Paul Conchâtre owns and operates Birdtail Waterfowl in Manitoba Canada, served as President of Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association for 10 years, and remains extremely active in Manitoba tourism. When he says, “I’m all in,” what’s he mean? How’d he get started, what were his influences? How does he distinguish his program as very best? What advice does he offer to hunters shopping for hunts, and to those considering guide or outfitting careers? How important is hunting tourism to Canada? What was the pandemic’s economic impact to Canada–and how are returning hunters behaving differently? Fantastic episode that digs into what it’s like to be truly “all in” as a guide or outfitter. Or anything else really.
A Visit with Paul of Birdtail Waterfowl in Manitoba
If you’re going to be a taker in this industry, you got to give.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. I am in Manitoba on a North American Waterfowl Tour and having a heck of a time. I’ve been coming to Manitoba for a long time and I love this province. And this has been no exception. I’ve been hunting with Paul Conchâtre, today’s guest at Bird Tail Waterfowl, Manitoba. Fantastic operation. This business is so much about detail, so much about organization. Everybody thinks we’re in the duck hunting business, but we’re not, we’re in the hospitality business and Paul really brings it, but he’s got just a lot of insights, as an outfitter and as a hunter and just as a human being and wanted you all to hear some of these thoughts, Paul kind of went outside today.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on here, appreciate it.
Ramsey Russell: I’m glad to have you. We’ve been talking for months, and finally here I am. And I’m going to start us off this way, you talk about the details of the organization being in this business. And I told my guy this morning, I said, everybody wants your job until it’s time to do shit like this. We show up and it’s a perfectly hatched plan, this whole thing just runs like a bus schedule. Leave at 5:45, boom, trucks depart, we run, we step in the mud room, get dressed, boom, we go. You know what I’m saying? We get there and everything just clicks, and I woke up late this morning. Golly, it’s bound to happen after a couple of months chasing ducks. Woke up late this morning, tried it down there and got dressed, I was right on time and we pulled off into the field had been raining. It wasn’t raining, thank God. We pulled off in the field, and started sliding and were stuck, and that’s when the real duck guide stuff flew into action.
Paul Conchâtre: The problem solving.
Ramsey Russell: Problem solving. What I’m saying is it don’t always go as planned, whether you’re hunting on your own or hunting with an outfitter. We got out there and we shot some birds and when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that was this morning for sure.
What Do Duck Hunting Outfitters Do in the Offseason?
Plan for the season. Always 100%. You’re right, it is a hospitality game, that’s what it is.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. Honestly, my favorite question that people ask me all the time, what do you do in the offseason?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, what do you do in the offseason?
Paul Conchâtre: Plan for the season. Always 100%. You’re right, it is a hospitality game, that’s what it is. And I think when people ask, what do you do in the offseason, that’s almost like – in a way I kind of laugh at that sometimes – I’m like no, that’s actually a huge compliment because it is smooth. There is nothing really to hyperfocus on where you could have done this and that would have been avoided or giving you tips and advice on how to do things better and for me, my off season is that. That is what it is, I’m just trying to find every little piece that I could add so a day like, say today, when the vehicles and trucks got stuck, there is a back up. There is the equipment to deal it, it’s not like the stress level is really high, it’s not, this is what we do.
Ramsey Russell: Before we even – before shooting time somebody showed up, pulled them out, boom, we were parked and rock and rolling. I mean, it looks easy but I know it’s not. You know, you bring up a good point, what do you do during the offseason? Because a restaurant is working all day and has customers every day but in this business especially the way you run it, you’re operating behind the scenes and getting everything laid out but you only have customers for what 45 or 50, 60 days?
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: But a lot goes into that so that it runs smooth as silk.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. I probably, I stopped guiding maybe, being on the roster in essence, maybe about 8 years ago and that’s when I really wanted – it was actually after the 2008 recession, is when we learned a lot and it was doing –
Ramsey Russell: I think we all did.
What Does it Mean to be all in as an Outfitter?
Because I was doing another job, plus outfitting, and I just feel like I wasn’t doing both jobs justice, so I picked.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, it was new to me. I think we have been operating for – I think, we started in 2000 and 2000 is when we started and things were going well we had the numbers, the guys coming up and were building a good business and then the await recession hit and it’s like whoa, okay now what do we do? Because we dropped from being 100% full to like 20% full and there’s a lot of uncertainty and whatnot. So then it was kind of like, I had to decide what am I going to do? Because I was doing another job, plus outfitting, and I just feel like I wasn’t doing both jobs justice, so I picked. So after that it was kind of like, okay, I get this game. You really have to be all in 110%.
Ramsey Russell: It’s funny you say that and it’s funny you use the year 2008 because that was the year that my wife and I pushed in the chips and bet the house. We saw it as a huge opportunity, we were just – GetDucks.com we’d been in business for a while, but it was in that year we saw just a huge opportunity and we built a real web page with a real search engine, and we just committed ourselves. I knew at least by January 2009 that my Federal government career was fixing to be in the rear view mirror. And it’s just like you say – what I realized – I know there’s a lot of agents that are probably running successful businesses part time, it didn’t work for me. Because when somebody calls me at 10 o’clock at night to say – they’re not calling to say, oh hey, I just found some great piece in the Atlanta Airport – 10 o’clock at night, when the client calls, there’s a wrinkle. But it could be mid-day, it could be at any time. And nonetheless, if somebody calls me, if a client calls me, he doesn’t need to wait until I get done with my “real job” to deal with him. He is my real job. He is my purpose. And so like you say, we got all in and that’s when things got serious when we just committed ourselves fully. There’s no half measures, you’ve got to be fully in the game.
Paul Conchâtre: If you’re in this industry.
Ramsey Russell: I agree.
Paul Conchâtre: A 100%. And I think that’s why we’ve thrived really because I’m there, we’re 100% in, this is all we do. We don’t use waterfowl as like a fill, in like a black bear, or white tail season, or anything like that, we’re just 100% waterfowl. And then I am available 24/7 kind of thing to wrinkle out things like this whole COVID thing, like the communication. But at the end of the day, we’re having a great season this year. We’re having quite a few people up, we’re not 100% full, but out of a COVID kind of recovery, half that recovery year, we’re not going to right out of the park. And it has been because I’ve been able to be committed to the people who had sent out deposits, and our clientele, and communicating nonstop, and sending out these update videos of me basically videoing myself and just doing – okay, this is where the borders at, this is what you’re going to have to do arrive Canada app, or the vaccine kind of negative thing and whatnot. So it’s just kind of really laying it out for people. And that’s what it takes. It’s what I would expect if I was to go to a destination. This is all the steps you have to do to be able to come here and especially right now. So it is interesting, but it is a hospitality game.
Ramsey Russell: I’m not going to turn it into a COVID vaccination because like everybody else in the world listening, I’m tired of talking about it. But let me just say this in regard to vaccination, I’m of the thought, your body, your choice. The government has no business whatsoever dictating what somebody does. And I mean, I’ll go off into narcotics, if that’s what you want to do, that’s your business. Just don’t bother me in mind. But it’s your body your choice. But, Paul after 9/11, there was no going back. There was no going back to pre-9/11. I can remember before 9/11 going to the airport, my wife coming through the little x-ray machine where you scan your suitcase and coming back, drinking coffee, and Diet Coke until it’s time for me to fly, and walking out. Those days are over. So much changed after 9/11 and I don’t know how much of the current border policies and stuff like that is going to persist, but I’m left to assume probably for the rest of my life, probably because times have changed, it’s a different world now. For me personally – and I’m not – I don’t want to be judged, I’m not judging anybody, but me personally, I’m going to tell you when I got here 3 weeks ago, to Canada, I just looked back and said, man, that’s 2 years of my life away from a place that I really love to be this time of year that I’ll never get back. And I’m seeing, as other parts of the world open with a very similar policy vaccination, and proof of negative, and if I were King of the United States would have the same policy, it just would be that plaine Jane. But I just wanted to go there just because I don’t think you’re ever going to come to Canada, and what a terrible experience to waste over a jab if it’s just that simple as a shot, what a terrible experience to miss out on coming up here to the headwaters of the flyway where it’s really happening.
Paul Conchâtre: I see whether customers this year were there, it was a significant impact on them. It is loss of time, lost opportunity, and life is all about experiences, right? And that is obviously front and center in what we do is to facilitate that in a positive way. But you can really, you can feel it from people that they did miss out on it, and there is that drive to get that experience. I think that’s one probably really positive thing that came out of this is it was a bit of a set on people to be able to identify and actually experience chasing is what I’m really doing.
Early Hunting Experiences and Influences that Led to Guiding
I was absolutely hooked in the industry, loved it. The guy was a great mentor and taught me the industry.
Ramsey Russell: That Tiger King crazy sit at home pause that we were all that the entire world, everybody in the world scrambled to the little modern day cave and huddled for a long time, man that just threw rocket fuel on my fire to get out and experience stuff. Get off that freaking TV and quit watching this foolishness on Netflix and get out, and put my boots on the ground, and do what I love to do. And I see that a lot of clients, and I’m hearing that a lot of conversations even right here and elsewhere, you know life’s too damn short. But anyway, Paul talk a little bit about who you are, where’d you come from? Where you come from? Where did you get into hunting? Who was your dad? I mean, talk about growing up because something led you to this business with your mindset for this business. Like, I’m sitting here looking at this great big old musk ox in my little cabin, I got this great big musk ox sitting here staring at me, he’s a dandy. But I know that you’ve got some past history and past experiences. Where did it start?
Paul Conchâtre: All right. You know, obviously my dad taught me to hunt as a young kid.
Ramsey Russell: Here in Manitoba?
Paul Conchâtre: In Manitoba. My family was from Quebec, they moved here and my dad took a job with Ducks Unlimited.
Ramsey Russell: What did he do?
Paul Conchâtre: He’s an IT manager for Canada and US, so computer guy. But it was awesome because I got to hunt with a lot of the biologists and DU biologists back in the day, which was amazing. And I think I was somewhat inspired by that, and just the adventure of the learning, and kind of thing, and I’m a passionate person, and I’m all in. So then once I was going through school, and college, and what not it was kind of like, now I really do know what I like. Real long story short, I got a good opportunity from a fellow who’s still operating waterfowl now when I was 19 years old, and started guiding for him and that was it. I was absolutely hooked in the industry, loved it. The guy was a great mentor and taught me the industry. And yeah, I went from there, I went to a full time guide, gotten all over everywhere I could for every ounce of melted kind of times in Canada.
Ramsey Russell: All in Canada.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And apparently way up in the Arctic?
Learning to Create an Excellent Guided Hunting Experience
You can’t control that. You can have great guys, best equipment, land access and all, whatnot, but there’s so many unknowns you can’t control.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, I got up to the Arctic, worked for Plumbers, and guided musk ox, caribou, trout and all that beautiful. But yeah, very fortunate for the volume of experiences I got, very fortunate for what I do right now. But I don’t know, I loved it and I was able to work for so many different people, and I always had my eyes wide open because I knew that this was – I was going to find my place somewhere in this industry. I didn’t know really where it was and I was able to look at everybody’s operation as I was working for them, and seeing the positive, seeing the negative. As time went on, I got older, I kind of got my sights set and it was Birdtail and tried to bring all the positive things that I learned that other operators taught me and they taught – you watch them and you watch them run their businesses. So yeah, that’s kind of – I always call it OCD but just my eyes have been wide open, and you see what people are looking for. Then when I travel, I know what I’m looking for, and I guess I just, whatever – I don’t know if you – I don’t know what you call it, I call it honesty or whatever, but I truly believe in giving what I would expect. I expect a good return, not in like piles of birds or 180 class whitetail, it’s just make sure all your I’s and T’s are crossed. Mother Nature is going to do what she’s going to do. You can’t control that. You can have great guys, best equipment, land access and all, whatnot, but there’s so many unknowns you can’t control. You’re engaging in their environment for maybe 3 days a week.
Ramsey Russell: But you can anticipate it. You can you can plan ahead, you can plan, you can expect the unexpected. You can’t control it but you can expect it.
Paul Conchâtre: That’s what’s fun. That’s what I think all us hunters and fishers enjoy. Because you’re going into this environment that – you’re trying to do your best to eliminate X amount of odds and factors but enjoy at the same time. And as an operator, I think you can almost complement that experience if all of your I’s and T’s are dotted. Or vice versa here at the lodge, the running of the place with the flow, the facility, that kind of thing guides everybody like that, if all this is kind of doing this, it’s best it can do. The highs and lows out in the field are, they’re going to be okay, they’re going to be great. I mean, that’s where for me that’s how I run this place. So I haven’t been guiding for probably 8 years but I’m walking around picking feathers out of gravel, I’m moving fuel around, doing all these different things, changing tires, making sure everything is bang on.
Ramsey Russell: Coming through your driveway the other day, pulling into your drive, coming back here, I almost wondered if I was at the right place. It was just too clean and neat and organized, not a blade of grass out of place and I’m like, wow. And then you gave me the big tour of the barn, of the equipment, of the trailers, of the backup trailers, of the ATVs, everything is laid out military precision even the flow of the drive around –
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, I love that part.
Ramsey Russell: It’s unbelievable. It’s just how they drop you off, make a loop, come back over here, outside how the car – my car is parked over here, it’s not in the main drive, blah-blah. It’s just absolutely fluid and as somebody that’s been doing this for a long time and working with outfitters and having unexpected events happen, it’s always a relief to see something like that. It’s all about the details man. And we’ve learned, like I said, we’ve been close to 20 years and a lot of unexpected stuff happens, and it can be a hard phone call to make, it can be a tough discussion with a client because he’s been looking forward to this trip forever now, the plane is not flying or the border’s closed or something. But you’ve got to have that kind of honesty with yourself and with your people. You’ve got to have that open line of communication to muster through this thing, that’s the whole point. And what’s so interesting is in this day and age that anybody can find anything on the Internet. The right business, like myself, we’re still a trusted resource because everybody has learned that anybody can be anything on the Internet. And if you don’t have that honesty, what do you have? And I’ll say something else too, when I look at the last 20 years of scouting, and working, and hunting, and doing stuff around the world, there’s a lot of outfits I’ve worked with that I no longer work with. There’s a lot of outfits that we visited that we chose not to work with. And the cumulative effect through time is I’ve learned as much by example of what’s good – well let me say it this way, I’ve learned what not to do are more from bad experiences as from good. That makes sense?
Paul Conchâtre: A 100%.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, boy, I tell you what, a tough experience or the wrong turn, it really – oh boy – that doesn’t belong in this business. Did you ever – when you were growing up and coming through this thing – was there things you said heck no, I can do better than this?
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, I don’t want to sound whatever, but absolutely 100%. And it was when I was guiding –
Ramsey Russell: Well, bad experiences. I’m saying getting kicked in the shins is a good lesson, is what I’m saying.
Paul Conchâtre: The times we’re going through right now, oh my gosh, it’s a terrible thing, but for people who are going to stay in this industry, like be able to persevere through it, it’s going to be rock solid. Because you did. I learned so much about this business and I’ve been in this game for 25 years.
Ramsey Russell: I learned a lot about myself in the last year and a half in this business. I learned a lot about myself, and about my wife, and about our business model. We learned a lot. And you know when the going gets tough, the tough get going, I’ll say it again, it really is, you just got to keep rolling with the punches.
What to Look for When Choosing a Duck Hunting Outfitter
Those are the people who are going to give you a really good experience because they care, they care about people, they care about their industry.
Paul Conchâtre: I guess, anyone can get into this industry right? And everybody wants to – I would think that a lot of people see the guiding world as this glorious thing and easy. You get to shoot and whatnot, and feeling the highs, and I guess the lows really aren’t there, you know when you’re standing on the outside. But it is a very tough industry, and it’s a tough industry to be straight up, in like you’re saying. I would say that a big benefit would be to be in the industry as a guide, see it from the ground level and keep on going and seeing other things, seeing other operations take it all in and then really, it’s terrible to say, but study the guest, study what they’re looking for, study what makes them happy. A lot of times it isn’t a big fish, it isn’t a pile of birds, it’s just a great experience, and there’s so many variables to making a great experience. Like okay, getting stuck in the field or whatever, it could be nasty and whatever, that is what it is. It’s probably going to hurt your hunt, but it’s how you handle it. That’s what it is. And I guess, as far as looking for operators, I mean the number one is obviously, something like GetDucks.com is a really good one but it’s also looking to make sure that that operator is a member of their large association within their province. That is huge.
Ramsey Russell: That is a damn good point.
Paul Conchâtre: Because what it does show is that they’re invested not in themselves, but they’re invested in the industry. So like some of the best people I know put themselves almost last. They’re trucking through their life, doing their thing, making sure everything’s right for their families, their business, and whatnot. But when you’re actually looking at this industry at 100,000ft view and doing your best to contribute to it so everyone else in your industry is successful – that’s the people you want to look for. Those are the people who are going to give you a really good experience because they care, they care about people, they care about their industry. And that’s to me is probably one of the biggest things if they’re actually involved.
Ramsey Russell: We work in Canada, in the United States, we have US Hunt List, I’ve gone and visited, they are what they say they are, you know what I’m saying? But what I’m careful to tell clients is on the US Hunt List, their name and number is on the page. Contact them, contact me, and I’ll tell you about my experience. I can tell you anything about contact that outfitter and ask him questions that are personal to you because duck hunting is highly subjective. What one guy wants, another guy may not want, the priorities vary. When you’re going on a pay trip like you said, it could be bag limit, it could be milled, it could be total package, it could be something, and personalities are what they are. Meet with that person, and ask the right questions, and get answers in a way that you’re comfortable with, and build a dialogue with that outfit that you know, hey this is somebody I can build on and get along with. Just because it’s on my page or just because it’s on the website or Google doesn’t mean that it’s the right hunt for you. It’s like walking into a boot store. I mean there’s all kinds of colors, and shapes, and sizes, and steel toes, and work boots, and you have to pull them on, try them on and make sure it’s a good fit. You know that’s very important if you’re going to have the time of your life, I think.
The Ins and Outs of the Outfitting Industry
Yeah, there’s a lot more to it than just going out and shooting ducks and having a good time with clients. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress too.
Paul Conchâtre: I think these businesses they end up morphing into the operator’s and the guide’s personality. It’s really what it ends up coming down to. Like, I kind of sometimes, I’m almost embarrassed you know, because you kind of look around, you’re like okay, that’s too much. You’re going overboard, you’re trying too hard or whatever, but it’s just like no, it’s okay. That’s just who I am or whatever, picking feathers out of gravel, sometimes I get mad at myself and tell myself to stop but I’m like I don’t want feathers in the gravel, I mean I just don’t like that. So then yeah, so somebody may think that’s kind of a little too OCD and they’re on their way, but some people appreciate it. So it is – every operator is different, they run their businesses differently and yeah, you got to find the one that fits. And you got to build a relationship but you really do got to – to me you got to do your homework because there’s a lot of smoke shows out there that are just really, they may have a great resource but everything else is terrible.
Ramsey Russell: They might have a great sales pitch that might be where it starts, they might have good food but everything terrible is it’s just all these different things, it’s rare to find it’s a tough business, what I’m trying to say, it’s not just going out and duck hunting people on the outside and I get asked all the time, man, how do I get the industry? How to become a guide, how to become the outfitter? And I’m like, become a doctor and make a lot of money, and then go hunting and really enjoy it because if you’re looking at this business is being a great way to duck hunt every day, what a great life, that’s just not it. How much of actual duck hunting would you say is your business comprised?
Paul Conchâtre: I don’t understand.
Ramsey Russell: The duck hunt itself, how much of your business is duck hunting?
Paul Conchâtre: Through my lens? 5%.
Ramsey Russell: 5%. Yeah, there’s a lot more to it than just going out and shooting ducks and having a good time with clients. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress too.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, absolutely. But if you do want to, you have to invest money to be able to give a good return, you have to control the controllable, right? Mother Nature is not one, right? I guess what ended up happening with me is a mirror to fly in fishing lodge. All right, say you’re on an island, you have to have everything on site, right? You got X amount coming in a plane coming in every whatever, 4 days or 7 days, that’s how I see it. I have to be able to fix have everything like that. Well, since you started allowing outside kind of services, or whatever we’re relying on something else, then you’re kind of like, okay, there’s a bunch of variables that I can’t control. So, basically you’re investing into this industry and to invest in it, you got to be all in one 100% in mentally, you have to be all into it. So, it’s not like I want to go duck hunting every day, like I think I’ve gone duck hunting twice with my kids before the season started and I might get a late season shoot, it’s not even on my brain. I’m making sure my guides are all, they’re good. They’re looking like they’re not too tired, fixing birds or whatever, doing all these different things that I can do to help them to keep them going, keep them positive and happy and upbeat and whatnot because they are the face of the business.
Ramsey Russell: I haven’t seen this much, but I have seen it one of our outfitters over in Saskatchewan does the same thing. But on opening night dinner at the first dinner, you introduce each team to their guides, plural. They got a morning guide, an afternoon guide. How does that work?
Paul Conchâtre: I like that they scout their own fields. So, basically have three different parties here and each party is assigned a morning, got an afternoon guide and it’s kind of – it’s on their honor kind of thing. There’s no one else to blame. If the hunt doesn’t go well, if there was a – if they could have avoided that failure or success or whatever. But basically they’re working as a team and we were running – as we’re actually running like a – they all have tablets and they’re all using almost like an ArcView, like a GIS Software. It’s deadly. So, we’re mapping, basically mapping all our scouts and all our hunts, and then you data layer on these things, and you’re seeing the corridors over the years kind of thing. It’s just matching patterns and trying to find the patterns and all the waypoints in the scout finds, and then you can use it for years to come kind of thing. So, we’re trying to basically map our corridors of the migration through our 1.3 –
Ramsey Russell: Through your work area.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. But everything is shared amongst all these tablets, so if one guy makes a mark, the other 5 get it. So it is a team, nobody’s hiding fields, nobody’s pulling a hero or any of these things. So it’s really team-oriented. So yeah, each party has two guys assigned to them, but basically they have 6 guys, everyone has 6 guys because everyone is basically working together. And I think that’s quite different in a lot of operations – we’re trying to use that technology and keep us all working together. We are one team, the baker, chef, and myself.
Ramsey Russell: And practically speaking, you’ve got a guide that gets a morning off or an afternoon off to go scouting, but he’s not having the mental pressure and drain of client hospitality out in the field. I mean, it makes a huge difference that he, boom, every afternoon, he’s fresh, boom, every morning he’s fresh, wow, what a difference that makes man, makes an incredible difference.
Paul Conchâtre: It does, it totally does. To me, it’s just logical. Like, it’s very logical. I remember back in the day, the odd time I’d get a field thrown at me and it’s a waypoint kind of thing, old school, and then okay, go to the waypoint and I’m like, I don’t know what’s here, I don’t know where they’re coming from. I just don’t know it, now, it used to bug me, you know what I mean? That’d be the last thing I would want is to be able to not have that intel going into the hunt, so you maybe are pushing cover, or you’re pushing the acts, or something like that to where you know you can do it because you watch the flights and whatnot, so they are responsible for their hunts. And to me as a guide, that’s what I wanted. I want unlimited fuel, best equipment, everything functioning properly, good land access. Let me do my job, don’t complicate it with whatever doing garbage runs or fixing things or cleaning birds or blah, I don’t want to do that. And for me, I always, I still see that I’m a guide at heart and I just see it through their lens and I’m like, okay, what would I want? This is what I would want. At the end of the day, I think they probably have the best gig going in the world, they’re the best job. Like it’s just because the tools are there to produce and they’re playing with the variables that are uncontrollable. So when the winds are there, it’s like everyone’s high fiving everyone, it’s like, okay, we got them. Next hunt. It’s cool.
All in on the Hunt and in the Industry
It’s trying to really change almost the mindset, or the philosophy of people that have the ability to change those policies and regulations.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s talk about professional organizations. Like I know that you’re involved with a lot of – you’re talking about being all in, you’re not talking about just being all in here at your operation. I can look at the wall, at your resume, at a lot of your professional – golly, I am seeing professional organization involvement at a pretty significant level. A lot of committees, a lot of government stuff going on, I mean talk about that. Help me explain, help me make sense cause it ain’t just one, it’s a bunch. It looks like a whole other job up there. When you talk about being all in, you are all in this industry.
Paul Conchâtre: But I’m just looking at it now, kind of makes me giggle. Like I love to hunt fish and then it’s like, okay, well then you see the errors in policy, and regulation, and legislation, and you’re like, what? Does that make sense? Okay.
Ramsey Russell: Because bureaucrats are doing it, so Paul gets involved.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. And honestly I would love to just run under the radar and do my thing – I guess I’m not a very in your face kind of person, like, the proof is in the pudding. And that’s why I guess my genetic makeup will go hard and we’ll do our thing. But with the whole, I guess involvement, and on that level it is almost like – it’s become like a second job. I’m almost more – I shouldn’t say more – but as passionate about it is actually my business and because –
Ramsey Russell: Why? You said it earlier too. You know that one good metric for choosing an outfitter would be to look at his professional involvement beyond just his personal business. Why is that important to you?
Paul Conchâtre: I don’t know. I guess the term 100,000ft is the way my head sees, that I see business, what I’m doing at this 50,000ft level. I mean once you start to understand that –
Ramsey Russell: Scale.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, it is a big-time scale and it’s okay. Well what affects the – you know cause I know the things that affect me positively, negatively at 50,000 and you’re not going to get it changed. You know that one level up, you got to go to the 100,000ft, but to be able to do that, you got to understand the 100,000ft. So next thing you know, I’m on all these boards and committees, and you know audit committees, and budget reviews, and these things and you’re like –
Ramsey Russell: Let’s talk about some of those Paul. Like Manitoba Outfitters Association, what is it? And what do they do? And what are they responsible for?
Paul Conchâtre: So, it’s a Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association. I was on the board for – I forget how many years – quite a few years and then ended up taking the president’s position which was quite the honor, and I held it for 10 years, which I think we have now kind of fixed because it is too long. I got to network with the people that you’re working with, with government and third parties, and whatnot. And for me, I just kept on saying yes, because I really enjoyed it because you could see things changing, but it’s so bloody slow and it’s changing.
Ramsey Russell: Big wheel turns slowly.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. It’s trying to really change almost the mindset, or the philosophy of people that have the ability to change those policies and regulations. So, you got to really kind of show them actually what is happening, what the culture is, and cultivate them to try to get them to this is actual, that’s not where you were before, that’s 25 years ago, so you got to let that go. I mean, a lot of the bureaucrats, they don’t want to. They’re working that square box that doesn’t talk to the other square box beside them, and that’s just the way government works. So you got to kind of get in there, create this thing, this movement, right? And so once you get the momentum going, and my predecessors definitely started it, I kept on going with it, but you could really see the momentum change. I’m like, okay, now, I’ll do another term, now, I’ll do another term because we’re getting there, thank God. I stepped down, I think, last year or two years ago, my predecessor who took over is fantastic. And everybody within government right now, with the provincial government, we are just movers and shakers. Our premier, and all their ministers and deputy ministers, they’re really pushing for this change. So, it’s really exciting times, but once you understand it, it’s as enjoyable as Birdtail Waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: What does an organization like MLOA do? What do they do? How do they regulate or police or ensure quality within lodges and outfitters in Manitoba.
Working for Change: Manitoba Hunting Advocacy Groups
You try to go a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach to try to get that one little, tiny little section changed.
Paul Conchâtre: It’s an advocacy body. So you’re working with the government to advocate for change, policy regulation, modernization of things, policing and like, let’s say like a quality of outfitter isn’t there. And that’s why you’re 100% right to choose an operator that you’re going to go with. You really do got to do your homework, talk to people, get the referrals –
Ramsey Russell: That’s some pretty despicable stuff that happens out here at the outfitter level. Not all outfitters, not most outfitters, but some outfitters. It’s pretty dog danged despicable some of the stuff I’ve heard and seen.
Paul Conchâtre: 10 years as president, I know everyone, it’s daunting. It really is and it’s a shame, but there really isn’t like, “I went to the University of Outfitting,” there’s no such thing. I mean, so anybody, and a lot of people are passion driven, they may be phenomenal hunters, fishers but they don’t know shit about business, right? They don’t know anything about the hospitality, or licensing, or care –
Ramsey Russell: It’s all about money. We were talking about this earlier over coffee. If you look at banking or insurance, or medicine or forestry, or wildlife or any profession, you’ve got to go and get continuing education, you’ve got to maintain professional standards. But in the outfitting business you just got to have 2 sacks of decoys and a Facebook page. Boom, I’m an outfitter.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. You could take people’s money and give them poor returns for a lot of years.
Ramsey Russell: It’s almost like a legal cash business, like drugs. I mean it’s unbelievable the way some of these folks run their businesses. It’s scary man.
Paul Conchâtre: They run themselves out of their own area. They can’t even operate it because they destroyed it, destroyed it for everyone else. The local hunters, the people who are coming up from the States like talking about Canada and other outfitters, they wreck that land and that’s where it’s like, yeah, it’d be nice to have some kind of, I don’t know, vetting process or whatever, a classification or something like that. But I would say it’s near impossible to get that. But at the end of the day what I got stuck in, I love it, I really do. I like trying to make things better, I guess, I like helping, and a lot of times government does need help. Not fist pounding and screaming, it’s just okay, this is really the way it is, or this policy or whatever that has to get changed. Okay, so they can’t do it, see whatever makes your relationships with the ministers, or deputy ministers, and then way up you go. You try to go a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach to try to get that one little, tiny little section changed. And that may change a bear operator’s life, or whitetail operator’s life, caribou, anybody. It’s just for me, that’s what I really enjoy being because people need help to do it. Government needs help to do it, and a lot of times government isn’t – they’re not against you – it’s just freaking hard to change things. It’s really hard, so you need that outside person organization to help them. And that’s what we’re really finding within Manitoba is, it’s like a lot of times government’s doing a – we need you to do this, okay no problem. Kind of show us, what are the hurdles, what’s the red tape, and who owns the red tape? That’s kind of how we do it, they’re not going against, it’s just kind of teaching us a little bit more on how to do it, and we do it. So, we’re getting incredible momentum in Manitoba but I think what really struck the momentum was getting a hunting, fishing economic impact study done in Manitoba. It actually is as terrible as it sounds – just the timing, it captured the ‘08 recession and we went to a subpar dollar so it was like not very good. But the province though, was like, hunting and fishing does this for our province? I couldn’t believe it.
Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to ask you but go ahead.
Where Does Hunting and Fishing Fit in Canadian Tourism?
I know for the province of Manitoba, we’re just shy of a billion dollars. That’s huge.
Paul Conchâtre: So there was more – we got more engagement from multiple levels of government, and then there was a core group who really went actually went after – I mean, let’s say the tourism minister, and then the DMO – the Destination Marketing Organization in Manitoba – they were wide open arms to us. We’re hunters and fishers, I mean it’s not like going to the zoo, or festivals, and stuff like this, like we do put hooks in faces and we do shoot things. So, for all the government, it’s kind of like, you know, “those guys” but those guys actually have a giant, incredible impact to the provincial GDP.
Ramsey Russell: Where does hunting and fishing fit in Canadian tourism? I mean, it’s got to be significant.
Paul Conchâtre: It’s very significant. I know for the province of Manitoba, we’re just shy of a billion dollars. That’s huge.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. In a trillion dollar GDP country, that’s huge, humongous.
Paul Conchâtre: That’s just little Manitoba. Just had to show them, we had to do it, and thank God Travel Manitoba was open arms to us. Then we started a brand, Hunt Fish MB, and then all of a sudden we’re marketing it because we were the hidden gem. Nobody looked at us. All the other provinces and territories have these big giant budgets for marketing outside of the cities and Manitoba had just a little peanut budget. And also it grew, they got a different funding model, it’s called the 95:5 which is incredible. So their budget in the marketing budget basically tripled, quadrupled, and that’s all government saying no, we’ll go with the funding model. So 5% of total taxable income goes back to marketing and the 95% goes to general. So all of a sudden, if all high tides rise all boats. So all of a sudden we’re on this platform marketing hunting, fishing, and all the other wonderful products in the province, and everyone’s growing. It’s an incredible model and we’re the only ones in Canada that has it. And it was honestly, it came from a bunch of people that were outside government, saying hey, we’re pretty good. Better than you guys probably understand, just give us one little break, let’s do a hunt/fish economic impact study and then you could do the multiplier from there on all the other products. So whatever, ecotourism and stuff like that, and all of a sudden they’re like, whoa. Next thing you know, we got a big budget for Hunt Fish MB, we’re killing it. And I asked all the operators and lodges are benefitting from it. People know us, people understand us, and the whole goal, to go all the way back to the initial move, was to make sure that our resources are managed because all our resources – basically the resource management, budget, fish, and wildlife was just getting crushed. Every government just takes it away. Well, we don’t need this. We don’t need that. If we don’t need these many biologists, or it’s always kind of like, that’s not good. Like we’re taking and we don’t know what impact we’re really having. They’re not affording to do all the aerial surveys and have the proper staff. So once you add value to the resource, okay, we’re good.
Ramsey Russell: Money is political relevance. Once you show those politicians, money wheel started turning the other way.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, well, you know what, you manage your resource so it’s sustainable, guess what? Your billion dollar GDP on hunting, fishing, or I mean, whatever gross revenue on fishing, it’ll be sustainable and that’s what you have to have. So it was an interesting road and that’s what got me stuck in it forever because you could feel it, taste it and you’re getting there. You’re getting it actually fixed. You know, and it was started by guys before me and there’s guys finishing it right now, but I did a 10-15 year chunk, did my time. And I’m still involved in all these boards and probably going to be on a federal board soon, which is really exciting to me. But for me that’s the way I see it, I got to do my part. If you’re going to be a taker in this industry, you got to give. If you’re not in the industry as a guide or an outfitter, you’re a hunter, you got to give back, you cannot be a taker. And that’s like bringing kids, or whatever, being a member of XYZ organization. You just can’t take, you have to give a 100%.
Ramsey Russell: Whatever level you can. If it’s taking kids, being active in NGO conservation, whatever you got to do.
Paul Conchâtre: Whatever you can do.
Tips for Choosing an Outfitter in Manitoba, Canada
I guess for me, number one of you, are they a member of their association?
Ramsey Russell: That’s incumbent on us if we want to see this thing continue. That’s a very smart perspective Paul. What advice would you give – I’m changing the subject completely now. But what advice would you give clients? We kind of touched on some points but what advice would you give not just coming here but coming anywhere hunting or fishing in Canada, what advice would you tell clients? Here is just some candid advice from somebody in the know. I’d say pack a right attitude, shop for the right outfitter.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah. Right, do your homework. It’s like anything we’re –
Ramsey Russell: Call references.
Paul Conchâtre: Call references. I mean because you can read whatever Facebook review, and blah, Google, TripAdvisor, all these different things. But when you talk to somebody, you hear their voice, you hear their tone, are you like them or you’re not like them? It’s a personality thing and you got to be able to read that, and then if that’s the outfitter that works for them, then it may work for you. But it is a research game, we all do it. We’re all price checking, we’re all doing our things but it’s like, you got to understand the world that you’re looking into. I mean because there’s a hell of a lot of smoke and mirror shows out there. I guess for me, number one of you, are they a member of their association? Because that costs us money, right?
Ramsey Russell: And all these western provinces have one.
Paul Conchâtre: Yes, they do. Yeah. All of them. Every province territory does have one and it’s a bit of a commitment because then you are involved in the advocacy actually for everyone. So, if you and I are competitors, I’m actually rooting for you. I’m trying to make it better for you and you’re trying to make it better for me, the next thing you know, I’m doing okay. Well, if you actually get this from there, I mean, it won’t cost you as much, and you’re kind of fine-tuning each other, and all of a sudden you’re in this brother or sisterhood, and you’re just like high-fiving each other. So, like half my time I’m talking to different operators in the province that are doing awesome, like right on. Okay, this is what’s happening with us, and have you seen whatever, or I’m pointing these guys your way because we’re booked on this date. That’s the community when you’re within an association. If you’re on the outside of the association, there’s usually a reason why. So, that was probably my biggest tip, is that.
Advice for Aspiring Waterfowl Guides & Outfitters
There’s no such thing as I’m the best.
Ramsey Russell: And what advice might you give somebody listening that has heard some of the things we talked about but still truly wants to be a part of this industry. And I mean, there’s a place for them, if they bring the right stuff. I wouldn’t want to discourage anybody from chasing their passion. But what advice would you give them? Because you’ve had some hard knocks, and learning curves, and run a great operation still. So what advice might you give somebody young that might see themselves in this industry?
Paul Conchâtre: There’s no such thing as I’m the best.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the truth.
Paul Conchâtre: If you think you’re the best hunter, you’re on the wrong path right away. I, or any of my guides, or any other people I know are the best at any of this are the people who work the hardest, care the most, and I think if you do want to get into the industry, it’s a fantastic industry. She’s a roller coaster, but I tell you it is awesome to go guide.
Ramsey Russell: Get your feet wet, just get out there and get your feet wet and just –
Paul Conchâtre: And watch learn eyes wide open. Don’t try to be the best caller, or look the greatest or the fanciest because that’s all irrelevant. What’s relevant is actually how wide your eyes are and how much information you take in so you can actually be a part of this industry. Be one of the people that are actually trying to give a 100% honest return the way you would expect without the arrogance or whatever thrown into it because it is – I’m picking feathers out of gravel, I’m fixing toilets, I’m doing whatever when I got to do and that’s the game. So if you’re okay with that, you know what I mean, then you’ll be good in the industry. Like you just got to be able to be 100% diversified and just roll with the punches, and yeah, there’s no such thing as best by any means.
Ramsey Russell: You grew up hunting with your dad. Your dad was heavily involved, employed with Ducks Unlimited. What are some of the take away lessons and influences that he imparted to you in terms of conservation, and work ethic, and in dealing with people?
Paul Conchâtre: I would say conservation was the most.
Ramsey Russell: How did he teach that to you?
Paul Conchâtre: We screw up, he gets fired. God tell the truth there.
Ramsey Russell: That stops you.
Paul Conchâtre: Yeah, don’t do that. Okay dad, sorry. No, it was being around a whole bunch of biologists who are passion driven, and then it’s just like you –
Ramsey Russell: Because that’s one thing that stuck out to me. In fact, it was one of the big talking points, how we came to know each other was that you know a lot of biologists around here, a lot of smart people that are resource-minded, and so you’re involved with that. And I just can’t help but think that came from your upbringing.
Paul Conchâtre: It did, yeah. It’s a community, it really is. He or she who was engaged, I mean, you’re a like-minded person, and that everyone else is going to come to you, and you’ll go to them, and it is 100% community. Everybody’s trying to help everyone. Contacting biologists and doing that, I don’t know what you’re doing right now, but if you are doing a Canada goose count, or spring snow or whatever, we got lots, and kind of thing. The next thing you know, you’ve got all these relationships going, but everybody’s just – it’s almost conservation minded, passion driven, and everybody’s got a story kind of thing, and if everyone could work together, you’re going to push everything further. So the more successful they are, the more successful the rest of the network is going to be. It’s interesting. But yeah, the people of Ducks Unlimited: fantastic. Met a lot of really good people and volunteers, directors, and whatnot.
Ramsey Russell: You like what you do.
Paul Conchâtre: I love what I do.
Ramsey Russell: Can you imagine doing anything else?
Paul Conchâtre: I thought about it. This whole COVID thing – because I mean, you’re like the world stopped and you’re like, this is what I do. I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: I think a lot of people started second guessing themselves, career decisions.
Paul Conchâtre: My decision? I’m going down with the ship. I told my wife that. I’m like, well this is the plan and she’s like, okay, all right. I’m like, I’m a fighter. We’re not going to go down.
Ramsey Russell: It’s coming back around, it’s going to be different, but it’s really coming back around. It really, truly is. And it’s almost like the world needed that reset button. Because I know talking to a lot of – for myself – a lot of my priorities changed. You know what I’m saying? A lot of the way I do business changed. A lot of ways my clients want business and are pursuing experiences changed with that reset button. Forget what it was, what caused it? Boom. The reset button. We all had to sit at home and look hard at our lives.
Paul Conchâtre: I said it to my wife, because I had time to hunt with my kids, we’re trapping, we’re fishing, and we’re doing all these great things, all the things I wanted to do with them. You know, school was at home and their sports were gone, and whatnot. And I kind of looked at them like, so what would this be worth? I mean, I made nothing this year but oh my gosh, this was amazing. So is there a price on it? Was that the reset? You know what I mean? Okay to me. I don’t know, I’m very grateful for it in that regard. Not everyone had those opportunities. I’m totally grateful for it. But I tell you there was a lot – I think a lot more good came out of it for my family and myself than not.
Ramsey Russell: We went back into your processing room the other day and I asked you – you were showing me your tag, showing me your system, showing how everything’s done – I said, but how many people bring birds home? What did you tell me?
Paul Conchâtre: I would say that 95% of our birds are going home.
Ramsey Russell: 95% of the birds killed are going home tagged and ready to go as compared 2 years ago.
Paul Conchâtre: I’d say 40%.
Ramsey Russell: Why? What changed do you think?
Paul Conchâtre: I think people learned how to cook.
Ramsey Russell: They stayed home and learned how to cook. Learned how good that stuff in the freezer was.
Paul Conchâtre: And how good it is for you.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Paul Conchâtre: It’s fantastic. The same thing is happening right now all the birds are going home and it’s fantastic. But people learned a lot. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Paul, thank you very much for having me. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this discussion. Folks, thank you all for listening, you’ve been listening to Paul Conchâtre here at Birdtail Waterfowl in Manitoba. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.