The first time I went shopping for a goose call, the choice was easy — mainly due to there only being three brands on the shelf. These days, perusing a big-box outdoor section (never mind shopping online) bursting with honker coaxers of all shapes, sizes, materials and colors, can be downright overwhelming.
But beyond the flashy finishes, most modern goose calls follow the same basic principles. Understanding these can help you decide what call earns a permanent lanyard spot this fall.
Short reed, flute, or resonate chamber
There is little doubt that short-reed calls are the more popular call for modern hunters.
Yet, they aren't the only game in town. Resonate chamber and flute call designs that preceded short reeds by decades still hold their own.
Which to choose? For the beginner, resonate chamber calls are quieter and lack tonal range, but are easier to get the hang of. Flute calls are more difficult to learn, but offer a much greater sound portfolio. As for short-reed calls, there's more than one reason for their popularity.
Wood or Plastic
A vast majority of calls these days, especially those of the mass-produced variety, are made from wood or plastic. True, a few call makers dabble in proprietary materials, but they are the exception.
Wood has a classic handcrafted charm and blows softer. They can shrink and expand from moisture, however, which may lead to a call going out of tune or even cracking.
Plastic is robust and the harder materials resonate to get loud. But less expensive poured polycarbonate isn't quite as refined as wood or acrylic, and the latter, although higher quality has a price to match.
High or Low
Most calls off the shelf have a tone right in the middle. And considering many waterfowlers likely never tinker with their call, that's what geese hear from August to January.
Dabble on the wild side and go for a high- or low-pitched call. A higher pitch made from a call with a shorter insert can carry and catch the ear of wayward flocks, whereas lower sounds from a call with a long insert stand out among a sea of mid-tone hunters. They can make a mean moan, too.
Loud or Soft
Blowing too loud or soft is a surefire way to get bypassed from Canadas. Knowing when to tinker with the volume dial is key to getting geese committed.
Loud calls are great for grabbing the attention in traffic situations or wide-open fields.
But a softer call is a master manipulator when hunting small water or dealing with call-shy birds. Loud calls also need more air to blow. Get winded easily? Opt for soft.
Cheap or Expensive
The debate rages about whether a hunter needs to spend big bucks to kill geese. The short answer is no, but there are arguments either way.
For new hunters, there is no reason to spend $100 or more just to get into the calling game. Frugality is a great way to try different types of calls, learn and decide on a favorite.
Expensive, hand-crafted calls have a quality akin to fine musical instruments (which, as part of the woodwind group, is exactly what they are). Will an acrylic call or exotic wood kill geese any deader than a lesser call?
Probably not, but there is a certain sense of pride in owning a call that's as home on a lanyard as it is in a trophy case.