The Call of the Wild
Anton Freiderich, 13, recently started competing in duck call competitions, and has been learning how to make the hunting instrument.
“I took him duck hunting once and he started blowing on the call and he blew it all the time,” his father Chad said. “When we came home, he continued to blow it and I figured if he would continue to blow it, I would rather it sounds good.”
Chad contacted local duck call maker Mark Grossmann, owner of School Lake Custom Calls. Grossmann agreed to start teaching Anton and connect him with more experts.
To start, Anton is learning the main street style for competitive calls, a style that is not what you would hear hunting. Instead it focuses on volume and control of a caller.
“Think of a guitar solo, it is pushing what the call will do to the max,” Grossmann said. “It is not about sounding like a duck.”
So far Anton has only competed in one event, in Burlington, Iowa. In the competition, callers were gathered in a bullpen and given numbers.
One by one, callers came out and performed a 90-second routine consisting of three different kinds of calls: hails, hen quacks and feeder calls.
The first call, the hail, is a loud call that starts with an eardrum-ringing blast, followed by shorter quacks that diminish in volume and length at the end.
“Hail is when the ducks are really far away and you need to call them in,” Anton said. “You are just making a really loud noise so that they hear that.”
The hen calls sound similar to what could be heard by a duck pond. It’s not as long or as loud as the hail.
The feeder call is a series of short, guttural quacks, that remind an unexperienced listener of a lawnmower starting.
“When (the ducks) are starting to come down you do a feeder, which that means the ducks are content,” Anton said.
The other style Anton may start getting into is called meet calls, which is more like a hunter’s style of calling.
“It is soft, quiet and as realistic sounding (to a) duck as you can,” Anton said.
Since December, Anton has started learning how to make the calls too. While he has not made one from beginning to end, which requires using more dangerous tools like a band saw, he has helped shape pieces.
Most calls start as a rectangular piece of wood that has to be turned into a barrel, the mouth piece that callers blow into, and an insert that fits into the barrel.
Using a lathe, Anton has been learning how to shape, groove, sand and polish calls.
What makes the distinctive sound of a duck call is the reed, which is held by a part of the insert called a sound board.
When used, a duck call forces air through a tone channel in the sound board and past the reed.
The length and thickness of the reed is a primary contributor to a call’s sound. Before it is finished, the call has to be tuned by clipping the reed.
It only takes slivers to change the tone of a call. Cutting off a piece only as thick as a piano wire could make or break the sound of the instrument, Grossmann said.
There are also two kinds of inserts, double and single reed. The difference is mostly in range, double reeds have less range, are slightly easier to learn and are good enough for most hunters.
“If you want to have a little more fun and hit a lot more range with a call, you blow a single reed,” Grossmann said. “For hunting purposes, there are guys that have hunted for 50 years and never blown a single-reed.”
Anton enjoys the competition and meeting experienced callers, though he would like more kids closer to his age to feel the call of competitive duck calling.