Welcome to part four of the Wildlife Photography/ How to Get Close blog and video series. To quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, in part one I covered the ever-important topic of proper wildlife photography etiquette, which is the foundation for everything else I’ll be covering in this series. So if you haven’t watched part one yet, please be sure to do so. In part two, we looked at the topic of using wildlife photography blinds, in part three we covered the use of tree stands, and in this fourth installment, we’ll be exploring the topic of using calling techniques in your wildlife photography efforts, which can be incredibly fruitful in getting great photos. Depending on the species you intend to photograph, having a working knowledge of how an animal communicates and being able to imitate those sounds with a calling device of one kind or another, can produce astounding results when used in conjunction with good concealment. Remember too, not all calling techniques are based on the sounds an animal makes vocally. Many sounds that attract wildlife are the non-vocal sounds those animals make while fighting, searching for food, or the distress sounds of prey animals that become dinner. As an example, over the years I’ve called in turkey, deer, moose, elk, bear, coyotes, foxes, eagles, owls, and many other birds and animals all to within good camera range with the use of well-practiced calling. So learning a few basic calling techniques for the animal you wish to photograph can go a long way in capturing fantastic images.
There are many different styles of animal calls on the market to choose from that imitate the vocalizations of a wide array of birds and animals. Such calls are commonly used by hunters, dog trainers, pest control professionals, bird watchers, and others, and calling devices can be purchased at most outdoor stores. Some of these calling devices are very simple to operate, such as electronic calls, and others take a little (or a lot!) of practice, such as diaphragm mouth calls and the many manually operated calls that are available. In time, many calling enthusiasts can even learn to imitate the sounds of birds and animals with no devices at all, and can simply use their mouth. No matter the case though, calling is much like learning how to play a musical instrument; the more you practice and the more you advance your technique, the better you’ll get and the more successful you will be with your efforts.
No matter what kind of bird or animal you’d like to learn to call, the first step is to thoroughly study that animal’s vocalizations and auditory behavior and become very familiar with the language they speak. And, while there are plenty of videos and recordings of animal sounds out there that you can listen to, there is no substitute for learning directly from the animals themselves by spending quality time in nature.
Basic Calling Strategies
How you go about trying to call in and communicate with the bird or animal you’re trying to photograph will depend on the behavior of that particular species, which is way too big of a subject to cover in this video, so again, you’ll have to do some homework and further study on your own. There are, however, some basic strategies that can be applied to all. But before we take a look at these strategies, let me stress that calling techniques should be used in a legal, limited, respectful, non-harassing manner. The goal of calling for photography purposes is simply to get an animal a little curious and a little closer into camera range, not to fool it to the point of radically altering its behavior, as is often done in true hunting situations in which an animal will ultimately become food, instead of a photograph. So use your calls strategically and sparingly.
An easy reference for potential calling scenarios is to make use of the traditional “seven deadly sins.” These seven vices that often negatively influence us humans, also come into play in the animal world. In case you’re not familiar with them, the seven deadly sins are lust, greed, gluttony, envy, anger, pride, and sloth. Let’s have a brief look at each one in regard to potential calling techniques.
Lust – These can be calls that imitate the mating vocalizations of an animal, or the sounds of rivals fighting over a potential mate. A prime example of this is the sound of a tom turkey gobbling in the spring of the year while looking for a hen.
Greed and Envy- Calls that elicit a sense of greed or envy can be those that imitate a subdominant animal feeding or breeding in a location where there is sure sign of a more dominant animal in the area. An example of this is the sound of a small bull elk bugling in an area where the big, dominant bull and his harem of cows are nearby.
Gluttony- These are calls that imitate the active feeding sounds of animals, or the more alarming sounds of a prey animal in distress. A good example of this is the high-pitched squealing of a rabbit that’s being killed and eaten by a fox or a bird of prey.
Anger- Calls that appeal to a sense of wrath or anger are those that imitate aggression, fighting, or the sound of an intruding animal. A classic example of this kind of sound is a pair of whitetail bucks clashing and rattling their antlers while fighting to see who’s boss.
Pride- Calls that imitate a sense of hubris or pride are those of the most dominant birds or animals in the area. A good example is the low, powerful grunting sounds of a dominant bull moose.
Sloth- Sounds that imitate resting, relaxed, or soon to be sleeping animals can be especially attractive to other animals of their species who are either a little high-strung or who are looking for a place to chill out and be lazy for a while. These kinds of sounds also appeal very much to predatory animals who are on the prowl and looking for a meal. An example of this could be a flock of wild turkeys flying down from a roosting tree in the morning, or flying back up in the evening.
There are many other calling techniques and strategies out there as well, but hopefully these will give you a good idea for things to consider. In the next episode in this series, we’ll look at another tactic that works especially well in conjunction with calling techniques, and that is the use of decoys. Check out the video below to see more…