While chasing September blue-winged teal through coastal Louisiana and Texas, Ramsey meets hunters that take this special time of year very seriously. For most, it’s as much real duck season as any other. Who are they? Where and how do they hunt? What does blue-winged teal season mean to them? Listen to find out.
Louisiana Duck Camp Special
And will you hunt here every weekend?
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, the North American tour is underway. Blue Winged teal season started in Mississippi yesterday, it was hot, there was no wind, we shot two birds, that’s all we saw on the whole camp, came down here to Venice, Louisiana did a lot better. Marcus Courtney, thanks for the invite had a good time this morning.
Marcus Courtney: Yeah, man. I was glad you made it down.
Ramsey Russell: We’re here in Venice, Louisiana and I never know until I know what I’m getting into when I meet somebody like yourself. Remind me how we met, I couldn’t remember.
Marcus Courtney: I think I just messaged you on Instagram. I was sitting on my couch in March of last year and you responded and here we are.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I told you last night on about beer number 3, I think blue winged teal are my favorite North America species. Start in September, you wrap up way down south in March and we can hunt them, they’re abundant, was today a pretty typical bluewinged hunt for you all?
Marcus Courtney: It was slow. Even yesterday, it wasn’t fast and furious, but they had pairs and 4 packs coming in but it’s hit or miss it’s teal hunting.
Ramsey Russell: I think, they were off to a slow start this year, we’ve got a full moon, we’ve just got a little bit of north wind, but they caught that late rain up in the Dakotas, they’re always late breeders anyway. But I think that the main push has got a whole lot of young birds tying them up. And today up in Mississippi where we only shot two yesterday, Mr. Ian and Forrest had flocks of them coming through and it’s good, so they’re coming, I bet tomorrow going to be a whole new day down here. Tell me about your camp, we’re sitting here on a house boat at cypress cove, but you were telling me, you all got a camp kind of all in the swamp.
Marcus Courtney: Yeah, it’s down on Grand Pass, it’s called Camp Canal. It’s kind of like a spoil bank, so it’s on land, it’s got some grass, a little yard up on stilts and it’s about 6ft up in the air and you got a Katrina wiped out a bunch of stuff out there and so this is all post Katrina and I got linked up with those guys just from duck hunting down here and got some sweat equity in that camp.
Ramsey Russell: When you were saying about the first time, you’re not from Louisiana?
Marcus Courtney: No, I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, northeast Florida.
Ramsey Russell: You were saying last night before we ate dinner, your first time ever down here? Talk about that first trip running down the river, what kind of boat were you in? And what were you thinking?
Marcus Courtney: I wasn’t thinking, I was thinking about killing ducks and that was it. So we launched a boat in Venice Marina actually, like right at dark and me and my buddy just headed down river there’s some campgrounds down there. So we ran down the river at night, first time, not a good idea, I would not recommend it, but it was a calm night. And there’s about three campgrounds down at the mouth of the river, there’s a WMA. So we pulled up in there and I remember this guy had a window unit, duct tape to the side of his tent down there with a little generator in it. But yeah, we got spanked too, it was hard hunting, we got the tide, got the best of us a couple of time.
Ramsey Russell: It’ll do it down here, people aren’t expecting that, are they?
Marcus Courtney: No, definitely not. But it’s a good learning experience, that’s for sure.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t think that blue winged season is as mainstream as big duck season anywhere in the United States. But did you grow up – how long have you been hunting blue winged teal?
Marcus Courtney: High School. In Florida there teal, I mean, it’s not nearly as consistent as here, but you got to find your spots and you definitely on the Saint John’s River, there’s some empowerment around Cape Canaveral. And yeah, so I’d say high school.
Ramsey Russell: What do you like most about blue winged teal season?
Marcus Courtney: Well, it scratches that itch for the first time, right, I’ve been waiting for since duck season closed. See some old friends, get back down to Venice and catch up with people you hadn’t talked to since the end of January and it’s not cold, I mean, you got bugs but we were out there in shorts today.
Ramsey Russell: Last question I got, last night you cooked a seafood pasta. Talk about that in general terms how that goes down because it was as good this morning as it was last night. That’s a Louisiana duck camp special, if I ever saw one. Tell me how you make it.
Marcus Courtney: Well, I mean, first off you start with onions and garlic and butter, cook it down really onions first, you can’t put garlic in too early because it burns so bad. So you cook down the onions and some olive oil and butter, hit it with the garlic and then, make a little root. So after you cook down the onions, you Sprinkle in the flour and get it real sticky and turn it and then you cut it with milk, so then it expands back into that sauce. And what you do is, I put some andouille that you brought in there. And then what you do is you cook the pasta al dente, so right before it’s done and then take it out of the pot and put it into the pan with the sauce and finish it.
Ramsey Russell: Just make a heavy cream sauce.
Marcus Courtney: Yeah. Cajun seasoning, I put slap your mama in there last night, whatever you got and you can do it with, I mean, you could make that just with chicken and andouille or just bacon or then you can do shrimp and crab too. And I mean, if you got onions and garlic you can make it good.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much for your hospitality, had a great time. And will you hunt here every weekend? Will you keep coming back?
Marcus Courtney: For teal season?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Marcus Courtney: Well, I would if I didn’t have these two little kids, but I’m not coming next week and I’ll probably come for the closer of teal season. But, pre kids, it was every weekend for sure. So I’m in that time, I need about 4 or 5 years, then they can start coming with me.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Marcus.
Marcus Courtney: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Blue Winged Teal Hunting in Louisiana
And we’ve also learned that the birds sometimes get blind weary and so we drop plywood and spear willow branches.
Ramsey Russell: Rick, what a great time, what a great camp down here in Venice, Louisiana. How long have you been hunting in Venice?
Rick: Ramsey, I’ve been hunting down here, probably for the last 35 years. I came down here before my first child was born and of course my first child was here yesterday hunting, he’s 35 now, so maybe more.
Ramsey Russell: And I was asking, because rest elsewhere in the United States, a lot of folks don’t really blue winged teal hunt, they might go out and hit a lick. But when you start getting this far south along this Gulf coast, it’s as much a real season as it is regular season. I mean, this is a part of it, how long have you been hunting blue winged?
Rick: Well, I don’t really distinguish the bluewinged from big ducks, it’s all duck hunting. It really is. And I guess, you have to be a little bit dedicated or really like teal meat to come out because sometimes it’s awfully hot and sometimes they’re mosquitoes. But today we had a nice breeze, we just didn’t have as many ducks as we’re accustomed to. They’re coming and when they come they will be packed up in flights of 50 and a 100. And as Marcus just alluded to, there were probably pairs and fours but heck, as long as you’re able to kill some meat and have some camaraderie, that’s what it’s all about.
Ramsey Russell: When we duck hunt back home, we drive a buggy out to the duck hole, we bring some decoys out in ankle deep water, we throw them we go, it’s a lot more processed down here in Venice.
Rick: It is.
Ramsey Russell: You got the river, you got the tides, bottomless mud.
Rick: Yeah. And look, and it changes from year to year, depending on how high the river is, which of course dictates a lot of current coming through the lease and look, fresh water is always good in the marsh and there’s a lot of saltwater intrusion, but my lease is up here close to the Cypress Cove and it’s protected, it’s the farthest point you can get to hunt, close to the Marina, it’s only as you realized, about a 5 to 10 minute boat ride. And in my lease and when you hunt my lease, there are a couple of things that make it unique. I actually am most concerned about the tide, I want a high tide or an incoming tide, that’s when the birds want to be in my lease because it’s a real shallow pond, there are a lot of duck potatoes, there’s a lot of widgeon grass and there’s also a lot of river sand, it’s hard to get around on the pirogue sometimes and mud boats also have a difficulty. So if I didn’t have that air boat, I probably couldn’t do what I do.
Ramsey Russell: That airboat makes it easy.
Rick: It really does. And we’ve also learned that the birds sometimes get blind weary and so we drop plywood and spear willow branches.
Ramsey Russell: I was going to say that, that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Bottomless mud, you step off it, you’re going to sink up to your chin, but you all got the system just worked out. Whatever that water was a big tall, ever Lily Pad was, we just dropped the ply board in it, staked it with and we were in business.
Rick: That is exactly right. And that’s from years and years of trial and errors. In fact, a couple of friends of mine from Point Clear, Alabama, my brother-in-law being one of them have devised a lot of interesting little items, for instance, that PVC pipe that we put together to hold the gun, so you don’t have to keep it in your hands as for maybe a cup of coffee if you’re so inclined. And then we converted some milk cartons into a seat and so that’s perfect because it’s not going to float. so we have a nice little system that I’ve never really seen anybody do and it works real well down here.
Ramsey Russell: Do you worry about folks coming and trespassing?
Rick: It’s a big problem. In fact, today you guys –
Ramsey Russell: Can they just not read?
Rick: Well, I don’t think they want to read and they claim, they come in dark, don’t see the signs. But man, they find themselves in some really nice holes, so there’s got to be some scouting involved. But, yeah, that’s the frustrating part, but I got a lot of land and that’s just part of the process.
Ramsey Russell: One of the big treats last night besides showing up somewhere that just laid out perfectly sheer convenience, we ate like Kings last night, Louisiana has the title “Sportsman’s Paradise”. And I really think that was named after Venice and anywhere south of I10 is excellent. But here’s special because it’s not just the teal, it’s not just the duck, it’s not just the offshore fishing, heck, you’re out there running a crab trap last night. Talk about that a little bit, Rick.
Rick: I mean, right around the duck lease, duck blinds. Well, from what I hear from my friends who are crabbers, the crabs come in to the shallow waters with the grass, they like to bury themselves in the cool mud and they will essentially hibernate there for long periods of time. The big number one males, that’s all we catch out there and it generally runs from August through October and it’s quite a treat to have to be able to go out there, run 7 traps, harvest 4 or 5 dozen crabs, cook them on a daily basis and you did quite a job on those crabs last night, I thought you’d glued yourself to the seat.
Ramsey Russell: My fingers were prudish from being wet, but honestly, that was the best crab I’ve ever eaten and I want to ask you to describe your bowl and where you got it because it was amazing, it was the best I ever had.
Rick: Well, first of all, all credit goes to a friend of mine who died shortly after Katrina, his name was Zeke and he was in the restaurant business, he specialized in boiling seafood and it was so good. And in fact, before you leave Venice today, I’m going to take a picture of the recipe, which includes the process of cooking, but also the spicing. And if there are two things that I think are important to the flavor of crabs because I think, Zeke’s crabs are sweet, he uses Worcestershire sauce, probably about half a bottle no less, when you’re putting in your onions and your celery and your garlic and your sea food, lemons, limes.
Ramsey Russell: And you boil that first with a lot of ranch.
Rick: Yeah, you bring it up to a boil, have your crabs ready in a basket, once it’s up to a boil, you put your crabs down that will kill the boil, you want to leave those crabs there and when it started boiling again, you’re going to time it for 5 minutes and once five minutes on the boil is done, you kill the fire, you let it soak for five minutes and that hot water, but after that second 5 minute process, then you’re going to add a couple of buckets of ice. You want that water to cool down, you don’t want to cool, but you just don’t want it cooking and so I’ve got an interesting way of doing it and fortunately, I guess, I got hands that aren’t too sensitive. But if I can put my hand in that water for 3 seconds before having to pull it out, that’s kind of a good temperature. 3 to 5 seconds and let those crabs boil for at least 30 minutes. I like bay leaves in my crabs and then on the soak, you want to put the other half of that in for the soak.
Savoring Delicious Duck
I saw them whole picking a lot of those teal and they said, oh, no, Rick’s got a special recipe for that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it was amazing. You said it was all you could eat, I tried, I ate all I could eat.
Rick: Exactly. And look, we got some more down there, that’s the beauty of it all. But what I didn’t get to cook for you last night just because of sheer fatigue was my barbecue duck, whole duck and it’s all done on the barbecue pit, it’s about an hour and a half process.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that, Rick because everybody was bragging on it last night. I saw them whole picking a lot of those teal and they said, oh, no, Rick’s got a special recipe for that.
Rick: Yeah, I do and I just got too late last night, but I stuffed the cat cavity with some citrus, it could be limes, lemons, oranges, certainly some yellow onion, celery, garlic powder, I also put the seasoning into the cavity so it’s spicing from the inside out and I put it back down off the fire for 45 minutes and so that’s going to do a good job on cooking it and then I take those birds off and I have heavy duty aluminum foil and you put about a third of a stick of butter down with maybe a little wine, really, it’s nothing but butter, it would be fine. And you wrap that up, you put a breast down on that foil each duck, I’m sure there’s a way to mass cook it. I just hadn’t figured that out but you put the breast down, you seal that aluminum foil and you put it back on that grill for another 45 minutes. So it’s cooking in the juice, the juice from the birds and the vegetables are all going to make that the most delicate savoring delicious duck that I’ve ever eaten, it’s just a pain in the you know what, at times to cook them a lot easier to breast them, but now when you have that whole duck, you’re eating the legs, you’re eating the wings and that’s another thing, it’s almost like eating crabs, it’s hard to get your way. I can probably eat 3 or 4 teal at a time.
Ramsey Russell: Can we try that next time I show up?
Rick: If you don’t, I’ll be disappointed.
Ramsey Russell: Have you seen a lot of changes down here in this marsh? Since, you started hunting 35 years ago, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?
Rick: Well, Katrina is one of the changes some serious hurricanes have come through here with tremendous storm surge and salt water that’s killed a lot of the vegetation. Of course, that makes it vulnerable and the wave action is really just done a number on Louisiana’s coast and every time a hurricane comes through either before or during a duck season, that hurricane is going to generally rake all that beautiful grass that we’re just talking about off the bottoms of the ponds. We’ve had that problem the last 3 years. Birds come down and there’s nothing to hold them, there’s no food. So they’re probably going back up north, but we’ve still done well down here, but 6 or 7 years ago when we had maybe 3 or 4 years without any type of hurricane that was full foliage, a lot of food, thousands of ducks out there. It’s beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: We got a long season ahead of you got a lot more teals, this only second day of teal season. You had a house full of folks last night, duck hunting is a very social sport. Do you have a house full of your duck season like this? Is that part of the experience for you? It is entertaining friends and family.
Rick: Well, actually my older brother bought this thing out of a freshwater marsh and I think the Atchafalaya basin 40 years ago and he owned it himself, then he sold it to a friend of mine who created a club, that club lasted for a while. And my partners wanted to sell out 2 years ago and one of my friends, he made a great point to me. He said, Rick, you want to go through life without having regret and he said, I’m afraid if you sell this boat and try to duplicate it, you’re going to regret it because I don’t think you can duplicate this. It’s a two story steel house boat sleeps tents, all the comforts of home, a big screen porch with a balcony that I added during the recent renovation. Yeah, and we can accommodate, 15 to 20 people here, we got televisions, it’s a real scene.
Ramsey Russell: Step right off the back on to your air boat and off to the marsh you go, convenient it could be.
Rick: Exactly. I’ve got a twin V that I sometimes go offshore in but I really enjoy going out to Breton Island and catching speckle trout and flounder and redfish out there, that’s what makes Venice, Sportsman’s Paradise. This is it, it’s there. I think the only two months of the year where you have to struggle for something would be February and March, but that’s generally when we do some sprucing up of things and enjoy, take a break.
Ramsey Russell: Rick, thank you very much for your hospitality, I have enjoyed it beyond measures.
Rick: Well, Ramsey, thanks for coming down and I’m dead serious, I am going to be disappointed if you’re not down for split. All right, man.
Ramsey Russell: Jonathan down here in Pointe à la Hache Louisiana, Plaquemines Parish on the East Bank. Jonathan, I told you on the drive up yesterday, I’ve never been on this side of the river in Plaquemines Parish, but had a good time. I had a good time hunting down here this morning.
Jonathan: I appreciate you having me on here and it was a real treat for me to get you on a new adventure of something that you never did before.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me this, today is the 3rd day of bluewinged teal season. What was your 1st and 2nd day like? I’m assuming you hunt about the same area.
Jonathan: Yeah, we were right in – actually the blind that we made shift this morning, we were in a buddy’s boat yesterday and shot 3 and the day before that we were just 50ft down from that and we shot 3 and then 5 but the 5 yesterday was completely we seen in the quarter of the ducks that we seen the first day.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you picked me up this morning, we stopped and got coffee, probably should have got gas, but we won’t go into that. And we drove about 40 minutes and we talked and picked up Albertine and we went out to this beautiful area and we were talking like, man, I’m like, dude, it’s a full moon, the wind blowing out of the north or whatever you want to call that. And I started hearing reports yesterday or last night of a friend of mine was hunting on the Mississippi River yesterday and talked about just countless flocks of 300, 400 bluewings, mile high flying down river. I said they could be here.
Jonathan: Yeah, you told me that. And I honestly was thinking –
Ramsey Russell: But I got to admit –
Jonathan: Sparking up my tree trying to get positive.
Ramsey Russell: You show up, you got a whole boat full of cut wax Myrtle for brushing up and we get out to your spot, which is gorgeous, full of widgeon grass, I saw a little wild rice, I saw just all kinds of wetland stuff that look good to me, if I were a teal I’d want to be there. But what I didn’t see is we were sticking the sticks and throwing the decoys, I didn’t see a single duck, not a teal, maybe a pair of mottled ducks, maybe a pair of wood duck, but I didn’t see a single teal. I’m like, well, maybe they hadn’t made just far south, but that changed. We had shot our limits and picked up and taking pictures at 8 o’clock and I mean, that was crazy.
Jonathan: Yeah, it definitely changed pretty quick and I was on the same page as you in the morning and I was like, well, we’re just going to have an experience with some good guys here. But yeah, it changed from day one to day two to day three. Now, it’s a 360 from day one.
Ramsey Russell: Was that pretty typical of what you see when the bluewings show up? Because you would point to the west and I don’t know how far that was, I’d say a mile, 3 quarters of a mile to the Mississippi River and you would see those flocks over the river and sometimes they kept going but sometimes they turned to the east, I think they could just see all that wetland out there and say, let’s go check it out.
Jonathan: Yeah, I do believe, heart believe that, they fly that river because it’s a path, it’s a way to go and then they see where or what they want we were looking for and they dip off into the marsh and get where they want to go or find a place either to rest or find something to eat.
Ramsey Russell: And you’re from right up the road here. I mean, you’re born and raised?
Jonathan: Born and raised in Louisiana. And then, when I was four years old, we moved to Slidell and then I’m there ever since.
A Start in Duck Hunting
It’s fun, rewarding and it not being so rewarding, it’s still fun.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start duck hunting?
Jonathan: I started duck hunting when I was about 6 years old.
Ramsey Russell: Really? Talk about that. You told me about it at lunch, tell me about it again.
Jonathan: My dad put a BB gun in my hand and said, if you kill something, you clean it, no matter what it is. If you kill a sparrow, you’re going to kill it, if you’re going to kill it, you’re going to eat it. So I never killed anything that I wasn’t going to eat. So, after that lessons of guns and safety and all that, my brother took me across the street on wood ducks, we walk in hunt on a pond.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you?
Jonathan: I was about 6.
Ramsey Russell: With a BB gun?
Jonathan: No, with a 20 gauge. 20 gauge, 410, I had a pump Remington 20 gauge.
Ramsey Russell: What was the place like? And what were you all hunting?
Jonathan: A pond and it was literally the only pond in that swamp, hard mixed area that it was opening in the trees that are big enough where they just wanted to pack in there.
Ramsey Russell: You were saying a dog hair thick, just scrabbling through there. What’s it like, now?
Jonathan: A bunch of laid over swamp, Katrina really damaged it. It changed it to where those flight patterned birds changed in the worst way.
Ramsey Russell: They never been back. It’s been 22 years, been a long time, been longer than that? 17 years. Those ducks have never been back. How long have you been – Go ahead.
Jonathan: We used to sit on the back porch and count hundreds and hundreds of wood ducks in the evening, not anymore, you might see 1, 2, 3, 4.
Ramsey Russell: Driving out like we saw some wood ducks this morning. I don’t know what it is about this habitat, it just surprised me to see wood ducks.
Jonathan: They trick you sometimes, they like to get in with them teal sometimes and I don’t know what it is about this marsh that they like to sit in at this time and no other time, but they do. I don’t get it. I guess, normally people look at the wood ducks and they say, oh, they’re acorn eaters because most of the time later in the season they’re full of acorns. But they sure like to be in this marsh and they’re pretty thick.
Ramsey Russell: How long have you been hunting bluewings?
Jonathan: I guess. About 12 or so years.
Ramsey Russell: Since high school there about?
Jonathan: Yeah, about high school, yeah, maybe a little bit before.
Ramsey Russell: But now you’re set up bluewing, when you ain’t got to work, you’re blue winged hunting just like a duck season, it’s not just something to do anymore.
Jonathan: No, it’s now that I have a dog and it’s changed my whole life having a dog, it’s a business and a fun business, but it’s working, we like to do it. It’s fun, rewarding and it not being so rewarding, it’s still fun.
Ramsey Russell: So, we were meeting with Albertine recently and she was talking about a lot of the marsh changes, a lot of the habitat, a lot of sunken land issues down here vanishing paradise, so to speak, have you seen those changes in your life?
Jonathan: Drastically, yes.
Ramsey Russell: How has it changed?
Jonathan: A big part of it on the big side of a change is hurricanes, hurricanes put stuff, especially in the Venice area or year to year and really in Venice or what, how that estuary moves it, you’ll see something one year and it’ll be packed the next year, be a slew that you went down for years and years and the next time you run up on a sandbank, it’s different every year. Not so much here, but until you get the land, it is deteriorating, but it’s more so in the further south.
Changes in Duck Hunting Culture
Once they’re here, they don’t leave or we keep getting the flow of them year round or season round.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I asked Albertine how it was affecting duck culture and she talked about some issues but how do you see it affecting the culture? The changes in hunters themselves maybe?
Jonathan: The changes in hunters himself is that everybody says, oh, there’s no ducks, well, you see in the 3 days that we’ve been hunting that that’s changed drastically. Well, you got to go to be able to see that change, but this young age of hunters is being taught wrong. They don’t care about being poached or hunting –
Ramsey Russell: Trespassing, you mean.
Jonathan: Yeah. Trespassing on the properties, they don’t give a damn, where they’re at, if they going to ride around on a boat seeing ducks, that’s where they’re going to hunt in the morning. They’re not saying, oh, we have rights to be there, they’re not worried about being pushed out of there because they’re just going to go.
Ramsey Russell: You were telling me at lunch, I was like, man, write them ticket and you said that don’t stop.
Jonathan: No, it don’t.
Ramsey Russell: Cheaper than a duck lease.
Jonathan: Absolutely. But the duck lease, it gives you that right to be there, it gives you that map to be there. If somebody rides up on you saying no, you’re wrong.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve always felt that in the instance of a trespasser, I get you want to shoot a duck, but I always felt like it’s very disrespectful to the landowner. And I’ve always felt that if somebody is disrespecting somebody else, it’s ultimate because they don’t have self-respect. I really believe that, I believe that too because somebody with self-respect would never disrespect others or disrespect the resource or disrespect anything else, that’s just my personal belief.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve done things in the past and I’ve been young and dumb, but as I’ve gotten a little older, I’m not saying I’m old, but I was gotten a little older, you feel the respect when you’re in the position of being – when it’s getting done to you, you got to chase people off and that’s your time and effort that you’re putting into that piece of property to do whatever it is, even if we’re trying to figure out how to keep it there.
Ramsey Russell: Well, we saw somebody today, you’ve had some folks out there hunting in front of you shooting a bunch, but today clearly those were big ducks, clearly those were mottled duck, I wouldn’t have shot at them, they were high and they took it to the plug and shot at them, I mean, it’s crazy. So desperate to kill a duck.
Jonathan: That’s normal around here. Now, it’s duck season, it ain’t your normal season, it’s duck season.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Talk about bluewings, you all get bluewings down here year round, that’s a big duck for you all.
Jonathan: It’s very big. It adds to our limit.
Ramsey Russell: All season long. A lot of these birds are going to stick.
Jonathan: Yeah, most of them. Once they’re here, they don’t leave or we keep getting the flow of them year round or season round.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. If I come back down and hunt with you, do I have to bring my own ducks again?
Throwing a Few Decoys
It’s a must that Mojo teals are the way to go, teal or dove really.
Jonathan: I’d like you to make that phone call, yes, that would be appreciated.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I sure enjoyed it this morning, I love to shoot bluewings and I can tell you do too. And it’s simple, I mean, it really is, you make it simple, we get in your boat, we motor down, we stick sticks, throw a few decoys.
Jonathan: If you got to make shift, you make it happen.
Ramsey Russell: How important is a Mojo to teal hunting?
Jonathan: It’s a must that Mojo teals are the way to go, teal or dove really.
Ramsey Russell: That wing beat, that size wing, that size flash those bird sure did it today. We had some 4, 5 or 6 good size flocks come over.
Jonathan: Make that loop.
Ramsey Russell: And when they made a loop, some of them regretted it.
Jonathan: Yeah. A good bit of them regretted it. 18 matter of fact.
Ramsey Russell: Are you going to hunt with us in the morning?
Jonathan: I’m going to try my damnest, watch a little one.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Jonathan, I appreciate it, thank you very much. Dale, I tell you what, what a great few days down here with Damon down here and where are we? We’re down around Lake Charles, ain’t we?
Dale: Hathaway between Elton and Jennings. The hole in the wall town that’s got a lot of culture and farming, crawfish farming and beautiful community.
Ramsey Russell: What is teal hunting mean to you as a Louisiana duck hunter, Dale?
Dale: That teal hunt is my favorite duck of the whole duck season.
Ramsey Russell: Why is that?
Dale: When I was raised as a young man doing that and my best friend’s dad used to take us, we probably 13 years old, 14 and we had people take us till I was old enough to drive and we just pursued that waterfowl my whole life and that it’s nothing like it’s hanging a blow and seeing a bunch of teals come over and walk in blue patches bank at 800 yards, that’s the prettiest sight. And I always look, I just go every day to get a glimpse of that, it just memories and good. First bunch of teal we kill, it’s a big thing for us to make a big gumbo at home, man.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you made a gumbo here, didn’t you?
Dale: I sure did. Damon had a bunch of teal from last year leftover and I made a big gumbo.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the first time I ever had your gumbo and I noticed you put the teal in there whole.
Dale: Yeah, I was raised with the old people. My dad, he would be over 95 now, we never deep breast ducks, that was a sin when I was a little boy, they didn’t let you do that.
Ramsey Russell: Most gumbos like I make, I cook them down to make a stock but you put yours in their whole, that was good that way.
Dale: Well, what I do is I put whole wood ducks, I cut half and half and then mallards, I probably cut a quarter and four.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll be dang, that’s the way you’ve always cooked it.
Dale: That’s the way my dad done, so I just keep it. I’m just doing what he done. Yeah, that’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Hey, what do you think about going down to – we went that first day we shot a bunch of and then we drove down to Avery Island, what do you think about that?
Dale: Oh, my gosh, man, that was awesome, I didn’t want to go at first because of the ride, but I’m glad I went.
Ramsey Russell: Well, highway 90 ain’t nothing smooth driving and smooth sailing about going down highway 90, but once we got there, it was all right.
Dale: Unbelieve history and Edmund McIlhenny was a big duck hunter, I got to see his old decoys and me as a waterfowler, man that made my whole day.
Ramsey Russell: But the best part was we were driving in and there were live oaks on both sides of the road hanging over and then there were corridor just walled up with bamboo and you started oh and ah and then we get up there to where we’re going and there’s a landscape crew cutting it to get rid of it, do some landscaping and when you walked off, I knew where you was going. What you going to do with that bamboo?
Dale: Well, when I seen that bamboo being cut, I have bamboo at home. But I said, man, wouldn’t it be nice to have a call from Avery Island, the Tabasco place, how awesome would that be?
Ramsey Russell: Very historic.
Dale: I’m sentimental. So I got some good pieces, I walked over there with permission and they gave me several good stalks. So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to let it dry out and I’m going to make us each a cane call, when we come back next year, there’s going to be a cane call from Avery island that we’re going to hunt with, that’s my plans. I think that’s going to be very sentimental. Cool, man.
Ramsey Russell: Do you shoot that old shotgun a year that pump shotgun year round from start to finish.
Dale: I’ll shoot it every day, I get in that blind, nothing else, if it’s malfunction, which is not often.
Ramsey Russell: What gun is that?
Dale: It’s at Winchester 1897. I have one that was made in 1914, 1915 and I recently got one made in 1955 and I used to shoot at 1897, but I shoot very good, it’s just the old time because it’s what it stands for, the traditions. It goes with my old and my pirogue. Brings me back in another time of my life, like the old people.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of that, what you going to do with these big wooden barrels? And where did you get them?
Dale: Oh, yeah. We went to the bourbon place over here in Jennings the rum place, I don’t know what the name of it is, Bayou Rum. I got a barrel, it’s a 55 gallon barrel in the truck, I’m going to bring it home, I’m going to clean it up and I’m going to put my duck barrel, I’m going to hold ducks out of it, that thing should hold about 60 ducks, I’m not going to kill that much, but it just like they used to do, they used to do that in the old days.
Ramsey Russell: You’re going to store them in salt or ice or what?
Louisiana Hunting Habitat
Yeah, we’re going to blow them old cane calls and I’m going to tell you like this, it’s going to be old school to the mics, buddy. It’s going to be an awesome hunt.
Dale: Now you throw a big block of ice, now those barrels they’re inch thick of white oak wood that’s rot resistant, but an inch of white oak wood that’s equivalent almost to those high dollar ice chest of the day, it will hold ice just as long as those big brown ice chests because I compared it already. So I’ll throw a big block of ice, I’ll go to the camp, if I go places, I’ll throw my ducks in there just to get when I get home, then I’ll take them out and I process them then, I’m doing that for traditional.
Ramsey Russell: We got back from Avery Island and all day long, what we’re going to do for dinner? Everybody, I don’t know what you want to do. And somebody else say, what are we going to do for dinner? And you say, I don’t know what you want to do. Finally, I said we got to make up our mind, let’s just go out and eat. And Damon took us to the DIs Cajun restaurant down there. What do you think about that? That’s the first time I’d ever had dinner with live Cajun music going.
Dale: Well, we used to go out and me and my wife and being from Louisiana, we’d go to Breaux Bridge, Lafayette and we’d always found a restaurant with a French band. The atmosphere is so unbelievable. And when you go to these places, your kid, my kid used to get in the dance floor and them growing up would just grab your kids and everybody just a good time in these parts of the country. Everybody’s one family, if you never met them in your life, just good and humble people. So when we got out of that truck to go to that restaurant, they were playing French music and I said we’re going to have a good supper tonight, man. So we went in there and there was dancing, you see the kids on the dance floor, they was playing French music and we ate some good seafood, that was one of the highlight of the trip. Very good place, man.
Ramsey Russell: Well, Dale, I always enjoy hunting with you down here and I’m looking forward to doing it again. We got special plans for next year, don’t we? We’re going to be down here opening weekend and we’re going to put out a special spread. We ain’t tell nobody what it is, we got plans and we’re going to blow them old calls.
Dale: Yeah, we’re going to blow them old cane calls and I’m going to tell you like this, it’s going to be old school to the mics, buddy. It’s going to be an awesome hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Old school. All right, Dale, see you next time.
Dale: Thank you.
Ramsey Russell: Old Damon, man. What a great time we always have down here in Louisiana. How long we going to keep doing this?
Damon: Like I told you the other night, even when you all get old, I’m going to put you on a boat and push you all out there and we’re going to keep doing it.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that habitat we was hunting in? It’s all crawfish down here.
Damon: Yeah. It’s all crawfish ponds now, second crop rice is a thing in the past, very few farms still have second crop, like yesterday morning we went and hunted a second crop rice field right in a where there’s gobs of teal and we ain’t fired a shot. Now, we broke off the first morning, the second morning, we off the beaten path in old crawfish pond that stayed flooded since November of last year and we killed birds in it. The habitat is changing a little bit, those crawfish ponds, they hold all that duck weed and all those invertebrates get on all those roots of that vegetation out there and that’s just what draws them in. They got the water, they got the food and they got the cover from predators, they just feel safe and that’s where it’s at.
Ramsey Russell: You were showing me a lot of the little old snails and people forget that bluewings are in the shoveler family, same genus and they got a very heavy snail diet. That’s why it’s so important. Heck yeah, they eat seed, but they liked them invertebrates.
Damon: When they have those invertebrates and those small crustaceans, they’re going to pick that over rice any day.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve said it a million times, but every time I come down here, I marvel at how widespread and serious we hunt on a Friday, Thursday, Wednesday morning and every morning we heard shooting around us, it’s serious teal hunting down here. Why is teal hunting so important? You articulated it the other day, why is season so important down here anymore?
Damon: Teal hunting is our new duck season, that’s something you can bank on every year, we’re going to kill a teal. From regular duck season, that’s not a for sure thing you may get them or you may not. September is our new duck season.
Ramsey Russell: And you feel like most people try to – you were telling me you take vacation around.
Damon: Every year, I take my whole vacation just to teal hunt, get up every morning 16 day straight.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the teal hunt like, what we experienced here versus real duck season anymore?
Damon: This year is a tough year. I mean, you’ve seen it, the birds are acting weird but normally teal season versus our regular season teal season is normally phenomenal. Like gobs, groups of 30, 40 do it downright and dirty up in your face in the decoys every single morning for 16 days straight and come regular season, normally, you get about 3 days, the first 3 days of regular duck season is jammed up and then after that, it just tapers off. And if we get a good hard push of cold weather up north and push a few birds down, you get a day or 2 in there.
Ramsey Russell: You want that north wind, I mean, we hit it right. We had a north wind, we had full moon. But todays though, what 7th day of season, 7th or 8th day of season and it’s still blowing out of the north. Where do you think a lot of – there’s a lot of birds down but where are they? They’re not out, we’re killing them out in these fields, but where do you think the major concentrations are?
Damon: Our solid concentrations are on the coastal marshes right now. These north winds and full moon just pushes them down there right on the coast, that full moon, they go sit in that marsh all day long and at night they come up and feed in the rice fields.
Ramsey Russell: What would happen if something blew out of the Gulf tomorrow, we blowing hard out of south.
Damon: We get a south wind and a little storm tonight tomorrow morning be plump stupid up here, it blow all them birds right back up here.
Ramsey Russell: Do you have a good frogging season this year? Because I’ve noticed you talking about frogs out there, you do a lot of frogging out there in them catfish ponds too, don’t you?
Damon: Yeah, it wasn’t as good as last year. We was in a drought this year and rice crops got so far behind on water that we just had to put all the water to rice crop and those crawfish ponds kind of got just left alone and that water starts getting stagnant and bullfrogs don’t like stagnant water, they want that fresh, clean, cool water and we pumping all that water in those rice crops and that rice gets about foot, foot and a half tall, those bullfrogs jump in a heart beat and getting that cool water in the shade makes it tough.
Ramsey Russell: So you all didn’t catch none?
Damon: We caught them, we probably caught 2000 of them this year.
Ramsey Russell: 2000. When you said something this morning in the blind about 100 an hour, that’s a lot of frogs.
Damon: That was one trip. Me and Chris, me and Bill Daniels went and Jesse, we caught 225, we was back at the house for about 11:30.
Ramsey Russell: You took us somewhere good to eat the other night and talk about having that place in your backyard.
Damon: That’s DIs Cajun restaurant about 7 miles away, the crow flies right across the bayou. My wife’s worked there for 16, 17 years that place has just been around forever and it’s the community place to eat. There’s a couple of them in the area, but that’s one of the bigger place has been around the longest and it’s just part of our culture.
Ramsey Russell: You knew everybody in there seem like. Tell me, you said Mardi Gras is crazy.
Damon: Mardi Gras there is real crazy, that’s the real deal. It ain’t nothing like New Orleans. I mean, it’s the real culture, Cajun culture, Mardi Gras. I mean, that’s where it was founded.
Ramsey Russell: Last question I got is, I’ve been talking for about 5 or 6 years about doing a certain hunt over some certain decoys and you heard that the other day and you said let’s do it. So, next opening day we going to say what we’re going to do, but we got a special hunt plan next year, don’t we?
Damon: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: How many of them decoys you reckon we’re going to need?
Damon: Really, we don’t need but about 40 or 50 of them, probably two or three dozen really all we need.
Ramsey Russell: Come down here and make them up during April, May eat some crawfish, go to DIs eat some crawfish and get our decoys made up and then go back after them next teal season.
Damon: That’s going to be fun.
Ramsey Russell: So how many more days you got left, you’re going to teal hunt every morning?
Damon: I’m going to hunt every morning, every single morning. I got 8 more days.
Ramsey Russell: 8 more days. And then what back to work?
Damon: And I’ll have two more weeks off and then back to the grind.
Ramsey Russell: Damon as always, thank you much, we enjoy it.
Damon: Yes, sir. Thank you, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Last stop in Louisiana on the east side of Big Lake, Jimmy Thompson, what a paradise you all have out here. Man, it’s been an awesome 3 days. I don’t know where to start with Jimmy, we shot teal for 3 days, but let me start with yesterday, yesterday was a highlight. You say you want to go shoot some alligators, I’m like, well, I guess I will instead of taking a nap. Is that something you all do all the time?
Jimmy Thompson: It’s not. Back in the day, I used to do it a little bit but yesterday was kind of a treat. A good friend of ours had a couple of tags and had a place that hadn’t been hunted in a while and so he invited us to go and you were raring to go, so we picked up the kids didn’t know what you were in for what we had, I had my 2 kids and my brother-in-law had his 3 and we jumped in a couple of boats and we went out there and sure enough, we filled every tag we had.
Ramsey Russell: I figured I’d just go along and watch a little bit and do some stuff, I had no idea, I was going to pull on the end of a rope, had alligator on it, he was the mean alligator but the one, it was all tangled up in the grass and all that mess and I was sitting there raking and thinking, okay, it’s just a small alligator, a lot of grass on the line but it was a big alligator.
Jimmy Thompson: That’s right. You said, 20lbs alligator, 50lbs of grass and we got the grass off and I come about a 9.5ft alligator. But yeah, you sure were smiling big most of the time. So I think you enjoyed it.
The Best Hunting of the Year
…started over in Venice, started migrating west with the bluewings and increasingly everybody talks about blue winged teal season being the new duck.
Ramsey Russell: I had a good time. Talk about how important bluewinged is to you all? Because I know you take off practically the entire season to come down here with your kids, your family, your friends, the camp and just full of folks. How important is blue winged teal and what is it about blue winged you really like?
Jimmy Thompson: Yeah, it was really last year. The hunting has been so good during bluewing season, I made up my mind last year, I said I’m going to take advantage of that and I’m going to block off some time for work and I gave my wife about a year heads up said I’m going to be at the camp for all the teal season. So, it’s just some of the best hunting of the year, the fishing’s good, everybody wants to go, it’s great for the kids, weather can be hot but it can also be really nice. And it’s just a great time of year in South Louisiana and I’m taking advantage of it and so is this whole crew, everybody likes to come down and get after them.
Ramsey Russell: I started over in Venice, started migrating west with the bluewings and increasingly everybody talks about blue winged teal season being the new duck. The big ducks aren’t quite getting this far south anymore, but the bluewings, they come on the calendar, they come on the north wind, they come with the moon and it’s really turned into something down here, it’s a culture.
Jimmy Thompson: It is. I mean, that’s been the same, I don’t know how many times we’ve said it just this weekend. But get here and get the bluewings while they’re here and then you just cross your fingers that big ducks will show up and we have a season. But the last few years, it’s been tough down here on big ducks. And so we sure take advantage of the bluewings because they’ve been really consistent for years and years.
Ramsey Russell: We spanked them day one and then we came back and you had a great supper, speaking of fishing, you cook something I never had before red fish cakes, kind of like salmon croquettes, but red fish. How do you cook those?
Jimmy Thompson: So, yeah, I don’t think you’d even know that they were redfish, if I told you they were crab cakes, you’d probably think they were crab cakes, that’s the thing. So, when this time of year, sometimes all we’re catching is those big old reds and that’s what I had the day before you came in or the day you came in, we caught, a couple of big old reds, so filet them out and what I like to do, I like to smoke them, I think I told you that, I like to smoke them on the pit and then flake them out, but on these, I boiled them with some Cajun seasoning, flake them down and then you mix them with bread crumbs, the whites of a green onion, a little bit of red onion, mayonnaise, a little egg in there, some Cajun seasoning, some celery, then you patty them up like a crab cake, finish them with a breading on the outside and then you pan fry them and they sure come out good. I think, that’s the best way to do it when you get a big old red fish like that, a lot of people don’t keep them, but when that’s all you’re catching, that’s how we make do with them.
Ramsey Russell: And you’ve got a hell of a resource right here in your backyard, that’s where you caught those fish.
Jimmy Thompson: That’s right. So the launch from this camp’s two minutes up the road, so it’s nice to go shoot some bluewings in the morning, usually it’s pretty fast and furious and then we get back, have a little bite to eat, jump in the boat and go catch some fish right there on the lake.
Ramsey Russell: And you spot them, you spot for the birds.
Jimmy Thompson: Yeah, this time of year, there’s a lot of big old schools of reds, but there’s also trout out there and the birds will sure help you find them. So, when we pulled up to our little spot, there was 4 or 5 sets of birds and under each one of them was a school of red fish and I took my godson and he hooked up and had a big time with that.
Ramsey Russell: How do you all prepare for bluewings down here? Because those are good spots, you all got, we hunted some really nice spots down here that had bluewings, there’s some rice still in the area, but we hunted what, moist soil and millet and stuff like that. Do you all spend a lot of time preparing for bluewings?
Jimmy Thompson: Yeah, we’re lucky, we have a buddy, Devin, you met him, he really puts in the time, he knows what he’s doing, so we’ll have a mixture of all those things. Sometimes they plant millet, sometimes it’s just moist soil, other times it’s just water, the right way water level and he rolls the field and pretty much everything we’ve done has been consistent for bluewings. And so all of those together, some years, we have a little rotation of each, some years, it’s millet and some years, it’s moist soil, it just depends on what mother nature gives us.
Ramsey Russell: But it was sure some good hunt. And I’m going to tell you, I so enjoyed the last few days with you now. But I got to tell you, I got to get you to tell this story because you reminded me, that after 17 years, you somehow remembered I had forgotten but how we met was about 17 years ago, getducks.com was just off the ground, we were working with somebody down in Uruguay and that crazy on a gun, hired some college kids out of LSU, I didn’t let it bother me, you all were a lot of fun and we show up and we have a great time but I had forgotten no duck, Jimmy. I had forgotten that moniker until you remind me, tell that story because George was here too and that’s what hit home with George.
Jimmy Thompson: Well, I had to redeem myself, that’s why I wanted you to come bluewinged, I wanted to catch up with you after all those years, but I wanted to put you on some ducks. So yeah, George, a good friend of mine and myself, we were guys down in Uruguay when we first met, we met you so many years ago. And yeah, I remember we had some good morning shoots and things kind of were slowing down in the afternoon and I had you on my first trip out on the afternoon. And man, it was a tough afternoon, we killed 7 birds and we’re in South America and so 7 birds in South America, it was not good. So we got back to the lodge and you nicknamed me no duck Jimmy. And I’m telling you, it was tough because you’re competitive, you got other guide and you want to show everybody a good time and we sure didn’t have one. And so I was kind of stuck with that nickname and I was dealing with it and then, my good buddy George took you out the next afternoon, I just remember thinking, man, they’re going to wear him out and I’m below man on the totem pole and be stuck with this nickname. But sure enough, it got a little worse, he put you on four ducks and so you all got back to the camp and you nicknamed him Jimmy’s bitch after that. So I was no duck Jimmy and he was Jimmy’s bitch and I could live with that just fine after that hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Jimmy, you redeemed yourself, I’m going to tell you right now in epic proportion, it was from start to finish morning and afternoon hunting in the morning doing something in the afternoon, it was epic. And I was thinking 17 years ago, my kids, who was ages 20 to 25 right now were babies, they were young and all these years later I show up and you and George are now in that stage of life that I was and it just makes me happy to see my old friend doing so well.
Jimmy Thompson: Yeah, man, it was so cool that we were able to get back together after all these years and ducks brought us back, we got to catch up and the whole crew, man. I mean, it wasn’t just me Devin helps get the fields ready, Hank cooked a big old spread, my brother-in-law and a good friend took his alligator hunting and we just wanted to show you a good time and show you what Southwest Louisiana is like this time of year.
Ramsey Russell: And you didn’t bust my balls too bad last night when LSU regrouped and ended up beating Mississippi State and I appreciate it you all not ganging up on me too bad. It’s tough being down in tiger land when the state loses to you all.
Jimmy Thompson: You were outnumbered, man. It was all tigers and well, you had one Mississippi boy, but he’s ole Miss boy, he doesn’t count. But yeah, if Mississippi State would have pulled it out, I had a couch on the porch for you, you could sleep on.
Ramsey Russell: Hey, thank you very much, I had a good time down here and I hate to tell you, you won’t get rid of me now, you’ll see me every year.
Jimmy Thompson: We’ll make it a tradition, can’t wait till next year.
Ramsey Russell: Totem duck, Michael Patina, here we are in Texas. Where the hell are we in Texas? Somewhere around Eagle Lake?
Michael Patina: Yes, sir.
Teal Hunting Experiences
About 8 of those years and what I see down here in Texas and Louisiana is people perceive, I think they perceive teal hunting different than elsewhere in the United States.
Ramsey Russell: What a great teal hunt, man, I appreciate your invite and it’s great to finally meet you. I know we met the other day, well, last year when I stopped by to pick up my new totem duck strap and got to meet your kids, got to meet your wife. But man, I was real happy to get share blind with today and that was a good hunt. Tell me about your Texas teal hunting experience, tell me what it’s like to teal hunt down here, what you look forward to teal hunting?
Michael Patina: I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, come on now, you’ve been duck hunting for 10 years, you told me, you’ve been teal hunting for 4 or 5 of those?
Michael Patina: About 8.
Ramsey Russell: About 8 of those years and what I see down here in Texas and Louisiana is people perceive, I think they perceive teal hunting different than elsewhere in the United States. When you get way up north teal is just a part of the opening day because they open September 1st or early, but like in Mississippi, most folks don’t teal hunt and I’ll be honest with you to anybody listening, I’m suspect of somebody that doesn’t teal hunt as if they’re being a real heartbeat duck hunter because here’s 16 days of birds that still migrate, that behave right, that are good to eat. I mean, here we are, it’s hotter than blue blaze already, but it’s fun out here, ain’t it?
Michael Patina: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me, how often do you teal hunt?
Michael Patina: About every other day.
Ramsey Russell: Where do you teal hunt? Was today a pretty typical setup.
Michael Patina: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: A rice field with decoys in it. All right. I got to get you to talk now, Michael because you’re kind of a quiet guy. Tell me about your totem ducks because I’ll tell you what, probably 4 or 5 years ago you contact me on social media and say, hey, I’d like to send you something, I’m like, oh, you don’t have to do nothing, I’ve got this leather strap I’ve traveled all over the world with, I showed it to you this morning, but you sent me your totems and I really took a shine to them. As you can tell, I carry them everywhere and what I like about them – how did you come up with the idea of you just duck hunt, this would be a great idea? What was going on that you saw a need to develop your duck toe.
Michael Patina: I just wanted something to slide easy just to be able to hold by the foot. Something was lightweight.
Ramsey Russell: What I find myself is, I never understood people that hung ducks by the foot because my strap would hold them by the head and then I got your strap and it will hold them. I can put them on the back of a ranger and fly 50 miles an hour down the road when I get there, my duck are still attached that strap. They’re pretty to hold, I’ll take that little six drop you got and clip it on my belt if I’m just walking in or clip it on my bag and if it’s just me hunting, I got my 6, but if I’m down in Argentina, I need more. And if I’m hunting with 5 guys, here’s a clip, these birds are whose? The ones on my strap. I mean, it just makes perfect sense.
Michael Patina: Yeah, I like it.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a family business?
Michael Patina: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: And from the sounds of it, it sounds like you’re doing very well.
Michael Patina: Yes, sir, about 500 orders.
Ramsey Russell: We got one more week of teal season, today is Tuesday, how many more times will you teal hunt? And where are you planning on teal hunting?
Michael Patina: Probably Lavaca River ranch.
Ramsey Russell: Is that where you hunt?
Michael Patina: Probably over here.
Ramsey Russell: You hunt every day?
Michael Patina: Pretty much.
Ramsey Russell: All right. Thank you very much, Michael. I appreciate you the invite and I enjoy sharing a blind with you.
Michael Patina: Yes, sir. Thank you.
Teal Season is Open
You got 60 duck holes fixed up just for teal season, you all got a lot of members and how do you all draw for those blinds?
Ramsey Russell: Paul Massey, heck of a hunt down here around Eagle Lake, what a fun morning, I had a great time. Thank you for the invite.
Paul Massey: Yes, sir. Thank you for coming out.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of folks don’t teal hunt and I was telling Michael Patina, I’m almost suspect this day and age of somebody that don’t take the opportunity the world gives them to go out and duck hunt more on a species that still migrates, good to eat, fun to hunt, it’s warm, so I can bring my wife and kids and they don’t get too cold. But we hunted a camp property you’re in today and I thought that was very interesting listening to you, explaining to me how does you all’s camp work? It’s obviously set up for teal season. You all are open all 16 days of teal season.
Paul Massey: Yes, sir. We’re open all 16 days and all of our properties except for one, we can hunt 7 days a week. There’s one property that we have that’s only on a 3 day rotation, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday.
Ramsey Russell: How many blinds do you all have set up for teal season?
Paul Massey: It’s a bunch, I’m going to say 60 or so.
Ramsey Russell: 60 or 70 teal hunting spots, rice fields, grass, wetlands, things of that nature, that’s incredible.
Paul Massey: It’s incredible. It’s been a few years since I’ve actually got to teal hunt because we’ve hunted a lot of public land and I’m not going to go down there and fool with them alligators.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you a dog trainer, I can understand why you don’t want to get an alligator crunch with those dogs.
Paul Massey: Yeah. And now that we’re on it, we’ve had a new dogs, I’ve hunted 6 new dogs since teal season opened and put their first hunts on them, whether it was me handling them or their owners handling them. But we funded 6 new dogs that have started their season.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve always talked about kids or wives or girlfriends get to come out during teal season without getting wet. But now that I think about it, young dogs, I had one of the best dogs ever owned, Delta way back in the day, we were up in West Texas Panhandle, she was young, it was her first hunting season and it was so cold. I was disappointed but she was a great dog, but she was a young dog and it was bitter cold. So, I mean, by the same thing I can see where teal hunting would be great for young dogs.
Paul Massey: The water’s not so cold, so you don’t have any issues on young dogs that are coming out of training and this is their first experience getting to get out there and start their hunting career, it’s shallow, you got splashed from the ducks, it’s easier for dogs to mark. As long as you hunt with a group of guys that are dog minded, you can really teach a young dog how to hunt pretty faster in teal season and it’s a heck of a lot easier on them than dove hunting.
Ramsey Russell: You got 60 duck holes fixed up just for teal season, you all got a lot of members and how do you all draw for those blinds? How did you end up here today?
Paul Massey: Each day we turn in 6 picks of the 6 blinds we want to hunt and then they go through and they try to get us in our top 3.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And do you still hunt with your son every day?
Paul Massey: He’s homeschooled, so we teal hunt every day.
Ramsey Russell: Everyday day of the season. Because what surprised me we were picking up and today’s Tuesday we’ve got 5 more days and you’ve got it laid out, you’re going somewhere to hunt and not just here but other places. One of the prevailing thoughts I’ve heard, since Venice, Louisiana 10 days ago was, how blue winged teal season, especially down in deep Louisiana is kind of becoming the new duck season. Do you see it as like a special time or do you see it as like, hey, this is just the duck season, I got a big long split in the middle?
Paul Massey: For me, I see it as a special time. Like I said, it’s the first time those dogs that are coming out of training, this is their first time to get that hunting experience. As dog trainers, we give them all the tools for you to take them and teach them how to hunt now and this is that first time, the excitement’s high, everybody’s super excited, dogs are excited, people are excited, to me, it’s a great time of year. Like I said, just on the dog side of it, it’s the first time that you get to see what you really got.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of dog trainers, I’ve had this conversation with others before. I mean, dog trainers train them and I teach them my way, which is usually a bad way, I like to bring bad habits in dogs, but Char did, okay. She’s done good. What do you think about a dog that size?
Paul Massey: I love them. That dog that’s in that 50lbs class, that’s a dog that’s going to be able to go for you for a long time. They’re fast, they’re not packing around as much weight, they can get through that mud easier, you’re not going to have as many problems with hips and elbows and stuff later down the road. To me, a dog is a lot like a person, if you’re packing around a little extra stuff is going to get wore out and they’re the same way. But you got to take your part and condition them way before hunting season starts and get him in shape, you can’t just pull him off the couch and expect him to go to work for you the first day and be in a working condition.
Ramsey Russell: I try to keep Char in shape, I don’t want her to have down time. I feel like she’s an athlete, if you were an Olympian, she wouldn’t have a month or two off, she’d be going at it every time.
Paul Massey: Every day. We don’t take any days off, they get worked every day.
Ramsey Russell: From here for the next 5 or 6 days, what regions of Texas will you hunt? Where will you be chasing these teal?
Paul Massey: I’ll be here for one more day and then I’ll run over to Port Lavaca and hunt with the guy over there with the dog that I have in training his owner book to hunt over there, so we’re hauling him over there to hunt and then we’ll probably be over around for the finisher.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Just stay with them teal.
Paul Massey: Stay with them teal and then get ready for a hunt test after that.
Ramsey Russell: Last question, out of those 60 blinds, you were telling me, this blind was doing real good, there were some that weren’t doing as well, what did all the blinds doing well have in common.
Paul Massey: Big open water.
Ramsey Russell: Big open water. Five acres, shallow –
Paul Massey: Somewhere around there, stuff that was real tied into the blind where them birds didn’t feel comfortable getting in there, they just didn’t do as well, if you had enough water with them birds could feel like they could get in and had room to sit down, it tended to do a lot better.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much, Paul. Again, I greatly enjoyed it, had a wonderful time sharing time with you, your son and Michael and it was awesome. Thank you very much.
Paul Massey: Yes, sir. Thank you.
Creating the Perfect Waterfowl Habitat
How do you keep producing these birds like this?
Ramsey Russell: And here we are down here at, what has become the annual yard bird hunting club stop, Eagle Lake, Texas, Dylan Goggins, man, always a barn burner with you. How is that? Because you told me last night, you all have got 75 members and bluewings aren’t just a passing interest for your membership, every time I show up there’s a house full. How do you keep producing these birds like this?
Dylan Goggins: Man, a lot of it is habitat and pressure management. We do everything we can to provide the habitat, a lot of work goes in into the summer and the offseason, making sure there’s food and then the pressure, we don’t hunt every day, we let our ponds rest. And just keep the birds around, get in, get out and save it for a few days later.
Ramsey Russell: Talk a little bit about the habitat because like this morning, you told me last night over cocktail, you said, yeah, we got a good and form and you said just those two things, you said, I got some great habitat, shallow water and it hadn’t been hunted in a while. You said last week, there was only 100 birds out here on the entire farm, there was more than 100 birds in the decoys while you were pitching them this morning. But I told you when we pulled up, I said it smells like a hog lot and that’s always a good sign. When I pull up and there’s that decaying vegetation, it just literally smells like a hog lot, I’m like, here we go and it was like it. But how long have you been pumping water on this pond?
Dylan Goggins: And so I started pumping in June on this farm just because we’ve got a very small well and to keep up with evaporation and it was an extremely bad drought this year. So, we had to keep water on it to get all the good grasses growing up, manipulating it at the right time.
Ramsey Russell: What do you call good grass?
Dylan Goggins: Barnyard grass, your smart weed, just moist soil.
Ramsey Russell: Would you go out there and put on jap millet on that place if you had to or plant corn or whatever?
Dylan Goggins: In the years, if there’s nothing producing to get it going, plant it and then, let it come back the next year and then you can start working it from there to build the seed bank up. But other than that, the moist soil, all the grasses have been good in these units just from several years of jaw down and putting water back on it at the right time.
Ramsey Russell: The harder you work, the luckier you get with it and it works. I mean, I’m trying to think if I’ve ever hunted over ag crops with you all, I don’t think I have. I think it’s all been some kind of moist soil and plenty of teal. And teal hunting, it’s not a small part of your year down here, it’s huge. Every time I’m here, it’s a crowd, like you told me last night, they’re going to be 8 people come in, there was 12, 13 people hunting this morning.
Dylan Goggins: Yeah, absolutely. That happens a lot. Throughout the week, there’s only a couple of people signed up but then comes the day, where they see the scouting report and it just blows up, a few hours, before dinner that night and people just start flocking in.
Ramsey Russell: And talk about the pressure management. How do you manage pressure on these places?
Dylan Goggins: So, a lot of it is only hunting a few days a week, hunting our prairie properties a few days a week and letting them sit and we have so many ponds where we’re stretched, 4 counties. We’ve got ponds and farms everywhere so you can kind of follow the birds and go where they’re at and not putting guns on holes every single day, letting them rest. I know it’s a huge business for a lot of people, teal season is a huge moneymaker, just running guns through stuff. But with us, with the club, it’s lucky because we’re fortunate enough where we can manage the ponds, they’re not trying to make a profit. Everything that goes into the club goes back into management or improvements for the club.
Ramsey Russell: You all cover a big geography, your camp house is down around Eagle Lake and you told me last night, hey, we’re going about an hour that way and I said, is that where we hunted last year? You go, no, we went an hour that way. So I’m sitting there thinking this morning, you all got at least a 2 hour circumference or 2 diameter run across your area, an hour drive, hour and a half radius, that’s a big geography, what feels like it’s scattered out.
Dylan Goggins: Yes, sir. Absolutely. And that’s what helps because the Garwood Prairie was awesome the first weekend and the first week into the second weekend, but there’s so much pressure, it gets blown out. So we have all these properties that are far enough away on the Prairie, where there’s less pressure and we can hold birds and so it always kind of carries us through the end of season.
Ramsey Russell: How often during big duck season? How often do you all hunt, is it 7 days a week?
Dylan Goggins: So big duck, we only hunt, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
Ramsey Russell: And what about teal season?
Managing Habitat Quality for Duck Season
Yeah, I mean, teal season is a huge deal for everybody, getting out, getting the guns hot and so we stagger a lot of our food sources, we don’t open up everything for teal, we open up what we need to, but we always make sure that we have food for future that will last us throughout the season, through big duck and everything.
Dylan Goggins: Teal season, we’ll hunt Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and then add Friday.
Ramsey Russell: This is a two-part question. How important is managing these habitats in blue winged teal season to the habitat quality for big duck season. And then how important is it to your membership enjoyment? Teal season, I’m asking.
Dylan Goggins: Yeah, I mean, teal season is a huge deal for everybody, getting out, getting the guns hot and so we stagger a lot of our food sources, we don’t open up everything for teal, we open up what we need to, but we always make sure that we have food for future that will last us throughout the season, through big duck and everything.
Ramsey Russell: I think and I’ve heard blue winged teal are related to shoveler, same genus and they’ve got a high invertebrate diet. And when you told me that, you started flooding this thing saturating the soils earlier and I walk into a place and I smell all that decay and vegetation like a hog lot, I know there’s going to be a lot of invertebrates, don’t you think that’s important? Have you seen a similarity in that for productive areas?
Dylan Goggins: Absolutely. Those are always our most productive areas where you don’t just disc down the vegetation and then flood it up. You have a place where just a giant ecosystem of invertebrates are just thriving and then you go and open it up and still leave places for them to live. I think that helps a lot.
Ramsey Russell: Not all your blue winged hunters are fast paced, chaotic as this morning, are they?
Dylan Goggins: No, they’re not. But we have quite a few of them like that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. There were two groups on this morning, I’m going to say half mile apart and the one group it took so long was still back in the truck and resting ducks and baiting in the morning. We were out before the sun got up over the horizon, it was chaos, pure and utter chaos. And I always have a good time down here with, you always have a good time at yard bird. I like the way you all breast those ducks too, is that how you breast all your ducks?
Dylan Goggins: We sure do. Yeah. Just leave the wing on.
Ramsey Russell: How important is that to you all’s program? Because the minute those duck hit the buggy, you had them tagged. Is that a big deal?
Dylan Goggins: Yeah, absolutely. We want to do everything by the books, you keep them separate, you don’t want to be party bagging, you want to have it all separate in groups and you can identify whose birds or whose.
Ramsey Russell: Now what do you do the rest of the day? It’s 08:30 in the morning, what are you going to do the rest of day? Go take a nap, go clean up?
Dylan Goggins: Go check water, actually. So, yeah, I’m flushing some stuff and I got to move some water around because it’s starting to get hot again. So, I’ll be running all over different counties.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Dylan. I always have a good time down here at yard bird.
Dylan Goggins: Always a pleasure.
Duck Hunting Origins
But coming down here, it’s kind of transitioned to a teal culture, like you said, that’s what everybody gets excited about, man.
Ramsey Russell: Tobin Copeland down here in Matagorda, Texas and this concludes the blue winged teal tour and it’s been a great time. But Tobin, tell me about your duck hunting origins, who are you? Where are you from?
Tobin Copeland: Hey, buddy, Ramsey, thank you for having me, man. Basically grew up in central Texas, grew up in Central Texas, right outside of Waco, cut my teeth hunting on lakes and rivers up there with my dad and his group of guys and moved down here to the Gulf coast about 1999 was when we came down here and I’ve been here ever since.
Ramsey Russell: And I ask you earlier, did you grow up blue winged teal hunting, you said, no, it wasn’t until you came down here that you got exposed to it.
Tobin Copeland: Yeah. Really wasn’t a big thing. Our kickoff usually was Labor Day dove hunting up there, we did a lot of dove hunting. And usually would wait around till November, December rolled around and then we’d start doing our thing up there.
Ramsey Russell: When you came down here in 1999 and you say you got exposed to bluewinged teal hunting. Was it a big deal then?
Tobin Copeland: No, it was not. It gained popularity, early 2000.
Ramsey Russell: Still 21 years ago, I mean, 20 something years ago. And that’s my whole thing is, part of the reason I want to put together this episode and meet with people like yourself is once you get down here in this Gulf coastal zone, it is a culture now.
Tobin Copeland: It really is.
Ramsey Russell: So much so that some of the people I’ve met along the way, explain it that blue winged teal season is their new duck season.
Tobin Copeland: Yeah, I would say that, I kind of came in on the tail end of the goose, the goose culture with the Eagle Lake, Katy Prairie. I grew up, my parents are from that area and of course they hunted up around there. But coming down here, it’s kind of transitioned to a teal culture, like you said, that’s what everybody gets excited about, man. Just that time of year.
Ramsey Russell: Why is teal season important to you?
Tobin Copeland: I thought about that earlier because Rob kind of gave me a heads up on that. But I think the teal season is important to me, like you said, it’s a culture, it represents the start of the hunting season, everybody’s excited still, we’re not tired like we are at the end of January. A lot of times our clients that are our friends, we’re getting to see them for the first time since last season and everybody getting together and just represents a good time, man.
Ramsey Russell: What about as a dad?
Tobin Copeland: It is, I got one of them sitting next to me right now, but getting to get the kids out and exposing them to that and that lifestyle and hunting lifestyle, it’s a pleasure and it was never anything I wanted to force on my kids, I wanted them to enjoy it themselves. And I’ve been able and lucky enough to see Dawson here, he’s kind of grown into his own and he likes it and just a real pleasure to see that.
Ramsey Russell: The hunt this morning was just utterly amazing and it doesn’t happen by accident, it was just absolutely superior habitat or do you have a hands on or role in kind of helping get those activities going?
Tobin Copeland: We do. I’ve been lucky enough to kind of mirror Rob a little bit, he’s been really gracious enough to basically share all of his secrets if you will on that stuff and it’s amazing to see that habitat come full circle and being able to see the birds use it. And when you’re out there in July and August and stuff and you’re looking at a dirt pasture thinking man, how the hell we’re going to kill anything over this? And then to finally see, like I said, see it come full circle and the birds really utilize certain areas and not just in general but really specifically going in on certain compartments and saying the reason why they’re going in there is because of what we planted and how we managed it or whatever.
Ramsey Russell: We hunted a day and it was real varied like to the right of the blind was just big stand of jungle rice and to the left of the blind was mud plantain back in the back on a higher where the water came up with was smart weed and it was crazy and to hear, as we’re walking out and putting out decoys to hear those hundreds of birds just to hear the flocks rolling and hear them chatting at each other and we took turns shooting bam, like little Atari game, we were done at 7 o’clock and it was just as good as it gets. How did you get into making duck calls? And here’s what I’m going to say Tobin, couple of years ago, maybe just out of the blue you reached out to me and sent me a duck call, a beautiful duck call and a lot of duck calls I blow and put in my drawer, my little collection, but this one I didn’t, this one sat on my desk, right under my computer screen and every now and again, I take it out and it’s unlike a lot of duck calls I see today, the shape of it reminds me of an older, a bygone era and it’s hand checkered, but it sounds wonderful. How did you get in? How does somebody from Waco, Texas now on the Gulf coast get into making this old school looking hand checkered duck call?
Tobin Copeland: So, it’s an interesting story, growing up not to throw my dad under the bus, but the group of guys that we hunted with when hunting season came around it was not time for we’re going to teach you how to duck call, right? And it was one of those deals that duck calling always interest me, but it was kind of like, hey, if you’re going to do this, you’re going to need to practice on your own, we’re not practicing in the blind, we’re here to kill ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s a good rule.
Tobin Copeland: And it was kind of one of those things, as I got older, just kind of watching the guys that my dad hunted with and stuff like that and also my dad, watching them hunt and how they called and like I said, it was one of those things that, I say there wasn’t a whole lot of instruction but they gave me just enough to keep me interested. And one day, after I moved down here, I said, man, I’ve always wanted to make duck calls and found a lathe and slowly started building my tool collection and this was pre Duck Dynasty, the Duck Dynasty era. So there really wasn’t a lot of – there were very few outlets or resources to find, there were a couple of – back when the forms were big, I think there were just literally two, maybe one book, still have the book of resources that you could access to try to figure out how to do it. So, a lot of making sawdust.
Ramsey Russell: What struck me about your call when I opened up the box, is a lot of people get a lathe want to make duck calls and shake and fashion and get a nice tone board, the hand checkered, that’s what got me.
More Old School Duck Hunting
And he’s like, every duck hunt that I miss is one less hunt I get to go on in my life, that’s why it’s important.
Tobin Copeland: I tell guys, I talk to a lot of guys that, they get into call making and everybody starts out with stars in their eyes and they want to be the next big thing or it seems like it or I know I did and as you progress it’s an art, it’s like an art you evolve. And man, I really gain an appreciation for the old stuff, looking at some of these guys collections like the Mike Lewis books, the coffee table books and stuff and seeing some of the big collections that these guys have from the guys back in the 20s and 40s and 50s and stuff that just kind of inspired me to start doing. I still make a standard duck call, but I really like doing the old stuff. I like making the old school, the longer barrel kind of, I don’t know what style you would call that, but with the hand checkering and stuff on it. So, old school man, that’s it.
Ramsey Russell: The world of duck hunting needs more old school. The future of hunting lies in the past, it speaks to me and that’s why it was important to me, for example, to interview you and some of these other teal hunters, I said it a couple of interviews ago, I’m almost to the point, I’m suspect if a guy says I’m a duck hunter and he don’t chase blue winged teal, I’m a little dubious because it’s more time in camp with friends. Like one of the guys said, Paul said that it’s a great time to go out and get my young dogs going, get their cob web, get them tuned up, it’s a great time to take families and kids, most importantly, it’s just a great opportunity that we have to do what we love. There was an old guy I met down in Argentina one time and this guy has killed so many waterfowl, he’s old as myth and it was howling and blowing and just terrible weather to go out and a lot of sports clients stayed in and he got up and put that raincoat on and somebody said, you really going to go Mr. Bill? And he’s like, every duck hunt that I miss is one less hunt I get to go on in my life, that’s why it’s important. That’s why it’s important to me, the people, the time, it’s our time of year as a duck hunter. Tobin, I appreciate you coming on and thanks for sharing with us and thanks for your hospitality, it’s been wonderful down here. Folks, thank you all for listening, I hope that you all teal season went good and if you don’t teal hunt, well, I hope you start. See you next time.