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SITKA Team | Photos by Steven Drake | 11.14.2019

Insights and Tactics From Three-Time Duck Calling Champion, John Stephens

  • Pursuit: Waterfowl
  • Environment: Timber

In our pursuit to design and build the world’s most technical hunting apparel we’ve surrounded ourselves with some of the world’s most skilled hunters – hunters like three-time world duck calling champion and owner of RNT Calls, John Stephens. The following is a list of fanatical tips and tactics that John uses to improve his hunts.

Don’t Use Lights

I travel to the blind in absolute darkness with no lights. No light on the side by side to the boat launch, no light on the boat to the blind, and no lights during setup. Total blackness! We know the birds are going to be there, and we do not want to give them any indication we will also be there. (This is, of course, is on our private ground/club, so I know my way around.)

Most of the places we hunt are large areas, such as a 350-acre reservoir on our own property, where birds rest on open water. We hunt the shallow buck brush areas. As the sun gets up, ducks from the open water and fields come to the buck brush. Too much commotion and lights could run them off. We hunt fields the same way. Will lights really turn the ducks away? We think so.

Have Rituals

I like to prepare for each hunt with the ritual of making each man a limits string. Believe it or not, I am a traditionalist. I use twine because that’s what the old guides at the club used. They cut their string every morning for each hunter’s limit. They would say “if you don’t believe you are going to get ‘em this morning, then you probably won’t.” It’s also important to know who has what birds on their limit, and what the count is. It’s so ritualistic for me that I have a custom made stinger-device, that holds and measures each piece of twine.

Don’t Over Hunt Your Areas

I’m extremely sensitive about not putting pressure on your hunt spots. We always say you don’t have to have a single “A” spot, but rather have multiple “B” spots and put parameters on them. We even have some areas we hunt early in the season then we flood others midseason and late season. Our view is “more habitat = less pressure,” and keeps your birds coming back.

Become Obsessed With The Sound of Your Calls

I am fanatical about duck calls. I obsess over how they work, how they are designed, the history of calls, and I have a general appreciation for them as folk art. So much so that I have a vintage collection of over 400 duck calls dating back from the late 1800s - 1960s. This allows me to study and appreciate the design and history of these instruments 365 days a year, which broadens my knowledge base and makes me a better caller, call maker and ambassador of the waterfowling heritage and tradition.

I prefer the sound of wooden duck calls over other man-made materials. Wood is natural and to me produces a more natural sound. Every morning when we get to our hunting spot, I take my call stoppers out and soak them in water for a few minutes to saturate the tone board. My thinking is if humans and animals are made up of 70% water, so should the tools we use to replicate their voice.

I am always paranoid about the way my calls sound. They are always going to sound different in different environments. They sound different while you are blowing them depending on the pressure you put into the call, ear pressure and the fact that you are behind the sound. So I take quick video clips in the morning when we get to our spot using different calls. I playback the video and listen. Whichever call sounds the best to me from the playback that morning goes onto my lanyard.