Taking a break from this year’s North America Waterfowl Tour, Ramsey Russell joins son, Forrest Russell and long-time friend Mr. Ian Munn, at camp for the Mississippi duck season opener. They talk about weekend highlights, habitat, life happenings and reminisce about their tradition of sharing the Mississippi Opener for decades.
Old Enough to Shoot
Forrest, I don’t remember when you started coming, so you must have been about 6 or 7 years old when you started coming out to the blind with us on the opening day.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, Thanksgiving in Mississippi is the opener and has been for as long as I can remember. It’s just a tradition you’re breaking, going on the road and seeing all these parts of the world but you’ve got to come home, you’ve got to be home for Thanksgiving or mama ain’t happy but you got to be home or hell, I ain’t happy. I like to be home at duck season, where my friends, just where everything, revolves around the opening day of duck season. In Mississippi that means Willow Break right here for the last 20 years. Joining me today are world famous Mr. Ian and son Forrest Russell. How you guys doing today?
Ian Munn: I’m doing very well.
Forrest Russell: Doing good.
Ramsey Russell: Well, we’ve been doing this for 20 years, opening right here. Forrest, I don’t remember when you started coming, so you must have been about 6 or 7 years old when you started coming out to the blind with us on the opening day. Maybe 8, do you remember? I have no idea.
Forrest Russell: They all kind of run together.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what it does. Yeah, that’s what it does.
Ian Munn: I remember in the early years. I don’t know it’s necessarily opening days but I remember floating with both of them in a poke boat or something like that and have them sitting there and just watching the action until they got old enough to shoot.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. God that seems like a long time ago, just how this property has changed in the last 20 years because when we bought, all the trees on the place were belt high. It’s that much and now it’s an emerging forest, I’d say 20-30ft tall in place. And I was thinking today where we were hunting, one of the first years we had the place, I had a friend from Halladale come over, and I just remember – I couldn’t tell you where we hunted in that impoundment, but it was somewhere. We laid down in the tall grass, looked towards the direction we actually shot today, and we’re catching ducks coming off the water. You know what I’m saying? We’re hunting on the edge of this water, but it’s totally changed since then. You know the tallest trees on the horizon back then were a few willow trees around and I can’t hardly remember that. I mean, I couldn’t no more tell you where I stood that day because it’s all changed. Now, everything looks familiar now that the – like it’s a little hole today, it’s just shrouded with willow trees, you know exactly where it is. When somebody says I’m going to the southeast or southwest, you know exactly where they’re talking about, you know exactly where you’re going to stand there.
Ian Munn: I remember early on in the club, potholes like we hunted today, what the NRCs called chili dips, I thought they were the stupidest things in the world. Couldn’t drain them, couldn’t plant them, they were just there, they made life miserable for you, had to work around them. And now today they’re some of our most productive, and have been for a long time, had we just realized that a long time ago. But consistently, day in and day out, if you want ducks, they’re probably in one of those chili dips.
Ramsey Russell: Of all the little spots we draw for, we’ll talk about that. But I guess every club got their own tradition, their own process, ours is we’re all friends until the morning about 5 o’clock. Everybody small talking, nobody mentioned where they’re going to go, where they want to go because we all clicked up in our own little group. But for the past several years, for the past decade, some of those little chilly dips, you’re talking about, the water never drains up. It gets deeper during duck season and lower during the off season, but never dry. They have, day in day out, season to season, been the most productive spots for us. And I think it is for a lot of different reasons. But this weekend, if you drew the high card, you were going to one of the little place because they’re full of duck potato, and the ducks love it, it’s like crack cocaine for the ducks, all 3 of them. And I wonder if there’s not any opportunity to find some more areas that we could manage water, there’s got to be some more areas we could manage water kind of off the beaten path, not enough traffic to disturb the ducks during duck season. Just start holding water, more passive management, and just a few of these places like the chute, I’ve been arguing for the chute forever. Would it work there or is the water too shallow or what?
Ian Munn: No, I think we could drain it down so that nothing – the water’s all gone out a big hole except for their shoot and the chili dips of course. I’m always hesitant to do that because that’s one place where we can really plant a really nice crop or jap and have it productive during early season. But you’re absolutely right that teal hole could be easily left with permanent water without sacrificing much. Some of the holes that we can’t pump, we probably might want to consider, could consider rotating them this year, this couple of years leave this hole watered permanent water and then rotate to another. I don’t think we want to leave them permanently in water all the time just because the vegetation morphs over into that permanent, not very productive marsh type stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Kevin Nelms who has been on this podcast several times, and his episodes have been immensely popular helped design this project here. It used to be in soybeans and milo, very marginal land and they came in through the wetlands reserve program and reforested most of it. Set up some impoundments blocked up from swag with pipes and flash board risers, and on the same way that the habitat has evolved, the trees have grown, the property looks totally different. Like I can remember sitting right here and looking miles away to the levee and now I can’t see, I can’t see very far because all these tall trees, it’s changed, I’ve changed also. I’ve gotten to where I really prefer a lot of natural submerged aquatic. I mean, I can remember people like him saying, oh man, you need to do moist soil management, all this kind of stuff, I was like, oh heck no man, I got to pour it out of a bag. I can go get this leftover seed from a seed company and plant chalk this whole full of milo and this that and the other. It failed, it didn’t work, didn’t work like having natural moist soil. And then having a compound that we just kind of accidentally discovered ourselves through trial and error, having some of these areas that never go dry, having some of these areas with a little bit of ag, a little bit of something out of a bag, and some of these areas that got just a good natural carcasses really seemed to work for us. And it’s like, I never would have dreamed of wanting to go in in September, October and pump a lot more water than we do for early season until now, meeting with these biologists and seeing some of these wetlands, and seeing how ephemeral works thinking, yeah, I can see a lot of benefit to pumping up more water way early, especially this dry year. There have been reports of people seeing a lot of ducks in places real early that they haven’t seen them in the past. A lot of pintails coming down a lot of big ducks, we even had a big in flight of ducks a couple of weeks ago. I think that’s just ducks getting out of Midwest and trying to find some good wet habitat, what a great year to have pumped water and thought ahead. But I guess that’s just the trajectory of a duck hunter. I’ve evolved since I was Forrest’s age and got in this place, just how I think we ought to manage it and certainly how we ought to hunt it.
The Trajectory of a Duck Hunter
But it’s all trial and error, isn’t it?
Ian Munn: And we’ve learned a lot over the years and just how to manage it, when we want to manage intensively, how to do it, if we can do it. I mean one of the reasons this place is no longer farmland and flipped over to WRP was because it was very difficult to farm, and if professional farmers had a hard time, what are us as weekend hobbyists going to do? We’ve struggled with timing, planting stuff early, getting an early flood on it, or planting it late, or having to plant late because the spring flood water didn’t come off. Getting a good standing corn and having an early hurricane come through and see all that corn just go rotten because it was in a flooded duck hole, now, nothing you can do with it just weeks before it matures.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a million different things Mother Nature can throw at you on a bad site like this to try to grow. And then let’s get into moist soil because like one thing I’ve learned and seen, and see this year, you can have the best moist soil crop out there and you can be patient, wait till however long it takes with the wind and the ice to melt that stuff down to where the ducks can use it, or you can go in there and mow out some openings to create some open stuff to float decoys and make more traffic ducks. I mean, one without the other is just kind of a move, but with a handful of club members just doing the best they can, sometimes you run out of time to get everything done just right. But it’s all trial and error, isn’t it?
Ian Munn: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And every year is different.
Ian Munn: Every year is different as the membership evolves and changes over time. You kind of have to re-learn the same lessons a lot of times, new members don’t remember when we did it 10 years ago and it didn’t work.
Ramsey Russell: And every year is different. It’s like, a picture came up on my social media feed, Facebook is good about 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 2 years ago on this day, throwing a picture up, and it’s funny how you forget stuff. And 10 years ago yesterday, me and you, and Duncan who was a middle schooler now is a U.S. Marine. We were hunting where we hunted yesterday over a duck hole and it was epic. It was the year that Delta died 2 weeks before the season, we had just buried her over here and I usually was out there – God, it’s like, I had forgotten. Yeah, we shot a bunch of ducks that weekend, I remember 2 or 3 consecutive days of limits.
Ian Munn: All 3 days we limited. And the mix of ducks change from day to day.
Ramsey Russell: And one day we had the pintails come in, we didn’t get a shot at them, the next day we come in and we clobbered them. Beautiful drake pintail last one, I know for a fact I shot on this property. And Asia, who was Delta’s puppy, was doing all the retrieving and you know, as good as the hunting was, I kind of forgot how many ducks were killed, the quality until I saw that picture 10 years later. I’d forgotten all about the ducks but I do remember that blind, and that day, and it being clear and perfect. And me having talked to some girl about a chicken dog, but the hole in my heart because Delta wasn’t there. That’s what I remember the most 10 years later. But then when you see that picture like holy cow, mallards, a lot of mallards, a lot of gadwall, a couple of pintails we shot. It’s just different year to year how it is, and then this year was not what I expected, man. Two weeks ago, there were tons of ducks in this area and this bottom right here now there’s not very many at all.
What Makes for a Productive Duck Habitat?
It’s perfectly situated and they just come in right in front of you and they’re eyeball level when they come in. It’s just nice. It’s just fun.
Ian Munn: We had some really good productive holes and some other ones that were not so productive. I mean, I think the people that went to big hole first day or gar hole the first day, they wouldn’t have changed those hunts for anything, they smoked them.
Ramsey Russell: But how many times in the last 20 years have we hunted that location? That whole, not that exact location, but that whole? I’d say most. That’s usually the place that if especially on a year like this when I have no idea what the ducks are doing what the habitat looks like day in day out, that’s the hole, I’m going to go to. Because I always have, I’ve always gone to that particular water body for opening day and I’ve got 2 little favorite spots over there on the west side.
Ian Munn: Well, for me, if the wind is right and the water level is right, there’s no place on this camp that I’d rather hunt than a pit blind and duck hole. It’s perfectly situated and they just come in right in front of you and they’re eyeball level when they come in. It’s just nice. It’s just fun.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I heard we didn’t have much water. I heard we didn’t pump up enough. So we went over to duck hole, we drill them like that’s why I wanted to go anyway. But if I’d known that north wind that there was water in front of the pit blind, that’s where I wanted to go. But that usually takes a few weeks into season before we got enough water to get on that north side.
Ian Munn: And the original plan this year was to pump up the center part of the duck hole and leave the food in and around the perimeter, let it fill up with rainwater, so we’d have food later on. But it was so dry that duck community members said, hey, let’s just keep up and we need to get more water on this place, so that’s what we did.
Ramsey Russell: It has been a very dry fall.
Ian Munn: Yeah. And same thing at the north end. We had problems with the pumps and whatnot but we got most everything we wanted pumped to pump, we have one hole, it’s about 2/3rd pumped. But other than that we were right on target.
Ramsey Russell: The great thing about this property if you want to save duck food, and we do, we do want some fresh food in the chance that we get a big cold front and ducks show up, we got it. Because typically it’s going to rain more between now and New Year than it does in the fall. And we’ve got some duck holes that don’t have any water because rains got to fill it up. So, that is kind of like having some food stored for later for those ducks. It’s good, I like the strategy. I like new water, ducks like new water. But yesterday I picked the blind where we’re going, we’re going to the island blind, I hate the island blind.
Ian Munn: It is Ramsey’s least favorite hole.
Ramsey Russell: I hate it. I would light it on fire just to get rid of it so there’s not even a choice anymore.
Ian Munn: But it’s one of my preferred blinds.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s miserable. It’s a miserable blind to hunt out of.
Ian Munn: It is. You’re standing there even in the blind on the bench, the water’s up to your up to your knees at least, and poor old Forrest down at the end, he didn’t have any floor in them, so every time he got off the bench he was in chest deep water.
Ramsey Russell: 20 years ago somebody had this idea, some member, a past member had this idea that scaffold would make the most ingenious blind and we, by God, loaded up the place. There’s one scaffolding blind that I’m aware of that left and it’s that island blind, you can’t really brush it. Not really. The water is – golly, I can remember sitting ther – that duck hole is full of water and I’m sitting on the bench but I’m in the water up to my waist, that’s miserable.
Ian Munn: When it’s that deep, that’s the beavers have plugged up the pipe because at the top of the top board the water level in that blind is there’s enough – it’s about what it is right now – there’s enough space that you can squeeze, if you’re by yourself, you can squeeze your jets lead up under the bench.
Ramsey Russell: So, we had a little wind and we shot some ducks, I can’t complain. For the ducks we saw, I think we have done better further north. But how many times we hunted on my 2 favorite spots on the west side and whether we shoot ducks or not, all the ducks that pitch in out there in the big open water. So we threw out a monster spread – for us that was a monster spread. That was way more decoys than I’d have thrown out a long time and we got some ducks in there.
Ian Munn: Once it got like they were skirting the edges of those things, since it was a monster spread, that was 30, 40 yards out but we still had some highlights, I mean that mallard that came in on your end that worked about as perfectly as any mallard can work, any duck can work and you got him. And then I was teasing Josh this morning about sitting next to him that blind when we both got up, well Josh, I’m exaggerating somewhat but at about 7.5ft and about 400lbs, he’d block out the sun.
Ramsey Russell: I was wondering if 5 men could fit in that little blind. I forgot that Justin and Josh account for 4 men. They’re some big old boys, they’re tall and wide.
Ian Munn: But to be fair I was more concerned about working three dogs out of that and they did find, I mean we had to take turns on our end because we had two dogs down there. But other than that –
Ramsey Russell: Those three dogs get along real good though.
Ian Munn: At times, yeah.
Forrest Russell: Until they don’t.
Searching for the Next Great Undiscovered Hunting Destination
My buddy called me and he’d found the spot in Illinois on some public land and we drove all night.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but they work good together, and that’s always a good thing. Forrest you kicked off this year, of course you got out of school last January, now you started this landscaping empire that seemed to be going gangbusters. But now you’ve taken on a moonlight job in the fall. What are you doing these days?
Forrest Russell: Yeah, I hunted most of the first split out in Commander’s Corner with Harrison Banks, helping him out some. But I started the season 2 days prior. My buddy called me and he’d found the spot in Illinois on some public land and we drove all night. Got out there, slept at the gate and first red flag was no other truck showing up at the gate, and it was a bust.
Ramsey Russell: Well, when you told me that you all had found this great undiscovered destination in southern Illinois, that’s kind of how it came across. Man, he found a place, nobody else knows about, I go bullshit, there’s got to be something to this, but I didn’t discourage you from going.
Forrest Russell: Yeah, it was –
Ramsey Russell: How many ducks did you see?
Forrest Russell: How many did we see? I’d say a half dozen or so on the top end.
Ramsey Russell: How many did you kill?
Forrest Russell: Zero. Didn’t pull the trigger in 2 days. But packed up on, let’s see Friday and went down, drove back to Jackson and picked up some more stuff and went over to Harrison’s and we did good first split. Did real good.
Ramsey Russell: He always does. He’s got that – those you all listening don’t know, Harrison is one of our US Hunt List outfitters down in Southern Arkansas, right on the Louisiana state line. It’s surrounded by federal refuges and he has got a couple of locations to die for. I mean really and truly that a sanctuary area he calls is unbelievable. 160 acres smack in the middle of a 6000 acre federal sanctuary. What was it like? I mean, you’ll see a lot of ducks, a lot of mallards?
Forrest Russell: Yeah, I mean, it was honestly, it got pretty similar to here. I mean, the weeks leading up to season, he was just loaded down and I don’t know if it was the moon, the weather, what it was, but I mean we did good, but I mean it was just mainly teal, first couple of days, a few mallards, a few wigeons, gadwall. He picked up a new property and we shot some wigeons, and a good many wigeons and mallards there a couple of days. I had a real good afternoon specks hunt out of my buddy Jake’s place. We shot 7 limits of specks one afternoon and it was good. It was real good.
Ramsey Russell: Well, the food as good as I remember it last year?
Forrest Russell: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Good old southern cooking fried chicken.
Forrest Russell: Yeah. Chef Eric, he’s got some pretty good stuff. He didn’t cook his empanadas this year, I was pretty disappointed in that.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Forrest Russell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s a highlight.
Forrest Russell: I know that he skipped out on me.
Ramsey Russell: I talked to somebody on social media the other day, it was a guy that brought those lobsters. Remember that last time he was over there?
Forrest Russell: No, I missed that, I was hunting with my buddy in Lake Village.
Ramsey Russell: Too bad. But it was good.
Forrest Russell: Yeah, missed that on the lobster, the limits the next morning, and he didn’t even wake up to go hunting.
Ramsey Russell: You might need to find some new friends, son. Between Illinois and sleeping in, I don’t know about that.
Forrest Russell: I’m telling you.
All Time Favorite Opening Weekends
I got a frame for my favorite picture of all time me and the boys hunting.
Ramsey Russell: When you think back, when either of you all think back to opening days because it’s more than just the duck numbers. I mean really and truly I’d like to shot more ducks this weekend, but I know 5, 10 years from now, I won’t remember what, I remember something else. But when you think back over all the years, what are some of the highlights? Like I tell you mine, one of my favorite memories of opening weekend. Ian, I guess me and you’ve hunted opening weekend every season since we’ve been in this camp together. As the boys came up, we had them, and they were 7th and 9th grade, there were youngsters yet back when Duncan had his head shaved, remember that little GI Joe haircut? But me, you and Forrest back when we were cutting cards and drawing cards, we drew a terrible draw, it was terrible draw. We were like 8 teams and we got number 8, it was just terrible. And Ace was a big one, we’re all the way down, we had number 8, we weren’t going nowhere good. Everybody went to all the big famous holes and we went up in the 18th and man, you could hear all that shooting at all directions of, boom! We chipped away, but 11 o’clock we left with 4 full limits of mallards and wood ducks, and few gadwalls. It was really memorable – I think that was Cooper’s first year too, her first or second season. It was just we drew the low hole and come out with 4 heaping straps of duck. I never would – and it’s one of my favorite pictures, you took a picture but as we were getting the ducks ready to take a picture and it was just kind of what do you call that? A candid photo. I got a frame for my favorite picture of all time me and the boys hunting.
Ian Munn: Well, I shouldn’t tell this story on myself, but it fits with the narrative, I guess, or the Mr. Ian narrative. It was opening weekend, you, and Forrest, and Duncan, and I were hunting 18th hole and we were sitting, I’m pretty sure it was 18th hole, and we had a pretty good hunt. A green head came down my end of the blind, there’s no way any of the 3 of you could shoot at it because it was perpendicular straight off of my shoulder, there was no way. I got there and I’m sitting there and it’s fluttering, I mean literally fluttering 15-20ft directly in front of me, fluttering, backpedaling. Shot once, shot twice, and I may have got it the third time but I don’t remember that I did. And the “nice shot Mr. Ian” that rolled out after that one was pretty. But that wasn’t the bad part, that night Thanksgiving dinner, all three of you at different points in the evening were pantomiming me missing that duck, telling another group of people there, he was just getting up pulling up his pants and throwing his shoulders back and missing that duck at 15ft.
Ramsey Russell: You got any favorite, opening day memory Forrest? Which one? After all the years you’ve been – I guess you’ve been here just about every opening weekend.
Forrest Russell: Yeah. Probably the first one, I thought of was 2 years ago we were hunting Ohio Hole with Josh and Justin. All morning long you could hear pintails whistling up overhead and Josh was talking and talking about how bad he wanted a pintail. We sailed one on the tree line behind us and I brought Stormy out there, and we were looking and looking, and I hear one whistle, and look up, and one is just bowed up. I mean, sitting down just perfect as can be. I don’t know who shot first, I’m going to guess it was you. I mean, about 60 yards and everybody just rips on him, and he flies off. I got back and said, damn Josh didn’t get him, and he was holding his hat, and he was there pouting, couldn’t believe it.
Ramsey Russell: Hey, we don’t see many pintails, that’s what so odd. This is not pintail habitat.
Ian Munn: The thing I remember about that hunt is, there was the three of us, Josh and Jason and it seemed like there was a couple other people too but it was a big group.
Forrest Russell: Ken was there.
Ian Munn: Yeah. Anyways we call the place we’re hunting for those of you that we haven’t mentioned this before, we call it the ash clump. And it’s a clump of ash trees that somehow or another got planted in the middle of this duck hole and it’s a great spot to hunt, perfect cover. After that it looked like a World War II desolation pictures, the tops, every one of those ash trees was completely blown out.
Ramsey Russell: We went in there and planted those willow trees this year to come in and bolster it up a little bit cause ash ain’t doing just real well.
Ian Munn: No, the last 3 years of floods have started doing a number and a lot of the trees for sure.
Ramsey Russell: You know, you all were talking about how cold it was this morning and it seemed kind of cold for us, we could skim ice around the little duck hole we hunted this morning, which is not real common for this. But I do remember one year hunting that same impoundment but we’re in the shoot before we built the blind on the shoot and it was me, you, Duncan and Forrest opening day, it was a barn burner of a hunt. It was one of them one and we were practically done before the sun came up. You remember that? I guess it was 4 or 5 years ago and some speck flew over, which I’ve never killed a goose on this place, that may be a Canada here and there, some of the local resident birds that traffic through here. And I started calling and they actually turned back. I think there’s no way they’re going to come in, they actually started kind of just easing down a little bit for another blind shot at something, the duck probably. But still it was very memorable. We shot quick limits of ducks right there in the shoot. That’s just another memory that stuck and that stands out because it was cold. It was cold. Cooper had ice on him, it was cold. You’ve still been hunting Asia?
Ian Munn: Yeah. Another year, I’m trying to remember the circumstances but I’m 99% sure it was opening morning. It was just you and me on the shoot and it was real foggy early and then there was a rain coming in and so the goal was to get our ducks quickly before the rain came out. And we were shooting and action was pretty quick, and all of a sudden you yelled out, “Ian, you’ve got your limit,” which I took to stop shooting, don’t you dare shoot any of my ducks.
Ramsey Russell: That’s probably what I meant. No, don’t shoot my duck. You were talking about Arkansas, Forrest, talk more about Arkansas. He said he lost a lot of his birds over there but he still had a bunch.
Forrest Russell: Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t say he lost all his birds but I was there the weekend before, helping him finish up brushing blinds and cutting some more brush to stowaway to last into the winter to touch up here and there and I mean he had, I don’t know his tree farm, he’s still got a lot of work to do clearing and it had grown up before he got it. But I mean the some of the holes that he had were just, I mean, loaded to the gills with mallards. And like I said, we had a couple good shoots out there but it wasn’t the ducks that were there, even the week before and the same thing for the sanctuary. I went deer hunting with him one afternoon and I mean I was watching groups of 100 plus teal just bombing in there all afternoon long and we didn’t see any of those big groups. I mean there was a bunch of small groups here and there –
Ramsey Russell: You all were posting a lot of pictures of limits and stuff, it was quality duck.
Forrest Russell: Yeah, I mean, like I said it was good but I mean, it seemed like there was definitely some birds, I don’t know if they moved south or scattered with the weather, or what the deal was but I mean it was good.
What’s It Like to Guide a Duck Hunt?
It was fun hunting with new people, met a lot of cool guys, and getting paid to duck hunt, it’s not too bad.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve hunted with a lot of people. I’ve taken a lot of people here, taking guests out hunting at all, but I’ve never really guided a duck hunt. What is that like, Forrest? I mean, you kind of grew up around me, you grew up around this camp, you grew up hunting with a lot of people. But what’s it like being the guide?
Forrest Russell: Well, to be fair, I never. I actually took the group by myself, I was with Harrison pretty much every morning.
Ramsey Russell: You’re apprentice this past hunt.
Forrest Russell: Yeah, pretty much. I was an assistant guide I guess, but it was fun. It was fun hunting with new people, met a lot of cool guys, and getting paid to duck hunt, it’s not too bad.
Ramsey Russell: Especially, as a side job.
Forrest Russell: Yeah. Right.
Ramsey Russell: When are you heading back over there?
Forrest Russell: I’m going to go back on 10th December and hunt that weekend, probably the next weekend, and then take off till New Years or so, probably, and then go back in January.
Best Blue Winged Teal Season in Mississippi
It was just what we expected and dreamed it would be.
Ramsey Russell: Ian, how did the teal season finish up? Because I hunted here – change of subject, I hunted here opening weekend that opening day was spectacular. Holy that was the best blue winged teal opener we’ve ever had at Willow Break, because it’s going to be 4 or 5, of us and it turned into 6, and turned into 8 or 9, and bam, that first day we just mauled them. It was just what we expected and dreamed it would be. And then I hit the road. But happened for the rest of the teal season?
Ian Munn: Now, the first week was absolutely incredible. We ended up –
Ramsey Russell: You were here?
Ian Munn: I was here and limited most days, bag limited every day –
Forrest Russell: Until and not the day that I took off and came.
Ian Munn: Yeah, well that the first, that was the beginning of the end. But that first week was really good and then the second week was nothing. You’re lucky if you get scratched out one or two. But when it’s all said and done, we had our second best in terms of numbers teal season ever at this club.
Forrest Russell: We did good after the rain on the 18th. We waited out in the bunkhouse till 8:00, 8:30 went out there and shot a band and a dozen ducks.
Ramsey Russell: That was your birthday.
Forrest Russell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that Forrest because I have no idea where I was. I was somewhere I wasn’t here, I was on the road and did a 3 month old road trip, and I got a text from Ian first, you holding a band. You got your first duck band.
Forrest Russell: Right. We were hunting duck hole again right across from the island blind where we hunted yesterday. And I mean we loaded up the bikes, headed out and the bottom fell out – it poured till 8 o’clock or so. We just came back to Mr. Ian’s place, and me and Zack drank some coffee, and called up the Moss and Oak, went out there after it kind of stopped. We bumped probably 60 birds or so off the hole, we pulled in and were setting up decoys, and we were still finishing up Mojo, and they were starting to buzz around again. One just peeled off my side and I popped a shell in real quick and knocked it down, and sailed back behind me. I had Stormy and she was out looking for it, and I told Zack, I said she’s about to bring him back a band for my birthday, just watch. And she came running right by his side and he said holy shit, ain’t no way. And he grabbed it from her and held it up and I couldn’t believe it, but it’s pretty cool.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good. I have never shot a banded bird at Willow Break but all 3, you, Forrest, and Duncan have.
Ian Munn: Yeah. And in both of those cases they were hunting with me and not you. I’ve had your father moments, most memorable moments of the dad is when my son got his first band. Oh wait a minute, that was Ian.
Ramsey Russell: What about – I thought about teal season because we teal hunted, we dove hunted, I don’t remember dove hunts but we went up to Doe’s last time, we get a renovation. We made a renovation 6 weeks before and now they’re closed and gone. And we talked on the drive back about going and eating at Doe’s. Was the steak as good as I told you it was?
Ian Munn: It was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life period. And we split one, Giselle and I split one and there’s easily half of it’s still in the refrigerator, that’s how big those steaks are.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s a 3-pound porterhouse.
Ian Munn: Yeah, it was huge.
Ramsey Russell: 2 inches thick broiled in the gravy. I didn’t know what Giselle – and it about an hour and a half drive and we drove up there last night and it just dawned on me she had no idea, she hadn’t listened to podcasts, she didn’t know anything about Doe’s eat place. She had no idea what we were in for. So I was kind of telling her, I guess we’re dressed good enough. It’s kind of opulent and what was her thoughts on it?
Ian Munn: She was expecting something entirely different. I think she was expecting a somewhat of a not fancy, fancy, but certainly more upscale than it is, in terms of the facilities.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that kind of nice in a cool way?
Ian Munn: Yeah. Oh it was –
Ramsey Russell: Hasn’t changed a bit since 20’s.
Ian Munn: Yeah. And everybody there pretty much – you could tell they knew almost everybody, everybody was talking with every table and that sort of stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Very social, very Delta.
Ian Munn: And there’s no separating the table. So you couldn’t all have your own private conversation, they were packed in there.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Walk through the screen door and it got immediately warm because you’re walking right into the kitchen, you can see all those porterhouse is sitting there just rolling. My favorite part is the gravy. That’s the secret ingredients that gravy, they render out the beef fat, catch it in the bottom tray. And I even got extra to put more in my steak and French fries. And as compared to like an Applebee’s or some other atrocity of a fast food restaurant, we’re sitting in the kitchen practically, we go watch them in there cooking French fries and stuff. She had a big old cast iron skillet and cook them just like grandma did, low and slow, and just get them cooked when it turned out, it turned out, but it weren’t no hurt, weren’t no flash frying. They’re all hand-cut potatoes, just like cover my countertop with fried potatoes tonight. I like hand cut potatoes. That just makes a huge difference.
Ian Munn: Well, the steak was so good. I started off eating a hunk, cut off another hunk eat it, and it was just so good, and I really slowed down to really experience because it just seemed like the slower I ate it, the more flavorful it was. And then I hit that point where I’m really kind of full, but it was so good. I kept shaving off a little bit more, shaving off a little bit more, and just kept eating, and there’s a tap on my arm and my wife Giselle told me you don’t have to eat it all – and there was easily a pound left.
Ramsey Russell: We need to make that a new annual tradition. Friday night the opener, head to Doe’s eat place and get a bite to eat.
Ian Munn: And if we play our cards right, we’ll get Giselle to pay for it every year because she wants those miles on her credit cards.
Ramsey Russell: Well, by all means, bring Giselle. You’re just along for the ride. What about Anita? Man, she kind of surprised me last night. We drove Forrest’s truck up there, big full ton Ram, you need a step ladder to climb in and out of. Forrest dozed off on the way back – a little too much Maker’s Mark tidies at dinner, and Mama put the hammer down, son. Your mama drives that truck like she stole it. You kind of put around like in a funeral procession, Mama put the hammer down.
Ian Munn: You had made a comment early on about, if Anita drives it we’ll be 4 hours getting back. And I’m sitting in the backseat. I look over her shoulder and she’s pegged out at 80 and I’m going, oh lord.
Ramsey Russell: That woman never ceases to amaze me. I’ll tell you what she’s full of surprises after all these years. Talk about today’s hunt? Because that that was an interesting hunt. We got to go where we talked about. We talked thick as thieves about where we wanted to go and luck at the draw and –
Ian Munn: We didn’t get first draw but we got to go where we wanted.
Ramsey Russell: We got to go exactly where we wanted to go.
Ian Munn: That’s always interesting to me is just because you have a bad draw doesn’t mean you’re not going to get to go to the one of the holes you want because everybody else has their favorite holes, or secret scouting report, or whatever. And there’s many a time when number one draw has gone to just some off to an awful hole and nobody ever hunts because they’ve seen some birds there or whatever. Or they hunted this hole yesterday and so they didn’t want to hunt us today you know whatever.
Ramsey Russell: I really like pintail hole. I really like hunting that blind at pintail. I just like it but it’s not always a good blind and it hadn’t hit on nothing this weekend.
Ian Munn: And that’s amazing because 2 weeks before the season and they would roll out of there when you drove by on the road.
Ramsey Russell: That may be why.
Forrest Russell: It was a year ago today, we hunted there last year and just –
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite blind. It’s a weird blind because the wind, a north wind is in your face, and you’ve got to set up, and a lot of times those birds are going to pitch in from behind you. You’re shooting water floating out, they come over your head and get out there and it’s very interesting but it works.
Ian Munn: Yeah. And I want to say that year we hunted pintail those 2 days. The first day, we had like a real low draw, we didn’t own the first draw.
Ramsey Russell: And did as well as anybody.
Ian Munn: Yeah. Today was today was fun. I mean before shooting time, I mean we were all salivating. There was just in our decoys just coming in and man, this is going to be – it’s got to be shooting time and things slowed down a bit but pretty steady – every 30 minutes or so a group of one or two would come in and buzz the decoys, and if I wasn’t drinking tea or something, you guys knock it down.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s one of the furthest drives we’ve got. It’s a long drive, but nonetheless a very simple hunt; we knew just what we’re going to do. We’ve hunted together for 20 years and I mean we had 10 minutes to spare, and I poured a cup of hot coffee, was sitting there, and it was just ducks everywhere. Ducks high, ducks low, ducks landed right at my feet, 4 packs, 6 packs coming in and flooding. I could see the wings fluttered over the decoys and they were all trying to land right on top of one of those dead gum flashback decoys. I mean, we used no spinners for some reason, but we put out that motion because it’s so still and it worked. And you even said we’re in the right place today, and I’m thinking, man, this is one of those days, this is going to be that day. And that one green head peeled back coming up coming right in, Forrest folded him. And then we just shifted away on singles until we were done at 9 o’clock. We didn’t get a limit but we shot as many species almost as we shot ducks.
Ian Munn: 5 Species.
Ramsey Russell: 6 pieces. I had to shoot shoveler, gadwall, wood ducks, mallards, blue wing teal, green winged teal, 6 species, 8 ducks.
Ian Munn: And we had 2 mallards and 2 Gadwalls, that’s right.
Shooting at the Same Duck
It’s not I shoot better when we shoot at the same duck, it’s you shoot better when we shoot at the same duck.
Ramsey Russell: It was all single. Everybody knew who shot what, took turns.
Ian Munn: Well, to be fair, the last mallard that came in, of course, and typically in fashion, I don’t just keep my mouth shut and shoot it because nobody else knows it like, then the faster guys draw up first. And today –
Forrest Russell: I’ll say that that first shot didn’t bring him down now.
Ian Munn: The first shot didn’t bring him down, the second shot didn’t bring him down, and then I shot and Ramsey claims he shot too and claimed it. But what I realized today is that I’ve been saying it backwards all these years. It’s not I shoot better when we shoot at the same duck, it’s you shoot better when we shoot at the same duck. Yeah. If I hadn’t shot at that duck, that third shot at the same time –
Ramsey Russell: I’m not going to go against 20 years of tradition over one duck, Ian.
Ian Munn: Well, I’m just saying the duck didn’t fall until I pulled the trigger and you were cycling through your last shell.
The Best Hunting Dogs
They’re all pretty darn good dogs.
Ramsey Russell: How did your new dog, how’s Pepper comparing to your former dog, Asia?
Ian Munn: They’re just so different. I was reading one of these old timey duck hunting books and the saying at the end of the thing said that it takes you a while, but you to learn, you cannot compare dogs. Pepper at her age is much more balls to the wall, drive out there, get the duck and come back way more hyper than Asia. But Asia was just special. Yeah, so it’s going to be interesting. It took Asia a couple of seasons and then one day it clicked, and from then on she was the best dog a person could hope for. Pepper was that way right out of the chute. She’s out there, she’s still learning and I’m still learning that when I get mad at her, I still yell Pepper, which means go, so there’s a lot of training to be done.
Ramsey Russell: Her or you?
Ian Munn: Me. And Asia would just sit there calmly on the dog stand beside me, and if things got slow, she’d actually lay her head on my shoulder. But Pepper is, I mean an alert radar scanning the sky all the time.
Ramsey Russell: Char has turned out to be that dog, I mean sitting around here, she’s just a couch potato, but it’s like I’ll let her out, we stop the range and let her out while I’m getting my things sorted, and she’s always sitting right there by me waiting on her collar. All right, it’s go time, let’s go. And from that moment on she is in the zone, gets in her place and already countless at the times I just look at her and she laser beaming something up in the sky, I don’t know if you can hear it or see it, but she’s already watching the birds that I don’t even know where to play yet. She’s that dog.
Ian Munn: I was thinking that today you’d be hard pressed to find a better triplet of dogs hunting the same hole at the same time. They’re all pretty darn good dogs.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, they are, yeah, they are mostly steady. Stormy is finally the old dog. How old is she now?
Forrest Russell: She’s 7.
Ramsey Russell: Seems older.
Forrest Russell: I know, but this is the first year I’ve really noticed she’s still doing good, but it’s the first year I really noticed her start to slow down a little bit. You can start to see her age a little but it’s crazy how fast you go from the young pup to the old veteran.
Ramsey Russell: Her intensity hasn’t weighed one bit.
Forrest Russell: No, it’s mainly just jumping in and out of the truck, she can’t make it up in the tailgate like she used to and I usually set her down just to make sure she don’t end up hurting herself jumping down but she’s good. She gets a little more tired after the hunts and all that.
Ramsey Russell: She sleeps better.
Forrest Russell: Oh yeah, but she got a big old T-bone after today’s hunt.
Ian Munn: I think they all did. Pepper got hers this morning.
Ramsey Russell: Char got hers this morning. And 20 minutes later I walked out and she’s still here in the dog box going to town on it. I guess she ate the whole freaking bone because there’s nothing left.
I figured she just whittle it down to a nub but she didn’t I think she ate the whole thing. I don’t blame her. I would too. The thing I liked, I’ve always liked about Stormy and her sister back. We used to hunt the sisters, Coop, those two dogs would hunt – like if something went down – I remember was it last year we were in Delaware? And we’re hunting this marsh, it’s like a creek or a river runs through it that was a real tidal influence. So we had to walk, they had a 2 by 12 trail of 2 x 12 going 150 yards out of this blind. And I slipped off of and realized why they had that lumber on there because, buddy, it was bottomless. We knocked a hen mallard down went about 70 yards off and kind of mucked out there, and sent his dog 20 minutes later. Murray is like, get that dog back in, she’ll never find that bird. I’m like oh she’s going to find that bird, she ain’t come out yet, that dog hunt.
Forrest Russell: He said I’ll bet my filet she don’t come back with that duck.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And he owed that dog with the filet didn’t it?
Forrest Russell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: She didn’t come out without it. And just like today, Pepper and Char after the hunt, they’re just kind of lollygagging and bouncing around wondering what to do next, that old storm man, she’s looking for something, she’s out there in the water hunting, I don’t know what she’s hunting in the mud like that.
Forrest Russell: It’s pretty common after the hunt, she’ll come walking back up with one or more ducks that she finds off in the weeds that you didn’t even know you knocked down.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, or somebody knocked down. She’ll find it. I like a dog that hunts like that. What do you think about the rest of the season, guys? Where are we going from here?
Forrest Russell: I’ll tell you so far, my correlation between good teal season and good duck hunting is not holding up so far, but it’s still early.
Ramsey Russell: We got good habitat. We had some pretty good weather, we just need more weather. I talk to somebody up in Alberta yesterday, they said they have no ice, no snow cover. So, all the way up there, I mean, I just got back Montana, Wyoming everybody you meet up there, they’re all waiting on birds coming from the north, come south. I’m thinking I’m way down south and I’m still waiting on birds. Obviously we got birds, but are they photo period migraters? Doug Osborne talked about mallards just coming on, boom, it’s on this date, boom, they start showing up to their hunts in certain places.
Ian Munn: Well, I’m optimistic because the places that we can’t pump where we did a lot of moist soil and or planted, we’ve got them mowed and really good hemi marsh conditions, so when that water gets in there, the conditions are going to be ideal, I think. So we’re going to have a lot of good habitat once we get the rain, once the winter rains start to come.
Ramsey Russell: One of my favorite things about coming over here to camp. Why it is such a big tradition, it’s a lot of members and Justin Grant especially loves to cook. I think, he’s in his camp not to hunt I think he’s in here for the entertainment value.
Forrest Russell: Social chair.
Ramsey Russell: He is the social chair, I guarantee you he is. The official social chair tonight. Did official headcount not just kind of sort of head count, like official headcount because he got some lard injected pork chops. I thought he said pork ribs but he said pork rib eyes.
Ian Munn: Yeah, I thought he said pork ribs the first time too and then it was pork rib eyes.
Forrest Russell: I’ve had them, they’re fine.
Ramsey Russell: Lard injected. So, I mean ducks or no ducks we’re going to eat good here, ain’t we?
Thanksgiving Celebrations Spent Together
Because I’ve been kind of sort of hinting to her for years about I’d love to have it and she kind of smiles and nods her head, but I haven’t seen a recipe yet.
Ian Munn: Yeah. And we’re talking about special how the opening weekend is special to us. That’s part of it because we’ve always done Thanksgiving dinner. It started off just your family and my family coming over here cooking, now it’s grown and depending on the year, depending on whatever, it can be 2 families or 10 families and then a lot of people, because of timing when we want to eat the dinner, sometimes we eat an evening dinner, sometimes we eat an afternoon dinner and their family does it opposite. So they do their Thanksgiving dinner down at their unit or do it at home before they come but we usually have a – I mean the spread of food that was on the island bar at the lodge last night was impressive. It really was.
Ramsey Russell: You put all those wives together and they start coordinating the technician who brings what and that’s a spread of food. We could have fed the whole camp with what we had on the bar. Had brisket and ham and your turkey.
Ian Munn: And I got at least 15 side dishes and at least 4-5 desserts.
Forrest Russell: Can’t forget Miss Giselle’s cranberry.
Ian Munn: Cranberry sauce.
Ramsey Russell: See that’s my favorite thing at Thanksgiving, that cranberry sauce you made.
Ian Munn: It is. It’s special.
Ramsey Russell: Very tangy, very good.
Ian Munn: Yeah she was packing up today and she says well somebody wants some of the cranberry sauce and we about came to blows, I said you got to leave me enough to last out the weekend. And it was, is mama going to feed her daughter or her husband? You know who lost that battle? Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Does she only make that once a year?
Ian Munn: Just for this event. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Where did she get the recipe?
Ian Munn: I don’t know where she got the recipe to be honest with you.
Ramsey Russell: Because I’ve been kind of sort of hinting to her for years about I’d love to have it and she kind of smiles and nods her head, but I haven’t seen a recipe yet. I mean, it’s like a safely guarded family –
Ian Munn: No, it’s out of a cooking magazine or something. Because every year I can see the recipe.
Ramsey Russell: Is it fresh cranberry?
Ian Munn: Yeah. Well whole cranberries, you buy them in the bag. I don’t know. Yeah, orange and lemon and lime rinds sliced up in there.
And you just don’t zest it, you don’t scrape it off the zester, you have to peel it off very thinly with a paring knife and then slice it up into little itty bitty strips. She was asking me yesterday about, do I really need to spend all that time stripping or could I just zest it? And I said no, I think those little hunks in there, the big hunks that you bite into and you get some resistance to it, I think they add a whole lot to it. Without the same texture, sort of blended, I don’t think it would be nearly as good.
Ramsey Russell: I really think of all the things around here that would pair so good with duck. That duck breast we sear, I just think that would pair dynamite topped on top of a seared duck breast.
Ian Munn: I think you’re probably right.
Ramsey Russell: All that citrusy zest would just cut right through that fat. I think it’d be amazing.
Ian Munn: Well, I’m kind of hope she doesn’t share the recipe with me because once she did, you’d be saying Ian enough with the cucumbers, we want some cranberry relish.
Ramsey Russell: That is kind of your go to as a cucumber.
Ian Munn: Well, I jokingly say that that’s the only thing, the club will let me, let me prepare because I can’t really screw it up, you know?
Forrest Russell: It’s good though.
Ramsey Russell: Well folks, I hope you all are having a good hunting season, I hope your opener’s good, I hope your traditions are going good. I hope you all are killing ducks and making memories. Thank you all for listening. This episode of Duck Season Somewhere from the Mississippi opener, we’ll see you next time.