Choices and Price Ranges Abound: Learn How to Pick a Winner
The colors get your attention first first. Why not? Bright reds, blues and oranges catch the light from the display case, shining like jewels in a museum. The exotic woods are stunning, too. And those slick camouflage patterns? They aren't too shabby, either.
Next, you lean in and squint to read the numbers on the price tags. Thirty bucks? You can handle that. Seventy? Hmm. How about $150 or even $200? Wow. That's some serious coin.
Choosing your first or even your next duck call can be daunting. You want a call that looks good, fits your budget and does what it's supposed to do. Is a high-dollar call worth a truck payment? Will a cheap call help bring ducks into shotgun range? Those are valid questions, but neither has a simple answer.
So where do you start? Is it wrong to start with the colors and styles that catch your eyes? Of course not. Color matters. That's why we drive various-colored trucks and wear a rainbow of clothing colors. The colors we choose for the items we buy reflect our personalities and our tastes. Duck and goose calls are no different. Besides, a bright color helps us find that call when it falls to the bottom of the blind or somewhere in the grass.
There's nothing wrong with picking out a nice-looking call, said Billy Campbell, a longtime duck hunter and Realtree pro-staffer. We all do it. Some of the calls out there don't just sound good. They are works of art. I like a pretty call. Who doesn't?
But what about the ducks? It's no secret ducks, geese and other birds see color, so it might seem obvious that a blaze-orange call hanging from your neck might stand out like a spotlight in the dark. There is a simple solution: Tuck the call inside your jacket when you aren't using it. And when you are working a flock of birds, keep your hand wrapped around it.
If a duck is close enough to be spooked by the color of the call around your neck, he's close enough that you should be shooting, Flextone Game Calls territory sales rep Curt Wilson said. That's probably the last thing I'd be worried about.
So should you worry more about the price? If you're an inexperienced hunter or mostly let your partners do the calling, you don't need to spend a day's salary on your first call, Campbell said. Not yet. Start with an affordable call that's easy to blow and has a good range. And then learn how to use it. More specifically, learn how to call ducks with it. YouTube and other Internet outlets have countless calling videos. Watch them. And then practice in your truck and even in the marsh. There's no better teacher than experience.
I would start with a less expensive double-reed, Wilson said. They are easier to blow, and pretty much all of them sound ducky enough to get by. They don't have the range or the various tones you can get from a single-reed, but a single-reed can be more difficult to blow, so it's a good idea to learn on a double-reed.
Don't choose a call based on the color or the number of reeds, of course. And don't buy it only because if fits your budget. Before you spend anything on a call, pick it up and give it a test drive.
Be warned. If you blow a call at your local sporting goods store, there's a good chance someone else's lips have touched that call, too. Gross? Maybe, but if you are worried about catching a cold, bring a packet of alcohol wipes. Many shops keep a supply on hand just for guys like you.
There's nothing wrong with trying out a call before you buy it, Campbell said. I do it. Everyone I know does it. Why not? You need to know what it sounds like and how well it blows before you spend your money.
Why So Much?
So why such a range in prices? Those $20 calls are made of polycarbonate and mass-produced in a factory overseas. They don't have quite the tone and range of other calls made of more expensive acrylic, either, but lots of ducks have been fooled with them.
I doubt a beginner would notice much of a difference between a $20 call and a $40 call or a $50 call and an $80 call, said 2009 world-champion duck caller Mike Anderson, a Banded/Avery Outdoors pro-staffer. That said, I would probably spend a little more on an acrylic call, even if it was a lower-priced one. They don't expand and contract with temperature variations like the cheap calls will. They will last forever if you take care of them, too. The wood calls can expand and contract, too, and they can sound great, but they aren't as durable as acrylic. Some of them are beautiful, of course, so if that matters, there is nothing wrong with a quality wood call.
To test-drive a call, you must first pick it up and put it to your lips. You can't do that in a catalog or on a website. That's why Campbell recommends going to a store.
I really like small independent stores, he said. They may not have as many choices as you'll see in a catalog, but the service and advice you get from the guy behind the counter can be tough to beat. Those guys don't just sell calls. They know calls. They can help you find the right one for you. Build a relationship with them, and they will take care of you.
Don't have a shop nearby? The next best thing is to call a shop or even a call maker and chat with the owner. Independent call makers are more than happy to offer advice. Those custom calls will likely cost more up front, but they will last a lifetime. Even better, they offer service you'll never get from a big-box retailer or Internet outlet.
A lot of those smaller shops will make any repairs and even tune your call for free if you send it back to them, Anderson said. Your business matters to them.
Just remember that no matter how pretty that call is around your neck or how much it costs, you still have to know how and when to blow it. Calling ducks isn't as simple as spending the most money. It takes practice and lots of time in the blind. There's no substitute for that.