Out Of The Loop And Looking For Helpby Jim James - Owner of Carlson Championship Calls and 1996 World Duck Calling Champion
I’m a callmaker. In addition, I’ve spent over a decade competing on the competitive calling circuit all over the United States. I’ve been formally teaching waterfowlers on proper call operation twice a year for over 14 years, having instructed well over a thousand students. I’ve also been fortunate enough to win the World Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart, Arkansas. One question...really almost a plea...that I hear from what I would term “average” waterfowlers from across the country is, “How can I get really good on a duck call?” This is usually followed by an inquiry as to whom I might suggest they contact in their neck of the woods for personal instruction.
Let’s face it, without question the best form of instruction is personal one-on-one instruction from someone who not only possess the operational skills of a World Champion caller but also has the skills and knowledge...almost a separate and unique talent...of how to communicate those skills and information to the hungry student.
If you’re looking for a World Champion for this type of instruction and you live anywhere outside of the Mississippi Delta area, sorry, you’re out of the loop. Since 1936 a whooping 78% of the World Champions have hailed from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. 44% of those champions lived in the state of Arkansas and 30% were from one small town on the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart. That small pocket is without doubt the hot-bed of the calling community.
This is not to imply that World Champions are the only ones who can teach one to operate a duck call. There are many other state and regional champions out there that are quite proficient with a duck call. There are many others who have never competed, and could care less about competing, who are also excellent callers in the field. Many duck hunters equate the success of their calling with the size of the bag, and it’s hard to argue with regular and constant success. But, top-notch and really fine calling has always been recognizable and the envy of most waterfowlers who go afield. And, the desire to try to improve one’s calling is indeed real.
Without question the calling hot-bed of the world is the Mississippi Delta region. But, there are countless numbers of waterfowlers who live outside this area, and the majority of these waterfowlers are no different than any of the past World Champions were in the following respect. They all just simply want to improve their calling. If asked if they could become as good as any World Champion, most would jump at the opportunity. Most would jump at the opportunity to sit down with any of these champions for just a few minutes of personalized instruction. As the saying goes: “I’ve been there...and done that”.
Another fact that I’ve observed over the years is that the further away one gets from the calling hot-bed the poorer the overall state of calling seems to become. Once again, this is not to belittle any region or state or meant to be a generalization. It’s just that the calling aspect of the sport seems to take on less importance and falls down on the list of skills one feels they need to hone. For instance, the further north one goes it seems the less waterfowlers rely on calling to fill their bag. They hunt the local ducks early in places they know hold birds and have the luxury of having fresh ducks to the north waiting to come down. Hopefully, the weather patterns and seasons coincide and they are able to take advantage of the fall flights of these “new” ducks. On the east coast the number of mallards (which is the primary duck most seem to want to both hunt and imitate on a call) are but a fraction of what they are on the other flyways. On the west coast the pintail is king even though the mallard population is fairly large. Some parts of the country hold large numbers of divers and area waterfowlers pursue them rather than the puddlers.
Every now and again there’s a waterfowler out of the loop who, for many reasons, wants to hone his calling skills. Maybe he’s seen and heard other hunters whom he felt were somewhat proficient with a call. Maybe he’s had “his ducks” stolen by a better caller while hunting a public area. There’s an old saying that, “you can always tell a duck hunter...but you just can’t tell him much.” That is, until he has his ducks taken away from him on a regular basis. Then he’s much more receptive to learning new “tricks”. When it comes to improving his calling he’ll look for help in almost any form because personalized instruction is most likely impossible to find close to home. Where does he turn? Who does he turn to?
The first place most go for help is the vast library of audio and video tapes that are available through catalogs and sporting goods outlets. The advent and explosion of the Internet also provides a source for instruction and exchange of information. But, with all this information to sift through, how does the waterfowler who’s out of the loop make a meaningful decision as to which to choose from? Here’s some things to think about and consider.
First off, one has to understand that to become really good three things are going to be needed. He’ll need a functional and properly designed call. Next, he’ll need meaningful instruction so as to maximize both the design of the call as well as his own God-given talent. Lastly, he’ll need the personal commitment to do the work necessary to become as good as he possible can.