While growing up on a farm in rural Missouri, his dad had predicted he’d become a newspaper reporter. Probably because he intuitively knows the value of a story. Sure enough, Andrew McKean’s colorful career eventually took him to Outdoor Life, where as the long-time hunting and conservation editor, he’s drilled into issues that affect wildlife, wildlands, and people. An incredible storyteller, McKean dives headlong into memorable hunting trips, like the time he recovered legendary Jim Corbet’s famous tiger hunting rifle from a British museum and retraced his steps through India, and the time he went on the very last caribou hunt to ever take place in Quebec. Borrowing from that last caribou hunt, he describes why some conservation groups consider the American Buffalo as practically extinct, and others’ plans to fix it. Outdoor Life was the last hunting magazine to have over a million subscribers. Everything is now digital, and making a career in the outdoor writing field these days is also discussed.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast, where today I’m in the studio with my buddy Andrew McKean. How the heck are you, Andrew?

Andrew McKean: If I was any finer, I’d fall between the cracks –

Ramsey Russell: Man, we’ve talked –

Andrew McKean: That sounds like a Mississippian.

Ramsey Russell: Fall between the cracks. Man, we’ve talked a lot over the years, but the last time I think I physically saw you, you were sitting on a plane next to me way before the pandemic and we were on our way back from Argentina. Wild, remote Argentina.

Andrew McKean: I feel, I think you’re right. But I follow you on the gram so diligently. I feel like – and it’s funny, I feel like I know everything you do and where you’ve been and I’m a big fan, Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, man. I’m honored Andrew. I really am. We had to give up that wild remote place 2 years of pandemic and 2 years of drought and my outfitter just, he folded like a card house, I hate it. I missed that place. We’re now hunting much closer, yet twice as remote places as we’ve ever been. But those were some good times. That would have been, dead gum it, son, that would have been 2018, we were a lot younger back then Andrew.

Andrew McKean: Yes, we were. A few little waters crossed the bridge since then, but you’re looking fine.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s likewise. Hey, introduce yourself real quick. Tell everybody where you’re from and what you do.

Andrew McKean: Yeah, happily. Well, my name is Andrew McKean, as you have indicated. I am a longtime outdoor writer and journalist. Right now, I have, oh, I don’t know, there’s a certain amount of schizophrenia that comes with that job, as you know but I’m the hunting and conservation editor for Outdoor Life. But I also contribute to lots of other outfits, magazines, websites, blogs, you name it. If it’s about stringing words together about the outdoors, I’m probably involved. I live – and we’re talking now from the gray days of the Hi-Line in northeastern Montana, I live in the middle of nowhere. That’s actually our town’s official designation, 60 miles below the Canadian border on the Milk River. Missouri River’s right here, Missouri river breaks. If you are hunter of any type, this is the place for you.

Ramsey Russell: Is it cold up there right now?

Andrew McKean: Yeah. Well, I mean, for you, thin skins.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, I guarantee it.

Andrew McKean: It’s actually, I think it’s 220, but we hit 50 below the first week of January and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I was rooting for 50 below because I’ve never seen it before. I’ve seen 36 below, 42 below, 47 below, but we hit 50 below and that’s without the wind chill.

Ramsey Russell: Andrew, are you from that part of the world that you’re so used to it and embrace it like that? Because honestly, I just can’t. I love to go out west, I love to go to Canada, there’s a lot of places I love to go. But like a snowbird, I’m flying south with the winter. I just can’t find a -50.

Andrew McKean: I grew up in North Missouri, where it’s kind of interesting. I’m all through high school, I mean, that’s my homeland is and we can see Iowa from our green bin. I mean in that part of the world is, it’s not the greatest weather, it’s an in between place, we had a lot of freezing rain and sleet. But it’s funny, like, I’ve never minded the cold, even when I was a kid, never. As I reach a certain age now, I’m like, wow, am I really going to spend another winter shoveling and snow ploughing my homestead and we have a bunch of cows and really just the physical process of taking care of livestock when it’s that cold, it’s superhuman. Keeping water unfrozen, keeping hay in the bellies of those cows takes a lot, but we don’t have ticks, many, anyway. We don’t have chiggers at all. We do have epic mosquitoes like the Minnesota –

Ramsey Russell: You don’t have to face with alligator. Creepy crawlies.

Andrew McKean: Yeah, well, no alligators.

Ramsey Russell: I was working down in South Texas a long time ago when there was a ranch manager just said it was hotter than blazes out there and man, his face looked like a chiselled walnut from being out in that weather his whole life very almost noble looking guy, but just an old cow poke and he told the story one time, he was going to put a tortilla one of these days when he retired, he was going to put a tortilla on his radio antenna and start driving north and when he got far north, somebody asked him what the heck that was on his antenna. He was just going to stop and call it home. And I’ve always applied that to, if I have to own a snow shovel, I’m out. I’m just out, I’ll take what I’m used to. If I got on a snow shovel, I’m out. I ain’t gain moving there.

Andrew McKean: That’s funny you say that. I’ve got a good friend of mine who said she was going to chain a snow shovel to her hood and when she’s going to start driving south when somebody asked her what that is, that’s her new home. So it goes both ways.

Ramsey Russell: I had a neighbor briefly right here in Mississippi. They lived here a few years. Our kids played it with their kids. But I remember walking in the garage one day and asking them what the heck that shovel was. This is a God’s honest truth. This was just 5 or 10 years ago. I’d never seen a snow shovel and I’m like, you’re not going to need it down here, I can tell you. We get a quarter inch of snow, maybe a flurry and all the schools shut down. You can’t find any – can’t find a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk anywhere. When we get a little ice and snow down this part of the world, find all the sandwich meat you want, but the bread and milk are gone.

Andrew McKean: Well, this winter a couple winters ago, we had 110 inches of snow at one time, it was 6ft of snow and it was pretty cold. We got into the 20s and 30s below and I think people thought maybe school would be canceled. But the greatest concession we gave to the weather was the school buses ran 2 hours late.

Ramsey Russell: Wow. No excuses, you all don’t get snow days up in that part of the world.

Andrew McKean: No sir.

Ramsey Russell: How did so talk about growing up in Missouri like you did. I guess you hunted in fish growing up?

Andrew McKean: I did. I mean, it was kind of funny. I mean, I grew up on a 640 acre mixed use farm. I mean we had cows and sheep and pigs, corn and soybeans and hardwoods. It was one of those childhoods, I look back on that. I mean, it’s kind of a rarity for the subsequent generations. But my dad was a deer hunter. It’s kind of funny, we had one shotgun in the house, it was an old Spanish made rebranded by Abercrombie and Fitch. I mean, my brother has that now and I wish that in the world I still had that. My dad was a rifleman. So I grew up with a 22 in my hand just traipsing the hardwoods for squirrels and we had good rabbits, coons were everywhere. Deer and turkeys finally started coming along when I was in high school. But that part of the world right now, southern Iowa, North Missouri is the epicenter for trophy whitetails, great turkey hunting. And I look back on it. We were not able to keep the family farm which, it just leaves a big hole in my life to not be able to go back there and roam around that country. Yeah, I farm pond fishing. The interesting thing when it comes to waterfowl is we were exactly in between the Missouri and the Mississippi Flyways. We rarely saw a bird. I mean, honestly, we had maybe a few mallards, local production. But even when in the height of the migration, we maybe saw a few birds on our farm ponds before they froze up. But waterfowling was not a tradition I grew up with at all. We had quail, I mean, that old Abercrombie and Fitch got to work out there. But it really took coming to northeastern Montana, which we’ve got staging. I mean obviously, the prairie potholes are here within terms of production duck, especially production. We inherit our flyway birds from the south Saskatchewan River and then kick them on down the flyway from here. But I became a waterfowler later in life, living here.

Ramsey Russell: How did you end up in northeast Montana? That doesn’t seem like a place somebody just gets in their truck, says, I’m heading this way.

Andrew McKean: I got hired over the phone to run a newspaper when I was 21 years old. I had just gotten out of college and my dad, my late dad observed that this was going to happen to me long before I experienced it in my own life. He said you’re pretty good writer, but you’re a good welder and you’re pretty good with people. He said, I look at, you could be a welder, there’s always jobs for welders. You could be a school teacher, there’s going to always be jobs for school teachers or you could run a newspaper someday. Of all the things, the newspaper job was one, I just recognized that I could do well. It just knit together so many things that I was pretty good at and I liked small towns. So I got hired over the phone, I was living in Minneapolis. I got hired over the phone to run an Indian reservation newspapers 50 miles down the road from where I am right now and I drove outside, unseen about this time of year from Minneapolis across the Dakotas. I mean, getting bleaker and bleaker by the mile. The trees disappear and the grass disappears and then the horizon is indistinguishable from the ground with snow cover on the – It was just like, what in the world am I doing? But every job I’ve ever had has been the best job I’ve ever had and that started with that job. I learned how to be a newspaper man by doing it.

Ramsey Russell: Well, what kind of story did you have back in those days? What were you talking about in that newspaper? Hunting and fishing or really?

Andrew McKean: No, I mean, it was a county seat weekly, so we covered the courts, we covered school districts, we covered city council. But what’s interesting, looking back on it, especially, is it was, I would say at the time, a predominantly white county seat on an Indian reservation. And so you had sort of the superstructure of government and power were ranchers and white folks, but really the entire residence were Sioux and Assiniboine Indians.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Andrew McKean: And so one of the things I recognized early is that newspaper had a real role to bring those 2 communities together and I did a lot of that. So I covered tribal government, I covered cultural things on the Indian side and I covered kind of the government side of county government, the sheriff’s office, the courts. It was a fascinating job, really, for a window into the world of a place and an institution that brought those 2 absolutely dissimilar, but crashed together cultures.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What did you seem to learn or take away the most? I mean, I think that would be very interesting, being on an Indian reservation and following up with those traditions and like I say, the powwows and stuff. I just think that’s amazing stuff. I’ve seen some of it like on TV, but never participated in it. What was the life roll of a Missouri boy seeing that for the first time?

Understanding the Value of Storytelling Beyond the Surface.

The value of the story is never what actually happened in terms of the linear, sort of visible progression.

Andrew McKean: It was unbelievable, honestly. One of the takeaways and I still think about it and inform some of the work I do now is, I guess, 2 things. One, the value of the story is never what actually happened in terms of the linear, sort of visible progression. It’s not necessarily the decision that the county commission made, it’s why they made it and how they made it and so just that scratching behind the surface of the actual action to why and that why has been something that I’ve just carried through as I became a working journalist and worked in magazines and elsewhere in my life. But the other thing I recognized is and I still, I think I’m 50 miles, I live just off the Indian reservation now, but I still have friends back there, we go back quite a bit. The layers of jurisdiction that some of them were formal, so you’ve got the sheriff’s office and you’ve got with the border patrol, we share the border with Canada, in our county here. You’ve got the FBI, because on Indian reservations, it’s federal jurisdiction. You’ve got city police, you’ve got county commissions and city councils and then you got the state level. What I recognized, though, was all of those were important, but you’ve got, on the tribal side, the tribal council, but then you’ve got the hereditary chiefs and beyond that, you’ve got the societies, though there’s tribal societies that you would never ever – They’re not visible. You’ve got to be part of that community before you start to recognize. Actually, the people who hold the most influence in those communities are not. They don’t hold an elected office at all. They get their authority and their sort of stature from their ancestors.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. And from their mother’s side, I think.

Andrew McKean: Yep. And it took me years to recognize that those were the people who actually were the influencers in that community.

Ramsey Russell: Andrew, did you think when you moved out there at such a young age, I mean, because northeast Montana, it ain’t much. I mean, a lot of sagebrush, a lot of grasslands. It’s like I say, you can see it defines big sky country, I’ve never seen a sky bigger than northeast Montana. But did you think when you moved there, you’d be there the rest of your life?

Andrew McKean: I didn’t and like I mentioned, I was so young and I was running a newspaper that, I mean, I was the youngest person there by about 40 years. But I also recognized that it was a strategy of the publishers, they would find these young, hungry kids from elsewhere, bring them in, train them up and then they’d move on. And that’s what happened to me, too. I realized a couple years in that I was going to either marry an Indian girl and be there the rest of my life I was going to die of liver disease as a young man and there was a girl I was interested in and I just was interested in seeing the larger world. So I actually migrated west to Seattle and worked for newspapers there. And then that’s actually where I got into the magazine world. Fishing & Hunting News was a magazine based in Seattle that every state in the west had its own issue. They were the old tab newspapers. I think there was this equivalency in the south somewhere, like western outdoor news or it was not a model that was ever going to survive the Internet because what it was was hyper local forecasting, where’s the trout pipe? What hatch is going to come on the Madison River the next 2 weeks? By the time you got that in your mailbox, what was going to be the upland bird forecast? And I look at that, those were my people. It was the bait and bobber fishermen, it was the meat hunter. Those are my people.

Ramsey Russell: And that’s the heartbeat of hunting to this day, Andrew.

Andrew McKean: It sure is. You bet it is. Yep.

Ramsey Russell: How different must Seattle have been back then with bait and bobber fisherman news articles than it is today?

Andrew McKean: Oh, you had active and robust salmon and steelhead runs in little cricks, not just the big river, like, it was part of the culture. I was there just as like the Microsoft was blowing up and the entire culture of that part of the world was changing from being resource oriented, right? Commercial fishermen, loggers, heart kind of just the salt of the earth culture that was really based on the land to one that was based on technology and a consumer economy that really, it was a really interesting place. In fact, I ran the newspaper in this little town on the east side of Seattle, it’s called Issaquah, Washington. It’s the first flat land when you come out of the Cascades on Interstate 90 going into Seattle. And when I moved there and was running the newspaper it was a town of about 5000 people surrounded by basically forests. By the time I left there, they had platted and had subdivision plans for 50,000 people.

Ramsey Russell: Golly.

Andrew McKean: And now I go back there and it’s all strip malls and just generic looking chrome and glass. And it was a really interesting time to be in that place. But I got to be honest with you, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the rapid change, I didn’t like the loss of identity of these smaller towns. And people, word on their shoulder, they were very suspicious of change even though it was being shoved down their throat. But what I recognized being there, of course, I had come from, as you mentioned, at Big Sky country in northeast Montana to a place where I couldn’t see over my neighbor’s fence because of the big spruce trees and the cedar trees was just so timbered and treed. There’re people everywhere. I could not wait to get back.

Ramsey Russell: It’s beautiful in its own way. It really is, driving around Seattle and out in that part of the world is gorgeous with all the evergreens and how they like a lot of the architecture downtown with all the glass. So you see, you’re looking out into nature all the time. It’s got its own charm. But driving up and down that highway from Seattle to Portland back and forth it’s just, it’s way too much humanity for me on that highway. I can’t remember what highway that is? Highway five, maybe it’s just way too much humanity and it’s just amazing when you just to fall down a little rabbit hole briefly and chase this rabbit. But you talk about the loggers and the outside and the industry back in those days and Filson personally just embodied that Pacific Northwest lifestyle back then that made those rugged clothes for people that lived and worked tirelessly out in the outdoors and now it’s just something you might just wear to dinner at a coffee bar or something. A lot of their clothing line, how they’ve adapted and pivoted and changed with, with their environment. But back in the day, that was a rugged outdoor community.

Andrew McKean: It’s funny you mentioned Filson. I’ve got such a affection for that brand, largely because it was the technical clothes of a century ago wax cotton and now I look at it and it’s almost become a kind of an inside joke a little bit, kind of the wannabe outdoors person. But Eddie Bauer is the same way, Eddie Bauer grew up in Seattle as being kind of the expedition outfitter for people who are doing the stuff that you and I could only have dreamed about when we were kids and it just became kind of a consumer brand over time.

Ramsey Russell: It did. But I still, to this day, wear a pair of wax pot cotton pants. They’ve needed wax for 10 years and hadn’t slowed me down yet. Somebody saw me wearing them on the Internet and they quoted something off, a lonesome dove that one of the boys said just because they give out, he keeps faith in them or doesn’t give up on them just cause their clothes gave out on him. You know what I’m saying? That’s how I feel about those Filson pants. Gosh Andrew, the trips they’ve been on, the hunts they’ve been on the past 15 or 20 years, but –

Andrew McKean: I’ve got a shell belt and a upland bird vest. The same way like I’ll be buried in them.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I’ve got an upland vest that, it fit me a lot better back in college 20 or 30 years ago, but I still haven’t got it broke in good. You know what I’m saying, because a vest just doesn’t lend itself to breaking in like a pair of pants. But anyway, so how did you go from a hook and bobber crowd to Outdoor Life? Because now, look, back in the day, Outdoor Life and probably still is, they were the last outdoor magazine to have over a million subscribers. But back when analog, everybody got there, man, Outdoor Life and I, we go way back. I can remember barely being able to read, just look at the pictures at the barber shop reading Outdoor Life. That’s a very iconic outdoor brand, just like Filson used to be, his Outdoor Life. How did you make the jump from Indian renovation news to Seattle hook and bobber to Outdoor Life? Man, what a quantum leap that must have been.

Andrew McKean: It was. But I think it goes back to those fundamentals of being able to tell stories and be able to connect with people, and one of the things that I recognized is also there are people who have been the, through lines of a lot of my work and I had the great fortune of being great friends with people. What we said about fishing and hunting news when I was there was, it was the place you either ended a career or you began a career.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Andrew McKean: And I was happy and lucky that I began a career there with other people who were equally ambitious and good and just talented and my buddy John Snow, who’s actually now the shooting editor of Outdoor Life, was my editor. In fact, we were peers. He was Michigan editor while I was the Montana editor for Fishing & Hunting News. He became the managing editor of Fishing & Hunting News and then got lured away to Outdoor Life in New York City published in, on Park Avenue, 2 Park Avenue in Manhattan, you could see Grand Central Station up the street. And partly because of our relationship he’s like, Outdoor Life is looking for a western regional editor and this, I don’t know if you remember, Field & Stream had it, too. Outdoor Life, they had the stapled inserts that were not the glossy paper, they were the regional stuff.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Yeah.

Andrew McKean: I mean, those were exactly what I had been doing. It was telling people where to go and how to do it to be successful and so I became the western regional editor for Outdoor Life. And I had maybe 15 stringers who would give me stories and I’d compile it, I mean, it was just sweatshop journalism. Once a month, I’d cast out my net and I’d get all these reports and I’d compile them and send them on to New York and I did a good enough job, Outdoor Life occasionally would say, hey, here’s a feature story, would you be interested in it? And I’m like, heck, yeah, I would. I had a no compete clause with my Fishing & Hunting News job, so I had to write them under an assumed name. But little by little you hit your deadlines, you submit good, clean copy. People want to read it. That meritocracy or that sort of ability to just get the job done coherently and capably, I think is something that is timeless and little by little, I got asked to do more and more work. Meanwhile, I was getting fired from Fishing & Hunting News because the Internet came along and it really couldn’t survive. And so I actually, I moved back to where my hometown right now, Glasgow, Montana, 21 years ago to work for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. So much of what I did in that Fishing & Hunting News was call biologists and call regional fisheries managers and I was really tied into the agencies, which this is a little bit of an aside observation is it’s so easy to bash agencies. Oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about, a bunch of bean counters. But I have great affection for state agencies and the people who work there, I mean, the people who are managing the resource out of sometimes not the highest wage in the world, sometimes living conditions are a little hard and obviously, you’re in the crosshairs of public opinion all the time. But I knew so many people in the agency, this job as an information officer in eastern Montana came up and I must have had 10 calls from people saying, McKean, here’s a job that suits you just right and it did. I moved here and I worked for Fish, Wildlife and Parks for about 7 years and I got to tell you, that patch on my shoulder, being a public servant, remains. I mentioned every job I’ve had has been a great job or the greatest job, that was the greatest job. I got to represent the resource and I got to talk to the people about stuff that mattered. But here’s where here was, there was a tension in it. I was pretty good at that job. I was running the whole hunter education program and a bunch of volunteers and trying to get a community fishing program going and just trying to be the voice of the agency. Meanwhile, Outdoor Life hey, McKean would you write this story? Would you go on this trip? Would you all this stuff? And I started realizing I had this kind of conflict that I could be as busy as I wanted, freelance writing, but yet I still owed most of my day to Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the resource. But after a while, I started realizing my future is Outdoor Life. And sure enough, I got asked to be the hunting editor to come on staff get a salary and with Outdoor Life. But I’d have to come to Manhattan, not Manhattan, Montana, Manhattan, New York City, to do it. And I said, oh, that could be a deal breaker. I said, but what if I did it remotely? I’m pretty good, good at deadlines. I answer the phones and my boss said, let’s try it.

Ramsey Russell: Wow, what a break.

Andrew McKean: It was a huge break. But technology enabled it, the Internet was coming along. I had good cell service, I could do that job. So I was really one of the first, at least in our world, to break out of the mothership and work out of my house.

Ramsey Russell: As time has progressed a lot, a lot of people are working remotely in what’s left of that industry now, aren’t they?

Andrew McKean: There’s hardly any more of the control centers. I mean, there’s a few, but even Outdoor Life has no home anymore, everybody works remotely. It also helps or hurts that Outdoor Life no longer publishes a publication.

Ramsey Russell: It’s all terrible. That is the true death of a bygone era. It really, truly is. I’m going to change the subject and ask you this, because I do keep up with you some I do see online, I see some of your stories, talk about some of your favorite adventures since you were a young man to now, talk about some of your favorite adventures. Like, for example, one of the most recent, I remember was your musk ox hunting in Greenland, which seems like an amazing adventure, but where all did that job take you?

Andrew McKean: Oh, it took me to every continent except Antarctica so far, I guess I haven’t been to Australia. I saw you were just there and –

Ramsey Russell: I was, yep.

Andrew McKean: And may be yearn for that, water buffalo and the western districts there looks pretty appealing to me. But that job took and takes me all over the world. In fact, if I have to pull a couple of strings, one or threads of stories, one of the most memorable was a hunting trip that involved no hunting at all. I went to India.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, my gosh. Really?

Jim Corbett: The First Celebrated Outdoor Writer.

This was one, I would argue the first celebrated outdoor writer and his stories of man eaters and man eating tigers and leopards

Andrew McKean: Which has not had hunting since the British pulled out. And part of it is that cultural reverence for animals and really, no cultural experience with hunting or guns, but you probably remember the name Jim Corbett. This was one, I would argue the first celebrated outdoor writer and his stories of man eaters and man eating tigers and leopards and I grew up with those reading them in a flashlight under the covers of my bed, just terrified of, like, the fangs and the claws, the death and the night that he would write about. Well, I’ll keep it short, but his, he was presented a special rifle by the viceroy, the governor of India, the british governor of India. There was a Rigby rifle and the governor basically said, Jim Corbett, you’ve saved 100s of people. I mean, some of these tigers were serial killers, they would kill 120 people in the course of several years of taking these little kids out of fields or on their way to school or they were unbelievable, anyway, Corbett was a real hero in that way and the Viceroy of India presented this gun that Corbett continued to use to kill man eaters and wrote about it. So this gun was a celebrated part of his whole story, Corbett dies. All of his personal effects go back to his publisher at Oxford University back in England, that rifle, that Rigby rifle disappears from history. Nobody ever knows what happened to it, is arguably the most famous rifle in history.

Ramsey Russell: And what caliber was it?

Andrew McKean: It was 257.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Andrew McKean: You can imagine that. 257 Rigby.

Ramsey Russell: I’d have figured a bigger boar to shoot tigers with.

Andrew McKean: I would have, too. But I think it’s about bullet placement and that guy was a cool character.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Andrew McKean: But anyway, that gun was found in a broom closet in Oxford University about 15 years ago. Given Britain, Great Britain’s gun laws, it was now an unregistered, illegal firearm and Oxford University had kind of a hot potato on its hand. Rigby was out of business, so there was nowhere to kind of return the gun to. But little by little, Rigby got kind of reconstituted, it became, now it’s making beautiful guns again. When they came back in business, Rigby reached out to me and said, do you want to, you want to go back to India and take Corbett’s rifle back to the places he did all of that work, the little villages in the himalayan foothills and the hindu trail, the Pilgrim trail and so I did. We took that rifle back to places that had an ancestral connection to that rifle. And people, relatives of people whose lives were saved by Corbett came out of the hills to these events that we had and they would show scars where they had been attacked and survived, leopard attacks. And it was one of the most memorable trips of my life.

Ramsey Russell: My goodness. I want to go read the story now Andrew, to be honest with you. Did you gain a sense while you were there that there’s still a, there’s no real local hunting culture in India? And where I’m coming from here is countless daily, weekly. Do I get comments on social media? We post up a hunting shot or something that involves harvested animals or animals getting shot and they put these little emoticons with the tears running down their cheek and I click, they’re all from India. And I’ve just come to realize, as quick as I am to want to say something ugly or mean, I just realized they have absolutely no hunting basis whatsoever because of their relationship with nature. I guess that the real hunting history in India were the british colonialists that were there, not the locals. Did you gain that sense that these people still have some kind of reverence or different relationship with nature than we hunters do?

Andrew McKean: Oh, that’s such a good question. And it’s kind of complicated, because I would, I’m going to tell you the first physical impression I had of India was, what a foul place.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, that’s, I’ve heard everybody say that.

Andrew McKean: Just the smog is incredible. The smells, the Ganges, the sacred Ganges river is just polluted with chemical barrels and trash and so for some, it kind of assaults the senses. But what I recognized is, in some ways, that’s a manifestation of just that many people trying to make a living on that landscape. There is, though, a great reverence for nature and for people who revere nature and so one of the things I recognize is there still a living memory of Jim Corbett, though he’s been dead since the early 1950s. He was recognized as somebody who, because of his connection with nature, was a baba. They call him kind of a grandfather and we went to these tiger preserves up in the himalayan foothills, one called Jim Corbett National Park. Even with all of the crazy, crushing number of people in the sweltering valleys and plains, that country is willing to set aside land to preserve wildlife and including these man eaters. And in those places, I saw such a crazy mosaic of wildlife. Sambar deer and most colorful birds you’ve ever seen in these chital deer. Basically, we call them axis deer. And we saw 2 leopards while we were there. Sorry, 2 Bengal tigers while we were there, we saw leopard prince. And so I still think, even though they’re dealing with industrialization on a dystopian scale, their reverence for nature is still part of their DNA. That’s the hard part –

Ramsey Russell: And I’ve heard those nature areas you’re talking about are some of the most pristine you might ever step foot into. That’s amazing.

Andrew McKean: When the smog clears and you see the Himalayas shimmering in the distance like it’s timeless.

Ramsey Russell: What now? What time error would it have been that you were retracking your steps with Corbett’s rifle? What would you have? –

Andrew McKean: That would have been, I’m going to say, 2015 or 2016.

Ramsey Russell: Ok. So, not too long ago. And see, I think it’s outdoor writer Jeff Johnson one time, he and I were hunting in Uruguay with MOJO outdoors and he somehow know that we got to talk and he got to telling me about the modern day, man eating tigers, because there sure are a lot of tigers. You don’t hunt them anymore, so they content, their population content to grow. And he said it had become – and I googled it and sure enough, back in the day, man eating tigers in India was kind of a growing deal. But that the government was contracting with royal families who were the only people that had any idea whatsoever how to get rid of a man eating tiger? Did you see or become aware of any of that while you were there?

Andrew McKean: Not necessarily the removal part, but while we were there, we had, there were 2 news accounts of people being killed or disappearing, with the assumption being that they were taken into the woods by tigers. In fact, one was a girl, young teenage girl whose phone was found in a field and shreds of her clothes and pug barks from a tiger, but they never found her. And so it was very much still alive.

Ramsey Russell: Social media is just amazing. The things we see now and experience on social media that we wouldn’t otherwise. I saw something a guy was fishing, an Indian was fishing and was talking to himself on his cell phone with a selfie and in the back, you saw a crouched Bengal tiger emerge from the grass and he screamed and then it went to the police crime scene photos of picking up his remains. And that is just, that’s crazy, isn’t it?

Andrew McKean: Oh, yeah. I tell you, everybody should do themselves a favor and go reread a Corbett book, the descriptions of some of these homicidal tigers and leopards and a lot of them were wounded. In the old days, there may not have been certainly on the village side of things, modern firearms, but there were old blunderbusses and old muskets and there was lots of goats and sheep out in these remote areas and chickens. So people were protecting their property with these inaccurate scatter guns. A lot of times, these animals, these leopards and tigers were wounded and they couldn’t hunt chital deer anymore. They couldn’t hunt axis deer anymore, sambar deer. So instead, they would start to pick off people.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Andrew McKean: And some of them became so adept at it, they would, I mean, it was homicidal is the best way I could look, they were calculating, risk averse apex predators who were patterning their victims and one by one, taking them out. One of the most famous tigers actually developed a taste for humans during the 1918 influenza outbreak, where there were so many people dying, they could no longer burn their bodies, so they would just throw them into the Ganges river valley. Well, a scavenging cat started developing a taste for humans and said, well, geez, some of them still walk upright on 2 legs. I’m going to start feeding on them. So just the stories of these animals are incredible.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard in that part of the world, some of the people that are still living hand to mouth in nature, going and dipping water, washing their clothes in the river. They wear masks on the back of their head that’s got eyes with the belief that a stalking cat won’t stalk up on you if he thinks you’re looking at him. And did you happen to see anything like that or is that just a myth?

Andrew McKean: I did not see that, but I have every reason to believe it, that’s right.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the other adventures you’ve been on? That was a good one.

Andrew McKean: Oh I got –

Ramsey Russell: Because you are hunter, what are some of the hunting adventures you’ve been on? What’s your favorite assignment, that you actually pull the trigger and shot something?

The Last Hunt: Experiencing Quebec’s Final Caribou Season.

American industrial traditions with good jobs, good paying jobs, a good vacation, they would load their sedans up on a Friday, they would go, they could kill 2 caribou in Quebec.

Andrew McKean: I have a great affection for the north country, that remote British Columbia, the Yukon, that farthest north. And to me, it’s that classic caravan, 2 week, one month long trip out, you’re on horseback, you’re out among them. Probably my very favorite trip ever was in British Columbia, where I had a grizzly bear tag, a mountain caribou tag and a moose tag and 3 weeks to fill them all in the most gorgeous wilderness, pristine wilderness I will ever see. Where every, you can drink out of every – every stream is a headwater stream, every mountain is like the dividing line between some empire of impossibility. I just and everything’s huge there the moose 65, 70 inch moose, gigantic and I killed the biggest moose of my life there, I actually, now grizzly bear hunting has been closed by decree in British Columbia. But I got a shot at a grizzly bear, probably one of the most memorable misses of my life and that and I would say the other thing is I’ve got a great affection for caribou as the deer of the north. And one of the great heartbreaks of my life is seeing one by one, these caribou populations disappearing. Whether it’s their cabin grounds are getting are too warm now, whether it’s flies or some sort of a parasite that’s starting to infect them, they’re such a vulnerable animal. You look at their just royal demeanor and the places they live that just seem impervious to change. But they are one of the canaries in the coal mine in terms of change. And so, honestly, one of the most heartbreaking stories I wrote about and covered is I went to Quebec for the very last caribou season. And if you think about, like, the history of Quebec caribou, that was the first destination hunt for so many Americans in the absolute heyday of the American sporting tradition, you had Detroit and you had buffalo, New York and you had Gun Valley in New England, all a day’s drive from Quebec caribou and all of these sort of union workers and these kind of the heart blood of American industrial traditions with good jobs, good paying jobs, a good vacation, they would load their sedans up on a Friday, they would go, they could kill 2 caribou in Quebec. You could be back at work on Monday or Tuesday and for a fat generation of Americans, probably 2 big generations of America, those were the first big international hunts, the destination hunts. We didn’t really have whitetail at the time, it was hard to hunt big game at home. And so much of our continental hunting tradition is based on the proximity of Quebec caribou to American hunters. I went there, this must have been 2017, Quebec was closing their season in 2018 and I went for, I wanted to go experience the last hunt. And I’ll tell you what, I went back, we flew into these remote caribou camps out on the tundra that had been in existence for 40, 50, 60 years, I mean, these were little cities out there on these lakes that you could fly a float plane into and just the iconography on the walls of people writing in sharpie or in pocket knives about their experience in the walls of these cabins and realizing that I was the last one standing, that these were going to be abandoned by the next year and they were. I ended up shooting a caribou. And in some ways, I look back on it, I’m like, why did I do that? I felt like I needed to for this story. But it was the only caribou I saw in 10 days of hard hunting.

Ramsey Russell: Their populations are just have so imploded since the heyday because of habitat, because of global change.

Andrew McKean: A little bit of everything, bad management, an expectation that it’s not unlike a buffalo. I think we’re going to talk about a little bit like, oh, there’s so many, there’s no way we could ever run out of this animal and forever the province of Quebec allowed winter ranch hunting, cows and bulls had both dropped their antlers. You didn’t know if you were shooting a cow or a bull. And it was a huge traditional meat hunt. You’ve got, this was the leaf river herd and then there’s the James River herd, they both calve way up on the snow fields of Hudson Bay. Little by little, those were becoming more bared off and so calving rates were in decline. You had these flies that would start to start to bother the caribou and so that they were always on the move trying to get out of these flies. And so you had lower birth rates, then you had still that intense hunting pressure on the winter range, you had reservoirs and pipelines and all of this industrial development that was cutting across their migration routes. So it was kind of a death of a 1000 cuts that people really didn’t see or didn’t understand the impact of until it was too late. You also had some politics. Tribes wanted to have a little bit more influence in what happened with that herd, too. And so they wanted more share of the harvest. And so it was just a whole bunch of stuff that happened to conspire, to really crash and I think that’s the right word for it. This population that seemed unbreakable.

Ramsey Russell: Wow, there really are a lot of parallels between that and the American bison, the buffalo.

Andrew McKean: There sure are.

Ramsey Russell: And I’ve seen enough documentaries, read enough about it to gain a sense it was just this undepletable, inexhaustible resource. And gosh, there was a program on TV not too long ago, I watched and how it just, they were virtually extinct on the landscape and they began to find a few remnant herds and actually, you probably know the names better than me, but there was actually, like, an old cow hand that had made it his life mission to get rid of all of them that, whose wife had talked him into building up a little local population, retaining some of them she had become, I guess just a little house on the lonely prairie had become attached to a few of the calves and he began to build up a little population from which they began to extract and transplant, to try to repopulate them in different places, but you wrote a paper recently about bison and conservation. Could you go into that subject?

Andrew McKean: Yeah. The origin of it was, we in the hunting community are so proud of ourselves and self congratulating in terms of like, hey, we brought back these animals. Look what we’ve done, through self sacrifice and paying excise tax and licenses, we’ve created this infrastructure that has resuscitated American wildlife. In a lot of cases, it’s right. Look what we did, we brought back elk and antelope and turkeys and waterfowl. But the one blind spot in that whole narrative always occurred to me, wait a minute, we really haven’t brought back the bison. This iconic, I mean, it’s our national mammal by congressional decree. This iconic animal that defines so much of the western wilderness and what it meant to be not only wild, but, yeah, as you mentioned, like, it’s endless resource that environmental or landscape engineer as went the buffalo, so went prairie dogs and prairie birds and this whole –

Ramsey Russell: Massive ecosystem.

Andrew McKean: Massive ecosystem. And so I guess I wanted to shine a little bit of a light of, well before we get too self congratulatory here, lets investigate whats going on with bison and theres been amazing work thats been done over time from the days of Teddy Roosevelt and actually the establishment of Yellowstone park, which was in a lot of ways established as the repository of the last remaining genetically pure bison, they got pushed to this hellhole of winter range. I think we’ve got tough winters here, I’m glad I don’t live on the Yellowstone plateau. And for a migratory species, bison is not really where they want to remain and when it’s in January and February, they want to come down into the river valleys and where the grass is blown clear as snow. But we’ve changed the west in such remarkable ways. There really isn’t a place for these big, historic, widely roaming herds of bison anymore. I started just pulling that string of what does it mean to recover a species and are bison truly recovered? And it was just such an interesting question to put to people who have various perspectives on it, everybody from the Boone and Crockett Club who said, in some ways, I think we could actually classify bison as functionally extinct, which I thought was such an audacious statement to make their take on, it was basically, well, if you assume and accept that bison need these huge landscapes in which to, like, have seasonal movement and to exist as in their native state, we don’t have that anymore and we are never going to have that anymore. We have railroad tracks and interstate highways and reservoirs. Many of those same things I look at as impediments to the caribou herd we have in the American west. And so with that as sort of the context, what I’ve noticed is there are conservation efforts going on. In fact, right in my backyard here, there’s an outfit called the American Prairie Reserve.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Andrew McKean: That has taken as its real foundational principle restoring the grassland ecosystem, the native grassland ecosystem and they rightly observed that this is one of the imperiled landscapes of earth. It’s flat, its easy to plow, it’s fairly easy to occupy if the weather wasn’t so bad across this belt between eastern Montana, across the Dakotas that have mostly been converted into small grain production across Canada and then if you take that circumpolarly into the steppe of Siberia and Russia, there’s not very much of the short grass prairie remaining that’s not impacted or imperiled and so one of the things American prairie said, they said, we want to create basically a national park sized scale of conserved grassland. Actually, they kind of backed into the idea of bison as part of that. But they recognized we’re not going to be able to do this without bison as these landscape engineers you and I were just talking about, habitat and ecosystem engineers. So they’re are very adamant about bringing back bison to graze that landscape, to do everything that they do in terms of buffalo wallows and breaking down the soil so that grasses and certain species of insects can thrive in that. So they’re doing more on the private sector than really we have done as national sort of scale agencies and conservationists have done for bison. You look at what’s happening, Ted Turner and his bison herd is one of the, I think its the largest private bison herd in the world. But a lot of those bison have bovinae, they’ve got cattle genes intermixed with them, so they’re not necessarily genetically pure. So when you really start to look at what is going on with bison, when you look at their ability to exist as wild, genetically pure animals, boy, they got a lot of headwinds and that’s what my story was really all about, is what do we owe this animal?

Ramsey Russell: What about the woodland bison up in Alberta or the some of the wild strain bison up in Alaska or I guess their populations are pretty small and limited.

Andrew McKean: They are genetically pure, too. That wood bison is actually a fascinating outfit. They’re a big, they’re not necessarily the Great Plains bison, but they have existed to survive, you think our winters are bad here or Yellowstone winters? You go up into that Northern Alberta country and these are animals that are engineered to break through snow drifts and to exist just to paw and forage for grass and stuff in pretty bleak conditions. But it’s a hunnidable population, I think the province of Alberta, I think there’s some tribes that co-manage them up there have done a good job. But you look at, that’s not a huge landscape that they’re going to be welcome to expand.

Ramsey Russell: Very finite. Yep, very finite. Do you have any idea if they try to reestablish wild bison on that landscape? You’re talking about that project, where will they get the genetics?

Andrew McKean: That’s a great question.

Ramsey Russell: They don’t have bovinae, don’t have cattle in them.

Andrew McKean: So there’s a very finite and small group that has that purity. Some are in Canada, some are in Yellowstone park, some are in these little conservation herds around the country and there’s a whole network of people who talk to each other to ensure that, like, they’re not interbreeding within a small reservoir of a breeding population. And so there’s a lot of energy that’s devoted to like a kind of a lid lease program. I think we would have called it in World War II to here take my bull for a couple of seasons and we’d love some of the offspring from it. But one of the interesting things that story revealed is there was a lot of social engineering that affected bison management and their eradication, obviously the Plains Indians were so dependent on them for food and shelter and cultural traditions and in the conquest of the west, the cavalry and the administrations recognized if we got rid of the bison, it’s going to be way easier to tame the Indians. And so there was a real intentional effort to get rid of those historically hunted herds to make sure that Indians were wards of the state and would be stay on reservations and basically be fed commodity food. And that’s a lot of what the story of reservation culture has been. One of the fascinating parts of the story that I wrote about was the return of native American management of bison. So if you look at that repository of bison on Yellowstone park, I think the carrying capacity is about 4500 head. Well, there are successful breeders, every year they’re exceeding their carrying capacity in that winter range of Yellowstone park. Those bison are trying to move out of the park and there’s a lot of energy around either controlling their populations or taking those excess bison, ensuring that they’re disease free, because bison have got their vectors for brucelosis and tuberculosis and other diseases that can really affect the American livestock industry. But now most, instead of being slaughtered or going to these private herds, a big majority of those Yellowstone bison are going to the Fort Peck Indian tribe, which is just right down the road from where I am now, where there’s a quarantine facility and then a whole infrastructure to take the bison that test negative for disease that are then sent to Indian reservations around the west to reestablish that cultural connection to bison and have these bison, these tribal bison herds. And I think that’s a really happy part of the story.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a great story. I’ve always wondered what contains bison in Yellowstone park? How come they don’t wander off and they want to, they’re genetically engineered to want to roam and to want to graze and to want to engineer grasslands. I wonder why they stay just – I’ve always wondered why they stay just in that little bowl.

Andrew McKean: And a lot of times, they’re herded and hazed back in the park. I mean, there is an active effort to keep them in the park, partly because you got a 2500 pound bull who’s going to go wherever in the world he wants to. You’ve got that times, however big the herd is going to be, it takes a hell of a fence to contain a bison, especially if they’re motivated to get out of where they are. And so you think about one of the big conduits out of Yellowstone park is the Yellowstone river in Paradise Valley that comes down and basically turns right at Livingston, Montana and I 90, well, there is irrigated alfalfa and there’s homesteads and there’s mega mansions for lots of non resident bazillionaires who really don’t have a lot of plans for bison just crashing through their party.

Ramsey Russell: No.

Andrew McKean: And so there and with that disease vector, there’s a lot of energy within the livestock industry that has very little interest in having free roman bison coming through. So there’s a huge amount of effort to keep bison, actively keep them into the park. But biology being what it is and reproduction being what it is, bison ain’t staying home. And so, there’s a lot of, I would say, equal and opposite pressure to like, okay, let’s figure out what we can do that sustaining the genome and it’s going to add value to those bison, I think that’s what you’re seeing on Indian reservation and these conservation herds now.

Future Challenges: Containing Growing Bison Populations.

But, I mean, so it’s going to be interesting to see how, as these populations grow, how are they going to continue to be contained.

Ramsey Russell: It’s going to be interesting to see because barbed wire fence doesn’t contain bison like it will a cow. And I’m reminded of a funny story that took place here in Mississippi. I used to work for the federal government many years ago and we had an engineer who in his part time, he liked to be a farrier. He was a cowboy and he did horseshoed horses and he always had great stories. And I’m going to lead off with the one had nothing to do at all with bison, about the time his wife got his daughter a cat, a tomcat, that was mean as a snake. He didn’t like it and it didn’t like him. And one day he got the idea he was going to castrate it. And they pinned this cat, him and his buddy was sitting there petting it, pinned it down. He had one of those little rubber band guns that you put around on the cow and he said he described in the office meeting, at the minute that rubber band hit that cat’s testicles, it was like a bomb went off. He said, next thing I know, I’m looking straight up at the ceiling and we ain’t seen that cat in a month and so along that line, my same buddy gets a call. There’s a landowner in his home county up there in central Mississippi, that just had animals, had a lot of had llamas and cows and just all kinds of animals and decided he wanted a couple of pet buffaloes and they got dropped off and the next morning they had walked through 3 fences and was gone just walk right through them. So he calls my buddy and says, hey, do you have a deer rifle handy? Can you come shoot these bisons? He got worried about the liability of a couple of free range bison busting up in people’s party, as you put it. And the guy said, oh, no, I got a deer gun, but we’ll go and rope and bring them back and he’s telling this story. They’re in a big flatbed winch truck full ton, 2 ton truck and they said they’re not wild. They’re just walking along like cows. And so we sensed off the lariat to the pole that comes out like the winch on this big truck and he roped it. And he said the minute that rope got tight, that buffalo decided he didn’t want it on his horns and took off running and flipped the whole truck over and so then they went back and got the deer rifles and got rid of the man’s buffalo for them. But, I mean, so it’s going to be interesting to see how, as these populations grow, how are they going to continue to be contained.

Andrew McKean: Yeah. One of my great dreams is that we will, as sort of Montana birthright, Montana citizens birthright, we’ll be able to apply for buffalo licenses like we do elk and deer licenses. And to me, that would bring the story full circle. If hunters can manage the populations but also develop this advocacy that allows a little more tolerance for them and a little bit more affection for them, because someday we get a hunt them. I think that is a sign of success.

Ramsey Russell: Yep. That’s a great, that does bring it full circle. I don’t want to end without asking you about the flyways book you recently put together, because we’ve talked about tigers, we’ve talked about buffalo, we’ve talked about big game. But you still are a duck hunter. I know you Andrew, as a duck hunter. The time I spent in camp with you, we were shooting ducks and I have laid my hands on a copy of this flyaway book. Tell me how that project originated, what you did with it and all that good stuff. Tell me a little bit about this book project because it’s an amazing work of art.

Andrew McKean: Oh, it is. So, Yeti the cooler company a few years ago, I’ll get the number wrong but I’m going to say probably 4 years ago, said that they wanted to apply the same design standards and sort of sense of tactility, tactile satisfaction.

Ramsey Russell: Tactile experience sitting there flipping the pages.

Andrew McKean: Yeah. That people experience with their coolers and their products into a publication and the very first one was devoted to bighorn sheep and wild sheep across the world and if you think about why wild sheep are sort of like the one percenters of the hunting world, these tags are impossible to draw. You can do it, but there’s very few of them, it’s the wild sheep live in remote, beautiful, pristine, iconic places. And there’s a whole infrastructure of conservation and sort of aspiration around, like, I someday want to, I’ve never killed a sheep, but I identify myself as a sheep hunter and the people who can afford them spend bazillions of dollars on these tags. So the reason I mentioned that is, that was a subculture of hunting that I think was perfectly pitched towards this tactile experience of immersing themselves in this gigantic coffee table book that weighs about 25 pounds that was devoted all to sheep and the culture of sheep and the photography of sheep and the essence of sheep hunting. Yeti publications, I think, only printed a 1000 of these things. They are hard to find, they are bespoke, they are – for goodness sakes, they’re printed in Italy, I’m guessing, in the same probably right adjacent to the Beretta gun company. But it was so well received from this small group of sheep hunters that Yeti said, you know what, we want to do it. We want to apply that same production standard and same expectation of excellence to a book on duck hunting. And they asked me to contribute to a flyway perspective, which and I’m so happy they did, because they said, well, I live in the Central Flyway and that’s where my most of my affection is. But they said, well we already have somebody covering the Central Flyway, how about the Pacific Flyway? I said, oh, this’ll be great. I could talk about conservation in the Klamath basin. I can talk about what’s happening in terms of, like, the California duck club culture, like, there’s so many nuances of that Pacific Flyway sort of landscape that would be fascinating to talk about. And they said, how about sea ducks? I’m like, come on, I know nothing about sea ducks in the Pacific Flyway. But I think you’ve experienced a little bit of what I started. So I started, I’m a reporter, I started asking my buddies, tell me the best story you’ve got about sea ducks in the Pacific Flyway. Tell me about somebody you know who really gets it right. Tell me about somebody who is perpetuating these traditions and little by little, like, it’s funny, when you, when I start to ask those questions as a reporter about other stories, little by little, there’s a real ground truthing to that process. It’s not unlike, oh, there’s all kinds of analogies I could make to it. But what you start to realize is the world becomes smaller and smaller as you ask that question more and more, because what’s happening is you’re finding the real people and the people who are focused on the essence of something. And for me, that was these 2 brothers in Puget Sound who early on recognized that –

Ramsey Russell: Would that be the Otto brothers?

Andrew McKean: Oh, you know it would. They recognized that here was a resource of harlequin ducks and scoters that was really, there was no cultural tradition of hunting them. And they would even see, they would be out there in Puget Sound and Skagit Bay and they would see and people didn’t even know what these birds were. Yeah, I don’t know, they come through here every now and then, we see them about the third week of October and then they’re gone, I don’t know what they are. But through the decoy carving community and fraternity, what they recognized is these were the same birds that were in Boston Harbor and on the New England coast and in Newfoundland and where there’s a rich tradition of decoy carving and Labrador retrievers and this marine, this sea duck culture that they then really developed from, I would say from the oyster beds up in Puget Sound and the Otto brothers. So the story I wrote was really a profile of the Otto brothers and developing this homegrown sea duck culture and Puget Sound that they invented and are so, they advocate so for so vigorously and so beautifully. And I was so happy to see on your socials that you got to go out there and experience that.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. That’s really what you describe, those little nuances throughout North America of duck hunting, because it’s endless. You could write a library full of books on American duck hunting culture and little stories like that. You mentioned the tactile experience of a book. I’m going to say the digital information age has existed for half of my life a little bit more and still I have never been able to lose myself in an online publication like I can in a book and I don’t understand it, now, look, wait a minute. You and I are about the same age, I’m going to say this, we’re talking to an audience, there’s a lot of surprisingly amount. You won’t know what’s wrong with America, there are 30 year olds that don’t know who Jeremiah Johnson is. And I was sitting at a Wyoming camp, Andrew and nobody in the camp, 35, 40 years old, knew who Jeremiah Johnson was, I’m like, this is unbelievable. And we then started watching true grit, I thought they were messing with me when they didn’t know who the guy with the patch was, I’m like, you have got, I said, just close your eyes and listen to his voice. And so my whole point bringing up that is, I mean, we’ve now got 30 and 40 year olds that have only consumed their information online. And I think they’re missing something without the because the opportunity to just open up a book and just disappear, to crawl into the pages and disappear into a world you’ve never heard, I can’t do that digitally. How have you adapted to, from the tactile experience of a newspaper that spoke to hook and bobber people, to this digital revolution, to where now Outdoor Life, the titan of the outdoor published industry, is now full digital. How are you adapting?

Andrew McKean: Slowly and awkwardly at first, but now I’m going to tell you something that’s going to just blow your ears open, is the story like that bison story. These long form features that are 4000, sometimes 5000 words are among the best read and most shared and most engaged with pieces of content on Outdoor Life. Now, there’s a couple of reasons for that, one is there’s a race for the bottom of that hyper viral content that just empty calories, celebrities, salacious stuff on the Internet and including with some pretty revered publications and Outdoor Life’s not immune to that. I mean, a big buck story is going to just go. But I’m really gratified to find that some of these longer, slower, what I call immersive reading experiences actually do have a home online. They still do and I also, there’s a couple of magazines that I think are worth paying attention to, one is called Strung and it is a big, trim size. I think it’s 17 inches wide by each page, 14 by 17. They’re big. They run pictures full bleed with just, you can almost fall into the photography of them. It has done fairly well in terms of a mass produced periodical that is devoted to that reading tactile experience. Modern huntsman is another one. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that, but I’m encouraged a little bit by the british model. But the Britain and Europe have got a pretty vigorous print model, but they are beautiful kind of coffee table magazines that you will not throw away, you’ll keep in your library in your bookshelf. But they also cost $20 apiece and I think there has to be a change and I think I’m seeing it slowly, that the American consumer is willing to pay for that kind of more sort of slow food reading experience where it’s the process of consuming the publication or the information is more important than just sort of discarding it, moving on to the next one. But you got to get over that sort of hump of willing to pay for it.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it may just be a function of age and habit for me that I like that tactile experience, that I like to flip the pages and smell the paper and see those pictures and it’s just like for example, I went down to the Amazon last year to fish. Bucket list trip for me, a vacation for myself and we’re float planed into a remote area on the Rio Negr, 8 days we’re out here. I did not know until about halfway through the trip we had wi-fi and I turned it on and my hands sweated and I answered a bunch of text and emails and turned it off and forgot about it for the remainder of the trip. And it wasn’t the fish, it wasn’t the wild muscovy ducks, it wasn’t the habitat or the plane ride in. What I remember most and enjoyed most about that trip was getting up on a regular sleep schedule. 2 hours before they served breakfast or before the coffee pot was ready. Going to bed late at night, not having to do anything but get up and go fishing the next day and just sitting in a very quiet environment reading a great book without any digital distraction and that is such a rarity in this day and age, to have zero distraction where I could just open a book and read it and stop and think about it for a little bit, maybe out there fishing, thinking about where the story is going to go and then open it back up. And I failed maybe as a function of my age I failed to connect in the digital age like that. But now the last, last question I’ve got for you is, what advice do you have for any young aspiring writers such as yourself in the digital age? Because it seems on the one hand, it could actually be easier now than ever to, with time, just the time and the effort of putting your content out there to become relevant, whereas back maybe in the 40s and 50s, during Corbett’s days, all the magazines were very cliquish and very closed. You were either entered, you were in the good old boys club or you wasn’t and there wasn’t no piercing in unless somebody died or retired or made room. What advice would you give some of the young aspiring writers that want to tell the stories to the public like you spent your career doing?

Andrew McKean: God, that’s such a great question, Ramsey. I think you’re right. I think the bar of participation is lower than it’s ever been, but that doesn’t mean that there’s lower standards or expectations. And this is one of the things I would say and an observation about social media and digital media in general is there’s such energy around the idea about the personal pronoun I and me and so much of it is like self promotion. I’m going to tell my story and my story is people are going to be, they’re going to eat it up. It’s so interesting and I would resist that. I think that I find and I think there is a human need for people to take themselves out of that equation and tell somebody else’s story, tell those stories that really matter and it’s often not about you, you are only the vessel. You are only the transmission medium for telling somebody else’s story. And part of it is just being a member of the world and watching the way people act and having an affection for other people and listening to their stories and their voices and I really feel like that is the way to stand out, but also to tell stories that are timeless and transcend the medium that you’re communicating in and I’m going to throw this out. I think you have that, Ramsey, your ability to tell a story and even the context of a short Instagram post to put me, to transport me to where you are, to hear the wings, the wind in the wings and you’ve got it and I would like more people to have that ability to transform and to transport their reader, not through I me, but us and we.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much. Coming from someone like yourself, I’m flattered you would say that, but I’m very conscious when I do write and understand this. I avoided Instagram like the plague, because it was nothing but a bunch of pictures without context, at least a lot. And I found my footing with the captions, but I just, I despise the word I or me, when I write because it’s really not about me. I may be holding the duck, I may be sitting with the shotgun, I may be telling the story, but the story is not about me. It’s about the bird, the species or the people or the culture or the food or the experience. That’s the whole gist of the story, not me. I’m just a placeholder and I’ve learned how to, I’m still learning, but I’ve learned how to tell, put myself in a sentence without mentioning a pronoun at all. And I think I think because I want the focus to be about the bird, I love to shoot when I take pictures, it makes people sometimes uncomfortable. But I use an iPhone, I used to carry a camera back the last time I saw you. I had a big backpack with cameras and stuff in it.

Andrew McKean: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: That’s hard to carry out in the field when I’m duck hunting, because I am going to go duck hunting. And the iPhone has revolutionized our ability to capture these moments and I like a wide angle lens and I’m going to get 2 foot away from you and it’s going to make the bird look ginormous and you’re going to look out of scale. But because you’re not the point of the picture, the bird is and vice versa, using something like portrait where whoever’s holding that bird, he’s completely out of focus. Make the animal, make something else the focus besides ourselves. There’s enough ego to fill the universe out in the world right now and the story is not us, it is what we’re doing. And that’s what I hear you saying.

Andrew McKean: 100%. Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Andrew, I really, I’ve looked forward to this conversation for a long time. You were an amazing person to share camp with just because so much of the time we spend in camp is sitting around a fire over cocktails, at the dinner table, telling stories. You’re a gifted storyteller yourself and I have long looked forward to this interview and hope you, get you back on. Thank you very much for your time.

Andrew McKean: Thank you for having me. This made my day.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Andrew McKean. Thank you all for listening this episode of MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast, we’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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