Whoo-uck, whoo-uck, whoo-uck, uck, uck, uck!
That sound you hear behind the shower curtain is Bill Privott of Bell's Island, Currituck County, N.C., practicing what he does best. Lots of folks sing in the shower and never make money singing. But Privott has earned a tidy sum by "crying" there and from the seat of a tractor mower.
He imitates the cry of the goose and there's no one in the world who does it better. Last November the 36-year-old hunting guide won the World Championship Goose Calling Contest at Easton, Md. for the second straight year. Furthermore, until he stepped onto the stage at the 1983 competition, leaned back on his heels and released a strange assortment of whoops and honks from deep in his throat, no one had won the contest without an artificial caller. Privott, who frowns at such mechanical help, has been listening to geese and imitating their calls with his mouth and throat since he was three.
"Hunters in this section have called geese by voice for as long as anyone can remember," Privott says. "When I was a boy, we had a pen stocked with wild geese next to our house. I loved to mock the sounds they made. It was a little like people talking."
Privott won his second title by edging out another Currituck County entry, 65-year-old Erleen Snow. For his victory Privott was awarded an engraved shotgun valued at $2,000 and a $500 check.
The secret to his success, says Privott, is practice. "At the competition, you have to give a variety of calls. For one of the calls you have to imagine a flock of geese about a half-mile away and hail them," he says. "I practice my calls in the shower. But my favorite place is on a lawnmower. Trying to compete with the sound of the mower gives your voice strength and clarity."
Privott earns a living by using his extraordinary talent to lure some of the hundreds of thousands of Canada and snow geese that migrate over his section of coastal marshland along the Atlantic Flyway into shooting range. The walls of his home on the shore of Currituck Sound are decorated with wildfowl prints, while on a desk in the living room sit a shotgun reloader and a canister of powder. The fragrance of spiced apple pies wafts from the kitchen as his wife, Judy, cooks for the hunters who employ her husband and use his boat, decoys and blinds.
During the recent calling contest at Easton, five judges sat on a stage in the local schoolhouse with their backs to the contestants. The judges faced an audience of well-heeled hunters and wildfowl enthusiasts, many of whom looked as if they had walked out of the pages of the L.L. Bean catalog.
Contestants were given 90 seconds in which to deliver four required goose calls: a hail call, a greeting call, a comeback call and a confidence call. A light on the stage switched on when 80 seconds had elapsed. Any contestant who did not finish a call within the final 10 seconds was disqualified.
"The hail call is given when the geese are about a half-mile away," Privott says. "It has to be loud because the voice has to travel a great distance. And the calls are a long distance apart." Privott clears his throat and cries:
Whooouck...! Whooouccckkk...! Whooouccckkk!
The greeting, or come-on, call is given when the geese are a quarter of a mile to 250 yards away. "That call has to sound like a group of birds," says Privott. "The sounds all kind of blend together." It goes like this:
The come-back call is used to bring the geese back if they start to turn away. "For that one you make a louder sound," Privott says. "It's like the greeting call, only a bit louder and more rapid":
As for the confidence call, its purpose, says Privott, "is to get the geese to come those extra few yards closer. The call varies according to the individual's preference. It's the sound he hears listening to geese." Privott's has a high pitch in the middle and sounds like this:
Whooock...whoooockk. Quooock, quooock, quooock!
Privott says that no matter how good the caller, it is of little importance if the birds aren't overhead.
"There is a big difference between competition calling and the real thing. In hunting, you have to know where the birds are. And you have to have good decoys and blinds. If you've got the voice, it helps. But it's just part of the package."
Privott says his calls have always worked better with his daughter, Janice, 16, than they ever have with a goose.
"When we go shopping in Norfolk at one of those big malls and we get separated, or it's time to go," he says, "I just lean back and let out a series of honks. You know how teenagers are. It just embarrasses her so bad." He smiles sheepishly. "But it does work like a charm."