- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) - Hunting alongside his father since the age of 3, Cole Frost of Watertown has basically learned to think like a goose - and speak their language.

Through careful listening, he’s learned to predict their behavior, largely affected by myriad variables from the type of goose to the time of year.

“It changes from day to day, everything from the wind to the weather,” Frost says.

Now, at 15, Frost is the 2015 South Dakota state goose calling champion, winning the novice division of the competition recently held in Mitchell.

For his first-ever attempt at competing, the achievement was somewhat unexpected.

“I was surprised,” said Frost’s mother, Darcy. “I didn’t really think he’d win it because he’s so young and it’s his first contest.”

Frost has been serious about goose calling for about the past two years, after a friend inspired him to become a better caller, the Watertown Public Opinion reported (https://bit.ly/1W3xppA ). He began researching, practicing and learning all he could about goose behavior.

Instructional videos also proved helpful.

“They (DVDs) kind of gave me the base of it. They go through all the notes and then I practiced on speed by myself,” Frost said.

Hours upon hours of practice helped him learn proper technique and the needed variety of notes and sounds required to be competitive.

“It sounds like there’s a flock of geese at our house every night, but I knew it would be worth it,” Darcy said.

After encouragement from a friend and a representative of the contest, Frost decided to give it a try.

“You just show up and there’s just a bunch of guys standing there. You have no idea how good they are,” Frost said.

Calling for a competition, Frost points out, is entirely different than doing so in the field. Doing well on the competition stage requires showcasing one’s complete repertoire of sounds, which involves displaying the appropriate notes in a variety of fashions.

A winning 90-second routine includes varying the wave of the call to mimic sounds which would elicit different behaviors from the flock, for example exciting the birds or getting them to come back toward the source of the sound after flaring away. Contestants perform three times and are scored each time by a panel of five judges.

“Judges really look for that structured routine. That’s a big part of your scoring. Everyone does variations of the same thing, but the better you can transition from one area to the next, the better off you are,” he said. “They are looking for power.”

That power comes from the diaphragm, a large muscle in the abdomen. Frost figures he has spent hundreds of hours practicing, which strengthens the muscle.

“Over time you get stronger. You have lot more control,” he said, explaining proper technique is much more a process of pushing air than blowing into the call. That air is forced through the cylindrical instrument, causing a single reed to vibrate against the tone board.

Goose calls have changed over the years, from long instruments capable of sounding like a single goose to current models which enable callers to mimic the sounds of several geese. Such improvements enable hunters more success while hunting.

In the field, a hunter must listen to what the geese are saying and gauge their reaction to your calls, Frost says. It would be highly unusual to use one’s entire calling repertoire. Sometimes, you don’t call at all. It depends on the geese.

His father, Neil - a life-long hunter with waterfowl calling experience - agrees.

“He can actually hear what the geese are saying. And he can talk back,” Neil said.

“I just let him do it.”

Frost is happy to do so, pointing out that understanding waterfowl behavior and responding to it accordingly is the key.

“You have to be able to read what they are doing. You can tell if they like your call. If they like it, keep doing it,” he said.

The younger hunter’s skills seem to pay off, the father and son say. This is particularly true when, for instance, a landowner gives more than one party permission to hunt a parcel of land.

“We always do better because of the calling,” Neil said, adding flagging, decoy spread and concealment all play an important part in a successful hunt.

Frost has considered the possibility of working for a company which manufactures calls, although such decisions are a long way off and he wants to take care not to spoil an enjoyable hobby by turning it into work.

For the foreseeable future, he will continue to hone his calling skills.

“It’s all about being one step better than the next guy,” he said.

___

Information from: Watertown Public Opinion, https://www.thepublicopinion.com

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