For generations, duck hunters have filtered through duck calls in search of the perfect sound. And once a hunter finds that sound, he is on top of the world until the call goes flat, squeaks unexpectedly or just doesn’t perform the way he expects it to. This usually happens when the call is dirty, a reed is cracked, the cork or wedge is old and flaky or the call has been placed in a hot environment, especially after use. Any of these things can change how a call runs or sounds. It can also happen when someone takes the call apart and fails to reassemble it properly. Regardless of how it happened, veteran duck hunters won’t stand for a call that isn’t spot on, so retuning it becomes necessary.
Unfortunately, retuning your favorite call is not always as easy as it might seem. There’s more to it than taking it apart and sliding in a new reed and wedge. You see, a duck call is in many ways much like a musical instrument. If you were factoring the sound based on a musical scale, the best calls would give you a range of five or six notes from the higher pitched “hail call” all the way down to the lowest quack.
A duck call usually consists of four parts: a barrel, insert, wedge and reed(s). The length of the reed will dictate the sound and the amount of air required to make the sound you want. Single reed calls will provide the most note variance, while multi-reed calls are usually more limited in their range of notes since the multiple reeds vibrate against one another and regulate the number of notes the call will make.
Most duck call manufacturers, (especially the more expensive calls) have tuning materials that you can buy. These “tuning kits” consist of a reed and wedge (which is usually made from a dense cork). Some calls do not use cork to hold the reed in place, as a hard rubber wedge is used instead. Most of the reed material is .010 Mylar, which can be found simply by searching on the internet. Some double reed calls use .010 for the bottom reed and .007 for the top. Let’s break it down step by step so you can get your favorite call back to that perfect sound.
Disassemble, clean and dry the call. Pull the reed(s) straight out of the insert without bending it. If you are planning to use the same wedge and reed, make sure that they are put back in the same way they were removed. When using new materials, check the reed to see which way it is turned since virtually no reed material is perfectly straight. You can turn the reed on its side and see that there is a slight turn to the right or left. Make sure that the reed is placed on the insert in the up position.
Place and pull reed(s) and wedge onto the call insert. The back of the reed should be square to match the rear of the flat edge of the insert. Take the wedge (cork or rubber) and place it on top of the reed. Using a small screwdriver, position the wedge into the insert until it is flush with the back. Make sure the reed is square. Take a sharp blade and trim the edges of the wedge so it will allow the insert to slide into the barrel.
Blow the call by starting with a single “quack.” Trim the front of the reed in very small increments 1/16th of an inch or smaller until the “quack” is where you want it to be. At that point, increase the air pressure note by note, which will push the sound up the scale to the highest level. Continue to trim if needed so that the call has both the low end quack as well as a solid hail call note on the top end. If you can, run a series of notes up and down the scale from low to high and vice versa.
When tuning a double reed call, you will find that the top reed is usually slightly shorter than the bottom reed, but both reeds need to be treated as discussed above. When you are satisfied with the sound, you’re ready to hunt.
So there you have it. As you can see, tuning your duck call isn’t rocket science, but it certainly takes more care than just sliding in a new wedge and reed.