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On the Lanyard: Goose Call Edition

In the years since I became an “independent” (read: unaccompanied adult) hunter, I have accumulated goose calls at a near staggering rate.  I’m not on the level of calling myself a collector yet, only because I define a collector as someone who owns more of something than they could conceivable utilize.

I’ve conversed with goose call manufacturers and collectors, as well as men and women with dozens and dozens (and in a few cases, over a hundred) of goose calls, and even they admit that there is no way they could possibly hunt with them all.  Some are showpiece or limited edition calls, others just calls that look nice on a mantle, while others still are ‘working calls’ that sound exceptional and see their share of time in the blinds, fields, pits, and swamps that we waterfowlers frequently skulk about in.

To date, all my calls have been ‘working’ calls, and both through the expansion of my goose calling abilities, as well as through necessities of space and finances, I’ve been turning my inventory of calls over these past twenty years by selling or trading older calls for either newer calls themselves or more frequently, for the capital required to purchase more goose calls.  I’ve owned several styles, tried dozens more, and from my Dad’s wooden Olt call, through to my current tools I could tell stories and share tidbits about them all; many of the older calls that I have not traded or sold sit in my gun cabinets and ammo lockers, or hang dusty on lanyards in my closet.  With all that said, this piece is going to focus on the three calls that will be residing on my lanyard this coming September.  All opinions here are my own, and the companies listed below have not had any contact with me regarding their products with respect to these reviews.

 

Super Mag

The first truly ‘custom’ short reed goose call I ever owned was my Super Mag.  It has been the last thing a lot of geese have heard since I started using it in 2005.  For years before I made the plunge into the custom acrylic short-reed market, I had been honing my skills on a variety of goose calls, from polycarbonate short reeds bought for $25 at the local hardware store to more elaborate flute-style calls bought online.  Those calls were important in learning how to run a goose call and to make the requisite sounds needed for hunting, but they all lacked ‘something’.  Some did not have enough high-note snap to be effective on windy days, while others lacked precision and realistic tone on the low moans and lay-down calls needed to finish geese close in.

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The second I took the Super Mag out of its package, I could tell it had three things going for it.  First, it was sexy looking, with a polished silver band wrapped around amber acrylic that shared its colour with a well-aged bourbon.  Second, I could tell that it was solidly made by someone who hunted geese; simple minimalist lines fit comfortably in the hand and it was well-balanced.  Third, and most important, it sounded like a real goose.  For the first time I had a call that could flat out scream on a windy day, but was subtle enough to work low end moans and growls for when the birds were just about to commit.

It took a lot of practice to re-learn how to blow a short-reed goose call, but luckily it also came with a cassette tape (it was 2005 after all) with instructions from Tim Grounds and his son, Hunter.  If it had a downfall, my only complaint about the Super Mag was that it took (and still does take) a lot of air to get it running correctly.  The reed is set up quite stiff, and while this does make for absolutely realistic low end calling and crisp, snappy honks and clucks, you need to work hard if you need to run it consistently for a long time. That said, Tim & Hunter Grounds will custom tune any call you send them, and I won’t ever forget the day I came home from work and found a message from Tim himself on my home answering machine.  I had sent my call to them because I had managed to crack the reed near the end of the 2010 hunting season. That evening I was like a star-eyed fanboy when I called him back and we talked for ten minutes about the call and how I wanted it tuned with the new reed.  The call has been money ever since, and I’m now obsessive about my reeds and ensuring they are taken of.

On a personal note, this call is still my go-to, both because you never forget your first and because it is just a blue-collar workaholic call.  I have had bloody hands on it, it has been scratched and worn, I’ve used it on freezing winter mornings, and I even slammed it in a car door once.  It has character and it still sounds great.

Tim Grounds Championship Calls

PO Box 359, 14331 Prosperity Road

Johnson City, Illinois

62951

Phone:  (618) 983-5649

 

The Goose Noose

During the 2014 off-season, I resolved to get my hands on a nice wooden short reed goose call, primarily because we had taken to hunting water now and then and I felt that the acrylic Super Mag created an unwanted echo.  I tried calls from Zink, Buck Gardner, and RNT before I found this hidden gem at my local (and newly-opened) Cabela’s store.

From the second I started blaring on it in the aisles at the store, I noticed that it had a dimension that my Super Mag did not have.  It was mellow, smooth, a little bit understated but truly goosey, especially on the moans and low end calls.  It still could run at some pretty high volumes, but while the Super Mag could plead and scream with ease and only worked the nice low end calls with some serious back-pressure, this call moaned and barked with less air and less back pressure, and even though the spit-notes and hail calls came out with a more mellow tone, it took a fraction of the air that my Tim Grounds call used.

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I had not heard of Lynch Mob Calls before that day, so I went home and did a bit of research.  Satisfied with what I found, the next day I was back buying the call, and I began obsessively practicing on it.  I found YouTube clips, I looked for articles, and I ran it nightly.  Lynch Mob Calls has since replaced this model with one they call the Game Over, so in a way I guess I do have a bit of a collector’s item on my hands.

What can I say about this call?  It has great mid-to-low end tone and on calm days or over water it is deadly.  After huffing for nearly a decade on my Super Mag it took some practice to scale back the airflow so that I did not overblow it on honk, clucks, or comeback calls, but once that was mastered this call runs slick, deep sounds that are ‘big goose’ all the way.  I had more success with it in the later October and early November hunts, but even in the early September season it fooled resident Canada geese often.

Lynch Mob Calls

9032 Bay Creek Road

Erie, Michigan

48133

Phone: (734) 848-2501

www.lynchmobcalls.com

 

Shorty Express SS (Signature Series)

I spend a lot of time in the local BassPro Shops store, and for a long time I had coveted this call.  It has clean, sharp lines, the polished band glows, and I flat out love the colour.  I did not love that it was priced in excess of $180, and I tried it over and over again on multiple trips to the store in attempts to convince my fiscally-responsible side to make the impulse purchase.  Every time I had to put it back. Then in 2014, I stopped in to BassPro on my way up to the early November deer hunt to pick up some scent eliminator for one of the guys in camp.  On a whim I cruised by the duck and goose showcase, and I was taken aback.

The call was marked down to $45.99.  I was sure it was a mistake.  I located the floor staff and asked them to take a look in their inventory system.  The price was correct, and they had one left.  So I bought it.  I was more or less done with waterfowl for the year and I was focusing on deer hunting from then out, but I noodled with it for the evenings in deer camp and then even more during the long cold lonely winter up here in Ontario.  It fell out of use for the bulk of turkey season, but I picked it up again recently and have actually been so focused on it that I have not even picked up and practiced my other two goose calls.

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The Shorty SS is a dark “mallard” acrylic and it just looks downright sexy.  It has nice lines with a curvy, rounded barrel.  The insert is a little narrow in the hand for my liking but it is not uncomfortable.  In terms of its sound it falls in between the Super Mag and the Goose Noose for volume and tone.  It makes solid goose-talk from top end to bottom end requiring just slightly more air than the Goose Noose, but almost any sound can be made using less back-pressure and expenditure than with my Super Mag.  Being an acrylic call, I find that it has a tendency to slide into the ‘high’ end easily, so in the same fashion as the Goose Noose I have to use caution not to over blow it and cause it to ‘squeal’, but it barks and double-clucks like nobody’s business.  I am very much looking forward to running this call on some of the resident Bruce County geese in six weeks.

Sean Mann Outdoors

555 Marlan Drive

Trappe, Maryland

21673

Phone: 1-800-345-4539

www.seanmann.com

It Continues in the Morning

My alarm barked out and it felt like just moments earlier I had laid my head on the pillow.  I groaned and rolled over to silence it, then dangled my legs over the edge of the bed and slid on some socks.

4:20AM. Why did it have to be 4:20AM?

I checked the temperature outside and slipped into my turkey hunting uniform.  Warm socks, light shirt, camo pants.  The stairs groaned the way they always do in the old farm house, almost as if they were likewise complaining at being called into action at an hour so ungodly, but as my head cleared I became sharply focused on the task at hand.

There were turkeys in the trees behind the farm, and I intended to coax one into shotgun range.

I had a piece of toast and then re-inventoried my equipment.  License & tag? Check.  Shotgun shells? Check.  Various and sundry turkey-noise-making instruments? Check.  I was ready to go.  Walking out the door I wished my friend Lucas a good hunt with my uncle.  They were after a very mature bird in a spot that my uncle had permission on, and rather than crowd the joint I had the previous evening resolved to put a hunt on the birds on the farm property.

My other uncle had indicated that they had gone into the hardwoods adjacent to what we call ‘the hollow’ the previous evening, and I had a good idea of the lay of the land in there from a lifetime of experiences on the farm as well as from recent deer hunts in that exact area.  I trudged slowly and quietly throw a planted field, and reached a point of forest that forms the western treeline of the hollow.  I owl-called and not hearing a response from the immediate area, I moved quietly down a skidder trail into the enveloping darkness of the hardwoods.  It was 4:55AM and just the tiniest slivers of predawn light were filtering their way over the eastern horizon.  I placed one hen decoy on the skidder trail and moved about twenty yards away from it onto a ridge.  I found a great spot against a broad rock on the ridge and to my surprise it was a very comfortable seat.

I looked at my watch and it read 5:02AM.

For the next fifteen minutes I was absorbed into the dusky wilderness.  The soft titterings of songbirds rose around me, and a light breeze tickled my ear, but the overall silence was king.  It was not an oppressive, heavy silence but rather a calm edged with anticipation.  I closed my eyes for a few moments and when I opened them again the bleary nighttime had taken on cleaner resolution.  I thought about the morning to come and, like most turkey hunters, I imagined the various ways that the hunt might go down.  The contrast between the darkness in the hardwoods and the apparent increase in daylight on the adjacent field made me second guess my setup momentarily.  Then my doubts were erased as raspy gobble thundered from a treetop to the south of my position.

Just over a hundred yards south was a green cedar stand and it appeared that the gobbler was roosted in the hardwood surrounding those cedars.  He gobbled again, and I checked my watch.  It was just about 5:25 in the morning.  Initially, nothing answered his gobbles and a part of me hoped that he was a bachelor that particular day.  If I can help it, I’d rather not compete with hens for a tom’s attention.  Unfortunately after his third or fourth gobble from the roost, I heard a hen fire up.  Softly at first, but soon she was rasping away as well, bringing more distinct hen voices from their slumber as well.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out three shotgun shells, placing them in my lap.

I also slid the newest addition to my turkey calling arsenal from my vest.  The Woodhaven Cherry Classic crystal call took a resting spot beside my left leg, and after retrieving a striker I made a soft tree call.  The gobbler cut me off immediately and a hen yelped loudly over top of my calls.  Thinking that picking a scrap with the loud hen might be a good strategy I yelped and cutt and when the gobbler thundered she again called loudly over top of my series.  I waited for her to call again and this time I cut her off with a string of raspy, aggressive yelps and clucks.  She cutt hard and shouted me down once more, and the longbeard double-gobbled.  I set my call down, confident that both gobbler and hen knew exactly where I was.

The only conundrum now facing me was that I had to load my gun.  At the allotted hour I softly slid open the 870 action and with a delicateness of hand reserved for handling fine chinaware and newborn infants I placed a shell in and slid the action closed with a firm but quiet ‘snick!’’ Two more shells went into the gun smoothly and a few moments later I heard the birds fly down.

As soon as the birds touched ground, a hen riot the likes of which I’ve never heard erupted.  There was yelping and cutting and purring and flapping and more yelping.  Some sort of battle royale was going on a few ridges over from me and over it all the longbeard gobbled lustily.  I turned my left shoulder towards the racket and brought the gun to ‘ready’ position, fingers poised over the safety.  My pulse was pounding and my head was whirring with imagined visuals, such is the effect these birds have on my frail constitution.

A few moments later I heard running in the leaves and hen yelps growing near.  One hen, followed by a straggler went through an opening and made their way down a slight hill towards my decoy on the skidder trail.  The trotted up to the impostor hen and began yelping and purring, all the while circling and staring at the fake.  A couple of more hens fed slowly down that way as well and before long there were five or six hens on the ridge side and trail, all within thirty yards of me.  Then I saw the gobbler.

He was out of range and following the hens.  This time he wasn’t gobbling.  He was drumming and it was the clearest and most audible that I’d ever heard.  He dropped behind a bit of a ridge and my hope was that he would cross the same opening I had first seen the hens through.  A few moments later I saw the top of his tail fan over a ridge top immediately left of where the required opening was.  I estimated him to be about thirty-five or forty yards away, and he was strutting and spinning on the spot.  Most importantly, he was not offering me the slightest of shot opportunities.  This went on for what felt like a half-hour but was more realistically ten minutes.  My arms were comfortable and my left elbow rested on my left knee, but my breathing betrayed my motionless.  I was nearly panting with excitement and adrenaline pounded in my brain.  I needed him to take just a handful of steps to my right and he would be wide open and in range.

In the meantime, while I was pleading a psychic message to this gobbler, the hens had grown weary of bullying my decoy and when I cut my eyes right I could see that they were starting to move away.  To my dismay their movement was not past me to the fields as I had hoped, but along their backtrail deeper into the hardwoods.  About this time I saw the gobbler’s tail fan disappear, and knowing he had dropped strut and was likely leaving the hens, I had a moment of panic.  I clucked hard on my mouth call, but nothing happened.  I cackled loudly and he gave me a full periscope shot, but all I could see was his head, neck and a thin line of black feathers above the hilltop.  I had one blaring, conscious thought in my head at that moment.

“DO. NOT. SHOOT. THE. HILLSIDE!”

Instinctively obeying that monologue command, I raised the bead ever so slightly so that it was in line with the point that his jaw met his neck.  I squeezed the trigger and what sounded like cannon-fire echoed in the still morning air.

The bird jumped and started running, and the hens putted and sprinted off.  I leapt down the ridge side in a bound and ran twenty yards up the trail, passing my decoy before running back up to the spot where he had been standing.  I saw the faintest outline of a gang of wild turkeys necking their way through the hardwoods and disappearing from view.   My watch read 6:25AM.

I said some bad words.

Looking down I saw the leaves that the rapidly departing gobbler had kicked up and on close inspection of the area I didn’t find one speck of blood or a solitary black neck feather.  It became immediately apparent that for the second time in my turkey hunting career, I had blazed a round of copper-plated lead clean over the head of a gobbler.

I said some more bad words.

First I cursed out that lousy, hung-up gobbler, then the skittish, ornery hens and finally, and perhaps most accurately, about the gaping failures I exhibited myself.

Every move and decision I had made that morning put me in a position to succeed, until the ultimate action was upon me and then I had cocked it up.  It had been a picture perfect hunt and I failed in giving it the ending it so rightly deserved.  I was pissed off, utterly.

I knew that my Dad was across the county road and that he’d have heard my shot.  I knew that he’d want an explanation.  I knew my buddies were going to ride me mercilessly over this one.  I was right on all three accounts.  Worse than the ribbing of family and friends (which I have been taking all my life with grace and aplomb) was that although part of me knew I could not have played it differently, the self-loathing inherent in turkey hunting told me I should have waited longer and he would have crossed into a full opening, or that I should have let them walk and tried to circle them, or that all my poor decision-making had done was educate a gobbler and a bunch of hens, making them supernaturally more difficult to kill.  At the time it was hard for me to see it any other way than in the negative.

For their part, no one else had succeeded either (although none of them had thrown a few ounces of lead shot aimlessly into the forest either) and when I got back to the farm and had cooled down, we decided to head for breakfast.  My cousin Dane and his brother-in-law were out on a run-and-gun for a bird, but my brother, my uncle, my friend Lucas, and my friend Brian had all come up short on tagging a morning bird.  We headed to the diner for a bite to eat and as I stepped into the diner parking lot I looked down to see my cellphone ringing.  It was Dane.

In a flash hunt, he and his brother-in-law Chris had struck a longbeard and Chris had drilled the gobbler as it snuck in to investigate Dane’s calling.  So at least the morning wasn’t a total bust.  It was a nice hefty bird, maybe three-years old, with a solid beard and nice sharp spurs.

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A very nice Bruce Peninsula gobbler. Photo Credit: Lucas Hunter

We had some coffee, toast, bacon, and eggs and I was forced to re-live my failure of mere hours prior.  We also all took in the tale of Chris’s bird and we laughed at the inimitable embellishments and narration that only Dane can provide.

With bellies full we headed back to the farm for photos and to clean the bird.  A short rest later we planned the setups for the rest of the day.

The afternoon seemed primed for redemption.