Published Jun 28, 2022 11:00 AM
I didn’t use any goose calls when I killed my first Canada goose in 1979. No decoys either. Just me, an inexperienced 15-year-old, hiding in my grandfather’s cornfield, my Pop’s ’66 Mossberg M500—Poly-Choke and all—filled with 3-inch No. 4 shot. Right before the close of legal shooting time, a group of 30 honkers, en route to their evening roost, made the mistake of passing directly overhead. One shot and my inaugural Canada fell among the stalks.
Forty-three years later, my goose hunting is radically different than it was in ’79. Intensive scouting. Layout blinds. Ultra-realistic full-body decoys. Photo-imagery silhouettes. And, of course, a variety of calls. Big. Small. Short reeds. Flutes. Hybrids. Works of art from the shops of legends like the late Tim Grounds, Bill Saunders, Sean Mann, Fred Zink, and a long list of others. But which goose call is best for what you hunt, where you hunt, and your skill level? We rounded up some of the best goose calls to help you make that decision.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Goose Call
The very first consideration when buying a goose call is your calling skill level. If you’re new to goose calling, a call on the upper end of the user-friendliness scale, such as a flute style, might be best. As you progress in your education, a call with more versatility, like a short reed style, would be a natural choice. Some other factors you should consider include the following:
Short Reed vs. Flute Style vs. Hybrids
Flute style goose calls require little, if any, back pressure in order to make realistic goose sounds. In the most elemental sense, you blow in one end, and honks, clucks, and moans come out the other. Short reeds demand the coordination of air delivery and back pressure to sound right, and aren’t as forgiving as flutes. A mix of both styles, hybrid calls offer ease of use with acoustic versatility.
You can spend $25 on a production flute, or you can drop $200 plus on a custom short reed. I’ve used poor-sounding expensive calls, as well as realistic-sounding budget instruments. Buy what you’re comfortable with and what your wallet will allow.
Options for materials will include some species of wood (such as hedge, walnut, or cocobolo), polycarbonate (a.k.a. poly), plastic, and acrylic. Wood offers a deep rich tone, but is more fragile than plastics. Poly calls are a great middle-of-the-road option—they’re affordable, durable, and sound good. Acrylic calls are a bit more expensive, as they’re hand-turned versus molded, but they offer more in terms of volume and sharp-edged sound quality compared to poly.
Custom vs. Production
A production goose call is a mass-produced call. The price is going to be right, and the call might sound great. Custom calls cost more, but you’re getting a work of art that will be hand-tuned to sound as realistic as possible.
Availability of Instruction
Does the goose call maker offer any sort of instruction on how to use their product correctly? Are videos available? Can you call and speak with the man who made the call and ask “What the hell am I doing wrong?”
Service After the Sale
If I have a problem with a call, I’d like to be able to contact the manufacturer, describe the problem, and ask if there’s a fix. Does your potential call-maker provide that service? Can you send the call back annually for retuning if you don’t do it yourself?
Why It Made the Cut
It’s a well-designed, user-friendly call made by one of the legends in the industry, and it sounds great.
- Virtually indestructible
- Under $100
- Tight tolerances mean consistent sound between calls
- Multiple interior diameters (poly-cylindrical) improves speed
- Top-notch sound quality
- Excellent service after the sale
- Great instruction/how-to available
- Rugged and easy to maintain
- Ten out of ten on the user-friendliness scale
- Length (10-3/8 inches) can be awkward on a lanyard
Sean Mann knows what he’s doing when it comes to goose calls. A native of Easton, Maryland, quite possibly the goose hunting capital of the world, Mann won the World Goose Calling Championship in 1985, and the World Goose Calling Champion of Champions inaugural competition ten years later. He walks the walk.
The Eastern Shoreman dates back to the early 1980s when Mann, unhappy with the goose calls available for his competition purposes, decided to build his own. It’s a long call—flute-like—but Mann is quick to tell you it’s definitely not a flute. It’s extremely versatile in its range and capability.
The XP-1 has it all, including fantastic service after the sale—Mann’s is huge on helping folks learn and become better callers—and an overall build that stands up well to the day-to-day abuse waterfowlers throw at our equipment. Looking for your first goose call? Fifty-first call? The XP-1 definitely deserves a listen.
Why It Made the Cut
This is a no-nonsense goose call designed to mimic the basic vocabulary of specklebelly and now geese
- Acrylic or ABS (think LEGOs) construction
- Simple design
- Extra reed sets available
- Rugged and tough
- Easy to maintain
- If you’re into looks, this one isn’t for you
I never know when I’m going to cross paths with a white-front, and Grounds’ Snow/Speck call is what I want when the chance meeting happens.
I met Tim Grounds standing in the chow line at the Bottineau Shoot-Out, a big goose hunt held for years in Bottineau, North Dakota, and I immediately liked the guy for his “Don’t like me? Don’t care” attitude. We were friends for years, and my wife, Julie, and I had the great opportunity to share a pit blind with him on his farm in southern Illinois. I, like many others, was saddened to hear of his untimely passing in an ATV accident in 2019, a day in September when the goose hunting world was changed forever.
Grounds made—and his son, Hunter, continues to make—duck and goose calls in a no-nonsense way for the no-nonsense waterfowler. I’ve carried his Snow/Speck call for 20-plus years now, and while I can’t say I’d win any competitions with it, the call has come in handy in both the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
You can buy the call in acrylic, or ABS plastic. My ABS call has proved plenty tough over the past two decades. It’s nothing fancy—think of a Chevy W/T 1500 with a 6 cylinder—but fancy doesn’t kill specklebellies. If you’re in Louisiana or the Sacramento Valley and hunt specks on a daily basis, this might not be what you’re looking for. For me, it works very well. Thanks, Mister Grounds.
Why It Made the Cut
Saunders builds a great call, stands behind his work, and makes his calls affordable up and down the financial spectrum. Can’t ask for more.
Key features s(according to Bill Saunders)
- Brass band forged in the bowels of Hell
- 300 horsepower mylar reed
- Made with “little bits” of real geese
- Cherry Bomb exhaust system
- Round hole for blowing into
Key features (according to me)
- All acrylic, wood/acrylic insert, wood/poly insert options
- Volume and range/distance
- Versatile throughout the language
- Great choice for all Canada subspecies
- Well-recognized name in the industry
- User-friendly call
- Backed by service after the sale
- It’s a short reed, so there is a learning curve involved
Saunders texted me this comment concerning his Traffic short reed call: “For over 25 years, I’ve made a living killing geese. If something worked better than a ‘Traffic,’ I’d build it and use it.” That’s saying a lot about a goose call.
The Saunders name has been a mainstay among goose hunters for more than two decades. Originally from Wisconsin, Saunders moved to Washington in the 1990s, began building duck and goose calls, and continued calling on stage. He’s retired from competition now, but still makes some of the best calls out there.
The Traffic is a classic goose call, and Saunders says it’s his, his best-selling goose call. Versatility is one of the reasons behind the call’s notoriety. Big geese, little geese, even white geese—in skilled hands, the Traffic outperforms the vast majority of calls. It’s available in all acrylic, wood (cocobolo or burnt hedge) with an acrylic insert, or wood and a poly insert. This one’s the Real Deal.
Best Wooden Call
Why It Made the Cut
It’s a walnut call that produces rich, mellow tones at a good volume.
- Walnut construction
- All-wood insert with mylar reed
- Good sound/volume from a lightweight call
- Mellow tones, thanks to the walnut build
- Wood requires a bit more maintenance and care than does acrylic or poly
- Not as “sharp-edged” a sound as produced by harder synthetics
There’s something about wood that makes a goose call sound like a real goose. Maybe it’s the rich, mellow tones, perfect for in-close work. Wood feels nice in the hand, and today’s geese very seldom hear a wooden call.
The old-school Faulk’s H-100 goose call, or as it’s known today, the Heritage Honker Call, features a walnut build, along with an all-wood insert (tone board and wedge) with a long, narrow mylar reed—quite the departure from a shorty in terms of the reed.
A word of caution—wood calls can be prone to swelling and potential splitting if left wet. Do not dry a wet call in the oven, as that can end tragically.
Why It Made the Cut
The Big River Long Honker sounds like a goose, is easy to blow, and costs less than $30.
- Polycarbonate build
- Internal O-ring prevents air leaks
- Camo finish
- Stupid easy to blow and sound (reasonably) like a goose
- Length adds depth and realism
- Great for reproducing deeper tones of mid- to bigger Canadas
- Limited vocabulary when compared with a short reed
- Absolutely nothing fancy here (if that matters)
I pack a Long Honker in my blind bag, every season, from start to finish. Why? Because I can hand it to anyone who wants to get more involved in the hunt. Within a couple minutes, they can be making decent goose sounds (my 14-year-old granddaughter, Adrionna, is a prime example here). Or even good goose sounds. That said, a little practice goes a long way to becoming proficient with any call, the Long Honker included; however, I rate it a nine out of 10 on the User-Friendliness Scale.
The Long Honker’s a traditional flute style call. You apply air pressure…a little more air pressure…and you get the “break-over” and a pretty decent-sounding HONK. With time, the call can become a little more versatile in terms of range, but the speed’s always going to be relatively slow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By design, the Long Honker’s best at being slow, producing the deep, throaty honks, clucks, and low-key growling murmurs Canadas don’t often hear today, thanks to the popularity of short-reed calls.
Can you kill a Canada with a Long Honker? Absolutely. Can you pound tent stakes back at camp with it? Yes, you can. Can you pass it to your granddaughter and let her take over the calling duties for the morning? Been there; done that. And you won’t have to fork over a kidney for the privilege of watching her call her first honker.
Why It Made the Cut
It’s a tough, dependable call that’s very easy to use.
- ABS mouthpiece/acrylic barrel
- Hand-tuned and modified
- Traditional flute style call
- Ten out of 10 on the User-Friendliness Scale
- Rock solid and tough build
- Old-school sound that works well on pressured geese
Here’s one of the many things I love about the guys who make goose calls: You can pick up the phone and actually speak to them in person. Ask them questions. Learn. It’s a rarity today.
And that’s what I did with David Jackson. Based in Wyoming, Jackson worked for the PS Olt Company for 30 years, eventually buying the majority of the molds and equipment owned by his former employer, and incorporating them into his call business. “The A-50,” Jackson said, “is made the way it should be made, and sounds the way it should sound.”
The term “modified,” Jackson explained, refers to work done on the tone channel, or as he calls it, the reed base, to make the call easier to blow—i.e. user-friendly. He also trims (shaves) the A-50’s mylar reed, altering it slightly from the original, again creating an easier-to-use piece.
How I Picked the Calls
I do several things out of my goose call, regardless of what it looks like or who made it. Color, to me, isn’t important. Same with engraving. I’m not looking for someone to say “Wow! That call looks killer!” But if they comment on how incredibly realistic the call sounds…well, then we have a winner. Here’s what I found go into calls that successfully call in geese:
It’s pretty simple – A goose call should sound like a goose. Now, I realize not everyone, can pick up just any call and make it ring true. However, a good call—duck, goose, predator, turkey, or elk—should be able to produce a true-to-life representation of the real thing. So, did it sound good in skilled hands?
The User-Friendliness Scale
I’m a huge fan of flute calls because they’re easy to use and can be a fantastic confidence builder for the new hunter/caller. There are, though, some pretty user-friendly short reeds out there; you just need to find one. So the qualifier for me was whether or not a call was easy to use correctly.
Quality and/or custom work comes with a price tag, but that’s okay as long as the quality, sound, and service are all there. Still, price is a consideration to nearly every goose hunter, and I kept that in mind so no calls would be outrageously expensive.
Instruction and service
I looked at what my experiences have been with the men who make these calls, as well as what others have said, and took that into account. I also asked the makers how they feel about fielding calls/questions after the sale. “I’m fine answering questions. Do it all the time,” said Bill Saunders. From Sean Mann: “I absolutely encourage that.”
Q: What’s the easiest goose call to use?
A: A flute style goose call is the easiest to use: you just blow in it and goose sounds—and often, pretty good goose sounds—come out. There’s still a learning curve, but it’s nothing compared to a hybrid or short reed call. And, if you’re wondering, flute calls sound really good, especially if you’re working the bigger deeper-pitched Canada subspecies like Westerns or Midwest Giants.
Q: How many goose calls do I need?
A: Currently, I have three goose calls, along with a trio of duck calls and a widgeon/pintail whistle, on my working lanyard. Two of the goose calls are Canada goose calls, and the third is my Grounds snow/speck calls. Does a waterfowler need three goose calls? Absolutely not, as one that you can blow well is plenty. Ability and confidence is what you need. A single call you can use well is better than a dozen you can’t.
Q: What does it mean when you see a goose alone?
A: A single goose can make for a great harvest opportunity. Geese, like ducks, are gregarious by nature, wanting for the most part, the company of others. So, when a goose is alone, a combination of a well-set decoy spread and good calling can often convince that lone bird to come in.
Please pardon the cliché, but picking out a goose call isn’t exactly rocket science. My absolute best advice when it comes to picking a goose call is to buy a good call, such as one of the calls suggested above. Learn how to use it, and then practice with it.