Ramsey connects with friend-client Jon Esposito for a few days duck hunting in the “Constitutional State” of Connecticut, learning that in some ways it’s anything but. What’s easier to get in Pakistan than in Connecticut? How and what do they duck hunt in second-smallest US state? Connecticut duck hunters are a whole ‘nuther level of seriously committed as this conversation explains.
An Introduction to Connecticut Duck Hunting
I just wanted a black duck because to me, this New England area, y’all got the market cornered on black duck.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere I’m sitting here looking at Clinton Harbor. I am in Connecticut duck hunting today. I duck hunted here yesterday. What an incredible place kind of puts you on a map for those of y’all from the deep South or somewhere else that aren’t familiar with this part of the world is the southernmost state in New England. Humanity has been coming here since the 1600s. I think they became a state right after the revolutionary war and it’s crazy. It’s like the highest density of humanity in the United States of America. It’s 34th largest state, wealthiest median household income. Talk about white privilege baby. Multi-million-dollar homes, that includes everybody, including us broke duck hunters, but an incredible place and it’s very different, it’s New England. They don’t have lots and lots of ducks like other parts of the world do, but they got a lot of black ducks. And they got a lot of culture, and they got a lot of tradition, and you start going around some of these hunters here and you see homemade decoys, hand carved decoys. Black ducks, old squaws, things of that nature. My buddy Jon Esposito, generous enough to have me up here and give me a couple of days introduction to Connecticut, scratched it off my list. Jon what a great hunt we had today. That was a fat lady singing, last minute kind of pulled the hunt out of the shitter hunt, wasn’t it?
Jon Esposito: Every bit of it. I was praying the whole way and the way it ended up, it couldn’t have been any better how that bird worked into the decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, talk about the day a little bit because we drove almost like 45 minutes or an hour, and at all times we were driving, it was just driving through kind of like country roads, because not a lot of streetlights but big houses all around us. And everywhere I’ve hunted with you, we’re within eyesight of mass humanity. Big houses, lots of traffic. Today at a railroad Amtrak coming through on the left and right, just humanity everywhere. And we kind of stopped, we walked 100 yards down this blacktop road, follow this damn trail by a big old Beech tree. Go downhill a little bit. Walk 50 yards here, just a little stony bubbling brook, little swimming pool sized, I’d say, a little bit longer than swimming pool with an Olympic sized little hole right there. And you went off and got in position and after we threw a few decoys through. I think two mallards, two black ducks, and put a Flashback decoy out. There wasn’t any wind and I was sitting there talking to Sam, the young host we had with us today hunting with us. We’ll talk about him in a minute. And I’m like, well, what did you see out here yesterday? Scouting report goes about four mallards and two black ducks. I said, really? He said, yeah. So, I mean, I’m sitting there thinking we drove nearly an hour to set up on six ducks. And there for a while, I didn’t think it was going to happen, I’ll be honest with you. Them four mallards landed far and got out of the hole without getting killed. I’m thinking, well, 8:00, I guess that’s it. And it was that I had cased my gun unloaded my shells. Sam had signed the travel decoy. And I’m thinking, well —
Jon Esposito: And my head was bowed down.
Ramsey Russell: And we were even saying, well, maybe I only wanted one duck, there’s six in this hole from scouting report yesterday, and I just wanted one, a black duck from Connecticut. And I’m like, well maybe I’ll get lucky and get one in Delaware or somewhere else this year. And about that time, over the far end of the pond, I saw this stuff flying like Mac mac mac mac mac. And it comes right down those trees and I can see its head crane and it’s looking. And I kind of got behind in case, and boom, boom, boom, put the ball shot shells in it real quick, and I could see it coming through the tall Beech trees and Red Oaks behind us. And I could have turned around and caught it coming over them trees, but I didn’t. I looked at the decoys and when it got out there, even with decoys, I quiet, and that son of a gun locked up. Come right in the decoys. I’m going, boom, got it. Old Char Dawg was walking on water going out to get that black duck. She was so excited to get a fetch today. But it ain’t over till it’s over.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I mean I was nervous that, I obviously wanted to be able to provide a good hunt and get the duck for you. And we had a lot of the good pot of black ducks come in, landed in a creek behind us that they haven’t normally been doing. So I was a little disappointed. But things came together at the end. I mean it was a great way to end the morning.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, a fantastic way. It’s like I told you on the phone, yeah, I like to shoot a lot of ducks. But the Atlantic Flyway mallard limit is two, black duck limit is two, best case scenario two mallards, two black ducks, but really and truly just to scratch Connecticut off my list, I wanted a duck, a black duck. I just wanted a black duck because to me, this New England area, y’all got the market cornered on black duck.
Jon Esposito: No, you saw that when we drove by these ponds how many black ducks were just sitting in there.
Ramsey Russell: 150-200 solid black ducks everywhere.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder what it is about that area, Jon, that draws the black ducks in. I guess it’s tidal influence?
Jon Esposito: It’s tidal influence. There’s a lot of Kelly’s in there, these little fish that they come in to get and there’s no pressure there. So nobody is allowed to hunt them in that particular area where there are. And once we get to freeze and that thing freezes up, then they have to look for some other holes under the train bridges and some of the other stuff. We’re very weather dependent here in New England especially when it comes to the puddle hunting. If we don’t get to freeze, there’s just so many places for them to go that it makes the game a little bit harder. I also think that’s why a lot of people have turned to see duck hunting. I’ve seen a big increase in the amount of people that are out sea duck hunting. And I think also a contributing factor is that the puddle duck population is just obviously nowhere near what it used to be back in the day. The sea ducks are out there, they’re getting a beating put on them now.
Changes in the Atlantic Flyway Duck Population
That means two-thirds of the mallards that one time were here in the Atlantic Flyway no longer exist. But the black ducks have come in and filled the void.
Ramsey Russell: The numbers of – speaking of population in the Atlantic Flyway, I do know that 20 some odd years ago, there were 1.2 million mallards in the Atlantic Flyway, largely stemming from introduced birds because these mallards didn’t exist in the Atlantic Flyway 150 years ago. And now, most recent count numbers I’m familiar with is about 400,000. That means two-thirds of the mallards that one time were here in the Atlantic Flyway no longer exist. But the black ducks have come in and filled the void. I mean to me, mallards is just something you shoot, black ducks, wow, that’s worth the drive up here. That’s worth —
Jon Esposito: That’s new in Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: That’s why I come forward with black ducks. That was a pure-bred black duck there, that was no doubt. Him though, it may have been that was a black duck, there was no hint of mallard in that particular bird we shot this morning.
Jon Esposito: And earlier in the morning when we had those 14 go over into that creek, those were what we call the red leggers and are larger than our domestic black ducks, and they have the bright orange feet, and we believe they come down from Canada.
Ramsey Russell: So you believe y’all have some local bird black ducks that live here year round?
Jon Esposito: Absolute 100%.
Ramsey Russell: Do you see them in the summertime and spring and stuff.
Jon Esposito: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, so there are some resident populations of black ducks here.
Jon Esposito: Correct.
Ramsey Russell: And y’all probably catch some black ducks. There go some divers right there over the water.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Looks like blue bills. And y’all catch some birds, I guess coming out of Ontario, and probably Quebec, coming down to this part of the world. Maybe a Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland. That’s very interesting. Well, let’s talk about this. What are your origins? You and I’ve got a mutual friend, we’ll talk about here in a minute, from back when, that’s what connected us. But what are your origins here in Connecticut? How does someone like yourself – you’re about my age – how did you grow up? How were you introduced to Connecticut? Because it may be a one time a very historical waterfowling area, but it ain’t no more. I mean, these houses I’ve seen, I’m just guessing most of them don’t like hunting. Most of them don’t like guns. Most of them voted for somebody differently than I did last election. That’s just my guess.
Jon Esposito: You’re right.
It All Started with a Lab
It’s supposed to hunt. So I said, let me try it out.
Ramsey Russell: So how did you come into duck hunting?
Jon Esposito: I mean, ironically, I got a Labrador when I was out of college and I said, what’s the dog supposed to do? It’s supposed to hunt. So I said, let me try it out. And then I got in later, my dad did some goose hunting when I was a kid, and went to Maryland but never really did any local hunting, and every time he came home, when I saw the geese and he would put them in the refrigerator or whatever, they were – I was just mesmerized by them and I just always was attracted to it. I’ve been doing the shooting BB guns and stuff since I’ve been a little kid, and then in my twenties I got the Lab and then I started the journey and that’s really where it started.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you, and tell me some of your first hunting experience is kind of how you started.
Jon Esposito: I was in my young twenties, I had a $19 LO Bean raincoat, I couldn’t afford decoys, I didn’t have anything. I would go into a swamp, I would wait for the ducks to come and try to run underneath them to shoot them. That’s how my career started.
Ramsey Russell: Pat shooting?
Jon Esposito: Pat shooting.
Ramsey Russell: That sounds like some rough shooting right there Jon. Do you remember your first ducks?
Jon Esposito: The first duck I shot, ironically, was a black duck.
Ramsey Russell: And what do you think when you pick that bird up, did your dog go and fetch it?
Jon Esposito: The dog went to go fetch it, and then it got to it and started barking at the duck, and it wouldn’t pick it up. And so I was training the dog myself, so I was like oh this is great! So I took it home and put it in the freezer and we ended up playing with it. And then ironically, when I shot a mallard, she did the same thing and I went through this with her, and she wasn’t forced to fetch, obviously. I did it all myself. She was a great dog, but it was a journey. I was into it. I was driving up to Vermont on the weekends to train her with pheasants because we can’t hunt here on Sundays. At that time in my life I was really able to dedicate almost all my time to her, and to the hunting, that should have been working a little bit more. But that’s a different story.
Ramsey Russell: You told me about a couple of men that influenced you and were your mentors of sort, I met one of this morning. When did they come into the scene? And who were they? And how did that all come together?
Boston Harbor Sea Duck Hunting with Captain Adam Smith
He’s just a pure sea duck guy.
Jon Esposito: A friend of mine who happens to be my dentist, had a trip to go up to Boston to hunt with Captain Adam Smith and they had a cancelation so he asked me if I wanted to go. And I said, yeah of course I’d like to go. So that was my first time where I met Captain Adam. I think it was the first year that he had opened up his business.
Ramsey Russell: Boston Harbor.
Jon Esposito: In Boston Harbor.
Ramsey Russell: Which is not too terribly far from here.
Jon Esposito: No, about an hour and 45 minutes from my house. So I went up there, and Danny who you met today, happened to be on the trip, and I had a great time. I was just mesmerized. I remember going up there for my first time to Boston and it was nothing to see 20,000 to 30,000 birds.
Ramsey Russell: And Danny was there hunting with Captain Adam?
Jon Esposito: Yep. Danny was there hunting with Captain Adam. I think Danny was like Captain Adam’s second or third client that he had ever taken out.
Ramsey Russell: And they became real good friends.
Jon Esposito: They became very good friends and Danny took me underneath his wing. And from that trip that we went on, we’ve been stuck at the hip since, glue for the last —
Jon Esposito: Yep eiders and scooters.
Ramsey Russell: That’s mostly what he did?
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Is it?
Jon Esposito: Yeah. He’s just a pure sea duck guy. We would do some puddle duck hunting like in the afternoon sometimes in the marshes and stuff. But his main go to thing was the sea ducks. And then Adam started to taking a liking to me and Danny. So we kept going up to see Adam all the time. And it just grew into a good relationship. A lot of what I learned, I learned from Adam from going up there and obviously doing a lot of hunting myself. God kept me safe. I had a very small boat, 14 ft long and I was out duck hunting in places that I absolutely had no —
Ramsey Russell: Like Boston Harbor?
Jon Esposito: I’m talking to Atlantic Ocean.
Ramsey Russell: Oh my God.
Jon Esposito: I was doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing.
Ramsey Russell: God has a soft spot for fools and drunks, I heard. I was one of the fools in the 14-15-foot jon boat on the Mississippi River, and only because of God’s grace am I still here to talk about it.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, me too, absolutely. So that happened and then as my relationship grew with Adam, and he became busier, all of a sudden, the phone rang and he’s like, can you come up and help me? And I was like, obviously. When he said that I was so honored because obviously being my mentor and good friend and everything like that. So I would go up when he would overbook and take out some of his clients, and go up there for maybe 10 days during January every year. And that was really great for me. I got to spend some time with him, get yelled at a little bit from Captain Adam. I remember one of the guys telling me one day he’s like, how could you let this guy yell at you like that? And I said, I asked him, I turned around, I said if your father was yelling at you, I said, would you be respectful? And he said yes. I said, well there you go. I said it’s the respect that I have for him. That’s why I don’t talk back.
Ramsey Russell: That’s who Captain Adam was. It takes a special character to be a Boston Harbor sea duck guide. It takes a special character to get out in that stuff and Captain Adam was that guy.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, he was.
Ramsey Russell: When I met him, he had to have been late 60s, early 70s. We booked his hunt for a long time. I always looked at new England as a part of the Get Ducks line up. I always looked at Captain Adam’s Hunt as kind of a precursor, kind of like a gateway drug, because there’s a guy down in Texas, there’s a guy in Oklahoma, a guy in Mississippi, and they can go to this part of the world and see a duck hunt and all of a sudden get their hands on a lot of birds. Scooters, three scooters, old squaws, black duck, a brant, an eider that they can’t get back home. And what that does to the average guy, once you get outside of your backyard and start putting your hands on some of these properties from elsewhere, and —
Jon Esposito: It want to makes you want to go.
Ramsey Russell: It opens up your mind that, oh, there’s a whole world full of stuff like this I can go chase. My wife and I had such a relationship with Captain Adam. And I never went sea duck hunting with him. I had enough clients feedback. I knew him well enough. We weren’t very close, we talked on the phone for hours at a time, and my wife wanted to go on like a three- or four-day vacation long weekend vacation with the kids when they were young. I said well where we going to go? She goes, well it’s funny you should ask, I’ve talked to Captain Adam. This was like June or July said we’re going to Boston and he’s going to be our tour guide, no shit. They go, yeah, boy you want to talk about a tour guide? That man went to new places way off the tour guide play. I mean it’s like we went to the to the wharf, the downtown Boston where all the boats are coming in, and all the seafood being traded. We walked in and out of those warehouses full of 5-pound, 10-pound lobsters, and crabs, and this. He knew everybody from the parking lot through all the processing facility, and walked us through just like he like he lived back there. Then we went to a little hole in the wall restaurant that only Captain Adam would know about. And there was a no, I’m not trying to be politically incorrect, but there was a Pollock library that he told me about. That’s what he called it, in downtown Boston. And he said it was where way back when in the 1700-1800s, Polish immigrants started to teach them English literacy.
Jon Esposito: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: He said, well they didn’t give a crap about English literacy but they like to drink. And so now it’s like this little underground bar and he’s like the only non-pay was the only non-polish person allowed in the “library.” And it was like this little, if you didn’t know what it was.
Jon Esposito: I have never been.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve never gotten in, walked right past a million times. But that’s where he would take guests to have a cocktail, or drink, and socialize, and then what an amazing – and he had a colorful past. He got to tell about some of his past relationships, going off and long lining in international waters, different swordfish and stuff. And I mean, they made movies about some of the notorious characters he associated with back in the day.
Jon Esposito: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: But what a character, man. And that’s kind of how you and I got to know each other. Ain’t that something?
Jon Esposito: Yeah, I mean it was like all my hunting. I showed you my collection that I have at home between the deer, the ducks, it’s not gigantic, but it’s a good size. That’s all local. And it took me, I think, until last year, until I reached out to you and Anita with like four weeks left, and I didn’t even have a passport. I said, I want to go to open round and I did it. And now my eyes are opened up and I’m looking forward to doing a lot.
Ramsey Russell: We had a good time in the blind and in Mexico, that’s where I really knew who you were. But then we get to go and hunt together because you remember years ago, I had some special clients that needed to hunt four states to have hunted all of them. They love to bird hunt. And they needed Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York. And they came up here and hunted them all four states in four days, and Captain Adam actually reached out to you, his associate, you took them to a pond we hunted yesterday.
Jon Esposito: That’s right, yeah. We took them out for some skaters and some eiders out on Fisher’s Island – that we didn’t get the chance to go out.
Ramsey Russell: We’ll do that next time.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Yesterday the game plan was kind of like go out and do some sea ducks while I’m here in Connecticut. But we hunted yesterday, and we drove in and saw a bunch of ducks, and a bunch of black duck come out with one mallard. It’s kind of like falling in the barrel of boobs and coming out sucking your thumb.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And I said, Jon, it’s all the same to you, I’d kind of like a crack at a black duck instead of sea ducks. So we regrouped and went out today to this little area here and got the black duck, didn’t we?
Jon Esposito: I mean I have to say, watching how that duck worked and watch out the fact that your gun was in the bag, and how you made the call, turned him, grabbed the gun out of the bag, loaded it up, called again to turn it. It was just picture perfect. I mean I would almost take that over six sea ducks.
Ramsey Russell: These New England girls like that sweet Southern call, don’t they?
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: She was going off towards the marsh several hundred yards away when I first called to her and I lost sight, and then I saw her coming, and she bought me — I could see her craning her neck to look at the decoy, see what called to her. Got behind us, I called again, and I’m freaking shucking my shells in. I didn’t have time to step into cover. I’m just leaned up against that rock and when she come overhead, quacked to her, and she just hooked right towards the decoy, right in the kill hole.
Jon Esposito: Handled so well.
Ramsey Russell: And I don’t know who was more excited me, you, Char or Sam when that black duck hit the water because we didn’t think —
Jon Esposito: We were packing it in, we were done, we were going to pick the decoys up that I set up, I’m sorry. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere.
Ramsey Russell: And that was a public land spot. That’s one thing to point out that was not private, that was public. Sam got up this morning and was there an hour and a half for shooting time. Parked on the road by the trail just to make sure nobody else beat us to the spot.
Jon Esposito: We’ve been hunting – Danny who introduced me and was my mentor for hunting – he’s been hunting that spot with his dad for probably over 50 years.
Ramsey Russell: 50 years?
Jon Esposito: 50 years, more than that.
Pond & Marsh: An Introduction to Hunting
Ramsey Russell: And you showed me a black duck on in your basement the other day. A big old black duck that you had shot right there in that same pond years ago. You told me the other day, two men, Danny Pond and somebody marsh. And I remember that because pond and marsh —
Jon Esposito: Bob Marsh.
Ramsey Russell: Bob Marsh. Where’d you meet Pond – and Marsh introduced you to – what was Marsh’s role?
Jon Esposito: He was an older guy. He was a scientist and that actually developed the toilet for the space shuttle.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Jon Esposito: Yeah. Very, very, very smart guy. And we’d be out hunting and I’d be talking to him and he would be explaining to me, I’m like, oh the mud smells. And he’s like, well, let me explain to you why. It’s a decomposing and doing this. And he was older, he’s probably in his mid-80s now. And we went on a lot of trips together. He was really close with Dan. And we went to Canada, we went down to hunt with a guy down in Virginia named Grayson Chesson which was —
Ramsey Russell: A decoy carver.
Jon Esposito: And he actually had a decoy carving class that you like.
Ramsey Russell: He had a book. I used his book.
Jon Esposito: You did, huh?
Ramsey Russell: I did, it’s a great book.
Jon Esposito: And also, we went down, we hunted with him and, so I just thought it was so ironic that the two guys that got me into the duck hunting, their last names were a Pond and Marsh. It was just like, maybe it was just meant to be.
Ramsey Russell: You can make it up.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Is Bob still around?
Jon Esposito: Yeah, Bob is still around. He actually introduced him to Roger who carved my decoys, the cork old squads that I have at home that I showed you that were all handmade, no tools. He hooked up with Roger because Roger is in his late 70s too. And they’d go out and hunt together because they’re kind of at the same pace. And he’s still hunting in his mid-eighties.
The Tradition of Hunting Over Cork Decoys
Now, you can get an incredible realism from the plastic, but there’s something nostalgic to me and about hunting over the cork.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. Talk about the decoys a little bit. I know you use a few plastics. I saw some you use a few plastics, but a lot of the decoys we’ve hunted over were handcrafted. And you showed me a decoy the other day that was fully flocked. You’ve been hunting over for a decade and a half and it looked brand new. What is it about those homemade decoys? Why did they appeal to you? Why do you use them instead of just go buy some out of a catalog? What’s the tradition, the culture if you always hunted with them for the last 30 years?
Jon Esposito: When I first started hunting, I didn’t even know that you use decoys. So that’s until I met Danny. And I think when Danny really turned me onto them was when I started hunting with his dad. We’d go out broad bill hunting 25 years ago in a Brockway wooden boat, with his dad’s sculling with an oar in three-foot waves to get us out there. His father was a lobsterman so he knew the water really well. And that’s all they used was cork decoys. Everything was cork, everything was made with what you could make at home because they didn’t have a lot of money, they weren’t going and spending $200 on a set of decoys. Danny, when he was younger, his dad would go out lobstering, and he would drop him off on a rock with a box of shells, and Danny would be there shooting ducks for dinner. That was his job. So I think that’s what started it and then it seems there’s more tradition behind the cork, with the performance of the flocked plastic and all that stuff. Now, you can get an incredible realism from the plastic, but there’s something nostalgic to me and about hunting over the cork.
Ramsey Russell: I hunt over all kinds of decoys and I love a lot of the modern decoys, I really do. They’re cheap, they’re quick, they’re efficient, but I like hunting over “real decoys” and which brings me to a point. A lot of your spreads, at least two spreads we hunted over, range from micro-small to small. Yesterday, to include the Flashback decoy I brought, there were 11 decoys. A few black ducks, a few mallards scattered about. Today four decoys plus the Flashback. Are all your decoy spreads pretty small like that?
Jon Esposito: It really depends. When we’re hunting small volumes of birds and they’re not really used to seeing 30 or 40 birds wrapped up in that pond. So we’re really trying to mimic what they’re seeing on a daily basis. And as you see here, you don’t go by one place, except that one pond that held all those black ducks there, that had any severe numbers in it until things start to freeze and they have to congregate down in certain sections. I do put out when we go out sea duck hunting, we’ll use, obviously we use a lot more decoys. When we’re broad bill hunting with Danny’s dad, we would put out 130 decoys. Not on long lines, on bricks. Danny’s dad would go get bricks and go put them out on the islands, and they would tumble in the water to make the edges smooth, and they would go back and pick them up five years later. I’ll show them to you. I have them all.
Ramsey Russell: God.
Jon Esposito: And that’s what we use for weights. We didn’t use lead. We use bricks and we would set 120 decoys. And what I’m telling you we could set —
Ramsey Russell: You needed that weight to keep it from drifting. I mean you need a big old weight in that kind of water, I’m guessing.
Jon Esposito: Yeah. And that’s how we did it. And we didn’t use long lines. We used one long line his dad used, off the back of the spread and then everything was plopped down individually. And we had a system where, I mean, we could literally pick up those 120 decoys with three of us in probably 30 minutes.
Ramsey Russell: Was Danny’s dad the lobster man?
Jon Esposito: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that story you told me. It was very interesting how he would — because that’s a big part of this New England thing is the fishing, but talk about his commercial fishing activities and how he would just drop his son off on different islands and come pick him back up later.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, I mean this was before I met Danny obviously. When he was younger, his dad worked out of Stony Creek, that’s where they grew up, I would say maybe a mile from where we had that shoot today. So, I mean, when Danny would go to school they would bring his gun and hide it in the woods, and then we’d get off the bus, and then he would jump shoot ducks and walk all the way home through all the marshes. And then when his dad would go out lobstering, and he would send Danny out and put him on a low tide rock, or whatever it is, with a few decoys while he was going up to pick the pots up. Danny would sit there and shoot as many ducks as he could. And that’s what they basically lived off of to eat.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they were hunting to eat.
Jon Esposito: Subsistence hunting. And I almost think that’s why Danny doesn’t eat a lot of duck today because he was like, it was all they had to eat.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. I did talk to somebody Ian McNair down in Virginia. He’s also a decoy carver and he knew I was up here in Connecticut and sent me an inbox the other day that said his grandfather moved to Connecticut. So I’m saying this, I’m guessing it’ll be back in the sixties or seventies. Moved to Connecticut because he needed to be and wanted to be as close to New York City, I’m assuming, as he could be, but he still want a good duck hunting. So he moved to this part of Connecticut because it’s close, he could get to New York City, still have decent duck hunting. That’s interesting.
Jon Esposito: Believe it or not, as you get closer to Manhattan, in Norwalk, for instance, which is, it’s no more than 30 miles from New York and from the city, there’s incredible duck hunting out there. And, for old squaw, you’ll get an occasional scooter that will come through City Island, New York, which you’re going up really into the city, and you’re basically looking at the Throgs Neck Bridge while you’re hunting, and the Empire State building.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, I’ve got to do that. That’s got to be on my bucket list. I keep saying I keep wanting to go to Long Island Sound that right, Long Island for long.
Jon Esposito: This is Long Island Sound, right out of this bay right here.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. But I keep wanting to hunt that, I’ve heard so much about it, so fabled back in the annals of history, but I’ll tell you what, I got to add seeing the Statue of Liberty while I’m duck hunting to my bucket list, that just sounds like something I need to do. How can it be Duck Season Somewhere unless it’s Duck Season everywhere and I ain’t seen that yet.
Jon Esposito: No, me neither.
Ramsey Russell: We need to do that Jon. You put that trip together, let’s go shoot a black duck looking at the Statue of Liberty.
Jon Esposito: I’ll do that. We can put that together for next year.
Ramsey Russell: I’m definitely in.
Jon Esposito: The other thing that I would have to say too, I think really one of the more staple gunning birds down here in New England used to be the broad bill, I mean the broad bill, they used to have a bonus season in February where we could go out after the season was over and that really was really what the old timers were out to gun with the huge spreads and the birds have, I mean, I can remember when I first met Danny, we would be out putting the broad bell decoys out dropping them in. The broad bill would be landing into the motor, splash, as we were dropping the decoys, and they would just be in waves flying all over the place and Danny would get this orange flag – and I could not ever understand this orange flag – and it would suck these birds in like I couldn’t believe.
Ramsey Russell: By broad bill you mean greater scaup?
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Wow!
Jon Esposito: I think that really was the —
Ramsey Russell: What was the limit back then, Jon?
Jon Esposito: You could shoot, I think 6, 7.
Ramsey Russell: And now with upwards of 4.5 million scaup in North America, the limit’s one. I really need to get somebody that can tell me why that is.
Archaic Adaptive Harvest Management?
Jon Esposito: Yeah, I haven’t really been able to figure everything out. I mean, I know that you mentioned to me sometimes that they’re basing our harvests of what we’re taking here in the Atlantic Flyway off of the harvest that they’re taking in the other two flyways. So I don’t know if that was correct.
Ramsey Russell: I really don’t know exactly how that works. I do know that we’re supposedly operating under adaptive harvest management and that mallard numbers are very indicative of what the trend is, in terms of the seasons and the bag limits. But I really don’t know how through a bunch of hocus pocus mathematical conflagrations, they look at the continental population of mallards and the harvest, and assign it to pintail, scaup, canvasback, green wings, ring neck. I don’t know how that works. It sounds like a little bit of wild ass guess to me, but I don’t know.
Jon Esposito: It seems to me and I think we can both agree that the model that they’re using is a little archaic and we would think that with today’s technology that they would might be able to come up with a more scientific-based model than they were able to do 30 or 40 years ago.
Ramsey Russell: But I’m not condemning how they do it. I just don’t understand it and I want to understand it. I do know that adaptive harvest management formulate limits on mallard population, mallard harvest, translate into a myriad of species, and even if it’s the best thing since sliced bread Jon, it’s a 20 something year old program. If it were a Chevrolet truck, I could put an antique tag on it. And I just need to get somebody on here to talk about adaptive harvest management. I don’t know enough about it and I’m just being dangerous thinking out loud about it. But now that it started snowing right here, what would this have done for duck hunting this morning? We got snow coming down and I guarantee it ain’t snowing in Mississippi. If it was snowing like this in Mississippi, Jon, you would not be able to find a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk anywhere in town. All the sandwich meat you want. But loaf of bread and milk are gone from the shelves. What would that have done for our duck hunt this morning?
Jon Esposito: It would have helped, definitely. I mean we still need a little bit more of the colder weather, I think, to freeze some of these smaller ponds up. But we definitely get some better shooting definitely in the snow.
Ramsey Russell: Man, you see a snow like this in the deep South and school shuts down. I’m telling you this ain’t nothing to y’all, is it?
Jon Esposito: No, we get a lot of snow. We’ve gotten 40″-45″ in one storm before.
Ramsey Russell: My goodness. Do you want a snow shovel?
Jon Esposito: I have a snow blower with tracks on it.
Ramsey Russell: I got a rule in life. And it’s like, as much as I want to live out west or up north or somewhere, my rule is if I need to own a snow shovel, I’m out.
Jon Esposito: I agree with you on that. I always was willing to freeze to shoot the ducks and I thought I had to freeze to shoot the ducks until I went to Obregon. Then I realized I’m sitting in a T-shirt looking at more species and more birds than I’ve ever seen in my life.
Ramsey Russell: Colored up all beautifully and all that good stuff you get in the sun. I tell folks from this far north Jon, when you go to Mexico, number one thing you need to pack is sunscreen.
Jon Esposito: To duck hunt, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: To duck hunt. But back to Connecticut duck hunting Jon, we went duck hunting yesterday. We went out to one of your private — tell me about this lake. We hunted yesterday out there in your spot.
The Best Connecticut Hunting Spot
Like these birds look like they go to Yale summer school, so they’re not that easy to harvest.
Jon Esposito: It’s in the town that I grew up in. A friend of my dad owns it. It’s like maybe 250 acres that he has. And it’s just private. It used to be a farm field way back in the day and —
Ramsey Russell: Used to be a pasture.
Jon Esposito: Used to be a pasture and above it there’s a drinking reservoir that they use for drinking water. As you noticed the water is really clear there. I don’t know if you noticed when we were driving out.
Ramsey Russell: I did. It must be spring fed.
Jon Esposito: And so they drain that reservoir down in the winter time to get rid of the algae and so that there’s constant flow of water that’s coming through there. And it’s dammed up on the other side, like more towards where the city is a little bit farther down, so it holds the water. And I would say, not this year or last year, but 5,6,7 years ago, I think it was one of the largest wood duck breeding swamps maybe even in the state of Connecticut.
Ramsey Russell: You’re kidding. I saw the wood duck boxes y’all put up and it looked like great habitat the way that creek went up through that branch, little branch went up through the timber and the trees, and I could just see wood ducks loaded.
Jon Esposito: It’s loaded with Oak trees. So that’s all acorns that’s all up on the sides of those banks going up there, and that’s really what they’re in there for, you to know.
Ramsey Russell: But you know going out across the body of water to where we hunted, I’d say that that body of water was 60 acres, maybe. That’s high cliffs up on one side the highway on the other. But if we’re going through there, I never saw the water get deeper than what appeared to be knee deep, waist deep, loaded with lily pads and a lot of Sago palm weed, a lot of aquatic emergent vegetation. There were some swans on it, divers. I mean it was, it was really a beautiful piece of property.
Jon Esposito: I have to say that of all the places I’ve freshwater hunted, the variety of species that I’ve harvested there from black ducks to wigeon. I shot at the Eurasian teal there.
Ramsey Russell: Tell that story because that was very interesting.
Jon Esposito: There’s a hot water spring on the pond. And so when it gets real cold, if we get lucky enough, the whole pond will freeze but the spring. So we have a little blind sitting out in front of it, and I’m sitting there with my dog waiting, obviously hoping to get some birds to come in. And I see a flash out of the corner of my eye, and a Peregrine falcon took down this teal. And when I saw him coming in, I turned my head, and the falcon flared, and the teal skidded across the ice into my decoy spread, and I shot it. I didn’t have the dog with me then, I was in between dogs. So I called Matt, my buddy Matt, he came down with his dog and went and picked it up. And sure enough it was a Eurasian teal. It was probably one of the most amazing experiences I think I’ve had duck hunting, watching that happen. Another time we’ve had a big marsh hawk come down and grab one of the plastic decoys and tried to fly off with it. You could hear his nails scratching on it and he was just like so confused. But other than that, I would have to say that was really quite an experience I would have to say. And the pond offers a great variety. It holds a tremendous amount of Canada geese which are very smart. Like these birds look like they go to Yale summer school, so they’re not that easy to harvest. But if you get the right conditions and right weather, it’s definitely doable.
Ramsey Russell: And there was a pair of swans out there yesterday. What kind of swans might those have been?
Jon Esposito: But those are mute.
Ramsey Russell: Mute swans?
Jon Esposito: Yeah. And I’ve seen up to 18 of them there at the lake before.
Ramsey Russell: Can you hunt those swans here?
Jon Esposito: No, what’s interesting is that if you shoot —
Ramsey Russell: Because they’re not indigenous and mute swans are extremely aggressive.
Jon Esposito: Yes, I mean I’ve had them go after the dog before, almost tried to drown my dog.
Ramsey Russell: They’ll run geese off, they’ll kill other waterfowl. I mean there are instances that those birds will come into a body of water and the geese that were there just leave because they can’t coexist with those mute swans, but they’re protected here in Connecticut.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, what’s interesting is that if you shoot a mute swan in Connecticut, the Federal game warden can’t give you a ticket. It’s only the State game warden that can give you the ticket because the bird lovers in Connecticut designated it a protected species because they thought it was such a beautiful bird. So you can’t hunt it.
Ramsey Russell: Not indigenous.
Jon Esposito: Not indigenous. It’s wreaking havoc on the regular ducks and geese, and ravaging all their food, but because it’s a pretty bird, they don’t want anybody to shoot it.
How is Hunting Viewed in Connecticut?
So the state ordinance is what stands, not the town ordinance.
Ramsey Russell: Wow coincidentally, a lot of the early inhabitants of New England are Dutch where goose hunting and swan hunting – very similar story, just an interesting parallel there. What a small world we live in. But you bring up a good point because a lot of folks I’m looking at around here probably don’t agree with hunting, or guns, or who I voted for. It’s the part of the world we live in. How long have you been hunting that private lake you said?
Jon Esposito: 26 years.
Ramsey Russell: 26 years you’ve been hunting in your hometown on this body of water, and we get to the blind, and the first thing you do is call the local police, introduce yourself and say I’m hunting here at this particular pond. Now, why would you do that?
Jon Esposito: As you notice there’s a lot of houses around there. So every time the gun goes off that they keep calling the police. And I think that they think that if they keep calling them and bothering them that eventually they’ll tell me that I can’t hunt there.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the same people calling the police?
Jon Esposito: Every time, every day.
Ramsey Russell: Because they know you’re hunting and they disagree with it?
Jon Esposito: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: You were telling me this story one time about a game warden who almost arrested a policeman who had threatened to cuff you because you were lawfully hunting.
Jon Esposito: In my particular town, the state law from the DEP is you need 500 ft to discharge a firearm from an occupied building.
Ramsey Russell: That makes sense.
Jon Esposito: Yeah and 250 in a title zone. So what my town did is, they did not like the hunting, so they passed their own law and put it on their town books, and they said that you need 1200 yards to shoot without being in that range of an occupied building – which hardly anybody in the town has that much land. So they kind of got rid of all the hunting. And so I was out there one day when I first started hunting, and I had to park up on the main road, and the police officer pulled up behind my car and gets on the loud speaker and calling my name out, so that everybody knows who my name is. And he asked me to come back to the vehicle, and he set up, and I called the police department. I said, listen – I gave him my phone number and he called me. He said, you can’t be shooting, you’re too close to the houses, I told him it’s 500 feet and I was like a 1500 feet from the houses. So when I came back to the parking lot, he was basically threatening to arrest me for hunting too close to the houses.
Ramsey Russell: Breaking the town ordinance.
Jon Esposito: Breaking the town ordinance.
Ramsey Russell: Not the state ordinance.
Jon Esposito: Not the state ordinance.
Ramsey Russell: Which has precedence? Which is the official law?
Jon Esposito: It’s the state ordinance.
Ramsey Russell: So the state ordinance is what stands, not the town ordinance.
Jon Esposito: Yeah. So I called the game warden, and the game warden came down and he basically told the officer, he said, if you arrest him and put him in handcuffs, he said, I’m going to put you in handcuffs. Because he says you can’t supersede our rule of the 500 ft, it does not hold if you want to do that. There are some counties up in Fairfield County, where it gets a little bit more congested and wealthier, where they went to the Supreme Court or they went through the proper channels to get – you can’t use firearms up there and they got them banned. But they went through the right channel to do it, where Woodbridge just said we’re just going to put this law on the books and not pay attention to it. So there’s been some incidences actually where the assistant police chief in the town was poaching deer. This is a very interesting story.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s hear it.
Jon Esposito: They shot a deer, him and his friend, they were poaching it. They went back the next day separately and his friends saw the deer so he picked up the gun and shot. But what he didn’t realize is that his friend was dragging the deer over the stone wall and he shot and killed the assistant police chief.
Ramsey Russell: Oh my gosh!
Jon Esposito: So they tried to charge this guy with the 1500-foot rule in addition to manslaughter and all these other things. And that’s really – when that case came out – they’ve really put that law on the side and they haven’t brought that up with me or anybody I don’t think since. They haven’t taken it off the books though, which I find interesting. It’s still on the law.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s so interesting to me, it’s a paradox. Connecticut was inhabited during the Revolutionary War and it goes way on back to merry old New England, was it original colony?
Jon Esposito: It was.
Ramsey Russell: Back in those days were and it calls itself the constitutional state. But all the firearm manufacturers used to be here have now left.
Jon Esposito: Yep, they chased them all away.
Ramsey Russell: All these folks are calling police because somebody’s making a loud noise, trying to shoot my pretty duck. So let’s protect that. And non-indigenous mute swan don’t belong around here but it’s a constitutional state. It’s almost like a white privilege elitism hypocrisy is what I kind of get the sense of.
Jon Esposito: Listen, there’s no question. I mean, even in some of these towns, I’m not going to be too specific, but, you’ll go through these towns where the houses are $2-$3 million. Everybody has the Black Lives Matter signs up on their lawn and then two attorneys petitioned to put low income housing into the town and everybody went berserk.
Ramsey Russell: Berserk must be a Connecticut word.
Jon Esposito: They went crazy over it. And so it’s like they’re singing two different things, and they’ve priced everybody out of the area, they’ve made it so expensive that it really has become white privilege.
Ramsey Russell: I see that around the country, I’m from the deep South and we’re often stigmatized, but it’s not the truth. It’s not reality. It’s a perverted media reality of where I’m from because we all coexist. We go to school, we go to church, we go shopping, we go to restaurants, we eat shoulder to shoulder, we get along because we’re neighbors.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: But as I travel around the United States, I get into some of these hubs – and I am not painting with a wide brush. But I get into some of these zip codes around the country that have built these financial barriers to where regular folks like me can’t live there, and they do all this virtue signaling of BLM or whatever the cause of the day, the flavor of the day is, and will sit there in their multi-million dollar homes that exclude everything but their way of thinking. I just see that up in this neck of the woods.
Jon Esposito: No, it’s big. It’s absolutely, I mean, for instance, my dad’s neighbor, I used to do a lot of deer hunting. I’d be coming home on the Cabo to with the deer hanging off the tractor and she would chase me into my driveway screaming at me that you can’t be doing this in the neighborhood, you’re murdering animals. She puts in $75,000 worth of landscaping and the deer come and eat everything.
Ramsey Russell: Damn!
Jon Esposito: No listen, she knocks on my door and she says, hey, can you come over here and shoot some of the deer at my house now. So now all of a sudden when it started to affect her —
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Jon Esposito: Now, all of a sudden, it’s okay and now I can come over and it’s okay for me to shoot the deer.
Residential Whitetail Hunting
But these big whitetails just coexist and live right here. All you got to do is get permission because they’re eating somebody’s roses.
Ramsey Russell: People are people. And I don’t want to be judgmental. But speaking of deer hunting, I’ve got to talk about this because we are in a very populated part of world. Black ducks, mallards, you got duck hunting, you got duck hunting tradition, cork decoys, and y’all deer hunt. I walked down in your basement the other day and you got some whopper whitetails. I know folks probably drive off the pay road into the grass to try to hit one of them deers. And I’m being facetious, but I’m saying those are some whopper whitetails shot right here in this highly urbanized environment.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, I call them residential whitetail. I’d be sitting in my tree stand, you’ll be here in a soccer game, kids screaming, the car traffic going, and you’ll just watch the deer walking through the woods, not paying any attention to it, like they’ve censored it out. And even with the sense of hunting for scent control, they’re so used to smelling the people and because they’re so used to them, I just never found it to be that effective, at least when I was hunting in between people’s tennis courts and in between these mansions that they have. But no, the deer hunting here, it’s a great state. It’s got great game, it’s got great fishing. It’s just the culture has changed a lot, over the last 30 years.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a good subject. Before we get onto that, I’m back on the deer hunting again because those big old whitetails you shot in people’s backyards while soccer games was going on was shot with a custom gun. And very quiet and all that good stuff. But these big whitetails just coexist and live right here. All you got to do is get permission because they’re eating somebody’s roses.
Jon Esposito: Yeah. Or they’re eating their bushes. Luckily for me, I’ve lived in the town long enough so I know so many people, and my dad knows a lot of people, so I have access to a lot of good properties. But I would have to say for – I’ve watched people’s frustration on some of the forums – I’ll watch where they’re trying to get permission, and they’re knocking on doors and the people just are not receptive, and they’re forced to hunt on the state land. It’s not easy to get the access to the private land unless someone’s there. There are people that are knocking on doors, but it’s not like where you were telling me you could go down and do one of these hunts down in Kansas or something, and knock on the doors and the people are excited to see it, and they’re more than happy to let you hunt waterfowl on their property.
Ramsey Russell: It’s starting to fade and become more difficult everywhere. But there still are a few places in America and up in Canada, kind of like the 1950s and it’s like in the deep South, don’t expect to knock on doors and gain access to hunting. Private property is a thing, but hunting is culturally accepted. I mean because everybody does it. I mean it’s a state pastime, at least deer hunting or something.
Jon Esposito: I mean, even how controversial it is here. I have my Facebook page for Eva, my dog, and that’s where I put all the hunting pictures on, because it’s almost like you have to be careful where you put everything because you get someone to see it, and it’s really more for my work and stuff. I’m proud of what I do, I don’t hide what I do. And I do post some pictures up, but you almost have to be a little bit — you got to be cautious a little bit too because not everybody is so accepting of it. I will say, though, that there was a lot more anti-hunting sentiment 20 years ago than there is today.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Jon Esposito: But I think there’s more anti-firearm today than there was back in the day. But I have not had the P to people approach me as I’m coming back to the car like they used to 20 years ago. And I also think the advent of Lyme disease, and how rampant the Lyme disease has run up here in New England, and how it’s really affecting the quality of people’s lives has really got them to think twice on the deer management. I think the healthy population for the whitetail is, I don’t know, 6-7 deer per square mile, and we probably have 70 deer per square mile where my father lives.
Ramsey Russell: My goodness, right here in the suburb?
Jon Esposito: Right in the suburbs.
Ramsey Russell: That’s nuts. And y’all used to have a lot of firearm companies here in Connecticut.
Jon Esposito: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: And a lot of them left.
Jon Esposito: They all left most of them. When I was a kid, I’d come home from school, grab my BB gun, jet right across the street, and I couldn’t walk 100 yards without flushing 8, 10, 12 grouse pheasants. Now we have nothing, you have to go to Pennsylvania to get the first natural pheasant that’s not released and grouse as well.
Ramsey Russell: But the ducks still migrate south and where you got access. And what I noticed is very short amount of time I’ve been here, it’s a very small state. But you’re driving 45 minutes to an hour to go hunting because it’s very spotty public land, private land. It’s just here and there across the landscape and there’s a lot more water bodies like the pond we drove by with all them black ducks that can’t be hunted. Therefore, they’re just natural refuges.
Jon Esposito: Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of natural refuges.
Why Should People Duck Hunt in Connecticut?
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the good stuff. There’s a lot of reasons I think we’ve talked about people might want to come to Connecticut to duck hunt. Not the least of which, just let me tell y’all this, y’all ought to come here to check it off your bucket list, whatever. It is a great place to hunt for black ducks. But I will say this, I told the lady at the counter yesterday morning I can get a duck hunting license in Pakistan, or anywhere I’ve ever been on Earth more easily, except maybe the Netherlands, than here in Connecticut. They do require hunter safety. But unlike every other state in America that will accept it online – just plug in your card number or send them a picture – Connecticut mandates that you present it in person, which means if you show up at night like I did, you ain’t going duck hunting the next day with a hunting license. You got to go get in line at 8:30 when they open, show it to them, they key it in, boom. Now you’re going to be hunting and you’re going to afternoon duck hunt. That cost us a morning hunt and got a little bit of inconvenience and you got to wonder is it by design? Hunter safety? Why can’t I send a picture? Why can’t I show you a picture of it? Why can’t I enter it?
Jon Esposito: If you think buying a hunting license was hard in Connecticut, Ramsey, you should try buying a gun or ammunition.
Ramsey Russell: What do you mean? I brought my own. I mean is it really a big deal buying guns and ammo?
Jon Esposito: Well, since the Sandy Hook thing happened, they passed some new legislation that in order to buy ammunition even for a shotgun for sporting clay shooting or duck hunting, you have to buy an ammunition permit. You have to go get fingerprinted. You have to pay a $100 fee, background check. Then they’ll give you the certificate that gives you the permission to go buy the ammunition.
Ramsey Russell: And where would you buy the ammunition at? Walmart?
Jon Esposito: Cabela’s or a gun store.
Ramsey Russell: But it is very tenuous.
Jon Esposito: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: So if right now you did not have that permit and that stuff to go — right now, I go into an office and say it’s duck season, I want to buy duck ammo, where am I going from there? How long am I looking at?
Jon Esposito: You’re looking at least three, four weeks.
Ramsey Russell: By then duck season is almost over.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And I’ve got to get fingerprinted?
Jon Esposito: You have to get fingerprinted, you have to go through a background check.
Ramsey Russell: For ammo? For cartridges? For shotgun shells?
Jon Esposito: Just for shotgun shells, not for pistols, or long rifles, or AR15 shells. I’m talking to go skeet shooting.
Ramsey Russell: What if I want to buy a gun? I mean like I go into the gun store and give my ID and I filled out all that paperwork now. They got to call and make sure it’s verified through the FBI and I got my gun. Is that pretty much similar here in Connecticut?
Jon Esposito: Well, used to be that way. You would go in, you would buy the gun, they would do the background check if you had a hunting license, and you passed the check, you could get and take the firearm home. Again, since Sandy Hook again, they passed new legislation so that you need to get a long gun permit in addition to the ammunition permit, which gives you — it’s the fingerprinting, it’s the background check. It’s that whole thing all over again. It’s pretty much the same thing as getting a pistol permit.
Ramsey Russell: That’s liberal minded control. It’s a very left leaning control because, like, here’s the deal. I was coming down the road, going to your house the other day, Char starts barking, which is telling me, hey boss, I got to do business.
Jon Esposito: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: I’m looking left, right, left, I’m looking, I got traffic bumper to bumper, but I got to get off and let this dog out somewhere safely. There’s a school, there’s a freaking big old high school yard right there, and I start to slow down but it occurs to me, wait a minute. I ain’t in Mississippi, I ain’t in Texas, I’ve got four guns and ammo and all kinds of stuff. I probably don’t need to go on to a public school yard with – even though they’re cased and packaged up in a toolbox – shotguns. Would that have been a big deal? Would the police have said, hey, what are you doing?
Jon Esposito: Oh yeah, it would have been probably on the news.
Ramsey Russell: Oh really?
Jon Esposito: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Just duck hunter busted for shotgun.
Jon Esposito: There’s no question about that.
Ramsey Russell: That’s crazy. What the heck happened here and in this world? Because when I was in high school, and I know I’m an old man, but I ain’t that damn old, when I was in high school, everybody that drove a pickup truck to high school, we had these old double gun hangers in the wind, in the back window and you hung your gun in it. And it’s that little country school where I was, that you didn’t worry about nobody breaking in and jacking your guns and your caches and stuff. Wasn’t worried about you having guns. Every boy I know had a pocket knife. Some people wore them on their belt like a buck knife, nobody cared. We didn’t hurt nobody. Nobody hurt nobody. We carried guns because we were hunting or shooting targets. You never heard of a school shooting back in those days.
Jon Esposito: No, never. Even when I was a kid growing up, we never had them either. I don’t know what has changed with it. I mean on top of the fact that they’re making the process very difficult. What they’re doing now is they’re saying we’re not fingerprinting now.
Ramsey Russell: Not fingerprinting.
Jon Esposito: Because of COVID you can’t come in and get fingerprinted, now you can’t get in.
Ramsey Russell: So now the three weeks turned into three months, three years.
Jon Esposito: Oh no, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: They run out of variance or whatever.
Jon Esposito: And so like say you want to get your pistol permit, there’s backlogs in some of these towns where they’re not even allowing you to come in to get fingerprinted right now. And that’s their way of controlling the permits that are getting issued. I really, truly believe —
Ramsey Russell: Man, that is scary stuff.
Jon Esposito: That’s very scary stuff.
Ramsey Russell: That is really scary. I don’t know and I’m not getting into nothing, but who are these kids that are doing this stuff in schools? I don’t know them, but I don’t believe they’ve ever owned a firearm. I don’t believe their daddy took them to the shooting range. I don’t believe sat in his lap and said, little boy, here’s the parts of a gun and taught them. I think they’re just like living in a fantasy world and all of a sudden got this power that they’ve never had as teenagers because they didn’t grow up into it. So it seems to me that if we want to control and really manage this thing, then we’re going maybe the opposite direction with gun control, ammo control, COVID control, mind control, maybe we ought to just go on back to the good old days when little boys were allowed to have pocket knives and shoot guns with their daddy. But that’s crazy that getting a hunting license is hard to get but a gun and ammo is almost impossible.
Jon Esposito: Almost impossible.
Ramsey Russell: And with this mess going on with the pandemic?
Jon Esposito: It is impossible and the other thing I think they realized that they could do is they can’t control the guns that are out there. But they could make the ammunition so expensive that the guy that wants to go deer hunt and go buy a box of shells now, he has to go spend $100 to get fingerprinted, go through this whole process to go buy a one package of shells to go deer hunting with.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jon Esposito: So what it’s really doing is just putting another obstacle up in front of the sportsmen to really detour them from doing what they’re doing. Actually I believe it’s part of their agenda.
Ramsey Russell: I’m from Mississippi and I just can’t imagine that kind of legislation coming to my backyard. I know a lot of people listening, nodding their head, going, yeah, it ain’t coming around here, but I guess it could.
Jon Esposito: It could.
Ramsey Russell: But there are some good reasons to hunt up here. Besides some of the stuff we’ve talked about, I mean, you’ve got a rich tradition of it, you have an abundance of black ducks. How relative to your total bag for the season, what percent would black ducks make up?
Jon Esposito: Black duck? Six. I didn’t make up, I would say probably half of the bag we would shoot for are puddle ducks besides when we go out for broad bill or for sea ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all do have a lot of sea duck hunting here, we were supposed to go sea duck hunting. You shoot brant, you shoot old squaw, eiders, scoters. Jon, have you found a good way to eat some of those ducks?
Best Ways to Prepare Duck
Jon Esposito: I mean, we grind them up and mix them with pork, and some Canada geese, and make some breakfast sausage out of them.
Ramsey Russell: That’s pretty good.
Jon Esposito: The other thing to do too I’ll tell everybody to do is cut the feet off of these sea ducks to dehydrate them and they are the best. You could go to these ritzy dog shops and they sell dehydrated duck feet for like $6-$7 apiece.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got a friend down in Texas just doing that. Dehydrated her duck feet and feeds them to her dog.
Jon Esposito: And no one’s got a bigger foot than an eider. Their feet are gigantic, they’re like twice the size of a puddle duck.
Ramsey Russell: I just think of Char dawg eating eider feet like potato chips. I don’t think it will last for very long.
Jon Esposito: They’re not the most tasty. I’ve done a lot of the sea duck hunting when I was younger, and I don’t enjoy eating them as much, so I haven’t done as much of it. I take more people out. I really enjoy trying to get younger kids involved and other people interested and give some other people some experiences. I’ve done a lot of killing in my life that, it’s not really about at this stage of my career. It’s funny how when I was younger, it was all about the numbers, the numbers, and I had to get all full limits. I didn’t get the full limit, I wasn’t happy. Well, now it has nothing to do with that. As you see, we worked really hard for just a few ducks. But I had an absolutely fantastic time with you. We got to experience a lot of cool stuff.
Ramsey Russell: We ate some good food.
Jon Esposito: We had great food, great pizza, New Haven pizza.
Ramsey Russell: One thing I will say about this part of the world, this is huge for me, I’m not a foodie, I just like real food. Sandwiches, screw Subway, I mean, they are on every street corner. There’s a mom and pop restaurant that hand bakes their bread and hand cuts their premium sandwich meat and make a real deal sandwich. That’s the real deal.
Jon Esposito: Where I got that sandwich for you yesterday, I’ve been going to that market since I’ve been three years old. My mom would carry me into that place, that’s how long it’s been there.
Ramsey Russell: And then the pizza last night, everybody talks about New York pizza. We went and had New Haven pizza. That was good pizza.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That place had been there practically my entire life. Since 1971, that’s real good pizza.
Jon Esposito: It’s fantastic. I think some of the best pizza in the world comes from New Haven.
Ramsey Russell: And then today we stopped at another just little mom and pop restaurant and got a great breakfast sandwich. I mean just really good.
Jon Esposito: That was the Sunoco gas station if you think about it. And they had that incredible deli in there.
Ramsey Russell: But then this little hole in the wall lobster joint we’re fixing to go eat at.
Jon Esposito: You see the roof, it’s all bent like it’s about to collapse and stuff, it’s incredible.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s my kind of place. When I see a place like that, I know the food is good and no doubt about it. And it’d be kind of crazy to come to New England not get a lobster roll for lunch.
Jon Esposito: We’re going there as soon as we finish up with this podcast.
How Has Duck Hunting Changed in Connecticut?
The habitat has shrunken a little bit.
Ramsey Russell: So the food has been good. The hunting has been great, Jon, how have things changed in the 30 years that you’ve been duck hunting here? You started in your early 20’s, about Sam’s age? The man we hunted with this morning, the young man we hunted with this morning, Sam? You were about his age when he started. What was it like then compared to now? What were you seeing and doing that Sam may not be?
Jon Esposito: I would say just really the numbers of birds. It would be nothing for us to shoot — I would shoot on average, 370 birds a season.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jon Esposito: And I’m not talking sea ducking, I’m talking marsh hunting, puddle duck hunting. I’d hunt every day with Danny, that’s all we did, we hunted every day. The broad bill, that was probably when I really first got in. That’s probably what I miss the most is, probably some of the coolest experiences were when they were just flying, you’d see 10,000 – 12,000 – 14,000 birds flying and they would come in in waves into the decoys. Where now to shoot one or two birds, I’m not going to go ahead and set 120 decoys, just to shoot one bird. So that’s changed a lot. The habitat has shrunken a little bit. It’s harder to get access to places and the problem is that it’s created a tremendous amount of refuge, like you said, for these ducks, where until we get that freeze to come and these ponds skim over, underneath those railroad bridges that we showed you that we walked over today that will never freeze with the current, it might keep a 10ft open pocket with ice around it. And those birds will be in there by the hundreds and they don’t have anywhere to go. So we’re really dependent on all the refuges that they have that we’re not allowed to hunt, wait for them to freeze. And then once that happens the gunning gets good. I’ve noticed a big difference with the weather, there wasn’t a year that we weren’t breaking ice on the boat going out and sometimes not being able to – I remember coming back into the ramp one day and I couldn’t get my boat in because the ice pack blew into the ramp. So crazy me, grabbed my anchor, my life vest, and I ran from iceberg to iceberg for like 30 feet till I got to the ramp, and then just pulled the boat through the ice. I tied it to my truck and people were just like wondering if this kid is in his sane mind. And I mean the weather has definitely changed. I mean we get the cold, but it just seems like the season, the weather is coming and the cold weather is coming later and we almost – I’d rather give up a few weeks on the early season. Our season used to go to 28 January and that last 10 days really can be the magic.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, and now it closes when?
Jon Esposito: The 20th now because they opened it up in October for wood duck hunting for the wood duck lovers. But yeah, you can’t mount the birds in October because they’re not good. And then they reopen it up in early November and they really should keep it closer until Thanksgiving and give us the time on the back end. But I don’t know who makes the decisions or how – I know the biologist, I’ve spoken to him before, and we as hunters maybe need to get more involvement and go up to more of the meetings up at the Capitol when they have the meetings to discuss the stuff so that —
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of that, what percent of people in Connecticut, what relative percent would you estimate are duck hunters?
Jon Esposito: I would say it’s less than 1%.
Ramsey Russell: Less than 1%.
Jon Esposito: Yeah, it’s a fraction.
Ramsey Russell: Just a very small fraction of hunters up here.
Jon Esposito: There’s a lot of deer hunters.
Ramsey Russell: And I think my point is that point where you got less than 1% of your population with a special interest, you’re politically irrelevant.
Jon Esposito: You are absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what I keep touring around my head. It warms my heart to see a young man like Sam going out on a duck hunt when the scouting report is six ducks.
Jon Esposito: And getting up and holding that spot for us to get in there an hour early.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of people I talked to up here told me, hey, it’s just kind of a – it’s not the opener. Ducks are stale, we’re waiting on cold weather to push new ducks down. Sea ducks are where it’s at if you want to go pull the trigger. But the game right now is to get in and put a stealth hunt and shoot a couple of black ducks if you can. That’s kind of the game mode, that’s a winning plan, but it ain’t a full strap. It’s just going in and plucking a few birds and I like that. I like that. But if you ever ask yourself, would you have stuck with it when you were Sam’s age? We need more hunters. But how do we attract hunters in the state of Connecticut when that’s the game? He didn’t pull the trigger this morning.
Jon Esposito: Nope.
Ramsey Russell: I pulled the trigger one time, boom, killed a black duck. That doesn’t incentivize a lot of hunters to participate. It’s worrisome to me.
Jon Esposito: Yeah. No, to be honest with you, that’s why I believe it. If I get a new hunter in the first place, I’ll take him sea duck hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Appreciating the Entire Experience
I mean, it’s like I say all the time, you’ve got to love it for what it is and for what it ain’t.
Jon Esposito: Just to give them the experience of seeing the birds, and seeing what it can be like, and then maybe he goes puddle duck hunting, and maybe he gets one bird. But then he’s like, he remembers what that one day was like and then maybe he could get that day. I mean, I’d even say for us, we probably get five or six of those days where just everything was perfect, the weather was perfect, the birds handled perfect, everything worked out. But we’re putting in a lot more time now, and like I said, if I was Sam’s age, I didn’t have the patience that Sam has and I was really headstrong. I expanded our territory, Danny would really hunt down here in Stony Creek and then when I got the boat with the GPS, I’m like, listen, we can go explore this place because now I know we won’t hit the rocks. So I expanded our territory and that was when we started going up to Boston, and then we started going to New York, and out to Fisher’s Island, into a few other places. But now as a new hunter right now it would be very discouraging to start, I think for waterfowl hunting, and there’s a lot of deer hunting, that has a lot more enthusiasm here in Connecticut I think than the —
Ramsey Russell: Little more opportunity. I even had an old friend posted up the other day back in Mississippi that he is teetering more towards deer hunting now because the hunting is more consistent, the experience is more consistent, and I hate to see it. But now I will say this, I’m kind of going through my own little phase for the last several years, I want to explore and experience all the little nuances, nooks and crannies of duck hunting in the United States. And say, even within Connecticut, you’ve got all these little ponds with black ducks, bigger lakes with mallards and sea ducks. You got all these little nuances. Somebody invited us to go goose hunting this afternoon, unfortunately, I’ll be driving to Delaware. But I mean, there’s all these little nuances hunting and I’m going through that phase, and I’m happy to go out with the locals and target a black duck. That hit me just right, especially when a plan comes together and we close the deal on him. But you got to ask yourself man, I mean wow, how do we get more people involved? I mean, it’s like I say all the time, you’ve got to love it for what it is and for what it ain’t. And I’m always glad to see young people getting into it that can appreciate it for what it is and what it ain’t.
Jon Esposito: Now, if you notice – what did Sam show you today? He showed you the hat that he had, he just he got into trapping and now he’s trapping. And the trapping is supplementing the lack of duck hunting for him because it’s just not that.
Ramsey Russell: Word gets you outside. There you go. Yeah, I did notice that hat he showed me. It’s like a bomber’s hat with fur on the inside. But I did not know that he caught those pelts.
Jon Esposito: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Missed that part of conversation.
Jon Esposito: He just started trapping and he’s into it. He’s doing pretty good at it. That’s another thing that is shunned really bad in Connecticut. They don’t look highly on that.
Ramsey Russell: No, they don’t. But I tell you this Jon, going through this phase. I’m coast to coast, north, south, east, west, throughout the United States especially in some of these areas where the hunting is more about an experience than quantity of numbers or sustaining like it used to be. It has dawned on me why so many people want to go to Argentina, and Mexico, and beyond US borders is just to sample a little bit more of that trigger pulling experience than what we’re used to back home.
Jon Esposito: Like I did. You saw me in Mexico. You could have kept me out there with a flashlight at night. I don’t think I would have came in.
Ramsey Russell: No. And wasn’t that a great hunt? But it wasn’t the best that Mexico can be, a little late. It was a little more, still we were shooting way more birds today than we shoot here.
Jon Esposito: And the other thing I thought too is that even when we went down there, there were so many different personalities on that trip there. There was some super successful young guys from Texas. And there was a real blend of different people but with the duck hunting, it was just such a commonality. I’d say that even though that we all came – they were calling me a Yankee, that’s what I was.
Ramsey Russell: We were calling you Boston.
Jon Esposito: Oh Boston, and a Yankee first. So and then they saw the Yankee shoe and they were like —
Ramsey Russell: Look at you.
Jon Esposito: I showed you the message that the kids from South Carolina, I’ll play it for you. He calls me up and he says, hey you Yankee MF, that’s what he calls me on the message. And I only met this guy down in Mexico. We spent four days together, we talk all the time, and he calls me up, and he’s calling me a Yankee, and then I’ll call him up and like, hey, it’s your Yankee friend. It’s just interesting but the commonality for the ducks just brings everybody together, and that’s one of the more special things that I find. You could be with a guy that works digging holes for the day and a guy that works in a suit on Wall Street, and you can put them in the blind together, and they have that such commonality between them that all those differences between them seem to not make any difference. And that’s what’s really nice.
Ramsey Russell: Well I’ve certainly enjoyed being here. I appreciate your hospitality. I appreciated seeing everybody. I enjoyed Connecticut. And we talked about a lot of the general population access, and hunters, and guns, and rights, and thinking and acting differently than most of us do. But I want to end it by saying this, that coming to Connecticut to duck hunt with you and your associates, it reinforced my belief that duck hunting is like the universal brotherhood because even right here in Connecticut, I’m right at home hanging around your house with you and your buddies, and y’all duck calls. It is just like duck hunting everywhere. It’s just universal truth.
Jon Esposito: Universal, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Beyond all this. It’s duck hunters. And that’s the take home message, is the food, the camaraderie, the hunt, the species, that the dogs, the decoys, just the whole ball of wax. Seeing the passion, and you’ve got to be passionate with the obstacles and hurdles y’all are jumping over here. You’re still as passionate as you were, you bringing up young guys like Sam and others into this sport, and I felt kind of right at home despite being in Connecticut, I really did for those reasons. I felt really, truly felt at home, and man, all the high fives when we got that black duck, what a great deal.
Jon Esposito: I mean I’ll show you when I get home. Like one of the other highlights I have is, I have a picture of an old squash stamp with Charlie and Anthony. I trained these two young kids that were school teachers. So they went and got me this custom print and then on the back of it, they wrote thank you so much for teaching me the ropes of duck hunting, and it really felt good to be able to play such an important role in helping and teaching them, pass on what I knew, and they were so appreciative of it, that’s like a treasure piece that I have. I treasure that painting – it’s not a painting, was a picture – and what they wrote on the back of it. And I think it’s important that everybody that’s involved in this sport put back into the sport, and in a way that they could get some young kids involved, and help promote it as opposed to just doing it for yourself. And I think as you get older, you go through these different phases of hunting where like I said, when I was younger, it was just about pulling the trigger and the numbers, and now it’s really, it’s about the experience. Like, I had a great time. I didn’t shoot any ducks, didn’t have to. The experience was the same for me but 15, 18 years ago, I would have been like, uhhhhh. So, there’s all different stages and I’m in a different stage, I enjoy the stage that I’m in right now. I just want to be able to continue to do it as long as I can and really get other people involved and get some kids involved.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, you have been listening to my buddy, Jon Esposito, my host here in Connecticut on this year’s North American Waterfowl Tour. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere. See you next time.