Guiding in the mallard-rich southeast Kansas duck bottomlands comes naturally to Drake Carter. He was born into it, accompanying his dad, Roy, and member-guests to the duck blind for as far back as he can recall. And it was there in the duck blind that he developed skillsets that serve him well at Carter’s Big Island, where he guides duck hunters daily. Between duck hunts, Drake describes some of those life lessons to Ramsey, explaining how he’s continuing family traditions in a pretty special corner of the world.
Connect with Drake Carter @cbihuntclub
Carter’s Big Island: Seventh Generation
I really didn’t get to see him much growing up unless we were hunting together. And that’s why I love hunting is just because everything I’ve learned is from him.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere St. Paul, Kansas, down here on the Neosho River Bottoms in Kansas. Pretty amazing areas like we’re talking to Roy last time about. It really does remind me of bootheel Missouri or parts of Arkansas. I’ve been to the Dances with Wolves type Western Kansas. A lot of ducks. Joining me today is Drake Carter. Drake had a good time this morning.
Drake Carter: So we had an excellent hunt.
Ramsey Russell: That was real technical blind to get in and out of. I mean, I think I walked about 50 yards from the truck.
Drake Carter: Mm-hmm.
Ramsey Russell: Most of the guys wore new boots, I knew I’d have to get out and maybe help Char Dawg a little bit and handle it, or whatever like that. So I brought waders but god, what a comfortable blind.
Drake Carter: Yeah, very comfortable, very comfortable. That’s probably one of the nicest pit blinds you can find. Concealed comfort.
Ramsey Russell: Did they customize layout that floor plan for y’all or is that just like one of theirs?
Drake Carter: No, it’s one of their options, I believe it’s called the Lodge. One of their styles. But yeah, it’s fully decked out, I mean we got the kitchen in there stove, heaters, very comfortable —
Ramsey Russell: Lights.
Drake Carter: Lights.
Ramsey Russell: I like the step-in benches. Just like you said, like I was sitting in one of the freaking very comfortable millennial chairs.
Drake Carter: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s two stairs and so I could get on the bottom stair, look up, feet above my head through the grass coming over the gap, and sea birds working and you say, hey they’re coming from the left which is the way the wind is blowing a lot of them coming over my left shoulder.
Drake Carter: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: But I could watch them without moon facing them and then just step up on the top rung, bam I’m there man. It was beautiful.
Drake Carter: Yeah and I try to give everybody enough fair warning like, I want to keep the birds out in front obviously, and have a good shot for everybody, but I try to tell people on the left, on the right, get ready, and then when it’s time to go, you can tell by when I let off the calling just a little bit that it’s getting ready to happen.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the duck condition right now? I drove a long way to get here yesterday. My fault not yours. But he said, man, it was a tough day, with the wind. Will be moving a little bit different tomorrow. And it worked, I mean, well I tell you, I’d say it was fairly consistent. I left the blind with limit 10 I mean and hung around to film, and sign decoys, and do stuff like that for a little bit.
Drake Carter: Yeah. We had —
Ramsey Russell: I am going to miss that breakfast.
Drake Carter: I know that it looked good on your story there, but no, we had a good solid morning. The teal came in early, pretty big groups, and they worked right in. And then the mallards started filtering in by, I’d say 8:30, or so.
Ramsey Russell: Have the ducks been here a while or they – because I mean, you had to sweet talk some of them. They weren’t just giving it up.
Drake Carter: No, they weren’t. We didn’t really have much wind, I think maybe five mile an hour blowing out of the north. And usually when you get a stronger wind, like 15 mile an hour, they work a lot better. You don’t have to call near as much. But these ducks around here, they’ve been here since middle of October and they’re pretty smart, and they’re pretty wary. There’s a lot of guys hunting them, a lot of pressure. So you got to work for them.
Ramsey Russell: If they got up wind, I’d see them working above us and they get down below us and work. But once they got about 50-75 yards upwind going back to that refuge, they were gone. I knew right then, just put my gun down there. They were gone.
Drake Carter: Yeah. And usually you can turn them back with a comeback caller, something real loud and hard and drawn out. But today that wasn’t the case. They were pretty much going.
Ramsey Russell: Your daddy showed me a picture of — he showed me a picture, he showed me a lot of stuff –- but he showed me a picture of of you as a baby holding a duck call. And we talked about a Ducks Unlimited weight born interview. You were in junior high school. How did you grow up on Carter’s Big island Hunting Club? I mean, when did you start going to the duck blind with your daddy?
Drake Carter: I was in the duck pond before I even knew how to talk or walk or anything.
Ramsey Russell: Really? He wasn’t changing diapers. Roy don’t look like a diaper changing guy.
Drake Carter: No, he was working so much with the hunting club and everything. I really didn’t get to see him much growing up unless we were hunting together. And that’s why I love hunting is just because everything I’ve learned is from him.
Carter Family Hunting Traditions
And then, once I grew up and started traveling other places, you kind of see just how lucky and fortunate you are to grow up in such great waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: Did you also get to hunt with your uncles, or granddaddy, or anybody like that?
Drake Carter: My grandparents, they never were big hunters. My uncle was a big hunter, but I was too young to remember whenever him and my dad hunted together a bunch.
Ramsey Russell: That would have been Mike.
Drake Carter: Mike and his son Colby, he hunted when he was a kid too, and I’m sure we hunted together, oh before I could remember, but it was, yeah, it’s kind of a family tradition.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first duck?
Drake Carter: I remember my first duck hunt. It was just me and my dad, and we had a little boat, and we paddled out to this mound and there was a blind on it. We had our dog Trigger. He was a chocolate Lab and we’d seen a few ducks that morning, but I remember we didn’t shoot anything, and it wasn’t about shooting anything at that time, it was just being out there, and experience and everything. And so that was the first hunt that I remember and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t remember your first duck though? That’s crazy. That reminds me of talking about a 75-year-old uncle. About hunting with my granddad, he remembers following in the ice and remember that broke boat motor, and he remembers going to camp, and what they ate for dinner. And remember a particular time my grandfather, Mr. Duck, but when I asked him about the limits, when asked about the species, he couldn’t recall.
Drake Carter: Before I even — I remember my first gun was a Charles Daly pump, 20 gauge. But before I even brought the shotgun to the bond, I’d have a baby gun and —
Ramsey Russell: Well, yeah.
Drake Carter: So I’d shoot my BB gun and everybody said, oh great shot, you nailed that one and obviously, I didn’t kill the duck, but now I can’t remember the first duck I ever shot.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. What was it like growing up in this part of the world? I mean you grew up right here in St. Paul? Little white spot in the road. Really, I haven’t seen a red light lit. Is there one?
Drake Carter: No, there’s no, no red light.
Ramsey Russell: Big agricultural community?
Drake Carter: Big farming community, big Catholic community.
Ramsey Russell: How many people live in St. Paul, would you guess?
Drake Carter: I’m thinking it’s around 750, maybe a little more, but not, it’s a small town. In my graduating class, we had 16 people graduate. So, I grew up here in my whole life and kind of, I don’t know, looking back, I didn’t really think about it because it was always good hunting. And then, once I grew up and started traveling other places, you kind of see just how lucky and fortunate you are to grow up in such great waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: I did have a question written down, I don’t write down many, but I did occur to me talking to your daddy. When in your timeline — you grew up just a toddler going out to the blind to see your daddy. He was busy, had a lot of folks in and out. He was running a business yada, yada — when did it occur to you that your backyard is some pretty damn good duck hunting? Maybe better than a lot of folks have in America. When do you care like, wow, this is pretty good stuff here?
Drake Carter: Well, when I was a kid, we didn’t have social media, so really all I seen was what was right here in front of me. And so it wasn’t until probably five years ago when like Instagram and everything, and then I started going other places to hunt, and just seeing how everything was so different than what I was used to and raised on, and that’s kind of when it kind of hit me that just how good, how good we got it here.
Ramsey Russell: And I see that a lot. I mean it’s really what compels me down this rabbit hole to hunt with yourself, hunt with others. I’ve been hunting with – just on this tour right here – I mean really and truly, your dad and I were talking about how coming through Canada, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, even through headwaters, Colorado, Wyoming and all this water, just the flyway water. You go Leadville, Colorado, one of the highest cities in America and that’s the highest point in the Mississippi train, that’s where all that water starts coming down the Mississippi Flyway. Here I am heading that way right now because the ocean river runs into the Arkansas River, runs in the Mississippi River or thereabouts, but not everybody is a well-kept mallard killing secret with a mallard hunting culture. There’s a lot of folks, I hope a lot of folks just go out in the back 40 and shoot a couple of wood ducks. That’s okay. I like to see that. So I like to see all the little nuances in it.
The Best Duck Species to Hunt in Kansas
Drake Carter: And see like I always grew up shooting mallards, like that’s when we go out hunting, we were shooting 15 to 20, 25 mallards. Maybe a bonus wood duck here and there. But now that I’ve gotten older, I like shooting other species of ducks just because we don’t get to shoot them very often.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all mostly shoot mallards here. I bet about 80% or more percent mallards. I mean, would that be fair estimate 80%?
Drake Carter: I’d say 80%.
Ramsey Russell: What other species do the 20% comprise?
Drake Carter: Green-wing teal. We actually have shot more wood ducks this year than we have in the last five years combined. I don’t know why that is. We’ve been hunting a little more new flooded timber spots, but I think they’re just — the wood ducks are the only ducks that will stay around here all year. And so we must have had a good hatch this year because we’ve been shooting a lot of wood ducks, but we’ll shoot some gadwalls later in January, some really nice wigeon. Usually quite a few pintails and shovelers we’re not afraid to shoot shovelers.
Ramsey Russell: So your dad told me you went out to California one time, what’s up with that? You wanted to go to Hollywood?
Drake Carter: No, I don’t know man, I just wanted to experience something else. I’ve been in this small town in my whole life.
Ramsey Russell: I can’t imagine much more different from St. Paul, Kansas than Hollywood, or California in general.
Drake Carter: Yeah. Well my dad —
Ramsey Russell: What do you do out there?
Drake Carter: My dad’s stepbrother lived out there, and he was building a house, and I was working construction at the time, so I had a little bit of experience. I went out there and help him with this house, and then he gave me a place to stay, and I didn’t have any money so I had to find a job that paid, and so I worked at a FedEx. It was fun for a little bit, and then it was during duck season, and I seen all the pictures of my buddies and everything killing ducks back home, and that’s kind of when it hit me that I want to kill mallards for a living, that’s pretty much it.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you?
Drake Carter: Oh, 19.
Ramsey Russell: So that’s when kind of what your dad did, how he paid the bills, kind of would attract you, got to be back home, you got to make a living.
Drake Carter: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: You got to do what you’ve always done.
Drake Carter: Yeah, that’s all I’ve known.
Ramsey Russell: Did you do any duck hunting out in California?
Drake Carter: I didn’t.
Ramsey Russell: There’s some good hunting out there too.
Drake Carter: I’ve heard that and I was right on the coast so I didn’t see where a duck would want to even live out there. But I’ve heard they shoot a lot of ducks out in California.
Ramsey Russell: Boy, they got a lot of pintails.
Drake Carter: Pintails, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Wigeons, teal, mallards, they sure do.
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Memorable Moments on Carter’s Big Island
That’s another part of hunting I love is just the people you meet and the experiences and it’s just stuff that’ll stick with you forever.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about growing up with Carter’s Big Island Hunting Club. Who were some of the personalities and people you remember? Because even though I know you went when you were a toddler but you moved to California right, for high school. But you must have been in and out of that crowd and blinds and part of it growing up. What was it like growing up on Carter’s Big Island? Who were some of the people that influenced you? Some of the clients, some of the memorable stories.
Drake Carter: Yeah there’s one guy in particular, he was from Iowa, his name was Danny Militia. And he was good friends with my dad and they’ve been clients there for a long time. They even leased one of our timber holes for a couple of years. And he was — oh, probably in his 60’s, but me and Jacob, my lifelong buddy, we got to go out and not really guide but kind of hunt with him. It was Danny and Randy, and they brought a couple of their buddies, and even Danny’s dad hunted with us a couple of times. And we were hunting this flooded timber, and me and Jacob were setting out the decoys, and I fell in the water and it was — I mean we were breaking ice in this timber hole and freezing ass cold, and I fell down. I wanted to hunt so bad, I didn’t leave. And so anyway those guys rolled in and we’re shooting some ducks, had a good hunt. And Danny’s dad was out in the decoys picking up a wounded duck or something, and he slipped and fell, and Danny and all his buddies were running back to their bags to get their camera. And me and Jacob were out there running trying to save his dad. He got all wet and had to go back to the truck but that was, that’s one hunt that just sticks in my mind with those guys.
Ramsey Russell: Left an impression.
Drake Carter: Yeah and actually I don’t know if it was the same trip or the next year but Danny gave me a duck call. They nicknamed him the Odessa Screamer, because he hunted around Lake Odessa in Iowa and he had this board out RNT original, and he would just scream on that thing, and it was the loudest call I’ve ever heard. But he —
Ramsey Russell: Did he sound good? Would it call birds?
Drake Carter: Yeah, he did it. He called them hard all the way to the water. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. But he passed away three or four years ago from cancer. And I still hang on to that call and think about him all the time. That’s another part of hunting I love is just the people you meet and the experiences and it’s just stuff that’ll stick with you forever.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Who are some other people you remember? I’m thinking, for a young man like yourself, I watched you this morning – we got out there early with lot of decoys and you were busy man going out that water, getting everything just perfect and everything just right get the light turned on. I mean, it’s like, you grew up in this business, it’s second nature to you. But I’m just thinking, man, with decades of growing up in that guided environment, hearing those conversations, it got to be some stories to remember, or just kind of what you walked away with from just that influence.
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Who are some other people that influenced you?
Drake Carter: Another guy would be Trey Crawford.
Ramsey Russell: I knew his name would come up.
Drake Carter: Yeah, he helped my dad guide for a lot of years, and he helped me with my calling and everything. And he kind of just taught me just the basics, it’s not all about killing, but I mean, you want to have, you want to have a good time, and you want your clients to walk away with something every trip. You want them to come back excited for next year. Even if you didn’t have the best hunt or even if you did smack them, you just want to leave an impression on them guys, and try to do everything just as honest and fair and give it, give it your all. You want them to know and see that you’ve really put everything you had into that hunt. So that’s Trey and my dad, I mean those two right there, I learned probably the most from as far as duck hunting and just learning how to be a good human being.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. I noticed today, speaking about client satisfaction, clients coming back. Well, you had two parties out today.
Drake Carter: Mm-hmm.
Ramsey Russell: The group I hunted with, this was their fifth year in a row had been up here. And the other team, and we’re going to talk about what they kind of prize they shot this morning. but the other team, they’ve been back before, and then I heard you talking over the tailgate, boom, they’re already planning on coming back next year.
Drake Carter: Yes, sir.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a…. Blonde Gadwall?!
Once in a lifetime, I guess. I’ve never seen a leucistic gadwall.
Ramsey Russell: And then they sent you a text. They were kind of with the B-hole today, but there’s only two of them and five of us. Talk about this special bird – when did you first see him and talk about what they shot?
Drake Carter: Well, we got this place, we call it the Eight-acre Field and it’s about an eight-acre flooded cornfield, and then adjoined to it is an eight-acre timber hole. And we’ve been watching it and there’s been a bunch of gadwalls on it. And there’s been a few mallards, but not many to speak of, but we went by one day and we’ve seen this, oh, it looks like an albino or a blonde mallard out there swimming with the gadwall.
Ramsey Russell: How long ago was that when you first saw it?
Drake Carter: I’d say about two weeks ago. And we’ve seen it. Well actually my — one of my guides seen it and he told me about it. I didn’t believe him at first because I’ve heard, there were stories of one being around last year in this area, but I went and looked at it. I got the binoculars on it and everything, and sure enough, we decided it was a blonde hen mallard. And we tried jump shooting it but it didn’t work out. But we knew it was possible that it was still in the area.
Ramsey Russell: Do these guys know that going back in there this morning?
Drake Carter: No, they had no idea, no. But Jacob, the guide, he did know about it and that was probably the first thing on his mind when I told him that’s where he was going that morning. So they got set up and they had some wood ducks come in first thing and the two clients from North Carolina, they never shot wood ducks before. So that was cool to them, and then probably nine o’clock my phone goes off and Jacob was calling me, and I’m working a group of mallards so I just turn it off and put it in my pocket. And about five minutes later he calls me again. So I answered and he said you’re not going to believe this. He was back picking up a wood duck or something, and these two gadwalls came in, and he’s calling from behind the blind. I guess one of them pulls up and shoots behind the blind, and this duck drops, and he goes and picks it up, and he’s like well, shit, you ain’t going to believe this boys.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Drake Carter: And they’re like what is it? He comes back and it’s a blond gadwall. Yeah, so it wasn’t a mallard at all. It was a blonde gadwall.
Ramsey Russell: Makes sense, hanging around with the gadwalls.
Drake Carter: The gadwalls.
Ramsey Russell: It’s interesting. I saw some pictures and video, I think it’s an adult hen. Obviously with the bill and the wing coloration, I think it’s an adult hen. But some of the rough feathers, what I’ve noticed is a lot of those leucistic birds, their feathering structure’s very weak. They just get tattered and worn and she was still heavily molting it. It’s like, boy, had really been apprised in a couple of months now. It looked a whole lot different. But what a prize. What a unique bird. Once in a lifetime, I guess. I’ve never seen a leucistic gadwall.
Drake Carter: I haven’t either.
Ramsey Russell: What an interesting bird.
Drake Carter: Yeah. Very cool. And those guys were just ecstatic about it too. I mean they’re getting it mounted and they’re getting a wood duck mounted. They really wanted a mallard to take home and mount but the first day they were here we had a really good hunt. And I think they probably just took that for granted that they’re going to get plenty more opportunities, but the birds, they kind of just went nocturnal and it didn’t happen for them. But they still went home happy, and I mean a lot of firsts.
Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah.
Drake Carter: They were excited and they’re like you said, they’re ready to book for next year and just can’t wait to get back.
Ramsey Russell: Back on Trey Crawford, is that who taught you to duck call?
Drake Carter: My dad taught me to duck call.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you? When you started coaching you on the diaphragm, blow from your diaphragm, and I’m really getting serious about it.
Drake Carter: Yeah, I was probably 12, 13 years old and it was just out in the blind, messing around one day and it was a Zinc Ph One, just a little part polycarbonate duck call. And I hit a note and it sounded different than I’ve ever made them sound before. And that was when it all started. Then that’s when I figured out the diaphragm and just how to actually run a duck call. And then Trey, when I was probably 17 or 18 –
Ramsey Russell: Because he’s done a little duck calling in his life.
Drake Carter: Yeah, he’s pretty good. Yeah. Three-time World champion, youngest to ever win the World.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of call does he blow?
Drake Carter: In the competitions, he blows a Wayne Bets call. And I’m not sure if he blows Bets at ducks or not, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve hunted with him, but he’ll be up here in December, he’s going to guide for us a little bit December, in January this year.
Ramsey Russell: Fantastic! Where is he from?
Drake Carter: He’s from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Ramsey Russell: I thought he’s Arkansas.
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll be danged, that’s good.
Drake Carter: Very good guy and just a cool guy to be around.
Ramsey Russell: And you’ve known him practically your whole life, it sounds like almost like second family.
Drake Carter: Yup.
Ramsey Russell: You’re going to hunt with him in it, you’re going to have to split up?
Drake Carter: Oh, we’ll probably have to split up.
Ramsey Russell: Do you ever get a chance in this business to just do a buddy hunt? Like tomorrow sounds like it’s gonna be one.
Drake Carter: Tomorrow’s going to be a buddy hunt and that’s those are the best, man.
Ramsey Russell: They are the absolute best.
Drake Carter: You don’t have to – you can just relax for a little bit, and just tell stories, and just kind of chill out.
Expectations vs. Reality: What Does it Take to Guide Hunts?
Yeah, it takes passion and dedication, and hard work and focus, I mean, and a good mentor.
Ramsey Russell: That brings me kind of up to a question. You grew up duck hunting, you grew up on a commercial nature, but now you weren’t guiding when you were in high school when you were a young man. Like the old guy that gave you the call, you’re out there hunting, but it was just kind of like buddy hunting. You were young, you were kind of being mentored, you were learning whether you knew it or not, and a lot about life, a lot about people, a lot about duck guiding but you weren’t working. And you’re just young and going out there along. Did you envision when you got into this at age 19-20, when you came back from California, said I’m going to be a duck guy, I’m going to guide and carry the torch on Carter’s Big Island – has anything changed? Like one of a kind of deal where you perceived it being a certain way but reality is something different? Did you know you’re going to be, for example, under all that pressure? I know you felt this morning, I knew you did.
Drake Carter: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of — just like anything, there’s a lot of pressure that goes with it. But you just got to treat it like a job really. I mean you got to get up every morning four o’clock, you got to make sure everything’s ready the night before.
Ramsey Russell: Treat it like a job, son.
Drake Carter: Yeah, and that’s what makes even the buddy hunts just that much more special. But no, when I was in high school me and Jacob Guard, he just lived a few houses down the block and I moved into town. We used to live out on the island and I moved into town around third grade, our house got flooded, and so we moved to town, and I started hanging out with Jacob, just playing sports together and stuff, and we didn’t even know each other hunted. He hunted with his dad a little bit and once we started hunting together, we just kind of learned how to kill them. I mean we went years just going out by ourselves and maybe shooting some ducks, maybe not. But once we finally figured out how to kill them, it was game on from there and we’d go all over the place. His family owns a lot of land that we had permission to and we were really the only ones that hunted it. So we had a lot of opportunity and we made the most of it.
Ramsey Russell: I just noticed this morning, five guys in the blind, laid back, it was pretty laid back, and the action was not fast and furious but steady. There were ducks calling. You were calling a lot but I’d be sitting there doing something, I’d hear the whistle down the blind, I knew you were freaking looking at all times. That’s work man, somebody got to be looking, you got a pit full of clients on a trigger pull, what other pressures are there on you? What the job entails, is what I’m trying to get at, cause Drake, you seem to take your job very seriously. I mean, I love to see that in young people, not everybody in the duck guiding business is really truly cut out to be in the duck guiding business. And if they don’t fade out quick they’re going to fade out, you’re going to blink and they’re going to be done, gone to seed and they ain’t going to be in a duck guy business no more. You seem to take it extremely serious. I mean dude, you were chit-chatting this morning buddy, you were game on, you had a lot of decoys out there, a lot of decoys to put out a lot of motion going on, getting everything just right going and picking up the client, boom. We were there 10 minutes before shooting time. Every everybody was in place, everything’s ready to roll. I know there’s a lot of young guys I hear from all the time, like how do I get in this business? What would you tell them what goes into this job and what? And I’ll ask that question first. What goes into this job to do that job right? Because not every day is going to be a banger.
Drake Carter: Yeah, it takes passion and dedication, and hard work and focus, I mean, and a good mentor. I mean like, I said everything I’ve learned has been from my dad and he — believe it or not, that different cat nowadays. I’m sure you witnessed that on the podcast earlier but he takes it serious, and he likes to have fun but he’s still serious about it.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Guiding a Duck Hunt
I’ve tried it all and I know how to kill them, and some days you can give it all you got but it just ain’t going to work.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the hardest thing about having somebody like Roy come on, it’s about our episode, we could run 22 hours before we change the subject. So it’s just trying to keep it in there because he knows so much, is involved in so many facets of it, from the habitat to the land to the history. That goes on forever. What are some of the good and bad things about duck guiding? What’s good, what’s some great things? What’s some not-so-great things?
Drake Carter: Well, one great thing is you get to meet some cool people, you get to share an experience with people and new people every day, and you get to see how much they’re enjoying it. That’s what really keeps me going is just seeing the smiles on everybody’s face. Even when you’re not having just the best hunt, I mean just seeing them being with their buddies, and having a good time and because I mean shit, they might not hunt but five times a year, or five times a season, but at least they decided to hunt with me. And that makes it all worth it. Just trying to please the clients and trying to get them on the best opportunity that they can. Some not so good things: it’s not the safest job, I mean you’re with firearms, you’re with people that you never hunted with.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely no idea about their experience or skill set with a firearm.
Drake Carter: And so safety is always the number one concern, and I try to preach safety to all my clients.
Ramsey Russell: After every volley I heard when the dog got out, I heard you say something about be sure your guns on safety.
Drake Carter: Yeah, guns up if someone’s out of the blind, I typically tell everybody the hunt basically comes to a stop when someone’s out of the blind, unless it’s somebody like one of my guides or something, that I know that if we see ducks, they’ll get down. But yeah, that’s the worst thing that could happen would be an accident with a firearm. And so I try to limit that every chance I get.
Ramsey Russell: What is some of the downright ugly stuff you have to deal with? Everybody in the business does.
Drake Carter: Guys that don’t understand it. Guys that think we just kill them every day.
Ramsey Russell: Could you deal with that I know that if you get 20 groups, 30 groups, not every group is experienced equal. Some guy’s maybe out on the fifth or sixth hunt ever.
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: They drove halfway across the United States and don’t realize it’s a full moon, and warm, and no wind blowing.
Drake Carter: And really the guys that are just starting getting hunting, they’re trying to learn as much from me as possible. And so they’re actually, I mean they will listen to you and they’re not expecting too much out of you. Some guys like, oh we should take the spinners down, or well, I’ve hunted here every day.
Ramsey Russell: Never guide the guide.
Drake Carter: Yeah, exactly. I’ve tried it all and I know how to kill them, and some days you can give it all you got but it just ain’t going to work.
Ramsey Russell: I see sometimes, because I’m not in your boots in the blind or at the camp, but when I host hunts and go with some people, I do notice sometimes. Some people tend to and I’ll actually warn them – if the line of questioning is just recurring and I’ve see it happen after 20 years, I try to say, look, here’s what’s going to happen. Don’t paint yourself in the corner, because you’re trying to paint yourself in a corner. Like we’re fixing to go down to the Kroger store and pick up a gallon of whole milk, and that ain’t reality. We’re going to go duck hunting, we’re going to hunt during this time frame, we’re going to be set up like this, and we’re going to take what the day brings. I mean just go with the flow to an extent now. I mean, you go hunt with a derelict outfit or a guide, sometimes you do got to take the bull by the horns, but sometimes you just got to be patient and take what the day comes like. I’ll be honest with you this morning right off the bat, especially on yesterday’s report, I didn’t expect much. It’s just something about the cloudy day, just something about it wasn’t a lot of wind, heck I want to dress warm. It was 50 degrees when I stepped out of the truck. It didn’t seem like it was going to be one of the days and but it was, I mean we shot 20 something ducks, it was a good day. I should have shot more, it was a good day, man. We got that a couple of big bunches of mallards, a dozen or more birds came in and they didn’t just give it up, had to work for them. So it was a great day I thought, had the Green-wings, just killed it.
Drake Carter: Yeah like yesterday oh we killed four ducks early in the morning and then we took a break because they just quit flying by about 11 o’clock. Actually they quit flying about nine but we stuck it out a couple more hours just to see what would happen. And then we got set back up in the afternoon, and I think we killed three mallards that kind of just gave it up. It was, you look over and they’re cupped up coming in. But it was slow yesterday and we had the full moon this week and that’s got the birds feeding at night. I mean as soon as shooting time, I think it was 5:07 last night about 5:09, 5:10, here come the ducks. So there’s nothing you can do when they’re doing that.
Ramsey Russell: How frustrating it is – because what do you call that blind we hunted today? –
Drake Carter: That’s McCullum Pit.
Ramsey Russell: How frustrating is it to hunt that pit which is set up for the flyway knowing there’s tens of thousands of ducks within a couple of miles of it just sitting there, just sitting?
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I mean and there’s not a freaking thing you can do about it. I drove by I could see in the daylight. Gazillions of ducks that there are places on that lake just black with duck.
Drake Carter: Yeah. And that’s what’s frustrating: when they don’t fly. I mean the guy, you got clients looking at you like, why’d you tell us to come? But we got the ducks, that’s what I told you this morning. We got the ducks.
Ramsey Russell: I would say that if I counted every duck that we possibly saw while I was in the blind this morning and tripled it, we didn’t see a fraction of 1% of the ducks sitting on that reservoir. When I drove out, I’m like, I actually stopped and glassed one time because I thought it might be just aquatic vegetation because that whole pocket was slapped full black. And when I raised my binoculars I’m like, holy cow, that’s some duck.
Drake Carter: All mallards too.
Ramsey Russell: I just the part I saw, just the side I saw from the road, the public road going by that reservoir, whatever that was 30,000 ducks. I’d say 30 easy, 30,000 ducks. And I didn’t see that trafficking today because they’re out feeding at night or doing something different.
Drake Carter: Most of the birds we’ve seen today were actually a mile high, and beat up, and flying back north to that safe pool. And typically, the birds that are flying to the safe pool, you don’t have a very good chance at them. You’re trying to pick the ones that are getting up off of it and going out looking for feed, or are looking for a place to rest. But we didn’t see many birds flying today. So I’m happy with how the hunt went for how many we killed. I mean the teal, they gave it up nice, and that was some good easy shooting. Our shooting wasn’t the best, but that’s, you can’t ever control that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Talk about this McCullum pit traffic. Your dad was saying you can hunt that every day because every day is a new day. Wind starts blowing from a different direction, it rains and thunders, it turns, blue bird, ducks do something different. And you observed this morning, we got out of the truck and started pulling the weight as you said, it’s cloudy, the moon was covered. That’s a good thing and maybe that was why those birds responded like they did, because a lot of birds that were heading back north did slow down and stop and give it up a little bit.
Drake Carter: Yeah. I think having that full moon covered and cloudy a little bit last night probably helped. I mean it couldn’t have hurt. And the wind switched out of the north, it’s been out of the south for the last couple of days, and so that north wind is especially in that pit. The birds just they work a lot better with the north wind.
Different Ways to Duck Hunt
Well, tomorrow we’re not going to be in a pit blind, we’re just going to stand next to some trees.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about one of your traffic setups like today versus a spot like what we might hunt tomorrow. How’s it going to be different? How is the hunting conditions going to be different to blind the decoys? What’s all going to be different about it?
Drake Carter: Well, tomorrow we’re not going to be in a pit blind, we’re just going to stand next to some trees.
Ramsey Russell: So I like that that’s how I cut my teeth.
Drake Carter: Yeah and instead of running 30 dozen decoys, we might run 2 dozen decoys and maybe one spinner. If we run a spinner. If it’s sunny, I like running spinners but if it’s cloudy —
Ramsey Russell: I don’t think they do as good.
Drake Carter: Yeah, I’m not a fan but at that traffic spot you have to have them because I’ve taken them down and the ducks don’t even look at you.
Ramsey Russell: The first bunch of birds that came in today broke down from mile high. I was just kind of just looking up through the grass, looking at them, thinking they’re just going somewhere else. And all of a sudden, yeah, I mean just broke right there.
Drake Carter: I scream at him with my Mondo. I mean you got to be loud to get their attention. And I don’t know why, but ever since we started hunting that spot, I switched to the Mondo and it just barking at them, and trying to get that attention, and all it takes is one to kind of tip its wings. And usually if one gives it up, here comes the rest.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the one you got to keep talking. I try to do the same thing when I’m looking at a flock, if one of them responds, that’s just the one I want to focus on.
Drake Carter: You just keep your eye on that duck and you get them all the way down to the water. And typically, the rest of the group will follow.
Ramsey Russell: Well that one old Green head this morning broke off, and I mean wham, he’s sitting out there on the water, and it took three or four more circles for his buddy got close enough to join him. And then that Green head got away because I thought everybody was going to shoot at him, so I didn’t.
Drake Carter: I don’t think anybody seen him. I told everybody we got one on the water don’t let him leave. And I popped up and I was looking at the whole group, and seeing how many we knocked down trying to get a mark on all of them, but the one that gave it up, he got away. So there’s one dumb duck out there.
Attracting and Holding Birds: Habitat Work
I would say if you’re trying to hold large amounts of birds throughout the course of the season, you need that food. I mean, you got to have either flooded millet or flooded corn.
Ramsey Russell: Are you pretty involved with a lot of the habitat work your dad does throughout the year? The water and the planning and the clearing?
Drake Carter: Yep I’m right there with him trying to take it all in and learn as much as I can.
Ramsey Russell: He knows a bunch I think.
Drake Carter: Yeah, he sure does.
Ramsey Russell: I watch his stories and stuff, you see what he’s up to and he’s always doing something.
Drake Carter: He’s always working, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: They like the dark, he’s doing something. He’s got like this restless energy or something, he just got to do that doesn’t he?
Drake Carter: Yeah, he can’t sit still.
Ramsey Russell: How much of the habitat work goes into attracting and holding birds, in terms of feed value, or some other habitat value versus just making it inviting to a duck?
Drake Carter: I would say if you’re trying to hold large amounts of birds throughout the course of the season, you need that food. I mean, you got to have either flooded millet or flooded corn. And some spots are different, like the traffic spot today, I think if you just had aquatic vegetation and just showed water, you’d have the same results.
Ramsey Russell: Well all the cross we checked today were empty but you told me they’ve been in the more soil. It’s not been cold enough for them to hit that corner.
Drake Carter: Not yet.
Ramsey Russell: And that middle will have some seed value, a little bit of vegetative value, but a lot of crustacean and insect value, and so right now so they seem to be hitting based on what you said. Just the natural seeds.
Drake Carter: Yeah, that’s right. It’s gotten below freezing a couple of nights so far this year but not like it usually does. And that corn comes in like late January, late December when it starts really getting cold and all the water is freezing. And so when that happens, we’ll run ice eaters, and always keep open water in front of the blinds and stuff. And if the river level is right, when it’s low, when it gets really cold, we’ll hunt the river if we can. And that’s always real good. You’ll go in there and bust 20,000 off and they’ll jump over to the nearest dry field. Either beans or corn, and then they’ll just start filtering back in and you get 10 guys lined up on the levee shooting down at them ducks. And I’ve never had a bad river hunt. But we don’t do it often.
Ramsey Russell: Is it private?
Drake Carter: Yeah, you have to own the land on the river in Kansas.
Ramsey Russell: Really? So you ain’t got to worry about nobody showing up from out of state and running a Jon boat down there just sitting up?
Drake Carter: No, I get that question a lot from guys that come down this way and hunt the refuge. Do you got anywhere we can put a boat in and I got to tell them, it’s like, you got to have permission. I mean you could hunt the river on the public land, but the bank’s too steep to really hunt. I mean you’d have to have a hell of a dog to be able to go up and down that levee.
Dogs Add a lot to the Hunt, Don’t You Think?
I mean, you wear yourself out and you lose a lot of birds without a dog.
Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah, heck yeah. Char and your dog got along pretty good today.
Drake Carter: Yeah. They worked great together Cane, he’s five years old this year, and he’s a good dog.
Ramsey Russell: He is a good dog.
Drake Carter: He ran a thorn up his pad the other day, a locust thorn. Yeah and it swelled up and I took him to the vet and got some shots and he’s on some pills right now that he’s taken but now he loves it just as much as I do. He can’t wait to get out of that box and go fetch one up. But Char, she did really good today. She had a couple of marks where we dropped down like three or four teal, and there was one wounded one that kind of soared off. It was amazing how she knew she seen that bird fly off like that, and that was the first one she went for.
Ramsey Russell: I think, not to take nothing away from her because I tell you what, I am very proud of that dog, but she goes in reverse order. We knock down three till she marks 1,2,3. She’s going to go after that third mark and I call her off, make her do something. But I did see that third mark was way over across the way, it was still flapping, so I didn’t know if it’s alive or crippled, and I was glad she went over and got on that.
Drake Carter: Yeah, that was impressive. Cane, he’s been, if we knocked down, Cane has been trying to grab two or three of them at a time and bring them back.
Ramsey Russell: Oh heck yeah, man, work – that’s an older dog for you – work smarter, not harder. He knows the score. We burger down a bird back behind us up in that tall switch grass, whatever that was, and the way she was pacing in the dog box, that’s why I went back to go find it. Just air out, man. I spent on a couple of lines. I know that duck wasn’t there just to see how far she’d go and let her burn some steam, man. She is just, some day she wakes up and just can’t get enough. Just a ball of fire, you saw how hard she hit that water.
Drake Carter: Oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Your dad showed me a text all going back and forth as a household, how’s Char Dawg doing? He said she’s a meat dog and I’ll be honest with that, a long time ago, I heard the word meat dog. When I think a meat dog, what a meat dog would be like, a meat dog’s owner might say my dog’s trained to go on the shot, which they didn’t say it’s going to go fast. It could be fast, could be slow, and they don’t mean when you actually pull the trigger. Sometimes when a dog goes on the shot, what they mean is, when I drop my duck call, or when I even think about, when it even crossed my mind – because my dog is also a mind reader – that I might shoot at that duck soon, my dog’s already out there. It is a great dog that is just trained by the shot. That dog was basically trying to beat the ducks to the decoys. He wanted to catch them because they were falling like an outfielder, but I tell you, the dogs just really add so much to hunt. Besides the fact I didn’t have to walk clear across that muddy water to go get that teal he told about. But they really add a lot to it, don’t you think?
Drake Carter: Yeah, they do. I hunted years without a dog. My dad always had a dog, and so when me and Jacob would go buddy hunting, we just, we never had a dog and we were always the ones out there trying to pick up the wounded. I mean, you wear yourself out and you lose a lot of birds without a dog.
Ramsey Russell: They got the nose.
Drake Carter: Yeah, they got the nose and that’s what’s special about them.
Ramsey Russell: And I think they add a lot to it. It’s just the style of the ceremony or the pageantry and the efficiency of having that dog. With a dog, you’re back and going a lot quicker than if I had to walk over and get that bird. You might as well say that’s 10 minutes, we’re going to be hunting rams out in the decoys fetching birds.
Drake Carter: And you always have ducks come in when you’re out in the decoys, like moving decoys around or something. And I think they hear that splashing, they see that muddy water, and when you’re out in the decoys, especially if you ain’t got a gun. They’re going to get so close and they’re going to see you and flare out with a dog. They might not see that dog as good as they could see a human out there. So even if that dogs out there searching for a duck, as long as you got everybody on the same page and they know that dog’s out there, you could still have a chance at shooting ducks if they fly over the top.
Ramsey Russell: Terry Denman said years ago, he hypothesized, his theory was that birds have really, really good eyesight. They can see a long ways, but maybe they can’t see fine detail until they get a certain distance. And when he said this, I started thinking about, he said, maybe the reason birds always come in while you’re out there messing the decoys is because from two or 300 yards away, they can’t tell that’s the human form. They just see movement in the decoys, and see the water rippling, and I said, that makes perfect sense. When they get out there about 100 yards, they know what you are, and it looks like they hit a rubber wall and they start bouncing. But it’s interesting stuff, isn’t it?
Drake Carter: Yeah, because I mean, it never fails if somebody gets out of the blind to take a piss or something, here they come.
The Best Job in the World
There’s no better way to watch the sunset come up than in a duck blind.
Ramsey Russell: What do you like most about your job? Meeting the new people. I know we talked about that, but you got to love it man. Come on, man. I tell people all the time, it’s my job too, this road trip. That’s my job, telling the story, recording podcast, document. It’s a grind, getting up, it’s just like any other job. My wake-up time’s 4:00. But so I report to work but I like this job a lot more than I like other jobs I’ve had in the past. There’s some jobs I will never go back to, boy. What do you love most about your job?
Drake Carter: Just being able to wake up every morning and love what I do. There’s no better way to watch the sunset come up than in a duck blind.
Ramsey Russell: You talk about the people being able to share what you have here with them, and if somebody’s been in the business for 20 something years all of us adults, we got bills to pay. We got the human condition on, the weight of the world, on our shoulders at times, and Santa Claus is a children’s myth, especially for guys that are like these guys today, they’re high-performing professionals. They got some pretty serious careers, and when they’re at work, man it is, has a lot more pressure on them doing some, some stuff I heard than some stuff I do. When you’re a surgeon and you got somebody’s life in your hands – but they get to come out here to duck blind, and it’s kind of like their Christmas morning. They’re among their friends, and they’re in a politically incorrect place where they can talk about stuff maybe they can’t talk about elsewhere in their lives, or the rest of the world. I mean, it is – a duck blind is a special place. And I try to take it serious man, I want people to come and have a good time, the best that duck guides will give them, it’s a big responsibility.
Drake Carter: Yeah, like them guys today, they were just having the time of their life and I mean it wasn’t about – yeah, everybody wanted to shoot ducks – but they were just having a good time with their friends, had a great time.
Ramsey Russell: They had a great time. They were happy. And I was glad they got to hunt with them. I thought they were a great team of guys started right off the bat, the first one jumped in, hey, how you doing? I’m so, and so, and, we got some food, got some coffee, got, just got that, y’all will spend the whole day out in the blind at times. Y’all got the kitchen, y’all got the heaters, that’s sometimes what it takes, isn’t it? So how is Carter’s Big Island Hunting Club? What is your package all day until the limit?
Drake Carter: It’s an all-day or till the limit, depending on how the birds are flying, we might take a couple hour break though. It depends, like once they fly, you got about two hours and then they’re done flying on a typical day, but you better be there when they do fly because you don’t want to miss your chance.
Ramsey Russell: So if we’d gone out this morning and shot half a limit or less, we come back and eat breakfast, go eat lunch, take a nap, then we go back out and finish up our day. Do you have a minimum booking requirement? Like how many hunters can come and book this trip?
Drake Carter: I got room for seven guns in the blind. There’s no minimum.
Ramsey Russell: You will run mixed parties?
Drake Carter: I will, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the minimum number to have a party to myself?
Drake Carter: Five. If you got five guys then it’s the blinds to yourself with either me or one of my other guides. This year I’ve actually got some help. So I’m typically got, we’ll have two guides per hunt, but they don’t always shoot, sometimes they’re either cooking or just on good days, they’re filling the straps and make sure everybody’s-
Ramsey Russell: Those guides are important in the blind. That kind of help is important.
Drake Carter: It is, yeah. Because I was out there today by myself and you’ve seen me setting all them decoys, then motion decoys out and then I had to go run and get the guys. We got there with, like you said, 10 minutes left to spare. But it was crunch time. There was no time to mess around this morning.
Ramsey Russell: Because they came right off the bat, you always get that crack of dawn for a lot of times. You’ve got to be ready to go time. You got to be ready to go time. How many people get a minimum party to himself?
Drake Carter: Five.
Ramsey Russell: And you do have some day guy calls up from Minnesota where ever want to come down here and shoot some mallards, you just kind of keep some data aside, you can put him with one or two or three, some other spares and pairs.
Drake Carter: Yeah, we’re running two groups this year per day. So if we got two guys from North Dakota, and two guys from Wisconsin, and two guys from Michigan, we’ll set them all up as their one group. So there will be six of them. And that way everybody gets a fair chance to hunt and then we’ll switch up blinds, so if you’re here for two days, you might hunt the big pit one day and you might go hunt in the flooded timber the next day, or it just depends.
Ramsey Russell: Seems to me that’s a great thing about your program. A lot of packages, and it makes perfect sense to me that I’ve got a three or four whatever day package. But y’all do single days, two days, three days, ten days, y’all just whatever the client wants.
Drake Carter: Yeah, we try to work it around the client. So a lot of guys from Kansas City since they’re so close. I mean they just come down for one day and that’s perfectly fine.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s a bit like you guys today, just come down and hit a couple of days, and go back to the real world. What about lodging and stuff like that, what you guys do for lodging? This is a cool place. You got me put up in this little Airbnb, no Wi-Fi, but I’m going to get on his – I asked Forrest that. I told you, Dad, he said well, Wi-Fi or no Wi-Fi. I said son, I have hunted in parts of the world that have little round adobe houses with grass roof huts, and you turn it on, and somebody’s got Wi-Fi. I’ve hunted 8 miles from Iranian border and there’s Wi-Fi. I know how in the world this guy ain’t got Wi-Fi. Well, he’ll think about it after more than we talk. But anyway, I’m not trying to get, I mean, you got just a beautiful place here. Is there a hotel nearby?
Drake Carter: Yeah there’s hotels in Parsons, Kansas, there’s like four or five hotels there. Most of the guys stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Parsons which is about 15 minutes from where we meet in the morning. And then there are some other like Airbnb type lodges in St. Paul. But I think in the future we’re going to try to, we might not build a lodge, but we’re going to try to get some houses or something so we can have two separate groups stay together.
Ramsey Russell: I think something – don’t get me wrong, I see the advantage of both. I’m very comfortable coming back here, stopping at that great cafe, get a bite to eat, and I come back here and do my business, and take a nap, or whatever I got to do, and go back out where you say to meet. I mean that works great to me, you know what I’m saying? I don’t mind a hotel lodging at all a lot of times, especially if it’s convenient. But lodging has its benefits too, I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to worry about meals, can come in and get a bite to eat, whatever.
Drake Carter: And some guys like, I got some Louisiana boys that come down every year, and they like to do like the cooking and everything. And they might want to drink a little bit after the hunt, so having a place for them that they can go and be by themselves with all their buddies, they might not want to go out and eat at a restaurant. They can just cook and drink beer, watch the game, whatever.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t like going out and eating when I’m at hunting camp. Say that I do, I do like that kind of atmosphere, kind of a cook myself, because everybody shows up with an ice chest and their favorite thing to cook, of course you’re killing the old fat mallards.
Drake Carter: Yeah so you got to try some of them, but yeah, that’s just part of it I think. So hopefully next year, or the year after we can get some lodging set up to where we can make it more of a more of an experience for the guys.
Ramsey Russell: Tell everybody real quick before we sign off Drake. How can people connect with you now? Carter’s Big Island is our Kansas US Hunt List. Y’all go to ushuntlist.com and get his contact information, and Roy’s, and see the photo galleries, and read about the hunt. They feature mallards over water. I mean a lot of, do y’all have any dry field hunting?
Drake Carter: We do, but it’s very limited.
Ramsey Russell: I’m thinking everything I’ve seen and heard about impoundments and y’all got flooded timber. When the birds get in the timber, you’ve got more soil units, you’ve got to plant agriculture like we did today. And when I think of duck hunting, I love to hunt them over dry fields. I think of duck hunting. I think water.
Drake Carter: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That is for anybody listening, in case you ain’t figured it out, mallards over water. That is y’all’s your strong hand.
Drake Carter: That’s right. And if we can’t kill them on the water then we’ll move to dry fields, if it gets all froze u,p and we see them feeding in dry fields, we can change and adapt to get on the birds, but we like doing it over water.
Ramsey Russell: Kansas duck hunting, Carter’s Big Island. ushuntlist.com. And how else can they get in touch with you Drake?
Drake Carter: You can follow me on Instagram and shoot me a message on there at cbihuntclub.com, or just call or text anytime, 620-778-5480.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you Drake. What we’ve got planned in the morning, sounds like it’s going to be a good buddy hunt.
Drake Carter: Yep. Good buddy Hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Little honey hole.
Drake Carter: Little honey hole standing next to a tree.
Ramsey Russell: Wood ducks.
Drake Carter: Wood ducks, mallards should be a fun, quick, nice little hunt.
Ramsey Russell: I ain’t got 700 miles to drive to get home tomorrow so yeah, that sounds good. Thank you very much Drake, for having me, thank you for your hospitality. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you more the last couple of days in the blind and looking forward to tomorrow folks. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from St. Paul, Carter’s Big Island Hunting Club. See you next time.