It’s early-November in northwestern Missouri and a cold front is blowing in. Temps are plummeting, snow is likely. From Locust Grove Duck Camp, Ira McCauley and Ramsey Russell visit over a final nightcap, talking about all things Missouri duck hunting . Tomorrow comes Heaven, the duck blind.
Ira McCauley, Locust Grove Duck Camp
If we go to Heaven, all we do is walk in there two and a half minutes before shooting time, press play, and start blowing your duck call. – Ira McCauley
Missouri Waterfowl Hunting
Ramsey Russell: This is Ramsey Russell, GetDucks.com, and it’s Duck Season Somewhere. I’m sitting at a pretty cool Missouri duck camp. Look around, you got rusty tin wainscoting and my favorite picture in the camp—an old black and white picture, probably somebody’s grandmamma now—of a lady wearing nothing but hip boots and a duck cap and a shotgun right above the bar. Our eyes are getting heavy. We sound subdued just because we went out this afternoon and shot ducks and came back and drowned some ice cubes with some brown water. And my guest today, Mr. Ira McCauley, cooked some reverse-seared ribeyes and some kind of shrimp gravy concoction that is to die for. I had never shot a duck in the State of Missouri until this afternoon, thanks to Ira. What’s going on, Ira?
Ira McCauley: Oh man, just favorite time of year.
Ramsey Russell: Favorite time of year. Tomorrow, it’s going to be cold. Today was beautiful, 65º and clear. Tomorrow’s going to be cold. Heck, it’s cold out there, when I went out there to let the dog out. What’s tomorrow going to bring in terms of ducks around here? What’s going on this time of year in Missouri?
Ira McCauley: Well, like I said before, in a normal year—which we haven’t had one for a while—we don’t get our first good push of mallards in Missouri, to where we can shoot several mallards, until our Veterans Day front. We’ve already had three Veteran Day fronts before now. But tomorrow—full moon, big North wind, ice-cold temperatures. Low tomorrow night is supposed to be like 12°-15°.
Ramsey Russell: Maybe some snow?
Ira McCauley: Man, that’s cold. Inch of snow. It’s going to shake things up. I hate to say goodbye to early migrants, but I bet their butts are gone tomorrow, and we’ll probably be looking at nothing but green heads from here on.
Ramsey Russell: We’re looking forward to seeing some of those early migrants down in Mississippi. Maybe we’ll have a good opener this year, for the first time since forever.
Ira McCauley: You send them back our way.
Ramsey Russell: Today was awesome. Because we got up this morning, drank a bunch of coffee, cleared our heads, and then did a tour. A big tour, a big pass, of the Missouri River bottom. That’s some pretty day, dadgum amazing duck country you’ve got up here.
Ira McCauley: Man, it’s a disaster this year, Ramsey. All the flooding, water everywhere, broken levees, sand, trees. Some of these huge tracts of farm ground aren’t going to be farmable for like, I don’t know, three years. They’ve got to get major equipment in there and get all that sand removed, get all the trees removed. Fix the levees. And the Corps has already told us next year’s going to be the same thing. So 2020, Dakota’s are full of water. They said, “You just expect the same kind of deal next year.” Devastating to the farming communities in the Midwest. The amount of water that comes down that river, the levees—a lot of them won’t even be fixed. There’s probably going to be a whole lot of farmers that just don’t even get a crop in, again.
Ramsey Russell: Devastating for farmers, devastating for habitat managers. We’re down river of you. I’m dreading the thought of it flooding like it did last year on us down in the south Delta. It’s going to really hurt some feelings if that South Delta goes underwater like that again. It really is. What’s going on in this part of Missouri that there’s so dadgum many ducks? What is it about this part of the Mississippi Flyway, do you think?
Why does Missouri’s Golden Triangle hold so many ducks?
Ira McCauley: I think that Missouri just a staging area for them, you know what I mean? Like they come, and we’re just in a good location. There’s several rivers that come together. We’ve got the food for them.
Ramsey Russell: What all rivers is that?
Ira McCauley: We’ve got the Grand River—there’s two Grand Rivers in Missouri. You got the South Grand, down by Truman Lake, and then you got the North Grand, which is one that comes through here. It flows into the Missouri River right around Brunswick, Missouri. And so that’s kind of where our stuff is. We’re in the Golden Triangle. We’ve talked about this before, but the Missouri Golden Triangle is bordered on the north by Fountain Grove, Swan Lake—they’re about five miles apart. And then you got Grand Pass, which would be southwest of there, maybe, as the crow flies, twenty miles. Then you got Dalton Cut Off, which is a big oxbow lake off the Missouri River, which is another twenty, fifteen miles east of Grand Pass. So those four areas make up the Golden Triangle, and there’s just a whole lot of ducks that stage in our area.
And I think that, in today’s world, we’re just kind of in the latitude where a lot of them come early and stay late. I mean, they never leave. The last time I remember being short on ducks here was probably 2009, I think. It was a really cold year, man. We had some huge snows, and that’s the only year that I remember thinking, “Man, there are just not very many ducks around.”
Missouri “Goose Hunting Capital of the World”
Ramsey Russell: I saw something interesting today right here, down the road from your duck camp, in Sumner. We go to this little bar. “Goose Hunting Capital of the World,” which I never thought of this. And it reminded me of earlier this morning, somewhere off one of those river bottoms, there were some odd-looking towers in the woods. Remember seeing those? What was that all about? Because I’d never seen that before.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, man, back in like the 70’s, early 80’s—the Canada geese, or the Sumner area, Swan Lake’s zone—the whole eastern prairie population of Canada geese came here. And they came mid-October. They don’t come here anymore. I’m sure they’re at Minnesota, where they winter, or whatever, now. They don’t come here to Missouri anymore. Now we still get plenty of honkers, but they’re not that part of the population. But they had a quota that was like, 15,000 to 18,000 geese, and they’d shoot them fast. And you could only shoot one, or maybe two, some years, a day. But it was almost all pass shooting, not much decoying. So these guys would build blinds way up in the trees so that they could catch a few extra.
Ramsey Russell: Like a deer stand.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. And it was like The Wild Wild West back then. You can read some of the old literature and talk to some of the old guys. Hell, they’d cut each other’s trees down, light them on fire. It was The Wild Wild West out there.
Ramsey Russell: Like blinds on Reelfoot Lake, or Catahoula, somewhere like that. That’s crazy.
Ira McCauley: I can’t imagine. Now everything is about the ducks, around here. Back then, there was no duck hunting. It was all about the Canada goose. The wild Canada goose. It was like a miracle of nature. The wild Canada goose would come, and, man, people came from all over to come shoot Canada geese right here in Sumner, Missouri. Now, everybody goes to Kansas City to shoot geese, you know what I mean? So it’s just a different world, for sure.
Locust Grove Duck Camp Meals
Ramsey Russell: To change up the topic, because I sure have eaten good here. You told me last night, usually, first night when you get to duck camp, you cook a big old pot of gumbo.
Ira McCauley: Almost every week, yeah. Because then, if you’re hungry, you can eat gumbo—breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It doesn’t matter. You’re hungry, you come in, you freaking heat some up, and you’re eating two minutes later. It’ll make you warm, fill you up.
Ramsey Russell: It was good for lunch today. But this evening, having that shrimp—whew, was that shrimp good for dinner! Tell me how you made that.
Ira McCauley: Oh, man. It’s pretty easy. So, chop up an onion. Put it in with some butter. Sautee your onion in that. Throw some mushrooms in there. Cut some little cherry tomatoes in half. So, put your onion in there, put your mushrooms in there, put some garlic in there, and then—right when it’s all kind of getting soft—then you take—oh, for the amount of stuff we’re doing tonight, tablespoon and a half, you don’t want to use too much flour, you don’t want it to be too thick—and you put that in there. So you’re making a roux but you’re not browning it like you do a roux for gumbo, you know. It’s a white roux.
Ramsey Russell: Just thickening it up a little bit.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, a thickener. So you let that get hot. You make that flour hot. That flour, that are little bitty particles, but it’s like popcorn. So if you get it hot and then you add your moisture, it just explodes, and that’s what makes it a good thickener like that. So I put that flour in there, put my tomatoes in there, then added whole cream to it and put some old bay in there. A little bit of Tony Chachere’s in there—Cajun seasoning—and then put in my whole cream. Let my shrimp simmer in there. Then, it was a little thicker than I wanted it, so I added a little milk to thin it back down some. That was it, buddy. Now, if I really want to get fancy, then I’ll put some cheddar cheese in there, like sharp cheddar. Make some little toasted bread and eat that over toasted bread. Oh God, it’s so good.
Ramsey Russell: That sounds good. You got any left? We can eat that for breakfast tomorrow.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, we’ll eat some. Yeah. And then the other thing— Like at home, we grow lavender in our garden, and I’ll take that lavender. I don’t know if you guys have never done it, but lavender with fish, or any kind of seafood, is unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: I have never had lavender. I don’t think I’ve ever used it as an ingredient.
Ira McCauley: Oh man, it’s good. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Ira McCauley: Yeah. With seafood it’s really good.
Ira McCauley’s Duck Camp Shrimp Gravy Recipe
- Sautee chopped onions, tomatoes and garlic in butter.
- Add a little flour thickener.
- Add peeled shrimp and simmer.
- Add whole cream.
- Season with fresh lavender, Old Bay and Tony Cacheres
- Cheddar cheese optional.
- Serve over toasted bread, pasta, or steak topping.
Locust Grove Duck Camp
Ramsey Russell: Tell me more about Locust Grove Duck Camp. Tell me more about your duck camp house here. I did not realize it had been around so long, but this was like the proving ground of MOmarsh. Y’all did a lot of equipment tests out there where we hunted this evening.
Ira McCauley: Oh yeah, so there’s a ton of history at our little duck camp here. Before we had a lodge or Habitat Flats, our clients stayed here. My dad cooked at our house here. When we first bought this house—it was moved here in the 70’s. It used to be, oh shit, ten miles away there, okay. So they brought it over here, they moved the whole house. But the original house was from that post to that wall. That’s it.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.
Ira McCauley: That was the whole house, with a little bitty laundry room right there. We had a screened-in porch over there. So we built that bunk room back in like 2007, 2006 maybe. And Aaron and I would do continuing education hunts for veterinarians. So we would host veterinarians—drug companies would pay all the costs associated with it—we’d have a continuing education RACE veterinarian that would come. And we would do little meetings, where we have to have 10 hours a year. And so the costs were underwritten by the drug companies, and we charged them top dollar. And we had great hunting.
So that got the wheels spinning on the whole Habitat Flats thing. We’re charging major money for these guys to come—just to try to underwrite some of our expenses, cover some of our costs—and they’d stay in that bunk room where you’re staying. And we’d cook for them and have a big time. So then we started Habitat Flats. Well, I’d move out of here when we were hosting hunters. I’d go live in a dadgum, freaking rat hole. And my dad would sleep upstairs, and he was the duck camp cook. So he cooked for the guys and all that. We’d take them hunting. And so we started it all right here, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Right here in this cabin. That would have been in 2000?
Ira McCauley: We built our lodge in 2009. So the years before that, so 2006, 2007, 2008.
Ramsey Russell: The place really does have a lot of history, and it shows.
Ira McCauley: Oh, yeah. And then on the MOmarsh side— Yeah, man, so like, when we went to The Grand today, and you were looking out over that big flooded bottom out there. A lot of it’s public ground, right? All walk-in hunting. So I wanted to build some tools that would make it easier for me to get all my crap out there. Make it a more enjoyable duck hunt. More fun. Like tonight, we were hunting. We’re freaking—we didn’t bring any buckets, we were on our knees and stuff. No, man, I want to sit there and I want to be able to see what was going on. I want to watch those birds. I want to take in the whole experience and shoot them close.
And that’s why we started building those boats and all the other stuff, was so that we could go to public ground and really excel. Just freaking have a great experience on public ground and be comfortable in these situations that were difficult situations. I mean, going in, get away back in there, and then hunting in cover that was pretty poor, a lot of times.
But Locust Grove Duck camp allowed us to really hone some of that stuff. Because we have a lot of ducks here. We can come and go as we please. We can take a ranger out. We can do without a lot of the headaches of some of the public stuff. Instead of getting up at 2:00 in the morning, heck, I’m getting up at 5:30. Or like, today, we didn’t even hunt until this afternoon. It just allows you to do a lot of stuff. You can’t fly drone on public ground. We put that drone up there and see, “Okay, what’s this look like? What’s that look like? What’s the guy sitting on a bucket look like?” and all that stuff. So we just did a whole lot of our product testing right here on where we were hunting this afternoon, on local scrub.
Afternoon Duck Hunt at Locust Grove Duck Camp
Ramsey Russell: That was a heck of a hunt. We walked in, and—how many mallards was that out there? We were hunting on the south end, and it had been 2,000 or 3,000.
Ira McCauley: Apparently, too damn many because they kicked our ass!
Ramsey Russell: Oh boy! Note the sound of 35 decoys and three hunters calling to them, not having much sweet talk. It was very, very difficult. But they were such a tease. They would act like they were listening, and then, right before they got into the strike zone, they would just say, “Screw you,” and they’d peel back off into the flock and go land. We were doing a great shoot, I thought. I wish—when those 150 parade of green-winged teal was coming over, and y’all were trying to kill those mallards—I wish I’d just jumped up and started shooting.
Ira McCauley: You did!
Ramsey Russell: Well, I did the first time. But I felt embarrassed enough, I didn’t do it the second time. I wish I had now. Y’all would have started catching up, wouldn’t you?
Ira McCauley: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That was a really, really good hunt. We had a good time this afternoon.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, we had a couple that did good. Shot a little variety pack. It was a beautiful afternoon to be out there, that’s for sure. The dang lying weatherman, he was telling us we were in for good wind this afternoon. And, I mean, a feather would have dropped straight down until about there, at the end.
Ramsey Russell: Your little dog, Cash, did really, really good. You said that was her seventh hunt, and I was just astounded. Rock steady. She marked birds in the front and the back because nothing really just got right where you wanted them. I was very impressed. I would be very pleased if my little Char Dawg was half that good on 7th hunt.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, thanks, man. She’s doing excellent. I had the Higdon Decoy boys here at Locust Grove Duck camp last week—and my old dog, Sadie, died. I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if she’d break, if she wouldn’t go. She had never hunted before. I had no idea. Might not even pick up a duck. And she did great. So, she didn’t break for five days. Fifth day, she broke. A duck that had landed right in front of her, there. We didn’t shoot it. And she took off, and I was just kind of shocked. I’m scrambling around. She was already there. So I was like, “All right, well, I’ll be ready the next time.” So the next duck come in, I said, “You shoot this duck.” I’m having my finger on the button. Sure enough, he shot, and she broke. Man, I hit that button and whew, she’s back, and we haven’t had any breaking issues since then.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good. I was unbelievably impressed with how she performed this evening. And she’s such a happy dog. You can train a dog, but you just can’t— Good dogs are just born who they are, you know what I’m saying? You can train a dog, but that’ll only get you so far. Dog’s got to have that kind of attitude.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. And you know, like tonight, it’s just so fun to have a young dog because you see all the lightbulbs coming on. Like, definitely her weakest point has been that—everything’s been taught, so you’re not really teaching them to use their nose, so much, when you’re training them. Like, okay, here’s how to go back, here’s how to go over, here’s how to do a swim-by and not cheat the bank, or whatever. But they’ve got to learn a lot, like how to hunt dead on their own. You know what I mean?
Ramsey Russell: How to find that bird.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. And she didn’t have any experience doing that, really. So in the beginning, she swam right past the duck. She’s checking every decoy, going up and bumping it. “Oh, that’s not a duck,” and all that. But I was watching her tonight, and she’s really starting to figure out how to use her nose, man. Like, we had a couple strong cripples that I didn’t shoot, just because I wanted her to find them and figure it out. So I was watching her. Every day she figures out a little bit more how to use her nose and how to be a duck dog. You can train them a lot of stuff, but then some of that stuff— It’s just experience, man. They just got to figure it out. So it’s fun watching all that stuff light up.
Ramsey Russell: Are you a mallard purist?
Ira McCauley: Oh, hell, no. God, no. Absolutely not. I’ll shoot anything. I’ll shoot a ring-neck. I don’t care.
Ramsey Russell: Next duck over the decoys.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. Like tonight, the only reason I didn’t shoot when you shot at those teal was there were so many ducks in there. I just kind of wanted them to settle, just a little bit, before I ripped into some. But, God, no, I’ll shoot anything. Hell yeah. Honestly, I embrace the variety because so much of our season, we don’t have it. The majority of our Missouri duck season, all we are shooting is mallards. If I see an odd duck, I don’t care what it is, you’re going to shoot it because you’re probably not going to get another chance.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Looking at your logbook tonight, it’s just what you were saying. About this time last year, after this point, after this front—this Veterans Day front—really, y’all just kind of settled into mallard limits. Not much else.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. I mean, you’re hoping to get an odd duck.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t throw me in that briar patch. I guess I could suffer through shooting nothing but mallards.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, I mean, I love shooting mallards but I’ll shoot anything, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. Joe gets so mad. I shoot all that stuff. He’s like, “What? That’s disgusting. Why would you shoot that? That is disgusting.” I’m like, “Well, hell, send me another disgusting duck, I’ll pull the trigger again!”
Ramsey Russell: That’s pretty darn good. Well, I’m looking forward to hunting in the morning. I really am. It’s just the opportunity to hunt in snow, and I hope that front will come on in.
Missouri Veterans Day Front Signals Waterfowl Season Transition at Locust Grove Duck Camp
Ira McCauley: Well, they’re still saying it’s going to snow and blow. Something’s going to change, man. We got a full moon. Tomorrow, 100% full moon. It’s the Veterans Day front. That’s always a big mover, man. Things change on that Veterans Day front. This year, we’ve had several fronts, and the ducks have been early again. But we’re going to pick up a bunch of mallards, I’m sure. And probably some geese. I haven’t seen the geese at all. So, yeah, our biggest problem is going to be figuring out where we want to go.
Ramsey Russell: We drove all over the bottom today, and I didn’t see any geese. I saw more swans than I saw geese.
Ira McCauley: Yeah. And there’ll be a ton of them coming. They usually don’t get here until— Well, we’ll have 500 crossing over the road by Thanksgiving. So what did we see today? Forty, fifty, something like that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, at least.
Ira McCauley: There’ll be a bunch more geese showing up. I would expect to see some geese migrating tomorrow. We just need to figure out if we want to hunt a big migration spread—a big black spread, bunch of honker decoys, mallard decoys, full bodies, all out there in a zero-grade pit—or we want to go to Heaven, shoot them there. So I’m not going to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but it does make a difference on time. We go to that piddle, takes a little bit to set up. If we go to Heaven, all we do is walk in there two and a half minutes before shooting time, press play, and start blowing your duck call.
Ramsey Russell: It’s kind of hard to beat that. Barrett and I are just along for the ride. Wherever you decide, we’re happy. We’re happy campers.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, it’ll be fun either way. And there have been days where I thought, “Man, tomorrow’s the big day. We’re gonna get a huge migration.” Sometimes, if it’s been stale, and you just get a little bitty western north wind, man, holy crap. Here they come. But other times, when you’ve had several strong fronts in a row, you get another one and it’s like, “Wow, tomorrow’s going to be the day.” And then nothing really happens, you know what I mean? But I do think with the full moon, the time of the year, and the intensity of this front, I think tomorrow will be a big game changer.
Ramsey Russell: I think it is. Just stepping out a little while ago, the temperature’s dropped, the wind’s picked up big time. That wind we were expecting this afternoon is finally blowing out there. So I think it’s fixing to happen.
Ira McCauley: It would have been fun to wait another week or ten days for it, but we’ll take it tomorrow. That’s fine.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, I’ll be happy tomorrow. Monday, Tuesday, supposed to get sure enough cold. You better keep this water open up here, you think?
Ira McCauley: Oh yeah. We got—with the well—the well discharges enough to hunt. It’s not like you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of birds sitting in your dadgum Ice Eater hole, for God’s sakes. I do think that’s a common misconception in the South. They’re like, “Well, hey, they’re delaying the migration with Ice Eaters.” That’s absolutely not the case. You might be able to kill a couple of ducks overnight.
Ramsey Russell: Right. It’s just enough open to keep the decoys floating, to keep them moving.
Ira McCauley: Keep you a clean hole, you know, but nothing lives there. But it’s just the time of the year. I keep having to remind myself, even though we’ve had so many ducks here. You know, the rhythm of the migration always kind of wants to be the same. You got your calendar migrators that migrate on the calendar. You got your weather migrators that migrate on the weather. So I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, “Okay, we got a bunch of mallards around, and blah blah blah, but we still don’t have any geese.” So that’s normal. We had a bunch go through early. They never stop. They just leave. They go straight to Arkansas, Louisiana, wherever.
Missouri Geese and Swans
Ramsey Russell: You said, that day, that it’s almost like a two-stage goose migration. That the snows, especially—that the first initial push will just pass on through.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, they might stop, but—
Ramsey Russell: And y’all catch the later birds.
Ira McCauley: The late birds are the ones that winter here.
Ramsey Russell: And they’ll stay here?
Ira McCauley: Yeah. They don’t leave.
Ramsey Russell: Specks and snows.
Ira McCauley: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: And Canadas.
Ira McCauley: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: I think it would be nice to come up here one day if those swans keep building up, and they start having a swan season.
Ira McCauley: Man, I would sure think so. I remember back, 20 years ago, you might see 5 or 10 trumpeter swans in a year. And it was like, “Oh, golly! We saw a pair of trumpeter swans today. It was so cool.” And now, they’re literally everywhere. I could go for a drive within a three square-mile area from here and see a thousand trumpeter swans.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder where they’re coming from. Maybe Minnesota?
Ira McCauley: I don’t know, but, man, there’s a bunch of them.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve actually heard that Minnesota may be opening a swan season because they’ve got so many now. That’s just up the Flyway. When does y’all’s season end up here? Because it’s like in my mind, if I’m sitting back home, I don’t think of Missouri being a long ways away, but I’m ten, eleven hours north from Brandon, Mississippi. How late do y’all stay open up here?
Missouri Waterfowl Season Zones
Ira McCauley: So, our lodge, here where we’re sitting right now at Locust Grove Duck Camp, is in the North Zone, okay? And so we’ll close, oh, I don’t know, around the first of the year. Maybe a little bit after. And then, our lodge at the Grand, it’s in the Middle Zone. So this year it’s going to close twelve days later than that. So it will close mid-January—12th, 15th, somewhere in there. You have a little five day split. They open a week later, then they have a five day split, so.
Ramsey Russell: The Missouri Bootheel must be another zone, altogether.
Ira McCauley: Well the Missouri Bootheel’s weird, man. The Bootheel, most of the Missouri Bootheel’s in the Middle Zone. So they opened Saturday. But there’s a very small part of that’s in the South Zone. And the South Zone goes until the very end. It goes till, whatever it is, January 30th or something. Right around there.
Ramsey Russell: I appreciate you having me up here to Locust Grove Duck Camp and I appreciate you talking about duck hunting, duck camp. Everybody is listening to The Innovator podcast. I’ve learned a ton about you, listening to that podcast, participating myself. I learned a ton more just being up here with you. But I just wanted to have a good duck hunt camp visit with you. That’s what it’s all about.
Ira McCauley: I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad we’re not as drunk as we were last night!
Ramsey Russell: We might remember this in the morning.
Ira McCauley: Shit! I hope so!
Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank y’all for listening. I’ve been with Ira McCauley up here at his Locust Grove Duck Camp in Sumner, Missouri. Check it out @IraMOmarsh on Instagram. Check it out @ramseyrussellgetducks. Again, thank y’all for listening and hope those ducks are heading y’all’s way, too.