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La Grande seventh-grader perfects calls of the wild

Mitch Workinger of La Grande started calling for ducks and geese 2 1/2 years ago. Mitch is a seventh-grader at La Grande Middle School. Observer photo/DICK MASON
Mitch Workinger of La Grande started calling for ducks and geese 2 1/2 years ago. Mitch is a seventh-grader at La Grande Middle School. Observer photos/DICK MASON
Mitch Workinger, a La Grande Middle School seventh-grader, does not raise or feed waterfowl in his family’s backyard.

This may come as news to Mitch’s neighbors in north La Grande.

“People think ducks and geese are flying in all the time (to the Workinger family’s backyard),’’ said Shirley Rogers, Mitch’s grandmother.

 

They have good reason to believe the Workinger family’s backyard is a wildlife refuge of sorts. Mitch constantly practices his duck and goose calls there. Neighbors are not the only ones who think his calls sound authentic. So do judges at duck and goose calling events such as the recent one at the Ultimate Sportsmen’s Show in Canby.


The judges there gave Mitch marks proving he is mastering the art of waterfowl call imitation. Mitch placed placed first in the junior goose calling competition and second in the junior duck and open goose calling events. The junior competition was for callers age 14 and under and the open class was for all ages.

The high finishes are evidence of how quickly Mitch has taken to performing calls of the wild. He started 2 1/2 years ago after he receiving a waterfowl call from his grandfather, Jim Rogers. Since then Mitch has taken major steps toward mastering calls. The seventh-grader speaks in intricate detail about calling but can also describe it with concise simplicity.

“I am just trying to sound like ducks and geese,’’ he said.

His repertoire includes a hail call, which catches the attention of ducks and geese from 200 to 300 yards; a feeding call, which imitates the sounds waterfowl make while eating; and a comeback call. The comeback call draws ducks and geese back when they have come into an area but decided to leave without landing.

The La Grande Middle School seventh-grader practices calling an average of an hour a day. He enjoys it but also is persistent because of a pursuit of perfection.

“I like trying to improve my skills,’’ Mitch said.

Skills which have won Mitch an invitation to the Oregon Waterfowl Festival duck and goose calling competition in Portland in August 2009.

Calling at all competitive events is much different than practicing the art during hunts. In competition, entrants repeat the same call for 90 seconds. People who are hunting try to vary their calls.


At meets judges stay behind a blind and never see the callers. They also do not know the names of the entrants, further allowing them to focus only on the quality of the calls.

Competitors have a small area they can walk around while calling. It is best to move around at meets because this makes it sound like there are more birds present from different places, said Mitch, the son of Brad and Lisa Workinger.

Callers compete individually and on two-person teams at meets. Mitch finds this more challenging than calling solo. The reason is that in team calling individuals cannot overlap with their partner. Participants must anticipate when their teammate is ending his or her call so they can immediately pick up when they stop.

Mitch, 12, was too young to hunt when he started calling but this did not stop him from helping his older brother, Taylor, and friend, Richie Carmichael, get waterfowl. Mitch called in ducks and geese for them before he could hunt.

The LMS seventh-grader also hunts deer but enjoys pursuing waterfowl more.

“When you are hunting deer it is all over in one shot. You get to fire six or seven times when hunting ducks and geese,’’ Mitch said.

Mitch, who often hunts at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, said it is easiest to call early in the season when ducks and geese are less wary because they have not been shot at in several months.

“They get call shy later in the season,’’ Mitch said.

The most frustrating thing he experiences when hunting is not wary birds but “sky busters.’’ These are people who fire at ducks and geese from long distances before other hunters have an opportunity to call them in.

“They ruin it for other hunters,’’ Mitch said.

Mitch will be practicing extensively in preparation for upcoming meets but not any more than he otherwise would have, such is his enjoyment of imitating ducks and geese

“I am a year-round caller,’’ he says.

One adept at making static-free connections with waterfowl.

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