Hunters have always been fascinated by the sounds animals make.
When I first got involved in the sport, I was hanging around Atlantic Guns in Silver Springs trying to pick the brains of the people there about shotguns.
Suddenly the proprietor, an older, gray-haired man, leaped from behind the counter, grabbed a wooden gizmo and ran out into the street.
"Crows," he said.
Sure enough, high over Georgia Avenue several black crows were making their throaty "caw, caw, caws" as they headed east at sunset.
He raised the gizmo and started waving it overhead, and from it came a perfect duplication of the crows' call.
"Caw, caw, caw," said the gizmo.
"Caw, caw, caw," replied the crows, who halted their flight and began circling over Thayer Avenue, looking for their lost colleague below.
This went on for five minutes or so, to the delight of suburban shoppers who happened by. The man said he could keep it up indefinitely, but finally work beckoned.
So that was my introduction to calling. Since then I've paid attention to the sounds that wild beasts make. It's a study that can be satisfying.
Even more satisfying is the art of duplicating those sounds, but it takes time and patience.
Some calls are simple, like the crow call the gun man waved like a party noisemaker.
Or the call of a lost quail.
A bird dog pointed a covey at dusk on one of my trips and the hunters converged. But the quail were skittish and jumped up wild before we were in range. The birds scattered in every direction, heading for cover in the woods.
Our party began searching out the singles, a difficult task in the deep forest. We were helped along by low-pitched whistles the scattered birds made to call together the covey for the night.
The hunter with the right tone to his whistle could call quail to him.
Squirrels have a call, too. You can hear them making a "tchk, tchk, tchk" from their perches on oak or sycamore limbs. No one knows exactly what it means, but by duplicating it hunters find the squirrels often come out of their lairs.
The best squirrel call is a pair of fifty-cent pieces rapped together.
These are some easy ones. The real calling enthusiasts are turkey hunters and you have to love a challenge to qualify. Wild turkeys have a language only slightly less complicated than Greek, with a different call for every message.
The average turkey hunter has a closet full of gadgets at home -- boxes and slates and corncobs and chalk, shakers and diaphragms.
Once, early in my hunting days, I went after turkeys with an excellent turkey caller. He put me next to a tree on a hillside near Winchester, Va.
My host went off and set up nearby, where I couldn't see him. He was no sooner out of sight than I began hearing turkeys. A hen down the hill was clucking to her offspring. Another off to the right was pining away singing her "kee-kee" song.
From behind came the thunderous 'gobblegobblegobble" of a big male.The woods were alive with turkeys. My heart as pounding. I could hear them rustling in the brush.
This went on for an hour, yet no turkeys came in sight. Then it stopped abruptly. They must be getting close, I thought.
I heard the leaves crackling behind me. I held my breath. There came a tap on my shoulder.
"Hear any turkeys?" asked my host.
Of course, it was him all along, giving a tour de force on turkey calls. I still don't know how he made it sound like it was coming from three different directions. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
Over the years I've heard plenty of good callers but I never had the time or ability to shine myself.
Recently I broke the ice.
I was sharing a goose blind on Chincoteague Bay with Bill Rowland, a Philadelphian. He's a good caller, but the geese weren't cooperating. I was staying quiet because all I ever do is scare them away.
Rowland had recently bought a fantastic gadget that required no skill at all but made such a racket he was afraid to use it.
Since nothing else was working, he handed it to me.
It was a double horn with two squeeze bulbs on the bottom. It looked like it came off a 1928 LaSalle.
When the next flock of geese appeared miles away over the water, I set to work squeezing the bulbs. Rowland tooted away on a longe-range goose call that struck a fair resemblance to Gabriel's trumpet. The result was cacophony.
The Canadas must have been completely flabbergasted. They veered off and came straight for the blind. It took awhile, and by the time they were close my hands were cramped and sore.
"Don't stop," Rowland hissed.
I didn't, and they kept wheeling and circling and flapping along, and finally they descended right into the decoys.
It went that way the rest of the afternoon. Only trouble was, by the time these long-range solicitations were finished I hadn't the energy left to lift my gun.
No matter. Most of the fun's in the watching and listening, anyway.