Whether you are a Duck Dynasty fan who is dying to get out and try duck hunting for yourself, a lifelong duck hunter, or anyone in between – preparing for duck hunting season can be a lot of fun. Of course, you’ll need a few basics like camouflaged apparel and the right shot gun, however, neither of these will do you much good if you can’t lure the ducks to your location.
Successful duck hunters know how to do just that, call the ducks to their blind with a great duck call. A duck call is one of the most important tools as it imitates the noises the ducks make to communicate with one another.
With duck season on the horizon, what better way to pass the time until opening day than to make your own custom duck call? It’s easier than you may think, and a unique and personalized tool is certainly fun to show off to family and friends. The most common duck call consists of two parts:
Barrel – this serves as the handle and sound emitter – often made of wood. The barrel is the end of the call that you will blow into to create the call. You can customize the sound of your call by choosing different woods and by changing the length of the barrel.
Insert – the insert contains the reed and is also known as the “tone board”. The tone board section of the insert is placed inside the end of the barrel with the reed producing the distinct duck like sound.
Materials & Tools
Wood Blanks – 2×2’ square block cut to 3-4” in length ( a type of wood can vary however burl wood should be avoided) that have been bored with a 5/8” hole through the center so that you can position the blank on the lathe. You can also use a 2” wooden dowel any length over 1 ft.
Once you become experienced turning calls you may opt for acrylic or resin blocks for their color options and variations in sound. However, these materials can be difficult to work with as they are brittle and less malleable.
You may also start with pre-made barrels to save time and forego any barrel customization.
Reeds – Thin strips of Mylar (polyester film or plastic sheet) that is 0.010’ or 0.014’ thick – a thinner reed will create a different sound as it moves more rapidly inside the barrel.
Cork – Traditional cork or rubber pieces are used to hold the reed in the call.
O-Rings – O-rings are used to hold the insert in the barrel – more experienced carpenters may taper the insert so it is able to wedge into the barrel.
Bands – Metal rings glued onto the outside of the barrel. These can help to keep wood calls from cracking or splintering when the insert is forced into the bored hole. Nothing is more upsetting than ruining your barrel before you ever get to try it!
Lathe – The lathe is the most important tool in the call building process. For those unfamiliar, a lathe is a wood turning tool. The machine rounds any piece of wood and is used to turn your wood blanks into smooth, round barrels. Lathes come in a variety of sizes and price ranges and are also available to rent from any wood working or hardware store.
Mandel – The Mandel holds the wood blanks on the lathe allowing you to spin and shape them. The size of the Mandel should match the size of the hole bored into your wooden blank. For instance, if you have a 5/8” diameter hole in your blank, a 5/8” mandrel will be necessary.
Creating the Barrel
If you are using a wood blank (instead of a pre-made barrel), place the blank on the mandrel and use the lathe to remove the corners of the blank until you have a perfect cylinder. Bore a 5/8’ hole through the center; the diameter may be adjusted depending on your insert and tone board width.
If you have experience turning wood, this step allows you to add your own artistic touch and customization. Next, sand the raw wood to bring out the beauty of the grain while making the call easier to use and hold.
Once you have rounded, designed, and sanded the barrel to your desired smoothness – apply the band. Carefully apply strong glue around the outside of the barrel and lay the band secure in place. This will likely require additional sanding to ensure the band is fit snug on the barrel.
Creating the Insert
With your wooden dowel in hand, grab a ¼’ drill bit and drill down through the center so the dowel is hollowed out. 2 inches from the top, cut a notch crosswise and remove the 2 inches top half of the dowel. Next, use your lathe to taper the end of the dowel and then sand the cut to a smooth finish.
Take your Mylar strip and cut a piece to fit the 2 inches exposed a side of the dowel. Experimenting with other materials for this piece will create a variety of sounds. If you cut the Mylar to hang slightly over the tip of the dowel, it can produce a louder more amplified sound which some hunters prefer.
Shape the cork to fit tightly into the dowel hole then wedge the Mylar strip into the notch and cork. Tuning of the call starts with the shape and length of the Mylar – play around with this to create the sound you desire. This part is all trial and error and can be very tedious. Finish the call by inserting the reed end of the tone board into the barrel.
Finishing the call allows your artistic ability to shine – add designs with paint, stains, or even wood burning. Making your own duck call is a time-honored tradition for all duck hunters – but it takes time! Some of the best duck call makers have been at it for years perfecting their craft. Handmade duck calls are even a great gift for friends and family members with a mutual passion for duck hunting.
A final reminder always is sure to practice woodworking safety guidelines. It might take you a few tries to get the call you are after, but practice makes perfect! For your reading pleasure, here are some of my favorite duck call making guides:
Author Bio: Bryan Koontz is CEO and Founder of Guidefitter, a platform for consumers to research hunting & fishing adventures and connects with outfitters and professional guides. The online community allows users to share their experiences and serves as a hub for sportspeople and outdoor adventurists. Bryan spends his free time fly fishing, hunting, or outdoors with his Labrador retriever.