On Call

February 08, 2013 02:27 pm

Many species of owls like the Great Greys will come to calls of their own species, especially in the breeding  season. Some will come to soft rodent squeaks. Photographers should use calls in moderation and not subject the birds to undue harassment.

by JIM WARD for The Observer 

Artificial calls helping hunters, photographers catch prey 

Long before the invention of the wheel, mankind has been using his wits to bring wild critters to the stew pot. 

He had to — he was much slower and weaker than most of his prey.  

And, a good time ago we learned the art of calling wildlife — mimicking the sound of our prey to lure it into spear or bow range.

Artificial calls have a long history. 

The eastern tribes, such as the Mohawks and Mohicans, used the hollow wing bone of a turkey to simulate the call of a hen to lure in breeding males. 

Our own Nez Perce used whistles to bring bull elk closer for ambush. As time went on, human technology continued to produce more sophisticated calling devices. Game calls have become a multi-billion dollar industry. 

There’s a call to simulate almost any squeak, squawk or growl that wild critters could make. They come with names like “Terminator” and “Hoochi Mama.”

It didn’t take long for electronics to get in the picture. Taped recordings of actual wildlife sounds were wired into call boxes and connected to a speaker. The user could pack this out to his favorite hunting spot, turn it on and shoot the animals when they came running. 

Today, calls have gone digital. For example, FoxPro, a digital call manufacturer from Pennsylvania, produces high-tech game calls with state-of-the-art components. The calls come with up to 200 pre-loaded wildlife sounds selected from a huge sound library by the purchaser. 

You can get everything from squeaking rodents to moose mating calls — wolf howls to deer grunts. The sounds can be played over a high-volume speaker and even mixed with other calls for realism. 

The user could start with a screaming rabbit and then add a chorus of squawking ravens to pump the adrenaline of nearby predators. The calls come with a remote, which allows the hunter to place his caller a good distance away from his blind.

Photographers join hunt

At pretty much the same time hunters began using recorded calls to lure wild critters to the gun, photographers got interested. 

They soon realized that mimicking wildlife sounds was a great way to bring animals to the camera. Wildlife magazines and calendars are rife with photos of wildlife that was duped to the camera by recorded sounds.

For many years, David Herr, a wildlife photographer from Pendleton, has used pre-recorded bird calls to help make his days in the field more productive. 

Retired from the U.S. Forest Service, Herr began recording bird songs many years ago with very sophisticated equipment — acquiring a substantial library of sounds. 

Using an iPod

Leading birdwatchers on tours every spring, he’ll often use some of these to lure in hard-to-see species. 

Now he simply carries many of his sounds in his iPod and runs the sounds through his FoxPro speakers.

Herr is adamant about using these calls in moderation though. 

“Using recorded calls can be an effective way to bring birds in closer for viewing or photography,” he says. “Used carefully, they can be a great tool, but abused they can be quite detrimental.” 

When male songbirds set up their breeding territories in spring they’re very protective of these sites and will dart in to check out any intruders — often singing and displaying to intimidate challengers.

Responding to a recorded call, they come in agitated and can spend up to six hours trying to find or otherwise out-sing their disguised rival. This is valuable time spent away from its mate or bringing food to hungry young.

The American Birding Association even has a section about using calls in their Code of Ethics for Responsible Bird Watching: 

“Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is threatened or endangered.”

Admittedly, nearly all forms of wildlife photography have a taint of harassment involved. 

People get inspired

But, people get inspired when they see beautiful photos. 

They get entertainment and even education from them — perhaps a tribute to the old adage: “a photo is worth a thousand words.” 

Inspired people often get involved with supporting wildlife causes. 

So, it’s sort of a trade-off. Wildlife photography can be a very valuable conservation tool.

Using calls to get wild creatures in close has been an important element in many a hunter’s game bag for eons — whether his weapon was a Winchester or a Nikon, or his target was a white-throated sparrow or a hairy mammoth.