jeff matura with a pair of mallards taken on the mississippi river

Getting Started Calling Ducks

By Jeff Matura    

Although you do not have the best duck calling skills in the woods or marsh when hunting new uneducated birds, there will be situations when knowing how to use a duck call will be the deciding factor in your success such as stale birds and public lands with competition.



1. Art Of Quacking - Learning to make the many variations of the hen mallard quack is an art that is, unfortunately, mastered by only a few. If you cannot reproduce the natural sounds of a hen mallard on your duck call you may have one of two problems. Either (A) your duck call does not work properly or (B) you don't know how to properly sound like a hen mallard. If the problem is (A), throw away your duck call and replace it with a functional one, or if the problem is (B) learn how to blow a quack and practice.

Many hunters are misinformed and believe that a quack is a quack. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hen mallard quacks can represent fear, contentment, excitement, or lonesomeness. Your goal is to deceive a duck not startle it.

2. Use Only The Calls You've Mastered - Let's say that in the off-season you mastered the hen mallard quack, a pecking feeder call and a five note greeting call. The next time you take the field use only those three calls until you've mastered more. When you only use those calling sequences that you've mastered when you take the field, you accomplish two very important steps that are crucial to successfully calling ducks and geese.

First, because you've mastered these sounds and calling sequences you will produce a realistic and life-like sound, which puts you in a very elite group of waterfowl callers and if you've spent much time in the field you know how rare this truly is.

Second, because you're using a sound or calling sequence that you've mastered you won't be losing and flaring birds because of the improper and often rotten sounds coming out of your call and believe us, this is one of the main reasons that both ducks and geese refuse to come into a decoy spread.

3. Change Up Your Calling - For example, if you are hunting mallards in a flooded rice or grain field, (i.e. feeding area), it is important to blow a lot of greeting and feed calls as these ducks are typically excited and very vocal. Another situation this style of calling often works is when hunting new birds or migrators.

The flip side of a feeding area is a resting area and when hunting in these situations, we believe that the less calling is the best choice. Subtle quacks mixed in with a short cadence tend to work well. The key to this whole concept is scouting. Watch and listen to the ducks in the area you are hunting and try to imitate them to the best of your ability.

4. Start Soft And Work Up - Much like working with your kids or retriever a calm steady voice will most often achieve the results expected. However in some situations a more stern voice maybe needed. This analogy also applies to ducks. Hitting them hard with excessive volume and quick cadences will turn away many mallards leaving many hunters dismissing their error thinking they were just "call-shy". Instead begin with softer sounds and then work up to louder more aggressive sounds if necessary which will help you identify what they want to hear before scaring them off.

arkansas mallards on bow of boat5. Who's The Leader - When more than one person is capable of calling ducks in your group choose who will be the leader and have the others make more contented sounds. This will help to prevent over calling or too many aggressive sounds being made. The combined effort will also sound more natural as if there was a very large group of mallards on the water. Examples of contented sounds are quacks, feed chatter, and a drake whistling.

6. Speak Their Language - Whenever possible use a duck call that's made to mimic the species being persued. Many times hunters will believe the ducks simply are not responding to a call, but the real problem is specie identification. Although gadwall and pintail may be attracted to a mallard call better results are most often achieved using a gadwall call or pintail whistle respectively. When hunting with a group mixing mallard and other species of calls can be very effective.

7. Keep'em Close - As soon as you notice approaching duck/ducks drifting off line hit them with a greeting call to get them back. This is a very important calling tip when hunting competitive situations found on public wildlife areas. If this doesn't work gradually use a quicker cadence versus becoming too aggressive right away spooking them off.

prize in the vegetation of decoying a single drake8. Nothing To Lose - When mallards are leaving your spread and not responding or it appears they may land short of your spread it's time to get louder and use a quicker or more aggressive cadence. At this point my thought is there isn't anything to lose and at times these demanding sounds will get their attention. I do want to caution against simply following this tactic with birds that are not callable in the first place as this will become quite annoying to other hunters in the area very quickly and rightly so. I beleive over calling is one of the reasons mallards become call shy so quickly on public lands.

9. How Well Are You Hidden - When working any type of waterfowl a hunter should always consider the fact that every call they make further enables keen eyes overhead pinpointing their position and being busted. This is why the saying "Call at their wingtips" came about, meaning if their wing tips are visible their probably a good distance away off to the side or rear. This is just another reason to always make sure every opportunity to stay hidden has been taken such as camo face masks, light-weight gloves that don't effect the sound of a call, and staying in the shadows if possible.

10. Not All Will Respond - It is very important to realize that not every mallard will respond to even the best duck caller. Many times they already know there destination, or seem too simply be stretching their wings. These ducks are easily identified by their steady wing beat. It's up to you to recognize what birds are mostly likely callable versus which are not. One tip I can offer is to watch for birds dipping down for a closer look and then lifting, or erratic wing beats. With experience this skill will be mastered.

Closing Advice

Knowing how to use a duck call is truly an art that is best developed through experimentation and careful observation when in the field. My suggestion is to have fun with it and don't let yourself get frustrated.



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