“It effects lives. Like tumbling dominoes, it affects relationships,” says Gene Campbell about the fateful event. Y’all know my friend, Gene Campbell of Oyster Bayou Hunting Club in southeastern Texas. From past episodes, y’all have come to know him as a since-forever duck hunter (personally and professionally), a staunch conservationist, avid birder, nature observer and self-taught waterfowl habitat expert. But on December 13, 1986, he was met by agents at the boat ramp, handcuffed in front of clients, and taken into federal custody as part of a sweeping, statewide dragnet. Today he tells that story.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to the MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast. I am in Chambers County, Texas down here, way down the southeast corner and it’s God’s country. You all have heard today’s guest a few times, Mr. Gene Campbell and he described this area 30, 40 years ago. 40, 50 years ago, when it was all rice. It was one of the rice capitals of Texas, which is like everything else is big. But it’s changed now. It’s just, it’s a totally different environment. Practically everybody does a lot of moist soil management of epic proportions, not the least of which is Mr. Gene Campbell. And the blue wings just always make a show and Gene sure enjoyed this morning, again.

Gene Campbell: That’s a lot of fun. I love the 2 dogs, too.

Ramsey Russell: I love that, too. Every time I hunt with you, you let me bring Char dog and one of the clients has always got a dog. But they’re always such well behaved dogs. You don’t allow autopilots in the blind, do you?

Gene Campbell: Well, no, we don’t. We got leashes there that they clip them up to. A lot of people come and their dog may have been steady for them in their own hunting situation, but if you get into a blind where there’s a lot of action, you got a lot of shooters.

Ramsey Russell: Or more than one dog.

Gene Campbell: There’s just a lot going on there. And you can’t be a good dog handler some, all the time. So it’s best with everybody that’s got a shotgun that can be shooting out there and that dog’s going to go across right in front of everybody that’s shooting, you got to have that dog clipped. That’s just an insurance thing.

Ramsey Russell: I was clipping Char, who as steady as can be, but I was clipping her because she wanted to creep up in that grass. She wanted to get kind of, if right in front of me was 12, she wanted to be at about 11 where she could mark. And I just, I don’t give her 2 foot now. So I brought her back, just clipped her, just to let her know. I want you to stay right here at 09:00. Right beside me is where I want you. And boy, it was a pleasure. Kim, that little dog Kim was 45 pounds or whoop ass, speed and agility. And we had 2 of them going at it, thank goodness.

Gene Campbell: That was nice. That was real nice. I love to see that.

Ramsey Russell: I like handling the dogs on blue wings because I get to look at all the birds and it was all adult birds. Shot a few hens and I assumed they were non breeding birds. But no juveniles yet?

Gene Campbell: Not yet. Last year it was a lot like this. We shot a lot of males and some barren females, but very few young birds. About first, the last Monday of the season, the females started showing up and it was like the season started completely over. There were just so many birds, so many baby birds, they decoyed so well. But the whole rest of that season was, it was like an opener.

Ramsey Russell: You’re a moist soil management, self taught biologist of epic proportions. And we all had a major drought, how did that affect your moist soil productivity this year?

Gene Campbell: Well, the beauty of moist soil management is it creates an incredible seed bank. All those seeds are in there. They’re up to about 12 inches deep and we had some opportunities, we’re going to farm a lot of that property this next year. Our farmer has finally decided to give up on the seed rice and he’s going to farm with commercial rice and those procedures are just better for hunting. The stalk is not as stiff, there’s a whole lot more byproduct on the ground, it’s just a better food for the ducks. It’s better habitat in every possible way. So we got in and worked all the fields up and you saw what the birds are doing. There’s so much water showing out there right now. They’re breaking down up high and they’re going to work up that whole area. Some of them will come to us and some of them won’t. But we’re seeing more ducks with this situation than what we normally would on a weekday.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, wow. That makes sense. But you didn’t get, what species of moist soil managed plants are absent from your normal menu.

Gene Campbell: Right. Okay, so we’re late getting water this year. The canal company, it’s a drought, canal company is – I got to back up a little bit. This is an exceptional year because it was very wet early and the farmers couldn’t get the field. So they got the rice in late and then they got the water. There’s been plenty of water in the Trinity River, that’s where our water comes from. But it started slowing down a little bit. The rice is just now coming off. We’re still cutting and seeing green rice right now. So they’re still feeding those farmers and when we call for the water, we’re the last man on a totem pole. We’re going to get the shortest flow. The rice farmers are going to get the biggest flow, exactly what they need to get their evaporation stream going. So we’ve been, we’re still taking water, we’ve been taking water for 3 weeks now and I’ve got another 200 or 300 acres that we’re flooding. So it’s just taking a long time. And canal company actually announced about a week and a half ago that there was no more water for sale. So anybody that was late getting into the game that hadn’t already got a contract on their water, they’re not going to get any water. Even a wildlife refuge, they’ve got a reservoir that they need to flood back up and are not going to get it.

Ramsey Russell: Speaking of refuge being dry, you were telling me last night over dinner that, about the effects of drought on reptilians. Tell that story about the concentrations.

The Anahuac Wildlife Refuge: A Natural Wonderland.

So there’s this Anahuac Wildlife for refuge, it’s got a great big pond called shoveler pond. It was an old rice field reservoir that they built in the 40s and it has always been a show place.

Gene Campbell: So there’s this Anahuac Wildlife for refuge, it’s got a great big pond called shoveler pond. It was an old rice field reservoir that they built in the 40s and it has always been a show place. They’ve even built a road all the way around it and paved it so that people could get up on that thing and see all the waterfowl and wading birds, shorebirds, alligators, turtles, fish. It’s just absolute wonderland. There’s a lot of cane in there too, roseau cane and California bulrush in there. So it’s also some very good rail and songbird habitat. And the cane got so thick in one of the areas that the wading birds, the egrets and the ibis were all coming in there, herons too, were coming in there and folding that cane over and building big nests up in that cane. Now, I’m sure they’ve done that somewhere before, but they hadn’t done it around here anywhere that I’ve ever seen. All of this was in play when we had that big drought a few years back. I guess it was 2011 and it almost dried up then, but it’s never dried up since then. Last year they made the decision that they want to rehab the reservoir, so they drained it out. It was a dry year, it was a good year to get in there. They got in there, worked it back up and it was gone for a year, that thing was gone for a year. Most of the alligators stayed in that area, they had to get out. They ate all the gar, they ate all the turtles that were in there and every shorebird that they could catch and got out of there. But they stayed pretty close by because the marsh, the other portions of the marsh, they weren’t working on them. They still had water in them. This year, and now I’m talking about 200, 300 alligators that lived in this 200 acres and all sizes, not a lot of little bitty ones. The little bitty ones, they were food, they would always get eaten. So if they were outside that levee, they had a preyer. If not, they got eaten too. So this year we start out, we’ve got all of these things that were going on. It turned into an exceptional drought. And a fisherman or some fishermen that were down at the watergate, a crab down there and a fish for redfish and trout down there. They pulled the control boards out of shelter pond to make an outflow so it would make their fishing better. And they drain that pond. So now it’s dried up again. Fish & wildlife went out there and did what they could, put the boards back in, lock the boards in now so nobody can take them out and it still doesn’t have any water in it. They did a little more work on some of the invasive plants that were trying to come back already. But their budget didn’t include the water. The friends group is going to help them in a couple of different ways to get that water back in there. But everybody has been shut off on water, so it’s not going to get water this year unless it rains or unless the, well, it’s going to have to rain.

Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s one thing about this part of the world, how far are we from the gulf? Speaking of distance.

Gene Campbell: This is about – yeah, it’s close.

Ramsey Russell: I mean, it’s just, and we’re in that time of year, here we are in September. We got 2 more months for something for squall to blow in off the gulf and give you all more water than you ever dreamed of.

Gene Campbell: That’s right. All we want is a little bit.

Ramsey Russell: But anything could happen.

Gene Campbell: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: It’s rare that you all don’t get water.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And so I did not see jungle rice out there in your pound.

Gene Campbell: No. So all that disc and everything, jungle rice is going to jump out of there. It’s almost like ryegrass. You can plant everything you want to in a perfectly prepared soil and if it doesn’t rain and the temperature is 1000 every day, it’s not coming up. Just to show you how eager those plants are when we’re flooding those fields, we finally got our water starts coming on those fields. You can watch that grass in a day or 2, come up right there where that water touches it is ready to go. And we’re very cautious about how quick we flood that stuff for that very reason. We’ve got the seed bank and which is good. We got everything we need in the ground already. We’re not going to have to roll it. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to do anything else to it. They’re just going to come in there and utilize the seed bank but as that water comes in, you can see that stuff popping up. If you don’t get the water on it and up right away, a lot of that stuff will, it’s just, it’ll come right on up. And here we are with another management problem. We have to get back out there with a roller after it’s flooded and roll that stuff down, at least where we’re hunting.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gene Campbell: And of course, we’ve got different techniques for rolling and everything. And that’s a tool, a steering tool.

Ramsey Russell: Here you are in a drought.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And you are out discing and setting the stage for future management, years of moist soil management. You know what surprised me? And I was sitting out there looking this morning, gazillions of teal, but I was sitting out there watching and we had this conversation last night about moist soil management. And it just surprised me that even in a bad drought, even without your jungle rice and your cruise galley and your different grasses and your different, all the stuff that you’ve cultivated over the decades, you did not go out and plant brown top or jap millet or nothing. And that shocked me as compared to a lot of Mississippi duck coming about, we got to plant brown top millet, got to plant brown top. Why don’t you do stuff like that? Cause brown top ain’t really a wetland plant anyway. Why the hell are we planting it for ducks?

Gene Campbell: Brown top millet is no more productive as a duck food than watery millet or jungle rice.

Ramsey Russell: Which is in the soil and it grows itself, if you lay the stage right.

Gene Campbell: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: And it’s more drought tolerant. It’s more everything tolerant.

Gene Campbell: Everything about it.

Ramsey Russell: Because it’s natural.

Gene Campbell: Comes back quicker from salt water. The brown top millet might volunteer a little bit, but it’s not going to volunteer much. To get a good head on it, you really need a little bit of fertilizer on it. So we eliminate the fertilizer, which is really expensive now and the planting costs and the land costs, because we’ve got that seed bank. I mean, it’s like a pot of gold laying on the ground out there. All you got to do is put water on top of it, as long as you let that stuff prosper every year, there’s nothing that, that farmer is going to do 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 years as they go through there with their rotation, that’s going to hurt that seed bank.

Ramsey Russell: For millions of years, since the dawn of time, God has planted food for waterfowl and agriculture. All of agriculture in America is maybe 150 years old, which is my great granddaddy’s time or great great granddaddy’s time. And now all of a sudden, you got these modern day hunters that think they can go out and these obligate wetland soils, disc them up and plant brown top or rice. God forbid that, get this beautiful rice. Of course, it ain’t got a seed on the head and out beat what’s already in the soil. I don’t understand that, but anyway, that’s a management technique of Gene Campbell’s. After many decades of growing habitat for ducks and killing ducks that I just noticed this morning. You working with it, the system, not against.

Gene Campbell: Absolutely. Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Gene, this is the 4th time you’ve been on Duck Season Somewhere podcast. And we have, you’ve been duck hunting as I recall, over 60 years. You’ve been in the outfitting business for 40 or 50 years, 50 years?

Gene Campbell: Right at 50.

Ramsey Russell: Right at 50 years. You are a self taught plant ecologist. You have just, it’s unbelievable. You could write textbooks, you could write books about how to grow duck food. I know you’re a huge partner of nearby Anahuac refuge. You’re a birder, you know all the birds out there flying around and the timing and the sequence and where they fall into your grand scheme of things with the ebb and flow of your habitat. You’ve got more hummingbirds buzzing around your feeders than I have ever seen that I really knew to exist in the world. And the first time I met with you, we might got ready to mic up and you said, well, I guess you want to talk about what happened back in 1986. And I said, no, I don’t want to talk about that, Gene. I want to talk about you and I want to talk about who you are now and what you’ve done and where you’ve been because you got so much wisdom to impart to me and to the listeners. But what happened on December 13, 1986?

Gene Campbell: Well, that was quite an experience. It was a total surprise to me. I went on my regular duck hunt and I came back –

Ramsey Russell: A commercial duck hunt.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, commercial duck hunt. I had my customers with me, a couple of them in the truck with me and I went to back up and back my boat in. I was still down on Oyster Bayou, so I ran a big boat back there like Bob does and then little boat up to the blind. We came in, went through the wildlife refuge boat ramp and came in. I’m backing in and here’s this guy coming up to my vehicle, walking up to me. He’s got his hand on his gun and he’s showing me his badge.

Ramsey Russell: Is he plain clothes?

Gene Campbell: He’s in plain clothes, but he’s got, I think it said agent and I didn’t pay any attention to that because I was looking at him straight on. But he had the markings of law enforcement.

Ramsey Russell: You fixed, you backing off with a couple clients fixing to go duck hunting?

Gene Campbell: No, coming in from duck hunting.

Ramsey Russell: Coming in from duck hunting. Okay.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, it was, I guess about 09:30, 10:00 in the morning and I still have my waders on. I opened the door up, he says, wildlife officer so and so. I don’t remember who he was.

Ramsey Russell: Agent so and so.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, I’m here. You’re under arrest.

Ramsey Russell: Under arrest?

Gene Campbell: Yeah. So he turned me around, freeze me, handcuffed me behind my back and set me down in his black SUV with a couple other of my guides that had already come in, I had no idea.

Ramsey Russell: Blindsided, how old would you have been about this story taking place?

Gene Campbell: 86. That’s hard to find.

Ramsey Russell: You can’t do math no better than I can, Gene.

Gene Campbell: 35, maybe.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, 35, 40 years old.

Gene Campbell: Probably not 40.

Ramsey Russell: You come in from duck hunt with a couple clients. How long you’ve been guiding then? You would have been guiding for 10 years.

Gene Campbell: 12, yeah.

Ramsey Russell: 12 years. You got a couple clients and did he say what was the problem? He said, you’re under arrest.

Gene Campbell: Under arrest. And I got in, he got in there finally, I noticed that he let me take about waders off, that. He put me back in there, they were going through the attics of the place there.

Ramsey Russell: You got handcuffed, put in a truck and then you went to your lodge?

Gene Campbell: Went to my lodge.

Ramsey Russell: They get to the lodges, other agents crawling around the place.

Gene Campbell: They’re all over it. They’re pulling everything out of the freezer.

Ramsey Russell: How many agents? How many trucks?

Gene Campbell: I think there was 4 trucks. 2 agents to a truck. They were SUV’s.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, all black.

Ramsey Russell: Fish & Wildlife Service. Federal, state?

Gene Campbell: I think there were all federal. They were all special agents. There were none of the agents that I knew, none of the personnel from this wildlife refuge or the law enforcement at this wildlife refuge.

Ramsey Russell: What did you do? What the heck?

Gene Campbell: Well, we were doing some things wrong. I guess the biggest thing, the only thing that was possibly worthy of that kind of an arrest was that we used electronic game call on one of the very first hunts that we took these guys on. And it was a –

Ramsey Russell: So you took some people hunting?

Gene Campbell: Yes, I took them.

Ramsey Russell: Some undercover agents had booked hunts with you?

Gene Campbell: They had, and of course, I didn’t know it. They started hunting with me in mid, let’s see, mid season of 1983. Yeah, they hunted with me for 2 and a half years.

Ramsey Russell: How many times a year would they come?

Gene Campbell: They come 5 or 6 times a year, they’re really nice guys. They really love duck hunting and they’re good tippers.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Please come back again.

Gene Campbell: And they’d visit with us a little bit. Never really noticed anything unusual about them. They enjoyed the hunts and rumor has it that they, that one of the comments that they made was, we really like it over at Bones and Campbell. They got the nicest blinds and the easiest ones to get to and they got a lot of ducks.

Ramsey Russell: What was their demeanor around camp like at dinner time and football time and cocktail time?

Gene Campbell: That’s some of the, I spent a little bit of time around the customers, but not a whole lot. If they were there, they might go out to eat someplace. They’d be separate from our core activities and I thought that was a little bit unusual, but it didn’t really feel unusual until they arrested me.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I bet that did. They reggie you right?

Gene Campbell: Oh, my God. It just, it was a dagger to my heart. I have my entire life, I’m going to take that back, my entire career, I have always tried to do things the right way. And there were some things we were doing wrong. The day we took them goose hunting with that electronic goose call, we shot 18 geese and I said, that’s it. That’s all we need.

Ramsey Russell: How many people was in the blind?

Gene Campbell: There was 5 of us.

Ramsey Russell: So the limit 1986, on white geese was 5 apiece, 25 in aggregate. And ironically, 8 years later, they legalized electronic calls and pulled the plug and did the conservation order and rest is history. We’ve been shooting them like the herd of mamas ever since. But back then, it was kind of crossing the line, electronic calls for hunting migratory birds.

Gene Campbell: No doubt about it.

Ramsey Russell: Was that all they got you on?

Gene Campbell: Oh, no. So the big deal after that was –

Ramsey Russell: Shooting over the bag limit, double tripping? Shooting lead?

Gene Campbell: Never. I never shot lead. I had one guy that got a ticket for lead. But –

Ramsey Russell: Unplugged guns?

Gene Campbell: No unplugged guns.

Ramsey Russell: I mean, I’m kind of running out.

Gene Campbell: No early shooting.

Ramsey Russell: Too early shooting, too late?

Gene Campbell: No.

Ramsey Russell: Double tripping?

Gene Campbell: No, never. That’s just the same as we –

Ramsey Russell: Run electronic call on snow geese.

Gene Campbell: I did that.

Ramsey Russell: What else they charge you with?

Gene Campbell: Tagging, lots of tagging violations. And then, as I can see, with all the things that are going on in the government right now, we see all these things that are going on and how the federal agents in the federal law enforcement operate very efficiently. If they’re going to charge somebody and make it public, they got to have something that sticks. So that’s where they start throwing a book, burying you in the charges.

Ramsey Russell: I got you on this.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: So now what other charges?

Gene Campbell: Insurance. I need insurance, so here’s the other charges. And these 2 are significant because when we hunted, we put the boats in and the wildlife refuge, federal property.

Ramsey Russell: Federal property.

Gene Campbell: And we’re hunting on private property, but we come out of there with birds. Those geese were illegally taken geese. We cross the federal land.

Ramsey Russell: On to federal property.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, and then back off and –

Ramsey Russell: Cross the boundaries.

Gene Campbell: That’s right. So that’s –

Ramsey Russell: I’ve always thought of that as being state land or country land, but it can even be public land and federal property lines

Gene Campbell: Offensive, yeah. And that’s a Class A misdemeanor So that’s a big deal right there. That’s a big deal.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a Lacey Act violation.

Gene Campbell: It is exactly what it is.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a felony.

Gene Campbell: Well, now, Class A misdemeanor.

Ramsey Russell: Class A misdemeanor.

Gene Campbell: It may have changed though, because that was a long time ago. Yeah, it may be.

Ramsey Russell: That’s the one they want. That’s the big one, if they stick you with Lacey Act, you’re in trouble.

Gene Campbell: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: You’re in big trouble.

Gene Campbell: The other big charge and this is one I use quite a bit was conspiracy. So one of my host, who never shoots, never shot, Ralph Parrish. He’s passed away, he’s a great guy. He sits there and he took care of my books, talked to my customers, wrote out the tickets. They busted him on selling ducks because he’s the one that wrote the receipts out and it would say 6 ducks. And we charge $1.50 a duck for cleaning.

Ramsey Russell: Cleaning.

Mentorship and Friendship: Joe’s Influence on a Young Outfitter.

Also got him, and we shouldn’t have been doing this, but Joe Lego owned the Bear Ranch, ran the hunt operation on that thing. Great conservationist, a mentor for me, my whole young outfitter life.

Gene Campbell: It didn’t say for cleaning. It says 6 ducks, $9. So, got him for selling ducks and then they got him for conspiracy and had a recording of Ralph saying, here’s a batteries for your game caller. So he is part of that, too. Also got him, and we shouldn’t have been doing this, but Joe Lego owned the Bear Ranch, ran the hunt operation on that thing. Great conservationist, a mentor for me, my whole young outfitter life. He was just the greatest guy I ever met. One of my closest friends, he would doctor the crippled geese that came out of the rest area. So he said, you get a crippled goose, you see it, crippled goose. Get your dog to pick it up and bring it in here, going to put it in his pond here in the front yard. He had a doctor, whatever’s wrong with it, try to get it well. And it would sit right out there and he had 100s of snow geese and ducks and speckle bellies that were crippled birds, couldn’t fly. Had a very progressive coon trapping deal going on around to protect them. But he would, Ralph would have those things and put them in a dog kennel. And Joe would come every morning and eat breakfast and visit with Ralph, get the geese that were there. And Joe had a federal permit, so he could do that.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gene Campbell: But I got him for being in possession of a waterfowl and not immediately killed him and put him into his possession. So they got him for that, too. And this is the guy that didn’t hardly walk outside the lodge.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but he loved those ducks and geese.

Gene Campbell: Oh, yeah. Joe had no charge, he was there that morning. There were no charges against Joe Lego. But they charged Ralph Parrish because he is part of the business.

Ramsey Russell: What else was your staff and yourself and your business charged with? That’s about 5 or 6 counts.

Gene Campbell: Yeah, that about it. Multiples.

Ramsey Russell: That’s enough.

Gene Campbell: So tagging, it’s the same. We’re a lot better taggers than we were before.

Ramsey Russell: You’re good at tagging. You handed me a tag and a magic marker this morning. It’s all pre filled out with my signature.

Gene Campbell: Well and we do. I’ll tell you how we got into that. They did that and what we would do as a customer, whoever was the host of the hunt, we’d put their name, we’d bag them up and everything. Bag them up in limits, then put them in a big plastic bag with his name on it and we’d process them and they’d come back. The next time I come back, he’d pick them up and take them home.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Gene Campbell: And in the law, as the law is written, there are several violations right there. Even him carrying those birds to his friends, even though they had the names on them. There was no wildlife resource documentation and I guess in the last 15 years, we’ve got our stuff together. We’ve got a cold – we are a cold storage facility, by law, with Parks and Wildlife. And we had a meeting with a couple of the game wardens and set them down here with my bird processor and we went through all this stuff and looked at the farms and we agreed that this is the way that it should be done. And what we’re doing right now was approved by game wardens and they’ll come over every once in a while. And we’ve got books. You see those books back there? That’s all records from previous years.

Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve read and heard at a part of the CFR 50, part 20 federal law, that even if I’m at my duck camp or commercial operation like this, that if I’m cleaning birds and putting them in the camp freezer and doing stuff, I’m a migratory bird processing facility.

Gene Campbell: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: There are guidelines.

Gene Campbell: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: Several guidelines. So you get busted and did that just shut you all down for the year? Did that put you, I mean, what happened? Did you go to jail and book out? What happened after they took you to jail?

Gene Campbell: So they took us all to the federal building in Houston and I guess they arraigned us. I was a little bit foggy about that. We talked to a judge, though. This was all set up and we were released. Personal recognizance on some people, all of us, personal recognizance. But everybody else was, if anybody had any big charges, then they had more to do.

Ramsey Russell: Was it publicized any in the newspaper?

Gene Campbell: It was on the front page of the Houston Post.

Ramsey Russell: Lead story.

Gene Campbell: Lead story is a lead story. Got it wrong, had me down for 9 felonies and it was 9 misdemeanors.

Ramsey Russell: What’d your wife say about that? What’d your kids say about it? What does family and neighbors say about something like that? I’m sitting here thinking, my hands are sweating. I mean, it’s got to be gut rigid.

Gene Campbell: That’s one of the hardest things I had to do, was tell all those people, tell my family and Mr. Lego and all the people that I’d been dealing with, my friends at the wildlife refuge, that was the most embarrassing and heart wrenching thing that I’ve ever gone through. It was real tough. And, yeah, it was my fault and I did it. I should have been doing it right. I got it right now. I hope, we go out there every day and I preach to my guides. I say, look, this is the one thing that we all forget. After a year or 2, we get past the shock of something like this happening to us.

Ramsey Russell: It is shock, I’m sure.

Gene Campbell: Affecting friendships and trust and just, you throw so much away when you do things that are illegal like that. And you never know how it can affect your life. But it’s like I was telling one of my guides the other day, it’s like a stack of dominoes that goes in all directions. If you fall down on your friends or with the law and you just start knocking down everybody. I’ve got long time friendships with game wardens here that I bird with them. They come and help us out on youth day. We do a lot of things to help each other out and it’s the kind of thing that just, it’s an instant loss of a friend when you do something like that with people who you have trusted and who have trusted you.

Ramsey Russell: Gene, when you look back to all those years you were a young man, I mean, my gosh, 40 years ago, a lot of my listeners weren’t even thought about being born. Their parents were still in high school, probably or less. But at the same time, I mean, a lot of the malicious intent type stuff that you hear about people going out and getting busted for unplugged guns, shooting lead shooting over the limit, shooting too early, shooting too late, double tripping, all that kind of stuff, you weren’t doing none of that. A lot were, you did go out and use an electronic call, but would you say it was just maybe being careless? I mean, just not really being cognizant of all the heavy weight and power and the little eyes dotted T’s crossed with the federal law. That’s what it sounds like to me. It doesn’t sound like he was just, other than electronic calls, don’t sound like he was just going out to destroy nature.

Gene Campbell: I definitely wouldn’t. And the electronic game call, that was wrong. That’s a big risk to be taken, even if you don’t respect the resource. And we could have shot 50 that day, but we shot 18. I don’t know if I just started feeling a little bit guilty. And earlier in my career, the younger I was, the less I respected everything. And my whole life I started out, I was a troubled teenager. I was a lot of problems for my parents.

Ramsey Russell: Weren’t we all?

Gene Campbell: I got in the military that helped me a bunch, regimented lifestyle. All of that was good stuff but there were some other things I needed to clean up. And it’s been a process, but that’s what did it, that was it. That was it for me. I would never do it.

Ramsey Russell: Wake up call.

Gene Campbell: It was a great wake up call. It was a cruel wake up call. It was unnecessary for a lot of the people that got that treatment. I thought it was unnecessary. But they, if you get right down to it, they got the message out very thoroughly.

Ramsey Russell: Because, see here’s something we hadn’t talked about. It was not just you. It was not just your operation. It was a massive statewide thing.

Gene Campbell: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: They brought in federal agents, state undercover, from all over the country.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And it was, Rob Sawyer told me about this last year. I want to say I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am. I think it was something like 15,000 charges were written, pursuant to that 1986 thing. 15,000 and there were people that lost businesses, lost lot of stuff.

Gene Campbell: Out of business. Typical charge on a lot of the folks and probably would have been us, too. But we got a good attorney. I got a good attorney.

Ramsey Russell: And I heard last night at dinner, some of the folks that didn’t have attorneys had no choice but just to accept what they gave them. That wasn’t good at all.

Gene Campbell: 5 years out of the duck hunting business.

Ramsey Russell: 5 years, that might as well just quit duck hunting business altogether if you got to be out 5 years.

Gene Campbell: And they did. All of them that I knew that were in a business, big time. I mean, they were successful outfitters. They had to walk away from it.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Gene Campbell: Some of them went into the deer hunting business, quail hunting business. Some of them weren’t allowed to carry a gun. There were a few people that broke some laws that I wouldn’t even dream of breaking, but they did. And there were some felonies floating around people, got felonies. They can’t carry a gun for the rest of their lives. I think they’re back to voting.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Just a side question. Your bird process has gone up just a little bit since 1986, but what does your receipt say now? Does it say for cleaning?

Gene Campbell: Processing.

Ramsey Russell: For processing? That’s a process and charge. Make no mistake about it. It’s a process and charge. But what was, how did it finally shake out? When were you kind of clear? When you had a good attorney, you all fought the charges, you got things done. But when, somebody told me one time I thought that maybe you had to go do some public service. What do they call that? Public service?

Gene Campbell: Yeah, I did.

Ramsey Russell: And who did, this worst stuff gets interesting to me now, from what we already talked about. Who did you work for and what was significance of that?

Gene Campbell: Well and so it was a little bit more of a story.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Gene Campbell: So when I played out. I agreed to do 40 hours of public service and that got all the rest of my guys off the hook. They wanted some public service

Ramsey Russell: Because they probably went at you kind of the corporate side.

Gene Campbell: Yes, they did.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Gene Campbell: They dropped the corporate. As soon as we hired this particular attorney, who just happened to know the US attorney that was prosecuting, he called her up and said, you got a lot of stuff going on here with Bones and Campbell. Why don’t we just knock all this stuff out. Let’s give him a $1000 fine. We’ll let Mr. Campbell be the person that does the personal service or the public service and we’re going to drop the corporation. And I already knew who I was going to go work for.

Ramsey Russell: Who was that?

Gene Campbell: My friend Doms, he was the refuge manager over here. We had a good established relationship. So I go to him after everything, after the dust is cleared a little bit, I said, Dom, I need some public service, I need to volunteer for 40 hours. He said, you’re not coming on this wildlife refuge for that.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy. Talk about them dominoes.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: That must been a hard conversation, Gene.

Gene Campbell: It was tough. It was real tough. And then I thought about it a little bit. So I called a guy up I knew over at Murphy, at Texas Parks and Wildlife. He said, oh, heck, yeah, come on over here. I had a lifelong relationship with him, his whole career. We talked about alligators, we talked about duck hunting. I had been over there several times visiting with them, seeing how they were doing certain things on at Murphy. We just had had a lot of good established communication. So I went over there and we were working on the goose incinerator that they used back during the avian flu that they had that was killing all the birds over west of town.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Gene Campbell: Yeah, as a matter of fact, they were, those birds that fly in. It was avian influenza of some sort. They didn’t know what it was. They just knew it was. It was a big problem and it was killing those geese by the tens of thousands. Oh, that’s what I worked on.

Ramsey Russell: Well, how long it take you to get 40 hours. 40 hours, I mean, but weeks, months, a day?

Gene Campbell: One week. Yeah, I just went to work.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Gene Campbell: And it was the great welder. I was a welders helper and it was during the summer.

Ramsey Russell: There was a, somebody told me you went work or became acquainted with a biologist that did a lot of moist soil management, a lot of wetland scientists.

Gene Campbell: Stetson Baker. He’s the guy that –

Ramsey Russell: Stetson Baker.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, he’s world. Yeah, he’s the man.

Gene Campbell: He has got the book, the Bible.

Ramsey Russell: Did that come later?

A Gentle and Great Guy: Stetson Baker’s Persona

Stetson Baker walks out there, he’s Parks and Wildlife biologist and he introduced himself and I’d seen him before, but I had never met him, he’s very gentle, great guy.

Gene Campbell: That actually I met. Oh, my gosh. I’ll tell you, but I’ll tell you how I met him. I really ought not to say this. One of my first hunts over on the ranch, I was hunting back in the pit blinds way back in the back of the east side morning of the Bear Ranch. And I came in one day and it had been a slow day. We had 5 or 6 teal and I thought we had 13 jack snipe and I had them on a strap. Stetson Baker walks out there, he’s Parks and Wildlife biologist and he introduced himself and I’d seen him before, but I had never met him, he’s very gentle, great guy. I take him over so I can show him the jack snipe because he’s a birder too. He knows what a jack snipe is, it’s a Wilson snipe that we can shoot. So he looks back there, he said, those are pretty little old birds and they’re real good eating, but those are dowitchers.

Ramsey Russell: Dowitchers. You live and you learn, Gene. How did, the smoke clears you get your 40 hours to public service, you come back, you’re running this business for decades later. How did that event, man, the friendships and those dominoes falling you were talking about, how did it affect you moving forward? What are some of the endearing, enduring effects that still linger in the way you run this business now?

Gene Campbell: Initially, there was hate, after that I went right back to work. I finished that whole duck season. Never skipped a beat. But I felt bad about it. It was a bad feeling in my heart. I just, I had those terrible thoughts that you have when somebody, tries to destroy your life. But over a period of time, I guess Dom left, he left. And another guy took over, a fellow named Kelly McDowell. And he worked his way up, as retired now was a great refuge manager. A great wet soil guy, man. Just another mentor, he wasn’t much older. He may not have been as old as I was, but, boy, I tell you what, he loved it and he taught me so much. But I realized that these guys, and I know law enforcement, I’ve known every game warden, every federal warden that’s ever been around here and I’ve just never, with maybe one exception, I’ve never had a problem with them. It’s always been a friendship, not casual. I mean, it’s been a sharing friendship. I’ve had them ask me, man, how you got so many ducks on that property. It’s really suspicious looking because they’re not on anybody else’s property. So I’ll take them out to the field. I’ll say, look, this here’s a field that we haven’t worked up. This is what that field looked like right there. And these are the plants that these ducks have eaten for, I don’t know, millions of years.

Ramsey Russell: Millions of years.

Gene Campbell: It’s the same plants. They’re in the soil if you don’t spray them and kill them, they’re going to come right back. And there are even things you can do to make them grow better than what they do naturally. So we do all those things and that’s why those ducks are in that field. And they’re amazed a lot of times at how many birds. We don’t have any rice right now, but there’s not a rice field around here. It’s got more birds in it than ours. It’s just we got more food. It’s readily available, it’s wide open.

Ramsey Russell: Every year I’ve been here in the past, you show me plants out there that I had never even heard of, never even thought of. And I kind of sort of pride myself on knowing that stuff, at least in the Mississippi Delta. But you all have got stuff down here. I mean, like when you showed me about growing nadja and I’m like, what? That’s a big food down here in these different families.

Gene Campbell: It is. It’s really important.

Ramsey Russell: And there was another little plant you showed me last year. It grows some kind of little potato or something like that on top. Not duck potato, something else. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was amazing. I’m like, what? He’s like, oh, yeah, man, the ducks love this stuff. And Rob Sawyer grows it too when he can, and it’s, I just think that if you work with the system, you feed them better, don’t you?

Gene Campbell: You do. I think where most people have problems trying to wet soil, native vegetation is, they don’t understand that. You don’t always get natives, you don’t always get jungle rice. You don’t always get Walter millet. There’s a lot of things that don’t come for free, but there’s almost always something in there that’s worth saving. Yeah, so you got the seed bank from the year before. You’re going to get the good stuff from that particular year. If we’ve got something bad coming up, indigo weed, it’s a sesbania. Although the bigger ducks will eat it, it shades so much out. Just the biomass reduction from having it in the field is enough to go in there and mow it. And most of the grasses that we like, if you can get in there and mow them, they’re just like rice. You cut that rice, you put the water on it, it comes back twice as strong. When they plant rice, they plant the rice, they’ll put a little flush on it, it comes up, then they’ll take the water off of it to stress it. And when they start to turn brown, that thing, all those stems that are coming up, all the leaves that are coming up, there’ll be 5 times that many that come up. It’ll increase the biomass production just from that stress by 5 times.

Ramsey Russell: Golly.

Gene Campbell: And grasses are like that. Rice is a grass.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Gene Campbell: So that’s what you got to know. That’s what you got to count on.

Ramsey Russell: How long after that bust did it take you to get over feeling like you lived in a microscope like, felt like somebody was looking at you while you’re out there hunting or out there doing your work?

Gene Campbell: It didn’t take that long. I’ve got a lot of – I had a lot of great friends. I’ve got the best family in the world. Fishing & Wildlife, I’ve known all those people over there, they said, man, sorry you got in trouble. And that was it. Parks and Wildlife, the game wardens that we had then, they weren’t even privy to that bus. They knew something was going on. They didn’t know. They felt bad about it. That had happened to their friend and they stayed my friends. So it was, I had a lot of support. I had a lot of support.

Ramsey Russell: 1986 was a lot different than the year 2023. A lot and a lot has changed since then. What are your thoughts on somebody conducting themselves unprofessionally like that? Just being as careless or whatever some of the stuff they’re sliding with. Now that you can look back on it all, how do you, what do you think about some of these outfitters or some of these hunters that are careless or not paying attention or maybe intentionally breaking some of these rules? What do you think about that now?

Gene Campbell: Well, that’s just a, I’ve got a whole train of thoughts about that. Some people are just like that. They’re going to and I’m not saying they’re bad people, but they’re going to have the basic respect for the resource. That’s where we all need to start out. And we’re watching all these resources fading right in front of us. I mean, the geese are not here anymore. They got out of here, they left this place, they’re over there in Arkansas. The ducks are not, they’re pretty good, but they’re not like they used to be. So that’s faded out. Bay fish and our bay fishing is not even a shadow of what it was 20 years ago. So all these birds and I was telling, so I was telling one of my guys, I said, look, why don’t you not shoot your limit? Don’t shoot your limit. And we did the math on that. And he hunts 75 days, 80 days a year. And he will average a lot of ducks every day. If you just don’t shoot your limit, what would that be? And we came up with a big number.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a pretty big number.

Gene Campbell: It’s a pretty big number. And how many babies are we talking about now? If you shoot that many ducks, you’re eliminating 50% of that it’s going to be females. And let’s say they have 4 or 5 babies. Now you’re doubling the number that you killed or tripling or quadrupling the number of birds that you shot just because you felt like you need to shoot every day. If we have 2 guides, a lot of times a guide will go out with another guide. Yeah, you can figure that out now.

Ramsey Russell: Go ahead.

Gene Campbell: 2 guides, don’t allow the second guy to get a limit. What I like to do and we did it today. You didn’t notice it, but when I get to a point where I’m pretty certain that we’ve got the customer’s limit, I’m going to stop and count the ducks.

Ramsey Russell: I saw that. I did notice that day started. I had charge broke up, me and Joe and you had, you all broke up. You had Kim’s broke up.

Gene Campbell: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: In separate little piles. And then you kind of started doing a doing account just to double check and make dang sure everything was what you want it to be and just back off.

Gene Campbell: I would. I enjoy stopping a few early anyway. Almost always a duck or 2 fell off the back of the blind.

Ramsey Russell: Is that a function of age, Gene? And I’m not calling you old. I’m just saying, as I get older, as we get older, we get wiser, we start hitting a different phase, those stages and phases of hunters. Do you feel yourself kind of getting pulled down that?

Gene Campbell: Yeah, I think I recognize it now. I felt it a long time ago and maybe didn’t understand it, but I know now that I’ve always had a lot of respect for the resource. Yes, I’ve caught over my limit a fish before and yes, I’ve shot over my limit of ducks before, but that was long before and I just can’t do that anymore, there’s too much to risk. We’ve got a limited number of fish and birds to work with and we got grandkids and visitors from all over the United States that come in here and that I want them to enjoy it as much as I have. The guys that are doing the things, the hunters and fishermen that are doing the things that they’re disrespectful to resource, like double dipping and that kind of thing, it’s just the way that they have never been able to change. That’s the way they did it, when they first started out, still doing it take a lot of pleasure at getting away with it. I don’t agree with that. I think a lot of people will never change from that. But I think if we talk about this, the problem is you get on that facebook or anything else and see all these giant straps and we’re guilty of it, too. It’s promoting a competitive nature and everybody.

Ramsey Russell: Well, everybody wants their fair share. We all pay the same amount for life, for dogs and guns and ammo and the limit is this. And I mean, I’ve always felt like and I mean, it’s easy. Cause I’m human to feel this way, that if I come out with 3 ducks instead of 6, it’s kind of like I paid my money at the movie at the box office and bought my popcorn. And then the movie, the projector goes defunct halfway through the film. That’s kind of what it feels like. Like I ain’t really getting what I’m supposed to be getting. And so I think that’s human nature. But the reason I’m asking, I guess this question, I read this paper I found online on an anti hunters website and it was a long read. And it was talking about, kind of the gist of it was that a death of ethics was destroying hunting. In other words, a death of ethics among hunters is they’re putting themselves out of business. Anyway, I’m like, what the and if I had ever read the 7 tenets of the north American model, I could not remember it, but they named them. And not to say they were right or wrong, but it gave me a whole lot that you want to think about, was some of the examples they stated on those tenets. And I’m not going to read them here at this podcast. But I mean, it made me stop and think? Well, I kind of sort of see that, because we hunters and everybody listening knows this. We hunters are putting our time and our money, habitat management on private land, duck stamps and just everything we’re putting into it to paint this thin green land for conservation and for wildlife and for waterfowl productivity so that we can go out and recreationally hunt them and take our kids and continue this sport. But, having read that paper, which called morality into issue and in which case I just want to yell out, whose morality are we talking about here? Because this thing was coming out of a very liberal part of California. But at the same time, I think it just made me conscious that, maybe we all could do just a little bit better job regardless of what’s happened in our past or our age or anything else. Maybe we really oughta, maybe everybody oughta read the 7 tenets of the north American model and ask themselves, am I living up to this model? I’m just throwing it out there to talk to you because you’re a wise old guy, and see what your thoughts of it are, and it’s a very daunting process. I mean, it’s no secret, unless you live under rock, that hunting is – our past is meteorically colliding with our future. The world at large, let alone hunting, it really is. Half the earth’s population thinks that we’re just a bunch of barbarians, they live in the city. They don’t live out here in the country. They don’t interact with wildlife, they don’t see the birds, humming birds, they don’t go out and see how the plants work. They’re just, they’re living in a city and they don’t understand. And I’m beginning to wonder how many of us hunters ourselves truly understand the obligation we have to uphold the principles of north American model. So I’m just throwing that out there, Gene. What are your thoughts on something like that?

Gene Campbell: Well, I need to read the north American model, obviously.

Ramsey Russell: Don’t we all? Yeah.

Gene Campbell: Yeah. I think everything that we can do, you and I and everybody else that loves nature and loves to hunt and fish or just go look at it, we all need to promote conservation and good sportsmanship and make a better image. Get some of these folks to see the other side of it, to see the hard work, the anticipation, the camaraderie and friendships. All of the great things, all the things that make outdoor sports what they are the human things. And the icing on the cake is that, yeah, we can help. We can make it better. When you buy the $29 federal waterfowl stamp, that money is going to go to enhance, repair, purchase lands that are no longer wanted, lands that belong to a big traditional family that’s fractured and turned into 1820. Different people have no idea what to do with it, don’t want it. Just like to have the money out of it. And that’s what we don’t want happening, I like the fact that there’s a bailout for the most important parts of our habitat and that will continue. But the hunting parts, the hunting and fishing, we have got to be better hunters, fishermen. We’ve got to display a better image of ourselves. We have to encourage all of our friends that hunt and fish with us, that you don’t have to high five and show your butt every time you shoot a duck. I think the big straps holding the big straps up, that’s probably not the best thing that we could be doing. More action shots and dog shots and things like that. I’d like to move towards that. But I have to be honest with you, business wise, they love those dog shots, but they also love to see the proof in the pudding.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Gene Campbell: So we’re in a business and we need to have customers, so we need to show how successful we can be. But I’ve got a guy that every time he goes out, he likes to hunt with Bob. That’s all, he doesn’t want to hunt with anybody else. Great guy, though. He had, just a longtime friend. He’s got 2 or 3 GoPros.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.

Gene Campbell: Films every hunt and enjoys it. He’s got all the software. I’ve got tetra bites of videos that this guy’s put together. They’re world class looking videos. He’s put books together for us. But there’s so much beauty in the pictures that he clips out of there and puts into his books, they’re forever 10 pages of action and shells flying off and big bunches of birds coming in like that. And there’s so much beauty that about every 10th page you’ll see what the results of it were. But all that photography that gets out there like that, I think that’s a better thing.

Ramsey Russell: It could be. I’ve wondered about that. I don’t post every dead duck or goose I shoot, but I poked a lot of them. And when you get off into some of these countries, like Argentina, where they got anti hunters and really big bags compared to what you and I went and shot this morning. I’ve been asked by a lot of outfitters, please don’t post those pictures. It upsets people and I’ve got mixed feelings about it, Gene. It’s like, on the one hand, I’m not posting ugly pictures. The birds are dead, but I’m not posting with bloody birds and wet birds and nasty birds with their head ripped off. I mean, these are beautiful pictures. They are of animals that are going to be utilized. It’s like the other day I gave a seminar and someone at dinner afterwards counseled me that I shouldn’t say the word kill, that offends people. Now you’re going out and killing ducks, Ramsey, that offends people. I said, well, what should I say? He said, harvest. You should use the word harvest. It’s a little more polite. I go, I’m not a wheat farmer. I’m a hunter and I can’t change or soften the truth that as a hunter, I kill stuff. I can only try to portray the reality in a conservation oriented value for that.

Gene Campbell: Right.

Ramsey Russell: You know what I’m saying? And it’s like at some point in time, I am either harvesting like wheat or I’m hunting. And hunting implies pulling the trigger and killing something and making utility and putting it in a good light. I think we could all do better in that respect. But at the same time, there’s just at some point in time, I just, something says, I don’t want to go along with the woke ass world we live in. I want to show them the values of what we do. And how do you do that? I don’t know, but I try.

Gene Campbell: I’ve been conflicted with when and where to use the word harvest and kill. And I’m a little bit sensitive. I’m a birder, so I’m around people –

Ramsey Russell: People that don’t even do hunt.

Gene Campbell: They’re very put off by the death of any animal at man’s hand. But if you can soften it up a little bit with that. But in my experience, the best thing to do is don’t talk about that in front of anybody like it. It’s just like, it’s politics. It’s just like politics. If you got a friend and he’s liberal and you’re not. You want to keep him as a friend, don’t talk about politics.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a fact. Yeah, don’t talk about it like lieutenant Dan, sit down, shut up. That’s what Lieutenant Dan told Forrest Gump. Just change your subject, sit down, shut up. Gene, I always appreciate it. This has become really coming down here to visit with you at Oyster Bayou. It’s become a seasonal highlight. I enjoy it. I enjoy our visits. The same guy, the same people every year. Your staff has been here for, I guess, as long as, they were probably in backseat of them trucks back in the 80s, most of them

Gene Campbell: Yeah, they were.

Ramsey Russell: And a lot of your clients, I guess any 2 clients that come in the door could have been those 2 clients that came up with you, you’ve been around forever, but I really enjoy it. And it’s like I told somebody, damn. Besides that, where the heck can you get good fried chicken for lunch anymore? Man, that was good lunch. So, anyway, Gene, I appreciate you. I really do.

Gene Campbell: It’s been my pleasure. I love hunting with you. Love your dog.

Ramsey Russell: I think that’s why you invite me to Char dog. I ain’t got nothing to do with –

Gene Campbell: It’s not Char dog. I love that dog.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening this episode of MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere down here in Chambers County with my buddy Gene Campbell. It ain’t where you start it, it’s where you finish sometimes, right? See you next time.

[End of Audio]

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