see them. Miraculously I had managed to scratch down a double (another story altogether), but was still one bird shy of the limit. I put the call on a distant single and the bird came as if on a string. He (I’m assuming masculinity here, don’t be offended) was gliding in no more than fifteen feet off the ground and I whiffed on him twice inside of twenty yards. Still for some reason he landed and stood in the decoys so I put the bead on his throat patch and attempted to shoot him turkey-hunter-style. I failed, whizzing a load of BBs over his head. As he clumsily ran and got airborne, I started howling a “Wha’ Happened?” call at him while ramming my last three shell into my gun with my other hand. I never did get my limit that day. Dad, predictably, did get his three geese that day.
This one is usually a specialty of those hunters who like to feast in the blind. I’m not talking about a granola bar or a Snickers. I mean guys who bring pop, chips, Red Bull, sandwiches, and little propane cookers with them in a backpack or mini-Coleman cooler when they hit the fields and marshes. This call usually happens when, after having consumed one pork rind too many, they are startled by a flock that has the gall to interrupt their meal and they then proceed to start blazing away on a call. This usually gets their diaphragm all messed up and they blow a hiccup or burp right through their instrument, along with food particles of varying sizes that every once in a while render their calls stuck and useless. It sounds just like you think it does.
So that’s just a small selection of the calls I wish that we waterfowlers recognized. I’m sure there are lots of others that happen and I’ll post future editions as I come by them.