Duck Call Versatilityby Jim James - Owner of Carlson Championship Calls and 1996 World Duck Calling Champion
Versatility - Mark of the Master Caller
We’ve all heard the terms, “a versatile caller” and “a versatile call”. Without question versatility is a wonderful thing. But what is versatility and how does it relate to waterfowlers, calls and calling?
Let’s first discuss versatility in calls. What we’re actually talking about is operational versatility due to a call’s overall design. The overall design of a call, be it any call, is the determining factor in how well that call will interface with proper operational technique as applied by the operator.
Aesthetics play little in the overall design of a call. Brass bands look nice, as does fancy checkering, shiny acrylics and exotic imported woods. The supporting acoustical nature of the barrel’s material can somewhat come into play in the final composite sound output of a call but make no mistake about it, it is the final design of the call’s insert and the reed/sounding surface relationship that is the heart and soul of any call’s design.
Versatility in a functional call’s design is what allows for it to produce, given the proper operational controls as they relate to chamber pressure and chamber dimension, the wide range of sounds most knowledgeable waterfowlers have come to identify as superior. The necessary operational characteristics required for a call to be able to produce a crisp and resounding “ring” at the high-end but still be able to produce the softest and subtlest “ducky” sounds at the extreme low-end are real, but also rare and sometimes hard to find.
Most top-notch callers have come to expect certain performance levels out of the calls they use or may consider for future use. Some want a call that can “ring” like all get-out while others could care less about “ring” because of the acoustical environment in which they hunt. Timber hunting is very conducive to non-ringing calls but very supportive of calls with a “ducky” sounding low-end. On the other hand, those hunting wide open expanses of open water and on large public marshes demand that high-end “ring” so they can get the ducks’ attention from great distances. Because of the varying degrees of hunting and acoustical environments in which waterfowlers find themselves there have been calls produced that appeal to those needs.
For a call to be deemed versatile it should have the entire package. It should not only have the solid and crisp “ring” when needed but also the versatility of design to allow the operator the choice of varying degrees of “ring”...from thin to “raspy” to even excessively “scratchy” should that be the choice of the operator. The versatile call should have the ability to track smoothly up and down the musical scale transitioning smoothly from “ring” to the more “ducky sounds” as produced by Low Register Ring©. At the far bottom end of the calling spectrum the call should really “hang in there” and resist Dropping Out© when producing the very softest of sounds sometimes needed when the ducks are just hanging out over the far decoys and need that extra special little coaxing to bring them the final few yards.
Additionally, the versatile call should react the same each and every time exact control changes are applied. For a call to do less puts an undo burden upon the calling student, or hunter in the field, as he goes about trying to produce and then re-produce desired sounds. For the serious student calls that are “all over the place” have been one of the biggest obstacles to meaningfully learning any degree of refined operational skills. Unfortunately, this has been the norm rather than the exception for over a hundred plus years. The age-old question of, “is it me or is it the call” can never really be answered if the call the student is using lacks the necessary degree of operational versatility, stability, consistency and control demanded to meaningfully go about learning.
Because of the lack of standardization in the manufacture of duck calls and because of the varying call designs based upon the needs discussed earlier, where a call may fall on the “versatility scale” is very hard, if not impossible, for the average waterfowler to determine. Sadly he’s often left to “word of mouth” referrals, slick advertising and fancy packaging as the determining factors when choosing a call. One looking to improve his calling skills would be better served paying attention to the past track records of calls in meaningfully judged competitions. These are the calls that must have the versatility, stability, and consistency of design demanded by those top-notch callers who demand such in their calls.
Versatility on the part of the caller, or operator, is another subject worth discussing and understanding. Versatility is what allows the really top-notch call operator the luxury of being able to get the most out of any call he picks up. Granted some of the calls may be lacking in operational versatility and design but, nevertheless, the versatile operator will make that call sound as good, or even better than ever intended by its maker. Versatility of operation on the part of the caller is what allows him to make whatever adjustments necessary to account for, and make up for, any deviation of versatility in a call’s design. These adjustments come in the form of Forward Pressure, Back Pressure and Resonate Cavity Size. Knowing which adjustment(s) to make and when to make it takes a true understanding of how each of the individual factors relate to one another and in totality to the final composite sound output of the call. Not a simple thing to master and the reason versatility in callers is even more rare than the versatile call.
Trying to put this into perspective let’s examine the list of the six types of callers. On the list of six, the Versatile Caller falls at number two with only the Duplication Caller possessing more operational skills and abilities. The six are as follows from bottom to top:
6. The Basic Hunter: He’s a great conservation aid in that he has scared away more ducks with his calling than he’s ever called in.
5. The Average Caller: He thinks he has called in a few ducks from time to time...but wouldn’t bet on it.
4. The Advanced Caller: When there are callable ducks around he’ll get his share...all other things being equal.
3. The Competition Caller: He’s not satisfied with calling just during the season. He wants to call all year around. He’s very dedicated to improving his operational skills. He’s a top-notch waterfowler that can also “read” ducks.
2. The Versatile Caller: He can get the most out of any call he picks up because he can recognize design deficiencies and make the proper control adjustments.
1. The Duplication Caller: He’s like the Versatile Caller except he can meaningfully teach what he knows and understands. Not only is he versatile as an operator but, because of his through understanding of proper operational techniques, he can duplicate a student’s errors and then relate to the student how to correct him.
I know of no shortcuts to becoming a versatile operator. Without question talent is also a wonderful thing to have and the more talent one is blessed with the better he’ll fare. If one has access to meaningful instruction and works hard he’ll also fare well. If one has both talent and exposure to meaningful instruction, plus he applies himself to a meaningful use of his time and practices with purpose, he stands a good chance of becoming really good.
Versatility is indeed a wonderful thing...both in the call one uses as well as in the operator himself. It is well worth the time, effort and expense to try to possess each.
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