Take a quack at it: Choosing right duck call is unique task for waterfowl hunters

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 20, 2017 2:25 am

MEYER, Ill. -- Two duck calls hang from the thin rawhide strap Jason Trowers loops around his neck each time he goes hunting.

One has the look of an antique. It's small, wooden and unlike anything you might find on the shelf of an outdoor retailer. The other is shiny and new. It glistens in the sun, almost changing colors from black to green to brown as you move it.

As vastly different as they are, Trowers says he is comfortable calling with either just before he breaks into a cackle with the wooden call.

"My grandpa gave me this one. It was his wood duck call. I bet it's 60 years old," said Trowers, who hunts the Mississippi River with his unble, Richard, and a couple of friends. "I've kept it clean and safe and blow it often enough that it stays in tune."

And the other call?

"This is the one I bought after doing my research," Trowers said as handled the Duck Commander Dymond Wood Moss call with extreme care. "I wasn't buying a call off the shelf. I wanted the best one I could find. This is it. This one is the one I hope to pass on like a family heirloom."

Aesthetically, the Dymond Wood Moss call has a certain appeal for hunters. That doesn't matter to ducks.

It's all about the sound.

"And this sounds as good as any call I've ever blown," Trowers said. "It's better than any acrylic call. It's better than a $150 call I once tried. For me, this is perfect."

For any hunter, the feel of a call in your hand and the ability to make it sound realistic matters more than anything else.

Waterfowl season opens Oct. 28 in Illinois' Central Zone, which means any drive along a Mississippi River road in the early morning will allow you to hear a symphony of quacks, whistles and hails.

There should be a "pop, pop, pop" of shotguns as well. Those sounds will be coming from the blinds with the best callers and most realistic sounds.

So how do get comfortable knowing your call gives you that advantage?

It starts by choosing the right call.

Trowers bought his primary call based on durability, look and feel. He wanted it to be a double-reed system. And he wanted a guarantee it could handle the rigors of constant calling.

"I plan to hunt as many days as possible," Trowers said. "I don't need a call that isn't going to last."

Brent Wannager was more worried about price when he purchased his primary call at an outdoor retailer.

"I've dropped calls in the water and had calls go bad," said Wannager, who hunts the Illinois River near Meredosia. "I wasn't spending $100 or more like they want for some of thos high-end calls. I bought this one for $20. It's polycarbonate and not much to look at it. I kind of look the color, other than that there isn't much appeal to it.

"But it calls. It calls good. It calls loud. It does all the functions I need."

He then pulled another call from his pocket.

"A lot of people have these calls," Wannaget said as he opened his hand to show a Ducks Unlimited call that is given away to the organization's members. "And they work just fine. Nothing fancy, but c'mon, we're hunters. Why do we need fancy? All you need is something that brings the birds in."

Which is why choosing the right call is an inexact science.

Calls are made with single reeds or double reeds, and they are decidedly different. Single-reed calls are more difficult to master, while double-reed calls require more air and seem to have less range. However, most hunters say double-reed calls sound more realistic to passing ducks.

"It comes down to preference," said Kenny Stillman, a Missouri hunter and guide and former salesman for Cabela's. "The difference in reeds determines the challenge in a consistent call, but you can learn to call with either. It all comes back to finding a comfort level."

The same holds true with the style of call.

Most calls are made from acrylic, wood and polycarbonate. A vast number of hunters are choosing acrylic because of they produce a sharper, louder tone. Wood calls are mellower and more natural. Plus, there's history with wooden calls. Polycarbonate calls are the cheapest of the bunch, but they are often very reliable.

"You have to find a call that fits in your hand and sounds good," Stillman said. "But you also have to think about the care of your calls. Wood calls absorb water, so you need to clean them and air dry them as soon as possible after a hunt. Acrylic calls are high density. They don't change. They are the most consistent call."

Trowers won't disagree with that.

"Listen to this," he said just before practicing some hailing calls. "Some sound every time."

Then he dropped his Dymond Wood Moss call and grabbed the antique wood duck call. He let out a series of calls, all slightly different but similar in many regards.

"The sound flutters a little, but what duck quacks the same every time," Trowers said. "Just because it's old doesn't mean it isn't good. This is a classic, and the classic always come through."

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