Reading the Birds - Duck Hunting - Page 2
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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs


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The size of the flock will have much to do with the timing and amount of your calling. Often times, a large flock will get broken up as they work the spread. Different hunters in the same blind often end up “reading” and calling different birds. The hunter at the far right side of the blind may be barking out a comeback as part of the flock leaves while the hunter at the opposite end of the blind may be producing subtle quacks and clucks as another part of the flock is on it’s final approach. One hunter is screaming at the ducks while the other is reaching for his gun. Communication becomes important when a large flock is working. Often that communication is unspoken. The savvy waterfowl hunter will be tuned to his partner(s) calling and adjust his accordingly. In effect, he’ll rely on his partner(s) ability to “read the birds” and, sight unseen, adjust his calling for birds he cannot see.

How new the ducks are to an area is another factor that can affect how one “reads the birds”. So-called “new ducks” are the Shangri-La of all duckhunters. New ducks are much more naive and more easily duped, even with mediocre and poor calling. That is until they settle into an area and figure out where the “safe zones” are located. On these blissful “flight days” an abundance of loud and aggressive calling can be heard echoing across the marsh and most waterfowlers will enjoy some degree of success regardless of their calling and “reading” skills.

It’s these seemingly “easy” days that can breed false confidence in one’s calling skills. Later in the week, or the season, when the same ducks become a bit “tougher” to decoy, the waterfowlers, still with the memories of “calling” in all those ducks earlier, rant and complain about the “stale” ducks and how they’ve suddenly become “call shy”. It’s at these times the better callers will usually begin to shine. Their calling skills, including the knowledge of when to call and what to say, begin to pay huge dividends.

In all the years I’ve formally conducted calling seminars and calling classes the aspect of “reading the birds” still remains the hardest of the three aforementioned requirements to convey to those in attendance. To write about this sometimes mystical component is likewise difficult. I, like many, draw upon the years of experience and time spent in pursuit of the wily greenhead as a basis to formulate what works...and what doesn’t work. What I’ve learned, and tried to share with others, is that the extent to which something might work is not always grounded in stone, and more often than not is directly related to some other aspect of the sport. Old notions, wives-tales and sayings are plentiful in this sport and while some may be true others are the basis for going down many a blind alley.

When it comes to “reading the birds” the best advice I can give is to first and foremost get a functional and properly designed call. One that has the needed consistency of design and stability of operational characteristics that will allow the calling student to positively progress and eventually learn how to operate it properly. Next, seek out some form of meaningful instruction that will allow him to maximize not only the call but also his own God-given talent. Lastly, take those finely honed operational skills and newly expanded vocabulary out into the field and, with some of the thoughts I’ve just formulated, go about the careful study of the ducks and their new reactions to your new sounds. I think you’ll find the results much different than before as you hail, greet, call back and work ducks into your spread. And to do so with all the newly developed confidence that only comes with the meaningful study and comprehension of any subject.

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