By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
Learning how to call ducks seems fairly simple. Like the harmonica, the duck call is a wind instrument that is said to be easy, cheap and sound great. When I heard the first sounds that came out of my finely tuned duck call, it sounded like drunkards retching in an alleyway.
“That doesn’t sound like a duck,” my friend said.
If there was ever a duck that needed the Heimlich maneuver, it just might come into my call. My calling repertoire included the whooping cough, the croup (a loud brassy barking cough that sounds like a seal), and the hurling BLARGH. After a few weeks of practicing my duck call, my skills had not improved, and there were seven seals, a walrus and a Coors truck in my driveway.
I decided to seek professional help. The call I used was a secondhand gift from a friend, who had used it successfully for many years. But when I presented my call to the master caller, his nose curled.
“What is that?” he said.
“It’s my duck call,” I said.
“What’s that green screw-in thing on the end?”
My call was manufactured in LaSalle, Ill., in the mid-1960s. The green knob on the end was used to adjust the pitch.
“Well, let’s hear it,” he said.
I put the call on my bottom lip like I was going to take a sip from a bottle and blew three times into the call, “Teh, teh, teh.”
The nose curled up again.
“That don’t sound like a duck,” he said.
I knew it didn’t sound like a duck. Although it might sound like a duck in circa 1960s LaSalle, Ill. Of that, I will never be certain. But I have it on good authority that I do not sound like ducks of the Pacific flyway that passed through Kenai at any time in the last 20 years. Those are the ducks I wanted to sound like.
“You should try this call,” my calling instructor said. He wore a lanyard around his deck that had eight or nine calls. “This is just a cheap wench call, but it works good.”
For about a week, I thought the word “wench” was the scientific name for female ducks. It’s not.
At the end of our session, I was given some sound words of advice:
“Just work on sounding like a duck.”
My entire life, exasperated mentors have said similar esoteric things to me. When learning to shoot trap I was told, “Just shoot where you’re looking.” When learning to carve decoys I was told, “Just carve away everything that’s not a duck.” I think mentors develop a dry sense of humor in order to cope with struggling mentees. And the mentees end up doing manual labor while trying to figure out why trees falling in the woods don’t make a sound if no one is there to hear them fall.
The responsibility to become good at anything rests on the individual. It should not take a village to call in a duck. If I was going to be good at duck calling, only hours and hours and hours of practice could get the job done.
Meanwhile, the village was going to have to endure a lot of racket, unfortunately. My village consists of six sporting dogs, who usually enjoy the sounds of birds. They are constantly fascinated by loon calls, robin chirps and grouse clucks. If a real duck were to quack, they would recognize it as such. They were my last chance for encouragement.
To prove my skills I put on a mock duck-calling demonstration in the yard. Chocolate Labs are known for being enthusiastic cheerleaders of all animal noises, no matter the species. They are excited by pigs snorting. They are excited by roosters crowing. They are excited by the three-second delay between pops of popcorn in the microwave.
I expected them to be supportive of my duck calling even if they lacked credibility in the cheerleading department. I was shocked when the three of them stared at me in horror. If they could talk, they would say, “Somebody with opposing thumbs better give that girl the Heimlich.”
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing in January 2013. She can be reached at email@example.com. For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.