Where else in the world might one find 4-gauge and 8-gauge shotguns, hard-to-find Winchester Model 12s, one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia, famous prints and other hard-to-find treasures unavailable elsewhere on the internet?! And whether shopping for that hard-to-buy-for special someone that has everything–or for yourself–just in time for Christmas! David Schuessler, Ducks Unlimited’s Chief Event Fundraising Officer, takes Ramsey “Into the Vault” at DU Headquarters, describing unique collectibles among this year’s 600 items, when the auction will run (November 21-December 3 with purchases shipping within 3 days) and where items can be drooled over, err, viewed (see link below)!
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, man, have I got a great show for you. My wife always says that as a duck hunter, I’m the hardest person to buy Christmas gifts for or birthday gifts for because I just go out, if I need it, I want it, I go and get it. That’s what we do, right? I bet you all are all nodding your head doing the same thing, but here we go. There are some things in this modern era that you cannot find on Amazon, that you can’t find on eBay, that you can’t find anywhere but deep Into the Vault. Ducks Unlimited has got one heck of an auction ongoing right now and joining us today to tell us all about it is Mr. David Schuessler. David, how the heck are you, man?
David Schuessler: I’m doing well. How are you doing today?
Ramsey Russell: Man, I’m doing fine. It’s good to be back in touch with you and I’m proud to have you here. All I could think the whole time you were telling me about auction items that had been done in the past and what you’ve got coming today is here comes Santa Claus folks are going to love this, I can’t wait to get online and dive deep Into the Vault today myself. But backing up a little bit, David, I wanted to ask you, lead off of this right here. Who are you? What’s your duck hunting background? Where have you been for Ducks Unlimited? And why is an auction like this important?
David Schuessler: Okay. Well, David Schuessler, I’m the Chief Event Fundraising Officer for Ducks Unlimited. I guess I’ve been working for DU for close to 25 years. And started with the organization as a regional director, which is one of our field staff in North Carolina, I am not from North Carolina, I’d moved there after school. I was born and raised in North Florida, which some of your listeners might know there are some parts of North Florida that have really good duck hunting and I was blessed to grow up in a family on both sides, my mother and my father’s side of the family were avid duck hunters and shot my first duck at the age of 5 and fell in love with it. And again, fortunately, had a lot of, not only my father, but a lot of uncles and cousins who would take me and I am a duck hunting fanatic and have been working for Ducks Unlimited in North Carolina and Texas and now I’m in Memphis and have been blessed to hunt them all over this country and on two continents and I think four countries now that I think that’s right. So I’m a duck hunting fanatic, I work for Ducks Unlimited in our fundraising department and I was one of the originators of the end to the vault auction and it’s in its 3rd year right now, so we’re currently holding into the Vault 3. And it’s a really interesting story at the really dark bad days of COVID, when we were all at home and you could only go outside or you were going to be in trouble, couldn’t go to your office this that or the other thing, Ducks Unlimited was still doing our conservation work. Because our conservation staff could still be out in the field, that’s one of the things that they’d let us do. If you’re outside, you’re safe. And so we still had a need to fund this conservation work that we do on the breeding grounds and all over North America.
Ramsey Russell: Saving ducks was an essential job back then.
David Schuessler: Always. The most important job. You got to save them before you can hunt them every year, we got to have sustainable population. So we couldn’t do events, I mean, it was against the law for us to gather at one time in all 50 states and up until the pandemic, we had a hard rule that we would not do any type of online options. I mean, eBay came about several years ago and there would be conversations about, why don’t we sell some of our stuff on eBay? And we said, no, we’re not going to do that, we want people to come to our events if they’re going to buy Ducks Unlimited merchandise. Well, the pandemic hits, we quickly have to change our tune and we start allowing our states to do online auctions with our merchandise that we normally our events, we had a warehouse full of merchandise in March of 2020, we had to get rid of it. Well, that summer, I snuck into the office with our CEO Adam Putnam, we weren’t supposed to be here, but we had a clandestine meeting and said, well, what can we do above and beyond what we’re doing right now to raise money? And we walked back into the warehouse and started looking around and you looked up in the top racks of some parts of the warehouse, he said, what are those boxes up there? And I said, I think that’s some old prints that had been donated by an state. He said figure out a way to sell them. And, well, there was only one way to sell them and that was online and I told him, I said, Adam, if push comes to shove, we’ll just sell everything on our walls here at the building. And it was a little bit of a joke, but at the same time, I was thinking we might get to that. Well, it didn’t get to that point, that fall, we could start to get back into a few event halls, but what we did is, we took all of this stuff that had been donated to us and we really didn’t realize what we had because we’re talking decades of this would come in or this would come in and we’d store it and some of it literally was in our vault. We have a vault room here at our national headquarters and all of a sudden, we had about four hundred items to sell on a national online auction. We had some older shotguns of the year, we had some prints, we had some first of state stamping prints that had come in from different donors around the country and I had an idea and I said, I wonder how many of our chapters have stuff that has been donated to them and they just haven’t used it yet. They know maybe they can’t get the money for it at their event and it’s just getting past on from chairman to chairman and one day we’ll do something and we’ll sell this. So we kind of got word out to our chapters that, hey, if you have anything you want to send us, we’ll sell it on this new online option we’re going to do called Into the Vault and any money that it raises, we’ll send back to your chapter so you can count it in your fundraising totals because our chapters are very competitive with each other. It’s kind of like high school or college football, they want to beat their next door neighbor and stuff just started coming in. So the first year we had it which was late in the calendar year 2020, we actually broke a record for the organization, it was the largest auction we had ever held. And we thought about it and we had had some stuff sent in late and I said, I think we might get enough stuff to do an auction in the second year. Well, fast forward 2 or 3 months, low and behold, we had over 600 items and the second year, which was last year, bam, it beat the first year’s record. And so that was the largest auction we had ever held. And then all of a sudden this summer, it was even more stuff than we had ever gotten in before so much so that we’re going to cap it at about 600 items in the sale that’s going on right now, we’re already preparing for next year, but I think the sale this year has some of the most unique, if you can use that phrase, some of the most unique and neatest items that we’ve ever offered in our auction. And so I’m really excited about it, I’m enjoying watching folks from all over the country, get on to the site and look around and already making bids on things.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve been going to Ducks Unlimited banquets, it’s a rite of passage, but it also just harkens in the fall season to me a lot like, the autumn leaves or something. It’s just the thing you do. It’s like you go to a Ducks Unlimited banquets, you see your old friends, I’ve worked at all levels at the banquets before, but what I’m getting around to is, always there are collectible prints, decoys, other items at these auctions and there’s a lot of those prints that I missed, that I didn’t get my teeth and my hands on back in the day, those decoys, that I’d like to see come up, but we’re not really just talking, some of the stuff that I’ve heard about this Into the Vault, we’re not just talking, Ducks Unlimited shotguns and prints and decoys that have been around, it’s beyond that now, isn’t it?
David Schuessler: It really is. In fact, if most of what’s offered in this auction, probably was not an official DU merchandise item in the past. Now, we do have a number of former shotguns of the year that are donated every year, I think we have over 50 firearms in our auction this year and some of them are vintage shotguns of the year. We have a 1975 Winchester model 12, which I know if you collect new inbox, DU shotguns of the year, the 1975 model 12 is probably the hardest find new inbox because for some reason and I think because it was a model 12, that gun was bought at a lot of our events that year and then it was immediately used in duck blinds all over the country.
Ramsey Russell: I guarantee you, it was.
David Schuessler: Yeah. It was. So, that’s a hard one to find. But at the same time, I’ve got a 4 gauge, Jones Under lever that’s selling and that certainly wasn’t a Ducks Unlimited gun, but a gun that was donated to the organization for us to use for fundraising purposes. Now, obviously, that 4 gauge is just a collectible, I don’t think you’re going to be able to go down to BassPro shops and find any 4 gauge shells –
Ramsey Russell: I actually saw some recently in Canada, they can be bought. You can find 4 gauge and even 1 gauge if you dig at the old gun shows and dig around, there are certain, now you can’t go out and shoot that gun and I tell you what, just holding the 4 gauge shell, the last thing that crossed my mind was having it on my shoulder when I pulled the trigger, I can tell you that, but it can be found. Do the age or the providence of that particular shotgun?
David Schuessler: It was donated to us off of the East Coast. And we really weren’t able to find out a whole lot about it, because the donor didn’t have a whole lot of information on it. But for almost all of our firearms, we do a video along with some detailed pictures for folks to see exactly what they’re buying. We also have an 8 gauge this year and this was a London made 8 gauge came from the same donor. But we do have firearms that are not Ducks Unlimited guns of the year or these vintage 4 gauge, 8 gauge, type firearms, we’ve got a Winchester model 12 410 –
Ramsey Russell: That’s a hard one to find.
Christmas in July: Exploring Unique Firearm Finds
For almost all of our firearms, we do a video along with some detailed pictures for folks to see exactly what they’re buying.
David Schuessler: I was going to say it’s not impossible to find, but it’s a hard one to find. And one of my favorite firearms is, a model 12 and a 16 gauge, but nickel plated. And the patina on it is just it’s phenomenal. So, we’re also selling collectible firearms that still can be shot, if somebody wanted to. It’s just really neat. As these items come in and a lot of them come in during the summertime from our chapters when they’re not doing their normal fundraising some days are like Christmas day in July when you’re open up some of these things and just seeing these incredible treasures that our chapters are sending in to be sold.
Ramsey Russell: I fall down into some rabbit holes and something about the era of the 1 gauge and 8 gauge and 4 gauge and punt guns just really draws me in. And I just did an interview today, David with a man that had been carving decoys for 75 years in Susquehanna flats and he talked about as a child, all the men going out to sink box then when the sink boxes like his granddaddy’s era, when they were done away with was he came into it in the 40s just after World War II, it was a lot, he talked in-depth about how those hunters from Chesapeake Bay, they were hunting to eat, to feed their families and how they evolved from sink boxes into what he called bushwhacking in these little boats that would drift up into them and how the model 12 were the favored guns and he alluded to how that 8 gauge back in the day, it wasn’t for wing shooting so much as shooting a duck flying by as it was for bushwhack and sculling and some of those older back on ways and I’ve always wanted to be able to look up in my game room and see one of them old guns hanging, I have always wanted to see something like that. And David, we’ve also had market hunters and grandson to famous market hunters who all said that the model 12 Winchester was the absolute favored gun of those bygone duck hunters because it would hold more shells, it was a most reliable thing on the market and it shot right. And as hard as those guns are to find, there must be a lot of truth to that, that’s a demand for a pump shotgun that has persisted even into this era.
David Schuessler: Yeah. And I think it had to be because of the reliability of it. I grew up hunting in the mud in the Salt Marsh, where in North Florida up in Apalachicola Bay and places like that, that’s what my grandfather shot was a model 12. Now, I was an 870 child and my father was a model 12 and then 870, so I think those pump guns got used a whole lot in those conditions just because they were just so reliable, they could be taken apart blindfolded, put back, some gas thrown in it, if it dropped in the mud, clean it out, put it back together because like you said, you had to go back to work and go kill more ducks, I was actually looking at some old papers the other day that had some duck prices from the Chesapeake Bay when they would shoot them there and salt them, put them on the train, send them to Baltimore and Pennsylvania and New York City and Boston to be used in the restaurants and it was fascinating for me to see what a prize, duck was, it was what you think it would be. Canvasbacks, obviously, were the most prized even back then, they were getting $5 or $6 of canvasback.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a lot of money back then.
David Schuessler: That was a lot of money. I don’t know what that translates into today as far as money, but a mallard was a high priced ducks, a black duck was and then you’d get down into some of the scaup and some of the other birds and they still had a market value, but they weren’t valued as high as some of those other ones. And I guess, it’s kind of like the table fair, I mean, I’ve eaten them all, but I certainly would roast the canvasback before I roasted a scaup, especially if I was going to charge somebody to eat it. So I’m like you, I love all that old history of it and I think it’s important that, everybody kind of learn it, because of the conservation efforts that pre date Ducks Unlimited that went into place from our federal government to say, hey, we might need to take a look at this because we’re not going to have any of these things left if we keep shooting them like this to provide restaurants in these cities with meat to eat.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve owned 870s over the years, but I grew up shooting 1100 and the talk about the Ducks Unlimited guns of the year reminded me of my grandfather shot an 1100 Remington gave it to me when I was in high school because he got out of duck hunting and I still have that gun. But he had one of his little prized possessions on his very small gun rack was a Ducks Unlimited gun of the year that was a Remington 1100, he would not duck hunt with it, I was hoping I’d get it one day, but he sold it, he sold it because there’s a collector’s value even back in the early 80s, he sold that gun. And boy, I’d love to get my hands on that again.
David Schuessler: I wish you had it because that was the first gun of the year.
Ramsey Russell: Are you kidding?
David Schuessler: No, the 1100. So in 1972, Remington comes to Ducks Unlimited and says, hey, we want to try something, we want to make 500 guns that have a Ducks Unlimited, it was a colored medallion. You probably remember it was it sat on the side of the action and they said, we want to do 500 and see how they do and if they do well, then we’ll do the 870 next year. So Ducks Unlimited bought 500 of them and immediately sold them at all the events. And we probably had more than 500 events at that time, but they sent them out and they sold every single one and they said, wow, that worked great. So in the second year, they did the 870 and they did 750 in the second year and they all sold and raised a whole bunch of money and boom, the gun of the year program, it was established and from there in the third year was that Winchester model 12, which actually was engraved on the side of the action, it didn’t have a medallion on it and that’s why so many people took that model 12 and immediately started hunting with, we didn’t keep any of those guns. And I fortunately, was the person that uncovered through the help of Dr. George Horton, who’s a former regional director for Ducks Unlimited, he found a collection of all of our guns of the year in Sulphur, Louisiana and threw a gentleman by the name of Tony Polermo. And I went down and saw the collection and it was like the Ducks Unlimited white whale and this was only a few years ago and Tony was the only person who had a full collection of Ducks Unlimited guns of the year and he actually had more than one set of them and he donated one of the collections, incredibly generous man, donated one of the collections to DU and it’s now in our lobby here at our headquarters. But for me, one of the neatest parts of that was asking Tony after I caught my breath when I saw that collection, it just took it in for about 5 minutes, I started asking him questions about what was the hardest one to find, what’s your favorite, all of those things that you would ask a collector about. And that’s how I know about that model 12, Tony told me, he said it took me a lot of years to find one of those new in box. But what you grew up looking at that was our first gun of the year, I wish you had it.
Ramsey Russell: I do too.
David Schuessler: It’s worth a lot of money.
Ramsey Russell: Have any of those come through your in the vault auctions?
David Schuessler: Say that again.
Ramsey Russell: Have any of those 1100s come through the auctions, on these Into the Vault special, but they might one day.
Memphis Memories: The Role of Collectibles in the South
Because we have one in the full collection and we have one that is at our Waterfowl Heritage Museum at the BassPro shops here in Memphis.
David Schuessler: Nope. In fact, this 75 model 12, I think is the oldest that we’ve had in any of the 3 years and I’ll tell you, if we had an 1100 that was one of the first ones, I don’t know if I would put it on an auction, I’d probably put it behind glass. Because we have one in the full collection and we have one that is at our Waterfowl Heritage Museum at the BassPro shops here in Memphis. And if I found a third, I probably would put it behind glass and put a sign on it that says break during the next pandemic and sell.
Ramsey Russell: What are some other items that you all have had in the past? Some of the most memorable items you all’ve had in the past in the vault on these – because in the vault, we’re talking about treasure. You all had, not just Ducks Unlimited related, but some real treasures come along, I’ve heard about. What are some of the most memorable in the past and what are some of the most memorable on this year’s auction?
David Schuessler: Well, for me in the past, it would probably have to be in our first year in 2020, we were going through all of the donation boxes, I’ll call it that and there was a federal duck stamp and I recognized it, I would say that probably everybody would recognize it, it was the King Buck and that’s the only federal duck stamp that featured an actual Labrador. Yeah. It was a 1959 and Maynard Reece did that stamp, very famous stamp. Well, when we started going through this, there was one that was in color. In the original one, the print that came with the stamp and print was black and white, the stamp was colored, but I’m looking at this stamp and print and it’s colored. So I did some research on it and I realized that Maynard Reece after the first stamp in print series, he ran 90 copies or prints and he hand colored each one of them and we had one of them. And so it was number 53 of 90 there were only 90 of these hand colored by the artist King Buck with a mallard 1959 federal stamping prints out there. So that’s the one that always sticks out to me is just being so out of left field, I mean, I never knew that something like that existed and that ended up selling for $6000 on that first one. So that’s one that I think I’ll always remember, that was a tough one to put in the sale. Because as I was looking at it, I was like, maybe we better put that on the wall here for people to look at who come and visit the building or put over at the Waterfowl Heritage Museum and we said, no, we need to maximize the revenue that we’re raising for our conservation efforts. We had a harpoon gun in the first one, those really aren’t rare –
Ramsey Russell: Where did a harpoon gun come from? Where did you get something like that?
David Schuessler: Well, as one of our supporters passed away and in his estate, he left all of his firearms to Ducks Unlimited to be used for our fundraising effort and there was a harpoon gun in there. So that was a fun one. Last year, the one that really sticks out to me, I don’t know if how many of your listeners are going to know the artist’s name, but his name is Bruce Cochran. And Bruce is a cartoonist that does all of the waterfowl hunting cartoons, you’ve probably seen them in wildfowl, you’ve seen this work in the DU magazine, he does some stuff for the pheasants and so when you see his work, you’re like, yeah, I’ve seen that stuff. Well, we received a donation out of Kansas and I started looking at it and it looked funny, I recognized the cartoon, although it was bigger than what I thought it would be and it was the one where the guy sitting at the desk and his boss is saying to him, I somehow think that your mind’s not on your work and this guy’s dressed in waders and has his dog next to him and his duck calls on and I got looking close at it and I went, this isn’t a reproduction of this cartoon. And I got my jeweler’s loop out where you take a look to see if something is an original and I started looking at it and it was actually the original of that cartoon, which was one of the most famous cartoon prints that we ever sold in our Ducks Unlimited package and I can’t remember what it sold for, it was a lot, but for me to see that original piece of artwork and somebody is recognizable as Bruce Cochran, that was one that just came in, it was just a donation. So, it’s really neat. This year, my favorite one and some of your listeners are going to go, what are you talking about? It’s the Iowa first of state stamp and print. So all 50 states have a duck stamp and some people started them earlier in the late 70s or in 80s and then some through the years, eventually states would say, okay, it’s time for us to do a duck stamp. Some of the earliest adopters of a state duck stamp, one of the earliest adopters was Iowa and their first stamp and print series, they only did 500 of them and it’s kind of the holy grail of first of state collectors and we have one this year and it’s actually, re marked by the artist.
Ramsey Russell: What is that? Describe that print. Like, what’s the species?
David Schuessler: So it’s 3 mallards that are dropping down into a marsh and probably Iowans, I’m sure are very familiar with it, but it’s 3 mallards that are dropping down into a marsh and it really is obviously very beautiful, but it looks like a lot of the stamp images that you would see for any of the states that you hunt in, but Iowa’s year I’m trying to remember what year actually, I’m trying to look it up here, they were 1972, so they were the second. So Iowa was the second state that adopted a state stamp in print, they only did 500 of them in 1972 and that is the hardest one to find and Maynard Reece was the artist and this one is remarked. So, we have some beautiful original art in this, we’ve got some Scott Storm piece that he did just for us, but to me, that Iowa first of state and I think it’s just because I’ve been wanting to sell one for so long, to me, that’s kind of the gym, that’s inside of this sale.
Ramsey Russell: So you got 600 items, we’ve got a lot of guns you rent through, we’ve got some artwork. What other artwork might there be?
Legacy of Ducks Unlimited: A Journey Through Redlin’s Art
So when I was coming up inside a Ducks Unlimited as a volunteer and Redlin was still doing work for us, I couldn’t afford it.
David Schuessler: We have over 20 Terry Redlin Print. So here’s what I love about the Redlin’s because I think this applies to somebody my age and I’m 52 years old. So when I was coming up inside a Ducks Unlimited as a volunteer and Redlin was still doing work for us, I couldn’t afford it. Like, a Redlin would come onto the auction and I go, well, it’s time to go get a beer, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to bid on this one. Well, I’m a little bit older now, and have a little bit more spendable income, so I think people my age wants to have that chance to put some of those old Redlin to buy one and put it in their home because they coveted that when they were younger and maybe couldn’t get it.
Ramsey Russell: It was always the big print of the auction every year, just like you said, it was the draw was the Terry Redlin. And what gets me to this day, when I walk by, a Terry Redlin painting, hanging in a lodge, hanging in a house, I stop because he told a story with that drawing. He told a story of a father and son sitting on a hilltop washing the sun set, the cabin down below it, the old Chevrolet or Ford truck over here, the lab doing something, it was always a very intricate story and I could sit there and look at a Terry Redlin print and imagine what was going on in that moment for a long time, I find myself just looking at it and imagining all that was going on within that frame.
David Schuessler: Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah, well, he was ground breaking and what he did with that storytelling, we have over 21 of them and these are all in excellent condition and we have some of those, that were Ducks Unlimited artwork series, prints that were tough to get back then because of what people wanted to spend on them. But we’ve got hazy afternoon, which was a great one, I believe that one’s from the mid 80s, we have some early 80 Redlin in there, we have a golden retreat. Now the retreat series was one that was really popular inside of our event system and that was in 1987 and I think that I bet that golden retreat probably gets more bids on it than any of the other ones. Although, we have some pencil sketches that he did, one of them, he did just for Ohio, DU and that one might bring a lot of interest as well. And one of his has a color remark on it, which is very rare, it’s a 2003 one called winter snows, which it actually doesn’t have a whole lot of that golden sunlight in it, this is some snow geese crossing a fence line into a cornfield that has a bunch of snow in it and that’s a color remark and that’s a real treasure, they’re all treasures, but that’s a real treasure right there. But we have a host of old or I should say former, not necessarily old, but former Ducks Unlimited artist of the year prints, we had a donor just out of the blue, this summer, they had collected 24 artists of the year prints from our events, buying them at our events, I don’t think they’ve ever hung on a wall before and they brought them to headquarters and said, I want to give these back to DU, please raise some money with them. I’m older, I’m downsizing my home, I need to find a good home for them, I don’t want to try to sell each one individually myself, I’m just going to give them back to DU. So, it’s great. Most of our online auctions, and as I mentioned pandemic kind of changed our mind that we can still do online options and still have people who want to come to our events and take part in a live auction. Most of our online auctions only run for maybe 5 or 6 days, this one will actually run until 8 o’clock eastern time on December the 3rd because there’s so many items to go through, we need to give folks almost two weeks to give them time where they can get in there and maybe look at the Redlin one night, the firearms one night, we have a lot of sports memorabilia that in this auction, a big donation that came in out of Kansas with Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan and Brett Favre and Joe Burrow and Tom Brady signed jerseys and footballs, those are great Christmas presents. So there’s just a whole lot to look at, so we run this auction for almost two weeks.
Ramsey Russell: What about some of your carvings and duck calls?
David Schuessler: We don’t have many –
Ramsey Russell: Like the decoys or stuff like that.
David Schuessler: We do have some decoys, the duck calls are interesting, we don’t get a lot of duck call donations and I don’t know why, I think maybe it’s easy just to –
Ramsey Russell: I mean, put them on the shelf, put them in a sock drawer, put them in the desk drawer or whatever like that and safe keep them forever or use it.
David Schuessler: Yeah. Maybe so. Or it’s easy to keep. They’re small. We have a number of decoys, most of our decoys, we don’t do a whole lot of these $5000, $6000, $7000 type decoys, we just don’t receive those type of donations, we have a lot of what I would call Vintage decoys, the old Victor decoy, a knock down decoy, an air duck decoy, some of these mass produced decoys that aren’t necessarily hand carved. Although we do have some hand carved decoys is we have a beautiful Canada goose, the carver is unknown, but it came out of Massachusetts, it’s a gorgeous piece and I think the minimum on that one $2500 just because of what the appraiser told us, that we needed to do. So the decoys are affordable, I guess, is what I should say, we’re not selling any cigar daisies on there, we’ve had a couple of Masons in the past, but none of these that you see at Giette and Schmidt that are bringing $55,000 or $60,000 dollars where we don’t have those. But we have a number got to have some Job’s decoys in there, we have a number that, kind of fit that somebody that wants to collect a decoy that’s worth $200, $300, $400, $500 or some of these are probably $50, $60, $75 decoys. So it’s a good place to find that price range of decoys.
Ramsey Russell: We’re talking about all this money you all are raising and I just want to go here because I know it bears reminder, somebody that travels around the world, what makes the United States singularly unique and I’ll include Canada, Canada and the United States, what makes North America singularly unique in waterfowl conservation is the North American model. And the fact that we’ve got state and federal agencies, universities, but especially NGOs like yourself, raising lots of money for habitat, it’s a good way for me, a hunter to spend my time at events, to spend my money at events to raise money and give back to the habitat. David, can you explain how Ducks Unlimited – Everybody listening’s been to a Ducks Unlimited event, I’m assuming if you hadn’t, you need to go to 5 more, but we all spend our money, we go in, we pay the gate fee, we buy the raffle tickets, we bid on a lot of cool stuff. Talk about how Ducks Unlimited, because I know a lot of your biologists, a lot of guys in the trenches that are making great use of that revenue stream and not just that if I give you a dollar, you’re spending a dollar, there’s a lot more to it. Can you go into depth and talk about the important and how Ducks Unlimited able to channel those funds directly into habitat, not just in Canada, not just on the wintering grounds, but everywhere? The whole country, the entire flyway. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
David Schuessler: I can, and as somebody who was certainly an avid dyed in the wool, blood and feathers duck hunter, even before I became a volunteer for Ducks Unlimited, it’s more layered, I think than most people would think. Ducks Unlimited is obviously a non-profit, but our budgeting process and what we do is not unlike a for profit. And at a certain point in the year, my peers in the organization will all come together, arm in arm with our volunteers and we’ll say, okay, how much money are we going to raise next fiscal year and that will create our goals and there’s a lot of different ways that DU raises money. We raise money through our events, we have our major donors, which is somebody who commits to give a higher level of giving every year, we have state partners, we have federal partners, we have our corporate partners, but all of that is revenue towards the organization. And so we first take a look at our revenue side and I’ll say, okay, here’s how much based on what my staff is telling me what we’re seeing in the economy, this that and the other thing, we’re going to raise this much in events and then our major giving program will say, well, this is how much that we have scheduled to come in next year through our major donors who have this almost contractual agreement with the organization that this is how much I’ll give every year, our state partners, who’s the sale of their ducks stamps, a certain percentage of it, needs to go to Canada and that’s a program that’s been in place, not through Ducks Unlimited per se, but just as part of this model you were talking about. So we schedule out all of these funds and where ducks need us the most. And obviously, the breeding grounds of the North Central US and the prairies of Canada are the most important, that prairie pothole region is the most important landscape in North America where Ducks Unlimited can be doing work and we do a lot of work there, South Dakota, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba in those areas in that prairie pothole region, but ducks need our help in other places as well. The one that I like to highlight to people is the rainwater basins in Nebraska and Ducks Unlimited does a lot of work there. And it’s important for spring migration, the rainwater basins generally are dry in the fall, but as ducks return to the prairies and they’re kind of waiting for those prairies to thaw out, they need ample habitat in Nebraska so they can be healthy when they return to the prairies so they can have successful, breeding results. We do work in the Central Valley of California, the Chesapeake Bay, everywhere we do work, but we have these focus areas where we know that the ducks need our help the most and we fund all of this through all these different revenue streams. Well, our events, those dollars come unfettered and what I mean by that is that, let’s say that the state of Texas says, okay, we’re going to take X% of our state duck stamp sales and we’re going to send that to Saskatchewan because we know that so much of our population comes from Saskatchewan. So they will give Ducks Unlimited that money and through Ducks Unlimited Canada, we’ll do that work in Saskatchewan. We can’t take that, those dollars and do work in Texas with it or go and do work in California or Delaware or some place like that. Well, our event dollars are different. Our event dollars are the dollars that we can use and say, okay, we have this opportunity at Lake Ashbaugh in Arkansas, right by the Black River National Wildlife refuge, the state Arkansas has come to us and said we need some help here all right, well, let’s funnel some of those dollars there because that’s a real important thing for waterfowl hunters and for waterfowl. So that’s in my mind, why our events are so important is because we can take those dollars and spend them however we want to and wherever we want to, across North America, including Canada and including Mexico. And what’s really neat about our events and I think this is what drives so much of our passion of our volunteers and I know of my staff is that the more money we raise in our events the more kind of leftover we have. Once we get ahead of that goal where we have scheduled out where all this money needs to be spent, any extra that we raise, we can send right up there to that most important breeding grounds, which is the North Central US and the prairies of Canada. And last year, we had a great year in our event fundraising, we beat our budget last year and before I talk to all of my staff at our annual staff meeting, I went and talked to our CFO and I said, what did that mean? Like, we beat budget, tell me what that meant for ducks and duck hunters. And he said it’s real simple, we took 2.5 extra million dollars that you raised in events that you were over budget and we sent it to Canada where they could put it to use growing more ducks to fly south next year. So it’s a non-profit that’s run like a business. Now we are a non-profit, we don’t get commissions or any things like that, that’s actually illegal to pay non-profit staff a commission on what they do. But it’s run like a business and to me, that’s the exciting thing about making more money on end of the vault this year than last year or an event that might be occurring on Wednesday night of this week, if they do better than they did last year, that truly is more money that we’re going to be able to put in conservation in our vision of skies full of waterfowl today tomorrow and forever.
Ramsey Russell: One of the things and I’ve been on the receiving end of Ducks Unlimited Habitat partnership while in federal government employee and I’ve been on the giving end as a volunteer and as a participant, a citizen contraband where I spend my hard earned money at a Ducks Unlimited event, but what has made me so committed to the Ducks Unlimited model of habitat conservation is, every dollar I give, heck, yeah, there’s cost that come out of because you all’ve got an enormous staff, but some of that staff is committed to taking that dollar and leveraging it through grant funds and turning it into 3 or 4 dollars that is then spent. So if I spend a $100 in an event, I’ve always regarded it as $300 or $400 go have a little call for staff coming out of it, but it’s going to translate into more than just that $100 I give, it’s going to translate into 2 or 3 times net going back into duck habitat. And that’s why I have always been such a champion and advocate of the Ducks Unlimited way of doing this. Am I right? I mean, I know some of the fact you’ve got staff member plural, that do nothing from on their 8 to 5 job, but find leverage and ways to leverage my dollar into a whole lot more dollars going into the ground.
Investing in Conservation: The Power of Donated Dollars
Absolutely. And I feel they’re the best in the business. Through those partnerships with federal agencies with state agencies with some foundations.
David Schuessler: Absolutely. And I feel they’re the best in the business. Through those partnerships with federal agencies with state agencies with some foundations, we’re able to get work done and we’re kind of the leverage point on that. There’ll be an opportunity to and I’m just going to pull one out of the hat, there could be an opportunity to store a shallow water wetland in Minnesota, that could be really important for ring necks that are going to find their way down through the central Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway, that area is really important for ring necks. From all ring neck hunters in Florida, I’m using this example for you.
Ramsey Russell: In Mississippi. Go ahead.
David Schuessler: Yeah. In Mississippi, that’s right. And so, maybe it’s a state owned land or maybe federal on land and they come to DU and they say, hey, look, here’s the deal, we’ve got this pot of money, but we have to have a partner to come in and help us pay for this work and help us do the engineering on it and without DU, that key doesn’t go in that door and get opened, but with the funds we raise through all the different revenue streams we’re then able to go in and say, yeah, let’s partner up and do this and boom, just like you said, if it’s a $200,000 commitment from Ducks Unlimited and that project isn’t going to happen without us and it’s a million dollar project, well, all of a sudden, we’ve been able to take those $200,000 from the philanthropy of our supporters and turned that into a million dollars of work important work there in Minnesota that’s going to help keep healthy population of ring necks because a mallard’s a mallard, but boy shooting those ring necks are fun.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, they are.
David Schuessler: I’ll have to do it once or twice a year, it’s so much fun.
Ramsey Russell: One thing you mentioned throughout this episode and we dove Into the Vault looking at all these treasures is you kept talking about a lot of people, dug into their treasure trove and donated this. How can listeners or anybody, what is the process for donating stuff to for this auction?
David Schuessler: It’s a simple phone number, it’s 180045 ducks and that is our main line. And when the phone is answered, if you just say I have something I would like to donate to next year’s Into the Vault auction, they’re going to route that number to the right person and then all of a sudden, you’re talking with somebody about how we can come pick it up and what type of substantiation you would like for your taxes if anything like that and it’s a real simple process.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving, David. I mean, a lot of money in habitat was put on the ground with all these decades of auctions, now decades later, they can put it back in the system as a collectible to donate more habitat. It just keeps on giving, it never really crossed my mind, all those years going to Ducks Unlimited banquets was that one day that print, I could put back in the system or that firearm or something, put back in the system to raise even more dollars.
David Schuessler: And I talk personally to so many of people who donate and they want to call and talk to us and it’s their possession and they want to know how is it going to be used. And if it’s something that we would sell on this auction, that’s exactly what I tell them is that we’re going to take your treasure and we’re going to make it somebody else’s treasure and what Ducks Unlimited’s going to do in the process is we’re going to sell this item twice. So think about what you bought it for odds might be good, I’m going to sell it and raise revenue that was even more than what you bought it for and if I’m talking over the phone with them, you can hear them brighten up and if I’m talking in person, you can just see the smile of their face of thinking, wow, I enjoyed this thing for so long, somebody else is going to enjoy it just as much as I did and Ducks Unlimited is going to be able to take the revenue from the sale of it and put it into that conservation work. And I think the really neat thing about it is this is born out of a tragedy, that pandemic was a tragedy and we could talk all day about should we have been inside or should we have not been inside and closed down or not closed down, but there were a few bright things that came out of it for Ducks Unlimited and one of them is this sale and I never ever would have said that this would have worked. It almost had to be done out of an act of desperation at a time of distress when we couldn’t be in event halls and now it’s one of the neatest things that we do every year and it really is for everybody. Every year, I probably know 2, 3 dozen of the buyers of items on this auction and just through their connection with Ducks Unlimited,
Ramsey Russell: Ducks Unlimited in and itself was born in a dire time.
David Schuessler: It’s called desperation. That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Ramsey Russell: And I mean, that’s making silk out of a sow’s ear, look at what we’ve got because of that. And here we are having talking about raising funds for Ducks Unlimited that was born during the dust bowl and man, I tell you what, the farther west you go, the more it looks like a dust bowl right this very minute, never in my lifetime, have I personally felt that the mission of Ducks Unlimited was as important or as time or as much needed as it is right now today in the year 2022.
David Schuessler: Yeah. And I’ll tell you there’s a lot of places across this landscape in this country right now relative to ducks, that without the work of DU and our partners. We don’t do anything alone, it’s all partnership but without the work of DU and our partners, there wouldn’t be a place for a duck to land right now in some places, it’s historically dry. For me, I personally hunt the grand prairie of Arkansas around Stuttgart I have for 15 years since I moved to Memphis and we’ve gotten some rain here recently, but leading into speckled belly season, it’s as dry as I’ve ever seen it over there. And that’s only 15 years for me, but some of the farmers that I know over there who were older than me, told me it’s as dry as they’ve ever seen it. But drought is something that mother nature does and she hit it, she hit us hard with it back in the 1930s and which is why Ducks Unlimited was born, which is why, the whole wildlife refuge system was born and the duck stamp was born and we’ll come out of it eventually, but drought is real and it happens, we’re so better prepared to handle these type of occurrences today than we were less than a hundred years ago because of the partnerships with state and feds and DU and others, who said we don’t ever need this to happen again. And I don’t think a lot of people realize how dry the breeding grounds were up until this past summer, there was really no way to know how dry parts of them were because they weren’t flying the pond and duck counts every summer because of COVID, but we were really close to seeing some reduced seasons. But thankfully mother nature came back and gave us some rain this summer, but there were a lot of places up there that some of the only places that ducks could go and breed were because of Ducks Unlimited in our partners, both in Canada and in the US.
Ramsey Russell: David, this auction has got my head spinning, I cannot wait to personally dig through and look and Shop at all the great items, but real importantly, when and where can listeners go to drool and maybe buy some of this good stuff you all have got.
David Schuessler: Well, it’s up and going right now, it’s accepting bids right now, you can find it at www.ducks.org/vault. So that’s an easy one. Not slash Into the Vault, just slash vault. And it will be taking bids until 8 o’clock eastern time, Saturday night, December the 3rd. If you find something that you really want, I will give your listeners a one bit of advice, don’t wait until 8 o’clock on December the third to submit a bid, there is a lot of last minute bidding. The computer, when it strikes 8 o’clock, the computer is going to take the bid that is live and it is going to spit that winner to us. So, I suggest to everybody about 07:55 that night, put in whatever bid you want to put in the most you want to spend on it and that’ll guarantee that the computer considers your bid as it closes on Saturday, December the 3rd.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to put www.ducks.org/vault. The link will be in the podcast description, so anybody that can’t remember that can click it and go right to it and take a look. David, how are the winners notified and when will they receive their items?
David Schuessler: Well, they’re notified within 5 minutes of the auction closing, they will receive an email that they have won, they also receive one that they’ve lost, I believe, but they definitely receive one if they are a winner and within 3 business days of this auction closing, which will be the Wednesday the 7th. By end of day, Wednesday the 7th, every item that was sold will be shipped via FedEx out of Ducks Unlimited’s National Headquarters here in Memphis, Tennessee. And that is promised to our buyers, we’ve been able to meet that promise every year. If somebody purchases a firearm, we personally reach out to them to find out what FFL to let them know what FFL dealer in our system it’s going to if they live in a town or city where we have one in our system, if not, then they can provide us with that information and it’s a great way to find Christmas presents, which is why we strive.
Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to say it, plenty of time to get there in time for Christmas, even if it’s a Christmas gift for yourself.
David Schuessler: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. That’s fantastic. Hey, you were talking about growing up in in Florida and killing your first duck at 5 years old. What was that first duck?
David Schuessler: My first duck was, believe it or not, we used to get a lot of mallards down in North Florida. The first duck I ever shot was a mallard drake, 5 years old, on the water using one of my father’s hunting buddy shotgun, that was my first. Now the first one I shot in the air was a ring neck at the age of 7 on that same pond and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember both of them like it was yesterday and I was 5 and 7. So that’s my first duck story.
Ramsey Russell: David, thank you very much. I really appreciate hearing all about this, I am so glad to hear about this important auction and what you all do with the auction proceeds and I can’t wait, as soon as we hang up to get online and dig in and take a look at this thing, I’m drooling, I really am. My imagination is running wild over some of those gun, especially. But thank you very much. Thank you very much for participating. Folks, thank you all, didn’t I tell you all it was going to be a great episode digging Into the Vault? Now look, you can always send a link to mama, tell her what you want for Christmas or you can just go buy it yourself, right? Folks, thank you all for this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, David Schuessler, thank you.
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