To the average person, the sounds that will come from the event stage at Veterans Memorial Park during next month’s California State Duck Calling Championship might just sound like, well, noise.
“A think a lot of people can find the sound of the competition calling unpleasant,” said Kittle’s Outdoor and Sport owner Pat Kittle. “Luckily, we have a lot of activities and features for people who aren’t really there specifically for the contest.”
As unpleasant as the layman – or even the experienced hunter – might find the “Main Street” style of calling, it’s a display of mastery over one’s airflow and command of their instrument. In this case, that instrument is a duck call.
“Lung power, control, and the capabilities on the instrument – it tests your larynx and your diaphragm – the muscles there are key,” Kittle said. “I get that from (the late, legendary local call maker) Cecil Wellborn. I have a tape he made, and he talks exactly about that.”
Those, and a number of other factors determine one’s ability to effectively control a duck call – and that’s precisely what contestants are being judged on: control.
“It’s about starting it at the high point and bring it down without missing a note; that’s how it should be judged. Control of the duck call is what it was originally about,” legendary Stuttgart, AR call maker and Rich’N’Tone founder Butch Richenback said in a video on the subject in 2012.
Richenback passed away last year.
Contestants follow a typical routine that put’s a their ability on display, from the highest to the lowest notes that a call – but not necessarily a duck — is capable of producing.
Any hunter will tell you that a mallard hen is incapable of producing many, if not most of the sounds you will hear in a calling contest. While competition callers are performing for a panel of judges rather than a duck, their routines are still based on what an interaction with a live duck (field calling) might sound like in the field.
“At the opening, you’re trying to get the attention of distant ducks with a set of hail calls to get them to work in closer,” said Colusa native Sebastian Medina Jr., an avid hunter and Pacific Custom Calls Pro Staff member.
Medina will be competing in competition calling for the first time at this year’s championship in the Open Division, the World Championship Qualifier, and potentially the Two-Man Meat Calling Division.
“(In order to get their attention) there are two long hail or highball calls, leading to a short third set – typically around 40 notes going from high to low pitch – followed by various types of more ‘ducky’ calls more on the bottom end side,” Medina explained.
“From there, you branch of into a feed (call). At that point, it’s as if the birds were starting to peel off (away from you) and you call them back with a set of comeback calls, and finish them on the water for the ‘kill’ with a set of hen calls to a feed (call), to three single quacks, to a single hen sitting on the water by herself.”
Medina went on to describe competition calling as “field calling on steroids.”
“Let’s make this clear: a competition caller is more than likely not going to be successful screaming at ducks in the field as if they were on stage. And, as it has been said by a number of people before: a duck couldn’t even place in a calling competition,” Medina said.
“Why? It’s simply because judges aren’t looking for which individual sounds most like a live duck. They want to hear complete control of the user’s duck call – that little piece of over-priced acrylic in each competitors’ hands. With that said a competition style routine does need to have some sort of ‘duck’ to it, just a lot more exaggerated and aggressive, with ultimate control of the call in terms of pitch and volume.”