If you are like me, there is nothing in all of God’s creation that is at the same time more fascinating, more mystifying, more elegant, more perplexing, more frustrating, more inspirational, more stirring, more thought-provoking, more awe-inspiring and, most of all, more mentally, physically, and spiritually fulfilling than are ducks. I am forever-more amazed every time ducks, as a result of sitting still in duck country listening and watching, teach me something new. Never was my thinking about ducks, specifically duck calling, more revolutionized than the instant I discovered that ducks do not “feed call” as I and every other duck hunter in the world has assumed ducks to do. I can hear what you’re thinking as you’re reading this…”This guy’s gone off his rocker. OF COURSE ducks call when they’re feeding!” Trust me, if you think about what I am about to discuss with an open mind, not only will your way of thinking about certain duck vocalizations transform, your duck calling will most certainly tend to be more realistic and, thus, more effective.
First of all, I want to clarify that what I am talking about in this article is not some revolutionary new duck sound/vocalization that I am claiming to have been the first to discover. The vocalizations I will be referring to will be sounds that all who have spent even a nominal amount of time listening to ducks have heard. What is revolutionary about my discovery is the fact that I have figured out precisely what a duck is and is not ‘saying’ when he is making those sounds commonly referred to as “feeding” sounds.
We’ve all heard it, the bursts of sharp, sometimes rapid-fire clucks of a mallard hen when she and a few dozen of her buddies are piled up in the middles of corn rows or in a raft of pin oak acorns that have drifted up on a huge fallen tree in about a foot of musty water. In my minds ear I can hear ‘em now…guh-guh-guh…goo-goo-goo-goo…gah-gah….gah-gah-gah-gah…geh-geh…you get the picture. Nothing revolutionary yet, huh. No, but consider for a minute a lone hen swimming through a field. Can you hear her? What is she saying? She may say a number of things, but, when I came to discover that one thing she would never say while alone is that sharp burst of “feeding clucks”, my mind was plucked to consider what in the world she was meaning when she so forcefully and sometimes obnoxiously spouted off the burst of clucks when in the company of her buddies. Hmmm…Got you interested, now, huh. You may want to read that one again slowly… She may say a number of things, but, when I came to discover that one thing she would never say while alone is that sharp burst of “feeding clucks”…………
While watching a bunch of ducks feeding on corn one day, the light came on. It was so powerful and mind-blowing I’ll never forget it. My hope is that at some point while reading this you will be equally blown away by the realization I experienced the instant I thought of my crazy dog’s reaction to me or anybody or anything else that comes near him when he’s got his face down in his food bowl and how synonymous this reaction was to how ducks react to other ducks when feeding. What does the dog do? He growls. Why does he growl…to warn others not to come near his grub. Ducks are such a magnificently beautiful and colorful critter, it is hard for us hunters to think of them as something as mean as a junkyard dog, but, the fact is, they are! Ducks are hateful. And, more importantly, they are gluttons. Think about it…when do you hear the most intense, fast and seemingly violent sounding feed calls? Answer: the same time you see ducks flying at their swiftest; when they’re screaming about 100 yards high in a group of about 50 headed from a loafing or roosting area to a grain field where they are intending to eat ‘til their crawl’s bust. It’s almost as if a duck is obsessed with the fear of another duck getting to the grub before them and, once there, getting more than them. (Sounds a lot like some duck hunters I know.) This concept of ducks “growling” began as a theory for me a couple years ago. Since then, though, through countless observations, I have become completely convinced of the reality that growling is exactly what ducks are doing when we hear these sounds. Case in point: watch ducks, you will only hear this sound when another duck, while feeding, is encroached upon or passed up by another feeding duck. Most of the time, while feeding, a mallard hen will be making a super-soft whistling type sound. In fact, this sound, much like the purr of a cat, is communicating nothing. She is just being. Then, as a duck gets in her “space”, her immediate feeding area…”GUH-GUH-GUH-GUH”…How awesome to think of it this way.
Even more exciting for duck callers is the realization that if this is what a duck is saying, “…get the heck away from my food, or else”, any pussy-footing-around, sissified, pretty-boy, “tic-tic-tic-tickin’-through-the-tulips” feed-call bull that is so often heard from even supposed pro callers simply ain’t gettin’ it! In other words, the tip here is, when you’re feed callin’ you ain’t sayin’, “MMMM, this is good stuff, Maynard”, you’re “GROWLIN’”!
The group ended up with 420 birds.
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