Reading the Birds - Duck Hunting

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Reading the Birds - Duck Hunting

by Jim James - Owner of Carlson Championship Calls and 1996 World Duck Calling Champion

“Here they come...put that call away!” “Stop calling...they might come in!” “The first swing is the closest!” “Call ‘em on the wingtips and tailfeathers!” These all are old and very familiar sayings in the waterfowling community. And they all, to some extent or another, refer to that often times overlooked aspect of the sport we term, “Reading The Birds”.
Without question one's ability to "read the birds" is a very important part of the overall calling equation. The other two being a functional and properly designed call and meaningful instruction on how to operate that call.

You can’t skimp on the latter two if you ever expect to become really proficient at the first. All three go hand-in-hand and truly do make up the total calling equation.

Also, without question, the only way to really learn to "read the birds" is to spend time in the field.

BUT...simply spending time in the field isn't necessarily the answer to becoming proficient at "reading the birds".

One can spend many hours afield tootin' on a junk call, making mediocre to poor sounds, all the while keenly watching the birds’ reactions. Logic tells us that this waterfowl hunter's learning curve as to learning to "read the birds" is going to be somewhat skewed by the quality of the sounds he makes. Simply put...birds react totally different to poor calling than good calling. They react totally different to poor sounds than good sounds. Combine that with ill-timed calling and calling that doesn’t match one’s acoustical environment and the learning curve just got steeper.

I'd venture to suggest that the old saying, "Here they come...put the call away" has it's basis in this type of calling scenario. If one blows the call and the ducks flare or become skittish the educational process has just "taught" this waterfowler not to call, not to call at a certain time, or make a certain sound...etc.

On the other hand, if one spends the same hours afield producing quality sounds...the learning curve will dramatically change.

There's a tremendous difference between calling AT ducks and actually calling ducks to the point where you are sometimes telling them what to do and when to do it.

Creating quality sounds is the first step and this can only be accomplished with the proper instrument and related instruction. Once the waterfowler has the operational skills and the necessary and expanded vocabulary, then he can go out into the marsh and really begin his education in the "reading of the birds" aspect of the sport. Telling the birds what they want to hear, when they want to hear it is really what it’s all about.

I’ve often heard and read that it’s just as important to know when NOT to call as it is when TO call. There is some merit to this argument but once again the wisdom of the statement lies in one’s ability to “read the birds”. For instance, ill-timed calling can often produce negative results. When the ducks are right overhead it makes little sense to bark out a loud aggressive hen greeting even though the sound may be one of quality and very “duck-like”. Why give the birds an opportunity to look right down into the blind to discover the source of the sound? It makes much more sense to wait until they pass completely over and then hit them with that greeting in an effort to turn them. The same is true when the ducks are swinging out in front of the blind. Hitting them with that hen greeting too soon may force them to crank around in the “wrong” spot which puts them into the position of having to make yet another pass. The more passes they make the better the opportunity for them to ferret out what’s REALLY happening down below. It’s better to wait until they actually get out a ways before hitting them with the greeting. This can allow them the necessary room they sometime need, and want, for the final approach into the spread. Timing the calling with the wind direction is another factor to keep in mind. Remember, the ducks will want to land into the wind.
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