Goose Calling with Mr. Curling by Vic Berg
Jimmy Curling was by far the best goose caller I ever met. He never used a call of any type. He was a voice caller.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been privileged to hear some of the best goose music ever performed by human kind. I got limits hunting with 3-time world champ Glenn Covey and have sat awe-struck listening to Erleen Snow, but no one ever talked goose like Jimmy.
A proper call has two segments. The low guttural first sound is immediately followed by the higher resounding second note. Similar to a whip-crack.
Jimmy often told me it was kind of a mix between country music and Tyrol yodel to achieve the transition between the two notes. That transition is the key to a proper goose call. (A Tarzan yell also contains those transitions but not as sharply or as forcefully as a goose call.)
It was Mr. Curling’s opinion that if a kid didn’t learn to call geese before his voice changed, he’d never be able to execute a proper call.
To prove a point he asked my Dad to do a bit of calling for us. Now as a bit of background, my Dad, Vern, and Jimmy were tight as gunning partners. Vern had witnessed Jimmy’s prowess calling geese on many occasions, and was so struck with the effectiveness had practiced endlessly (it seemed, to my chagrin) to perfect his own voice call.
Just the week before, as a matter of fact, my Dad had managed to call a trio of fat Canada’s into his decoys. Vern was pretty full of himself. When Jimmy asked him to demonstrate, he nearly dove at the chance to perform for his mentor. “NAR-ONK, RONK, NAAARO-NK, AHH-RONK.”
Bless his heart, but he sounded awful. He finished off with his strongest effort yet.
Jimmy let this performance settle in for a full minute. It seemed that it took that long for our ears to unclench. Kind of like the effect of biting down with your fillings onto a ball of aluminum foil.
“Now see son. Your voice has finally all but changed. If you don’t practice, and I mean this week, that’s the most you’ll ever be able to hope for.” We all laughed. Vern didn’t take it personally. He had called in that bunch of geese the week before after all. Besides, Vern knew that if I learned now, I could do his calling for the rest of our days together.
I learned that week, and I did.
Even though I was only 12 and school inconveniently coincided with duck season, my Dad would take me out of school for a week every year to go gunning with him and his cronies. Could life be any better for a kid?!
We were nearing the end of the week and I had been ‘ner-onking’ my head off at every chance. In my mind, I had perfected a right passable goose call.
Hunting in a dense fog in the public blinds in Bodie Island, I’d managed to turn a last gander back toward us. The goose and I conversed for a full minute as he zeroed in on my call. You can’t imagine a child’s disappointment any more than mine when a gun erupted from the next blind over.
Even though I never even saw that bird through the fog, I knew for a fact he was coming to me. That other SOB shot my bird!! I had been inconsolable as I’d never shot a goose of my own before.
We were in a blind in Kitty Hawk Bay the next day. It was late morning when a gaggle of about thirty Canada’s came into view.
“Now’s your chance,” Jimmy urged. “Make up for yesterday.”
I honked once or twice, timidly. A couple more honks and I was warming to the endeavor. I tried a few more honks and then a yodeling barrage that sounded like a half a flock all by myself. In twenty seconds I ‘bout near ner-onked myself sick. The birds never veered. Not a bit. I felt a blow dig into my ribcage.
“If you’re going to change the minds of geese, you got to talk to the boss,” Jimmy whispered.
“That’s her,” Jimmy noted. He matched her tone and inflection to a T.
“Nnng-onk,” she replied. Jimmy answered back. She called twice. Jimmy aped her note for note.
The flock that had long ago passed us suddenly wheeled. At once, the rest of the flock went silent.
“It’s you and me now, sweetheart,’ Jimmy gushed in a whisper. “Tell me what you want to hear.” She replied. Jimmy answered, note for note, syllable for syllable.
I thought we were going to lose them once when Jimmy’s voice half cracked through the exertion, but he managed to add a few mewlings that reassured the boss goose and they again wheeled into the wind.
I got my first-ever goose that day. In fact, I’m not sure I didn’t get the one my Dad claimed as well. Jimmy, he got the boss goose. He had to, he said. It knew his voice now.