“The better you get, the better you get,” says today’s guest, Dirk Sorrels while describing the meandering path that lead to his becoming an integral part of Team Boss Shotshells and then an ardent duck hunter. How’d he end up becoming a tattoo artist, how’d he connect with clients, and what does he most remember about one of his most famous clients? How is duck hunting like surfing? Another must-hear conversation bearing the reminder that when you come to a fork in the road–just take it!
History Enhances the Experience
Well, that made us who we are today in our society, and our culture, and our country, all those things build upon one another to get us to where we’re at today.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today’s guest Dirk Sorrels from Boss Shotshells. Got a real interesting story, the thing I like about what I do is you never know who you’re going to meet, you never know what the next story across the dinner table is going to be and Dirk is one of those guys. How you doing Dirk?
Dirk Sorrels: Good morning Ramsey. I’m good.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, was it bad for you get up this early and come meet me?
Dirk Sorrels: Not at all.
Ramsey Russell: Are you a morning guy?
Dirk Sorrels: I’m an early guy.
Ramsey Russell: Are you?
Dirk Sorrels: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Introduce yourself, Dirk.
Dirk Sorrels: I’m Dirk Sorrels. I’m from Southwest Michigan. I work with Boss Shotshells, and we’re here at the Dallas Safari show. I’m sharing a booth with Russell, and we got to know each other a little bit, and here we are.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, especially over Mexican dinner the other night. That turned out pretty damn good, didn’t it?
Dirk Sorrels: Oh, it was fantastic.
Ramsey Russell: Man, you know, it’s like I’ve learned worldwide, don’t go where the tour guide says, don’t go where it is advertised. Ask somebody local.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, get to the local people, they’ll see —
Ramsey Russell: Where should I go to eat here? I like to ask questions like, if tomorrow night was your birthday, where would you and your family go eat? If it were your engagement where would you and your wife go eat?
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, that’s a good way to do it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, find out where what really means something to them. That’s how I found that Mexican restaurant, it was way off the beaten path. You know, there weren’t anybody from Safari Club in that; kind of a small restaurant and I don’t know if you noticed this, but the way I drove out, like I never know where I am. It’s a big old metropolitan area.
Dirk Sorrels: It sure is.
Ramsey Russell: You go, there’s a park, as I’m leaving, I hit the road right behind us a block away and there’s this old movie theater and out front it says Texas. It’s still going, I mean they’re playing Spiderman right now, and the X was missing from Texas, the light was out. You know, one of my old driving light’s like that theater. Right there is where Lee Harvey Oswald went and hid after the assassination.
Dirk Sorrels: Is it?
Ramsey Russell: I mean, it’s like, you know what, I like that kind of history.
Dirk Sorrels: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: I do realize right here just like six-seven blocks away is where it went down.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, it’s incredible.
Ramsey Russell: You know, and you don’t think about that. I drove out and I’d seen that, wait a minute. That that is it. We are eating dinner right there.
Dirk Sorrels: Makes a real rich adventure out of everything to know what was going on, what the history was there just makes the experience better.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what drives me, Dirk. It is the experience and the stories, and I love getting into an area and knowing its history.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, I do too.
Ramsey Russell: That’s just me, because history is what that place is. No matter what it looks like now, it is what that place is.
Dirk Sorrels: Well, that made us who we are today in our society, and our culture, and our country, all those things build upon one another to get us to where we’re at today. And if you can’t look at that and realize it, I feel lost without it.
On the Trail to Boss Shotshells
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And then it comes a saying “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” You ever heard that saying?
Dirk Sorrels: I have heard that saying.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, where did you start? Where does the story of Dirk start?
Dirk Sorrels: Oh gosh, how far back are we going?
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know. I mean it may be to move to this trail to get to Boss Shotshells.
Dirk Sorrels: It was, you know what, I’m an experienced guy, I’m an experienced guy. My friends laughed that with Boss. It’s Dirk 8.0. It’s just another life, it’s another time. And so as a young man, I was in Southwest Michigan and my mother was an immigrant from Germany. She was born in 1936. She was a war child. Her home was bombed. My father was a World War 2 and Korean vet. So growing up I had these stories of my mother being a war child, her father robbing trains for food, chipping mortar off of bricks to rebuild a home. My mother and the girls in the neighborhood would unravel sweaters in the springtime so that they had all the yarn. Trade yarn and re-stitched sweaters so they had new fashion the next year. You know, they came from nothing and they were stories that I couldn’t imagine growing up in America in the ‘70s. My father had the other side of it. He was in Asia fighting World War 2. Came back, went right to Korea, came back met my mother, and so I was able to be raised with those two in these incredible stories. From there, did high school, I did boarding school for a number of years.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that.
Dirk Sorrels: My dad was a hardworking man out of Appalachia. Came from nothing, ran away early, went to that war, came back. And he was an adventurist. He stayed out in California for a while, bought a dump truck, and started running asphalt for all the highways being built out West back in the day. Took that money, went to Vegas, started gambling, took that money made a big win. Then in Nevada he bought some land, and they were mining for uranium and some other things. And then eventually worked his way up into Southwest Michigan because his mother had moved up there with the Osco plant, which was an automotive plant. We had a lot of automotive industry in our area. So he was always working, he was brilliant. He was a builder and an architect, but never had any money. So he’s always borrowing money from friends to make jobs get done, and he’d get a few pennies on the back, and just have to get back into it. So he was a busy man, he was a Type-A personality, worked and worked and worked. My mother had a drinking problem and it wasn’t the healthiest environment for me as a young man. So at 5th grade I was sent to this Catholic boarding academy, did four years there. We weren’t Catholics, but it was a good school, and a good boarding school for good kids. It wasn’t a troubled kid place. So for a many influential years, 5th – 9th grade, I was raised by brothers of the Holy Cross and Notre Dame. We had 127 students, 130 half of them were from Mexico because there’s a good strong Catholic population down there. So they’d send their kids there. So it’s a real influential time, I think, for myself not to be around my father and mother.
Ramsey Russell: That 5th – 9th grade that timeframe, real formative.
Dirk Sorrels: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: I mean that’s where a lot of listeners that started duck hunting was the folks, started hunting with the folks.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, and I didn’t have the opportunity. My father did duck hunt.
Ramsey Russell: He did?
Dirk Sorrels: He did. He did before I was born. When I was a young man, I went out a couple of times, before I was 10, with him and his best friend, my godfather. And I called him Uncle Bill, his name was Bill Howard, and he was really big in duck hunting. He was an antique decoy collector. He had one of the largest private gun collections in the country. He traveled to 200 countries. He shot ducks and as many of them as he could, he always went to Argentina always went to Mexico.
Ramsey Russell: Put me on a timeline, how old was Uncle Bill? When would he have been going down to Argentina?
Dirk Sorrels: That would have been through the 70s and 80s.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah. And he was a real do-it-yourself guy, and he traveled there, fly his airplane or take an RV and post up, and be there for two or three months at a time. So anyhow, I did those years away from my dad. So I did get to hunt with him a couple of times but now I’m gone for these years at boarding school. I came back and it was freshman year high school and I went to a public school once again. I just got done with boarding school. They were telling you when to eat, when to study window shower, we had inspections, and your life was dictated every second, every day. So I get back home, my dad’s still working, my mom’s kind of still drinking, and I’m in public high school without anybody telling me when or how to do these things.
Ramsey Russell: Too much freedom.
Dirk Sorrels: Too much freedom. Money was the babysitter. In the 80s, here’s 50 bucks, go have a good night. That was a lot of money.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Enough money to get in trouble.
Dirk Sorrels: And it was. There was a lot of time to get in trouble. A lot of time to steer myself down the wrong paths. And by time my senior year came, my father had a massive stroke and had passed away. So I was lost, and I didn’t know what to do. So I packed up at that moment and went down town and went to the Navy recruiter and signed up for the US Navy, and within a couple of months I was in boot camp at Great Lakes, and then I was off to Norfolk and did my four years there.
Gaining a Sense of Direction
And then the better you get, the better you get.
Ramsey Russell: Did you see some world?
Dirk Sorrels: I didn’t see much of the world. I was assigned to a pre-commissioned ship unit. So that means the ships being built in San Diego. The whole crew for that ship is studying it and what your jobs are, what that ship looks like on the other coast in Norfolk. So I did two years of that, sitting in classrooms and running drills and going on other ships to deploy for a couple of weeks here and there, to learn some skills off the East Coast. And then the last year, I was in the ship when it got delivered, and we did what’s called pre-trials, and we went out and would run that ship hard, and do hard ports, hard starboards. Try and break it, bring it back, they’d come back and inspect the ship for two months, and then we do it again. Did that a couple times and then I was out of the Navy. It really wasn’t what I was looking for, got out of it. I really hoped to see a lot of the world, but I got to see New Jersey and Norfolk. But it was good for me. It was good for me. I liked that structure. I liked that camaraderie. I needed that in my life because I knew myself well enough, and I knew where I was going and I didn’t want that for myself.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t you think sometimes at that age if you don’t have a strong bearing towards where you’re going, even though it wasn’t quite what you were looking for, you had time to kind of incubate, so to speak? To just – you had time to just park and find some bearings, find a little direction or gain a sense of just — sometimes you just got to catch up.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, and learn who you are, and see how the world works a little bit more because I was sort of sheltered. You’re at boarding school, you’re coming back into a small town. I was always adventurous. I was a young artist, and a surfer, and all these things that was part of the Navy. I wanted to see the world and see some more oceans.
Ramsey Russell: Were you an artist before or after?
Dirk Sorrels: Since I was a kid it was always a big drive.
Ramsey Russell: What was your art?
Dirk Sorrels: I always just had a pencil in my hand as a kid. After the Navy, I really dove into it. I got back home, moved to Chicago because I want to pursue art. I wanted to be an artist, and Chicago is an easy move from where we’re at. It’s an hour and a half away from home. And I wanted to pursue art. It was something I always did, whether it was sculpture or painting. And so we moved to Chicago and it was a good move. The first week I was there, I had a photographer friend that worked in the fashion industry for catalogs and stuff and he took me to a gallery of this guy. I believe his name was Chuck Wood – I could be wrong on that – and he was known to paint the best dust ever in the industry. I’ll explain that, there was a photograph of like an old barn with a window, and you were in it. There was no light, and there was old bottles on the window, and they would look like they’ve been there for 100 years, and the dust was all over them, you know it was like photo-realistic, incredible stuff. So I’m in this gallery with this fantastic painter, my friend introduced me to him, and I looked at him and I said, what advice do you have for a young artist that just moved to Chicago, trying to find his way? Chuck looked at me and said, go find something else to do. And I tell you what Ramsey, that’s not what I wanted to hear. Not at all. And I looked at him, I said, well, you know, sir, that’s not what I want to hear, and so let’s start over. Do you have any advice? And he goes, well, you’re going to hear it. I’m going to tell you to find something else again, and what you’re going to have to do is keep at it every time, because you’re going to hear, find something else to do over and over again, and eventually somebody’s going to find you valuable, so you just can’t quit. So keep at it, kid.
Ramsey Russell: Well that’s harder than anything. That’s good advice for anything.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, it was great advice.
Ramsey Russell: Good life advice.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, my first cousin’s a 70 year old hot roder, he takes old cars rebuilds them, that’s what he does. He had sort of the same thing, and my wife always uses it with the kids. You’re like, I’m struggling with this, and he would say, you know Dirk, the better you get, the better you get. And then the better you get, the better you get. And that was all he’d ever say. And it was kind of like you got to take your time through it, you got to take each step along the way and learn from them, and just keep grinding, and you’ll get to where you want to be. So long story short, I’m in Chicago and working at a restaurant like most young artists, and eventually I landed a gallery. A gallery on the alley in Wicker Park, and I had these sculptures, and they were selling in there, and then the gallery asked if I could mass produce some of them. You know, 100 of them because they were going to print a catalog and send them out. So now people could mail order these, and I agreed to it. And it was good. I made 100 sculptures and it was pretty neat.
Ramsey Russell: What was the sculpture of?
Dirk Sorrels: It was a copper. Probably 18″ tall pyramid, tall pyramid. And I would bezel set like jewelry, slices of geode stone in them and have a little light in it.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Dirk Sorrels: And they glow and they were really pretty and earthly. And they were fun to make, but I didn’t feel like that’s where it was. I still always had a pencil in my hand, even though I loved sculpture.
Ramsey Russell: When you say you had a pencil in your hand, I was a doodler, I was chronic doodler in high school, the teachers left me alone because I wouldn’t bother nobody —
Dirk Sorrels: 100%.
Ramsey Russell: — if I was sketching. And I drew nothing. I just would doodle it all the time.
Honing the Craft of Tattooing
That industry, and that profession, for those years, humbled me in a way that nothing in the world ever has.
Dirk Sorrels: So, anyhow, one of my friends was friends with this man named Ben, of all things, I think is Ben Hambleton was his name, but he was a pretty famous tattooist in Chicago. This was probably around ‘94, and I was introduced to Ben, and he kind of looked at me and said, what are you doing, what’s going on? And I said, I’m trying to figure out this art thing, and I had a good eye. He saw some of my stuff, and he’s like, you’re really good at this, you’re really good, you got some talent, there’s something there, have you ever thought about tattooing?
Ramsey Russell: Somebody saw some value in it?
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, and I said, no, I never thought about tattooing. And at that time it wasn’t like it is now, where it’s on television shows and become pretty normal, and respected almost, you know, a good tattooist is a respected person.
Ramsey Russell: Is an artist.
Dirk Sorrels: Is an artist. And as a as a person of the community a lot of times, you know, so it was still pretty fringe then. I took him up on it, he said, come over here, and let’s learn a little bit. I would go there on the weekends, and I’d go there on the other days, and eventually I learned enough.
Ramsey Russell: What did you learn? I mean, I know nothing about tattooing.
Dirk Sorrels: Well, it’s a trade, you know, so there’s a lot of craft and skill there. Back then the machines were hand built, they were finicky, there was no books or YouTube that you could look up and learn how to do this, and how the skin works, and just the history of the trade, and the way it works. And there’s a lot of technical little things that happen, you know, so I learned it, I learned it, and I never really used it. I came back home to Michigan and now at this point in Chicago, I had my first born son, his mom and I separated, and that wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t. It has been 26 years. I raised a son without his mom around and that wasn’t the best thing. I did remarry and had two more kids. But we came back to Michigan, I met my now wife, and I was working at Whirlpool in their Creative Works department because in our little town of all things, we have Whirlpool’s world headquarters. And my wife was pregnant, she was with my second son, and as a freelancer in the photo industry, sometimes you work for a year at a time, and then you have three or four months where they don’t have any jobs. That’s not an easy place as a young father. So I started to look at this tattooing again. My mother-in-law knew I had the equipment, and she knew I hadn’t done a tattoo, and she was a teacher at St. John’s high school for 30 years. She was a straight laced woman, never had a tattoo, but she believed in me, and she said it’s time you do this first tattoo, why don’t you do this little bracelet on me.
Ramsey Russell: So when you were working in Chicago with the tattoo artist, you were going to the shop, you were learning a lot, you never did a tattoo?
Dirk Sorrels: Nope, you were allowed to sit there and learn from this guy, and be there. In a good apprenticeship, you might go years without touching somebody, or a year, back in the day. It wasn’t something that was given away like it is now, it was earned. You had to take a lot of time and they chose people. Nowadays, you can order your stuff on Amazon and put a sign on your door and there you go. Back then, if you try to do that, the local guys would come and knock your windows out, and then you put new windows, and then they’d knock your windows out again. It was an earned place to be, it just couldn’t be anything. So I learned it, and I knew enough, and my art skills were there, but I just never tried it. So one Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I did my first tattoo on my mother-in-law.
Ramsey Russell: Your mother-in-law?
Dirk Sorrels: True story.
Ramsey Russell: I got to ask, I mean, what was the tattoo and where was it?
Dirk Sorrels: It was on her wrist, and it was like, it looked like one of those henna tattoos. It was kind of brown ink and just a Middle Eastern style squiggly light bracelet. Just kind of elegant and simple. And funny story is I knew my wife’s mother and father, she was my high school teacher, and her father was a soccer coach for me, and we were members of the same swim team. They watched me grow up, and they watched me make bad decisions, and they knew I was a little reckless back then. And all of a sudden I walk in the door with their daughter and introduced myself as Dirk, and her father looked at me – in these exact words said, I know who you are.
Ramsey Russell: He knows who you are.
Dirk Sorrels: Long story after that, they’ve become parents to me and some of the most influential people and most supportive people I’ve had in my life. So anyhow, we did the tattoo, within a year I opened a tattoo shop.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what it took to —
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That’s taking one for the team now. I was blessed with some really, really good in-laws.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I mean very good in-laws.
Dirk Sorrels: That was a blessing.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but I don’t think mine would take a tattoo to encourage me.
Dirk Sorrels: It was pretty incredible. Yeah, and I’ll never forget that because of her. And that was not only her seeing something, to believe in me that I didn’t quite believe in. My mother wasn’t that person to me, my dad wasn’t there.
Ramsey Russell: Not because they’re bad people because they’re people.
Dirk Sorrels: That’s just who they were, that’s just where they were and they did the absolute best they could. And I realize that I still have my mom around, she’s old and has dementia, and I care for her. But that started this art career when I was young, and I looked at it like a great opportunity because I could make my own hours, I could pick my kids up after school, I could drive them to school, I could be there for their games, I could be there for their plays, and I could still go make a living on my own time doing something I enjoyed and was good to me. So that was a really amazing opportunity and I spent those raising my kid years doing that throughout and it was good to our family. I met a lot of people, and I think the more important part during that wasn’t doing art to make money. But you sat with somebody and we had a conversation, and if you weren’t afraid to ask the tough questions, you had the best conversations.
Ramsey Russell: Give me some examples of that.
Dirk Sorrels: If you were doing a date on somebody’s arm you can simply ask what does it mean.
Ramsey Russell: And they’d open up.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Because it might have been a very, very important to them.
Dirk Sorrels: It might have been a death, it might have been a birth, it might have been a time and place in history that they wanted to remember. But whatever it was, it was important to them. You know, they put a tattoo on their body, and the stories would come out, and you’d listen, and you’d listen, and you’d learn. Sometimes a young person would sit down, and this was in the 90s, and they were people were cutting, they call them cutters. They cut little lines in their skin to alleviate some sort of trauma or pain they had.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve met people like it.
Dirk Sorrels: And it’s disturbing and sad, and you’d see it and most people just turned their eyes from it or ignore it. But now I’ve got you in my seat, we’ve got two hours to kill. What’s with the cutting, you’d say. Next thing you know, this person opens up and is crying and sharing a story. I had this father and son come in, it was a father last name Car, his son was Tyler Car, and he was a young man. So one year I did on the father’s forearm, and it said “like son,” and on the son’s forearm it said “like father.” Like father, like son. I thought it was really cool. Like father, like son. About a year later, that kid died at a party in a field from drinking, and his dad was out of state when it happened. He came back around two days later, drove from North Carolina where he was working and his first stop was the tattoo shop. This guy walked in, stood at the end of my bench, just looked at me. I knew who he was and I knew what had happened. He couldn’t say anything. You just start crying. I connect with people emotionally, and it hurts, it hurts today to think about this story. He said my son died. And I said I know and I tattooed that kid’s death date on that guy’s arm. So from those things I learned so much about people and life. That industry and that profession, for those years, humbled me in a way that nothing in the world ever has.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, I never really thought about this. I had no idea we were going to go here when the podcast started.
Dirk Sorrels: I didn’t either.
Ramsey Russell: It’s like, I never really thought that body art had that kind of significance. And you know, y’all you see tattoos, I see tattoos and I wonder why. Sometimes, I wonder what the hell is that? Sometimes you ask yourself why, you know, because you know there’s a story. I know that there is a reason that person committed that ink to his skin forever. But you look behind the curtain at the person’s soul, that’s pretty heavy stuff, Dirk.
Dirk Sorrels: It was heavy and it was tiring that I used to —
Ramsey Russell: It’s like being in a confessional or something.
Dirk Sorrels: It was and I used to take that home. Sometimes those sad stories, and I talked to my wife about them, and I’d tear up. After a number of years and great experiences and they were all sad like that. I had some wild experiences in that industry.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me some wild experiences to kind of give me some levity here.
Wild Stories: Becoming Tiger King’s Tattoo Artist
No boundaries and I’d never really experienced this type of people.
Dirk Sorrels: Wild experiences. Well, we’re going to get wild Ramsey. So we all know about the Tiger King on Netflix, that big show that came out. That came out on Netflix as the number one special on the first week we went on the lockdowns of COVID here in the United States. So it’s probably two or three days into lockdown. Everybody’s already stir crazy. My wife and kids are in the house and I get a phone call from a friend, he tells me go turn on the television, go to Netflix, and look at what is number one in the country right now. Okay, so alright, me and my wife turned on the TV, and we look up, and there’s Joe Exotic. We both looked at each other and go, oh my God, because Joe Exotic and his traveling crew of misfits walked into my shop 10 years before this show ever came out. They asked if they could book our shop for the weekend. Now we had no idea who Joe Exotic was. It was a guy who went to the local malls with tigers and a carnival crew and raised money by letting people take pictures with little tiger cubs. So we thought it was cool. We didn’t know these guys. I said sure, after the show we’ll stay open late. You guys close at 8:00, we’ll stay here till two or three in the morning, and we’ll book the rest of the weekend for you, and you can swap your team in and out. Some will be at the mall while the other ones are here. And so long story short, we did this tattoo with these guys, and they were different and wild, and we didn’t know too much about them. They’d bring a tiger into the shop and we thought that was cool. Joe had a couple of husbands and that was weird.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Dirk Sorrels: But we didn’t get to know him that well, right? So when we got done with this first week, he says, listen, we’re on the road for 320 days a year and we go around the country, and we’ve got this big ranch down in Oklahoma where all the tigers are. But to keep things going and to raise awareness, we take the tigers on the road. And Joe would say, I do this magic show because my brother died in a drunk driving accident and my magic show is about getting kids not to do drugs or drink and get in cars. So, well, that’s cool. Took my kids up, and we watched him do his magic show, and he pulls up the little tiger at the end whose name was Simba because of the Lion King. All the kids, he makes them swear an oath to Simba that they’ll never drink and drive. And I thought that was cool. And he goes, listen, we do this all year. We come through here twice a year. I’ll call you a month ahead of time. We want to book every time we come into town. So twice a year for three years, Joe Exotic and his team parked their busses in our driveway and spent three days with us.
Ramsey Russell: Were they adding to the previous visit’s art or were they just getting whatever?
Dirk Sorrels: Just getting whatever. Now, I mean the art wasn’t what I would choose, and it wasn’t really a reflection of my best work because they choose their art. It was not my favorite style and it was a little low key, low brow, but it was their choice and you don’t judge people on their choices and their styles. You do the best job you can, you give them what they ask for, and you do the best you can in it. So what happened was the first time we got to know them just a little bit. They weren’t real open, and we thought they were a different bunch, and they’re doing good stuff we thought. You know, they’re out spreading this word to not drink and drive to kids and sharing these cool animals. So after the second time, they started to open up and share some of the stories that was going on in these busses with these guys, and we didn’t think they were doing drugs or anything. We really didn’t, but they were definitely they were doing a lot of weird stuff on that bus that a bunch of guys normally don’t do. They were just wild, interesting characters too. They were outspoken, they were different. It was just some of the wildest. No boundaries and I’d never really experienced this type of people.
Ramsey Russell: Was he the same guy in your tattoo shop that he portrayed as on Netflix?
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What you see is what you get.
Dirk Sorrels: Absolutely. And he was a riot. He was a personality flowing out of a bucket, man. You couldn’t hold him back, and he was wild, and he was smart, and just one of the interesting things, you know. Then, so all of a sudden these guys are coming now. Now you call your friends, hey, if you’re not doing anything this weekend, bring a bottle of whiskey and come sit in the shop because boy do I have a show for you. My friends would come up, and my wife, and we’d sit there and just kind of look at each other across the room, and now they get to know you, and they’re comfortable, and they start sharing more and more. There was one day he came in and the name Carole Baskin is a big name now and —
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, you didn’t know her back then that was his arch nemesis. Nowadays if you say that name, everybody knows.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody knows.
Dirk Sorrels: Nobody knew who that was. But he goes, this woman is trying to cause me a bunch of problems and shut me down, and she’s got PETA and all these people. I want to get five bullet holes tattooed on my chest that look like they’re fresh and bleeding. I said okay, Joe, we can do that. And so we tattoo these five bullet holes and he laid on the ground afterwards in the shop and had one of his guys take a photograph of it. Now, this is the beginning of social media, this is MySpace days. Next thing you know, this picture of Joe’s is on his MySpace saying Carole Baskin, that bitch shot me. And we did that in my tattoo shop, we did that in the tattoo shop. So yeah, Kelvin comes 10 years later and here you go.
Ramsey Russell: Holy cow.
Dirk Sorrels: Wildest thing ever, who would have thunk? And so that turned out to be a pretty good kickoff to a quarantine during COVID to sit around and watch all those episodes with my wife and realize we knew half of those people. Like knew them, we’d spent time of weeks with them, and what a wild time watching that show and just kind of going, what has this turned into?
Ramsey Russell: I wonder if anybody at all would have watched that series, had we not all been sheltered in place like cavemen? And it’s funny how that personality and that story, it absolutely is the benchmark of COVID for me. When I think of that, I think of bat shit crazy Tiger King lockdown COVID.
Dirk Sorrels: That’s about exactly where it went.
Continuing on the Winding Way to Boss Shotshells
Ramsey Russell: That’s exactly how I think of those days.
Dirk Sorrels: That’s about exactly how that went. So back to my story though, after all that, we did the tattoo thing. My kids got a little older and I wanted something a little more stable. They weren’t little anymore. They were going to high school and the emotional toll and the grind of tattooing, I kind of had enough of it, and I felt like I’ve gotten into the industry and I was well known, and I had a good reputation. But then the tattoo shows came out too. All these tattoo shows became very popular. Now the guys are – we went from having one or two tattoo artists within 70-80 miles of me to having ten of them. So it’s saturated. Now all the people need tattoos, right? But they’re not getting tattoos, like back in the day, it’s every high school girl needed this little heart on their wrist or a little anchor, and the little five minute tattoos that were 40 bucks. And they’d say, well I can get it for 30 bucks down the street because there’s three other shops competing for business. I’d say go ahead, they don’t know what they’re doing, you’re going to get wrecked, and then they come back a week later, can you cover this up or fix it? I tell them, yeah, $200. Well, it was only $40 to do it. Yeah, but that was not fixing somebody else’s garbage. You’re asking me to fix something, not do something. So it kind of ruined the industry for me. And then I got out of there and went back to the restaurant world for a little bit and managed some wineries. I managed one of the oldest wineries in Michigan, Tabor Hill Winery, it was a really great experience. And I met this guy doing some side work named Brandon Cereke, of all people.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard of him.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, he ended up making this pretty cool shotgun shell called Boss Shotshells a few years later. But Brandon at the time was — he had a great business that he grinds away at the automotive plating and vacuum impregnation industry. So he had this business and he wanted something else on the side to keep his brain busy. The guy is smart and he doesn’t stop moving. And his brain moves 1000 mph. So one of our buddies’ dad had an asphalt seal coating rig that he would do when he didn’t have homes to build, and he was selling this rig. Brandon says, I’m going to buy that seal coater rig. And I was doing some work for him in one of his offices, doing some building and painting, and I heard this go down. So what you going to do with that seal coater rig, Brandon? He goes, I don’t know. I said, well, if you need somebody to run a crew and run that for you, let’s talk about it, I’ll take this over and we’ll do asphalt. So a few months went by and we talked here and there, and then eventually we had lunch and he said, okay, let’s do this. So we ran asphalt and we had a seal coater rig, and then we bought a line striper, and then we couldn’t get guys to fill potholes. So we bought a paver, and we bought a couple of dump trucks, and then we bought a couple of rollers, and it just went on and on. Now, we’ve got a whole asphalt thing, and we can’t find good help, and we ground through it for a couple of years and it wasn’t fun. There was good profit in it. We sold a lot. We did a lot of work, but it wasn’t fun. It was hard finding guys. It was hard work. And throughout that time, I had a heart attack, I had my first heart attack. My father passed away early, I told you, with heart attack and stroke. It’s a genetic thing in my family. So I took a couple of weeks, came back and I said Brandon, I can’t do this. I don’t have what it takes for this third year to grind this out and work as hard as it needs to make this happen for the two of us. I can’t do it man. I’m going to have to walk away from it, and I did. We walked away on good terms, and he had some of the guys running for another year, and it just mothballed. He got out of it and walked away from it. So now Brandon’s stir crazy. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s got the business running, he still needs something on the side, and his son Landon started taking him hunting and introducing him to the sport. Teaches him how to load shells, and you know, Brandon starts thinking and develops this amazing shell. His story becomes Boss. So I meet him for breakfast one day and he goes, you got to come check out what we’ve got going on out of the shop. I said what are you doing? He’s like we’re making shotgun shells, man, it’s going to be a thing. I said really? Yeah come out man.
Ramsey Russell: To put it mildly.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, this is probably, it kicked off in October 2018, this is probably January, February I’d imagine. You know, it was just the first year. We don’t have any full time guys man, but if you come out and help load boxes, or shells, or something a couple hours a day when you’re not bartending or whatever, feel free man. We could use the help, would be great for you to see it. So I come out for the first year or two and started working with Brandon, helping them in the shop, doing whatever needed to be done a few hours a day here and there, and now I’m a full-time employee with Boss. This year was my first year as a duck hunter.
Ramsey Russell: How old are you?
Dirk Sorrels: 49. And I tell you what, fortunately I’m involved with this fantastic company with this great following and reputation. So this first year of duck hunting, I’ve packed in so much experience and had so many hunts. I hunted every weekend, and I’ve hunted so many different versions of duck hunting, and it’s been amazing.
Lured into Duck Hunting
One of the greatest parts for me has been sitting next to these other men in the blind, and meeting people, and sharing stories, and laughing and learning, and building friendships. I mean that’s been incredible.
Ramsey Russell: It’s interesting to me that beyond the product, beyond the trigger pull, beyond the hit, beyond the pattern, all that science to make Boss what it is. What spoke to me initially back then was the ethos. It was this old school ethic, know your pattern, make ethical shots, make clean kills.
Dirk Sorrels: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: With the two and three quarter inch shell like a shot back in the seventies.
Dirk Sorrels: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: That’s totally against the current. It’s totally against the string. But it spoke to me at a level. As a late coming duck hunter. What speaks to you? What is it about duck hunting? I mean you’re obviously all in with it. What is it about it? Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me just say, with all the young kids that grew up hunting with their daddy when they were eight years old like myself, I know why I’m in it because I really didn’t have a choice. You got a choice.
Dirk Sorrels: I did have a choice.
Ramsey Russell: But something lured you to it. Something held you, something, boom, I mean that just reeled you in and set the hook.
Dirk Sorrels: Yes, well you know what?
Ramsey Russell: It got you and that’s what I want to hear.
Dirk Sorrels: I was a lifetime fisherman and a lifetime surfer. So those were two things in my life that I’ve always done and they were both my biggest passions outside of career work. And I think in surfing, I find so many parallels to this duck hunting to surfing. And it’s an odd to try and correlate, but it hit all the same notes. I’ve had a couple of back surgeries, surfing is kind of out of my thing so I was looking for something to fill this void. My kids are growing. They don’t need me around all the time, I’m not raising little kids. My wife and she trusts me and I trust her. So it’s not like I got to be home all the time. I’ve got a lot of time to try something new. So Brandon invited me out, we went duck hunting. As I said, I did as a kid, I grew up with it, my godfather was heavy into it. I was always around it but I just never spent time doing it. They didn’t take you out when you were a kid. So the first time out there we’re in the blind, and you wait, you bring all your gear, you trudge through the cold, get set up, and you sit and you wait. And then the calls start happening and your adrenaline starts building, the ducks are coming in here. They come in here, they come, and somebody says kill them, you stand up. First shot I took, I had the opportunity to shoot by myself. Brandon let me shoot for myself and I shot a duck, on my first shot, killed it. And I was like, okay, I got this, let’s go. We did it a couple more weekends, and I said, it’s just like surfing. You get out there where nobody’s at, you’re in nature, you’re with the water, you bring your gear out, you get suited up, you get out there, you paddle out, you’re with your buddies, and then you’re waiting, and you’re waiting, and nature dictates when it’s time to go. The wave comes, or the ducks come, you get this couple minutes of this excitement, and then it goes and you reset, and you sit and you wait for the next wave of ducks, or the next wave of water. It just hit all the same notes, and the same feelings, and those same places in my brain that would fire off that surfing did. So it immediately triggered all my favorite responses, and then a few more weekends of doing this, I learned that that’s only part of it. One of the greatest parts for me has been sitting next to these other men in the blind, and meeting people, and sharing stories, and laughing and learning, and building friendships. I mean that’s been incredible.
Ramsey Russell: Do you feel like being in a duck blind is a little like being behind the curtain when you’re sitting there in that tattoo shop? I mean, I do, but I feel like a duck blind is one of the last politically incorrect – be who you are, talking about what you want to – environment.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s an honesty, kind of like what you were saying earlier about getting to see behind the curtain on some of these tattoos. I feel that, I mean because that is what this hunt is, connecting with people.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, breaks down all the boundaries. It doesn’t matter if it’s — where are you from, what you do, what your life experiences are, what you look like, who you are. We’re in this together. We’re going to shoot these ducks, we’re going to put out these decoys, we’re going to be cold or wet. We’re going to watch the sunrise.
Ramsey Russell: Immerse ourselves in nature together.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah. And during that, you’re going to share this together and then you’re going to go have breakfast, and sleep in a bunk in a tent out in the middle of nowhere with eight guys, and you don’t know any of them. By the time you leave, you’re friends, and it doesn’t matter who you are, what you were, we share that experience. We build friendships man. It’s been amazing.
Ramsey Russell: How does it connect you, not only to your coworkers or the people in the blind, but how does it connect you in some way to Uncle Bill?
Dirk Sorrels: Oh, he’s right there with me. Which has been – I think about him every time I’m out there.
Ramsey Russell: Because a man that traveled like that, that did what he did, I’m just imagining at some point in time, when you’re at at home, surely you sat around and heard some of his stories around the coffee table or something?
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah. I’d sit at the dinner table. He would bring these ducks back and he had four story house, and his kitchen and dining room were in the fourth story. He did that on purpose so that you could look out over the marsh, Grand Mayor it was called, there’s these three lakes, and a bog, and some marshland, a few hundred yards off the coast of lake Michigan. So you can sit up on this house and eat duck and wild rice out of that marsh, and bottles of wine that my parents were drinking, and he’d share stories with my family about Argentina or Mexico or Africa. And then you look around his room and it was like being at the Dallas Safari Club. You know? There was mounts and crocodile skulls and art from all over the world. It was like being in a museum with this guy who did it all. And so I grew up with these stories, and I always was fascinated by this man and respected him. And so now when I’m out there, for one, I wish I could experience it and have him sitting physically next to me and be with him doing that because that would be – that’s something I take back if I could, if I could take one thing, I think right now in my life, I’ll take him in the blind with me once. But he’s there. I think about him every time I feel like he comes down and he’s sitting with me sometimes.
Ramsey Russell: I can relate to that. You know, I guess Remington made millions upon millions upon millions of 1100 shotguns. Remington 1100 but with Boss Shotshells I can take my grandfather’s late sixties, early seventies era Remington 1100, that one gun, orange looking wood. I can load it up and take to the blind and something weird, out of millions upon millions of those guns, when I hold that gun, it’s like this ghost, this aura. It’s funny because I never duck hunted with him. I dove hunted with him. His health failed, he got out of duck hunting. I came into it years after his death. But it’s this connection to me sitting around that kitchen table and hearing stories, and his strong influence, and it’s just weird to me how an inanimate object like that has so much power to just literally and spiritually connect me to this influence in my life that died decades ago.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, it really brought back a missing piece in my life I think, and it filled it filled this void that was missing, this surfing void, this excitement, this part of me. That thing you do when you’re not doing what you have to do, you know, you have to go to work, you have to raise your kids, you have to mow the lawn. All these have tos. But when you had time to do what you want to do, I go surfing, or you know, and that was gone because of my back injuries and I didn’t know what I was going to fill it with, but I sure did find it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Dirk Sorrels: I sure did find it. I’ve been so fortunate to be in this position, working with this great company that people love, that they’re just willing to help me gain experience. And it’s been some of the neatest people, and big names in the industry or no names in the industry, it didn’t matter. We were all out there together and Brandon’s got this 300 and a half acre wetlands, about an hour and a half from the shop, where we put up this old army tent and put in eight bunk,s and a little kitchen, and a well, and cold water shower that sometimes you can get some hot water off if you put the copper coil over the wood burner.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t bother you Michigan boys. You Michigan boys, that cold weather don’t bother you all.
Dirk Sorrels: No, we are cold weather people. So we put this copper coil on the line to the shower over the wood burner and it gets hot enough to get you some warm water and take a quick shower. We bring a bunch of guys from the industry, or friends or family out and do a weekend. We did every weekend out there.
Ramsey Russell: And connect with them.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Duck Hunting
You got friends, and you got stories, and you love these guys when you’re done with it, you got friends for life.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, one weekend we took some Purple Heart Veterans out. They were Special Forces guys that were my age and they’re at their end of their careers in the Special Forces world, and it’s hard for those guys, they’re beat up. They don’t have any hearing. They’re trying to figure out how to go on into the world after all they’ve done and seen and the careers they’ve had. They’ve got brain injuries, they’ve got physical injuries, their bodies hurt, they’re trying to get back home and learn how to live with their families after being gone for 20 years. And it’s hard for them.
Ramsey Russell: Big adjustment.
Dirk Sorrels: It’s hard for them. So we had the opportunity to take out this group from – they were all from Florida I think – and they shared stories. A couple of them have never duck hunted before and we got done with the weekend and you talk about humbling, talking about some guys that had put it all out there for us, and you hear what toll it’s taken on them. And the one guy, when he was done, teared up, said it was one of the best weekends he had in his life and he didn’t want to go home. And once again, being an emotional dude, you know what more could you ask for? You got friends, and you got stories, and you love these guys when you’re done with it, you got friends for life. You’ve experienced things that nobody else can experience because you’re the only ones in that blind that day at that moment and that moment of history and it’s just I feel fortunate that I’ve had such an awesome season and learned so much so quickly and met so many people this year.
Ramsey Russell: It’s never too late, Dirk, to start duck hunting.
Dirk Sorrels: No, I think —
Ramsey Russell: You don’t have to be a child.
Dirk Sorrels: You don’t have to be intimidated either.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, there’s a lot to learn. Yeah, it’s intimidating. A lot of things are. You will never know if you can do it or if you’re going to enjoy it if you don’t try it. You know you got to try, you got to try, and you got to try to put yourself out there. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You don’t like it?
Ramsey Russell: And it brings up a good point. All of us hunters talk about taking a kid hunting, take somebody to hunting, take somebody take a grown man duck hunting.
Dirk Sorrels: It’s good for the world. It’s good for everybody. Not that everybody needs to do it but the fact that people do it is good for everybody. You know, it drives conservation. It drives so many great things. It drives conservation. Hunters drive conservation.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.
Dirk Sorrels: And that’s a that’s a win for everybody whether they like people who hunt or not, or whether they’re hunters or not, whether they believe it or not. That’s okay because they don’t have to for this community to keep conserving land, and doing nontoxic stuff, and getting bad stuff out of the environment, and making it healthier for the birds, for all animals, for the humans. I mean, it’s something we’ve all got to look at and I think new people don’t need to be afraid of it. It’s an amazing sport.
Ramsey Russell: Dirk, I appreciate you being on this morning and sharing your story.
Dirk Sorrels: Thanks Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: You are a great guy to hang out with and I hope I’ll see you all again in convention because I had a great time.
Dirk Sorrels: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure, Ramsey, thank you.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, thank you. Folks you all have been listening to my buddy Dirk Sorrels at Boss Shotshells. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere, see you next time.