It’s late-April and because COVID-19 protocols have prevented his guiding spring snow geese in Canada, Ben Webster of Big Kansas Outdoors is home in central Kansas. Ben tells Ramsey why and when he got into guided Kansas duck hunting. What are some of the good and bad aspects of operating a professional guide service? What qualities does Ben really look for in prospective waterfowl guide-staff? What all goes into the Dream Job?
Related links: Big Kansas Outdoors
Ben Webster, The Dream Job?
Who is Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors, Kansas Duck and Goose Hunting?
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to another episode of Duck Season Somewhere, right in the middle of day 573-11 of COVID outbreak, live from Hutchinson, Kansas. I’ve got Ben Webster on the phone with our USHuntList outfitter, Big Kansas Outdoors. How are you, Ben?
Ben Webster: I’m doing great, how are you, man?
Ramsey Russell: I’m doing good, man. I’m glad to finally be on here with you. I talk to you all the time, I’ve hunted with you several times and—Ben, I described you—how old are you? Thirty-something?
Ben Webster: I turned 32 in August.
Ramsey Russell: 32. I just said young thirties, and I describe you at shows and as a member of the US Hunt List, I describe you to people as a young, energetic outfitter. And I like it. I like guys like yourself that have got a good program, got your mess together, and work hard. Your staff is young, they’re ambitious. I’ve known you now almost three years, and it’s all the same staff. I like seeing familiar faces in camp. That tells me everybody is doing their job, there’s no problems. I like that about you. But Ben, here’s a question I got for you. I want to know, who are you? Introduce yourself to everybody. Where are you from, and who are you, man?
Ben Webster: Well, I’m Ben Webster, 32 years old. I own an outfit in western Saskatchewan called Prairie Limits Outfitters, and I own an outfit in central Kansas called Big Kansas Outdoors. I’ve been hunting since I was 13. I’ve been in the guide industry for, I think this was my eleventh season. For that I actually grew up in southeast Kansas, even though I was born here in Hutchinson, and ended up moving out here after a year of college football, moving back out here and went to JUCO and started working for the family roofing company. And fortunately enough there’s a construction company, so I could start hunting in the winter. And one thing led to another.
Ramsey Russell: When you say you’ve been hunting since you were 13 years old, was it ducks or was it everything, like myself?
Ben Webster: That was my first waterfowl season. Went teal hunting with my uncle and what turned out to be one of my bosses at the roofing company, when I was 13, on a blue-winged teal in September.
Ramsey Russell: That worked out pretty good, didn’t it? He was a hunter, you’re a hunter, so you get to go hunting with him.
Ben Webster: Worked out great. I was hooked ever since.
Ramsey Russell: Did your dad hunt?
Ben Webster: My dad does hunt, he’s more of an upland guy, and he works a lot. My father’s a PA, the physician’s assistant for three orthopaedic surgeons, and has been for twenty-something years. So he works a lot of hours. But he does get out with me a couple times every year. I’ve been hunting now for Upland Guide here in Kansas, so that’s made him come out a little bit more. But if I did that full time I think he’d be here a lot more.
Ramsey Russell: And by upland, do you mean ring-necked pheasants?
Kansas Pheasant Hunting
Ben Webster: We grew up quail hunting with an English Pointer in southeast Kansas. There wasn’t many pheasants, so we grew up going quail hunting on public ground and on some private ground that we had access to. All from when I was younger and all the way through high school.
Ramsey Russell: My family raised Springers forever. I think my granddad had them for 45 years, and when I got into them, they were Field Bred Springer, very energetic. I would teach them to quarter run, figure-eights out in front of me, and they never range more than about 35, 40 yards. But pheasants, of course we have no pheasants in Mississippi, so I spent time out in parts of Oklahoma, lots of parts of Kansas, the Dakotas, all around the Midwest, whatever pheasant country. And when the last of that line of dogs passed, I got into labs and I just never really fooled with them. But I used to love hunting pheasants, in fact Forrest and I were out there hunting with you, not too long ago, and he said, “Hey, you want to go pheasant hunt with these guys?” and I’m like, sure. Well, Forrest had never hunted pheasants. And man, I’ll tell you what, that was fun. We formed a line, and we pushed some areas, and I told Forrest—he’d never been—and we loaded up, of course, before you even start walking very far. I say, “Be ready.” I mean we ain’t got 50 yards from a truck, first rooster jumped up between me and him, and I smoked it. I don’t think he’d ever seen his old man go that quick. In fact, I’ll tell you, I usually can’t outdraw him. I outdrew him three times on that push. But anyway that was a lot of— Oh yeah, we told him— Well, the thing I’ve noticed is, when you least expect it, expect it. And especially when you’re coming up to the end of the push and there’s nothing but open agriculture. That last footstep, there’s no telling what’s going to jump out on a pheasant push. They’ll sit there and hold so tight.
Ben Webster: My favorite is I like to, halfway through or getting close to the end, get the whole line to stop, everyone be quiet and just wait for a minute, and usually there’s, it might be a hen, but there’s usually a pheasant that gets nervous because you stopped and they don’t know where they’re at, and then they’ll either bust out in between you or right behind you. That’s just fun.
Ramsey Russell: Duck and goose hunting is totally different. You normally see the birds, you’re calling to them, they’re setting up, they’re getting wind right, they’re pitching in if they’re doing right, they’re coming in, coming in, coming in. I mean, it’s just—take them. Pheasant hunting is not that way. I don’t think hardly ever a pheasant hasn’t exploded from cover, especially the more roosted, if it gets a-cussing, that your instinct is just to rock back on your heels, when you need to be leaning forward to shoot. So it’s like, so you got the flush, is it a rooster or a hen, to make the shot? I mean it’s a lot to put together in just a mere second. Same thing could be said for wild quail, but they’re hard to come by these days.
Ben Webster: For sure. Fortunately for Kansas, we’re having somewhat of a comeback. We had gone through a bad drought for multiple years, and just, a change of farming practices, it really hurt the quail. And the last few years, we’re starting to run into a covey of quail on the edge of C.R.P, and we’ve got some properties just for quail hunting. And if guys actually want to kill quail, John—my Upland guide, my main guide for Upland—he can put them on five or six coveys in an afternoon, and that’s when it really gets fun, is when you can get into the wild quail like that.
Ramsey Russell: Boy, you bet, that’s a treat. And, oh man, 10, maybe even 15 years ago, we actually found an outfitter up in northwest Oklahoma that was doing wild bird hunts, wild quail. And that was some real good country for a while, in the wet years it was real good for quail. But what I found out is the true wild bird quail hunters are a dying breed, they’ve almost become dinosaurs. Because normally the guys that grew up cutting their teeth—like your dad, like your granddad, like my dad and granddad—on wild birds, they were cut from a different fabric, man. And now, the guys that really know the distinction between a wild quail and a put-and-take quail, they’re old. They’re older, they’re old enough that logging eight or nine miles through cover to find a covey of quail is a little taxing on them. And the younger guys, that they just don’t get it. Because when you go out to a put-and-take quail operation, you don’t walk very far before you see quails. Just like Moses parting the Red Sea, there’s just quail flying everywhere. And that’s not the case when they get up; a wild bird is fast. Show me an old guy that grew up cutting his teeth on wild quail, and I guarantee that guy shoots above average on a duck or a goose. I guarantee he does.
Ben Webster: The problem is they’re few and far between. I started out doing— So I got a package of three waterfowl hunts, two upland hunts, like you know from hunting with us here. And the reason I changed it from two wild to one wild, one controlled shoot—and obviously that’s customizable for guys that want just wild hunts—but everybody wants to pull the trigger. And you know as well as I do, sometimes on a wild pheasant or quail hunt, you might not get that many opportunities.
When Did Big Kansas Outdoors Start Guiding Kansas Duck and Goose Hunts?
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. You may not connect on the opportunities you get. I mean, that’s right. That’s a very sporting hunt. Ben, you said you’re going into your eleventh season guiding. Did you start guiding after high school, or after college football?
Ben Webster: After high school I went and played one year of college football at a small NAIA college in Kansas City and decided to go other ways, and I moved back to Hutch and went to JUCO for a year or two, and then I started guiding after that. I started at the bottom. Just like all these young kids asked me, how can they start, how can they become a guide, and what they need to do to become a guide, and you got to start at the bottom. You’ve got to work for peanuts, be a scout, put in your time, work hard, learn from the guys that are above you, and, hopefully, you’re in the right situation, you’re learning from the right people. If not, you need to move operations and find a better fit for you. But I started as a scout for two years with another outfit here in Kansas, and then I met a guy and we decided to part ways and start out our operation. And unfortunately for me it was the wrong fit, and after four years I finally had enough and I just went out on my own, and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever had.
Ramsey Russell: It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. I mean, we’re all going to work for the wrong people at some point in time in our lives. And you learn as many lessons in that experience as you do in a good one. I mean, really, you learn what doesn’t work.
Ben Webster: I’ll never take it away from— I learned a ton about hunting, and the guy was straight killer, but he did a lot of other things that he shouldn’t have been doing. So, I learned my lesson and that aspect, too, business-wise: dealing with clients, dealing with farmers. So, honestly, it was a blessing that I met him and started a business with him because now my business is thriving and I feel like, for the most part, I’m doing everything right, and if I’m not trying to fix it to where I am.
Ramsey Russell: Right on. Well, tell me, when did y’all start Big Kansas Outdoors?
Ben Webster: What was it… 2016, I think?
Ramsey Russell: Okay, five years. Why did you want to be an outfitter? A waterfowl outfitter?
Ben Webster: Honestly, now I know why, but at the time I couldn’t really tell you why. At the time I think I just didn’t really enjoy the path I was taking at my other job, and I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life. And I actually did enjoy taking clients and making them happy and seeing smiles on their faces and having, somewhat, control over my future. And when we split, we split everything right down the middle. It wasn’t a harsh deal, and some clients still wanted to come out to Kansas and hunt with me. So I’m still going hunting with them and I just said, why not? Let’s give her a go. And it just really built from there and everything fell into place. Hired the right people, found the right farmers, and it just took off.
Ramsey Russell: I went to Mississippi State and got a degree in forestry and wildlife. And I remember way back, all the kids when you first show up at school, one of the first things you have to stand up and say, as a freshman, is “My name is so-and-so, and I’m from so-and-where, I got into forestry because—,” and I can tell you right now we all got the forestry because we hunted and fished. That’s why we all got into natural resource management. But what you learn real quick is that those guys that get up, “My name is so-and-so and I’m in forestry because I just like to be in the woods,” what you found out real dang thing quick is, if you’re a professional forester in the woods, man, you ain’t just walking through nature smelling the roses and looking at the butterflies, man. You are trotting through the woods, laying outlines, cruising tempera paint and marking and getting it bed, getting it sold and riding around in a dusty truck with a bottle of Maalox on the dashboard. It’s a job, it’s a business, that’s what I’m trying to express to you. It ain’t just because I like being in the woods, it’s a business. And you’ve obviously learned that. I mean, everybody wants to be an outfitter guide. It’s the “dream job.” Y’all remember that for a little bit, but there’s a lot of good and bad and ugly that comes with any business, let alone outfit. What are some of the good things, bad things, and ugly things about, as a young man now in this business for eleven years— I mean, had it been a learning curve?
It’s a job, it’s a business, that’s what I’m trying to express to you. It ain’t just because I like being in the woods, it’s a business. And you’ve obviously learned that. I mean, everybody wants to be an outfitter guide. It’s the “dream job.”
On Becoming A Successful Waterfowl Outfitter In Kansas
Ben Webster: Oh, it’s a huge learning curve. I still learn, every time I hire a new guy, because for the most part I’ve done really well at keeping the same crew around, but there’s always a guy that either gets married or has a kid or comes across a really good career job, and you can’t blame them for that. It’s time to move on, right? But what I find interesting is when I hire these guys from all over the country, I learn something from them. I could be hunting way longer than them, and I learn something from everybody. In every hunt, I feel like you get a little bit smarter, you might learn something a little bit, something quirky happens because of the weather, or what the birds were doing, and that’s why I love this job. But what people don’t realize is it’s not all fun and games. Everybody thinks it’s all fun and games on social media because everybody portrays the perspective that they’re the best outfitter and they’re killing birds every single day. Well, it’s not true. Everyone that hunts knows that. And you can just have a bad go and have three days where, even though you were on the birds, for some reason all cylinders weren’t clicking, or you had to deal with some quirky weather. But those clients are expecting what you’re showing on TV or on your Instagram or on your Snapchat, they’re expecting to kill birds. And the good clients do understand when there’s something odd going on with the weather or the moon or something like that, a weird front. But there’s clients that expect to pull the trigger, that’s why they came, and that’s when it makes it difficult. Because you feel like you’re taking their money a little bit because they’re not happy. But in all aspects, you did everything you could. You still took them hunting, you still worked your tail off, all the guys worked their tail off. The lodging was great, you entertained, the food was great; but they might not come back because you only had one good hunt out of three.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s a poor consolation. It’s like everybody is a rock star, when the birds are easy into opening day. When birds are opening day dumb, everybody—good and bad—is a rock star. It’s when times are tough— And I get to see your business, I can see it all the time, businesses, outfitting businesses. And the good outfitters, the best outfitters, the guys that have been in business, that got a big clientele, you realize that for half as many birds—because the birds are stale, because the birds are new, because the weather is too warm, because the moon is too full, because of all the variables that would affect duck—that those three ducks, or half limits, took twice or three times as much scouting, more driving, more work, more game planning, more strategizing to produce. So good guides work way harder when times are tough, even though the bag limit may not show it. So I can respect what you’re saying on that. Ben, you brought up some good point, like when you hire—because even I get emails or inboxes all the time. People like what we do, what it looks like, what we do, on Instagram page stuff, and they send me an application, or do I know anybody hiring, because everybody wants to get into this dream job. But what do you, what does Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors, what do you look for in a young person? If anybody listening today thinks they want to get up at 3:30 AM for what seems like the rest of their lives and scout and drive 200 miles a day scouting and working for clients—what do you look for? How do you know, okay, I think this guy is worth taking a chance on. What do you look for specifically?
Ben Webster: A lot of it’s gut feeling, but I’ve changed over the years. I used to want to find the best caller, a guy that’s done it for a while, has a good dog. And I’ve kind of changed—obviously that’s important too, but I’ve kind of changed to, I want a guy that’s just got a really good attitude and is willing to learn. I base heavily off the references. Obviously, I want them to be able to blow a call. I want them to know somewhat how to hunt. But the majority of the guys are going to start out with me as a scout. I’m going to call the references because, talking about the good, bad, and the ugly, when it gets ugly, you don’t want a guy that goes down in the dumps and can be moody and pouty because the hunting is not good, because that’s not going to get us anywhere.
Ramsey Russell: Heck no, that’s contagious, too, man. You start getting pouty and moody, it can get contagious with the client. You got to keep their spirits up.
Ben Webster: Exactly. And it’s contagious within the team. After three days, the clients are going home. We’re not going home. If it’s a drought, a full moon—these are the same birds for a month, so it could be a little bit before you get into, could take the right weather or it could take a new push, and that could be a few days away. And if everyone’s pouting, that’s not going to get us anywhere. If you can stay up and just keep grinding, keep working, you’ll come through on the other side, and then you’ll go back to the top of the hill where everyone’s laying birds, everyone’s happy. That’s when it’s easy. The guys that can do it when it’s not easy and still have a good attitude, still somewhat enjoy it; obviously we all want to kill birds, and it sucks if you go on a bad spurt for a few days, and anyone that says they don’t, is a liar, but it’s just part of it. Hunting. If it was killing, everyone would do it, but it’s not.
Ramsey Russell: I would tell any high school age or college age kids listening, that thinks he wants to do what you do—and I have said this to young people that have asked, sure would like to get this job, and I very much believe this—I don’t care how good a caller you are, you might be the Daniel Boone of the world, duck killing, you might be the duck killing something. Everybody that’s in this business—it’s a hunting business, but more importantly, it’s a people business, and I have said a million times: you want to be in this industry? Here’s what I suggest while you’re in high school: go get a job at Hilton. Go learn the Hilton way of how to take care. Oh, your light bulb needs changing? Yes, sir. Oh, it’s too hot in your room? Yes, sir. Go be that guy that can take care of people. Or go be a waiter. Go do something that has to deal with people. Because when times are tough, and they will be— My job, your job, any job— But hunting business, man, guided hunts are Christmas for adults. We know there ain’t no Santa Claus; we’re saving our money and we’re going on a trip. And we do expect, because we travel hours to get there, we do expect the ducks to magically pile up like they do on social media all the time. And they don’t, because they’re migratory birds. You want a guaranteed hunt, go shoot canned pheasants. But the hot wild birds, it’s a game and it takes diligence. And I’ve always said, clients, you can’t let them get into their heads. You can’t let a client get into his head, start feeling bad, “Man, I spent $350 and I didn’t kill but two ducks.” But I feel like if a guide—and I’ve seen this—if a guide is always trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat, if he’s chipper and upbeat and positive and working hard, nobody can fault him. Now there can be those times, those clients are still going to look somewhere else because they didn’t shoot a limit like somebody did on Facebook. But at the same time, you do the best you can. Just like when you play football, you leave it on the field. You dig deep to get that next inch, if that’s what it takes to get that first down. You just got to stick with it, man.
Ben Webster: I agree with that 100% because that’s something I had to change with myself and my business. Because when I first started Big Kansas Outdoors, it was all about kills. Not that it necessarily was for me, that’s what I thought would keep people coming back, is just killing. And so I didn’t do a lot of entertaining. I didn’t do a lot of going to the lodge and hanging out, or going to lunch and hanging out. I was too focused on finding birds and killing birds, and I honestly had some clients that decided to go somewhere else because there was no personal touch. “Don’t get us wrong, we’ll be back because you put us on birds. But this is more, you don’t have the all-around experience,” is what he said. That hit me hard, and I was pretty upset. I thought I was right and he was wrong, and it took a little bit before that clicked with me. And I’m off-site, unfortunately, with my lodging, but I’m making a point now to get out there, take some of the guys with me at least one night, either their first night or maybe their last night, and have dinner with them. Maybe you have a few cocktails, talk about hunting, talk about, I like to talk about where they hunt back home back home. How do they do things differently? Because you know, East Coast, West Coast, it’s all different all the way through. And that’s just one thing that’s really cool about this sport.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, I love it. Ben, I actually met you through two mutual clients, one from Colorado—Butch, Colonel Butch—and one from Texas—Kevin Diehl, who is himself a great duck guide. And both of them very good people, and they spoke so highly about you. Now the truth of the matter is, in our conversations when they called and said, “Man, you really need to meet this guy out in Kansas,” I never asked, “Well, how many birds does he kill?” I know better, you know what I’m saying, and I didn’t ask that question. But those two guys have got standards, and they’re real hunters. They don’t expect limits every time, but they know shit from Shinola. The fact they referred you meant a lot to me. And I’ve seen that to be the case. Speaking of clients, we’ve been hem-hawing around it, duck hunting—what blows my mind about duck hunting is just how it’s a subjective experience. You put four guys in a blind, normally, they’re four individuals, and one guy may love it, and three guys were “Ah, that’s okay,” if you were to ask them in a blind test or something, and we do send out questionnaires to all our clients, so we hear all over the board. Some people love the food, the barbecue chicken, some people hate it and it’s too cold, too hot, whatever, because it’s subjective. But how would you describe good clients, bad clients? And I don’t mean guys that don’t come back, because even in my business, I’ve got clients that go to one spot, say in Argentina or Canada, wherever, and they ain’t going nowhere else. They had a good time, one time, they’re going to stick with it. But most hunters, they hop around like birds—birds migrate, hunters like to migrate. They’ve been here before so they want to see greener pastures, something new, fresh territories. But just speaking about reasonable expectations, how would you describe a good client as contrasted with a bad client? Now don’t go into no personal details, I’m just saying overall.
Ben Webster: I think communication is a huge thing, right? There’s some times where the hunting is not going well or you can visually tell if something is not right, and you try to talk to the person and they don’t want to hurt your feelings or whatever it is. And then there’s the clients that are like, “Hey, this is what happened. Not a real big fan of it. If this is valued on your operation, that’s fine. But we just thought, maybe you want to change that to be better.” And obviously the best clients are the guys that are like real hunters. They understand the weather patterns. They understand, “Hey, it’s 8° in the morning, the little Canada’s aren’t going to fly because they’ve got to keep the water open. They’ll fly in the afternoon.” I’ve got some clients that scream at me because they want to go hunting in the morning when I try to explain that to them. I don’t know, it’s just part of it.
…communication is a huge thing, right? There’s some times where the hunting is not going well or you can visually tell if something is not right, and you try to talk to the person and they don’t want to hurt your feelings or whatever it is. And then there’s the clients that are like, “Hey, this is what happened. Not a real big fan of it. If this is valued on your operation, that’s fine. But we just thought, maybe you want to change that to be better.” And obviously the best clients are the guys that are like real hunters. -Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors
Ramsey Russell: Some communications are big, anybody listening. I’m almost, I’m going to reiterate with Ben. You said communications are big. Talk to your outfitter. Especially when you leave, and don’t just leave. I mean, Ben, we send a questionnaire to all our clients and most of them don’t fill it out but a lot of them do. And throughout the year, the last few days, in fact, I’ve been reviewing them. And a few things, I asked, what’s the good, bad, the ugly? What did you love? What did you not like? What would you change? I asked all these questions in a questionnaire and I look for trends mostly, if a lot of people are loving something and one guy doesn’t, chances are he doesn’t like anything. But I take every single comment and I make a list of— It may be something small. It may be something the outfitter did not do, or something they would change or suggest. And I keep a list, and I start following up with those clients, I start talking like, I noticed you said something about this, or what specifically? And I tell my outfitters, don’t get your feelings hurt, I need to call you and tell you, that’s how you keep this thing good, right?
Ben Webster: Yeah. We actually did that. In my Canada operation, Prairie Limits, is one of my partner’s ideas, and I’m not going to lie, you’ll be surprised, I’m sure you were surprised, at some of the, just small things that you overlooked, because you’ve got a hundred other things going on and it really adds up. People, multiple guys are like, hey, this is what’s going on, and this is how you could be better. You didn’t even realize it because it was just something small. The small things are what makes a really good outfitter really good.
Ramsey Russell: I agree. I don’t get my feelings hurt. I just, I refuse to get my feelings hurt, and I refuse to let my outfitters get their feelings hurt when I’m communicating to them what was said. You know what I’m saying? Because if an outfitter is wearing his feelings on his sleeve about every little thing, it ain’t going to work good. You’ve got, here look, here’s what people are saying. And if a lot of people don’t like your barbecue chicken, you know what I suggest? Do something different. I mean, that’s just what I suggest. If you’re seeing a trend breakout that these little things. But man, ain’t it crazy how the little things, like you say, there’s really serious and experienced hunters in this industry, they can take or leave the limit. They understand. They’re hunters themselves, they see the effort, they know the scouting, they get it, but then it may just be something little, that how can you possibly know everything unless somebody tells you? I see that a lot. When Forrest and I hunted out there with you not too long ago, the birds were in the afternoon mode. We went out, y’all had scouted it, y’all had found a little pot hole out in that agricultural field and said we’re going to try it in the morning, but they’ve really been piling in in the afternoons. And we went out there that morning and I think everybody shot a bird or two.
Ben Webster: There was eight of us, who shot 12-15 birds.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. But we went out that afternoon and it was on like Donkey Kong. I remember there was a Texas group and us. It was like some boy from Texas, but they weren’t all from like the same—it was like two from Houston, two from here. And everybody, we all just kind of took turns. I mean we got our freaking birds and it was so that the birds were setting up so beautiful, I mean they were just pouring in from wherever they come from behind us. They were coming over that blind and getting out and getting the wind right and setting up, just the geese, the ducks, it was beautiful. Because it’s like y’all said, we’ll try in the morning, but the afternoons are where it’s going to happen and it did. And we weren’t out there very long that afternoon, it was magic.
Ben Webster: And the big fat pintails sitting on our boot bags.
Ramsey Russell: I know it. I tell you what, hunting those. Do you see that people come out to hunt Kansas and they kind of want that dry field, that shallow water. That’s a real, to me, that’s something Central Flyway’s got that, like Canada Central Flyway, that you really don’t see— Mississippi, we really don’t hunt dry fields for ducks. I mean that, is that a big thing on everybody’s list that comes out there? Is that what they expect? That there’s a dry field hunt.
What Is Kansas Goose and Duck Hunting Like at Big Kansas Outdoors?
Ben Webster: I have three types of clients that come in wanting to experience certain things. One of them, dry field duck. Honestly I think all my clients would want to kill dry field ducks, or they want to kill ducks on a small creek. Because I’ve had several really good hunts on little skinny creeks, little tiny rivers, and people see that and, don’t get me wrong, it’s something special. But it’s just, everything’s got to be right, weather’s got to be right, birds got to be right. It’s not just, hey, we got this spot, it’s special, come on. We’ve got to find them and, you know, they move. And then the third guy wants to get under a big spin of Lessers, like we’re known for.
Ramsey Russell: I like it all, Ben. I die for it, I tell you what. I like everything about Kansas Duck and Goose Hunting at Big Kansas Outdoors. It’s hard. Those little geese get to spinning and doing their thing and it’s just more and more eyeballs. They work to me, they remind me more of snow geese than Canadas. Big honkers, because they’re gregarious, they get in those big flocks, they work kind of coming straight down instead of sliding in like a B-52. And it makes it nice at times. I mean, things got to come together right, but boy, when they do it is just a spectacle to see them all working and spinning like that. It’s hard to beat. But then, dry field ducks. I mean how can you? I could say I might never shoot another duck again over water if I could consistently shoot them over dry, feels like that. That’s just hard to beat. My dog loves it. Dogs love dry fields, don’t they?
Ben Webster: Oh yeah, everybody loves it. Even the goose hunters, you take them on a dry field duck hunt and they’re like, that was hard to beat, because it’s incredible. There’s something special about shooting ducks in a dry field, and I think a lot of it’s because you can see the whole thing happen. You don’t just get a small group of 4-6 to 12 dumping in timber. You get a group of 50-100, and when they do it the whole group is cuffed up and they do it right over the spenders. And I think that’s just something special to see. I think every time you see it, especially in the sunlight, all those green heads popping. It’s just something special.
Ramsey Russell: Do you feel like most of your clients that come out there try to shoot greenheads, they try to target drakes? Or do most people just want ducks? Does body count out-rule greenheads?
Ben Webster: I would say 75% of guys want to kill greenheads. But of those guys, there comes a point where it’s somewhat of a slower hunt and I might say, hey guys, if you want to shoot your ducks today, don’t be shy. I’m shooting a hen because it’s not a huge feed or it’s not a huge pocket of birds, so keep that in mind. If you want to shoot green, by all means I’d rather you shoot green, but if you want to shoot your ducks, there’s a reason there’s a limit of two hens.
Ramsey Russell: So how common is it to shoot geese and ducks on the same feed?
Ben Webster: When it’s cold, it’s really common. The last two years, the combo hunts that we’re known for haven’t been super prevalent and it just hasn’t gotten super cold. The year before that, it got super cold and we were shooting a bunch of ducks in dry fields, and when the ducks are feeding in the fields, typically they’ll follow the geese and you can have a big combo shoot. In central Kansas, you can shoot everything: snow geese, specks, little geese, and ducks. And that’s when, I mean, that’s the hunt of a lifetime right there, just to do it once. Fortunately for me, I live here and typically I get to do it multiple times every year.
Ramsey Russell: How many days a year, with Canada and Kansas, do you hunt, Ben? A bunch, I know.
Ben Webster: I start hunting in Canada on September 1, but I’m there usually by the 25th of August, and I’m there till—usually about the first weekend in November, we take about a week off. Well, I say we take a week off, but usually we’re in the truck scouting for our first weekend of Kansas clients, and then we run till basically March 1st. It’s, what is that? Seven months? And then I’m supposed to be, like right now I should be in Saskatchewan hunting spring snows for six weeks. But with the border being shut down and the coronavirus and everything, that kind of messed up everything, as far as what I’m supposed to be doing right now.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, it’s put a stick in everybody’s spokes. I’ve said it a million times and nothing’s changed. Every international border sealed, everybody that I know on earth is spending their days the same way me and you and anybody listening has been, it’s just different right now. But that’s too bad. And I’m using the opportunity to take a break, I mean, Lord knows I feel like I needed it. I’m ready to get back on the road, but it will come soon enough I feel like, I do.
Ben Webster: I wasn’t ready for the break, I got to be honest with you.
Ramsey Russell: It’s right in the middle of your busy season, yeah.
Ben Webster: Well, it’s not only that, but that aspect really sucks, but you try to put that aside. But I honestly look forward to hunting spring snows in Canada more than I do anything else. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it, but it’s the best hunting I’ve ever done.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t judge nobody shooting hens or shovelers or anything, everybody knows that. But I don’t understand the guys that call snow geese “sky carp” and really believe that they’re just sky rats. I think they’re one of the most noble waterfowl. I mean, they got a massive migration that they’re, golly, people used to say the last thing living on earth were going to be coyotes and fire ants and I’d throw snow geese in that mix, man. They’re hardy survivors, they’re hard to hunt, and I just really enjoy hunting them. I like hunting them in the fall. I love hunting them when they first come off that Arctic, you’ve got a bunch of young dumb birds. You don’t right feed up there in your part of the country. In fact, when I was up there hunting with you, it snowed one day and it was gangbusters. It was one of the most memorable hunts I can recall, when you hit it right. I love shooting whitey. I do. I love shooting those white birds.
Ben Webster: Speaking of up north, you came and hung out. It wasn’t this season, was it, it was last year.
Ramsey Russell: Year before last, I was passing through.
Ben Webster: It would have been my first year, actually, with Prairie Limits. What was your take on my whole operation out there? Obviously, it’s still somewhat partway under construction, but she’s finished.
Ramsey Russell: It was great. I loved it. It was a nice part of Canada. Beautiful, and I loved it and had a great time. We shot geese, shot some ducks, we shot everything. It’s just a wonderful hunt. And I guess we shot geese one morning that, it may have been the morning it snowed, in fact I think it was, and I’d been on the road several weeks and took the afternoon off and you come by and said, man I think you ought to come out and shoot duck this afternoon. It’s going to be fun. I said, nah. I think I fried ducks and geese that afternoon instead. And boy, I shouldn’t have done it, it was that time y’all got in that wigeon hole and we had looked at it, remember we saw that little bull moose the day before, and that tight little, just slam-loaded with wigeons and gadwalls. I missed a good one on that, I should have gone out that afternoon.
Ben Webster: You should’ve. That’s how it happens, right? Like when you’re not guiding, you’re just hunting with your buddies and you decided to sleep in because you didn’t think the hunt was going to be good and the boys come back and just smashing.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s my luck, that’s for sure, that’s for sure. Everybody saw the podcast, Ryan Warden’s podcast, and blew it up and everything else. But to you as a guide and outfitter, how important are tagged birds?
Ben Webster: I mean, how important is it to you to not get a felony?
Ramsey Russell: Exactly. It blows my mind when that subject comes up online today. I post it all the time when I’m traveling buddy, I’m posted up. This dude abides. So many people are unaware of that, and they think it’s just a guide thing, but it’s not. Somebody said, when did they start that rule? And I said 1918.
Ben Webster: What gets me is the guys that say, oh the guys don’t have to do that in whatever state they’re from, and I’m like, yeah, they do. But you don’t want to argue with them because they’re a client, but it’s a federal law. People don’t realize that even when you and Pa go out and shoot your 12 ducks or ten ducks or whatever your limit is, technically you’re supposed to tag those birds when you’re traveling. They don’t, obviously, crack down on civilians as hard as they do outfitters, but if you’re doing something else wrong, they’re going to crack down on it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve seen it first hand, in the South, I’ve seen where Pa and son, Junior, go into a restaurant and all their 12 ducks or 8 ducks in a pile in the back of the truck. I’ve seen that, I’ve seen pictures of it, I know people that it’s happened to, I know guys that have come in from a boat ramp, say six guys come in, and they even have a full limit, and shake hands because some of them going to run to town, go to the store and get groceries for camp. The rest of the guys going to pull off the truck with everybody’s ducks untagged and go to camp, start cleaning. Get stopped a mile down the road and they’re twice their limits now that there’s just two of them in the truck. That was a huge case, and really, you start getting around hunting camps, and I’m just talking hunting camps, buddy camps. I really, I don’t know that I can remember the last time I went to a hunting camp that birds weren’t tagged. I mean it’s just we, heck, I bring my pack now, I tag them and oh you ain’t got one? Here you go, tag it, don’t put them back in my truck without a tag on it.
Ben Webster: You don’t have to buy tags. You can have your own tags made, if you’re an outfitters that don’t want to buy Toe Tags. There’s nothing wrong with Toe Tags, they got it all figured out, but there is also cheaper out as well. But for anyone else it’s as easy as buying some 12 inch, 14 inch zip ties, zip tie all the necks, put a tag on. You need name, date, address and signature and species and the quantity of species and you’re good to go.
Ramsey Russell: Hey, speaking of that, this is a funny story about tagging birds up in Canada this year. We were up there with one of my US Hunt List outfitters, one of my US Hunt List Outfitters in Canada, and we were, I mean I think there were six of us, we just had a slammer of a honker hunt. And we’re out there laying them big old honkers out, getting them in rows of eight. And I was bent over, counting birds, getting them arranged all pretty and stuff, and some guy walks up. I just assumed it was one of the folks with us. And I looked over and it was freaking law enforcement. I mean we weren’t doing nothing wrong, but I still flinched. It’s like when you step over, it doesn’t matter if it’s just an old rat snake, you see a snake and you jump, you flinch.
Ben Webster: It’s like when you pass a cop even though you’re going under the speed limit.
Ramsey Russell: You still take your foot off the gas. So I said, hey, how you doing? And he saw me putting tags on, he said what are those? I go, well, they’re tags. He goes, what for? He was provincial law enforcement. I go, well because that’s your law, and he goes, it ain’t my law. I said, well that’s your federal government’s law, I can tell you. So we tagged at the end of each row of eight, everybody had their signature and everything tagged for. But see, he’s the local guy, but it’s the federal stuff, man. And states can enforce it, but if it’s feds, man, it’s the law. To me, it goes back to the details of being a professional guide and outfitter. It looks easy, alright, I’m going to go set decoys, set a blind, scout some birds, go out shoot a bunch of birds and have a good time. But there’s so much that goes into that event. There’s so much that goes afterwards, the details. The I’s dotted, T’s crossed, making sure everybody’s happy, making sure everybody is legal. There’s a lot to it, and there’s a whole lot to it than just going out and having a good time.
How Has COVID-19 Affected Guided Duck Hunting Business?
Ramsey Russell: Ben, tell me this. COVID. What do you think, or how do you feel? How has it affected you? Obviously, spring snow geese, can’t get over there to Canada. I read something out of Canada a couple of weeks ago, that with the bear and spring waterfowl closure, COVID was going to cost Saskatchewan $129 million dollars in revenues. So I know, it’s having an effect in spring, but have you seen any effect or felt any effect going forward into the fall?
Ben Webster: Not yet. We’ve had some clients reach out, what’s the policy if we can’t get up there, and we’re honest with them. If we’re hunting, if we can hunt, if we can get across the border, we’re hunting. If we can’t, your money is good for the next season, we’ll push your dates in the next season. And people are like, oh, well that’s good, you’re not out any money, but you are, that’s still lost revenue. You didn’t make that money one of the years. It’s just the right thing to do. The guys that are taking people’s deposits and making them do another one, that’s going to hurt their business for a long time.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I’ve seen that, especially down in Latin America, Argentina. I talked to a team last Thursday, last Wednesday or Thursday, and this team especially just told, oh señor, you already know, that’s an act of God, that’s not my fault. And forfeit $20,000 in deposits. That’d be a hard freaking pill to swallow right there, and I’m going to tell you. And that opportunity cost for next year, what can you do but put them on the books? Have you had anybody cancelling yet, Ben? Have they just said, look, man, I hadn’t worked, I hadn’t done this, we just can’t make it this year, have you had any of those things?
Ben Webster: I’ve had two groups cancel on me for Kansas 2021, I guess, the season coming up. Groups that have came with me for a couple of years too, and they just said, look man, some of us are furloughed, some of us are wondering if it’s the right choice to send a deposit, send that money with not knowing what’s going on. I can’t blame them. I mean, I just tell them, look, you guys change your mind, give me a shout, maybe I can squeeze you in, or I’ll see you in a year. You guys stay healthy, have a good hunting season. As far as noticing a difference, without COVID, I usually get a couple of emails and a few phone calls every single day, whether it be for Canada, whether it be for Kansas. And this past week it’s definitely picked up. We finally got some calls from new clients and also existing clients. But there was four or five weeks there where I only got two calls, no, three calls, in four to five weeks, and they were from existing clients only. I mean, not an email, not an Instagram message, not a phone call. I only got three phone calls from existing clients that are well off, doing well.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to guess they’re on the older end of the spectrum too. Not the 20 and 30 year olds, but probably the 50-60 year olds. We’re seeing the same thing. It got real quiet in March, which is typically a pretty quiet month anyway, but that’s when everybody’s attention was on TV and 2.2 million deaths and the world’s going to end and everything else. The last couple of weeks is for April, which is typically a pretty slow month, April, for us, and I can’t say it’s going to be our best April ever but it’s not going to be the worst by far. It’s been a lot of books, mostly it is that older clientele calling and making plans for 2021. Knowing that we’re going to have some dates with 2020 hunters in it. And so yes, it’s no complaints here so far. Ben, then I know from having worked with you several years that normally this time of year you’re pretty dadgum stacked with clients. So, anybody listening, that wants to go to Kansas, just saying you got an opportunity right here. It sounds like Ben may have a date or two open, you might have a chance to go out there and hunt Kansas this year.
Ben Webster: Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really fortunate, I’m probably about 75% booked and things are picking up. I also believe lot of people are, you know, I kind of saw through the BS the whole time. I guess I could have been wrong, but fortunately for me I was right, but I think a lot of people are starting to see through the BS and maybe this thing is not as bad as they say. It’s starting to warm up so they’re wanting to get outside, they’re wanting to do things and it’s like a breath of fresh air, right? We’re going to have a future, we can’t stay in our homes forever, we can’t keep businesses closed forever. So why am I thinking like that? Let’s look at something positive and go kill some ducks.
Big Kansas Outdoors’s “The Dream Job” Video Series
Ramsey Russell: And the ducks and geese are going to do what ducks and geese do, they’re going to fly South. It’s just a matter of how cold it’s going to get up North and how far South and how hard they going to come, but they’re going to fly South. So that’s something to look forward to. All right, Ben, I’m going to name this episode The Dream Job. That’s what I’m going to name it. Ben Webster, The Dream Job. We’ve been hitting all around your guide business and everything else. But look, I opened up a couple of days ago and saw this little video series y’all been working on called The Dream Job. Tell me about that.
Ben Webster: Yeah, we tried to keep it somewhat low-key as far as the secret while we were filming this year. I worked with some guys, Max and Sean, from Dream Weaver Creative. They also filmed The Grind. Me and Sean became pretty good friends and wanted to start something new and had an idea. It’s going to be a little different. We’re doing 10 to 12 episodes with me here in Kansas at Big Kansas Outdoors and it’s going to be one episode a week. We just actually posted one today on YouTube as well. Obviously the Canada episodes will come first, but we’re kind of looking at it at a different angle. We call it The Dream Job because we kind of want to somewhat show the day in and the day outs of what a guide does and how the hunt is through a guide’s point of view. I think it’s going to be really good for the clients we have and new clients to kind of see how everything works, how we run our business, how the guides are. And these guys are great guys, they’re not just like this on camera, that’s them. I think they all did a really good job. And Max and Sean did a phenomenal job with the footage and putting it together. And obviously the whole point of it is to advertise for Big Kansas Outdoors, just in a different way.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ll tell you who else did a good job was your retriever. What’s his name, Otis?
Ben Webster: Otis, yep.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, he did a great job. He always does.
Ben Webster: You watch this week’s episode, I don’t know if you remember Colby? He’s my guy that has the mullet, the young kid from Washington. He didn’t have his dog yet in Canada and this episode he’s hunting a duck feed in a dry peat field, and he doesn’t have his dog. And I told him after the video, I said upon further review, Colby, I think you could chase the chicken and catch it.
Ramsey Russell: Did he get a few miles in that morning?
Ben Webster: Oh, he got a few miles in, you can hear him breathing hard on the episode a couple of times, and he kind of talks about that. But for anybody that did watch, he does have a dog, so he can take it a little easy.
Contact Ben Webster, Big Kansas Outdoors, Kansas Duck and Goose Hunting
Ramsey Russell: Fantastic. Ben, tell everybody how they can plug into you or get connected with you on social media.
Ben Webster: You can follow our Instagram and Facebook pages, @BigKansasOutdoors. And then our websites are easy, at www.BigKansasOutdoors.com. And then as far as for The Dream Job, that’s going to be on YouTube channel, Big Kansas Outdoors, so subscribe. Check those out. We’re posting every Tuesday. We try to post them every Tuesday morning around nine to ten o’clock. So check those out and give us some feedback. We’d love to hear what you guys think. Really good content, really good waterfowl footage, should just be an all around really good web series.
Ramsey Russell: Well, Ben, I sure do appreciate catching up with you tonight, and appreciate having you on, appreciate you telling me all about Big Kansas Outdoors, about what it’s like to work the dream job in reality. And guys, thank you all for listening. We’ll be back next week and, next episode, I should say. Again, thank you all for listening. You all can hook up with me @ramseyrussellgetducks.
Ducks Season Somewhere podcast is brought to you by the following sponsors:
GetDucks.com, your proven source for the very best waterfowl hunting adventures. Argentina, Mexico, 6 whole continents worth. For two decades, we’ve delivered real duck hunts for real duck hunters.
USHuntList.com because the next great hunt is closer than you think. Search our database of proven US and Canadian outfits. Contact them directly with confidence.
Benelli USA Shotguns. Trust is earned. By the numbers, I’ve bagged 121 waterfowl subspecies bagged on 6 continents, 20 countries, 36 US states and growing. I spend up to 225 days per year chasing ducks, geese and swans worldwide, and I don’t use shotgun for the brand name or the cool factor. Y’all know me way better than that. I’ve shot, Benelli Shotguns for over two decades. I continue shooting Benelli shotguns for their simplicity, utter reliability and superior performance. Whether hunting near home or halfway across the world, that’s the stuff that matters.
GunDog Outdoors. Sit means sit and stay until it doesn’t. No matter how well or how often trained, retrievers want those ducks as badly as we do. Maybe even more. Char Dawg might be titled, but she’s still just a dog. I’m over 50 years old and I still do dumb stuff, trust me. Retrievers are family. I wouldn’t endanger my children near heavy traffic, and I’m not going to risk my dog jumping in front of blazing guns either. GunDog Outdoor’s patented, quick -release safety system is fully adjustable, tethers to any blind or stand, has titanium stakes for frozen ground, and a quick-release marine-grade shackle to quickly release Fido when the smoke clears. Visit gundogoutdoors.com, connect with them on Instagram @gundogoutdoors to see their growing line of gun dog safety and performance products. Enter #getducks to receive 15% discount off of your first order.
Mojo Outdoors, most recognized name brand decoy number one maker of motion and spinning wing decoys in the world. More than just the best spinning wing decoys on the market, their ever growing product line includes all kinds of cool stuff. Magnetic Pick Stick, Scoot and Shoot Turkey Decoys much, much more. And don’t forget my personal favorite, yes sir, they also make the one – the only – world-famous Spoonzilla. When I pranked Terry Denman in Mexico with a “smiling mallard” nobody ever dreamed it would become the most talked about decoy of the century. I’ve used Mojo decoys worldwide, everywhere I’ve ever duck hunted from Azerbaijan to Argentina. I absolutely never leave home without one. Mojo Outdoors, forever changing the way you hunt.
BOSS Shotshells copper-plated bismuth-tin alloy is the good ol’ days again. Steel shot’s come a long way in the past 30 years, but we’ll never, ever perform like good old fashioned lead. Say goodbye to all that gimmicky high recoil compensation science hype, and hello to superior performance. Know your pattern, take ethical shots, make clean kills. That is the BOSS Way. The good old days are now.
It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ducks Season Somewhere takes me year-round to worldwide destinations where I meet the most interesting people. I’m your host Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome to Duck Season Somewhere.