Bill Brewster, former Oklahoma Congressman and retired lobbyist, meets with Ramsey Russell at SCI Convention. They discuss wildlife topics ranging from quail hunting back in the good old days to the future of hunting. Bill tells about the time he went to the White House before dawn with shotguns and hip boots to take a US President duck hunting. Those were different times, for sure.
Former Oklahoma Congressman and Lifetime Conservationist Bill Brewster Discusses Growing Up Quail Hunting in Oklahoma, Wildlife Conservation Influences, Taking US President Bill Clinton Duck Hunting, and the Future of Hunting and Wildlife Conservation
Ramsey Russell: This is Ramsey Russell. GetDucks. It’s Duck Season Somewhere, and I am sitting, on the final morning Safari Club International, in Reno, Nevada. I’ve got a very special guest today. He’s got some great stories. He has hunted a lot. A lot of people here, and around the country, know him in his professional capacity. I know him as a client. I know him as a friend. I was introduced to our guest today, Mr. Bill Brewster, by a close Mississippi associate, Greg Kitchens, who was an incredible hunter. A hunter of everything, everywhere, but his heartbeat, his passion, was birds. That’s where he and I connected. In fact, Greg helped me to become involved in the Safari Club and in Dallas Safari Club especially. As I became involved, he introduced me to friends of his, associates of his, and that’s how I got to know today’s guest, Mr. Bill Brewster. Bill, how are you?
Bill Brewster: Fine. Good to see you this morning, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, sir. Bright and early before the convention starts, we’re out here. Thank you for meeting this early.
Bill Brewster: You bet. Anytime.
Who Is Bill Brewster?
Ramsey Russell: Bill, I see you every time at Dallas Safari Club and every time at Safari Club International. I know you to be a passionate and dedicated and serious hunter, but I know you also have other things going on here at this show. I know what you sort of do for a living, but could you introduce yourself? Maybe go through some of your credentials and your background of how you got here, in this capacity, as a professor?
Bill Brewster: Sure, Ramsey. I’m from Oklahoma. I grew up in southern Oklahoma. My dad was an avid bird hunter. In that day, bird hunting meant quail. We would shoot doves on opening day, find a pond somewhere and do that. Do a little pond jumping for ducks. I didn’t know about a decoy when I was a kid. I just grew up with a passion for hunting and for wildlife. Dad was an early conservationist. If we jumped a covey that had less than eight birds, we didn’t follow singles, for instance. Dad felt that if at least six birds got through the winter, they’d repopulate an area. He was very strict about following limits. Some things that he had in mind really made a difference. The only thing that I guess is against the law now— At that time, he was death on hawks. Hawks were, in his mind, one of the things that really affected the quail population. In that day and age, it was not illegal, so Dad was very tough on Hawks.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve never met a bird hunter that liked a hawk.
Bill Brewster: Well, I haven’t either, but you have to follow the law. Whatever the law is. Anyway, from growing up there, I went to college and got a degree in pharmacy. Owned some drugstores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a number of years. Got a chance to sell out and moved back to our ranch in Oklahoma. Then, ultimately, ran for the state legislature. Served eight years in the state of Oklahoma legislature, in the House of Representatives, and then ran for Congress and served six years in the US Congress. At that point, then, decided, “By golly, I’d better go make some money and have some fun,” rather than doing all the work I was doing. My wife is an avid hunter as well. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve hunted all over the world. Our daughter says we spent her inheritance out doing the hunting that my wife and I have enjoyed.
Hunted in All 50 States
Ramsey Russell: Y’all really have hunted all over the world, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet Ms. Susie. Y’all are bird hunters for sure, or duck hunters. I know you hunt big game also. You’ve not only hunted all over the world; you have accomplished what I’m chipping away at, slowly but surely. You’ve hunted ducks in all fifty states.
Bill Brewster: I’ve hunted in all fifty states. There’s no award for that or anything else, but a few years ago I figured out, “Golly, I’ve been to a lot of states. It would be kind of fun to hunt in all fifty states.” So we set that as a goal and started working toward it. You helped me with the four states that were going to be the toughest—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—by finding the guide up there that could get us duck hunting in all four states.
Ramsey Russell: That was the late Captain Adam Smith. What a great character he was.
Bill Brewster: Oh, a great character. We had a good time and had good duck hunts. It was good all the way round. My friend Robin Siegfried, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, went with me. He’s hunted ducks all over the world as well. It was a fun time.
Oklahoma Quail Hunting Introductions
My dad got me a single-shot, .410, little H&R break-open for my sixth birthday…They were all interested in making sure there was habitat, making sure that the rancher was not over-grazing the ground out there. Quail had to have some cover. They were extremely serious about what they did, and always had arguments about who had the best dog.
Ramsey Russell: So you actually got into hunting as a little boy.
Bill Brewster: Correct.
Ramsey Russell: Quail hunting with your daddy.
Bill Brewster: My dad got me a single-shot, .410, little H&R break-open for my sixth birthday.
Ramsey Russell: Did you bird hunt with that gun?
Bill Brewster: Absolutely. I did everything else. When I got bigger, I moved up to a 20-gauge when I was about a freshman or sophomore in high school.
Ramsey Russell: That era, that generation, and that ethos that real quail hunters had— It’s almost like Norman Rockwell America that has faded into history, in terms of the bird populations, the quail populations. They were some of the most serious hunters I’ve ever met.
Bill Brewster: Absolutely, and they were all interested in making sure there was habitat, making sure that the rancher was not over-grazing the ground out there. Quail had to have some cover. They were extremely serious about what they did, and always had arguments about who had the best dog.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got a story about quail hunting. My wife’s grandfather grew up in the red clay hills, in Webster County, Mississippi. They were simple people. Forty acres and two mules. I only know of three or four photos of her granddaddy that exist. One was him and his two mules. One of the earlier photos was him and his six brothers. They all served in World War II active combat, except for him. He had a disability. The younger brother, Frank, was sixteen years old. They grew up such simple people that, when the brothers volunteered to go to World War II, he wasn’t going to let his brothers go without him. So he went. They all went. The third photo that I can recall is him and a bird dog named Buster. My brother-in-law told me this story. His granddaddy used to tell him that Buster was the best bird dog ever owned. That was back in the day. They had just forty acres, and they farmed, and they fed themselves with their farm. If he and Mamaw said, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” “Let’s have some quail.” They could just turn Buster, the bird dog, loose and go shoot a few quail.
Bill Brewster: Enough for dinner.
Ramsey Russell: Come back and eat for dinner. He tells this story about this bird dog. My brother-in-law tells it much better than I do. He’s like, “My granddaddy used to say Buster was the best bird dog he ever had. For the remainder of his life, he’d say, ‘I sold that dog for $50 to a man out of Memphis.’” One day, Stan asked him, “Well, Papaw, why’d you sell Buster for $50 if he’s the best bird dog you ever had?” The man lamented selling that bird dog for the rest of his life because he was the one. He said, “Look, I could feed my family for two months on $50.” It was a whole different mindset of America. Those people were cut from a different fabric. The whole quail hunter enigma was something else back in those days. The day of your dad, the day you grew up.
Bill Brewster: Correct. Dad was a school superintendent of a small, rural school and coached basketball and drove the bus and everything else. At that day and time, the superintendent had to do it all. He got offered $200 for a bird dog. He was an outstanding bird dog. There was a guy there, who was a car dealer, that hunted and wanted to buy the dog. Dad was only making $300 a month as school superintendent, and he turned down selling his bird dog for $200. He said, “Yeah, we need the money, but I’ll never have another dog as good as he is.”
Ramsey Russell: I can relate to that, in the world of labs. I’ve had some dogs who, whether they were the absolute best or not, I can’t part with for any amount of money. There’s something about how dogs affect your life like that.
Bill Brewster: They really do.
Ramsey Russell: I was out in Oklahoma fifteen years ago, and I went out there to hunt wild quail with an outfitter way up in the panhandle. It was old-school quail hunting. He had GPS’s on the dogs. He had feeders out. I’m going to say the man had 150 tracts of property that he would lease or buy based on their quail habitat ability.
Bill Brewster: Was it Wade Robertson?
Ramsey Russell: Gosh, what was it? He’s a retired US Marine. I’ll think of his name in a minute. He retired from the US Marines out of South Carolina. As a young man, retired. He could go anywhere in the country he wanted, and he chose Oklahoma for the quail hunting. Because the quail in the East had passed. He had dog power, but you walked. It wasn’t a covered wagon like South Georgia. This was a walk. Even if there were feeders, the birds weren’t just sitting on the feeders. They might be in the plum thicket, they might be nearby, depending on the time of day and what was going on in their little daily schedule. But you walked. It was wild quail. Wild quail.
Bill Brewster: It still is. Oklahoma is quite fortunate to have habitat that—given the proper climate, if we have decent rain this spring at the proper time—we’re a quail factory. We’re fortunate in that regard. My friend down at Darrouzett, Texas—Wade Robertson, and his father, Jerry Robertson—started hunting years ago out there, commercially. They’ve got probably 150,000-200,000 acres that they can hunt on. Different ranchers that they lease the land from. They keep feed out, year-round, for the quail. They have the feeder in a plum thicket so the quail have a better chance of survival. They run a really good operation. It’s a lot of walking, but I’ve done it several times. Boy, it’s the way quail hunting should be.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the way it should be. When I hunted with Keith Montgomery— That’s who I hunted with. Keith Montgomery, up in northwest Oklahoma. He’s still at it, man. I don’t care who you were; you couldn’t out-walk Keith Montgomery. He put too many miles in as a Marine and too many miles chasing quail. That man would walk you in the ground. Over the years, I began to see where the modern-day quail hunters, the modern day setters, the modern day pointers that were so habituated to release quail— They didn’t have game. The modern quail hunter that was used to release quail— You turn him and his dog loose on a wild bird, and they just don’t get it.
Bill Brewster: They don’t know what to do.
Ramsey Russell: And when a wild quail gets up, it looks like it’s been shot out of a rifle barrel. He’s gone, versus a tame quail. Bill Brewster: It’s quite different. I actually feel sorry for some of my friends that don’t have the opportunity to hunt wild quail.
Ramsey Russell: I really do, too.
Bill Brewster: It’s an era that is only found in a few places anymore.
Ramsey Russell: It’s true. Parts of Texas, parts of Oklahoma. Bill, I’ve never shot in a blind with you, but, to a person, I’ve never met a true quail hunter who— I mean, a duck is easy compared to a quail. Men who have grown up quail hunting, who have cut their teeth on quail, I would say, are the best wing shots that I’ve ever spent time around.
Bill Brewster: Well, it certainly helps you. A quail never flies in a straight line. He’s dodging, darting, going around a tree. He’s doing something. Everyone’s a little bit different. Duck hunting is a talent of its own, as well. Most of the birds are incoming, whereas, in quail, most everything’s going away from you. Still, being able to have that hand-eye coordination and go to the bird, that’s what it’s all about.
Ramsey Russell: That’s exactly right. You grew up quail hunting and bird hunting and hunting with your daddy in Oklahoma. You became a pharmacist, a US congressman for six years. Then what?
Bill Brewster: After that, I was 53 years old, and it was time to decide. Do I want to stay in Congress and run again, or do I want to go out and try to make some money and have some fun? A friend in DC asked if I’d like to join his consulting company, his government relations company. I let my wife help me make the decision. Since it was going to pay a whole lot more than you can make as a congressman— The big problem, expense-wise, in Congress is the expenses in DC. Rent and everything is so darn high, and in Congress you don’t get paid any per diem. No housing allowance, nothing. You’re on your own. I’d done it six years and, being 53, I thought, “Golly, if I’m ever going to be able to do the things I want to do, I need to go out and make some money and have some fun.” So, I joined my friend’s government relations consulting firm. Duffy Wall, of Louisiana. Great guy. Great friend. Couple of months later, he came up with lung cancer. I took over running his firm until we could sell it for his wife, and then she had to have revenues for the future. We sold his firm for her, and then put in my own company. I did that up until three years ago. Now I’m totally retired out of the government relations business. But during that time, my wife and I had the opportunity— Congress is gone a lot. When Congress was gone, my clients didn’t expect me to be in DC. So, I could be in Africa. I could be anywhere. We’ve never taken a vacation, as such, without going on a hunting trip. We’ve never taken a cruise. We do hunting. My wife became sort of a collector. It’s like she would say, “Well, golly, I don’t have a bongo. I want to go to Cameroon and hunt a bongo. Let’s work out a bongo trip.” It’s great having your wife loving to do all this. The only bad thing is that, frequently, you have to buy two of everything. Our life has been phenomenal. Every hunt has been an adventure, Ramsey. And you see, without an animal having value, it won’t exist. I’ve seen that, especially in African big game, but everywhere. If an animal has value, if somebody has a value to it, it will exist. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than meat to most of the natives, as we see it, in Africa.
Ramsey Russell: I say it all the time, about the commodity value of wildlife. Bill, you talked about being retired. Having had your career and moved in some of the circles and being an influencer in— I don’t want to say politics, I want to say conservation, because I know that you and your wife have been deeply involved with the National Rifle Association. I know that y’all have been involved with Safari Club International, Dallas Safari Club. You’re retired from the everyday, forty-hour work week, or whatever that business called for, but are you ever truly retired? You’re still here, and I know you’re moving around in circles. I recognize you as a very profound influencer in conservation and interests that would be of important value to the listener. National Rifle Association, Safari Club International.
Wildlife Conservation Influencer
Bill Brewster: I’ve been very interested in wildlife, as I mentioned, since my dad got me hunting at a very early age. As I’ve gotten older and had some resources to be able to do some things with, we’ve spent an awful lot of money on youth hunting. We’ve spent an awful lot of money on conservation programs in different places. That’s our life. That’s what we do. I like to think the history of the things that we’ve done—the ranches we’ve owned, and what we’ve done to improve habitat—have been a major player, as far as wildlife are concerned, and we want to continue doing that as long as we can. If my history and experiences can provide some answers to someone in what they’re trying to figure out, I’d like to do that. All I can say is, we did so-and-so and it didn’t work, but I was such-and-such; or, we did so-and-so and it really worked out well. History and knowledge are something that we’ve got a little bit of. We don’t do it for business or profit. This is for fun.
Duck Hunting with US President Bill Clinton
He said, “To my knowledge, you guys are the first ones who’ve ever brought shotguns to the White House.”
Ramsey Russell: Exactly. I’ve got a question for you. True or false. You once duck hunted with a US President. Could you tell that story about duck hunting with President Bill Clinton?
Bill Brewster: That is correct. Yes. We were at an event in summer. I guess it would have been about ‘93, ‘94. President Clinton was there. He was telling some of us that he lamented the fact that he didn’t have a place to duck hunt. He’d come from DC, and, when he was in Arkansas, he liked to duck hunt. I said, “Well, Mr. President, that’s no problem. Give me a call. I’ll line us up a duck hunt over in Maryland.” I didn’t expect to hear anymore from him. Christmas Eve—it was on a Friday that year, I was in Oklahoma with my family—the president’s office called and said, “President Clinton has Monday morning off, and he wants to go duck hunting.” They also told me that his requirements were that he would not go in any place that was owned by a lobbyist or any place that was contracted with the federal government.
Ramsey Russell: Of course.
Bill Brewster: So here we are on Friday evening trying to scramble and find a place to take him. My late friend, JD Williams, helped me come up with a place. A guy named John Titor had a duck hunting place in Maryland. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Secret Service, when I gave them the name, were out there all over the place that weekend, checking everything out. Because here the President is going to be out with some guys with guns. They allowed me to take one other member of congress with me. John Dingell from Michigan had been so involved in everything wildlife, and he was a guy I duck hunted with in Maryland, so I called John. His first statement was, “Are you serious? I’ve been in congress all these years. I’ve never hunted with a President.” I said, “Well, Chairman Dingle, here’s your chance. We are invited. If you want to go, I’d love to take you.” He said, “Let me ask Debbie, and I’ll call you right back.” I thought, “Golly, here the Chairman of Energy and Commerce is having to ask his wife if he can go duck hunting with the president.” But she cleared it. We met the President, went over into Maryland, and stopped to buy him a license.
Ramsey Russell: Now when you say you met the President, did y’all meet at the—?
Bill Brewster: At the White House. Yeah. We went in the old executive office building on the west end of the White House. Went in there carrying shotguns, gun cases, camo. The President didn’t have any duck hunting stuff up there. My dad was 6’5”, so I had gotten my dad’s coveralls and everything so that we could keep him somewhat warm. Carried it all in there. Walked in, and the guy at the counter there called upstairs, “I have two congressmen, and they have shotguns with them, and they’re coming upstairs.” The other guy said, “Well, have you ever said that before?” He said, “To my knowledge, you guys are the first ones who’ve ever brought shotguns to the White House.” Anyway, this was during the time that people were complaining about semi-autos and trying to get a semi-auto ban. So, I made sure the president was shooting a Benelli semi-auto, just to make sure that he understood the value of semi-autos. We went to Maryland. We had a great day. We got one duck. The warmest it got while we were out there was 6°. Fortunately, they had a de-icer set up in one of the fountain deals out in the middle of the pond, so we had some open water. We had a great time. I disagreed with the President on a lot of policy issues. I disagreed with some of the stuff he did at the end when he let some people off, some sentences that I thought were incorrect. On the other hand, I’ve always felt like I can disagree with someone and still be agreeable. Still enjoy time with them.
Ramsey Russell: Especially in a duck blind. I’ve always said, you can take different politics, races, colors, religions, and economic strata, put them in a duck blind, and, in that moment, they’re just duck hunters.
Bill Brewster: Absolutely. It was a fun time. President Clinton is just a bubba. Just another guy. Enthusiastic, and you can’t find people that don’t like being around him, whether they agree or disagree with his politics.
Ramsey Russell: I have heard from retired Secret Service people I’ve met, and different people in his circle, that he is one of the most likable and friendly people you’ve ever been around.
Bill Brewster: Certainly is. I voted with him seldom on a lot of issues of the day, but, on the other hand, he will go down in history—except for his personal life—as a guy who served when times were good. No war efforts were going on. Actually reduced the deficit with a Republican House and Senate, working together. In that day, you worked together. Today, it’s unfortunately not that way anymore. In my time, we would disagree or agree in a committee, and then everybody would go have dinner together. There’s not that camaraderie anymore.
Ramsey Russell: The political climate, as a non-politician, that I see on television reminds me of watching the Worldwide Wrestling Federation. Where you had the good guy and the bad guy, but it was all kind of a stage production. Nobody was getting along no matter what. It’s almost like a circus. How is anything getting done up there?
Bill Brewster: Well, that’s it. Really nothing is getting done. Everything has been geared toward all the investigations and all the impeachment stuff. It’s my team and their team, is kind of what it amounts to among a lot of the members today.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s our team. The American team.
Bill Brewster: I know it’s the American team, but it’s not that way, today. It’s got to come back to it, for the good of our country. For the good of wildlife and everything. As far as the hunting is concerned—
Ramsey Russell: Break, break. Before we move on, now, I want to get back to you going to the White House with Bill Clinton. I’ve heard parts of this story. Y’all picked up Bill Clinton. Did you get in Suburban’s or Secret Service vehicles? Because I know you had to go get a hunting license.
Bill Brewster: Yes. We did. We got in a group of Suburbans, and they let my chief of staff go along with us as well just to kind of be the guy who took care of everything. We stopped in Maryland to buy him a duck hunting license. It was a place called Angler’s. I was in there frequently because I went duck hunting and fishing and everything else in Maryland. We walked in, and the guy behind the counter knew me. He looked at me, and he looked at Clinton. It was like, “I’ve seen that guy before, but I don’t know who he is.”
He had a billfold and an ID. He didn’t have enough money to buy his license, so he had to get some money from one of his Secret Service guys to get his license.
Ramsey Russell: “Where’d I know you from?”
Bill Brewster: He required him to produce an ID, and he had it, to the President’s good fortune. He had a billfold and an ID. He didn’t have enough money to buy his license, so he had to get some money from one of his Secret Service guys to get his license. Then we went on out.
Ramsey Russell: Well, when the guy behind the counter saw the name “William Jefferson Clinton” on the driver’s license, did he recognize, then, who he was?
Bill Brewster: I think he did, but he didn’t really do anything. He just went ahead and filled out his license. Nice guy. Like, “We’re getting you a license.” It was really funny watching him walk in, and the guy looking at him like, “I know I’ve seen that guy before.”
Ramsey Russell: It’s funny how people put on a ball cap or sunglasses— You see him in a three-piece suit, and all of a sudden you see him in hunting clothes, and you don’t recognize him. “Who is this?” I see it all the time. But the President? Bill Clinton? And at the time, he was so televised.
Bill Brewster: Yeah. Still, that’s the way it happened. We had some interesting times. I took a bunch of people duck hunting that you would have never guessed. I took Joe Kennedy from Massachusetts duck hunting. I didn’t realize it, but his dad, Robert Kennedy, when he was Attorney General, had been an enthusiastic bird shooter. He would go to Spain to shoot partridge. Joe told me that when he was a little boy, his dad let him go with him once, but he’d never done any other hunting. Anyway, he wanted to go duck hunting. We took him duck hunting. We had a great time. Since then, he’s actually invited me to come to Massachusetts to go duck hunting with him. Hopefully, he’s continuing the effort. We had a lot of people we did that with.
Getting Kids Involved Hunting
If we don’t give those kids an opportunity to get out to see our way of life, we’ll have a continued decline in the number of hunters. We dropped from about sixteen million licensed hunters to about eleven and a half million over the last ten years. For our way of life, for wildlife— Without hunting, you won’t have wildlife. Without the demand for animals, they’ll be nothing more than food.
Bill Brewster: Now we focus, mainly, on getting kids hunting. My wife and I do a lot of effort with young people. My wife’s the president of the Oklahoma Wildlife Management Association. We take forty kids a year, through OWMA, on their first deer hunt. We have several ranchers there, and we use those kids to cull their deer herd. We have a guide take each kid out on a Friday afternoon to shoot a rifle and make sure they’ve got a rifle sighted in, and then on Saturday we’re in a blind with them. A guardian or a parent, whichever, is with them. We take kids between 12 and 17 years old. Last year, we took forty. We had almost three hundred applicants for it. The state wildlife department advertises it and does the screening and helps us get the kids in line. I’m amazed by the demand out there. If we don’t give those kids an opportunity to get out to see our way of life, we’ll have a continued decline in the number of hunters. We dropped from about sixteen million licensed hunters to about eleven and a half million over the last ten years. For our way of life, for wildlife— Without hunting, you won’t have wildlife. Without the demand for animals, they’ll be nothing more than food.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I read a paper just last week about some of the state DNR budgets that are really, really hurting over hunter decline. It’s not just the funds for white-tailed deer and mallard ducks and bobwhite quail. So much of the conservation budgets for the states are for pollinator habitat, for butterflies. Everything is being funded by the hunters.
Bill Brewster: You’re exactly right. Hunting funds all the wildlife efforts in every state that I’m aware of. There may be some that get some appropriated money. I’m on the Wildlife Commission in Oklahoma. In our state, the only money the department has is what it collects in fees and what it gets out of the taxes on guns and ammunition, the Pittman-Robertson fund. We’re fortunate. Our state was the first one to put in a lifetime hunter program. We have an awful lot of people that bought lifetime licenses. The revenues from that money is all that can be spent. It’s built up a pretty good amount of money that draws a pretty good amount to be used each year. Still, a declining number of hunters will be a declining amount of money to work with for wildlife or habitat, for control of hunting. Conservation is no more than management. That’s what it’s all about. Managing something for the benefit of the wildlife.
Ramsey Russell: That’s correct. All of society benefits from wildlife. I had a guy in here, yesterday, from the Philippines, and he was explaining that, in a country half the size of California, there’s 120 million people. He said there’s declining amounts of wildlife and declining amounts of habitat because there’s too many people.
Bill Brewster: Sure. I’m fortunate. I live in a small county in Oklahoma. We have about ten thousand residents in the whole county. Most of my life has been in very rural areas, but I’ve been around the urban areas enough to know that there’s certainly a difference of kids in urban areas. They don’t have the opportunities that rural kids have. That’s one of the reasons our hunting numbers are declining. So many kids today spend their time on social media, etcetera, and never have the opportunity.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a large disconnect in wildlife versus the modern human. Kids, to their credit— It’s not just video games. It’s high school sports. It’s social lives. It’s going to church. So much demand. When I was a child, playing baseball meant, I don’t know, eight weeks in the summertime. Now, it’s a career. These parents have got these kids playing Select Ball twelve months a year. They don’t have time, and, if they do, they don’t want to spend energy. They do want to just sit around, because there’s so much demand. And social media— It really takes a lot more time to cultivate your personality and your friendships online than it does face-to-face, like we’re talking right now. Then I worry about public access. Back in the day—even when I was a young man—you could knock on a door. You can’t knock on doors anymore. Where are these kids going to hunt? Because of declining funds and declining interest, they’re not making any more land, as Will Rogers said. There are more people needing somewhere to hunt that don’t have anywhere to hunt.
Bill Brewster: That is correct, but, in our state, our wildlife department manages about a million and a half acres. Some of it is draw-only, and some of it is open to anyone to hunt. The wildlife department does a pretty good job of managing the properties.
Ramsey Russell: Oklahoma does an excellent job.
Bill Brewster: Also, in our state, a lot of ranchers out there, to be able to keep their land going for the future, need to maximize revenues out of it as well. There’s very little land in Oklahoma that is not hunted. Some of it, you’ve got to lease; you may pay two or three bucks an acre to a rancher for the right to hunt it year round or hunt it maybe just during the seasons. We also have a walk-in hunting program there. It’s similar to what Kansas, Nebraska, and some of the other states do. We get some federal money to help with that, as well. But we have opportunity, if a person is truly interested. What we must do now is make sure these young ones coming up have the interest that we’ve all had. Given the opportunity, they will. If every licensed person would take at least one kid a year out hunting and give them opportunity— I have a couple of ranches that I lease to people for hunting. I require that every hunter take at least one child, one youth hunter, a year on my ranch. It’s a simple deal. A group from Tulsa leased one of the ranches to ten of them, and they’ll take ten kids hunting every year. That’s kids that probably would not have that opportunity otherwise.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a program I became aware of through Delta Waterfowl last year. When I went to Mississippi State University as a wildlife major, everybody—all sixty or seventy of us in that program—had grown up hunting and fishing. We were becoming what I would describe as a hook-and-bullet biologist. I was talking to a friend of mine, who’s now the associate dean at Mississippi State University, and he described to me that the program has now expanded to three hundred people, and that 90% of those people did not have a hunting and fishing background. They were just attracted to nature and wildlife. So, I was sitting in a duck blind down in Mexico with some of the Delta Waterfowl staff, and they began to describe to me an oncoming program they’ve got. They are going into Mississippi State, and other universities, and entertaining some of these up-and-coming wildlife biologists who don’t have a hook-and-bullet background and introducing them to duck hunting. He explained to me that some of these young people don’t even want to hold a gun. That’s against their deal. None of them hunted. And he said, “As compared to a deer, a bird doesn’t— When you shoot a bird, it’s different.” He got to describing to me how they would take some of these young people, these college kids that have never hunted, these girls—and I was just imagining some girl with blue hair and a nose ring, or something, that wants to be a wildlife manager—they would take them hunting. He said, “Whether they hunted or they didn’t, whether they shot or they didn’t— The minute we call, and those birds hook up and start moving— All of a sudden, something clicks, and they go, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I get it.’” He said the purpose is not to make those people hunters, but they, being in wildlife management, will become our future wildlife policy leaders. We’ve got to make them cognizant and understanding of what that interaction’s role is in conservation, in funding conservation, and to the benefit of humanity. We’ve got to keep that intact. It’s one of the most brilliant hunting programs I’ve become aware of.
Bill Brewster: I agree with you. I’d like to see more of that. And I’m also involved in another hunting group called Shikar Safari Club. We do thirty college scholarships a year. We require the kids to be involved in wildlife management; to write a story about their background in wildlife, about what they hope to do in wildlife; and we give $5,000 scholarships.
Ramsey Russell: That’s fantastic.
Bill Brewster: It’s a way to try to help those kids who are truly interested in having understanding, rather than just some city kid that says, “Oh, yeah, I don’t know anything about it, but I want to go do it.” We want to give an opportunity to the kids that have a background. Hopefully they’ll go into it and enjoy it as well. It’s a great life, really. I’ve talked to our biologists at our Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. Most of them spend their whole career there, and they feel like they’re accomplishing a lot. They do a really great job.
On the Future of Hunting
Ramsey Russell: Bill, you grew up hunting, you went to college, you gained political perspective, you’ve hunted with a lot of politicians, you’ve been an influencer in the hunting industry, and you’ve traveled a lot. You’ve traveled a lot out of your backyard and seen different parts of the world. I’ve noticed that as I’ve traveled, I’ve gained a slightly different perspective than I would have, otherwise, in Mississippi. So I’m going to ask you a question. Here we are, sitting at Safari Club International. Break, break. Let me say this right here. I showed up to Safari Club International as an exhibitor six years ago. All I would have told you about SCI, at the time, was that it was a bunch of guys going to Africa to shoot giraffes and zebras, and that it was a big hunting show I needed to be a part of. That’s all I really knew. Someone you know from Mississippi, Mr. John Green, came by that year and said, “Hey, what are you doing for lunch?” I said, “Well, I’m working.” He said, “No, no, no. Come on up here, come sit at this table.” I walked into a room for lunch, and three of my four congressmen from Mississippi were in that room. Congressmen from all over the country. SCI members were pledging money, because SCI was lobbying to get hunter-friendly politicians. I was fifty years old, and, in that moment, I realized that Safari Club International is not a hunting show. It does for hunting what the NRA does for firearm rights. These guys are fighting for the future of hunting. Now here we are at SCI, and I’m going to ask you: based on your perspective, where do you think the future of hunting is going? Had I not traveled, I would have been seduced into thinking that, “This is America. Hunting will last forever. Everything’s fine.” But as I’ve traveled and as I’ve become involved with some of these organizations, it worries me that hunting is hanging by a thread worldwide.
Bill Brewster: You’re correct. It truly is. So much of it is because so many urban people have no knowledge of true wildlife conservation out in the areas where you and I are from. Their idea is, “Oh my God, the hunters are out here killing all the animals.” Well, that’s not true. The hunters regulate hunting. It’s the only thing that’s saving the animals. We’re the ones that spend the money to prevent the poachers from going and killing that last giraffe you’re talking about. The CITES organization, for instance, sets the quotas for a country like Namibia on how many elephants can be taken a year, how many giraffes, how many of anything that is a threatened or endangered species. CITES is a very scientific-oriented organization. If they say three hundred elephants is the quota that can come from Namibia, it’s because that’s a sustainable number of old bulls that can come out. Our groups are the ones that provide the funding to prevent the bad things from happening. Now, the millions of people in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, or New York that look at the wildlife thing— Most don’t have that understanding. That’s why it’s incumbent on us to get all the youth that we can an opportunity to see what we’re doing. OMWA, I mentioned, we took forty kids deer hunting last year. We took another twenty kids turkey hunting. Those are kids that would not have that opportunity. We make sure it’s kids that have an urban background that would not have that opportunity otherwise. That’s just a few, but if you take a kid, and they take out a doe, and understand the reasons of why they’re doing it—because we go through that as well at breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them—they are going to be an influence on their classmates then. Their classmates will know someone who really has done something in the wildlife. It is hanging by a thread. I did a presentation to a group in France, with the EU wildlife people, back in November. They’ve got the same problems we have. They have declining numbers of hunters. The Nordic countries are doing quite well. The heavily-populated countries—the UK, France, Germany, etcetera—have a pretty big decline. They’re working on the same things we are: trying to recruit and retain individuals, young people. The whole thing is giving them an opportunity to see what it’s about.
The Commodity Value of Wildlife as Related to Hunting
Ramsey Russell: From the outside looking in, when I go to Holland—where, boy, I tell you what, the anti-hunters there—or Australia, it becomes an issue of political relevance. Political relevance meaning money, economic benefit. I perceive that politicians or people in leadership look at it as political relevance, money. It always brings me back to— Now, I hunt and I kill stuff, and I own that because I’m a hunter and I kill stuff. While I eat the ducks I shoot, and the deer and the wildlife—if I’m in Africa, my gosh, all the game over there is so delicious—at the same time, I’m really not hunting, in the year 2020, for subsistence. I’m hunting for recreational value. It’s so hard to explain to people that don’t hunt how that recreational interest translates into conservation. Especially if you’re talking to an anti-hunter. They just don’t get it. Even with the middle ground, the non-hunters, it’s very hard to articulate. What I’ve learned is that—whether it’s a Southern pine tree or a cotton boll or a tomato or an elephant or a leopard or a white-tailed deer—it’s the commodity value that my recreational interest places on that animal that allows it to be managed and conserved into perpetuity. It’s really no different than my recreational interest in football. Watching somebody throw a ball up and down the field translates into the $100 million that some of these players make. Put that $100 million, put that interest onto wildlife, and they benefit the same way. Am I right?
Bill Brewster: Sure. Absolutely. You’ve mentioned Africa two or three times. In the very remote areas, there are no jobs. People are on a subsistence type setting. They’ll plant a few rows of corn, and that’s the food for some little village of forty huts. If the elephants come in and destroy it, they don’t have food. Now, to tolerate that elephant— If they are going to get to work as trackers or skinners, something in that where they have an income— In many of those areas, if they have $500 or $600 a year as an income, they’re doing well. Well, the trackers and skinners do quite well. Professional hunters provide schools for their kids. The animal has value in that regard. Without the animal living there, that would not occur. So you have a population of elephants. There’s an old bull. If some hunter is coming to hunt that old bull, and you’ve got twenty of your tribesmen that are going to be out there as skinners, trackers, and everything related to it, that affects your life.
Ramsey Russell: Well, the economy of those elephants coming through the community benefits their children, in schools and in water. We take water for granted. They need water out in those parts of the world. They need modern amenities. As that money starts coming through those communities, their children, their families, and other families benefit. Whereas, if there is no value on that elephant, then it’s just something tearing up their houses and their watermelon crops.
Bill Brewster: It’ll be gone. It’ll be gone. In our state, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of ranchers are very interested in leasing their land out for hunting. If they don’t have any game on their land, nobody’s going to want to lease it. So they’re going to graze it a little lighter. They’re going to take better care of the habitat on it so they can earn an extra $1,000, $2,000 a year out of the land. That just helps run a few cows on it and everything else, if you’ve got some extra income. I’d say that probably 80% of our private land in Oklahoma is either leased for hunting or hunted by the owner. There’s very little land that’s not properly managed and hunted in my state. The wildlife department helps private owners, as well, with management and the biological side.
Ramsey Russell: The state of Mississippi has a very good program like that, also. You hear them beat up left and right about this, that, and the other, but the state of Mississippi Department of Wildlife really does a very good job helping private landowners manage their resources. A lot of states I’ve been to do have services like that. But as somebody visits your state frequently, as a hunter, y’all do a very, very good job.
Bill Brewster: Well, thank you. I think our department does a great job, both on hunting and fishing. We happen to have more miles of shoreline than the East Coast in my state, so we got to talk about fishing a little bit. That also benefits the ducks. It benefits everything. It’s all in it together. If you’re benefiting one kind of wildlife—a hunting kind, for instance—you’re also benefiting butterflies and raccoons and everything else out there, as well.
Ramsey Russell: It all works together.
Bill Brewster: Habitat is dependent on all of it.
How Can the Average Guy Play a Role in Wildlife Conservation and Hunting Policy?
The average guy can get into politics. He can talk with his representatives, his senator. They want to hear from people. Not just at election time. They want to hear what your thoughts are on wildlife, on the management of wildlife, on habitat.
Ramsey Russell: I had a guy in the booth a couple of days ago, a wildlife geneticist. He’s got the scientific proof to back up the hypothesis—it scares me to death—about the wild mallard duck genetics. Then I can think of other habitats, other issues, other things that are important to me as a hunter in my home state. My question to you: from your perspective, with your knowledge, what can the average guy listening do? I know I can go to the polls and pull a lever and get one vote out of 330 million Americans at election time, but what can I really do? I can join Safari Club International; I’m a life member. Bill, what can the average guy in America do to have a meaningful impact? I want to say, in politics. How can I do this? How can I go, “Hey, I’ve got a problem down here in southwest Louisiana. I’ve got a problem with mallard genetics.” What can the average guy do in America?
Bill Brewster: Well, the average guy can get into politics. He can talk with his representatives, his senator. They want to hear from people. Not just at election time. They want to hear what your thoughts are on wildlife, on the management of wildlife, on habitat. Keep in mind, I was a rural guy, and I don’t really know how things are done in the cities. I’m sure it’s quite different. But we had meetings all over my 21 counties in southeastern Oklahoma, and I was open to the world. They could ask me any questions they would like, or give me their opinions on anything. I valued those opinions because they were the ones on the ground. They were the ones out here that owned maybe a little chunk of land, maybe a big chunk of land. They all had thoughts and ideas about how it could be better for wildlife, how it could be better for hunting, how it could be better for the future, for our children. Everyone has that opportunity. Just check out your representative, your senator, or your congressman. They all have times—they’re not just fundraising events—they’ll have a town hall meeting, etcetera, where you can talk with them. They all have staff in the district, as well. Those staff relay to the congressman the feelings of the people. That is their job.
Ramsey Russell: So if there were an issue in your backyard, if enough people call the congressman’s staff—and they’re just a phone call away—that congressman would say, “Wait a minute.”
Bill Brewster: And those staff will come look at it. If you have some kind of a water problem or whatever it may be, call the representative or senator’s office. They’ll send someone to talk with you and get your opinion and look over the issue and relay it to him. That’s the way the system works.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the way the system works.
Bill Brewster: Everybody’s opinion counts, so don’t be bashful. Just contact the people, tell them the importance of what you’re talking about, and get their staff involved in helping.
Ramsey Russell: Bill, thank you very much for your time. I know it’s very important, and I know you’ve got a lot to see and do here at this convention. I greatly appreciate you getting up early this morning and meeting with us.
Bill Brewster: Well, Ramsey, I always enjoy talking about working with wildlife. That’s pretty much been my life for a lot of years now. We enjoy it.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you. Guys, Ramsey Russell, Get Ducks. It’s Duck Season Somewhere. You’ve been listening to a fireside chat, a nice conversation, with Mr. Bill Brewster from Oklahoma. Thank y’all for listening.