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Ramsey Russell’s Journal

Argentina Goose Hunting Updates

Update: Argentina Goose Hunting Prohibition

April 2009.  Many hunters still request information about Argentina's fabled goose hunting.  Some hunters are even told that goose hunting is as good as ever.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Much of this malicious information comes from agents or outfitters that dismiss regulations for personal profits.

We wish to inform hunters that a wide-reaching prohibition on Argentina goose hunting remains firmly in affect.  Most of the old hot-spot areas are included in these conservation regulations.  The prohibition is declared on the provinces of Rio Negro, Buenos Aires, Chubut and Santa Cruz.  These provinces encompass the migrational corridor extending from the mountainous through the Atlantic zones.  There is no forseeable ending date due to the prohibition's origin.

There are four species of geese endemic to South America inlands.  One of these species, the "red cauquen", or Ruddy-headed Goose (Chloephaga rubidiceps), is endangered, and its population is estimated at only about 1,000 individuals. The Ruddy-headed Goose is protected by national and provincial laws.  However, the difficulty in distinguishing Ruddy-headed Geese from the female of the other goose species with which it becomes intermingled during migration, poses serious threat to its continued existence.

Many long-time Argentine operators say that the goose hunts of yesteryear are over, at least for now.  Hunters that hear of Argentina goose hunts that rival the good old days are advised to excerice care in booking their hunts.  Ask questions: specific hunt areas, commuting times, specific legalities including licensing and transportation, estimated bag limits.  Most, if not all, of the professional operators that historically delivered these magnificent Argentina goose hunts no longer offer them.  Recent promotions come from non-reliable sources.

The geese of Argentina are doubtlessly the best decoying waterfowl on the face of earth, and to experience it first-hand is certainly among a waterfowl hunter's most memorable achievements.  We at hope that an adequate regulatory framework to ensure the sustainable use of the Argentina's migratory geese is forthcoming and that we travelling sportsmen are soon able to experience these thrilling hunts again.  We we'll be sure to keep you posted of further developments in these regards.

Note: the justification for Argentina's goose hunting prohibition is further described in the following report entitled Harvest of migratory geese Chloephaga spp. in Argentina: an overview of the present situation (2006)

Update.  July 2010.  Argentina goose hunting is still closed.  There are a number of outfitters that continue to hunt guests "under the radar", but it remains illegal throughout the majority of areas historically hunted.  An interesting story told by a group that was goose hunting east of Colonel Pringle in 2009: about mid-morning, a squadron of crop dusters "stretched from horizon to the next" swept the wheat fields clean of geese and herded them offshore until they became exhausted.  Once the geese landed on the water they drank salt water and perished and later washed ashore in the thousands.  No way to verify this story, but it was again repeated by an Argentine outfitter this year.  We receive several inquiries regarding Argentina goose hunting.  If it were legal, our outfitting affiliates would again be hunting the tradition areas and, rest assured, we'd be right there with them.

Update August 2012.  The Buenos Aires Province declared magellan goose a nuisance species and issued licenses to outfitter - but only during about a 6-8 week period that with was being contested with the federal government that insisted it remained closed.

Update August 2014.  Argentina goose hunting remains closed.  So insistent on the federal government that farmers are unable to protect their fragile crops by hazing or even chasing off geese. If the rumor mill is to be believed, it appears that the Queen of Netherlands, an Argentine, is friends with Christina, the president of Argentina, and has "gifted" significant sums of money to ensue that the Argentina goose hunting season remains closed.  This would be absurd were it not for the fact that Netherlands goose hunting, much to their derision, has remained close for a decade due to fervent anti-hunting sentiment in that country.

Update April 2016.  Argentina has elected a new president and we are hopeful that the unjustified closure of the Argentina Goose Hunting season will be repealed in upcoming years.

Ramsey Russell's

Best Eating Waterfowl - Pacific Black Brant

Somewhere between second and third helpings of dinner last week, the Swamp Warlock, aka Jim Crews, and I intently deliberated whether Pacific Black Brant is possibly superior to South America's rosy-billed pochard as tablefare, which we'd long-since agreed was the best we'd ever had.  It was hard to take each other too seriously as we talked with our mouths full.

I've previously hunted Atlantic Brant in Rhode Island.  And because they seem to be widely regarded by many northastern seaboard waterfowlers as very poorly tasting (though formerly prized by market gunners), I've had no serious inclinations to shoot them at all after adding a beautiful pair to the game room.  I have no aversion to eating ducks and geese; we eat lots of them at camp and home.  Pot-roasted green-wings, smoked white-fronts, grilled poppers, blue-wing chicken fried tenders, and orange-maple mallards are favorites.  But when I learned that we'd be eating plenty while Hunting Pacific Brant in Cold Bay Alaska, I chalked it up to the roughing it part of the Alaskan bush experience.  I could not possibly have been more pleasantly surprised; Pacific Brant are absolutely delicious.  Likely the best-eating waterfowl in the world.

Pacific Brant feed almost exclusively on marine eelgrass, a perennial seagrass with long, beautiful, bright green, ribbon-like leaves, that flourishes in shallow estuaries.  Izembek Lagoon, which is part of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, has one of the largest remaining eelgrass beds in the world.  Many square miles of eelgrass lay bare at low tide, and it's relished by voracious flocks of migrating Pacific Black Brant, as well as the Eurasian and American Wigeons that are proliferate to the area.  Once abundant in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, and other northeastern US estuaries, an estimated 90% of the Atlantic coastline's eelgrass beds are gone, and this surely correlates to the poor palatability of Atlantic Brant.

Grilled Pacific Black Brant
Our Cold Bay, Alaska Pacific Brant hunting guides demonstrate that simple is surely best.  Allowing two brant's worth per hungry adult hunter, place in ziplock bag and marinade Pacific Brant breasts overnight in a solution of olive oil (or vegetable oil), garlic powder, and your favorite seasoning (we used cajun seasoning, but anything agreeable to your palate will work perfectly).  Place the breasts on the grill over high heat, cooking for a couple of minutes each side.  The meat is best cooked rare, no more than medium rare.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

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Alaska King Eider Hunting Is All About Getting There

The hardest part was getting there.  We arrived to St. Paul Island at 2:30 a.m. (that's 5:30 a.m. at-home time). It was 12 hours later than expected.  My clothes and guns made it. Those of outdoor writer, Brian Lynn, did not until a day or so before we left. He survived comfortably thanks in no small part to modern-day Columbia Omniheat technology.

The wind howled with gusts up to 50.  St. Paul Island averages about 25 mph.  The lowest wind-chill I can remember was minus 11 F.  Wetness: spray over the bow of the boat; rogue waves unpredictably coming from nowhere, dousing from head to toe when hunting the ice-encased, rocky points.  Wet stuff turned to ice quickly on St. Paul.  That was a good thing.  It didn’t drip for too long!

Everyone in camp shot trophy king eiders.  Most achieved non-resident season limit of 4 king eiders.   All clients this season did equally as well, underscoring that this Alaska king eider hunting package remains the most practical place in the world to successfully hunt king eiders.  One very lucky hunter shot the 10th-ever banded king eider ever reported. (Watch Video: Trevor Peterson describes collecting his banded king eider).  

Due to horrific northeast winds, our group shot mostly from points. Until the snow had melted sufficiently, getting there required a 4-5 mile ATV ride after we'd parked the truck as far as we could drive it. 

King eiders, harlequins, and oldsquaws.  Sea ducks hug the water, staying behind waves to mitigate wind drag.  Ideal wind for hunting points are gale force blowing directly towards the shoreline and awaiting hunters - it pushes some of them near or over the bank.  The rest are seen parading in flocks about a hundred yards or more distant.  The single day that the winds subsided sufficiently for us to safely take to the water in force, we camp hunters bagged 10 kings.   Our boat also scored 2 pacific common eiders, juvies though they were, as welcomed bonuses. Scratch them off the list until I can return for some serious Pacific eider hunting in Cold Bay.

One afternoon we busted through daunting 5-to 6-foot breakers at the west-side launch and finally hunted "The Slick." We boated upwind of rafted long-tailed ducks (oldsquaws), drifted into them (hidden, in part, by the huge swells).  The scene resembles a swarm of bees near a kicked hive with ducks circling the boat, returning greedily to the slick.  We took turns picking long-tailed drakes, repeating as needed until we had filled our limits.  It was an enjoyable half-hour.  And wouldn't you know it - king eiders like that area, too. South of The Slick and nearer the wave-churning area colloquially known as The Washing Machine, Brian and I each picked up our final drake king of the trip that afternoon.

Recovering downed birds can be an adventure.  At least for hunters unaccustomed to extreme sea duck hunting adventures.  From the boat, we motored up and deftly plucked them from the cobalt-colored water with rubber-gloved hands.  From the shore, things got trickier.  The surf brings them in. Imagine scrambling down those icy rocks, reaching into the surf that gets mid-thigh deep and grabbing one. The guide-staff were pros in these regards. On Sea Lion Neck, a rock-studded protuberance south of Northeast Point, there was a span of about 50 yards outside of which felled bird recovery was unlikely.

For oldsquaws and harlequins, 1.25 ounce steel 3s and hevishot 6s worked perfectly.  Hevishot 4s are ideal for the eiders.  The Battleaxe Browning Two-tube (Citori), chambers 3.5-inch rounds, and size 2 steel and hevishot seemed to hold a superior pattern in the St. Paul winds.  I once read that the tradition of Indian shikars demanded one-shot kills for the noble Royal Bengal Tiger.  In hunting Alaska king eiders, the analogy seems apropos: they're a pelagic species that are not relatively plentiful where humanity can actually access them near shore, at great peril and discomfort nonetheless. You have got to play for keeps; to assume that each opportunity at a nice drake king eider may be your last or only. Go under-gunned for neither Bengal Tigers nor King Eiders.

From boats, the strategy is to troll a tail-line rigged with over-sized, hand-fashioned, burlap-wrapped foam king eider decoys.  Birds from a distance will toll into the decoys, but this method is also like spotting for birds while saltwater fishing – we’d actively look for birds while trolling the water.  From the upwind side of rafted birds, we'd then idle and drift.  Kings and oldsquaws, especially, will often pass right over the decoys during their departure, easily within range.

Petite, new-denim-colored harlequins prefer close proximity to rocky shorelines.  It's a daunting task to hang over the bow and scoop one up in between waves crashing the shore.  They were very abundant while hunting Alaska king eiders at St. Paul Island for hunters so inclined.

A sky-blue crown frames a prominently large knob as bright as sun-ripened citrus: king eiders are beautiful and certainly among the most exquisite crown jewels of waterfowl collections.  But I choose first and foremost to collect experiences.  To have experienced all that duck hunting has to offer entails a week of Alaska king eider hunting.  It is cold.  It is wet. It is windy.  It is true King Eider ambiance.  The real challenge is getting there - not necessarily closer to trophy king eiders, but nearer to a state of mind whereby the pursuit of king eiders is not insanity.  It becomes instead a dedication to an ideal.  In these regards, maybe king eiders trophies are mere reminders of our having finally gotten there.

The ice flow was a scant 10 miles beyond St. Paul Island’s Northeast Point when we left. Locals say they'll be iced in until spring.  Within a few weeks they will be walking miles out over the area we boated to hunt seals and eiders that will congregate in small openings. Am glad to be here.  At home.

View's King Eider Photo Gallery: Alaska King Eider Hunting

See Alaska King Eider Hunting Video Testimonial Below:



Years ago, soon after my preschool-aged sons wrestled her from a litter of squirming black pups, I'd told myself she was just a retriever.  But a very good one she turned out to be.  At 9 years old, and with 7-and-a-half seasons under her belt, she delivered to hand many thousands of documented birds to hand.  I can remember Delta Retrieves Number 5,000 like it was yesterday. Ducks and geese from across North America mostly, but also a fair share of doves, snipes, pheasants.  One summer we'd pulled down the water in a slough to broadcast jap millet in knee-deep mud.  That was the day she proudly brought to hand a large, frog-green bowfin she'd found in the murkey tailwater.  Among the lifetime tally were countless firsts: ducks, limits, species and leg bands for my children who have hunted their entire lifetimes with a black dog named Delta.

Second only to the report of a shotgun, she loved the sound of aluminum bats hitting baseballs.  She was tireless in her job to retrieve baseballs during backyard batting practices.  She subsequently developed a penchant for round objects, and the back yard remains littered with dozens of round balls every size and color imaginable.  I'm sure we'll find them while working in the gardens for many years to come.

I learned over the years to let her out to do her business well in advance of cranking the 4 wheeler.  As soon as the 4 wheeler was cranked, she loaded up, ready for the day's adventure.  More than once she finished her business during our drive to the blind.  It became especially problemmatic as the boys grew old enough to share that space with her!

She lost her hearing about 2 seasons ago, rendering a whistle moot.  We worked it out, like the team we were, and it was actually alot more relaxing without having to blow a whistle.  She'd take a line and hunt the spot, looking to me for a hand signal only if she lost confidence in the area.  She rarely came back without the retrieve, proving time and again that her nose and hunting ability were far superior to my marking skills.

She seldom came inside until we were traveling.  If we stayed in a hotel while hunting somewhere, she'd find a sofa or bed on which to stretch out.  She'd usually earned it.  I woke up more than once being pushed off the bed as she made herself more comfortable.  Left unattended, she'd sometimes sneak onto a couch at home even though she knew better.

A week ago she climbed onto my bed at camp.  It was a first.  Walked in and caught her red-handed, sound asleep and softly snoring.  Lacking her hearing, she was oblivious until I reached down and stroked her soft, gray-muzzled head.   I couldn't help but grin and she couldn't help but slowly wag her guilty tail.  I had no idea at the time that cancer had completely eaten her insides.

I buried her with a greenhead this Saturday, precisely 2 weeks preceding the Mississippi Duck Season Opener.  Her final resting place is a lake site that sits in the shadow of a tall cypress where eagles nest.  The spot is framed perfectly in the pane of my camphouse window. It was under that same cypress that  an epiphinal light clicked on when she suddenly realized what her role in this duck hunting thing was all about.  Whether she's the best dog I may ever own remains to be seen; that she defines the very best decade of hunting in my life is doubtless.

Whoever said grown men don't cry has never had their life blessed with a retriever like Delta. That's the greater of two tragedies.

Ramsey Russell,


One Delaware Black Duck

I've always said I'd rather be lucky than good.  I'm usually neither.

Such was the case when, back in mid-December, we left for a week-long Christmas visit with inlaws in Virginia.  It's not that I don't have great inlaws, in that instance I am truly blessed beyond compare.  But no matter how far delayed the migration or poor the hunting, to leave for a week during duck season is neither lucky nor good.

Snap! It really is duck season somewhere.  So I called a friend and begged an invite.

Hank had said, heck yes come up and hunt.  When I telephoned him from Virginia for directions to camp, the hunt report was less than encouraging:

Hank: "It's slow.  Bad slow.  We've not been hunting hard and not killing too many. We still need snow cover up North."

Me: "Story of my life. Every duck hunter's life. So where's camp?"

Hank: "We'll kill a few ducks, but if it weren't for you coming up, I'd be at the office getting something productive done."

Me: "Relax.  I don't want but ONE duck.  Just one."

Hank: "Yeah, yeah, I know. A black duck."

Me: "No.  A banded black duck."

Hank (howling hysterically): "I'm a duck hunter, not a miracle worker, and you're crazy (not exactly his words - there were a few skillfully used expletives tossed in for proper effect, too, but that pretty much sums it.)"

Even in darkness the change was startling as the DC-Metro Beltway ceded to the manicured-looking farms of Delaware and quaint towns wrapped in blinking Christmas cheer.  I was greeted at Hank's camphouse by his black, tail-wagging lab, Ryder.  We looked at property maps, talked about waterfowl hunting, habitat management and conservation practices long into the night.  And it wasn't lost on me that every time the words "black ducks" were mentioned Hank grinned in recalling that I only wanted ONE.

By moonlight we walked through tall, rustling corn stalks that shrouded a 2-acre duck pond.  The smell of saltwater marsh hung in the near-breathless air, reminding me that we were hunting a stubby finger of land pointed into and surrounded on three sides by Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.  Good place for black ducks, Hank had reiterated.

Shooting time arrived soon after the last of Hank's over-sized, hand-flocked (or hand-fuzzed as I called them) decoys had been pitched.  The whir of whistling wings jarred the silence and before we knew it, 3 green-winged teal pitched into the decoys and left 2 shy.  The next half-hour brought a pair of mallards that soon joined them on the blind bench.  We waited.

During the next half-hour, Ryder paced his wet paws in place, looked upward through the blind opening and gently pleaded to the duck gods to bring more.  Reminding me of the commercial, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, I soon made Ryder a deal: "I'll shoot another duck if you'll bring me the band."  Ryder's tail agreeably thumped on the deck.

The sun had risen over the horizon and subdued the blue, predawn darkness with hues of copper-golden lighting.  From the east a duck worked into the spread, too high the first pass, but recognized immediately as a black duck, its white underwings strobing contrast to its burnt umber plumage.  On the final pass, it rounded in low from the east, closer to the water, backlit by sunshine.  A single shot dropped it into the standing corn behind the blind.  I followed Hank and Ryder to watch.

With the duck in his mouth, Ryder passed by Hank and returned toward the blind.  I was directly in his return path, and he handed me the black duck.  My black duck.  A banded black duck.  Probably the first and last time that Ryder ever hands a duck to anyone other than Hank - because great retrievers  are like that - but a deal is a deal!

We shot more decoying mallards for the remainder of the visit, watched them pour into holes after shooting light by the hundreds, but it was all afterglow.   Thanks to a friends Hank and Ryder, I had my one Delaware black duck.

Ramsey Russell,

Packed for King Eiders

It's a commonly accepted truism: duck hunters are crazy.   Cold and wet is a combination best poured from a frosty mug on a hot summer day.  But leaving Mississippi on a cold January morning bound not for the sun-baked sands of Mexico, but for a 40-square-mile piece of  bare, wind-swept rock situated smack in the middle of the Bering Sea nearly 800 miles northwest of Anchorage - to duck hunt - evokes a whole new realm of insanity.

Unless you're going to hunt the most coveted duck species that is practically unavailable elsewhere in the world: the King Eider.  Then it becomes a matter of dedication.  King eiders make their living diving deep beneath the ocean's surface to feed primarily on molluscs.  They rarely stray far from the fringes of floating ice that comprises the polar ice cap.  I'm reminded of the reality televison series Deadliest Catch, when during the winter opilio crab season there's always the mad rush to pull their traps and avert catastrophe as the ice sweeps southward.  It's that south-bound ice mass that drives king eiders full-force to the shores of St. Paul Island, the northernmost piece of rock for which there exists any practical amenities whatsoever to accommodate duck hunters, or anything else for that matter.

King eider hunting is not for the faint of heart.  Yesterday's forecast was low- to mid-teens with a 25-30 mph wind that whipped windchills deep into negative territory.  Average wind speed is about 15 knots.  That's average.  On the best of days, hunters find protected water in a small boat, and other times hunt from ice-encrusted rocks along the shore's edge.  During the worse of times, hunters hunker inside waiting on horrific winds to abate.  There are about 6 total hours of daylight to hunt.  King eiders seem most active during the first couple.  The limit is 4 king eiders.  Per year.

Besides king eiders, there are a few cold-hardy long-tailed ducks (used to be called oldsquaws), harlequins, and maybe even white-winged scoter.  Spectacled eiders are strictly off-limits to hunting but will sure be a joy to see if the opportunity avails.  The island is rife with feral foxes in many colors that were initially stocked by Russian-immigrant furriers.  That's why the .17 HMR is nestled right next to the recently cleaned, degreased and graphited 12-gauge Citori.

As if actually hunting king eiders in Alaska weren't extreme enough, getting there is equally challenging and not without its own unique risks.  Between unpredictable Alaska weather and PenAir flight schedules, trip interruptions and delays are a when not if situation.  Trip Insurance, check.  Weight is an issue for small commercial airline companies servicing remote Alaska, and just because you make it on board is no guarantee that your checked baggage - with all that state-of-the-art gear designed to keep you warm and dry - will arrive too.  Which makes packing everything you might possibly need an especially daunting task because it is best packed in a carry-on.

I managed to pack all essential items into a 39-pound carry-on: heavy 5mm neoprene waders, a box of 3-inch steel shot, several warm layers, extra wool socks, tobacco, toothbrush, and pocket knife.  Who needs clean boxers for a week at duck camp, or more if weathered in?  I'll let you know how it goes.  Think warm thoughts.

Ramsey Russell,

Changing Times for Texas Gulf Coast Snow Goose Hunting

It was 20 years ago that I made a weekend trip to snow goose hunt the fabled rice prairie near Katy, Texas.  I was young, skinny, still had hair, and was a year-plus from marriage,  I still shot a Remington.  It was a friend of a friend that knew somebody's buddy that guided kind of deal; more than enough to compell me.  It was my first-ever waterfowl hunting trip away from Mississippi.  It ignited the flame that still burns to pursue waterfowl everywhere that they're huntable.

I watched snow geese fly over Mississippi's delta during their migration to the Gulf Coastal prairies while in grade school.  While I should have been pouring over math homework in high school study hall, I instead read and dreamed about one day hunting snow geese on the Texas rice prairies.

We layed on our backs in bare mud.  Comfortable ground blinds had yet to be invented. Our decoys were white plastic trash bag-looking decoys numbering in the thousands.  We hid among tight clumps of them. There was the perfect combination of wind, low clouds, rain, and skillful calling.  The snow geese decoyed perfectly, and I later grinned ear to ear while holding first snows, blues and white-fronts.  Three of those firsts were destined to adorn game room walls for eternity.  I was young enough to naively thought that, like the immortalized trophies, snow goose hunting in Coastal Texas would last forever.  But nothing lasts forever.

Urban sprawl has since flourished.  Combine a little dirt work and vision with the demands of civilization and proper zoning ordinances, and the table-flat agricultural fields along the Texas Gulf Coast are perfect for shopping centers, schools and residential areas.  Much of the historic wintering grounds have been paved pursuant to increased expansion of the Greater-Houston Metro area.

Last week I was disheartened to read that the Lower Colorado River Authorities relegated water for rice farming and duck ponds to the status of least-importance.  Meaning that permits to pump water for such useages are no guarantee.  Less food, in the instance of rice production, and less roosting area, in the form of irrigated duck ponds, necessarily equates to fewer snow geese along the Texas coast.  Texas outdoor writer Steve Knight opined that, "City growth and the demands of humans and industry now are at the top of the heap."

Certainly, the needs of humanity come first.  Changing land usages and public policy are inevitable consequences of time.  As another historical waterfowling area succumbs to time and to civilization, I review old photos from yesteryears while wondering what changes the next 20 years will bring to bear.  And I'm determined to enjoy the waterfowling opportunities that remain.

Peru Duck Hunting Is Breathtaking

It’s a fact we learned in kindergarten: water runs down hill.  It collects in low-lying areas, forming wetlands.  Generally speaking, it is there that waterfowl – and waterfowl hunters alike – spend much of their lives.  But generally speaking, there are exceptions to every rule.  The rugged Andes Mountains in which Peru duck hunting takes place is one such exception.
Leaving a small highland village well after daylight, we drove daily through the mountains, along rock-studded roads.  Past endless miles of stacked-stones walls that doubtlessly took
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Ramsey Russell's Reviews Russia Duck Hunting

Russia duck hunting, russia bird hunting, russia capercaillie
Fumbling hurriedly through loose ammo that’d also been dumped into the coat pocket, the wooden duck call was retrieved just in time to blow 4 lousy notes that squelched due to dried cork.   It was enough.  The drake mallard’s head yanked as he hit the end of an invisible tie, he turned on a dime and locked onto a solitary, paintless decoy and descended cupped-and-committed until his feet were right above ice-rimmed creek water near.  He recoiled backasswards at the clap of a single shot and I could only chuckle at having traveled such inconceivably great distance to start the hunt with a ordinarily beautiful greenhead.  It was only the beginning.
Russia duck hunting offers one of the few spring waterfowl hunts remaining in the world and it coincides with hunting for Capercaillie and Black Grouse during their famous courtship rituals.  Until recently, nearly everything I knew about Russia derived from watching James Bond reruns.  The real thing was much better.
In addition to hunting 2 of the most coveted trophy grouse species in the world, duck hunting in Russia presents
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Unique Uruguay Duck Hunting Recipe: Duck Pate

Like everyone else at duck camp, I used to always put on a few pounds during hunting season and spent the summer losing them.  Now "it's ducks season somewhere" and that is more the exception than the rule.
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Eight of Clubs

At Willow Break, we draw blinds at 5:30 AM.  Sharp.  High card gets first pick.  There’s always a crowd of anxious duck hunters on Opening Day.  There’s always friendly handshakes and back slapping between gulps of warm coffee.  There’s never mention of duck reports or favorite spots. You’d think we’d not seen each other in months and were just having a friendly reunion.  It then gets quietly serious as the dog-eared deck is shuffled and members pull chances from the scattered pile.

Eight of Clubs didn’t win the big prize,  for damned sure.  It was poor consolation that I out-drew Ian, my long-time friend and former college professor, with whom the blind is traditionally shared on opening morning.

Our chosen spot consisted of flooded coffeweeds.  There’d been enough ducks in preceding weeks that my oldest son broke from deer hunting and joined us - me, Duncan and Ian - in the blind. I’ve tried to raise him better and morning deer hunting during duck season is hopefully just a phase he’ll outgrow.

Ducks took flight as we walked into the darkness.  A few quacked from the shadows as we tossed decoys.  The morning held promise.

There was heavy cloud cover and no wind.  Knowing there’d be no shadows to hide in later, we situated ourselves further back into the coffeweeds, where we kicked water when working ducks.
The first pair ripped into the decoys from out of nowhere and splashed paddles-up on the water by the boy’s steel fusillade.  Redheads!

Next up were 3 mallards and I got in on the action, too.  With little to no wind, the morning's ducks decoyed randomly from all directions.   It was no barrel-burner, but mallards, wood ducks, green-winged teal, and ringnecks trickled in most of the morning. The rain held off, too, mostly.

During a similar duck hunt several years previously, Ian overheard Forrest and Duncan discussing a big buck they’d seen.  He struck the deal that for his not sharing the buck’s location with anyone else in camp, they’d agree to say, “Nice shot, Mr. Ian” every time he killed a duck in their presence.  The deal backfired during the very next volley.  It’s more fun to say it after misses, which happens as often as not.  The 2012 Mississippi duck hunting season opener was no exception, and we all abided the tradition of saying it on several occasions.

Cooper’s inexperience may have cost us a few birds on the strap were it not for the more experienced Asia, Ian’s pup out of Delta.  She marked and then recovered them handily from dense cover. 

We’ve shot more ducks together, and we’ve certainly shot fewer, but it felt good again to be in knee-deep water, duck hunting in Mississippi.  It felt good to be among a long-time friend, with both sons, and with a new retriever that was showing promise. Duck season and all that comes with it - including the occasional Eight of Clubs - had finally arrived.

Uruguay Duck Hunt at New Tacuarí Lodge

duck hunting in uruguay
It's not as easy as it sounds.  Finding and delivering duck hunting trips around the world entails long hours, arduous travel away from home and the hassle and inconveniences that come with it.

I know, I know, but someone has to do it (and just wait, I've got a whole series of stories about things that happen along the way you'll never, ever read about in slick travel brochures).  I like traveling to new places and pulling the trigger, but new and different experiences, preferably way off the beaten path, are most compelling.

Most wingshooting destinations offered in South America are as convenient to an airport as Disney World to Orlando.  The duck hunting is incredible; total-package experiences relative to duck hunting locally are unbelievable. Sometimes we get real lucky and find something harder to get to, but worth it.  Our new Tacuarí Lodge Uruguay duck hunting program is the perfect example.

The best duck hunting in Uruguay is located to the east.  Many duck species common to Uruguay are rare or not available throughout much of Argentina.  Uruguay duck hunts are usually operated from hotels and let's face it, who wants to travel that far to stay in a hotel?

Tacuarí Lodge is located 5.5 hours from Montevideo, in remote northeastern Uruguay, right across the river from Brazil.  We drove past other duck hunting operations getting there.  It was worth it.  What awaited surprised us.
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Gould's Turkey Hunting Mexico's Sierra Madres: Trip Report

"Gould’s turkey hunting is one of those hunting trips of a lifetime you might do twice," explained client Chris Adkins of West Virginia.  Whether you’re a serious turkey hunter or not.

Hosting Gould’s turkey hunt in Durango, Mexico falls under my job description not hobby.  Besides, I'm a duck hunter at heart.  A few days Gould’s turkey hunting in the beautiful Sierra Madres with die-hard turkey hunters is nearly enough to make even an ardent duck hunter. like myself a turkey hunter.
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Rio Salado Argentina Duck Hunting Way Off the Beaten Path

duck hunting in argentina
Right about the time you think you've seen and done it all, a really special duck hunt is found that reminds me of what I've really been hunting for in the first place. Getting there took some doing. 

Located in the northern Santa Fe Province, about 300 miles from Buenos Aires, the last 30 miles is regularly graded, non-graveled dirt road.  It had rained hard before our arrival so we crept at a snail's pace for the last hour.  With any idea of what lay ahead, I'd have walked it.

My heart was still beating hard from a quarter-mile walk to the blind, but in the somber, gray relief of a cloud-covered daybreak, I knew it immediately. For a decade, I'd visited duck holes world-wide to find it; it's where I want to be buried.
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Dream Duck Hunting Trip? Here's One

Favorite duck hunts may be spent in familiar haunts near home, with family and close friends.  Decoying mallards and gadwalls in cypress brakes, bouncing teal across flooded bean fields, and shooting passing woodies from oak-lined creeks are fun times we duck hunters live for.  Hunt-wise, opening day of Mississippi's dove season is the last on Earth I'd miss for anything.

Duck hunts is the stuff from which dreams are made, and dreams vary greatly among waterfowlers.  Unique species, simple changes in scenery or trigger-pulling that's been illegal in the U.S. for nearly a century are among the many reasons that seemingly normal duck hunters may travel.

Duck hunters are often described as crazy for playing in water during cold weather, but some duck hunters are crazier than others.  And it's a mighty big world.

I've got a bucket list of duck hunts around the world, too. Wild and remote places compel me.  Adventure is a must; new species are a plus.

duck hunting in argentina
One dream hunt presently exists solely in snapshots and the translated, first-hand description of an Argentine acquaintance's quest for his own dream duck.  The hunt occurs in a remote jungle – as wild as anything in the Amazon Basin much further to its north.  Hunters leave the hotel long before daylight, drive down tire-rutted trails into jungle blackness.  Temperatures are in the 90s.  Walk down hand-cut trails by headlights, towards coconut palm-studded swamps.  There are numerous duck species and liberal shooting limits.  The duck that draws you here feeds exclusively on young, walnut-sized coconuts. The swamp seethes with insects, with yellow anacondas as long most living rooms are wide.  Monkeys scream from the treetops at daylight, maybe a jaguar roars from deep within the forest shadows; you hear your intended quarry’s wing beats on mangroves, like fast raps n wooden doors, as they grow impatient to feed.  Later they will take flight, weaving through towering palms towards waiting decoys.

There's a crazy twist to it that is, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.  That will be continued later.

What’s your dream duck hunt?

Ramsey Russell ‘s is a full-time, full-service agency specializing in wing shooting with major emphasis on trophy duck species and trophy duck hunting experiences. It's duck season somewhere. Your trip of a lifetime deserves – and receives – our full attention.  Ready to pull the trigger?

Argentina duck hunting these days - laughs are just seconds away

The other day, the outside thermometer could be seen plainly reading in the high-90s.  The heat index was 103.  Good old Mississippi summertime: growing tomatoes, mowing lawns, planning outside to-dos for mornings and late-afternoons.   Mid-day walks to the mailbox cause for breaking a sweat if you piddle.  So I was thankful to be working in the air condition with plenty to keep me busy.  Then the phone chirped with an incoming message from clients duck hunting in Argentina.
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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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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, 

"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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New Zealand duck hunt was far from home, yet close

New Zealand 17 hours into the future from New Orleans.  It's takes 14 hours in the air from San Francisco. That's plenty of time to get a full night's sleep and watch a half-dozen in-flight movies.

New Zealand is the size of California.  Comprised of two islands, the population is about 4 million people.  North Island is predominately pasture, to include livestock-beneficial and clover-chicory crops.  Sheep and gates that confine them are countless.   Forests cover remaining areas and are either lush stands of native species or highly-productive plantations of radiata pine, that are native to California's central coast.

New Zealand red stag huntingHunting in New Zealand is widely accepted, because of the country's mostly rural, farm-connected lifestyle.  The carefully cultivated habitat teems with trophy game animals originating elsewhere in the world: red deer, fallow deer, rusa deer, sambar, elk, white-tail deer; tahr and chamois.  As in the US, big game are the rock-stars of New Zealand hunting.

New Zealand duck hunting opportunities are plentiful, too.  There are native paradise shelducks ("parries"), Pacific black ducks ("gray ducks"), Australian shovelers ("spoonies") and self-introduced black swans.  Introduced mallards are proliferate in the absence of natural predators, to the increasing derision of native black ducks.  Canada geese are too.  Upland bird hunting species consists of native pukekkos ("blue pheasants"), introduced ring-necked pheasants, Gamble's quail, Merriam's wild turkeys and peafowl.

Without fox or coyote predation, turkeys are as likely to roost on a fence post, or in quail-like covies on the ground, as in a tree.  Paradise shelducks are keen to spend the entire night on the farmer's crops.  A remote, geographically-isolated island nation, there aren't waterfowl migrations in New Zealand; there isn't a push of new, dumb ducks and local ducks quickly learn the tricks of the trade.  Duck hunting customs reflect these differences.  There are the usual duck hunting accoutrements - decoys, calls, and oftentimes elaborate duck blinds ("maimais"), but there's also legalized baiting, unplugged firearms and shooting hours well past black dark. 

New Zealand duck hunting
While duck hunting in New Zealand is popular, many only hunt the opening day or weekend.  Then there are the true duck hunters, that like us, are in it until the end. Like that afternoon in a light, steady, bone-soaking rain.  We started off hunting the paradise shelducks. It was something to do until the main event that evening.  Capitalizing on the few parries that presented themselves over the decoys, we took no prisoners. Karl swore the borrowed 870 fit him poorly but then quintupled in an impressive feat that I witnessed from across the field.

Our farmer-host arrived at 5:15 pm.  We shooters then strung ourselves loosely down a sliver of spring-fed habitat he'd recently constructed.  With our backs against a high, wet-rock bank and a wind hitting our faces, we watched the landforms melt into blackness. The quickly-fading sky that continued to empty.  Abruptly from behind, a quartet of mallard arrived low, on whistling wings and chattering feverishly.  Fire blazed from gun barrel and the water's surface flashed like lightning, then rippled where fallen mallards had splashed.  In came another pair, then another. More: faint shadows against a nearly dark sky, more shooting.  It was over by 5:45.

New Zealand duck hunting
Afterwards, a young yellow lab, Willow, ferreted fallen ducks from the water.  Soaked from rain, we hunters visited in the glow of rain-infused headlight beams. Hand-shakes and introductions followed quickly by laughs about the hits and misses, by discussions of places and ducks hunted and of politics here, there and abroad.  A cheerful banter of Queen's and Southern-English, like we'd known each other for longer than the moments we shared a quick duck hunt in New Zealand.  It's one of those universal truths in duck hunting - only duck hunters stand around in the rain talking about duck hunting.  New Zealand was far from home, yet close.
Learn more: New Zealand Duck Hunting

View photo gallery: New Zealand Duck Hunt (North Island)

Ready to pull the trigger?  Ramsey Russell ‘s is a full-time, full-service agency specializing in wing shooting with major emphasis on trophy duck species and duck hunting adventures. It's duck season somewhere. Your trip of a lifetime deserves – and receives – our full attention. 

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