Duck Commander's Justin Martin Reveals His Go-To Calls
Three of us hunkered in a makeshift blind on the northern bank of a pond in a mowed grass field. Decoys were out, bobbing in a light breeze, but we knew they had some serious competition in what sounded like a hundred ducks on the river about a quarter-mile south and a bit east of us, across the border of the refuge.
And that number, a hundred or so, was growing by the minute as bunches of ducks, large and small, plus some ones and twos, poured in as they returned to water from feeding in the picked cornfields behind us.
We'd pulled in a few — not so much the ones coming from up or down river, but catching them as they came from behind our blind.
We were trying a little of everything and throwing out a lot of hail calls, if I recall correctly, and after failing to pull in a passing single or pair, we'd change calls in disgust and commence to blowing again, throwing the kitchen sink at them, trying to sound contented, lonely or seductive — whatever we thought might be the magic sound that would lead them to us.
It turned into a disappointing day; so much potential, so many ducks. Sure, we faced the competition of real, live, quacking decoys on the river, but we believed we should have done better and pulled in plenty more.
Then, I started wondering if we weren't playing the old jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none game, trying to do too much, say too much and say too much of the wrong things.
I needed advice — expert advice — and I had a chance to ask a guy who knows his way around a duck call: Realtree pro-staffer Justin Martin, general manager of Duck Commander. And Fin Commander. And Strut Commander.
I put the question to Martin: How many duck sounds should you practice, practice, practice until you master them and, more important, what are they?
Three, he said.
Three? My hunting partners and I had thrown all kinds of sounds at them, but then again, it wasn't a red-letter day in the blind.
Three, he said: greeting call, single quack and drake whistle.
This is a five- to nine-note call that says, Hey, I'm over here, and I'm happy and content, Martin said.
Why five to nine notes?
If you really listen and pay attention to wild ducks, for some reason, they always land on an odd number, he said.
Use the greeting call, he said, when you first see ducks coming or passing by. You can also use it when they make another turn around your decoy spread, as sort of a confidence, everything-is-all-right-over-here message.
It's a versatile, reliable call, Martin said, and can be used pretty much all season and in any conditions.
But remember to back off on the volume a little on cloudy, still days, he said.
Don't overdo it. No sense telling him how we had overdone the calling that day.
A single quack is, well, one quack — the quintessential duck sound made by everyone from Old MacDonald to Donald Duck.
It is just what it says, Martin said. A mallard hen quacking.
And that hen, he said, is saying, I'm happy and content. Like the greeting call, it assures ducks everything is OK. Come over and join us, life is good over here.
Remember not to do the quacks too close together, Martin said, because that will signal a hen that is alarmed.
Martin uses the single-quack call in a couple of scenarios.
I quack often when the ducks are making their final approach in the spread, he said, or when they are directly overhead looking down, so that my moving decoys have some sound to go with them like live ducks.
This call can also be used all year and in any weather conditions, he said.
But, he said, It becomes more critical when hunting late-season pressured birds that have heard every other style of quacking.
The drake whistle is a low bass note made on a mallard drake call or pintail whistle, Martin said.
Our (Duck Commander) mallard drake call provides the cupping that you must do with a whistle, making it easier to call, he said.
Drakes are often very vocal in a group setting, which is why I like adding it to the fray.
It's another call you can use all year, but it really shines in late season, he said. And, he added, you can use it in all conditions, but especially on cloudy, still days.
It's a call that can add just the right touch.
I use this a lot when finishing the ducks or working very pressured birds, he said.
For greeting calls and quacks, Martin prefers the Duck Commander Cutdown call or the company's new Pioneer, which comes in Realtree Original. For the drake whistle, he uses Duck Commander's Pintail Whistle almost exclusively.
There's not shortcut to becoming a good duck caller. If you want to be good, put in the time.
The best way to learn duck vocalizations is to listen to duck vocalizations — real duck vocalizations, Martin said.
Spend some time around wild ducks to learn all their subtle vocalizations, and mimic them with your call, he said. To blow a duck call is no different than playing an instrument. You have to present pressurized air to the reeds. If you don't do this, you will never sound the way a mallard hen does.
It's all about reading the birds and adapting your calling to what they want that particular day, he said.
And how much you call depends on how well you are hidden.
If you are well concealed, you can call more frequently than most situations, he said. If the cover is sparse, then call less frequently. The call, while it sounds like ducks, allows the birds to pinpoint your exact location.
So the more you broadcast your location, the more likely ducks are to spot you and flare away. It's a judgment call, but if in doubt, be conservative in calling.
I always say less is more in calling, especially in Louisiana, he said. By the time they make it here, they are pretty well educated, so we have to adapt our style to match that.
Ideally, you'll be so well located and well concealed it won't take a lot of calling to bag your limit.
If you do your homework and scouting, that takes out a lot of the need for a call, he said. Be where the ducks want to be. Don't try and force them where they don't want to be.
Swallow your pride too, he said. If you don't sound like a duck, then don't call. Worst-case scenario, get a whistle or gadwall call if you just have to make noise. Some of my favorite times are when I've done everything beforehand where I can leave my call in my pocket because I'm where they want to be and I'm well hidden.
There you have it. Of all the duck sounds you can make with a duck call — whether lifelike and good or questionable — you only really need to concentrate on, practice and master three until you can do them in your sleep. Unless your spouse or significant other objects, of course.
But as Martin pointed out, the overriding principle remains: If you can't sound like a real duck, don't even try. The real ducks will tell the difference.
And, there are worse things than letting your practiced buddies call in a flock of mallards. Heck, throw in a hum or two on your pintail whistle, and you can claim just as much credit.
Better yet, head the scouting crew, and come up with the ideal location.