Category Archives: goose calling

Counting Down…to Lunacy!

Here I sit just a few short days (thirteen to be precise) away from the start of goose season in my neck of the woods; for some of you in my province, the fun begins again on September 1st, and you have no idea how I envy you.

This is usually the weekend when my goose hunting putterings reach a fever pitch.  This year is likely to be no exception.  I’ll clean my shotgun, put in the correct choke, lay out or pack almost all of my gear, and then obsessively go through it every day until it is time to get out there.  If you’re like me (and there is a reasonable chance that in some ways you might be) this meandering and pointless busy work serves to soothe twitching nerves that have been stretched thin by the prospect of goose hunting.  Or maybe you are normal, and this isn’t you at all.

Fair enough.

For me though, this year brings new anticipation.  On Sunday, my layout blind is being delivered.  Oh glorious day.  Yep, I caved in and bought one.  Now I get to do what is really the most thrilling although in truth, penultimate, act: assembly.  I think I’ll do this in my basement, so that it is out of sight of my loving wife and away from the tender ears of my son, since I will invariably get frustrated, lose something, or end up being a general sweary and unpleasant character until it is completely put together.

But then…oh then.  I’ll of course shout like a five year old for everyone to come down and look at me as I lay there in it.  Maybe I’ll do a jack-in-the-box (or Shawn-in-the-blind, if you will) trick and try to surprise my son until he wets himself, although that is a pretty common occurrence, so it’s not really much of an accomplishment, but still.  I’ll then have my wife takes some pictures, I’ll probably at least put on hunting coat while I lay there in the blind (for research purposes only you see) and I most certainly will hide in it, close the doors, and practice my goose calling.  Hell, I may even try sleeping in it…just…ya know…for research again.

At some point I’ll break it down and try to stuff it into my comically undersized commuter car, just to make sure it transports well.  If it doesn’t fit, then bungee cords and old blankets will be packed in the same clown-car so as to allow for the new toy to join me on all future hunting trips; I’m sure my co-workers in the Toronto-area will have never seen anything quite like it.

Oh, yeah.  Somewhere in there on Sunday I’ll need to run the BBQ for my son’s 2nd birthday party.  Maybe I’ll assemble the blind first and put it in the backyard so the other toddlers can play with it.  It will be just like an amusement park.  I’ll put some decoys around, blow my duck and goose calls, and fun will be had by all.

I may even charge admission.

Then I’ll have a couple of burgers, some cake and ice cream, giggle like a pre-teen, tell some jokes, and generally enjoy my son’s big day.

Then hours later, after everyone has left and while my house lay in the tattered aftermath of a toddler’s birthday party, I may return to the basement, grab a beer, put on some huntin’ songs and go through my goose hunting checklist once more.  All while laying in my new blind.

This season better open soon.  I’m in very real danger of losing my mind (or my wife, but I could probably always find another one of those).

Seriously, though, all the anticipation and build-up is just one facet of what makes it great to be a hunter.  I hope everyone is savouring this next couple of weeks as much as I am.  And by the way, to my dearest spouse, you’re a great sport…please don’t leave me.  I’ll be all better in two weeks time and then things will be back to normal.  Promise.

When Calling May Not Be My Calling

Saturday, August 20th saw me standing with twelve other hopefuls at the Canadian Open Goose Calling Championship.  We were milling around a boat that was on display next to the contest stage, most (myself included) were holding their goose calls in their hands and chatting perfunctorily with the other contestants.  Already it was kind of apparent who the threats were.  The group of five or six guys with the official call-company t-shirts and camo hats that all apparently knew each other from their goose-call sponsorship deals, guiding jobs, and the contest calling circuit were clearly the unofficial front-runners.  For me and the other seven guys, well, let’s say that it wasn’t hopeless but it was clearly going to be daunting.  In whispers behind the stage we all cracked some jokes, talked about what calls we owned, where we hunted, and other various pieces of hunting-specific small talk.
Surprisingly, wine and classical music never came up once the whole time I was there.
Unlike anything else “competitive” I’ve ever been at though, there was no intimidation, no brash and over-the-top warm-up routines, no clique-ish airs.  Just a bunch of guys who all like calling geese, some more or less amateur, and others clearly what you could liberally describe as pros just standing around shooting the breeze and waiting to get up and do their routines.
I saw some call brands I recognized.  I saw one brand I’d never seen before (more on that below).  One guy (arguably the oldest contestant) had a young-looking black Lab with him; the dog’s lead looped securely through the man’s left hip belt loop.  The dog was placid and immaculately well-behaved, which was nice to see.
We drew numbers from a bucket to determine our order.  In some bizarre cosmic comedy, I always seem to end up drawing to call first at these contests (up until Saturday I’d called first in every duck, goose, or turkey calling contest I’d entered) but this time I drew to call eleventh out of the thirteen guys.  Not too shabby, I thought.
Then some of the guys got up on stage and started making a serious racket.  And, for me at least, that was when the very small sliver of hope I had for winning this thing vanished, and survival instincts kicked in.  Now I’d been practicing, but it was obvious that the sounds I was making and the sounds that these cats were throwing down were very different.  Continuity turned out to be the key.  I made (generally) the same sounds that these other guys made, but they strung their clucks, moans, barks, bawls, murmurs, and the very effective (but also tough to master) train notes together so seamlessly, and with such ease that it really was beautiful…if you appreciate those kinds of things.  Me?  Well I was fast, and kind of all over the place.  In practice I could draw the routine out to a full 80 or 90 seconds (which is right around the max) but in competition I was done inside of 70 seconds.  Not that I was nervous…but I did get a bit excited.
As I’d said…perhaps I was overly-optimistic to think I could win, but making it out of the preliminary heat was my minimum goal.  Once I saw who was calling 10th though (read: right before me) I was pretty certain that I was buggered.  Calling right ahead of me was Josh Brugmans; a nice, down to earth guy who I’ve talked with once or twice, who just happens to be a goose-guide and top level caller with three or four contest wins since 2008 under his belt.  He had just won the Old Man Flute contest half-an-hour before and had given me a thorough beat down (proverbially) the one other time I called in a contest against him (in 2008 at the Southwestern Ontario Calling Classic, an event he coincidentally won that year).  And in the first round on Saturday he basically did what he always does and called really well…at least to my ears.  He would end up finishing third overall, which gives you an idea of the caliber of the other callers there Saturday as well.
So there I was, ascending the stage not as Shawn West but as the anonymous Caller #11, right after a top-class caller had just done his very proficient thing.  In fact, there were no nerves at all.  I felt the pressure was off, and all I could do was get up and let slide.  I elected to take my ten second warm up…no problem, no wonky sounds.  I nodded to the MC and he gave the word that this time it was for the real thing.  And off I went.  I hit every note I wanted to, and I hit them in order.  About the time I was doing my laydown work, I noticed that the red-light that signals the very near end of the 90 seconds had not come on yet.  Only then was I slightly panicked.  It was obvious that in my excitement I’d moved through my routine much too quickly (go ahead, make your inappropriate jokes now) and was in jeopardy of finishing far too early.  But I was also out of ideas, and anything else I called would have been repetitious, so I wrapped things up.
I got some approving nods and “nice calling” remarks when I returned to the group of contestants, and one of the guys eliminated in my round sought me out later and asked about a call I had made and how he could do it too, which was nice.  Still, when the MC went through the list of the six numbered callers that were advancing; number eleven was not among them.  Such is life.
They whittled the thirteen down to six, and then down to four.  In the final four, they actually had a call-off for first place, with two guys (I don’t know either of their names, sorry) having to blow through their routines again before a winner was announced.  I believe the same call maker swept the final four and therefore the podium, which is good for them if true, but then again I didn’t formally interview the four finalists to find out what call they were blowing so I could be wrong on that front.  I was hoping to do my part and put a Tim Grounds call in there, but was unsuccessful…due more to operator deficiencies than any intrinsic problem with the manufacturer; eight world titles for Tim Grounds calls more or less speak for themselves and do much more justice to the standard of this particular product than my ham-fisted and weak-lunged attempts at contest calling could.
One brand of calls I had never even heard of, but that sounded really, really good (again in the hands of competent operators) was a homegrown Ontario product called Schuyler Goose Calls.  Made in Port Dover, Ontario and limited to a run of 200 calls manufactured per year, they sounded very good, as I said, but they also looked really sexy too (and don’t act like flashy looks aren’t important to a goose hunter).  The one guy blowing this call in my division (caller #6, I believe) was also a nice, approachable guy with very good things to say about the call and the call-maker; he advanced into the second round but did not make the final four.   My take away was that this was obviously a well-constructed, locally manufactured and tuned product with good sound and a catchy but functional design; check out the website here if you want to look into the product.
Family commitments drew me away from sticking around to see the outcome of the Senior Duck Calling Contest (with the winner qualifying for the Worlds in Stuttgart, Arkansas) and also of the Two-Man Goose Calling Contest, so if you’re seeking news on the victors in those competitions, might I suggest you slide on over to the Contest Calendar section of one of my preferred websites
As for me, far from wallowing in self-pity and discouragement, I’m galvanized anew.  I picked up some very good sounds that I can use on the real thing in a couple of weeks when the season kicks off down here in Southern Ontario in just under 20 days, I had a good time, I talked to some friends I had not seen in a while, and maybe made one or two new ones.
But that brings us to the final question: will I compete again?  Maybe, but for now I think I’ll stick to this semi-anonymous, self-directed writing gig.  Because like my goose-calling, I’m just proficient enough at this to be entertaining and get the job done, but maybe not quite good enough to take on the world just yet.
Now if only I could master that train-note…

Calls For the Rest of Us

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.

The Belch

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.

Less Than One Week to Register for The Ducks Unlimited 2011 Canadian Duck & Goose Calling Championship

Registration for the Ducks Unlimited 2011 Canadian Duck & Goose Calling Championship is closing this Friday, August 12, 2011.  For those of you interested in registering, details can be found in this previous post, or by clicking this link.
Don’t feel you can cut it?  Well I certainly can’t, but I registered (for the Senior Goose) anyhow, so hopefully my foolishness should galvanize some of you to join me in testing your skills on stage.  The worst thing that could happen would be that you learn some new calls that may help you scratch down a few more ducks or geese this fall.
Hope to see some of you there.