We hear the geese first. They are almost in range when they drop through fog coming off the Chesapeake. They circle, but the second time around they pull away and, wings flapping, fade into the mist. They’ve seen hunters’ decoys in fields before. Wayne Radcliffe, a pro-staffer for Avery Outdoors, calls aggressively but they won’t turn.
Not a minute later he’s working another group. They drop through the fog and circle just out of range. They seem committed, but like the others, they shift and begin to lift. This time Wayne gives the most pleading little call I’ve ever heard. The geese turn for another look and drop those last 15 yards.
“Take ’em,” says Wayne, and we drop four of six.
“That was marvelous,” I say.
“Yeah, good shooting,” replies Wayne as he looks up into thinning fog.
“No, I mean the way you shifted your tone.”
“Oh,” he says, “that’s waterfowl hunting. You have to get in tune with what they want. That takes time and simplicity.”
He nods, but doesn’t answer my question. Not yet. More geese are coming.
Scout, Scout, Scout
“First of all,” says Wayne, “you can’t replace scouting. Scouting doesn’t mean just driving around and looking up. You have to go out before sunrise just like when you’re going hunting. Take a binocular and go into the marsh or wherever you plan to hunt. Listen and watch. The ducks or geese will give themselves away. If they’re not there, you might need a new spot. When you find them, watch. See how spooky they are. See what they’re feeding on. Pay attention to how big their groups are.”
Next, Wayne thinks hunters should map out the feeding areas and keep a journal of what they see. They should note the date (time of the season) and the weather conditions. He says this information helps you get in tune with how waterfowl will behave in the future.
“Don’t forget to pattern other hunters while you’re at it,” says Wayne. “Find their parking spots and access routes. Look for sloughs or ponds that are off the main marsh; search for over-looked places that hold ducks the other guys will miss.”
Calling in a Crowded Marsh
Wayne says he doesn’t call to ducks until they’re within about 150 yards—depending on the wind and how quiet things are. He says a lot of hunters just learn the hail call and the feeding chuckle. “These calls are just a small part of the ducks’ lingo,” says Wayne. He says “soft calls” are often more productive. He stresses the importance of knowing how to use the “greeting call.” This call lets the ducks in the air know the ducks on the water (your decoys) are a sociable group.
If the ducks notice his decoys and he’s greeted them but they seem hesitant, he might use the “pleading hen” call. He’ll also use a “contented garble,” soft quacks and short chuckles that mimic a bunch of ducks talking to each other. But he says, “Don’t get carried away—if the ducks are working well, be quiet. The same goes for geese.”
Match the Decoys
Tell Ducks What They Want to Hear
What Call Should Every Hunter Have?