How to Hunt Ducks

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

duck’s raspy, reedy voice, you have to grunt or whisper into most calls, using your vocal chords rather than just blowing. Blow from your diaphragm, with cheeks and throat held tight. To imitate the "quack" sound that is the building block for most duck calls, blow a gust of breath into the caller and cut it off by touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth, as if saying "huuut." Mastery of five basic calls will enable you to bring birds within shotgun range.

  • The hail call consists of three to five loud to medium "huuuts" with descending pitch and volume. Start with this call when you spot a flock of birds.
  • The come-back call sounds like the hail call, but it is softer and the notes are more drawn out. Use this call to turn a flock back your way if they get sidetracked or if they make a pass at your spread and then fly straight away, as if to leave.
  • The feeding chuckle is a low, gabbling call. Use it intermittently, throwing in a few soft, single quacks, when birds are circling your spread at close range.
  • Silence is the most difficult call for novice duck hunters to master. The more you call, the more you risk making an error. As long as the birds are doing what you want them to do, play it safe and be quiet.
  • Instructional tapes are helpful in learning to use your call, but to learn to call ducks, observe an experienced hunter. Don’t just listen, but watch the birds. You’ll discover that good callers adjust call type, loudness, frequency, cadence and urgency to the birds’ behavior.


Duck hunters must have a Migratory Bird Hunting Permit and a federal Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp, more commonly known as a duck stamp. Those over age 15 also must have small game hunting permit.

Gunning Strategy

"Ben with his improved cylinder and ‘trap loads,’ was to have ‘first crack’ at the call-downs. My job was to pick off side-climbers, flatten swimming ‘crips’ and, in case of dry spells, to make myself as useful as possible with the ‘tree-top talls.’" - Nash Buckingham, Mattock Bay Mallards

Duck hunters who leave the order of fire to chance inevitably find themselves clobbering the same birds, while a dozen others within easy range escape untouched. Buckingham and his companion based their gunning strategy on their individual wingshooting abilities and the limitations of their guns and ammunition. To ensure maximum shooting opportunity, they let the flock come all the way in, waiting until the lead birds were practically on the water before opening fire.

Another common shooting strategy is to divide the area around the blind into fields of fire. The person on the left takes the leftmost birds, the hunter on the right shoots birds on his side, and the one in the middle confines his shooting to the center of the flock.

Things get more complicated with more than three gunners. Rotating gunners, each person shooting in turn, is usually the best option. The details of your gunning strategy are less important than actually having a strategy. Ducks have a way of obliterating the best-laid plans, but your chances of bagging birds are better if you at least start with some general ground rules

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