Bird calling championship occurs today


May 08, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

It's a duck. It's a goose. It's Dave Hagan, bird caller.

With his clucks, whoops and whistles, the Norrisville resident has become the Rich Little of the wildfowl set.

He calls, and they listen.

"Once you make birds respond -- even if they go the other way -- it does something to you," Mr. Hagan says.

He uses a call -- a stubby, reed-like device -- to mimic the sounds of a variety of ducks and geese. "It takes practice, just like a musical instrument," he says.

The calls aren't cheap. They can range from $50 for plastic models to $6,000 or more for a specially carved wood one.

To promote his hobby and encourage novices, Mr. Hagan and friend Jack Palmer have organized this year's duck and goose calling championship to be held today at the 13th annual Havre de Grace Decoy Festival.

"I'm trying to get new interest," he says. "I'm seeing a decline in calling."

Mr. Hagan is a relative newcomer to bird calling, which is often used to attract birds for hunters.

About six years ago, Mr. Hagan, who is a longtime hunter, became intrigued with calling after accompanying a guide who was successfully bringing in ducks and geese for the kill.

"When I first bought one, it sounded like a party horn," he says. Now he and his yellow Labrador retriever, Teddy, head to the fields themselves.

The prize-winning caller is also a guide for other hunters, but he has another motive for perfecting his bird sounds.

He's a photographer.

He and his wife, Joan, started a photographic business, Golden Memories, 12 years ago, at their home in northern Harford County.

"Portraiture pays our bills," says the 52-year-old retired computer operator. "[Photographing] wildlife is the fun thing to do, but it costs the most money for [camera] lenses."

The couple, who have published two photographic books, have captured some beautiful birds on film. They will be exhibiting their prints at Havre de Grace Middle School during today's festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Hagans laugh when remembering how they got their friend, Mr. Palmer, involved in bird calling.

The threesome had been high school buddies at Kenwood High School in Baltimore County in the early 1960s.

After graduation, Mr. and Mrs. Hagan lost touch with Mr. Palmer, who is now retired from Maryland National Bank.

One fall day five years ago, the Hagans were driving along U.S. 40 in Elkton when they spotted Mr. Palmer, who is a hunter, in his car. They pulled over to the side of the road for a reunion. When a flock of geese flew over, Mr. Hagan pulled out his call and brought the birds to the ground.

Mr. Palmer's surprised reaction: "I've got to get one of those."

Mr. Palmer also uses his call to attract birds to admire them for their beauty as he hikes near his Baldwin home.

"Calling birds doesn't mean you have to kill something," Mr. Hagan stresses.

At today's 11 a.m. contest, callers from six states plus novices are expected to compete in Havre de Grace High School's auditorium. There will be a free seminar beforehand at 9 a.m. to give pointers, Mr. Hagan says.

Among those Mr. Hagan is instructing these days is Arlene Grace, administrative assistant at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum. "When Dave told me there were no women in it, I said, 'I'll do it,' " she says. "I'm not from a hunting family. It just sounds like a lot of fun."

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