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Goose Call Design and Selection

by Jay Anglin

Your choices matter… especially when it comes to today’s modern, short-reed designs

Like most hunting gear, goose calls have evolved drastically over the past few decades. Early calls made decent honks, but had very little tonal range. Flute-style goose calls became popular later, and many elite goose hunters used them to take a substantial number of birds. Some still do. Then, short-reed calls arrived.

The new standard

Everything changed when competition callers started to win contests blowing short-reed goose calls. And while you can still buy long-barreled flutes and standard-reed goose calls, nothing offers the realism, range and versatility of the modern short reed. Today, the vast majority of top-performing goose calls are essentially variations on the same short-reed theme. 

While short-reed calls can be difficult to master, once the caller is capable of using them confidently to produce clucks, honks, moans and murmurs, an entire new world of goose manipulation opens up.

In reality, figuring out how to operate the short-reed call is not as difficult as it seems. Firsthand personal instruction from a proficient caller goes a long way, but readily available video instruction is a viable option for do-it-yourselfers. A host of videos and other online resources abound, and high-quality instructional CD’s or DVD’s are also available from a variety of call manufacturers. Zink Calls, for example, includes instructional DVD’s with their higher end calls, but also offers a Power Pak Combo that includes a short-reed polycarbonate goose call (your choice of model) and a 30-minute DVD filled with calling instruction and tips from elite caller, designer and call maker, Fred Zink, for under $45 bucks. 

Material considerations

In addition to call style, variables such as material and size also come into play when selecting the appropriate goose call for a given hunting scenario. Of course, cost is an important consideration for most hunters, too. A goose call’s materials affect tonal range, volume, overall versatility and price. Various wood, acrylic, and polycarbonate models are available, along with hybrid calls that most often combine wood barrels with poly or acrylic inserts. 

Hunters who spend a lot of time working geese over water may want to lean towards wood or hybrid calls, as these materials tend to sound slightly mellower and have less pop or crack than acrylic and poly calls. Water deflects and amplifies sound, so blowing birds off with excessive volume can be a concern when louder acrylics are used, especially by novice callers. 

When field hunting, however, grain stubble and other vegetation tends to attenuate sound, making louder calls more desirable. The punchier vocalizations produced by acrylic calls are better suited in such cases, as they are more capable of cutting through the wall of sound interference. This is especially the case when running traffic, which means attempting to gain the attention of birds on the horizon that are not necessarily coming to a decoy spread set on an X where the birds have been feeding. 

Not surprisingly, hybrid calls with wood barrels and synthetic inserts tend to fall somewhere between wood and acrylic with respect to sound and represent versatile and cost-effective options for hunters. Polycarbonate calls also offer reliable performance for hunters, producing tones and volumes somewhere between wood and acrylic at highly affordable prices.

There is a short reed goose call available for every budget. Some of the less expensive polycarbonate calls sound pretty darn good and deliver admirable performance without dropping a bunch of coin on a top end acrylic call. If you are new to short reeds, consider buying poly first. Once you find the call style and design that fits your preferences you can make the additional investment on durable acrylic calls that not only offer superior craftsmanship, but truer sound as well.

Size matters

Call size is also an important factor. Smaller, shorter calls generally produce higher-pitched, louder vocalizations and tend to be more difficult to operate, while larger, longer calls are typically easier to blow and produce deeper, more guttural goose sounds. Many hunters prefer medium-sized models for blind duty because they produce a nice range of sounds with varying pitch and volume, and are only moderately difficult to master. 

Be prepared

Ideally, a well-stocked call lanyard will hold at least a couple different goose calls that are suited to different situations. The chaos of waterfowl hunting is hard on equipment, so it’s advisable to carry a back-up call just in case you lose an insert while moving decoys or split a reed while calling aggressively. Reeds are available from the manufacturers. Some even include a couple of extra reeds with their top-of-the-line calls. Just be sure to take a careful look at how the guts – including the tone board, reed and wedge – are oriented within the insert so you’ll be able to take them apart and put them back together correctly. Better yet, consider snapping a few close-up photos on your smartphone.

Most calls come properly tuned from the manufacturer. Sooner or later, however, they’ll require re-tuning in order to restore optimum sound and performance. Tuning takes a lot of practice, and it’s common for even experienced hunters to give up on the process. Thankfully, quality goose call makers are more than happy to overhaul and tune calls as needed. Just get in touch with customer service and make arrangements to ship your prized instrument in for a little TLC.

Effective calling is critical for consistent goose hunting results, and nothing beats the modern short-reed goose call to get the job done. Learning to use one may seem intimidating to the uninitiated, but it’s well worth the effort, as they produce incredibly realistic goose sounds. Consider your level of proficiency as well as budget, and then select a call or two that best fit your needs. Superior design, nearly endless instructional resources and a bit of practice will find even the most tone-deaf hunters clucking their way to a limit of honkers in no time.