It doesn’t happen by accident. A lot goes into making a successful, season-long blue-winged teal hunt like this reality. Today, Steve Biggers of Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl explains the inner workings and introduces team members Marcus Lagrange, Tracey Andreas, Joey Hanks and Len Vaughn.  In describing the 16-day Texas blue-winged teal season from their varied perspectives, you’ll understand why so many hunters migrate to this destination to hunt blue-winged “rice rockets,” and what the experience entails.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere where today I’m in El Campo, Texas, world famous Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl with my buddy, Steve Biggers and company. Steve, how the heck are you all having a heck of a teal season looks like.

Steve Biggers: Oh, Ramsey, welcome here, man. Yeah, it’s going good.

Ramsey Russell: I met some Michigan boys that were down here. I met some West Virginia boys that were down here and they ain’t used to see until, like, you all got down here, are they?

Steve Biggers: Yeah. No, they haven’t. They’re not used to it at all. We’ve got a group here from Indiana, too. They’re fishing on the bay and they want to meet you tonight when they get back in.

Ramsey Russell: Really? How far do people come, how far do hunters migrate to El Campo, Texas, to come here and hunt with RCR Team Waterfowl.

Steve Biggers: I’ll tell you, Ramsey, you and Terry Denmon at MOJO have changed our world here. We average usually 11 to 12 states for teal season. Yes, sir. So it’ll be Michigan, California, Florida, just all over. We’re very blessed.

Ramsey Russell: I’m interrupting you, your scorekeeping. You’re a baseball fanatic. And as you were going through some of the records you all keep and the details and how you strategize and do stuff, you show me all kinds of flow charges, like keeping all the statistics in baseball.

Steve Biggers: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: How important is that to you all success?

Steve Biggers: Oh, it’s very important. It’s a way to figure out where we need to go. And it’s just part of keeping records and keeping accountability. And we work hard at it.

Ramsey Russell: It’s no guarantee, though, just you may have a guy coming up, one of his top batters, top of the lineup he may strikeout.

Steve Biggers: That’s right. Strikeout looking.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Steve Biggers: So today we had a group that had a really tough hunt. And I showed you the pond was number 2 and in the count for the year and just had to slow down –

Ramsey Russell: And you got a deep bench of pond down here, too.

Steve Biggers: I hunted that pond with Terry Denmon last Monday and we were done before Jared’s recording light was good, so.

Ramsey Russell: I don’t know, I was about an hour away from here hunting with some friends the other day and I got the text I like to get from Mr. Steve Bigger saying the baby showed up.

Steve Biggers: Yeah, they did. They showed up Sunday. We were primary, mainly males and then an occasional baby, but the guides had straps of 60, 70% babies.

Ramsey Russell: That makes it. That makes a huge difference.

Steve Biggers: Yeah, the quality of the decoy definitely is crazy.

Ramsey Russell: Makes a huge difference. Let me adjust your mic just a minute. Boom. It makes a huge difference. Tell everybody listening, that is not from blue winged teal central, why that makes a big difference?

Steve Biggers: Well, they’re just young birds, first year birds. That’s the first decoys they’ve seen. And it’s just like us going to – I’m going to Canada next month. Those mallards come in there and first decoys they’ve seen.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Steve Biggers: They present good. They work good. They work the calls good. They work the Mojo. The flock of flickers good. And they do it right.

Ramsey Russell: I’m probably 7 or 8 hours from Brandon, Mississippi, my home right now. And it’s dry in Mississippi. And it’s dry all the way to here. How did the drought affect you all’s habitat, Steve?

Steve Biggers: That’s horrible. Everybody wants to compare it to 2011. This will go down as worse than 2011, not because of the length of time that we didn’t get rain, but the intensity of the heat. In 2011, it stayed at 990, 1000 and it was hot. This year was like a blowtorch. We were 1080, 1090, heat index of 1170. I was pumping water. I started pumping on August 15th and you could see it evaporate across the field. The heat waves across the field. It was phenomenal.

Ramsey Russell: Somebody said the other night that at dinner, I don’t keep these kind of records, so I take them at their work. But they said it was the worst drought in recorded history in the state of Texas.

Steve Biggers: I believe it. And the other thing that you’re not going to hear and I haven’t even talked to you about it, but since 2011 and 2022, 2023, the population growth in Texas where we get our water from is on an I-35 quarter from Dallas to Austin. That’s the highest growth rate in the United States. So more people taking that water away from these farmers and ranchers down here downstream.

Ramsey Russell: Well, as an example of the growth rate, I went to see my buddy Pinkerton the other day for barbecue, and the lady on the maps said it was 25 minutes away. She wasn’t calculating for Houston traffic, about an hour and a half away.

Steve Biggers: You at the one downtown there?

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I didn’t know that. Well, I know there’s another one out west, but, boy, what a great barbecue joint.

Steve Biggers: Yeah, it is great. Grant’s a great guy.

Ramsey Russell: Good stuff. We’ll talk about teal season here. Tell me how it’s going this year. I know you all have got like, a secret weapon. You all have got water in the bag, but how is the population? I’m asking a lot of different questions. How’s population affecting water? And how’s it affecting your water? And what secret in the bag have you got, regards water? That makes a difference. Water’s magic.

Steve Biggers: Water is magic, I always say it’s waterfowl. You can’t kill it without it. We had to cut back on our number of our parties. First off, I had to go through and what I did is some of my long time clients, we only let them hunt once or twice, maybe not all 3 weekends, that type of deal, rotating some people in and out to make sure everybody got a quality hunt. We’ve just done a lot of pumping and the business end there won’t be much money made this year. I just had to pump the water. We had to pump it, too, to get on some moist soil that hadn’t had any water at all. So that was some water that I wasn’t planning on pumping, but we pumped it. The barnyard grass, the smart weed, you’ll see it tomorrow, the pond we’re going to hunt is just full of barnyard grass. And we did some of that pumping in late July. And so that was just – you want to say it was wasted water, but I created habitat.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I’ll tell you how good the blue winged teal hunting is here. Mr. Dale Bordelon. My buddy Dale Bordelon came all the way from abroad parish, Louisiana, to hunt this. And I asked him, I said, have you ever blue winged teal hunted outside the state of Louisiana? He goes, no. He said, I don’t get far from home. But he’d heard so much about coming down here, it was good. And I was explaining to him, for those of you all that hadn’t heard this before, a lot of the blue wings that are coming through Mississippi, Louisiana and the Atlantic coast end up coming right through your front yard right here.

Steve Biggers: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: Every one of them, it’s a funnel and it’s a microscopic funnel.

Steve Biggers: Well, 5 million mallards or whatever the new number is, that’s across the whole country. 4.2 million blue wings are going to come through El Campo, Texas.

Ramsey Russell: They’re going to come right through El Campo. And that just blows my mind. I think Paul Link told me that – I was talking to him last time I banded with him and he got some bands off one of those Caribbean islands, a whole cigar box. And based on some stuff and some band recoveries he got, he says as many as 10, maybe 15% will fly off in the gulf and try to shortcut or end up on Cuba or somewhere. But the rest of them come right freaking here. That just blows my mind. I see those teal come skipping through Mississippi. I’m like, God dang, Steve, fixing to get into it.

Steve Biggers: I like those reports, too, from you.

Ramsey Russell: Probably tomorrow.

Steve Biggers: I like those reports.

Ramsey Russell: When you see a big slug of the young birds that we all want. And we saw it the last couple of days, too. When you see those big slugs come through, do you feel like a lot of your birds just going down to Honduras or do they hang around some when they have water?

Steve Biggers: Yeah, they’re here with water and food. I mean, the hunting pressure obviously affects them, but there’s enough bordering ranches that don’t hunt as much as I do normally in a normal year. I think I’ve explained it to you that I’ve divide the ranch into thirds. We try to space the hunting out and we steal try to do that. This year’s just make it a challenge. But no, I don’t think they head down. We’ll see a huge increase in volume of birds even after the season ends, right up to the opener of the big duck season in November. So, I don’t think, they’re not all the way to Mexico yet as far as the mass numbers.

Ramsey Russell: So they’ll actually come down here. A lot of your vanguard, those adult males that show up first and the babies come later. They’ll actually just kind of stage here as long as the habitat, won’t they?

Steve Biggers: Yes, food and habitat. And this year, a lot of the rice got cut early, but then a lot of it got cut late because of water issues. Water issues, timing of how quick the rice matured and stuff. And so we have a field. A group from Indiana hunted a field that’s right next to a freshly flooded rice field that’s about 3 weeks behind all the other rice fields. And man, they’re loaded in there. That’s not on my property, but it borders this and no one’s hunting it, so it feeds my ponds and it’s been awesome.

Ramsey Russell: The last time I saw you, you had just moved in to this beautiful lodge and I thought it was gorgeous, man. Since I’ve been here, last year was so full, I couldn’t squeeze in. Man, this place is nice. What was your vision for this lodge? I mean, what was your, like, pulling in, I’m going to ask you about the thing parked out front, pulling in though. You’ve got the little fence, you’ve got the barbecue area. You’ve got seating. You’ve got a live stage for music. I saw the boys out there tossing a little bit the bean bags a little while ago. It’s almost like a little resort. What was your vision? What was your concept when you said, I’m finally going to build my place, here’s what I want my concept to be.

Steve Biggers: Well, I wanna use one of your lines and I want it to be an experience.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Steve Biggers: And so, I can’t control the hunting to the very end. So if you have a 3 bird duck hunt, you’re still going to have a lot of fun. A great place to stay, good food, things to do, a beautiful place to be at. And so that was my vision. I wanted it to be a full experience, that the teal hunting is why everybody comes. But then after they leave, that’s the food. It’s the camaraderie. On the weekends, it’s the bands and it shows in the repeat business. It’s hard to get in here now.

Ramsey Russell: I think it is. That’s what I’ve heard.

Steve Biggers: It’s hard.

Ramsey Russell: And the reason I think that’s such a great answer is because on the best of days of teal hunting, you’re back here at 08:00, 09:00. It’s over quick. And on the worst days, you’re still here by late morning. And unless you plan an afternoon activity, you’ve got the whole rest of day to cook here, man, this is comfortable. This is really nice.

Steve Biggers: Well, thank you.

Ramsey Russell: Walking in the kitchen, the dining room, I should say, was my favorite part. Just the way you’ve got it decorated and accessorized, it just reminds me of coming into a bygone era type family restaurant.

Steve Biggers: Right. Little cafe on the side of the road.

Ramsey Russell: Little cafe on the side of road, man. Except I’ve never been into a cafe on the side of road that has a little ice box that says all you can eat Blue Bell ice cream. Help yourself. Where’d you come up with that idea? You just a Blue Bell ice cream, man?

Steve Biggers: I mean, I live in the town where the main plan is. And a lot of my friends work there and I’m friends with some of the family and stuff. So that’s their slogan. Eat all you can and we sell the rest. That’s their slogan. So it’s just part of it here.

Ramsey Russell: Is my timing off or is the season early this year? It just seems like – Cause you all end this weekend. It seems like it all lasts one more weekend.

Steve Biggers: It did seem to start early.

Ramsey Russell: Did it start early this year?

Steve Biggers: No, no, it’s the same. I think it’s just the heat and the temperature stayed so darn hot so late. But no, it’s not any early than it has been in the past.

Ramsey Russell: But despite record breaking drought, record breaking heat. I’m looking at your number board. It’s up there, man. You all are finished strong.

Steve Biggers: If we finish strong, it could be a new record.

Ramsey Russell: What do you tell people? Cause this is a delicate subject. I do believe you all have got the best commercial blue winged teal hunt in the state of Texas. I’ve said that since the first time I was there. We was hunting the same farm you still hunt all these years later. And from horizon to horizon, east to west, the sky was full of blue wings. I never – to this day, Steve, it remains one of the greatest waterfowl spectacles I’ve ever seen, it’s practically in my backyard. But more than numbers and just because you build it, just talking about that batter getting to the plate, he might strike out watching, it is an experience. And sometimes not every day is going to be that done before the sun comes up over the horizon. You know what I’m saying? I try to warn people that you can go to the best hunt on God’s earth and hey, it’s duck hunting.

Steve Biggers: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: You know what I’m saying?

Steve Biggers: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: Talk just real briefly about what goes into preparing, because I start seeing your pictures of social media and your text messages all summer long when you go through them, 108 days, getting ready for it, just let the listener know that besides the great lodge, what all goes into getting this place ready.

Steve Biggers: Well, it’s already starting for next year. Just in the prepping of disking the fields at the right time. I really have to almost have to go back to our landowner.

Ramsey Russell: Moist soil management.

Steve Biggers: Yeah. Moist soil management. The Shearing family, they’re ate up with duck hunting. So how often does that happen that you –

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Steve Biggers: Team up with a landowner and – we’re part of the DU stewardship Rice Stewardship Program. But not just that. Just their love of duck hunting shared with my passion of duck hunting. It’s a deadly combo. And that we spare no penny.

Ramsey Russell: Talk about your staff a little bit. How important is the right staff to delivering the best blue wing teal hunting in Texas? And how long have some of your key players been around?

Experience and Knowledge of Older Guides

Every year, he hunts the most, and he’s got a lot of knowledge and Len’s got a great guide.

Steve Biggers: Oh, gosh. So I have 25 guides. And they range from 20 years old to 65 years old. Yeah. So you get a 30 year old group in here that the 30 and 20 year old guides mix better with those guys sometimes just personalities, they can share things. And then sometimes, though, an older guy that, like Tracy, he’s been here. He’s the oldest guide here, but he hunts the most of everybody. Every year, he hunts the most, and he’s got a lot of knowledge and Len’s got a great guide. And Tracy, Len and Marcus and Joey have been with me the longest.

Ramsey Russell: I’m going to talk to them. Last question I’ve got Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl. I’m going to talk to some of your team members, but the ones I can’t talk to are the black dog power you all got sporting around this place. How important is that to a quality experience and to delivering for clients, what you all do here?

Steve Biggers: Oh, all these guys, they work their dogs year round. Some of them use other trainers and some of them train themselves. But it’s very important. They’re our pets and our family members, but they’re a key part of being a team member. So –

Ramsey Russell: Very few lodge, you go to have a technical pond in front yard.

Steve Biggers: Yeah. That’s just a dog trainer.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you Steve. I’m going to talk some of your staff.

Steve Biggers: All right, sounds good. Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Mr. Marcus Lagrange, part of Team RCR. Let me start like this with you, Marcus, cause I’ve known you quite a while, but how long have you been duck hunting in Texas?

Marcus Lagrange: Let’s see, well, I’m 55. I started duck hunting in Texas when I was 11 years old.

Ramsey Russell: 11 years. Right around here. Right here in this prairie?

Marcus Lagrange: Actually. No, I actually – so I’m originally from Louisiana. We moved to, my dad transferred to Texas when I was like 7, 8 years old. Met a good friend of mine and we hunted up in the old lost river right up there, just north of Trinity River Bridge and over my Bellevue area. And I grew up duck hunting there. And then of course duck hunted there all through college and everything. And then, and that’s when I met Steve. So I met Steve in 1992 is when I met Steve. And the way we met was my wife’s family and Steve’s wife’s family grew up on the same street. So I started dating my wife. We met at a mutual get together and of course we shared a lot of common interests, obviously duck hunting, dogs. And so I got to know him pretty good. And anyway, so I started guiding with Steve in 1995. And been with Steve – In 1995 I did take about a 6 year break to go over on the east side because my daughter was playing softball. So I took a little break and then once she finished up, then I came right back with Steve. And I’ve been back with Steve now since 2015, 2016.

Ramsey Russell: You talk about the east side, I’m assuming you mean like Chambers County?

Marcus Lagrange: Chambers County. Yes, sir.

Ramsey Russell: And everything west of the river is west Texas.

Marcus Lagrange: That’s right. Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: East Texas is limited. Just a very little sliver.

Marcus Lagrange: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: The very east. The far east.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, exactly. So right there at the old lost river and Trinity River Bridge is basically where Chambers County starts, for the most part. And then that little 6, 7 year stand, I was over there. I was over there right next to Gene Campbell’s place, actually.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, I was right over there off 1985 and hunted over there. And but, yeah, started here when I was 12 years old in Texas, but grew up duck hunting from the time I could carry a shotgun in Louisiana. In south Louisiana.

Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up since 11 years old, hunting in Texas, was blue wings always a part of that?

Marcus Lagrange: No, sir, it wasn’t. Actually, it’s kind of funny you ask that because in Louisiana when I was growing up, we duck hunted, but we weren’t after species. We were after the food. We wanted to put food in the freezer. And so, I didn’t really get oriented into blue wings, actually hunting blue wings until I met Steve in 1992. And so like I said up until then, because I was raised that way. We were raised, we hunted and fished and it was all about putting food in the freezer. I mean, we did it ethically and we did it the right way. But deer hunting, we didn’t count horns, but bird hunting was always my passion. My grandfather and them, they raised beagles and they were big into rabbit hunting. And like I said, we did it all. But bird hunting has always been my passion. And of course getting into Retrievers and meeting Steve and of course, I started training Retrievers and everything myself.

Ramsey Russell: Everybody here has got a great retriever. Every guide here I’ve met has got a absolute killer black lab.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, absolutely. No, I agree. We take a lot of pride in that, actually. And that’s how I got into dog training was with Steve. And then I kind of branched off of myself and by myself and I actually trained Retrievers for 18 years and competed with them and stuff like that.

Ramsey Russell: I did not know that.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah. In fact, Steve and I – that’s how I got started. I actually worked for Steve. I was his bird boy for 2 years and decided I want to start training my own dog. So he helped me get started and I got hooked on it and started competing. And so Steve and I would travel together to hunt test and everything else. And then I kept going with the hunt test when Steve kind of stopped. But, yeah, so and I’m ready to get back and –

Ramsey Russell: How long have you been a duck guide for Rocky Creek Retrievers?

Marcus Lagrange: Since 2015 is when I came back with Steve with Rocky Creek? Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Okay. And tell me a little bit about what all goes into being a duck guide at Texas best blue wing teal hunt. This is a large operation. It’s a productive operation.

Marcus Lagrange: Correct.

Ramsey Russell: And it’s a longstanding operation. And you’ve been here pretty good while. What all goes into it? Day in, day out, before the season, during the season.

Marcus Lagrange: We call it sweat equity. I mean, we put work in year round and we may take a month off right after big duck season, but we’re out here basically starting in March, at least once a month, doing something all the way through, until teal season gets here and then all the way into big duck season. So we’re doing something all the time to try to stay ahead of it and to really – our goal is to make the hunts as comfortable and as pleasant as we can. We can’t control the birds, obviously, but we take a lot of pride in our blinds. We take a lot of pride in our –

Ramsey Russell: I was just fix to say you all control the controllables. You’ve led right into my next question. The blinds.

Marcus Lagrange: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: When we teal hunt back home, Mississippi, now, we’re not hunting birds like you all are. We just catch them when they fly through. We’re literally sitting on swamp seats or dog stands for edge coffee. That’s it. Just kind of out in the open, be still.

Marcus Lagrange: Right.

Ramsey Russell: They fly in, boom, you kill them. You all can’t play that game here because you’ve got a lot of clients with a lot of different – Bringing a lot of skill sets.

Marcus Lagrange: That’s correct, yes.

Ramsey Russell: And you’ve got. That’s one controller you can control is keep everybody hidden, keep everybody comfortable, because it doesn’t just end at 07:00 in the morning every day. Some days you got to wait it out.

Marcus Lagrange: Yes, sir. Some days you do. Absolutely. Especially during big duck season. Teal season is a little bit different. But big duck season, sometimes you may have to stick it out till 11:00, 12:00 o’clock and we want to be comfortable and we get a lot of feedback from our client teal. And that’s the one positive feedback. I mean, we get positive feedback but the one thing we – once again, we pride ourselves in that because our customers recognize that and that’s the first thing they say, well, the hunt may not have been good today, but the blind was good. It was comfortable. It was this. So there’s a lot of that goes on, that goes with that.

Ramsey Russell: What’s the number one mistake? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean like almost a foible or something that you crack, you smile at that you see time and time again with guys that aren’t used to big blue wings coming in earlier, killing it. What are some of the – you’ve got to have some good stories about famous misses or something.

Marcus Lagrange: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And for me personally, most of the time, it’s with the experienced hunters that I see it and it comes with that excitement, because –

Ramsey Russell: How can that be?

Marcus Lagrange: Well, that’s what I was going to say if, because if we weren’t excited about it, we wouldn’t be getting up that early, fighting the mosquitoes and doing everything to be out here. But and what excites everybody is, it’s one thing when you get groups of 2s, 3s, 4s, 10s, but we’re known for those big groups that are flying and we get groups of 20, 40, 50 at a time and that sound is, we all know that those blue wings make just get the adrenaline level to another level and you hear safety is going off or you hear, you see people jumping up and then sometimes you just see people that are just in awe. They won’t even pull the trigger because they’re just, they’re not used to it.

Ramsey Russell: But look, I’m used to it. But even being used to it. This morning I jumped up to grab a blue wing coming – I mean, you could see him setting up a mile off. And by the time I got up and swung, I was 7ft behind him. Luckily, I was trying to pull the trigger, but I couldn’t catch up with him. He was a rocket.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, absolutely. And shooting behind the birds and when you get those big groups that come in, it’s so easy to get up and just flock shoot, which is the biggest mistake most people make. Because instead of coming out and picking out a bird, they just point and –

Ramsey Russell: Hard to pick one out of 50.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, absolutely. So with the hunters that aren’t as experienced with the blue wing, it’s really hard to convince them to come up and really focus on a bird.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Marcus Lagrange: But just to see the look on their faces, their eyes big as saucers and just hooping and hollering and it’s as a guide, that’s you really appreciate that.

Ramsey Russell: You always start off down here with the vanguard of the migration, the birds that show up in mid August.

Marcus Lagrange: Right.

Ramsey Russell: A lot of adult drakes. And I imagine, I’ve never been here on an opener with you all, but I imagine it’s just a circus. I bet there are. Cause everybody’s out in the field.

Marcus Lagrange: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Texas. I mean, every bucky is going to be full of camo hunters going. Probably teal hunt, but maybe dove hunting. And so every pothole is getting shot, birds flying everywhere. It gets crazy. Then it starts to get those birds wise up a little bit.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Then you get a text from Steve. The babies are down.

Marcus Lagrange: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: And that’s when I start seeing the real big flock.

Marcus Lagrange: Oh, yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Like this morning, it was huge flock.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah. And same with me. I was going to say the same thing yesterday morning and this morning. Especially yesterday morning, the size of the flocks of birds and flying as high as they were flying. And it’s definitely an indication of that next migration that’s coming in.

Ramsey Russell: Then unfortunately, on those magic days, that it happens like it. It’s over before it even starts.

Marcus Lagrange: Exactly.

Ramsey Russell: If you got 1 or 2 dogs that you get. We got to stop.

Marcus Lagrange: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: You got to catch up real quick.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah. That’s what –

Ramsey Russell: All right, we want one away.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: What do you mean, one away? We’ve been hunting 15 minutes for one away, two away.

Marcus Lagrange: That’s what happened. And that’s what happened opening morning. It was that good. And typically on opening morning here, the blue wings were here. But with all the shooting, the birds are really erratic and they’re a little skittish and not wanting to decoy. But this year was the complete opposite. I mean, all the reports from all the guides coming in, the birds were just decoying like nobody’s business. And –

Ramsey Russell: Sure sign.

Marcus Lagrange: Sure Sign. Absolutely. And then when you have to – And that’s another satisfying part, too, when you finally have to say, get them to stop so you can actually catch your breath and count the birds and get the birds picked up. So, yeah, it’s pretty exciting.

Ramsey Russell: I know you all have a lot of repeat clients.

Marcus Lagrange: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: And to anybody listening, if you decide you want to book a trip down here, you better call right now. Don’t wait till July. No, but do you have a lot of repeat clients come back? Or do they want to hunt with Marcus? Are they – You know what I’m saying?

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, and that is –

Ramsey Russell: I see that a lot in these operations. I’m going to come back, but I want to hunt my guide on.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah, absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: So I’ll take whatever date he’s got to guide.

Lasting Memories and Meaningful Connections

So, it gets to a point where it’s not guide and client relationships. You build those friendships.

Marcus Lagrange: And that’s the beauty of the repeat business. We get to know each other on a first name basis. So, it gets to a point where it’s not guide and client relationships. You build those friendships. You get to know them on a first name basis. You look forward to seeing them at the beginning of teal season because you don’t see them throughout the year. And yes, and it’s all of us. We build that report with certain customers and yeah. And they come back with us over and over again. And yes. And they request some of us the same guides over and over again. And we take pride in that, too, that says a lot. At least I do. I mean, I really appreciate that. And since I’ve come back with Steve, I mean, I’ve got, like, I’ve got a couple, 2 or 3 groups that I’ve been hunting exclusively since I’ve been back. Once again, those are relationships that, I mean, in memories that last forever.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. So, Steve, beyond all the details that go into making a hunt like this happen, he’s a numbers guy.

Marcus Lagrange: Oh, absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: He’s like a major league baseball coach, crunching those numbers. And I heard you’re his numbers guy. You’re his technical assistant.

Marcus Lagrange: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: How important are those numbers?

Marcus Lagrange: In our opinion, they’re very important. And when I first came back with Steve, we got to talking about that. And the way that all that all came up is just sitting here talking, trying to figure out numbers and trying to look at projections and averages and all that. And of course, in my industry, I’m a chemist and I work at a chemical plant and I do a lot of auditing there. And so I’m looking at that sort of stuff all the time. And so that’s what I told him, I said, well, we need to get it to where we can see it visually on paper. It’s one thing to sit here and talk about it, but when you start looking at trends and averages and weather conditions and everything else, I mean, all of that says a lot. And yes. And so Steve uses baseball statistics as a comparison or an analogy and it’s true. They look at baseball statistics the same way. And so since I’ve been back since 2015. We started in 2016, keeping numbers and breaking down with ponds and comparing numbers from teal season to teal season and big ducks. And every little statistic I can come up with or average, I’m putting together for Steve. And it also helps Slade Shearing. The Shearing is the landowners and they’re very interested in that, too. And we see those trends with those pawns year after year. And so, no, we really believe in those numbers.

Ramsey Russell: The numbers don’t lie.

Marcus Lagrange: No, sir, they don’t. At the end of the day, they don’t lie. And so we kind of grin about that sometimes. And if we get an opportunity to pick a place to go, that’s the first thing we want to look at. What are the numbers say?

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Marcus.

Marcus Lagrange: Yep.

Ramsey Russell: Mr. Tracy Andreas, 67 years young. How are you, man?

Tracy Andreas: I am fantastic.

Ramsey Russell: How long have you been duck hunting?

Tracy Andreas: Well, probably about 53 years, 54. I started guiding 51 years ago.

Ramsey Russell: 51. Here in Texas?

Tracy Andreas: Here in Texas.

Ramsey Russell: You are kidding.

Tracy Andreas: No, I started on the Bears Ranch when I was 16, 17 years old. Just had my driver’s license.

Ramsey Russell: Have blue winged teal always been a big part of this kind of Texas hunting.

Tracy Andreas: It has. And, of course, it’s changed a lot over the years. When we first started, all we hunted was little rice holes. We’d knock out a little bitty hole in the rice. And that’s, of course we – Back then, we couldn’t kill but 4.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, for the longest time, you only kill 4. People talk about the good old days, man, for blue wing teal hunting. The good old days are now. Not now.

Tracy Andreas: The good old days for duck hunting is now.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Tracy Andreas: It’s changed a lot in that the places that we hunt are different. I grew up in a great place to learn how to duck hunt. I grew up in Goose Creek, Texas. And when I was a young man, we had the San Jacinto river on one side and there wasn’t all the barges and the ships on the ship channel and I lived right on Trinity Bay. I had Anneewakee to the east of us there. And you had Trinity River bottom. Well, I learned to shoot the ring necks and the diving ducks over there on the ship channel. And the next day, you could run up the Trinity River and shoot mallards and wood ducks. The next day, you could go to Anneewakee and shoot geese or pintail. And you could go out on the bay and duck hunt.

Ramsey Russell: You’ve seen it all, Tracy.

Tracy Andreas: I was lucky enough to grow up in an era where I did see it all. All within about a 40 miles range.

Ramsey Russell: Where do blue wings fall on your preference list for waterfowl?

Tracy Andreas: Probably number 2.

Ramsey Russell: What’s your first?

Tracy Andreas: I’m a pintail man.

Ramsey Russell: I fix it so, has to be.

Tracy Andreas: Everything I own has got pintail on it. Just about.

Ramsey Russell: Do you throw pintails out during teal season?

Tracy Andreas: I don’t. I could have – I had landed one yesterday in the decoys.

Ramsey Russell: They come down to part of the world.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah. We had about 20 work to spread this morning. But I’m a pintail fanatic during the regular season.

Ramsey Russell: Really, a purist.

Tracy Andreas: Well, I learned. I started when we were about 19. About 4 of my buddies got together. We had a big bay boat. And of course, the limit back then, they were on a point system and we went down to Port O’Connor and found us a little point down there off a Pringle Lake, that we could shoot 50 pintail a day. And we did, day after day, of course. I always tell everybody that’s the reason we going to kill one today. But we shot a lot of pintail. And I learned how to hunt those pintail and I love them.

Ramsey Russell: What’s your vocation besides duck hunting and duck guiding?

Tracy Andreas: Well, when I was about 19, I learned how to do taxidermy work. But I was a teacher by trade.

Ramsey Russell: What kind of – What subject did you take?

Tracy Andreas: I taught English.

Ramsey Russell: Come on.

Tracy Andreas: I did. For 32 years.

Ramsey Russell: I can’t believe it. High school English.

Tracy Andreas: High school English.

Ramsey Russell: Did you coach, too?

Tracy Andreas: I did. I coached for about 19 years of that.

Ramsey Russell: Football, baseball?

Tracy Andreas: Football and baseball.

Ramsey Russell: I’ll be dang. Right here in this area.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah, at Robert E. Lee High School there in Baytown. And then I moved around a couple little spots with some principals and retired about 10 years ago. And been duck hunting and doing taxidermy work ever since.

Ramsey Russell: You’ve been duck guy in a long time. Blue winged teal is your number 2 species in this part of the world. For good reason, I’m sure. They’re really kind of becoming. It’d be hard for me to say. A matter’s not my favorite duck worldwide. But, man, a blue winged teal. It just, I love this time of year. I love hunting them. Especially when the young birds show up like they do. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than that. First time I hunted with you now, Tracy, it’s been a long time ago. You ain’t changed a bit.

Tracy Andreas: It’s been several years.

Ramsey Russell: Long time. And you broke out a call. And it was the best sounding teal call I’d ever heard. And I said, what kind of call? It was a little short, stubby looking thing. I said, what kind of call is that? And you showed me. And you introduced me to a friend of mine. Talk about that call. And talk about that guy.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah, that’s Joe Briscoe. Briscoe.

Ramsey Russell: The Briscoe kid. I called him.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah. And He is something else. When I was about 20, Joe was trying to – He wanted to break into the guide business, but he was always into musical things.

Ramsey Russell: Boy, is he?

Tracy Andreas: Guitars, anything that produced music. And he wanted even then to become a call maker.

Ramsey Russell: He has.

Tracy Andreas: And he’s turned out some good ones. And I use his teal call to this day.

Ramsey Russell: I do too.

Tracy Andreas: But my son uses his speckle belly call.

Ramsey Russell: Really.

Tracy Andreas: And it’s probably. And not all of his speckle belly calls sound the same, but that’s the best one I’ve ever heard.

Ramsey Russell: What is it about this area that makes the blue winged teal hunting so fantastic, in your opinion?

Tracy Andreas: It’s the rice production, it’s that we’ve got those, these wet soil compounds and the rice. Yeah, and of course, we see it going away some, too. And that’s a sad thing. And I remember when it happened on the east side of Houston.

Ramsey Russell: We talk about, we talk with Mr. James all the time about that part of the world of east side, Chambers County. And back in the day, it was all rice. Well, now all them ponds are more soil.

Tracy Andreas: To give you a prime example, when I stopped guiding there on Bears Ranch alone, we had a little over 8000 acres of rice.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, my gosh.

Tracy Andreas: When I stopped guiding there and moved, I went to Mexico for 2 years and guided for Don Turner down there. But when I left the Winnie area, there was less than 10,000 acres of rice in the entire county.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Tracy Andreas: And we had that much on 1 ranch at one time. So, it changed a little bit of the way the birds. And we’re still seeing that change. It’s coming around here where, we’re losing land all the time to the solar farms and the wind turbine farms. And it’s sad to see.

Ramsey Russell: But you all are still posting numbers of blue wings right now, Tracy. What all goes into getting ready and delivering the Texas best blue wing teal hunt? You all ain’t got just a few hunters coming through here?

Tracy Andreas: No, we don’t.

Ramsey Russell: This is a big commercial operation that does it. What’s up with that?

Dependence on Flock Flickers and Spinning Wing Decoys

That’s almost on a daily basis because I run a lot of flock of flickers from the MOJO crew and several of the spinning wing decoys, the teal elite Mojos.

Tracy Andreas: It is, every day I go through kind of a sequence of what I do every day. When I get up in the morning, I fill my cooler and make sure my clients are going to have drinks. Yeah, they’re going to need it because it’s going to be hot like today. Ended up 970, 980. And I put my dog in my cooler in my truck. But the night before, it’s just like today. When I get through here, I’ll go out, I’ll go through my decoys, I’ll check all of my Mojos, make sure my batteries are good and all those and that’s almost on a daily basis because I run a lot of flock of flickers from the MOJO crew and several of the spinning wing decoys, the teal elite Mojos. And I run those every day and have for years. I won’t go to the blind without them. Especially the flock flickers. The flock of flickers for me –

Ramsey Russell: You like that better than the standard spinning decoy.

Tracy Andreas: I do.

Ramsey Russell: It’s one of your secret weapons.

Tracy Andreas: People will talk about. Oh, well, we don’t. They were flaring birds, the spinning wing decoys, they’re flaring birds. I have never had a bird flare from a spinning wing decoy. Never.

Ramsey Russell: I never have either.

Tracy Andreas: I may have to move them to get them in a different position where those birds will finish, but that spinning wing decoy has never flared a bird.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s funny you say that, because a lot of people want the – Where it turns on, turns off, turns on, turns off, turns on, turns off. I want it running.

Tracy Andreas: Mine run, 24. Mine run from the time I put them in the pond till the time I take them out.

Ramsey Russell: Late season if the birds are acting skittish, I’ll move it to where they can’t see it when they’re set up on that final approach. But buddy, you better believe from somewhere up in the stratosphere they can see it.

Tracy Andreas: Well, the thing about the flock of flicker that sold me from the very first one, when Terry brought him down here, he handed us a couple and told us to try them. And I tried to buy everyone he had. Because if you figure where you need to place those in the spread and you walk off 2 or 300 yards, it looks like, of course, Terry and I have had this discussion about what it imitates. And as a taxidermist, I watch birds at my house all the time because I’ve got ducks coming. I’ve got 2 ponds right behind my house. And I get gadwall and I get some teal coming in there every now and then during the spring when they’re, when they’re migrating back. And I sit at my house and watch them with binoculars. And Terry and I talked about this, what that really replicates, if you watch teal and they come in and they swoop in and land, first thing they do is they shake that tail. And that’s what that –

Ramsey Russell: But they’re always shaking, adjusting their wings, tucking their wings and tucking them back.

Tracy Andreas: What that’s doing and Terry and I’ve had this discussion several times is, and I learned it as a taxidermist years ago. The oil glands on a duck are where? They’re on the tail, on the top of the tail. And what those ducks are doing is they hit the water, they’ll shake their tail which stimulates that oil gland. You see them reach back there on their tail with their bill and rub it and then you’ll see them preening around on their feathers. What they’re doing is they’re oiling their self, but it’s that little flash. And that little flash when you walk off 2 or 300 yards is just, it’s amazing how much it looks like ducks fluttering in a spread.

Ramsey Russell: Movement is so critical. This morning, for example, not a breath of wind. It’s just the water looked like a neon sign mirror

Tracy Andreas: It did.

Ramsey Russell: And when you got those flock of flickers or any movement with a standard Mojo, you’re creating movement without that water moving.

Tracy Andreas: Exactly.

Ramsey Russell: You know what I’m saying? I mean, it really, I think it helps.

Tracy Andreas: It does. There’s not a doubt in my mind.

Ramsey Russell: You deal with a lot of people here, Tracy, from all over the United States. We got some folks from Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan here in camp right now. Those bulls ain’t used to this heat down here. I mean, they’re not used to duck hunting in 90 something degree heat.

Tracy Andreas: It’s kind of tough.

Ramsey Russell: And do you ever have any conversation blind about that? I mean, mosquitoes? Maybe a few snakes.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Fire ants.

Tracy Andreas: You get some complaints.

Ramsey Russell: Do you? They ain’t used to it.

Tracy Andreas: They’re not. And, but they come down here for that blue wing teal season just because it is so fantastic.

Ramsey Russell: It is the world’s best. And this is the epicenter of blue winged teal.

Tracy Andreas: It is.

Ramsey Russell: I think Steve and I about figured out that 80% to 90% of every blue wing in North America comes right through this part of the prairie.

Tracy Andreas: Well, and I agree with that. What happens is these birds, when they come down, even if they were, any of the birds east of us eventually filter down the coast this way. So those blue wing teal that hit in Louisiana and Alabama –

Ramsey Russell: Mississippi, Alabama.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah, they’re all filtering down the coast. They’re not just going to fly across the Gulf of Mexico. And of course, they hit all the big major rice producing areas.

Ramsey Russell: You put on weight when you’re here. You all got a couple of good cooks.

Tracy Andreas: We do have couple of good cooks. Ms. Betty kind of takes care of all of us. So we and Jim and John, they do the outdoor cooking and grilling and the girls, and Betty and the girls do the inside cooking. And I try not to eat too much. It’s kind of tough on a 67 year old when you get too big traipsing around in that mud.

Ramsey Russell: What time do you all normally get back? What would you say a normal. And it run. It may be plus or minus an hour or 2. Blue winged teal hunting, he starts getting hot. But it’s normally pretty quick.

Tracy Andreas: Yeah, we’re normally, I mean, we were through hunting, actually this morning by about 09:00 we stayed till 09:15 just to see we needed 2 more birds. And we hung in there for another 15 minutes. But it was by then we were all soaking wet and sweat. And I decided to was it was okay to be without them, too?

Ramsey Russell: What’s some funny stories you have about taking so many folks teal hunt?

Tracy Andreas: Oh, it’s, I could go back.

Ramsey Russell: You ain’t seen no famous misses, have you?

Tracy Andreas: Well, I’ve seen some pretty good ones and I’ve seen some great hunts, too. But I guess just this last week I had a crew and I don’t want to mention any names, but they’re a clothing line. And they came down, hunted with us. And they were really, I think, more interested in taking pictures because they couldn’t shoot a lick. I think we killed 18 ducks. And I would venture to say that the guide and the helper helped kill most of them because otherwise they wouldn’t have killed one.

Ramsey Russell: Was it a, lot of shotgun shells? But a good time.

Tracy Andreas: Good time. They laughed and joked and took pictures and that’s what they wanted to do, was get a bunch of pictures with people with their shirt on.

Ramsey Russell: I was hunting somebody not too long ago, a bird landed out there in the decoys, I don’t know. 2, 3 minutes after shooting time. And they were clapping hands. I said, you don’t have to lead them as far when they’re sitting. Cause blue wings, which I love to shoot, they will make an ass of you.

Tracy Andreas: Oh, they will.

Ramsey Russell: I mean, they’re not slow about a blue wing coming in.

Tracy Andreas: No, they can, they don’t. They call them rice rockets for a reason.

Ramsey Russell: Rice rockets for a reason. What’s your favorite part of this time of year? Your favorite thing about taking folks out blue winged teal hunt?

Tracy Andreas: Oh, it’s just being out there. Like I said, I started when I was real young and there is nothing better for me than being in a blind with – And it doesn’t make any difference who’s with me. All these clients, I love all of them. I’ve got a group that just left, 4, 5 boys from Louisiana that come over here with me every year. And we just, we have a big time. We shot 36 ducks first 2 days and I told them the 3rd day, I said, look, boys, we’re going to go back here in the woods. Now, we’re not going to kill but 12 or 15 ducks, but we’re going to have a great time. And we set up in a little wood slough and we killed, I think we killed 14 teal. And they all just thought that was the best hunt they’d had all week. We’d been killing limits of 30 every day. But they, they had more fun killing 14 in that little old bitty wood slough.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Tracy Andreas: And because it was so beautiful, it was a sunny day and the birds, just the birds that came over us, decoyed. I mean, they would circle those wood and they just had a great time.

Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot to be said. I cannot imagine a single duck hunter that doesn’t like it when the duck gods smile and just flocks are just banging it. Wham, bam and it’s over before the sun even rises. But man, sometimes it gets so chaotic. It’s really and truly the hunts I appreciate the most are the ones that take a couple hours.

Tracy Andreas: That’s right. Let them slow down and –

Ramsey Russell: They slow down, the dogs can keep up.

Tracy Andreas: And it gives you a chance to visit with friends.

Ramsey Russell: And what better place to visit?

Tracy Andreas: Oh, yeah. We tell all kinds of stories and just have a great time. The blind is the best place in the world to be.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Tracy.

Tracy Andreas: Thank you.

Ramsey Russell: Mr. Joey Hanks, part of Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl. How long have you been a part of the team?

Joey Hanks: I’ve been a part of the team, so before it was Rocky Creek, I got it back when Steve first started in this area with him.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Joey Hanks: Yeah. So Steve and I go way back. Steve’s a Exxon pipeline guy. The pipeline had some cutbacks and he actually came to my facility where I work. Excuse me. And that’s how I met, Steve was in the plants. And I always had a big interest in dogs and the waterfowl. And obviously we just hit it off. And long story short, here I am.

Ramsey Russell: You grow up in this part of the world?

Joey Hanks: I grew up in Baytown, Texas.

Ramsey Russell: You’ve been working with Steve a long time. Been guiding with him a long time. Did you grow up duck hunting?

Joey Hanks: Yes sir, I did. So I grew up hunting the old lost river backwash, that sort of stuff. And then on the intercoastal canal, down there. We used to take a Boston Whaler across the intercoastal canal, walk across a boardwalk get into airboat and go out there. Back when they pintails were 10 point birds.

Ramsey Russell: That’s been a while.

Joey Hanks: That’s been a while.

Ramsey Russell: When did blue wings become a part of your duck hunting experience? From the get go? From the beginning?

Joey Hanks: No, really, when I was introduced to the prairie down here with Steve in probably the early 2000. So blue wing, Steve turned me on to them down here, we get this special 16 day season, started learning about their migration, what they like, what they don’t like, the reason why they’re here in El Campo, where we’re at. Really, they’re just a phenomenal bird.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. They become one of my favorite, if not my favorite. It fascinates between mallard and blue wings, depending on which one I’m hunting. Which ones I like. What do you like most about blue winged teal season?

Joey Hanks: Blue wing teal season –

Ramsey Russell: As a guide.

Joey Hanks: As a guide, it’s really quick. We get to – we run. I’ll hunt all 16 days and I meet new people every day. It’s the perfect opportunity to get the youth introduced to the outdoors.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.

Joey Hanks: It’s quick, it’s fast, it’s easy, it’s fun. And that to me, is probably the thing that and new young dogs.

Ramsey Russell: You’re a big dog guy. Everybody here’s got good dogs, a lot of dog power at Rocky Creek Retrievers.

Joey Hanks: Yes, sir. That’s a pretty much a requirement from Steve. We’re all, I do hunt majority of Steve’s dog training clients. Steve’s still in the dog training business and so I run just with my dog experience, helping new gundog owners with their dogs.

Ramsey Russell: What’s it like dealing with a tremendous variety of people from the United States that may or may not have experienced blue winged teal or blue winged teal in 900 weather?

Joey Hanks: The biggest thing that I think the beauty of it is, majority of our customers lodge. We can, us as guides, we will know who we’re hunting, kind of what experience they have and then we can in turn, cater to that early in the morning, getting ready to go through the blind. And so we can kind of make it a very comfortable. We know what they’re interested in, we know what their goals are and we kind of go from there.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the goals? I mean, I just come and shoot a bunch of blue wings, have a good time.

Joey Hanks: What I really learned a lot of times, we’re all very competitive people and sometimes we get hung up on the numbers.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.

Joey Hanks: And I learned a valuable lesson last year when I had individual – We did have a slow hunt. I’d only had 2 or 3 birds down with a father, son. The son was probably in his 30s. The father was in his 60s.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Joey Hanks: And me being competitive person –

Ramsey Russell: I know who quit draw on that deal.

Joey Hanks: Yeah. I said, guys, I apologize. I say, yep, slow day. It’s hunting. And that gentleman looked at me, he says, Mr. Hanks, this is one of the best days of my life. He said, my dad’s not even supposed to be here. He said he survived three different bouts of cancer. And so whether we ever pulled the trigger or not, today was a successful day. And so, Ramsey, that really taught me that every day that I hunt is somebody’s opening day and I need to bring the excitement, the enthusiasm, the love for the sport that I have every day, whether I kill 1 duck or whether I kill 60 ducks.

Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah. And there’s some days you can throw every trick in the book at them and it just don’t happen.

Joey Hanks: It. That’s –

Ramsey Russell: I mean, they’re a duck. They got the whole sky covering the whole world of flying and some days it just doesn’t happen.

Joey Hanks: That is true.

Ramsey Russell: Rare down here, though it may be.

Joey Hanks: Yes, it is rare. We are very blessed. We’re very blessed to be down here on this prairie where we have just a phenomenal landowner, the whole property set up for waterfowl. And like I said, yeah, the lack of birds working in our decoys is very rare.

Ramsey Russell: What are a lot of controllables that you all deal with before and during the season? The blinds, for example. You all have got very comfortable blinds that will hide anybody. What are some of the other little details that go into it?

Joey Hanks: So, we’re constantly battling water down here. We probably have some of the most water on the prairie down here. And it’s a constant battle. We may be running a pump. We may have to go pull a 6 inch pump and pull off of a bar ditch to help get water into.

Ramsey Russell: No wonder you’re late for supper. I mean, yeah.

Joey Hanks: This stuff is happening in the June, July, August timeframe, heat index 1100, 1120. The mosquitoes, the snakes. But I always kid Steve, we need to write a book on what a guide goes through from the June, July, August, September for the customers to be able to see when they go out there, these big pretty 60 acre ponds with great comfortable blinds.

Ramsey Russell: It don’t happen by accident, does it?

Joey Hanks: It does not happen by accident.

Ramsey Russell: What do you look forward to the most every morning when you get up to go duck hunting with clients?

Joey Hanks: Yeah, they, I look forward to – We’re very blessed to be able to do this every day and have the support system. My wife supports this, my kids support this, this passion that I have. And my greatest reward is seeing somebody just this excitement, the camaraderie, whether it’s a business deal, whether it’s a family deal, whether it’s someone with their first dog, whether it’s, this morning in the blind I had a father daughter and her husband. They flew in from Pennsylvania.

Ramsey Russell: Pennsylvania. 4 state I’ve met from down here. Yeah.

Joey Hanks: So, you just meet some really good, neat people and that really makes you, we work extremely hard for these, for our customers to just get the best enjoyment and like I said, I just have a passion for wing shooting.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much, Joey.

Joey Hanks: Thank you, man. I appreciate you, brother.

Ramsey Russell: Bring it up the rear Mr. Len Vaughn. And Len, I have I knew you before. I knew Steve Bigger’s Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl. We got to hunt. You just remind me with the late Jake JJ Kent.

Len Vaughn: Yes, sir.

Ramsey Russell: What a widget hunt we had. I cannot believe that.

Len Vaughn: Fabulous widget nut. That’s all we shot was widget and 1 mallard Drake.

Ramsey Russell: That what a, to me, to a guy from back east, across other side of river. It looked like the most unlikely place I’d ever shoot a duck. Just out in the middle of a cow pasture.

Len Vaughn: It was a middle of a cow pasture.

Ramsey Russell: Stock tank. I’m like, JJ, he’s like, no it’s going to be good.

Len Vaughn: If you remember, it was cold that morning. Stock tank. Didn’t look like anything. We got out there, broke all the ice up through some silhouettes, decoys around the edges and we just mowed them down that morning.

Hunt Restrictions after Spoon and Crockett Hunt

And one of my favorite, probably that was absolutely my most favorite hunt with JJ except the Spoonzilla hunt, we had the spoon and Crockett hunt.

Ramsey Russell: We sure did. And it wasn’t fast and furious. It was just. We could select Drake’s. And one of my favorite, probably that was absolutely my most favorite hunt with JJ except the Spoonzilla hunt, we had the spoon and Crockett hunt I have with the late Mike Morgan. Terry Denmon never let me and Mike hunt together again, not without adult supervision. His words. We targeted those shovelers. But you were also. I reconnected with you down here. I’ve been coming here for a long time. You one of the first guides? Rarely have I been here. I don’t get to hunt with you. How long? Where are you from in Texas?

Len Vaughn: I’m from a town called Deer Park, Texas.

Ramsey Russell: Which is where from here?

Len Vaughn: Southeast of here. I grew up there. I was born and raised there.

Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up duck hunting?

Len Vaughn: I grew up duck hunting. I grew up doing all kinds of hunting. I grew up duck hunting. My dad started me when I was 5 years old. There are pictures of me and him where I’m in diapers and I’m following him through a trail in the woods at our deer lease. But I started duck hunting when I was about 5 or 6 years old with him.

Ramsey Russell: How long into your career as a just a hunter, did blue wings come into play?

Len Vaughn: About 12 years ago with Steve.

Ramsey Russell: 10 years ago with Steve.

Len Vaughn: Started right here. Like you said, we met when I was up at JJ. Steve was training a dog for me and we would call each other back and forth. He would ask me about the birds in north Texas. What are we seeing up there? And I would give him a migration report. This is what just came through. What are you all seeing down here, we may be struggling up there and they would be killing them down here.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.

Len Vaughn: And then it got to a point to where things were working out. I got remarried, I had a young baby. I was 6 and a half hours away up there hunting with him, with JJ. And Steve just says, why don’t you come down here and see what it’s like? Just see. And, I’ve been here ever since.

Ramsey Russell: It’s the epicenter of blue winged teal this time of year especially. But all the hunters I talk to during regular duck season, they talk about a lot of the blue wings that they’ll encounter in late January when they got the purple heads and crescent moons cause they a lot of those, adult drakes start to bounce back quick, the breeding pairs like to bounce back this part of the world quick. So blue wings are integral to the entire Texas waterfowl experience at least out here on the prairies they are. Rarely have I hunted in Texas in December or January, this part of Texas, but I haven’t seen blue wings.

Len Vaughn: We have a lot of customers that will come here in September because they want the numbers. But the majority of them, when they leave here in September after their hunt, they’re rebooking for January because they want that shot, that one chance at a fully crested blue wing teal.

Ramsey Russell: I have met in the last hour and a half clients from 6 or 7 states throughout the United States and most of the continental United States either has zero blue wings or like myself, in Mississippi, folks in Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, I say north Louisiana and further up the flyway, West Virginia, Indiana. The birds just, they skip like a tall stone, heading down here to gorge themselves on rice before stage almost before flying way further south down into Mexico and Central America. And I’ve even seen them miss the stop line and end up in a part of northern Argentina.

Len Vaughn: Now, you’ve duck hunted a lot more than I have and probably have a lot more information than I have, but it’s my understanding that blue wings are the only ducks that merge together and come down the central flyway all at once.

Ramsey Russell: They do, they’ll come down the eastern seaboard, they’ll come down to Mississippi flyway, but they do and I learned this from Biggers and MOJO and since corroborated it with scientists like Paul Link, a lot of the Atlantic Mississippi flyways birds, they get down to that gulf coast marsh down below I-10 hang in, turn west and thread the needle coming right through this prairie right here.

Len Vaughn: They come right through El Campo.

Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot of food, there’s a lot of water, there’s a lot of good habitat. The weather’s nice. Something about a blue wing they like hot weather, boy. And then they go down when it starts getting cool here, they’re further south where it’s still about like this, about 900, 890. They like it, that hot weather. We started shooting them down in Guatemala, some in February, March and man, it’s like this every day. It’s 890, 365 days a year. I wonder they don’t just live there.

Len Vaughn: I know they love the hot weather.

Ramsey Russell: They do. What is your favorite thing about blue wing teal season? From a guide perspective especially? It’s easy.

Len Vaughn: From a guide. Well –

Ramsey Russell: Relatively easy.

Len Vaughn: You say it’s relative and it is. It can be. During big duck season, you can throw out 10 to 11 dozen decoys, a blue wing teal hunt, you can throw out 4 or 5 dozen decoys. Short rigs, lightweights, get in there, you get them before hardly the sun comes up, you’re in and out.

Ramsey Russell: I didn’t mean to say it like you weren’t working for them. What I say is like I talked to a biologist one time that told me you could probably double the bag limit of blue wings. And because they move so quickly, you can’t stick them good that you probably wouldn’t put a dent in the population. So what you all are dealing a lot of your bread and butter and your high five mornings are new birds. The baby showed up. They’re pulsing through here. So it’s a lot of new birds that haven’t settled in. They’re looking for what you got laid.

Len Vaughn: Well, we’re fortunate enough the way the calendar has folded out or lays out the first of the year we get the big migrate, the big push in August and we get them here. But you can sit in a blind about this middle weekend and you can watch new birds arrive. You can see them and you can tell – you can go the first week and you can shoot your adults, your male, your big males and you can tell. But about that 5th, 6th day, you start shooting the babies and the females and you know that we’re getting a new push and you can sit there. I’ve had mornings where you sit there and you just watch. We may get a limit. We may get lucky and have our limit, but the show is incredible. It looks like you’re laying in a field in Canada and it’s new blue wings just pouring into a pond.

Ramsey Russell: But the show down here is always, it’s always a lot of duck with blue wings.

Len Vaughn: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: And that’s another thing about blue wing teal season. They’re not waiting on a cold front or Alberta clipper or something crazy to come down there. It’s like you can almost set your clock by them like a train stop.

Len Vaughn: You can.

Ramsey Russell: They’re coming.

Len Vaughn: You can.

Ramsey Russell: They’re coming. They’re still migrating. I’ve had folks down in coastal Texas and Louisiana tell me recently. In the past couple years, blue wings have become their new real duck season. That’s when they save their time for is that 16 days.

Len Vaughn: Yes, sir.

Ramsey Russell: Because they know the blue wings are going to be here. They know they’re coming. A lot of times, they’re going to be able to go out in the mornings and deal with new birds. It’s fun again.

Len Vaughn: I take all my vacation for teal season.

Ramsey Russell: Do you really?

Len Vaughn: I take half of it for teal season and then the rest of it, I’m off for the first all part of November here.

Ramsey Russell: Dealing with so many folks from around the United States that don’t have the luxury of doing this every year, every day. Certainly, you gain a sense of how different their hunting is than coming out here. It’s going to be 750 in the morning, if we’re lucky, going to be a few bugs around while we got bugged oak and fogger. And if we have to stick it out till 09:00, it’s going to warm up when that sun comes up. Do you ever get a sense of first timers that are coming from the north and hunting the Deep South like that for blue wings?

Len Vaughn: I do.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the feedback you get before they were hosting up all them big straps?

Len Vaughn: Before they hosting up them big straps. It’s funny, it’s hot down here. We’re accustomed to it. You get the guys from the north, they come in, they’re duck hunters. So they’re bringing their waders up north. They’re wearing 1600 grams thinsulate waders. They show up here, it’s 900 in the morning.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, No.

Len Vaughn: Can we help you throw decoys? Yeah, sure you can, but you may fall over of a heat stroke in those waders.

Ramsey Russell: I guarantee you.

Len Vaughn: So the next day, they’re going out there in their tennis shoes. It’s a funny mix. And you meet all kinds of people.

Ramsey Russell: I See it. It’s funny you say, I see a lot of locals down here that will go out in blue jeans and just throw duck hunting tennis shoes. Get wet, it ain’t cold, so just get wet.

Len Vaughn: Well, one of the big things down here on the coast is fishing. Saltwater fishing. And in the summertime, people will put on waders, but in the sometime, you just jump off in your bathing suit and go wading and fish.

Ramsey Russell: Do you ever wear waders? Are you a hip boot guy?

Marcus Lagrange: Both.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Len Vaughn: Both. There’s some ponds here that we can wear hip waders and we were fine. But there’s some of them out here that when we fill them up, they’re waist deep. Some of them are belly button deep. If I get to run my dog, I put on a pair of waders, because when they come back and shake, you’re going to get wet.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Len Vaughn: If somebody else wants to run their dog, I’ll put on hip boots because then I don’t have to – The dogs not near me. Plus, I also like full waders to keep the mosquitoes off of me.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy. They can’t bite through those waders.

Len Vaughn: They cannot bite through the waders.

Ramsey Russell: They want to.

Len Vaughn: They want to. And down here, there’s bigger pterodactyls. They are big.

Ramsey Russell: What all goes into delivering what I call, and you’ve heard me say it many times, the best blue wing teal hunt in Texas. And I say that because you’ve got the birds, you’ve got the program. But it’s a big operation. This is a big commercial operation. This ain’t just a commercial operator. This is a big commercial operation with lots of folks coming through and you’re able to deliver a quality experience for everybody. What are some of the moving pieces that takes a team effort?

Len Vaughn: Like, team is the key word. You got to have a team of people that want to work together. It’s a lot of time away from family. It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the field, making sure our blinds are comfortable, making sure they’re accessible, making sure people can get to them easy. And then it has a lot to do with the farmer. When we can get water, what they’re planting. This year was very hard with the drought. We did not know what was going to happen with all the ponds that we had. We were fortunate, very fortunate enough to get some water. I mean, when you really sit down and think about it, we went from 25 ponds to about 15.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. When you get done, 16 days of guide and teal hunts. On the one hand, it’s over pretty quick. You’re back for a late breakfast. On the other hand, you’re up pretty dang early. There’s a lot to do before 06:30, 06:35, 06:40.

Len Vaughn: Most every guide here is up at 04:00 in the morning. 03:30, 04:00 o’clock in the morning. We get all our stuff together in the evening, but in the morning, we’re letting our dogs out, we’re letting them air, we’re letting them run. We’re loading up, we’re double checking our gear. We come in here, make sure the customer’s okay. Hey, you all good? You get your breakfast, you ready to go and then you gotta wait on them to get all their stuff together. And this is 16 days in a row. It’s not just go hunt, go have fun. It’s come back, make sure they’re taken care of here at the lodge.

Ramsey Russell: Tag birds.

Len Vaughn: Tag birds, clean birds.

Ramsey Russell: Everybody else comes in and takes a shower and goes and eats breakfast. You’re still working?

Len Vaughn: Yeah. Like when you got here today. Hey, you’re around the lodge? No, we’re out at the field fixing blinds.

Ramsey Russell: Fixing blinds. What all goes into you all blinds? You all got good blinds. You all’s got a lot of good comfortable blinds.

Len Vaughn: There a lot of thought. There’s some of them that we’ve built big floor blinds above the water and everything. And then there’s some that we go drive T-post, put up a cattle panel and build benches. But we play the wind down here, majority of the time the wind during teal season does a south wind. So we set most blinds up for a south wind. And then we kind of rotate fields and there’s some ponds that we have 2 blinds on that we can hunt. In the wintertime, you’ll get the north wind or in the wintertime you’ll have the predominantly southeast wind. So we play the wind, the sun direction and we try to set them up as comfortably as we can. I mean, I tell a lot of people when you come up with us, you can wear crocs. You can take 4 steps off of our buggy and be in a blind. And I think –

Ramsey Russell: That take a lot of pre game preparation. Doesn’t it?

Len Vaughn: I’ve had guys show up in the Casey boots and step off a ranger, step into the blind, shoot their limit and they get back in the ranger.

Ramsey Russell: Go to work in Houston.

Len Vaughn: Go to work.

Ramsey Russell: How many of your clients in 16 days are have you come to know over time? Because they keep coming back and they hunt. Want to hunt with their guide, Len?

Len Vaughn: 98% of mine are repeat clients.

Ramsey Russell: 98%.

Len Vaughn: I’d say 98% of everybody here is repeat clients.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, we’ve already had the conversation about – I’m telling listeners, if you want to experience real blue wing teal hunting, here’s your guy. Call him, but you better call now. You better call, but call next couple weeks. Do not wait until a month or 2 outer. They’re going to say call next year.

Len Vaughn: Pretty much most everybody who comes down here and experiences this, they book next year when they leave.

Ramsey Russell: They do, don’t they?

Len Vaughn: Most everybody with Steve Biggers, all the guides included, teal season is generally full in March.

Ramsey Russell: Would you say it’s busier than big duck season?

Len Vaughn: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: That’s the demand for the world’s or certainly America’s best blue winged teal hunt.

Len Vaughn: This lodge will stay full all 16 days of teal season. In November, it’ll be full, but it’ll be sporadically full. It won’t be solid like this.

Ramsey Russell: Nobody’s going to take off work and do what they got to do because they’re not racing a 16 day won’t they?

Len Vaughn: Right.

Ramsey Russell: How has the 6 teal limit changed your approach, your game? Or has it you get to go out there and shoot more birds, but then again, you got to stay longer, work harder to get 6 birds to the 4.

Len Vaughn: It really, in my opinion, it hasn’t changed. You steal have to work for it. It’s not an easy, it’s not a can hunt. I try to tell everybody, hey, I can’t control birds and I can’t control weather. The only thing that I control is to try to have a good time and make sure you’re happy and comfortable. Whether you’re shooting 4 teal or 6 teal, you still have to make your customers happy, because this is a – face it or not, this is a customer service game.

Ramsey Russell: When you’ve got a crowd full of blind, a blind full of clients. And we’re trying to explain this in other parts of the world that just don’t get duck hunting. It’s not just, hey, there’s a lot of ducks and they’re getting close. You want the birds to present themselves?

Len Vaughn: Correct.

Ramsey Russell: So that they’re vulnerable and so that when that flock of 20 or 30 does commit, you can make them count.

Len Vaughn: Right.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the decoy techniques, tips of the trade that you employ to make blue winged teal present themselves perfectly?

Len Vaughn: The wind. If we have a wind, I’ll set up a spread to where I can create a wall. It’s almost like a – I try to figure out like a brick wall when they’re coming into the wind. I will set up a huge, I may put 3 or 4 dozen teal decoys to create a wall and do the J Hook. You can do the big open pods. The main thing that works for me with blue wings is I concentrate all my Mojos right in the middle of the spread.

Ramsey Russell: Really, right in the kill hole.

Len Vaughn: Right in the kill hole.

Ramsey Russell: How many Mojos do you use?

Len Vaughn: There are some days where I’ll use 3 to 4 Mojos. There’s some days that I may use 2 Mojos and then if there’s a decent wind I may put 1 Mojos off to the side a little bit. But I’ll have 12 flock of flickers right in the middle and they will suck up to it.

Ramsey Russell: It’s funny how everybody has a different technique and a different style doing it. Tomorrow we’re going to get to hunt over a prototype, one of your brainstorms. And I’m not going to divulge a secret just yet. I know Mr. Denmon don’t want the word to get out, but I can’t wait to do it, Len. As always, it’s good to see you.

Len Vaughn: Yes, sir.

Ramsey Russell: Last question I got though is the food. Do you ever put on weight down here? Because man, this is a full blown little country cafe on the side of the roads. What I tell Steve when I walk in this cafe now, that’s exactly what it reminds me of. And it’s hard to find these kind of places anymore. Now it’s all corporate something, another change, boy. What’s the food like here?

Len Vaughn: The food is excellent. If you walk away from this little –

Ramsey Russell: You put on pounds.

Len Vaughn: I do a little bit, but we sweat a lot of it off as hot as it is. I tell everybody if you walk away from this place hungry, there’s something wrong with you.

Ramsey Russell: It’s your own fault.

Len Vaughn: It’s your own fault.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Len.

Len Vaughn: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to the staff down here at Rocky Creek Retrievers Team Waterfowl in El Campo, Texas. I’m telling you best commercial blue winged teal hunt in America. Excellent lodging, great staff. You better book if you want to come. Okay. Thank you all for listening to this episode of MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast. We’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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