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Ramsey Russell's Journal

"Only a Mallard"

duck hunting trip
I get it: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But having grown up hunting in the Deep South and despite an exotic waterfowl species totaling about 100 huntable species world-wide, the splendor of decoying greenheads remains one of the most fundamental beauties in waterfowling - a heart-thumper every time. 
A couple of guests from the island-nation of Malta brought fresh perspective to things we might otherwise take for granted.  Malta, for those like me that can't place it on a map without googling, is a small island-nation situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  Twenty-one by 14 miles in size, its population is nearly a half-million.  Some of the oldest remains of human civilization, pre-dating Stone Henge, are there.  Through time it’s been occupied by nearly everyone in that part of the world.  Land, let alone hunting property, is scarce.  Barbeque ribs, southern baked beans, fried chicken and corn on the cob, I learned, are completely non-existent.  But I’ve never met more zealous wildfowlers, more competent hunters or better shots.

Hunters and bird collectors, arranged their trip from the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to the middle of the Bering Sea to hunt King Eiders.  They’re the first from their country to have hunted them.  An invitation to join us in Mississippi was quickly accepted because it’s right here in Mississippi that their most-prized species would be hunted.
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The Best Was Last

Mallards and pintail galore.  Within days of Mississippi duck season’s closure  there were lots of ducks at Willow Break.  Mississippi’s post-season Youth Day provided a solid crack at them.

Not that duck season was uneventful.  It was a great season – a record-setter for Willow Break – but weird.  In the year they started naming winter’s cold fronts, repeated clippers brought ducks but not the massive waves of ducks expected; not mallards and pintails.  Not this far south. It was the day after Christmas that I saw my first flock of shovelers, colloquially referred to as “Ramzillas” for good reason, or even the first sizeable flock of green-wings.   But where there's duck hunting, there's always hope.
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How do I import my trophy birds from Mexico?

mexico duck hunting trophies cinnamon teal
One of the most often-asked questions preceding a Mexico hunt is, "How do I import my birds from Mexico?"  Bringing trophy birds home is easily doable, but require some special paperwork and a little advanced planning.

We've heard and seen it all through the eyes and ears of customers.  Excessive import premiums - hundreds of dollars per bird, thousands of dollars per hunt and usually disclosed only after the hunt has been booked - is one we've heard.  Some hunters were either never made aware of any special requirements, as can be the instance in dealing directly with outfitters, or were ill-advised via hearsay or arm-chair expertise.  Forfeiture of trophies at US Customs or later learning you paid way too much is avoidable.  Here's what you need to know.
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Travel hunting with a retriever


Duck and goose hunting without a retriever is as enjoyable as honeymooning without a bride. What's the point?  My policy is bring them.  For man and beast alike, travel duck hunting is a way to add days to the cumulative hunting season, to develop as a better hunter that the experiences of different hunting conditions provides.

Foremost considerations are airline policies (if flying) and health certification.  Having commercially flown with retrievers for the last 20 years, I've not once experienced anything to be concerned about.  To the contrary, most US airlines take especially good care of pets.  Food and water must be provided, forms signed, and extra fees paid.  For what you pay to fly your dog, they should be provided a seat up top, and given a milk bone when the beverage cart comes by.

Each airline has their own pet policies and some don't allow pet travel at all.  Most policies stipulate that pets may be transported only when the outside temperature is 45 to 85 degrees F, and most airlines will not fly retrievers.  Outside of this range requires a veterinarian statement that you per is acclimated to these extremes.  Some airlines will not fly pets as a matter of policy between mid-June and mid-September, so plan your trip to Canada accordingly.  These temperature ranges generally preclude bringing retrievers to the Southern Hemisphere. 

It may be winter there, but it's usually to hot here in the States during June and July - and vice versa depending on hunt timing.  Fortunately, there is excellent Argentina duck hunting to be had March-May.  Consider that such travel will require Fido spend 18 or so hours crated.

Mexico and Canada provide the perfect opportunities to travel with your retriever.  Most outfitters encourage client retrievers (it's the client's hunt after all) but ask first.  During a great trip to Canada or an average duck hunt in Mexico, your dog may likely fetch as waterfowl as do many retrievers during an entire season here in the US.  Marking and handling distances over dry barley or pea fields is a great experience, but when flocks of honkers are pounding the spread in quick intervals, it's usually more effective for hunters to quickly sweep up dead birds. 

Be sure to bring some dog boots while Mexico brant hunting.  Shell reefs will cut dog pads and there's no sense in Fido limping around on injury reserve during the trip of a lifetime.

Health certificates must be completed by a veterinarian within 14 days of pet travel. Consult your veterinarian about any special concerns for the country you'll be hunting.

Keep a leash in your pocket.  You'll be required to removed your dog from the crate by TSA, and surely they'll be ready to stretch and do their business soon after departure.

During the past 20 years, it's been a joy hunting with retrievers throughout 5 Canadian Provinces, all 4 US flyways and Western Mexico.  One of the most memorable events didn't involve retrieves at all.  After Memphis TSA had checked her kennel crack-of-dawn early one morning, I instructed Cooper to "kennel."  Much to everyone's surprise, she leapt onto the ticket counter, grinning and in full-mode spin cycle like only a young lab can, and swept the counter void of everything and then some.  Off to a great start, the following week duck hunting in Manitoba was equally spectacular.

Ramsey Russell, 

Time flies in the duck blind

It now seems as long ago as my own childhood.  I started taking my sons hunting when they were practically babies.  Exposing them to hunting and camp life at an early enough age, I hoped, would moderate later distractions that seem inevitable in this technologically-addled and virtually-enabled world. 

There’s no wirelessly connecting youth to nature. They have to get their waders muddy in a swamp, get their hands bloody at a skinning rack, get their stomachs full around a camp dinner table.
Not just hunting but an entire experience:  mud wrestling while building duck blinds, catching snakes while spreading Japanese millet, netting crawdads while pulling boards from water control structures.  And always duck hunting.
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As strong advocates of conservation, supports the following organizations:

Ducks Unlimited Dallas Safari Club National Rifle Association National Wild Turkey Federation Dallas Woods and Water Delta Waterfowl SCI