It wasn’t hard to find Todd Cook at the Horicon Marsh Outdoor Skills Day.
Just follow the sounds of the ducks and geese.
The ducks and geese weren’t there, but Cook spent a few hours Aug. 9 demonstrating the proper technique for calling birds.
Cook, of Beaver Dam, has judged the Wisconsin Duck and Goose Calling Championships. Although doesn’t compete in calling events, he is an avid hunter. The skills day was a chance for him to pass on his skills.
“It’s a great thing,” Cook said after working with brothers Riley and Tayler, ages 9- and 7, of Menomonee Falls.
“We get a lot of participation,” he said. “With mentored hunts and the Learn to Hunt program, we get a lot of information to people that didn’t know about it. We get them in touch with the right people to register for those events. Our classes down here fill up pretty quick.”
Not all waterfowl hunters use calls, according to Cook.
“Not all of them use them, but most do,” he said. “There are quite a few (hunters) that aren’t good with calls. I think more important is getting in the right location where the birds want to be and use the call to get their attention and see the decoys.”
“There are lots of good CDs out there that go step-by-step,” he said. “Everybody’s teaching isn’t the same, so it’s good to look at a couple of different ones to find one that appeals to you. There all calling clinics around and they’re a good place to start.”
Some hunters hunt with several calls around their neck.
“Most people are familiar with ducks and quacking, which is what mallards do,” Cook said. “There are a few other ducks that quack similar to a mallard, but there are a lot more ducks that make whistling, peeping sounds like the wood duck, blue-winged teal, widgeon and pintail. (A CD) will go through the calls of different ducks. A lot of times, you’ll hear the ducks before you see them. You hear the sound and know what’s coming. You can call a lot of ducks with a standard mallard call just to get their attention, but it helps to know the different calls of different ducks and it makes the experience a whole lot better when you can see that bird, get on the call, get its attention and get it coming your way. With goose calling, it first can seem like it’s a little hard to get, but you’ll get on the call one day, make the right call and know just how you did it.”
Wisconsin’s first blue-winged teal hunt this year means hunters may want to add another call to their arsenal.
“That would be a good idea,” Cook said. “They have a series of short quacks or squeaks. That’ll help a lot to get their attention. A couple of quacks on a mallard call can get their attention. They spend a lot of time in the same habitat, so they’re used to that. A blue-winged teal call will really work wonders a lot of the time. It’ll draw them right in.”
It’s understandable why Cook puts an extra emphasis on calls when preparing for his next hunt.
“It’s an important part of the hunt,” he said. “You can set up some decoys and just hope the birds come in, but it’s a lot more interactive if you’re calling, just like turkey hunting. You can set up in a field with a turkey decoy, but once you start calling and those birds answer back, that’s better than pulling the trigger. I usually take a few mallard calls. I have this whistle that I can make about seven or eight different calls with from a drake mallard to a wigeon to a pintail. Otherwise, I have a blue-winged teal call and wood duck calls. It just depends on where I’m hunting and what I’m hunting for.”
Hunters don’t need to shell out big bucks for high-end calls, Cook said.
“You can spend from $20 to over $200 on a call,” he said. “Those high-end calls do sound a little better, but the $30, $40, $50 calls work great. You can open a catalog and there’ll be pages and pages of calls and a lot of them will be about $150. You don’t need those to get started.”
Successful call competitors tend to sound the same, but not to Cook’s ears.
“A calling competition isn’t so much about sounding like a duck as it is about being able to control the call and make different sounds,” he said. “They have to be able to repeat that routine a couple times and sound exactly alike. They have to incorporate all that into a routine.
“It is difficult,” he added. “Most guys that are competition callers have been practicing for years. From the first time you listen to them, you think all these guys are sounding pretty much alike until you get used to it. You say, ‘Oh yeah, that guy hit a sour note here or a bad note here.’ They have to be able to control their air and their cadence and the ring of the call, things like that.”