Located in Hyde County, Lake Mattamuskeet is North Carolina’s largest natural lake. The surrounding area is rich in hunting traditions. Meeting a collection of friends at their “Fetch More” hunting camp, Ramsey learns about hunting ducks, swans, and bears in the area. And more.
Visiting the Fabled Wetland
You know, if you want to do it today, you better do it today, not tomorrow.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere in North Carolina on the banks of Mattamuskeet. Tomorrow is the opener. A three week split has ended. Tomorrow is the opener. I’m at the Fetch More Camp House. That’s kind of the unofficial name they gave it of our host Jason Hockert and company. We’re going to talk to everybody. It’s a pretty cool area, folks. I’m telling you Mattamuskeet is a fabled wetland in coastal North Carolina. Jason, how are you doing?
Jason: I’m doing good, buddy. How are you doing?
Ramsey Russell: I’m doing fine. I appreciate you having me here, man. I feel perfectly at home in duck camp. We had a hell of a dinner tonight.
Ramsey Russell: Help me remember what all we cooked tonight.
Jason: Well we had venison stew. We had tenderloin gravy and we had fried local shrimp, steamed local shrimp.
Ramsey Russell: Big white shrimp, I should tell everybody.
Jason: Oh yeah, the six-twenties, yeah. And then we had a local oysters and biscuits.
Ramsey Russell: I got stuck on the steamed oysters. There is one man over here, Toby, who will also be on here in just a little bit. I’d eat one and he’d shuck four, and I’d eat them four, and he’d be eight. And I’d eat them eight, it would be twelve more. And about the time my stomach started stretching like a ripe watermelon, I came on inside and drank another beer. I’m like, I’m going to hurt myself out here, I got to go. But I did have some shrimp. You know, you did something different with — I ain’t never seen nobody break out a dozen yards of tiger sauce.
Jason: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Do you like that stuff?
Jason: That’s my bread and butter. Tiger sauce and soul food seasoning.
Ramsey Russell: Soul food seasoning.
Jason: That was inside the batter on the fried deer and shrimp.
Ramsey Russell: It was all very, very good. I felt perfectly at home. What a great camp you got. You were telling me – we went and did a spin, we went by the refuge, went right through there, went by the old lighthouse I call it, where they were trying to drain this thing back in the day on the way to see our buddy Allen Bliven – and you were telling me, how long have you been hunting coming to this area? You’re not born and raised right here on Mattamuskeet. But you’re from North Carolina.
Jason: Yes, sir. And I’ve been down here since I was — I think the very first time I came, I was either 10 or 11 years old. Very hard for me to remember back then. I remember all my hunting days, but I just can’t remember ages. And it’s changed over the years for many impoundments have been created down here since I’ve been coming, but at the same time it’s always been the same atmosphere with the locals. But the refuge in the lighthouse and the lake is just the historic part, where when you come down here, you know you’re here. And there’s anywhere on the lake, the south side, north side, east side, west side. It doesn’t matter. There’s always something going on with waterfowl and that’s always been something in my heart, you know? When I’m back home in Johnson County – you’re a swamp hunter, you’re going to get a few wood ducks here and there and if you’re lucky you’ll get a mallard. And I hunt off the land in Johnson County for years. And I always told my dad, I just want to shoot one of them ducks. And that’s what he let me do one day. And then my dad worked for a company, and he knew some guys who brought me down here. And I was 10 or 11 years old, and when I first got down here that was just the love of my life and I’m blessed enough now.
Ramsey Russell: Did you shoot a duck on that first hunt?
Jason: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: What did you shoot?
Jason: I shot, the first ducks we had here were teal, and then I did get to shoot a mallard, and then I shot a gadwall, great duck. And I didn’t know what it was. I ain’t never seen one. And these guys they were all pumped up because, I mean, I was a young kid able to shoot pretty good. But that was what I did here and there, but I was just one of the guys.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t have to lay them this far.
Jason: Yeah, that’s a dead on shot there if you’re doing it right. But the memory never left my mind. And my dad died in ‘95 and I remember sitting back and I told my wife, my dad had a theory of living. You know, if you want to do it today, you better do it today, not tomorrow.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Life’s short.
Jason: He died at 50 years old. And I just remember I’ve always lived my life that way since then. And when I left college, and I was blessed, I was able to do a lot of things with companies and do successful things. And I told my wife a long time ago, I said, this is where I’m going to do that. And she didn’t understand it. And matter of fact —
Ramsey Russell: How far are you from your domicile from your house?
Jason: Two and a half hours.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
The Canals of Lake Mattamuskeet
Jason: I’m west of here on 64-94 for the only two ways you can get here too Hyde County. I’ve been coming down here ever since. Never stopped coming every year. And then when I got my own driver’s license, I was pulling boats down here diver hunting. And I just finally told my wife, I said, when we got married, I said, this is my dream. And I’ve got a hunting club out in Halifax County that I started 21 years ago. And I started this several years ago, I bought this tract, and I watched this land here we’re sitting on today almost four years, different for sale signs. Everybody down here talks about, you got to be on the canal, you got to know your places you’re hunting and all that stuff. And Jarvis Canal is right here next door to me. And I mean, it’s one of the oldest, and I think three original canals come out of the lake, and I watched it. And I just want to make sure one day I had a place where I could watch my son walk off my back deck and go out there and shoot it up by himself. And I got to watch it. So that’s a successful thing in my life.
Ramsey Russell: Mattamuskeet itself is really not hunted. The lake itself, Mattamuskeet, it’s a ginormous lake but it’s mostly federal refuge. And I know everywhere you go — I mean for miles and miles, you’re going all four sides on these roads around here. And you see these canals you’re talking about. And every other house has got duck boat. It might be a little duck boat, it might be a four wheeler, it might be a big duck boat. But nobody’s really hunting Mattamuskeet. It’s hunting impoundments next to it. What are these canals you’re talking about? Go into detail on that because that’s kind of important concept here.
Jason: What Mattamuskeet has got, is they got floodgates where they can open and raise them and get the water levels where they want to. And that’s the reason you can go into Lake Mattamuskeet and its brackish water where you can actually catch blue crab out on the lake at the causeways, what a lot of the people call them, and go crabbing. You can go crabbing at the floodgates, you can go crabbing at the causeways, you can go crabbing at the bridges, and the canals are in and out of the sounds and the ocean. I mean, that’s what keeps the water levels up and down.
Ramsey Russell: But we’re nowhere from the base and the ocean’s right here?
Jason: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: All of them big 30ft boaters are going out to shoot divers just a few miles away.
Jason: My next door neighbor sitting right over here, Parker, he is a fisherman. He goes in out here all the time. He goes out of Patterson local, and I mean this community here -oh well a lot of people don’t realize this – if you didn’t have a boat back in the old days, you didn’t get to have Mattamuskeet, everything was boats way back here on the canals.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, canals.
Jason: The bridges, there’s two bridges come across here, and it’s off 94 and 264, and that’s the only way you can get on this place.
Ramsey Russell: Jason, are those canals, where they dug historically to drain Mattamuskeet? Because that was the ultimate plan was to drain that big son of a gun and make a farm out of it.
Jason: Yes, sir. Well there was original canals here and then there was the hand dug canals too. So yeah, they had a plan and there’s a lot of theories about even how the lake was created. Was it a meteorite or was it natural? I mean there’s so many mess about it that I don’t really know. But all I know is the history of the families who used to farm it, and when they did drain it, and how it didn’t work, and then it wound up becoming just the refuge. But yeah, they drained it by the canals and if you go on the south side, not far from Allen’s place, there’s floodgates right there, I don’t even know what the name of that place is over yonder. Well, we always just call it the blue crab hole, but it was right down from him, and there’s gates right there that you can go and see them, and they can open and close them gates and let water in and out. On the north side you got the same gates and then you got a pump station on 94, it is the largest pump station right there, and then you got lighthouse, that’s another gateway. But yeah, it was kind of like a guess and go type thing if they can make the water come in or out. But Mother Nature has got high tides and low tides and when that Sound comes up to high tide, you can go into Engelhard on a true high tide with a big rain, and you’re going to have the gas station’s underwater.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jason: Matter of fact, I think you said something about the Ethco station today.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Waterfowl to Hunt in Hyde County, North Carolina
That’s lot of what we saw was wigeons, pintails. Some mallards, a lot of gadwalls, a lot of blue wings.
Jason: It was about six years ago, less than a quarter mile behind the Ethco, it flooded the whole town Engelhard and it was a flood of the cotton field right behind that thing. And I sit in right off the side of the road. One of the local farmers down here let me go in there. I mean, you could see the road under your feet. I took a bucket and sat on the other side of the red, I mean the yellow line, and I shot wigeon and pintails sitting there in the cotton field right behind Ethco.
Ramsey Russell: That’s lot of what we saw was wigeons, pintails. Some mallards, a lot of gadwalls, a lot of blue wings. I bet we saw in the loop, we did this afternoon. I bet we saw not a dozen, but more than a half dozen, somewhere between a half dozen, a dozen black ducks. I was surprised. I don’t know why. I didn’t expect to see so many black ducks around here.
Jason: They are kind of a hidden thing. But once you find them – and kind of right here beside me – the impoundment beside me about every other year we’ll get them in here. I mean, in my little impoundment stretched across, I can normally about every other day go out and get me a black duck.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Jason: Yes sir. And a lot of people live and die for them, but at the same time you go down the causeway and today we run across that. I was really expecting to show you dozens of them. They’ll be a pack of two, a pack of four over here and there. Matter of fact, yesterday every causeway I went to, there was at least five or six in each one all the way down, and that’s common here at this time. And then there’s a nut right there with that grass that I was telling you, they let it grow up. Eight on the corner, there’s another nut right there, and it used to be loaded with black ducks. You go out there and see 40-50 black ducks in a in a pod. So that was pretty cool back four or five years ago.
Ramsey Russell: And that was a big part of y’all duck hunt?
Jason: That’s pretty much all of it, yeah. There you are going to the Sound diver hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And I noticed impoundments behind your house, it’s corn.
Jason: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: So I mean, that’s kind of the crop of the day. It is corn.
Jason: That’s pretty much what I would consider some local ag gives, they told me back in the day when I was first doing it, the ducks don’t come down here to eat anything but corn. And I’ve hunted Arkansas, I mean I’ve hunted rice fields, I’ve hunted — you get some of these guys and some of these bigger impoundments they’ve got enough stretch that you can put a row of some millet and things on the side.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen that. Yeah.
Jason: They’ll do it on the edges and they’ll have a strip of soybeans or something like that in there. But predominantly, everything’s going. And it’s amazing to watch the ducks, if you have a chance kind of like what my little places right here, when they get here thick, you can sit on the back porch, you can go sit on a stool by a tree. If you watch the duck hit the water, and then you can see them work the flop up, and they’ll hit that corn, they’ll knock it, they’ll eat it, whatever. And then once they get it on the water, it’s a frenzy.
A Tundra Swan Mecca
I mean you can go out there on a given day and see you know several hundred sitting there resting.
Ramsey Russell: Well, while we’re waiting on the grease to get hot for Toby to fry them shrimp, we stepped on the back porch and watched the duck flight. Ducks coming off the big lake heading over your house to impoundments. I mean lots of duck going to those impoundments to eat and do their thing. And I know just as I was coming up to your camp house a little while ago, right down the road here was several hundred swans coming from coming up towards Engelhard from Allen Bliven’s shop. I saw five or six flocks out. I mean swans everywhere. How important this area is to Tundra swans?
Jason: I think this is the most important thing for the swans on the —
Ramsey Russell: This is the bullseye where they’re migrating. I think the eastern population of Tundras are coming right here.
Jason: This is the home. When they get here, they don’t have to second guess.
Ramsey Russell: There’s thousands of swans. Like, everywhere you could stop and slow down and look on the lake, you can see swans.
Jason: I think some of them got their own damn mailing address here. I ain’t going to lie to you. This is by far one of the prettiest things you’ll ever see if you can come across and get to see the raft of swans, and it’s not just one farm, it’s all of them, and they know where they’re at on the lake. They know where they got to go and feed. They know where they got to go and rest, and the one you’re talking about is my next door neighbor right here. I mean you can go out there on a given day and see you know several hundred sitting there resting. Then they’ll get up and go feed, they’ll come back and then they’ll move around the lake, and they know what they’re doing, how to feed, and all that stuff, and they do it in a strategic way. But at the same time it’s the elegance of it, you know, just watching them big birds just able to land and come in and then you can sit there and watch them, and they’re not spooked as much as a duck, you know? So you can kind of get a little bit more better view of them but —
Ramsey Russell: But not as much of hunting pressure on?
Ramsey Russell: I was surprised to learn today as you and I were talking that it’s only been since about the ‘80s that you could hunt them here. And you were telling me about a local guy that kind of founded swan hunt, or got them adopted, or bringing on board here in North Carolina. Do you know anything about that story?
Hunting Tundra Swans & More
I mean, you can be out there and see, on any given afternoon, 30-40 black bear on the backside of the farm.
Jason: Yeah. I don’t know local-wise. I know he’s from — I know he had a place at the beach and stuff but I do know that his name is Bob. He was a big reason the permits got passed here in North Carolina. I do know the research on that because I did research on it. And I did find out he was one of the more people that were navigating forward and pushing it and helped to get put in here. And at the time, I mean we had that many here already.
Ramsey Russell: It’s been huge to the local area. I’ve met a lot of folks coming to North Carolina. I come in North Carolina to shoot swans, and all your boys here, y’all apply for swan tags to try to get them, don’t you?
Jason: I used to get them every year until about 5-6 years ago. I’d have mine every year and it’s becoming more a sport just to get a tag than it is to get a swan, that’s no doubt about it.
Ramsey Russell: But more than swans, waterfowl, these old swampy woods, they’ve got other animals too.
Ramsey Russell: I mean you got a big old bear hide hanging up right here. How many bears in this area?
Jason: This is the black bear capital of the world. There’s no doubt about it. And I will tell people every day, if you don’t believe, you need to come here and look at it. And if you’re blessed enough to be able to go and look and see where they’re at. I mean, you can be out there and see, on any given afternoon, 30-40 black bear on the backside of the farm. And it’s not uncommon. I mean, you see where I live at, I’m right here on the off Lake Road, and I’ve had bear come right up in my backyard, and it’s not uncommon to see it.
Ramsey Russell: Not just a few bears, there’s a high density of black bears in North Carolina, especially this part of North Carolina.
Jason: Yeah, my bear season, we first opened up this year. Me and West, what we saw on one road, we’re looking down two roads, and then I got to move runners in and take care of the hunters. We saw 17 on one road called 4th and then we had 4 to 5 come out on 3rd and this is all within 30-40 minutes of the hunt. And then we wound up killing seven bears by 9:00 – no, 8:30 that morning, we had seven bears down on the ground and we had to call the hunters off because we —
Ramsey Russell: Big bears?
Jason: Yeah, I think the smallest bear that day was 300, or maybe 350, or something like that. So yeah — but we had some 600 pounders killed and stuff like that. So yeah, it’s every day, all day.
Ramsey Russell: What are we going to do in the morning?
Jason: Kill ducks.
Ramsey Russell: We’re to going to have a win. They’ve been rested. Y’all had a three week split.
Ramsey Russell: I mean that’s — I like that idea.
Jason: I do too. I wish they’d put a week on the end of the season or extend it out and started up a little bit later. But yeah, we got we got that three week split. I’ve been scouting every day for the last six days. The only big difference in the last couple days is the temperature and the moon is already here, but we got overcast and the winds, and the hunters are going to be the big difference tomorrow. We’re going to have some hunters out here tomorrow.
Ramsey Russell: Wind will be a good thing, but there ain’t no doubt. I know the last time I made the loop, drove some of these roads predawn coming out here to duck hunt last year with another buddy of mine. It looked like a Kid Rock concert letting out there was so much traffic on the roads. But I’m looking forward to it, and I appreciate you having me, and I appreciate you being on the podcast.
Jason: Yes sir, I appreciate you coming. You enjoyed back here anytime you want to come.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you Jason.
Jason: Yes, sir.
But yeah, as a hunter in North America, you are not a real hunter unless you had a black bear for the year because of all the uses of that.
Ramsey Russell: Chris Milligan. Man, I’m glad to be here what a heck of a dinner we had tonight. Do you do that every weekend?
Chris Milligan: We’ll get a little carried away every once in a while.
Ramsey Russell: We got enough food to feed an army. It’s like we laid out enough food that half the camps on the lake could have showed up had to have something to eat.
Chris Milligan: Yeah, that’s the same kind of thing Matthew does with ducks too. So that’s how it counts.
Ramsey Russell: Hey, you were telling me something real interesting. You were showing me a lot of pictures of a lot of bears around here and I’m fascinated with it. I love to duck hunt. I love to chase waterfowl worldwide. But I’m fascinated with black bears and I just got to go hunt one. And last year I shot a T90 Boo-Boo of a bear. This year I shot a good Yogi Bear and good eating bear.
Chris Milligan: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about this hunt y’all had earlier this year when you had a lot of your — what organization was that you had? You are a Marine?
Chris Milligan: Yeah, I am a Marine and I’m retired. I’ve been retired almost 10 years now. Did 20 years and I got introduced to Hyde County through Combat Warriors, Inc.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, okay.
Chris Milligan: So I was invited out to a duck hunt and that’s how I got to know Jason. We became fast friends through that organization and started hunting out here in Halifax and the duck hunting grew to bear hunting. He screwed up and invited me out one year for the bear hunt, and I had my son, and we’re making up a lot of lost time for being deployed in active duty, and it was a very good bonding event – Hyde County is just kind of one of those secrets. Not of a lot of people understand the treasure that is out here, so you don’t want to tell a lot of people because you don’t want to overrun it.
Ramsey Russell: But you are telling the world right now.
Chris Milligan: I know. But you want to share it with people, you want to share that experience with people. And that’s what I took away from my first bear hunt. I got to share it with my son, and I said, I need to share this with other combat Veterans because of the excitement, the thrill, the adrenaline, the teamwork that’s involved with it. It just speaks to combat Veterans.
Ramsey Russell: Speaks to the Marine side of you, doesn’t it?
Chris Milligan: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me how y’all are bear hunting? What you doing and how that teamwork come together?
Chris Milligan: It’s controlled chaos.
Ramsey Russell: Behind a pack of hounds.
Chris Milligan: Absolutely. So we’ve got a good block of woods, Matt has been running bears down here for 27-28 years. He’s been doing a public land and then through other leases and then he’s finally bought his, and he’s gracious enough to host us. And then another couple — he’s from western North Carolina, but he’s been coming down here, like I said, 28 years running his dogs in bear hunting. And we’ve got another group of guys that come in from Western Virginia. Great huntsman and couldn’t do it without them. You know? They know that terrain, they know bears. They know those dogs and they train those dogs well. So we bring in folks and kind of line up the back of the property and then they cut the dogs loose on the bears. So sometimes we’ll get them squirting through, sometimes we’ll get them baited up, sometimes they tree. You never know what kind of a good hunt you’re going to get out of it.
Ramsey Russell: That was a heck of a hunt you show. But this year you’ll kill seven bears?
Chris Milligan: Yeah it was seven.
Ramsey Russell: In one day, one morning, one hunt.
Chris Milligan: One morning by 8:30.
Ramsey Russell: Little bitty bears.
Chris Milligan: Yeah, they ranged from just under 300 to 536.
Ramsey Russell: That was some big old bears. And I know there was some full grown men standing behind them and some big old bears.
Chris Milligan: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What do you do with them bears?
Chris Milligan: So we just get in there as a team and process them. We get the hide all trimmed out and get ready for taxidermy so they can do full mounts or make rugs out of them. Then the last two years we started keeping the bear fat and rendering that down for bear grease.
Ramsey Russell: How does that — that’s what I want to talk about. I got a bear sitting out there and I shift — you know I fell down this rabbit hole talking about bear grease and learned that historically Daniel Boone made fortunes in everything from waterproofing to leather to frying and eating. And I’m thinking, man it must felt like lard bear grease. That sounds good to me.
Chris Milligan: Absolutely. Yeah. And I’ve got to do more of my reading on the history of it. But yeah, as a hunter in North America, you are not a real hunter unless you had a black bear for the year because of all the uses of that. The hide for fur coats and the fur, the bear grease for sustaining you throughout the year. And then the meat, the meat is good.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You know it’s like — I’ll be honest with you I did shoot a small, good, really good eating bear, like a button buck type bear last year. And I was a little — we called them up and de boned and we took them home. I’m going to make a pot roast and I was a little — I don’t know about this until I ate it. And we ate three meals of bear in one week because it was really good. I really enjoyed that bear and such that I would say I’ll give you five whitetails for a bear.
Chris Milligan: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I may never eat whitetail again. If I lived in North Carolina where I could bear hunt every year and get a bear, I’d have like — I went to Elvis Presley’s Graceland one time. Somewhere in that little house of his, he had this room he called the jungle room, and every surface in there was covered with green shag carpet. And I just think myself, I’d have a bear hide room. That’d be my jungle room if I lived somewhere like — I like to hunt them, I like to eat them ,and do stuff and I’m — how do you make that bear grease?
Chris Milligan: So you just render it down on a slow heat. Put it in a pot.
Ramsey Russell: Pot or?
Chris Milligan: Yeah, crock pot has been the easier way and then strain it with cheesecloth.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody was here tonight while we were cooking dinner, drinking beer and they were saying that the best fried oysters I ever had was cooked in bear grease. I’m thinking, boy now you’re talking to me. What about duck hunts? Did you duck hunt before you fell in with this crowd?
A Constantly Evolving Hunt
You’re calling, you’re changing your tactics based on the weather, based on the ducks, based on the pressure.
Chris Milligan: So I’m the rookie in the crowd. So I retired from Marine Corps just two days before my 40th birthday.
Ramsey Russell: When was duck hunting in the Marine Corps?
Chris Milligan: No. And I moved around as a military brat. So I didn’t have those roots, or I did some fishing growing up, but I didn’t hunt, so I didn’t start hunting until I was 40 years old and I’m 49 now. So just nine years I’ve been going hard at it. I hunt everything that’s in season. I can’t get enough of it.
Ramsey Russell: Sure. What do you what speaks to you about a duck hunt? Besides the oyster and the shrimp and the camp life that speaks to all of us. But what speaks to you? What do you really like about duck hunts?
Chris Milligan: I think it’s the challenge. You never have the same hunt, but you also have the camaraderie around with it. You know when you’re deer hunt, you’re being quiet, you’re watching, you win, you’re watching your odor. When you duck hunt, you can socialize in the blind. You’re calling, you’re changing your tactics based on the weather, based on the ducks, based on the pressure. So I think you’re having to constantly evolve when you’re duck hunting. That’s what appeals to me. And then I’ve got my four legged friend now and I can’t imagine doing it any other way now. I was my own Retriever for a couple of years when I started. And that’s not for everybody, but I appreciate the companionship you get with a dog and duck hunting with a dog.
Meet the Merganser Slayer
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first duck? I know that was nine years ago, but —
Chris Milligan: So more than likely it was a merganser. I’m known as the merganser slayer. So I’ll add the humor to it. I’ll tell him myself. But other than that, it was a ring neck. It was the first true duck.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot of ring necks around here.
Chris Milligan: Yeah. This was down in Jacksonville on public land. Me and a buddy and our two boys just kind of threw out some decoys in a pond and after we’d scouted it and hoped for the best.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What do you look forward most to coming up here to the camp?
Chris Milligan: It’s my relaxation time. You come across the Intercostal Waterway. One of those bridges Jason was talking about to get out here and you leave the rest of it behind. That’s really what I like out here.
Ramsey Russell: Do you see any parallels? I know it’s a dumb question, but I did not serve. Do you find any parallels in the camaraderie of camp stuff like that versus the US Marine Corps? Is there any crossover?
Chris Milligan: Yeah, I mean you work on your teamwork, there’s the bonds you make. And it’s through experiences. You know you’re not sitting around in the bar telling stories trying to make friends, you’re having experiences together, and that builds the bonds.
Ramsey Russell: And ain’t nobody shooting back.
Chris Milligan: Most of the time.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m looking forward to hunt with and I appreciate you Chris.
Chris Milligan: Good to meet you. Pleasure.
A Once in a Lifetime Dog
He was a great family dog, a wonderful bird dog, hunting dog and companion.
Ramsey Russell: Wesley Gross. My man. I heard from you on Instagram he said, hey, you’re coming through North Carolina, come join us. And here I am. Thank you for having me.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a hell of a welcoming with all the food we ate man. I’m full of the good food.
Wesley Gross: Just trying to share a little Southern hospitality with you.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody asked me – I’m heading down to South Carolina tomorrow afternoon – somebody said you like oysters? I’m like, well I’ve been in North Carolina for five days, and I mean, I’ve eaten them every single night I’ve been here. So yeah, I’d say, I do. I’d say I do.
Wesley Gross: We put a few back this evening.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me Wesley you got a beautiful wigeon decoy right there next to you. Tell me about that decoy.
Wesley Gross: So one of those sayings, I’ve always been told every man has a once in a lifetime dog. And I was lucky enough to have one for six years, he’s a Yellow English Style Lab named Momic. He was a great family dog, a wonderful bird dog, hunting dog and companion. And he passed away this May unexpectedly. He was six years old and it’s a really tough time for me, he was my best friend and I was lucky enough to have a great friend. That’s the head of the Core Sound Decoy Carvers guild at Harper’s Island, Jerry Talton. And Jerry offered to carve a decoy for me and put Momic’s ashes inside this decoy so I could continue to take my best friend with me hunting for the rest of my life.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a beautiful decoy. That’s a really nice decoy. And you told me that you never go hunt without it?
Wesley Gross: No, sir. It’ll be in the water with us in the morning.
Ramsey Russell: It won’t be somewhere is going to get shot. I don’t see no baby holes in it.
Wesley Gross: No, sir. If it gets shot because we’re shooting a bird, Momic wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I heard some stories about this dog. Why was he the best dog?
Wesley Gross: Man, he was the ultimate family dog. You know what I look for in a dog, I’ve always been a little partial to the yellow dogs, and little partial to the English Style Labs, the laid back temperament of them. But Momic was sort of the ultimate Dublin dog. He could — I got a two year old niece that would pull his tail, would ride him like a horse. Momic would hop on a paddle board with me and go surfing. But then when you got in the duck blind and the safety clicked on the gun, he was a different dog.
Ramsey Russell: He was game on.
Wesley Gross: He was game on. Yes sir. Momic is a down east high tighter term. It means to destroy something or mess something up and he didn’t always live and —
Ramsey Russell: – how you explained it earlier today. But I understand what you’re saying.
Wesley Gross: Yes, sir. I tried to keep it PG for you a little bit. But when the time was right, Momic knew how to mess it up.
Ramsey Russell: What did — You were telling me you build houses for a living and you had some Mexican labor. What was their nickname?
Wesley Gross: Yeah, I got Momic the day he turned six months old and was fortunate enough to really be able to socialize him and take him to work with me every day. And the guys on the job site called him El-Basoora. It was a Spanish term for the trash can or the trash man. And you know we were able to keep some homes pretty clean if guys brought their lunch inside the house and they won’t care if Momic took care of some enchiladas and burritos for them.
Ramsey Russell: How many lunches today would he eat?
Wesley Gross: He knocked down 8 or 10 easy.
Ramsey Russell: I bet it was fun in the truck when he ate all them in.
Wesley Gross: Yeah there were a few nights he had to stay outside.
Ramsey Russell: How big a dog was he?
Wesley Gross: Momic weighed 65lb.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, solid muscle.
Wesley Gross: 17lb the head. And the rest was body.
Ramsey Russell: You went to North Dakota this year?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir, I go every year.
Changes in North Dakota Waterfowl Hunting
Ramsey Russell: How did that — we were talking about how it was different. It’s ever been up there, you know with the drought, the hunting for geese and ducks. The ducks for us were stale and weary because of the pressure being put on them, it was just real different hunting up in North Dakota. Did you see the same thing?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. Certainly the lack of potholes that we typically see down there certainly affected the breeding and nesting, and the mallards, and it seemed to be a lot less young ducks than there typically are. We saw a lot more older, wiser mallard ducks, and it was a little more challenging than normal. You know, it certainly made it fun and we’re fortunate enough to have some good hunters with us, and we put a lot of miles behind the wheel of the car and the truck. But we put together two solid weeks up there.
Ramsey Russell: How many times have you gone to North Dakota? Is that an annual thing?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Did Momic go a lot with you?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Is that where he cut his teeth and became a real dog?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. That’s where it kind of clicked for him. I think that first field hunt, he realized, man, this is what I was supposed to do. And I was fortunate enough this year we actually scattered Momic’s ashes on our last hunt of the year this year.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that.
Wesley Gross: I’ve got a younger brother that’s really into building guns and shooting guns and a little more so than I am. I like hunting. He’s more to the little shooting aspect of the sport, and so of course we had Momic cremated when he passed away. And I was fortunate enough to have my brother load a box of shotgun shells with Momic’s ashes on it. And the last hunt in the year in North Dakota, I think it was November 7th. We found a real good feed that had several 1000 mallard ducks feeding in a picked bean field out there. Brushed two A-frame blinds up real good with tumbleweeds and kind of — once we realized this was the right hunt to do, I kind of passed shells down the line. Most of the guys with us had hunted over Momic before, and were sad to see him pass away, and welcomed the opportunity to help celebrate his life there. And so we loaded a few shells up and the very first group of ducks come in, not a single bird left the decoys that day.
Ramsey Russell: How many was it?
Wesley Gross: Man it was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen birds.
Ramsey Russell: And who picked them up?
Wesley Gross: The Molly Whopper.
Ramsey Russell: Is she related to Momic?
Wesley Gross: From the same kennel as Momic. Not related, it was going to be a planned breeding but it never quite worked out. But my old dog killed the birds and my young dog finished it up for us, cleaned them up for us.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good, kind of like passing the torch.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. It was a bittersweet moment, you know it was — I can’t say that my eyes went a little teary.
Ramsey Russell: I bet they were. How long have you been hunting up here around Mattamuskeet?
Hunting Around Mattamuskeet
It is an incredible duck hunting history and culture right here.
Wesley Gross: Man, I’ve been coming up here since I was a little kid.
Ramsey Russell: With your dad?
Wesley Gross: No, actually my granddaddy. My granddad used to drag me up here for Croaker fishing back in the day. That was my first experience with Hyde County, and Rose Bay, and Juniper Bay, and Gold Rock. And used to apply for standbys or come up here and sit and pray to get drawn for a standby permit at Mattamuskeet Refuge and got lucky a few times. And so it’s been an — ever since I was probably 10 or 12 years old I’ve been coming up this way.
Ramsey Russell: Jason was saying earlier today, they’ve got some blinds out on the refuge that you can apply to get drawn for and then you can go get on standby. But still, you got to have the weather and the duck gods have to smile, or just think it’s just going to get sideways. I mean it’s just duck hunting.
Wesley Gross: Sure, yeah. Of course the Atlantic Flyway is not as infamous as the Central or Mississippi Flyway and we have our days, we tend to have much better days when we got a little weather. When we have our windy days and our cold days, willing to put this flyway up against anybody for shooting birds.
Ramsey Russell: But you got a hell of a duck hunting culture. Especially coastal North Carolina, especially Hyde County. It is an incredible duck hunting history and culture right here. It may just be “the Atlantic Flyway,” but it’s amazing.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: If somebody don’t believe there’s no duck hunters around here just go sit on the blacktop road in the morning about before daylight, you ain’t going to believe. It’s going to be like a 10 mile long funeral procession of headlights, somebody going somewhere to go shoot a duck.
Wesley Gross: Yeah, down east North Carolina it’s a, got a tremendous history for duck hunting from, from hand carving wood decoys to shooting pintails and wigeon, we do, and the impoundments of surrounding Mattamuskeet, this is the place on the Atlantic Flyway. Like I said on a good day, I’ll put this up against anywhere in the country.
The Joy of Hunting Wigeon
Wigeon is not a bird you can go out and see in a public park or anything like that. And the whistle is just the happy sound they make.
Ramsey Russell: I know that you got Momic and a wigeon. There are a lot of weeding through here, aren’t there?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. Cottontop’s my favorite bird to shoot.
Ramsey Russell: And you know even with the motor running, the decent motor running without their glass and you could hear them.
Wesley Gross: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I had to really pay attention. I couldn’t hear them over that motor because I really paid attention. You got a thing for wigeon, why is that? Was your first duck wigeon or?
Wesley Gross: No sir. I just love the whistle. The wigeon are typically finished well, they’re a beautiful bird. You know it’s not your park duck, you know, mallards are fun to shoot, you can get any park in North Carolina and see a mallard out there and a family feeding them bread. Wigeon is not a bird you can go out and see in a public park or anything like that. And the whistle is just the happy sound they make.
Ramsey Russell: That is. You came up here in Hyde County, the Mattamuskeet area, and croker fish with your granddad. But who introduced you to duck hunting?
Wesley Gross: My granddaddy and a buddy of mine.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first duck?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. Wood duck.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember killing him? I mean do you remember the whole drama of it?
Wesley Gross: Absolutely. On the Cape Fear River.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: You get it in a shot?
Wesley Gross: No sir. It probably took a few shots if I remember correctly.
Ramsey Russell: Did your granddaddy have dogs?
Wesley Gross: We did. Yes sir. We had a few dogs growing up. I remember a few of them still to this day. Some a little more than others. But yeah definitely always grew up around dogs and when we’re not duck hunting, we’re chasing ribbons and AKC Hunt test. And dogs are my life, my dogs are my best friends, my dogs go pretty much everywhere with me and dogs have taught me a lot as a person.
Ramsey Russell: They add a whole another level to the duck hunting experience.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: I just can’t imagine hunting without one.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. I duck hunt for two reasons: for the camaraderie, I mean some of my best friends I duck hunt with, you spoke with them this evening. And then I shoot ducks for my dogs.
Ramsey Russell: Do y’all cook duck around here?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: How do you like to cook them?
Wesley Gross: Man, my two favorites are I make a mean gumbo —
Ramsey Russell: You’re talking about that?
Wesley Gross: — I make a real mean gumbo and I like them fried with tiger sauce.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of like we ate that back in the day.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir. Battered deep fried with tiger sauce.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll be dying. Wesley, I appreciate you having me. I’m looking forward to getting in the blind with y’all tomorrow and doing what today may bring. I will go to sleep hoping that a lot of blue wings come in.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot more blue-wings than I expected to see.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Are they normally here this late?
Wesley Gross: We see a few late in the season, usually last week or two of the season around Youth Day. Seems like they’re here a little earlier. They’re sticking around a little later than they typically do. But fingers crossed we have a good one tomorrow.
Ramsey Russell: We’re going to. I promise. I know we’re going to eat good regardless.
Wesley Gross: We’re going to have some fun in the blind. I tell you that.
Ramsey Russell: I need to make room for breakfast before we go hunting.
Wesley Gross: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. All right then, I’ll be ready.
Wesley Gross: All right Ramsey.
Introducing Toby Gill of Lake Mattamuskeet
And you probably spent 90% of your life on that six miles of road.
Ramsey Russell: Toby Gill is born and raised right here on the North Lake Drive, somebody was telling me.
Toby: Yes sir. North Lake Road.
Ramsey Russell: You grew up right here your whole life. Somebody told me last night they said that you live three miles that way. Where we hunted and some of your folks are three miles that way. And you probably spent 90% of your life on that six miles of road. Is that about right?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up here on Lake Mattamuskeet?
Toby: It’s amazing. You don’t have to deal with all the people. It’s just a great environment, good people, everybody knows everybody. It’s not like city life.
Ramsey Russell: Like a real tight clan, ain’t it?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: You ever get around cities and crowds and Walmart and stuff like that?
Toby: I try not to. But yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Too many people at the grocery store. Your wife does all the shopping, I bet.
Toby: You got it.
Hunting 40 Years Ago Compared to Today
We hunted six days a week. Get your limit every day.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start duck hunting around here?
Toby: I probably started when I was five years old.
Ramsey Russell: Who took you?
Toby: My daddy.
Ramsey Russell: Did all your people hunt?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me what it was like 35 – 40 years ago hunting this part of the world. What was it like compared to now?
Toby: It was probably maybe five duck impoundments down here then.
Ramsey Russell: Five dozen or five?
Ramsey Russell: Five impoundments only. Did your folks start the first impoundments, didn’t they?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Did they plant corn too, was that the thing?
Toby: We weren’t allowed back then. You had to plant millet but you weren’t allowed to plant corn when it first started.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: When did when did the corn craze start? Because now everybody plants corn or you ain’t got an impoundment.
Toby: It was probably, I must say in the mid-80s when they let it where you can plant corn but they would go in there and eat that millet up in one night and be gone.
Ramsey Russell: There was that many ducks.
Toby: We hunted six days a week. Get your limit every day.
Ramsey Russell: Has the species composition changed around here? Was it more mallards back then than now or more pintails?
Toby: Mallards, yes sir. Pintails we got a lot but they like open water, you have to keep it tight or the swan get in there.
Ramsey Russell: When did the swan craze start around Mattamuskeet? Did you grow up swan hunting?
Toby: Well, they were a nuisance really.
Ramsey Russell: Your whole life there have been swans around here.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Just tons of them.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: And they get off in them more soil impoundments and millet and —
Toby: And they’ll wipe it out.
Ramsey Russell: Wipe it out. Do you remember when they open the season and you go out and start shooting them legally?
Toby: I think I was nine years old when I got my first one hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Toby: Yes sir. 37 years ago something like that.
Ramsey Russell: Were you telling me this morning a duck blind back in the day, y’all just threw out paper plates for them?
Toby: Oh yeah just paper plates and you didn’t have to have no blind nothing, just sit in the ditch, and they all just pour right in there. You didn’t have to call them or anything.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Well speaking of that you talked about last night, I can’t remember what we were talking about. But you’re talking about hunting with your granddaddy. What did he think about newfangled stuff like duck calls?
Toby: If he had a duck call he’d throw it in the water. He didn’t call ducks. They were goose hunters, you know, that was the thing. When duck hunting come in they didn’t really like it because nobody likes change.
Ramsey Russell: So that’s something that’s changed. Is back in the day those folks those old timers were goose hunters. Canada geese.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: And they shot a bunch of them. Were you a long hunting stuff when they were still big goose hunters? Was that a big part of your childhood?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about some of your fondest memories as a child back in those good old days hunting with your granddaddy and your daddy.
Best Swan and Duck Hunting Memories from Back in the Day
But yes, we had corn but you put it in a barrel, and put little, take little.
Toby: Well I mean I can’t tell you exactly how we used to do it.
Ramsey Russell: Statue of limitations if you need to.
Toby: But it used to – once a year at full moon, you get to sit in the blind. That’s when you went goose hunting.
Ramsey Russell: At night?
Toby: At night.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Ramsey Russell: Shoot them, shoot them at night. Did the refuge exist then?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. Well they probably all kinds of folks prowling around looking, wasn’t it?
Toby: Yeah, when you put a goose on the crab pot here, you put together in one, and the goose and the other, and they talk back and forth.
Ramsey Russell: Did they mouth call or?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Geese, swans?
Toby: Everything. Mouth call.
Ramsey Russell: Was there a lot of baiting and stuff like that around here too back in the old days? I mean, was that just kind of a local culture back in the old days, was pouring out corn and whatnot.
Toby: That’s not how we did it. But yes, we had corn but you put it in a barrel, and put little, take little.
Ramsey Russell: Here you go. You know one thing I was surprised to see when I came up and we drove around yesterday, madam Mattamuskeet is shallow. Knee deep, or maybe, you know, belt high but it’s shallow. And I just assumed because all the swans came here since forever that — I just expected to see just tons of submerged aquatic vegetation. Sago pond weed and stuff like that. But it just looked like a big old mud bottom bearing lake.
Toby: Since they put in the new rice and everything, the floodgates for the sound, too much salt water.
Ramsey Russell: Who put those floodgates in?
Toby: The refuge.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, did they? Because they needed to manage water but it let too much salt in there? Somebody was talking about that previously.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: When you’re pumping around here it’s got to be fresh water.
Ramsey Russell: And all these canals and stuff, some of them flush a lot of salt, and you’ve got to really keep that salt water out.
Toby: And when everybody gets pumping you got to check the salinity or it’s that bad. Now it’s not as high as it used to be, the lake level.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the good old days when you got started, there was five impoundments, how many are there now? Impoundments?
Toby: 1500 I believe in Hyde County.
Water Wars in Hyde County
Back before those floodgates and they let all the saltwater in, do you think there were more swans using the area?
Ramsey Russell: What is the water wars? Somebody told me about, they said man, water wars are going on.
Toby: That’s the problem with the lake. They know everybody’s going to pump, you pump by these canals, they let the water down, and there’s no water, and the floodgate is open, then the salt water comes back in.
Ramsey Russell: And that gets rid of all that submerged aquatic, that good stuff?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: What can they do to control that? Anything you think?
Toby: They’d keep it at the appropriate level like it used to be instead of letting go down this time of the year.
Ramsey Russell: I know you got to let a little bit of water down during the growing season if you want to get good sago pond weed. But it don’t do you no good if you’re putting salt water in there.
Toby: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Back before those floodgates and they let all the saltwater in, do you think there were more swans using the area?
Toby: Oh, yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: A lot more?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: You think a lot of them are stopping up in Delaware, Virginia? Further up the flyway now that they’ve lost that good habitat?
Toby: Of course, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What about the ducks do you think you’ve lost some ducks too?
Toby: Definitely on the ducks. Maybe less on the swan but more on the ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me who is Amos? You all were telling me a story last night about a dog named Amos.
Toby: That’s my dad’s dog. My dad got him when he was two from the pond.
Ramsey Russell: Big old Chesapeake?
Ramsey Russell: Or mostly Chesapeake?
Toby: He’s Chesapeake. He don’t get in the blind or nothing. He just stands out during the water, creeps around. He put all the ducks by one tree, you can get them when you get done hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Well, they told me last night that oh you’ll see Amos because as soon as he hears a gunshot, you’ll hear something running through the corn, and it’ll be Amos. He’ll cover every road just till he finds a duck.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: How old that dog?
Toby: He’s probably 14 now.
Ramsey Russell: He must have slept in this morning. I didn’t see him or we didn’t fire enough.
Toby: Yeah. He probably didn’t hear us. He’s getting old.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Tell me about your son, Brady. I met him last night. 12 year-old son and he’s born and raised here. What was his first duck hunt? How old was he?
Toby: He was three years old. He killed a drake teal with a 410 by himself. He was sitting on the water. But at three years old, I’ll take that any day.
Ramsey Russell: I’d take it at 55. You know I mean you ain’t got a lead of duck sitting on the water this far. Is he one of your big hunting buddies?
Toby: Yes sir. He goes with me all the time.
Ramsey Russell: You’re going to tell me what was in that sauce last night? Y’all got a real distinct barbecue sauce for oysters up here. It’s got a little horseradish, got a little ketchup, probably have a little hot sauce. But it’s got some other stuff in it too because it’s more like a barbecue sauce than a cocktail sauce. That old family secret recipe. Who taught you to make it?
Toby: I used to run an oyster bar for 12 years.
Ramsey Russell: So that’s how you learn to shuck them things so quick.
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Because last night I’d eat one, you’d lay out four. And I’d eat 4 and it would be 12 waiting on me. Before I knew it I had just come on inside before I exploded.
Toby: Yes sir. From the ‘90s to early 2000s, I ovened oysters. That’s what I did during hunting season. Guide, then go do the oyster bar.
Ramsey Russell: How long did you guide for? When did you start guiding?
Toby: 14 or 15 years old. I’ve been doing it for 30 years.
Ramsey Russell: 30 years, wow. And did most of the sports come from North Carolina? Were they from all over the country?
Toby: All over the place.
Ramsey Russell: Swan hunting, duck hunting?
Toby: Everything. Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Do you still swan hunt?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: How do you all do it now versus paper plates and stuff?
Toby: We got big magnum decoys in there and put them out.
Ramsey Russell: How many do you have to put out?
Toby: A lot of people put out a lot. I probably put a twenty maybe.
Ramsey Russell: You still call too?
Toby: And call them by the mouth.
Ramsey Russell: Let me hear.
Ramsey Russell: That will do it won’t it?
Toby: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Sound just like one. What do you think is going to happen the rest of this duck season? What are your plans for the rest of this duck season?
Toby: If the weather doesn’t change, and when the moon goes away, it’s going to help.
Ramsey Russell: Week of Christmas it was hot. Somebody said it’s supposed to break temperature records today. We were swatting mosquitoes.
Toby: Yes sir. But when the weather changes we just need a couple of weeks of consistent cool weather where they get to eat.
Ramsey Russell: Get the ducks, get them settled in that corn.
Toby: Everything will be good.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I sure do appreciate you Toby. And your oysters was real good last night. I appreciate your hospitality. I appreciate you taking time to come on the podcast with us.
Toby: Thank you sir. Very nice to meet you. I do appreciate it.
Allen Bliven Calls
What’s the average season over here like throughout the course?
Ramsey Russell: And finally Mr. Allen Bliven. Allen Bliven Calls right here. Won’t be in swan quarter.
Allen Bliven: Well, actually this place is called New Holland, and up the road is a little community called Lake Comfort. And then swan quarter proper is, the town’s got a county seat further down the road, probably 15 miles.
Ramsey Russell: There’s four roads that that’s around Lake Mattamuskeet. How big is that lake? That lake is ginormous.
Allen Bliven: 18 sq. miles I’ve been told.
Ramsey Russell: 18 sq. miles. And you were telling me last night we went there to look at your farm, you were telling me that all these roads are like the old lake bed.
Allen Bliven: Yeah. They told me that the buffalo used to follow the high land around the lake. And then when the Indians came they followed the buffalo trails. And then when the settlers came they followed any impasse and ended up being on the high land around the lake.
Ramsey Russell: I guess they know that because they found buffalo skulls or something back in the day.
Allen Bliven: Well I’m sure the Indians probably followed them to hunt.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think about hunting over here? You got swans, you got ducks. Not many but some Canada goose hunting. What’s the average season over here like throughout the course?
Allen Bliven: It depends on the location of your hunting. The north side of lake is better than the south side of the lake. I think because the birds come there first and then they start establishing on the north side, going back and forth, feeding on the northern impoundments. And then when they get eating out, then they’ll start searching further away like on the south side where I’m at. So my impoundments on the south side lake, southwest corner of it in a place called the bay. And my place is really good the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season.
Ramsey Russell: They hit different parts of the lake, different parts of the area as the season progresses. That’s what those boys were saying this morning, how they hit different areas, different parts.
Allen Bliven: They say the lakes got a diverse aquatic environment, like one side of lake’s got the plant life, one side’s got the algae, or some kind of stuff like that, and it’s a pretty diverse refuge system. I think the average depth of the lake’s probably 2-3ft and they’re blaming the turbidity of the water as one of the reasons why the plant life is not growing. Sunlight can’t get to the bottom of the lake. And they don’t know if it’s agriculture runoff or what’s going on.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve heard a lot of different excuses. I’ve heard somebody say that somebody put carp in the lake, somebody said it was the floodgates that added to the salinity and now who knows what it is. Bu I just know that looking at it looks like just a big old mud bottom lake. I just expected to see Mattamuskeet, especially being a shallow water lake, teeming with sago pond weed and a lot of different stuff. You know like out in Utah where they actively manage sago pond weed for swans. They make enormous efforts to get rid of the carp and to keep that turbidity down so you can grow that sago pond, which is what these swans – their favorite food source. Did you get a swan tag this year?
Allen Bliven: I did.
Ramsey Russell: When you going to go, after?
Allen Bliven: Probably the 3rd of January.
Custom Swan Calls
I don’t know of any other swan calls on the market.
Ramsey Russell: Are you going to use your call?
Allen Bliven: oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Let me hear it. It would be interesting to see what it does on this mike. But let’s go ahead and just hear what it sounds like.
Allen Bliven: I’ll be little rusty. Hold on.
Ramsey Russell: That will work, won’t it? Oh, it came through loud and clear. I guarantee you did. I use mine some this year and it seems to work of course most people just hoop at them.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, but you can’t do that so long or your throat’s going to be wrong.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Unless you’re a little boy or little girl, something like that. But that’s right. I know a lot of folks just hoop at them, but that call sounds good. I don’t know of any other swan calls on the market.
Allen Bliven: There’s a few out there that’s called the Carolina Flair.
Ramsey Russell: Rick Flair
Allen Bliven: Rick Flair down in Charlotte.
Ramsey Russell: That’s who I was trying to think of. Somebody told me the other day, that’s how they call swans is to Rick Flair them.
Allen Bliven: Oh, yeah. Everybody Rick Flair’s them.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody does that. Y’all got your shop right here on Mattamuskeet. What’s the average traffic look like coming through the hunter to duck hunter or waterfowl hunter traffic? Does it kick off in September with teal or how do they start?
Allen Bliven: It starts off before that. It starts off when everybody drains their impoundments and they start the farm, and everybody comes down and manages their impoundments and makes sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to. Getting the water out, and getting the crops put in, and then they come down to look at the crop, and then they come down the flood so it’s an — if you don’t have somebody managing your impoundment it’s an all around all year process.
Ramsey Russell: It takes a while, doesn’t it?
Allen Bliven: Yeah, to keep it flooded, and let the birds eat the crop out, and when the birds leave on their own and I’ll drain my impoundment because I want to make sure they maybe come back next year if there’s any kind of homing instinct, but they don’t seem to be that way, usually.
ABC as a Business
Ramsey Russell: I know you’re staying busy every time I come in here, you got a crowd of camo hunters in here looking for something, geese calls, goose calls, swan calls, duck calls.
Allen Bliven: Lanyard.
Ramsey Russell: Lanyards, t-shirts, caps, hoodies.
Allen Bliven: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You all do a big business like that around here.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody I stayed with over yonder. Everybody had on an ABC.
Allen Bliven: They’re making me look good.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they were. Everybody had on a cap, a T-shirt, or hoodie, or something.
Allen Bliven: It’s a good feeling to see somebody support you.
Ramsey Russell: But you know what’s so interesting that we talked about this yesterday, is every liquor store I’ve seen in North Carolina is ABC. We stopped yesterday and we said, hey, we’re going down to the ABC shop. I’m guessing I just left ABC, pick me up at Fifth. He wasn’t talking about your call shop. What is it? What does ABC stand for in the liquor business?
Allen Bliven: Alcohol beverage control.
Ramsey Russell: And everything’s got to go through an ABC store in North Carolina?
Allen Bliven: Yeah you can’t buy hard liquor in the grocery store.
Ramsey Russell: I did not know that.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, there was actually some towns or villages down in Hatteras that were dry until like the ‘80s.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Allen Bliven: Yeah. My neighbor was down there doing construction. The old guy come up to him and said he lacks $4 for getting a fifth. So my neighbor gave him $4 and when he came back he had a bottle of Aqua Velvet.
Ramsey Russell: You were talking about that duck management and all that good stuff like that. What about the — I heard a couple of people mention water wars?
Allen Bliven: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Talking to Toby Gibbs, he was saying back in his granddaddy’s day and his daddy day there were five ponds, five impoundments. Now there’s 1500 – 2000. You were showing me somebody famous got a couple of pounds going in yesterday. What are they talking about the water wars? What was happening?
Allen Bliven: Well I know that the soil is different on the north side of the lake where it is sandy. So if you pump up your impoundment, it runs back in the ditches over a couple of days. So if you pump up your impoundment it runs back in the ditches, your neighbor will come suck out of the ditch, pump his impoundment up. Or we had a guy that had a guy come over from Kitty Hawk, he turned his pump on and when it as soon as he left the neighbor turned it off –
Ramsey Russell: Because he’s drawing from the same water supply.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, when the lake’s low, everybody struggles to get water if you’re pumping from the lake. And the only alternative of that is to pump out of the ditch. But where my impoundment is to the swan quarter area is flooded by, shrouded by a dike system, and there’s big old floodgates, and the gates hang up, causing the salt water to back up into the canal. So if you pump out of the canal, put salt water in your land, it’s going to stunt your crop or not allow you to grow crops. So you got to make sure the water, there’s not too much salinity in the water. And if you can’t pump out a ditch and you got to use a well. So that’s the next process, like my impoundment is 13 million gallons to flood my impoundments. It takes 27,152 gallons to flood an acre one inch. So it takes 13 million gallons to flood my impoundment. 500,000 gallons a day out of the well, 26 days of pumping at $56 a day. Power bill.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, wow, that’s getting pretty serious. Folks are serious over here about that.
Allen Bliven: Once you cross that line. So the first duck you shoot that year in your impoundment is worth about $60,000.
Ramsey Russell: You got a pro-rated over a good season.
Allen Bliven: If you shoot a pair of 30,000 apiece.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ll tell you what, I hope my wife ain’t listening to this podcast.
Allen Bliven: Well duck meat, everybody knows is the most expensive meat in the world.
Ramsey Russell: Ain’t no dang doubt it is. Tell me about your bear population around here because I know Jason was saying last night, and some boys, that they go hard after them bears. One of the highest densities in the United States of black bears. But they’re just big cute cuddly teddy bears, ain’t they? They don’t cause no problems or mischief out there on farms do they?
Allen Bliven: They have eaten the tires off my golf cart, eaten my seat off my golf cart, arm rest on the tractor, pop the tires on my tractor. I had an air hose on the air compressor they stretched out to the woods. I mean, the young bears are very curious. Julie watched one this year where the mama and like a yearling bear and a baby bear, and the little bear ran a gentle on top of the middle bear. They went scrapping in the middle of the field and they’re fun to watch but they can do some damage.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of Toby Gibbs, I interviewed him-
Allen Bliven: He can fry some shrimp.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, he is, man. I mean born and raised in about a six mile stretch. He ain’t never hardly left. I don’t think right here on the north side, but this morning we’re getting blind and he starts whistling. He got one of your original whistles. I mean it’s old and I didn’t pay attention. I think it’s the only call that keeps on his layer.
The Best Duck Calls in Hyde County
Talk about that pintail whistle you got a little bit because it is a unique style and whistle.
Allen Bliven: Well, a lot of times I use is the whistle here in Hyde County when I hunt because we’re shooting the pintail, the wigeon, the teal, the gadwall and not a whole lot of mallard population.
Ramsey Russell: Not really very many at all, is it? Talk about that pintail whistle you got a little bit because it is a unique style and whistle. Talk about that a little bit.
Allen Bliven: There’s a whistle called Marilla. It’s I think a Spanish family, maybe Argentina developed it. It’s got a straw inside of it that spins to get the trail for the pintail like a T shape and the more whistle was a plastic whistle that’s in production now it’s a copy of that. But the problem is they freeze when it gets cold.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Yup.
Allen Bliven: And you can’t do the wigeon or the teal peep because that whistle spins. I think there’s two holes in the side, you can cover up. But the volume of my whistle, I tune them all with the acoustic guitar tuner so they got to hit the long teal and they got to hit the wigeon and the pintail. If it doesn’t make these three sounds, that goes in the trash.
Ramsey Russell: You know everybody I see around here some of the tag and stuff it’s kind of like a Stuttgart in North Carolina. I mean like them boys I’m hunting with are coming for two or three hours to come to Hyde County. And I guess they’re all coming to Hyde County. Of course you got the salt water. We saw a lot of big boats this morning, yesterday evening getting ready to go out on the big water. I wonder what that was like in the fog. But then all these 1500 some odd thousand impoundments. And then you’ve got Mattamuskeet holding it all together, driving those ducks, those swans, and those geese in.
Allen Bliven: Well surprising though there’s no commercial motels per se to keep hunters. So you got to have some —
Ramsey Russell: Ain’t many restaurants either. A few of them.
Allen Bliven: I mean, you got to know somebody, got something for you to stay in because you’re not coming to Hyde County and hunting, lets you sleep in your truck.
Ramsey Russell: There’s one restaurant in Fairfield, one restaurant in Engelhard.
Allen Bliven: A couple of small family restaurants in Engelhard.
Ramsey Russell: Julie was telling about a great place yesterday in Engelhard to go get some sugar and spice.
Allen Bliven: Sugar and spice across the Ethco station and there’s HALs, the old green store, they have a pretty good buffet. You can look at me and tell I know where all the buffets are.
Ramsey Russell: But at suppertime we had a heck of a feast last night oysters and shrimp, heck you come over and help me out.
Allen Bliven: Those shrimp were so good.
Ramsey Russell: They were good. Big old white shrimp. I’m a stickler for them oysters, man. I tell you what, that was the fifth or sixth night a row I’ve been in North Carolina that I ate oysters.
Allen Bliven: Well, Toby fattened me up about 10 lbs last night.
Ramsey Russell: I guarantee it. Well I found out why because he used to work at the oyster bar and that man can shuck oysters quicker and better than anybody I’ve seen.
Allen Bliven: But if you are talking about friendly, I mean you couldn’t ask for a more friendly person.
Ramsey Russell: No, I know he’s a good man. He sure is. But they were saying you go around a restaurant here, one of them to restaurants on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll be sitting an hour and a half for them say grace because all the hunters practically go there that ain’t cooking themselves.
Allen Bliven: Like on Sunday if you don’t get there during a heathen hour from 11 to 12, you’re not going to get a seat because of church, and then in the evening, you’re not going to get a seat because everybody comes out of the woods about the same time.
Ramsey Russell: How much longer you’ve got before you start hunting your impoundment?
Allen Bliven: It all depends on acquisition of H2O.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t think you’re missing anything. I think this front’s going to hit and ducks is going to start moving down a little bit, start scattering about. You’re talking about the last part of the season, that part of the lake gets good anyway, I think you’re going to hit it just right, fresh food, fresh water.
Allen Bliven: Well you’ve seen what the bear had done to my corner too.
Ramsey Russell: Oh my gosh!
Allen Bliven: So you got your duck blind, sitting there with your millet and whatnot out front of it, and there’s this quarter acre hole where a bear made, what’s the chance of that duck landing from your blind or going to that bear hole?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it could happen. Allen, I appreciate you man. I always like to stop by here and visit with you and see you. Your shops like the epicenter of this part of the lake right here. I mean it is just traffic all in and out all the time.
Allen Bliven: It’s a very unique location and we’re lucky to be here. And I appreciate you coming by every time you come down to hang out with us.
Ramsey Russell: And we talked last night, it’s funny, you hunt up there in Manitoba next to where I do.
Allen Bliven: That was probably five miles from here.
Ramsey Russell: With Paul and we’re just all going to fall into camp and hunt up there next year.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, if it don’t get drained out.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Allen. Hyde County, Mattamuskeet is such a unique part of the world. I got to tell you I’m going to have to come here for a month just to track down all the stories out here, the history and the culture. It is incredible.
Allen Bliven: I mean, what I know is a fifth of what the man taught me knew, and he knew a fifth what the man taught him knew. So the history that’s been lost is probably unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: Well, thank you, Allen. Folks, thank you all for living this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Hyde County, North Carolina. See you next time.