Now in his 13th season guiding ducks and geese in Kansas, Big Kansas Outdoors’ Ben Webster takes a few minutes out of a hectic mid-season hunting schedule to meet with Ramsey. The 2 cover a range of topics to include duck and goose hunting in Kansas and in Canada, where Webster’s Prairie Limits Outfitters is going into his 6th season, Canada’s pandemic policies, dealing with problem clients and spring snow goose hunting in Kansas and Saskatchewan. The Dream Job is a tough life, but someone has to do it!
It Just Keeps Getting Better
So we’re growing every year, and learning every year, and lease some more properties every year, and the hunting is just getting better.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere in Kansas and on the phone with US Hunt List outfitter Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors and also Prairie Limits Outfitters from Saskatchewan. Ben, what’s going on in your world today?
Ben Webster: Oh, not a lot. Well, I guess a lot’s going on. It’s way too warm. Got two groups in camp plus some deer hunters in camp and I just had a baby about a week ago. So I guess a lot going on.
Ramsey Russell: Well, congratulations on the addition to your family. That’s a lot to be proud of. Man, the best days of your life or ahead. You don’t even know it yet, but they are.
Ben Webster: I’m hoping so.
Ramsey Russell: You’re going to blink your eyes and you’re going to have a little hunting partner right there with you in the truck, no doubt about it. What’s it like Ben, what’s it like having a newborn baby at home, and clients at camp, and have all that going on at the same time? Have you slept a single wink in the last week?
Ben Webster: Just a couple of weeks and not a lot. My wife’s the saint. She knows that this is my super busy time, and she’s trying to let me sleep as much as possible, and I’m trying to get her as much sleep as possible. So we’re taking turns a little bit with the little guy, he’s doing great. So, I got some really good clients in camp, they’ve been very understanding and understand the importance of family. So I might not be around face to face with them, but my guys are handling business and I’m handling the behind the scenes stuff. Still going great, just not getting quite as much face to face with the clients as I usually do. So that’s somewhat unfortunate, but you got to make sacrifices somewhere, especially when it comes to family. So we’ll get through it.
Ramsey Russell: Last time you were on, we talked about the dream job. And you were busy then, I know you’re doing a lot of filming, doing a lot of work, you’ve been doing this for a while, refresh everybody on — tell everybody who you are, remind everybody who you are, what you do and how long you’ve been at it.
Ben Webster: So I am Ben Webster with Big Kansas Outdoors and Prairie Limits Outfitters out of Kansas and Saskatchewan. I’ve been doing this for, I think this is my 13th season now. Canada, next year will be our fifth season coming up, if you count the COVID year, which we still ran some Canadian clients but didn’t get around full season. I’ve been running in Kansas for 13 years off and on with — I started with an outfitter that’s still running here at Central Kansas Outfitters, still a pretty dang good outfit. And then I started another gig with a partner, and we split ways, and I started Big Kansas Outdoors. This will be season six, and it’s just been phenomenal. So we’re growing every year, and learning every year, and lease some more properties every year, and the hunting is just getting better.
Why is Kansas Ideal for Waterfowl Hunting?
I mean if you got open water and you’ve got food, you’re going to have birds.
Ramsey Russell: What is it about Kansas? Somebody that spins around the United States and hunt with a lot of people in a lot of different states, north, south, east and west. Everybody’s waiting on birds, everybody’s just kind of limping along, here today, gone tomorrow. But Kansas day in day out is always a whistling tea kettle. It’s always going, it seems like. You hear good reports coming out of Kansas. What do you think it is about that area?
Ben Webster: I think we’re just right in the middle to the Southern people, we’re still north to the Northern people, we’re still south, we’re just right there in the middle where we have moderate weather all year. Right now we are warm, but we’re just far enough north that we got a really good push from that first migration. We’re not south enough to where it’s 85-90 degrees, like they’re battling down in Texas. Usually we don’t completely freeze out and lose all our birds like South Dakota, North Dakota, even Nebraska can do sometimes. So it’s a little bit of that. Then if you think about that and you think about, okay, well he’s probably always has open water and we still have the good hardy crops, we’ve got the winter wheat, we got your beans, your milo, and your corn, which is what everybody wants and all the waterfowl want. And then you add big watersheds, big sand pits, some lakes, and then a couple decent rivers and creeks that stay open. I mean if you got open water and you’ve got food, you’re going to have birds.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of the perfect cocktail recipe for having a lot of birds, isn’t it?
Ben Webster: Yes sir.
The Perfect North American Game Bird
We do preserve shoots and we do wild shoots.
Ramsey Russell: Kansas has always done good. Y’all do a lot of field hunts, I know. Forrest and I’ve been out there and hunt a week before and had a wonderful time. And y’all are still doing pheasant hunting options for guys that want to go out and double whammy? I mean, y’all do have that option, don’t you?
Ben Webster: Yes sir, we do. We do preserve shoots and we do wild shoots. We kind of started doing the preserve shoots just because — wild pheasant hunters are a different breed, they don’t mind putting on the miles, putting in the work for what might be only a handful of birds, and then you got your other hunters that don’t want to sit around the lodge, but they would like to pull the trigger. They’d rather just go out and shoot a bunch of birds in a short period of time and not have to put in that much work. So I kind of got the best of both worlds going on and in my package. We typically do one wild shoot and one controlled shoot, but that package is customizable. If you want to do both wild hunts in the afternoon, we could do that.
8900 Birds in 56 Days of Hunting
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. For those of y’all listening, I do like to shoot ducks, I’m a waterfowl guy. But I got to tell you, given the opportunity and when I have the opportunity, I do like to work up pheasants. To me it’s the perfect game bird for North America. I’ve shot bob-white, I’ve shot snipe, I’ve shot the ruffed grouse, I’ve shot the grouse, but it’s just fun. Ring neck pheasants are fun and it’s such a great opportunity here in the deep South where I’m from, we don’t have ring neck pheasants. But you get out there out West, get up North and you’ve got them, and that’s a great way to stretch your legs, and I’m on vacation. Why sit around the house all day in the afternoon? Why not go out and stretch my legs and get to do something I haven’t done? I don’t want to turn this into COVID. In fact, I’m not going to turn it into COVID, except to say this, if you want to come back from COVID, turn off the television. I think that’s a great company we’ve got. And I’ve turned off the television since January, and am just kind of living life through my windshield, and what’s in arm’s reach. But I want to go to — because you’re a full season outfitter – they’re on US Hunt List. You start in Saskatchewan, you go down to Kansas, then you pick back up in the spring, and most of the year you’re chasing these hunts, and I do want to talk a little bit about that. I think it’s an interesting phenomenon. We’re going in three years into this pandemic thing. How did that affect y’all’s Canada operation? We know that it shut y’all down, shut the whole world down there for a spell. But this past season, what did it do for you? Because I know there’s a lot of people holding back on going – and not me buddy – I went and I never felt so good after two or three years. I’m not going to – my life is crossing that border and seeing that dirt contrail out in my rear-view mirror, and I’m in Canada. Getting to enjoy that. How did it affect you all and then what was the Canadian experience like this fall?
Ben Webster: It really didn’t affect us as bad as everyone else I guess. I can’t speak for everyone else. But the guys that I know, my acquaintances or my colleagues, I guess competition, they didn’t have near as many clients as we did up there. And the reason, I basically ran a fully double booked season up in Canada, and we were even triple booked the first three weeks because I took a different approach. I didn’t sit back on my heels, I ran forward. When this COVID thing hit, and we weren’t able to go up our first spring, I said, okay. Typically we don’t like to triple book the whole season. But I told my partner Brian, I said, I’m untying your hands, I want you to triple book the whole season. And he said, why is that? He kind of questioned me and I’m like, well, if they do open the border – it was right about when they’re starting to talk about vaccinations and tests and all this and that – I said, we’re probably going to have some clients that aren’t going to come. I said, but if that is not the case, we have plenty of property that we haven’t even touched, we can hire some other guides, and some other scouts, and we have room in the lodge, we can get it done and recoup some of our money. Well, fall went by, we didn’t get to go up there that fall. The next spring we booked 53 Canadian residents and we were able to go up there since we had a business quarantine for two weeks. We ran those Canadian residents and the spring was phenomenal, just like it always is up there for spring snows. And then the summer hit. I was still thinking we weren’t going up, and then they came out with the vaccine mandate, and we did lose 80-100 clients that didn’t want to come. Since we were progressive about it, we were still able to run what for us normally is a full season. So yeah, COVID hurt, we lost a whole year’s worth of revenue, and we used our lodge as an Airbnb for the locals when they had weddings in town. They put people in them, we got ladies that have knitting weekends in there, stuff like that. We lost all that revenue because it shut down everything up there. They were super extreme and they still are about the COVID things. I honestly think it was a bittersweet deal, because we went up there with a full season and we knocked it out of the park, it was our best year yet. We shot 8900 birds and 56 days of hunting. It was just absolutely phenomenal. Every single client rebooked. As of right now we have three open dates for fall of ‘22, which is just incredible.
Ramsey Russell: So if anybody listening wants to go to Canada next year and hunt with you, they need to jump on it right now. That’s what I’m telling everybody.
Ben Webster: They definitely do. As far as spring goes, we do have some spring snow goose states, which if you’ve never been up there for the spring snows, it’s something you definitely need to experience because it’s not like — throw out what you know about spring snow goose hunting and just come up and see something incredible because it’s definitely way different.
Ramsey Russell: That’s one thing I’ll say, it’s something about once those birds get up there, and they get a few weeks off, and they start getting fat, and last year’s grain is still sitting out in the field, they change again. It’s the snow goose behavior as they arrive to the prairies from the Arctic, and the fall, which, I love that time of year. And then when they go south, and they arrive, and then there’s over winter. And then in the spring, they start getting shot on the winter ground, and as they start getting shot come back and as they get up back into Canada. It’s almost like hunting a different species. The way of the different areas and the different life cycle timing that they’re in affects their behavior over decoys. It’s interesting. And I love snow geese. I hate to say it, but I really do have a tremendous amount of respect for that bird.
Ben Webster: Once you have a few good hunts of snow goose, you have a desire like, you want to shoot more, you want to hunt them. And up there is something special. My thought process is, it’s like their last spot to get fat and happy before their longest push back to the breeding grounds. And they’re also thinking about breeding, what do men do when we’re thinking about that? We get dumb. Snow goose get dumb also.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right and I like a dumb snow goose. Don’t we all?
Ben Webster: I agree.
Ramsey Russell: Ben, when you start talking about those cancellations and looking at things, I found this very interesting because the crux of my wife and I’s business Getducks.com is booking hunts via US Hunt List and international destinations. And we’ve had our fair share of cancellations and stuff like that. But bookings are real strong. All of our Mexico outfits right now are completely sold out, have been sold out since early this spring, and some of our better hunts are nearly sold out for next year. And people are still just piling in. And one thing we observed over the past few years is it started when Canada was closed. You could not go to Canada and all of a sudden, Midwest destinations especially just exploded. Okay, I can’t go to Canada, I’m going to go to Big Kansas Outfitters, I’m going to go to North Dakota or I’m going to go freelance over here over there. And everywhere I’ve traveled up in that part of the world, everybody saw a huge influx of do-it-yourself hunters, or bookings, or everything else. And with the US Hunt List, click that book a hunt and an email gets sent to the outfitter and I get a copy. And right now it’s just flying across every day, it’s just dozens and dozens and dozens of emails coming across the screen with people. Here we are in November, December, people looking at booking this year, I’m like, wow, y’all should have been on the horn back in April. But did you see that kind of transition in terms of demographic? The people that are still going – that’s what interested me: is there is a demographic of hunters that are still going international, across borders, with the COVID requirements? And then there’s on the flip side, there’s a huge surge in US outfitter bookings. Have you seen the same thing?
Ben Webster: 100%.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: Phones ringing off the hook, guys — like my book’s open for my 22-23 season here in Kansas on January 1, and I got guys back in September, October trying to get me to make an exception for their group and go ahead and put them on the books already, which is great. That’s a good problem to have. I think COVID was good and bad for the outdoor industry and the hunting industry. And what I mean by that is it really, I think, everyone being stuck in their house, it really made people realize how much they missed the outdoors and enjoy it. And it got a lot of people to get their kids out in the outdoors and that’s phenomenal. If you look at it like a selfish hunter, like a lot of us do, that’s the bad side, right? A lot more people at the boat ramp, a lot more people on the lake, a lot more people pushing the walk-in hunting. And maybe if this trend is going to continue, each state needs to assess the situation and then get more walk-in hunting. They need to get more properties that are accessible to the public. So it was definitely a good thing. But I know there’s a lot of old-school hunters that are kind of disgruntled with all the new people out and about.
How Does a Dry Year Affect Hunting?
So it definitely keeps you on your toes and you do have some bad hunts.
Ramsey Russell: We need more hunters out here. Everybody I meet with, we all agree that the conservation movement needs the ducks, needs the resources, needs the land. The managing agencies need more hunters. And it’s just something we’re going to have to combat within in the future. Man, I really enjoyed going to Canada. It was drier than I have seen it maybe ever. And I’ve been going up there a long time but it’s drier than I can remember ever being. How did that affect y’all? Y’all had a record year? But how did it affect? How was it different because of the drought than in years past being?
Ben Webster: We were very fortunate. Now, we were in a drought. You could definitely tell all the sloughs dropped, but we didn’t have sloughs, just completely dry up like a lot of areas did. Fortunately for us the past two or three years, our area had been extremely wet. So a lot of the sloughs and potholes had more water in them than they had in the past. So we still had plenty of water which I think pushed more birds to our area. You can say it’s a multitude of things. But the hatch was a good number one. But then we had water and food, and the harvest was actually on time because it was dry. So there’s plenty of food for them. So our area held birds all the way until we left. And it was just phenomenal hunting.
Ramsey Russell: I know y’all scout very hard. Successful outfitters like yourself scout very hard. And I know your guides and scouts really put the miles on those trucks. One observation I noticed throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, through the whole dry gamut swing when I went through up there is how quickly birds could go through fields before they picked up and went to another because of the drought. Some of the crop productivity was off and there wasn’t as much wasted grain out there like there is maybe in a wet year. And you might see ducks or geese in this field today, but you couldn’t count on them building for three days. Tomorrow they’re allowed to be on the road because they swept the whole field, and now they’re going to move somewhere else. And that had to have kept your scouts and guys busy this year.
Ben Webster: Definitely keeps you on your toes. That’s the main thing with scouting, you want there to be consistency before you hunt a field, right? So it definitely keeps you on your toes and you do have some bad hunts. I mean, people thought in their head that you go to Canada and you just limit out every single day, and yes, that happens a lot. But you are going to have bad days, it’s hunting just like anywhere else in the world. There’s going to be bad days of hunting, unfortunately. But that curveball of the birds being inconsistent gave us a few bad – I call it a few black eyes – but we recovered from it and you just move on, you have to.
Canada’s Best Waterfowl Species to Hunt
So we had a lot of pintails in the area and some mallards.
Ramsey Russell: You may have lost a few battles, but it sounds like you won the war to have such a terrific season. That’s an incredible — what were y’all mostly shooting up there kind of describe what species of ducks, what species of geese are y’all primarily getting after up there. Which species are posting those numbers?
Ben Webster: For the first three weeks it was heavy pintails, which pintails had a very, very good hatch. And they changed the limit there this year from 4 to 8. So in Saskatchewan, you can kill eight ducks of any species now, which makes you sick to your stomach a little bit when you go out and shoot eight pintails when I can only shoot one here in Kansas, but it is what it is. Then it became just basically mallards, you shoot a few pintails here or there. As far as the goose hunting goes, the first couple of weeks, it’s primarily just honkers and then it switches over to lesser specks and snows. And the snows and the lessers had a phenomenal hatch this year. You’re going to see great hunting all the way down all the way through into the spring because of that which is good for everybody. It should be a really fun winter. We’re already seeing it here. We’re killing a lot of lessors right now, it’s been really fun. So we’re hoping that trend continues.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t feel too bad about those pintails. I feel bad about them too. And we recently had a couple of guests on this podcast, Jim LeFlore with Canadian Wildlife Service is, in fact he’s kind of like their Chief of Migratory Birds – that’s what he’d be if he was in our on our side of the border. They look very carefully at harvest data and the data doesn’t discriminate whether it’s an American hunter or a Canadian hunter, harvest is harvest. And man, their science and their numbers suggested that the difference in a four pintail bag limit and eight pintail bag limit was negligible. It didn’t affect neither one of them. It was no difference in whether you shot four, shot eight, and what it did to the pintail populations. And we recently had Frank Rohwer with Delta Waterfowl on here. He’s their President and Chief Scientist who explained that Delta Waterfowl has put together some very good science and is in the process of proposing and trying to sell the idea to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who he says seems amenable to the concept that the pintail will sustain three pintail bag limits in the United States, not to exceed one hen. And so that’s an interesting development. So once I started hearing that I don’t feel bad about shooting pintail. But they both say, and I don’t completely understand it, but they both say that hunter harvest is not what’s driving populations of waterfowl, but in light of drought or habitat loss, or something like that, it’s the one variable that that biologist can manipulate. That’s one thing we can control. But the science has shown, according to them, the science has shown that when Canada reduced their bag limit last time, that the mallard population, for example, didn’t respond to lower bag limits until they got the water and the habitat to increase productivity and then they responded. And yeah, it does. So anyway, you start off early with the pintails and then then it starts to go heavy to the mallards. And then that’s pretty much what y’all season looks like? I know we shoot a lot of mallards up in Canada in those dry fields. And it’s hard, I love hunting dry fields for some reason.
Ben Webster: Yeah. Pintails were actually locals that were there right when we got up there. Like I said, we actually had water. So we had a lot of pintails in the area and some mallards. I’m not going to say we didn’t shoot any mallards because we shot plenty early too, but once that migration really starts, then it changes over to just mallards, and we start shooting a mixed bag of geese as well. Lesser specks and all species of snow geese. So that’s kind of what we saw this year and for the most part, that’s pretty normal as far as the migration goes.
A Hunting Lodge in Small-Town Canada
You’re only a couple of hours from Saskatoon and a few hours from Edmonton as far as flying goes. And it’s just a nice little part of Saskatchewan.
Ramsey Russell: Here’s something I want to explain to folks about y’all’s lodge. Most lodges you go to are out in BFA, just off the grid whatever, some farmhouse or some way out station in the middle of nowhere up in Canada. And y’all have built a lodge right in a little small town and I’ve enjoyed it. I need some gas, I need something from the store, it’s just handy. It’s just right here. I’m in my own life, my own private lodge, but I am right there in town and I find that extremely convenient. Do most hunters seem to like that concept?
Ben Webster: They love it. They want to go through for a walk in the middle of the day. They can walk on sidewalks, go to the park. They need something to snack on and go to the grocery store right across the road. And when Ramsey says small town, he means an extremely small town, like maybe a couple hundred people. So it’s nice. It worked out perfect for us. It used to be an old hardware store, and we gutted it and just completely remodeled the whole inside, and put the lodge look on the front, and the whole inside the lodge look, and it works great for us. It’s perfect, very convenient. You’re only a couple of hours from Saskatoon and a few hours from Edmonton as far as flying goes. And it’s just a nice little part of Saskatchewan.
Ramsey Russell: It is nice little quiet out of the way. And I really enjoy it, and the numbers speak for themselves in terms of hunting. When do y’all kick off your season in Saskatchewan? And what is your season length?
Ben Webster: September 1st to next year we’re going to run until October 30th. There’s plenty of years that we could probably go another week or two in November, but we’ve been froze out before on October 27th, so we just decided like we’ll run till the end of October and that just works for our guides as well. The majority of our guides are either guiding for me here in Kansas, or they’re going to Oklahoma, or Texas, and go somewhere where they’re going to start right at the beginning of November. So kind of that October 30th to 31st range just works out perfect for us all the way around.
Ramsey Russell: And you close camp, load up the trailer, you start heading south down to Kansas, and when do things kick off there? How much downtime does Ben have to wash some dirty clothes?
Ben Webster: Zero downtime. I got home on Halloween this year. Majority of my guys were already here scouting, getting camp ready, and I had one day to scout myself, and then I met clients that night, we started running hunts on November 2nd. We’ve been nonstop ever since.
The Kansas Hunting Season
Fortunately for this area that I’m in, if I don’t have ducks, we’re going to go shoot something else. It could be cranes, could be lessers, it could be snows, I’m very fortunate in that aspect.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the season — kind of walk me through November 1st and the month of November so far in terms of the flow, the birds just kind of walk me through the process of how things are shaping up there.
Ben Webster: The first couple of weeks, we were very fortunate, we got a really nice push of early ducks, and we had a region that had a bunch of potholes that were full of water, that just happened to get a couple of big gushing rains that filled them up with food source. And so really the first few weeks we were just killing ducks, it was great. It was mixed bag, green winged teal, a few pintails, mallards, gadwalls, couple of wigeons and that’s mainly how it went for 2.5, maybe 3 weeks. And then we got a nice push of lessers and specks, and that was about the same time that the ducks got stale. So we just have really been goose hunting and when we can find a nice pocket of ducks then we’ll go duck hunting. Fortunately for this area that I’m in, if I don’t have ducks, we’re going to go shoot something else. It could be cranes, could be lessers, it could be snows, I’m very fortunate in that aspect. There’s a lot of places where if you don’t have ducks, you’re going to sit in a pit and you’re going to look at blue sky for a long time. It’s not very fun. So I don’t promise anyone ducks, but I do promise that if we find them, if we have them, we will go hunt ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s a waterfowl hunt, and I think most people, me personally, as much as I love to shoot ducks, man and I do. We don’t get to shoot those cackling geese at all here in Mississippi. So to come out West and have the opportunity to shoot geese, and ducks, and pheasants, or cranes. It’s always something, you know what I’m saying? Sure beats, like I say, looking at hard water, empty skies. That’s a huge opportunity. How would you describe the difference? Later in the year, if and when we do get some weather, it’s like somebody posted up, sent me a picture of the day at the front yard, solid green Bozeman Montana, solid green. It almost needs mowing. So it is an extremely mild fall this year. But if when we get some ducks it will become more of a duck-goose combo. I know the times I’ve been out there, we shot both.
Ben Webster: Yep. I think everyone is in for a pretty good push the next, let’s see what is it today? Friday. I think it’s going to happen next week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we get a front. We’ve been really warm. We’ve been 65 to almost 80 the last week, which is extremely odd for us, even though we typically are warm that’s still way too warm. But up north, the Dakotas, they’re going to freeze, they’re going to get down in the single digits with not a lot of wind for a couple of days, looks like they’re going to get some weather. So that should at least give us a push. I don’t know if it’s going to be a monster, but at least push the new birds and definitely push some ducks in once you — South Dakota is primarily wide open right now. Like the real small stuff is frozen, but the majority of the big lights and everything is open. So if we get a couple of those. If South Dakota will freeze and it’s going to do good for everyone.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody. Well, I’d love to see it. Snow about two feet all the way down to Memphis, Tennessee to be honest with you. That’s being kind of selfish on my part, but that’s what I would.
Ben Webster: Yeah, I’ll take it all the way to I-70, which is an hour north of me and then I’ll be just extremely loaded. I’ve had that happen before and it was probably one of the best duck seasons we’ve ever had. It seems like every corner you turn, there’s 20,000 duck feet.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: That’s my selfish thinking. I-70 North frozen and foot of snow.
It’s Baby Go Time
I was just shocked, first kid, four weeks early.
Ramsey Russell: Ben, I can all these years later, you’ve met Forrest and my kids. Forrest is 24 years old, and I can still remember the moment, despite how long ago that was. The pager went off, where I was and what I was doing when my little pager I rented notified me that boom, it’s go time. You’re right in the middle of a hunting season, and I know little man was born a little early. Where were you and what was going on? How did that go down right in the middle of a business – here was scouting and geese, boom, here he comes on the seat?
Ben Webster: It was actually Thanksgiving morning.
Ramsey Russell: Oh boy.
Ben Webster: I was an hour west fun hunting pheasants with some of my guides, and a couple of guys’ dads that came in for Thanksgiving, and we were just happened to be in between fields because I probably wouldn’t answer my phone. My wife knows I need some time to relax and burn off steam. So she usually doesn’t bug me. But she just happened to call me right in the middle of changing fields, and she’s like my water broke. And I said, are you sure?
Ramsey Russell: Are you sure?
Ben Webster: She told me I was an idiot for that one. I was just shocked, first kid, four weeks early. So I raced back. She’s packing, we hadn’t even packed the bag yet.
Ramsey Russell: Breaking speed limits driving back to town.
Ben Webster: Yeah, I wouldn’t do such a thing Ramsey. I think we got to the hospital about 9:15 and baby was out at 10:44 because he was transversed, which means he was sideways. We were already having a couple of minor complications with the pregnancy anyway. So we’re kind of thinking C-section. So C-section it was, and my day got turned upside down. So it’s good, it’s great.
Ramsey Russell: I can remember when my youngest child, my daughter was born. In the middle of the night, I get shaken awake, it’s time to go. It’s time to go, she was go time. Well, I was home in bed because we were going duck hunting next morning, there was a snow forecast, and we were in a place up in Tallahatchie County, and it was influenced by this creek on the South boundary. To get a rain, the creek would jump up and be all kinds of deep out there in that field, and be full of shovelers, and then he’d go back down, mallards and pintails. Well, creek was down, we had snow coming one going to freeze out, but it was good. And as I’m sitting there with my wife in labor, I’ll never forget looking out the window and seeing them snowflakes falling. And sure enough, they smoked them, boy, they smoked them. I remember my daughter at that time of all times, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Ben Webster: Of course, they did.
Ramsey Russell: Of course, they did. Yeah, they smoked them that day. Probably the best day we had that entire season. But so that was how your Thanksgiving man was welcomed to the world.
Ben Webster: Yep, no Thanksgiving dinner and no turkey this year. So that was a little bit of a disappointment but maybe that was the Lord telling me I needed to shed a few pounds.
Ramsey Russell: Do you put on weight this time of year? Because I know you eat good, we all do.
Ben Webster: In Canada, I definitely do because our cook, Miss Tilly, she likes to bake and she’s good at it. So there’s always fresh cinnamon rolls, fresh bread, cookies, cupcakes, you name it, just laying around. So I definitely put on some pounds in Canada and then I get in a routine in Kansas, I’m home, and start eating better, and start taking care of myself a little bit. So I usually shed it off by the New Year. So that’s the goal, but back in the day when I didn’t take care of myself, I definitely put some pounds on here in season, not enough sleep, and eating like crap, it’ll do that to you.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together
They’re all coming together because they met each other on a hunt and they hit it off.
Ramsey Russell: Ben, all the outfitters have their own little program, their own little matrix for how they manage clients. What is your average group size and how do y’all deal with hunters that don’t — what does it take to have your own group? What do you do with hunters that are smaller than that group in Canada and in Kansas?
Ben Webster: In both places, if you have six, you have your own group. If you have six hunters, you are allowed to bring your own dog. Because if your dog is messing up your hunt, well it’s your whole group’s hunt. We don’t let dogs with smaller parties just simply because, if a pair has a dog that’s causing problems, it could be ruining the other four pack that we put with them hunts. The dog issue, it sucks because I know everybody wants to hunt with their dog, but I also have to look out for my other paying clients that are paying good money also.
Ramsey Russell: So if six people for an independent group in Kansas, and in Canada I’ve got two or I’ve got three, now, what happens with my group? Can I book up there with you?
Ben Webster: Yeah, we’re going to piece you together, we even take solo hunters, but we piece you together to get 6-8. We don’t like to hunt over eight. Now, if you have a full group and you want to bring 8, 10, 12 than that’s fine. But when piecing together small parties we like to be around 6 to 8 hunters as well. And honestly, I just had my first problem with a group. Actually, the past three days that I almost was going to have to send them home or put them in another blind or something because they were there probably the worst group of clients I’ve ever had. But that’s the first time I’ve ever had a problem in 13 years of piecing groups together. So I’m hoping this is that.
Ramsey Russell: I want to talk about that. I don’t want to — names ain’t important. What is the issue, when you say a problem client, or a bad group of clients? And I’m assuming this was a mixed party?
Ben Webster: They were a little unruly in the lodge. And they got caught smoking or vaping in my basement. We had a female client in camp and they put ketchup packets in her boots so that when she would stick her feet in and the ketchup with squirt. And it did.
Ramsey Russell: And she was not among their group, this was somebody else?
Ben Webster: Nope, somebody else. And I know my other group that was in camp, and I know it wasn’t them because they’re really good dudes, and they’ve been with me for a long time. So I know it was them, and they just caused a lot of problems on the hunt, and were never satisfied. Didn’t matter if we killed 40 or a limit. It was just not – just weren’t good people, period.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a part of the dream job you don’t really hear about a lot, isn’t it?
Ben Webster: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a great job and it’s a great business. But sometimes. When you piece together groups, three guys and three guys, four guys and three guys. I’m in Canada, I’m in Kansas, I’ve got three, they got four, vice versa. Boom. Have you ever had any conflicts that you have to mediate on the fly? Because I’ve got my opinion as somebody that hunts a lot with mixed parties, and mostly almost, God, almost always it’s we all get along and have a good time. I mean almost all —
Ben Webster: I mean it’s 99% of the time.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: I’ve got clients that are from 2-3 different states that are put in a group and they end up coming and booking as one group together.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: Because they have a good time, from the lodge to the hunts to the whole experience, which is really cool. That’s one of my favorite things about outfitting and guiding from Canada all the way back to Canada. We got close to 800-1,000 clients coming through, I’m meeting 800-1,000 different people, and I’ve built a lot of really good relationships from my clients now. I’ve got a lot of clients that I consider my friends. I mean, look at my business in Canada, my two business partners were clients of mine in Kansas.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something?
Ben Webster: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: I see the same thing. We have some destinations, a lot of our destinations, Argentina especially, our top destinations you hunt in a blind by yourself. So that larger holds 8 to 10 people or more, and I’ll always host together some groups, and because there’s a lot of guys, that’s a big click to go to Argentina, that’s a big click. And there’s just a lot of guys of all ages that want to go, they have the means and the ability, but they don’t have a friend that’s willing and able to go with them. I say come on, join one of these hosted groups, and we go off and hunt by ourselves, and I don’t care what you say, you’re never going to shoot as well or quite enjoy the same as in a blind by yourself. That’s a totally different game than you and your best buddy, you and your kids and whatever. But back at the Argentina lodge, there we are socializing, eating dinner, having a few cocktails, whatever, whatever, whatever. And what I’ve seen time and time, and time, and time again over the past couple of decades, is when individuals – I call it pairs and spares, those two guys, plus that guy, and that guy, and that guy – we all get together and now all of a sudden you’re in camp with people that are willing and able to do what you like to do, and friendships form. And then in upcoming years, I’ll hear from one of them, but it’s those three guys coming now. They’re all coming together because they met each other on a hunt and they hit it off. And I see way more of that than I do some of the stuff you described about problem clients. I see way more of that. Sometimes take a little getting settled in, and everybody figuring out who’s going to shoot what, and how to shoot zones, and those three kind of getting along. But I think 99% of the time, just because we’re all duck hunters, it all just kind of happens, don’t you?
Ben Webster: Like-minded people.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, birds of a feather flock together, that’s what I say. Do you have any memorable times that it didn’t work out?
Ben Webster: Man, just this past week, that was it. Other than that it’s always been people are super cordial. That doesn’t mean they become best buds, but you’re there for a reason, you want to hunt, you want to eat good food, and meet new people, and shoot birds. That don’t mean you got to be best friends with the guy next to you, but you can still enjoy everyone’s company.
Ramsey Russell: Stages and phases, I think we all get older, we all evolve as hunters, and as people, and as human beings, and some of the problems you describe them last week, I’m just thinking to myself that’s a bunch of kids that made, that’s probably their first guided hunt or certainly not many others.
Ben Webster: Yeah, they were kids.
Ramsey Russell: And they just hadn’t learned how to behave, and it’s a good thing that young woman didn’t have about a 6.5-7ft boyfriend to play, a linebacker in the NFL, or he would have taught them a lesson probably. I guess kids eventually outgrow something like that. Terrible man, terrible that you had to deal with that. How do you deal with something like that, Ben?
Ben Webster: You got to kind of treat them like they’re your kid even though I just had one, but-
Ramsey Russell: Because on the one hand they’re your client. On the other hand, they need discipline. That’s a tough responsibility to kind of come with the dream job.
Ben Webster: It’s definitely – you got to be careful that you don’t cross the line because you are in the people business. Whether you think you are or you aren’t, you are in the people business, and you got to make money, right? So you’ve already collected full payment on these guys, you can’t just tell them to kick rocks. You’d have to do something real serious for them to kick rocks. So sometimes you just got to bite your tongue and go about your day and realize, okay, I got these guys in camp for another day and a half, I’m going to make it up to the clients that have to deal with them and apologize to the clients that have to deal with them. I’m never going to book these guys again. And then on the backend, once you’ve done your due diligence, you’ve completed what you told them you would, your hunts, your lodging, your meals, then you tell them, here’s what needs to change, here’s what you guys were doing that was super uncool this or that. That’s when you “discipline them”.
Ramsey Russell: How did they take the news?
Ben Webster: Not good.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I hate anybody has to go through that, but that’s part of — somebody told me one time, it’s a long time ago. When I first kind of sort of got in this business and was getting my legs up under me and he said, man, you got a great job. He said, you deal with people, unfortunately, he said we all deal with people, it don’t matter what job you’re in, it doesn’t matter what your job description is your duties are, we’re all in the people business and unfortunately some people suck. So sometimes your job is going to suck having to deal with them. And 20 years later I’ve never forgotten that, Ben. Some people just suck, but I’ve learned over 20 years, some people just have bad days too. Some people just have bad days and we’re all just people, I try to remember that I’m human too, we all are. You have been appointed unfortunately – in this business, you got to deal with it sometimes and I hate it.
Ben Webster: Unfortunately, I’m sure I’ve pissed some people off of my days of, being young, being a punk kid. But it’s part of it. But you just deal with it the best way how, and if you don’t deal with it right, you learn from it, right? That’s part of business, you’re always learning. It’s hard part of hunting also, you should learn every time you go out and hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Ben Webster: That’s the fun part about hunting.
Spring Snow Hunting in Saskatchewan
But you can shoot six Canada’s a day, you can shoot two specks per day, and you can shoot 50 snow geese per day.
Ramsey Russell: Ben, how long does your Kansas season go? I know y’all go up to a certain point and then y’all have goose hunting.
Ben Webster: Yep. So we run all the way till January 2nd and we personally, as an outfit take five or six days off, we could just Canada goose hunt. But I give the guys – it’s a long season, we’re a four-month season – so I give the guys five days off. They come back, we start scouting, and then we run Canada goose hunts until, I think it’s a 22nd this year, is when our duck zone opens back up. We run until the end of January or that next Sunday, we got nine days left of duck season. After that’s over, then we run Canada goose hunts, specklebelly hunts, and snow goose hunts until February 13th. Then we start running spring snows in Kansas for about three weeks, and then I’ve got about 40 days off and I go back to Saskatchewan and run spring snows in Saskatchewan for about five weeks.
Ramsey Russell: There in February, those 15 days in February. What is the goose hunting like then? What do you feel conditions like? What’s the weather usually like? What kind of birds are you mostly getting into?
Ben Webster: It’s absolutely incredible. It’s probably some of the best hunting we have all season long because the birds are reverse migrating, we’re getting the juvenile birds back from Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Kansas that are coming back through. They’re hungry cause they know they’re pushing hard. They’re going to push hard north, chase that ice and snow line all the way back. So we’re dry field hunting almost all of it. We’ll occasionally hunt a loafer roost at the very end of season just because it’s not going to mess anything up at that point. But the hunting is lights out. It’s my favorite time of the year minus spring snows in Canada, that’s my favorite time of the year.
Ramsey Russell: When you say Canada is it mostly cacklers? Bigs or littles?
Ben Webster: It’s little. It’s going to be your Hutchinson and your Richardson geese, and then specklebellies and snows mixed in as well.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. So I’m sitting there thinking man, what a great opportunity to hunt after conventional duck season, there’s still some spring opportunities for those that don’t want to go chase just snow geese. There’s still some great opportunities. What’s the average bag limit like? What’s the official limit? What’s the average bag during that time of year? And are you hunting over dry ground still or do you get any water?
Ben Webster: Primarily all dry field hunting. But I said, we will hunt some loaf ponds or some roosts just because it’s the end of the season. But you can shoot six Canada’s a day, you can shoot two specks per day, and you can shoot 50 snow geese per day. The snows are really just a bonus, you’re never going to shoot your 50. But we have got into them very well. On average, I would probably say we’re shooting anywhere from 6-8 birds a person at that time.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: It might not be a limit of one or the other, but it’s a mixed bag count, it’s really good hunting. My February books up, I got a lot of repeat guys that come out that for that same reason, they’re big duck hunters and they want to extend their season. They come out late and after their season is closed to extend their season, and they come back every year because the hunting is just phenomenal.
Ramsey Russell: I can’t help but think that after January, that a lot of the hunting pressure goes away too. A lot of outfitters hang up the spurs, a lot of the weekend warriors go home, and that these birds, they’re new, kind of coming back through on the reverse migration, but they’re not as subject to is quite as much pressure as they would be in the months of December and January. Prove me wrong, I just can’t imagine there’s much hunting pressure those 15 days.
Ben Webster: Well, we’re a little different because Kansas is just known for February being really good goose hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Ben Webster: So there is, I mean definitely not near as much hunting pressure because all your college kids are back in school, your high school kids are back in school, and you got all your duck hunters that don’t really goose hunt that aren’t hunting. So the pressure is down a little bit, but this stays pretty consistent throughout the season. Now, once spring snow starts, then there’s almost no hunting pressure, there’s just a few guides running around and that’s about it.
Ramsey Russell: And when do y’all kick off your spring snow goose hunts in Saskatchewan for Prairie Limits Outfitters, when does that start?
Ben Webster: Kansas starts right after dark goose, which would be February 13th. And we’re going to run till March 6th this year. In Canada, I’ll probably get up there about the 10th and fun hunt/hangout, wait for the birds to get there. And we’ll start running hunts around the 15th of the 20th and we’ll run —
Ramsey Russell: Of March?
Ben Webster: Of April.
Ramsey Russell: April, okay.
Ben Webster: And run all the way till May 20.
Saskatchewan Goose Hunts in Fall Versus Spring
The primary difference is in the spring, we’re running really small snow goose spreads.
Ramsey Russell: How do you describe the difference? The goose hunts y’all do up in Saskatchewan in the fall versus the spring. What is the primary difference?
Ben Webster: The primary difference is in the spring, we’re running really small snow goose spreads. Running 5 to 10 dozen full bodies running an E-collar, really low. And we might run one clone, one flapping snow goose. We rarely run the big circus, which is multiple rotaries, 100, 200, 300 dozen decoys. We don’t run that up in Canada.
Ramsey Russell: The times I’ve hunted spring snow geese in Canada, a distinction to me that I’ll never forget was how small the flocks we were spotting were 250-300. But they’ve been sitting in that barley field forever and they were vulnerable. You showed up the next day, like you say, a few decoys, a low volume and just lights out. It was incredible.
Ben Webster: They’re there to absolutely gorge themselves. They feed until 10 – 11 o’clock, go back to water, sit there on the water till three, and then they feed again for three or four hours. They get so fat up there at the end of season that you shoot them 20-30 yards up in the air, and they’re splitting open, and they’ll have an inch of fat on their breasts.
Ramsey Russell: They’re just my favorite eating bird.
Ben Webster: They’re actually disgusting, cleaning them wise, because they’re just greasy and nasty.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t bother me. Hell, I think the flavor’s in the fat and I really think a good spring snow goose is maybe one of my favorite wildfowl to eat in North America. And I’ve seen them where they’re really fat. I put on like rubber gloves when I’m breast about of cleaning them, but there’s no blood because grease just kind of repels that blood. It’s just some good stuff. There’s some good stuff, man. I love it, I sure do. You say Ross’ geese predominate the bag Saskatchewan in the spring, or is it mostly snows?
Ben Webster: It’s definitely a mixture.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: You’ll have your heavily populated feeds of Ross’ geese. But primarily for us, it’s adult snows and goose.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ben Webster: We really don’t shoot a lot of juvies at all. I think last season we shot right under 2000 birds with 53 clients and plus some fun hunting obviously, because we’re up there, we’re going to make the best of our time as well. But I think we only shot two or three juveniles while we were up there.
Ramsey Russell: Ben, real quick, how can everybody get in touch with you. Now, on ushuntlist.com we got your hunts listed, but how can they contact you directly on social media and telephone and all that good stuff?
Ben Webster: We got Prairie Limits Outfitters on Instagram and Facebook. Got Big Kansas Outdoors on Instagram and Facebook. Both our websites, prairielimitsoutfitters.com & bigkansasoutdoors.com you can go to YouTube check us out. The YouTube channel is Big Kansas Outdoors but we have two seasons of The Dream Job on there right now. We’ve actually already filmed eight episodes of The Dream Job in Canada. And we’re getting ready to start filming here in Kansas, to do another eight, and we’re going to be filming four more in the spring. So definitely keep your eyes out for that and if you haven’t watched it, check that out, it kind of shows you what we do in in Saskatchewan and in Kansas. And then also always, give me a call or shoot me a text, my number is 620-200-4372.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. The Dream Job. Yeah, it is a great video series by the way, there’s a lot of them out there, and I don’t have the time or inclination to watch them all, but I do watch those. They’re always very good, Ben. Folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere from Kansas on the phone with Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors, Prairie Limits Outfitters, Y’all check him out on The Dream Job year-round. See you next time.