During their long-awaited return to the fabled Rio Salado swamp, Lee Kjos and Ramsey visit on the little red estancia’s front porch. Their conversation wanders through several familiar topics then versus now.
Generous Duck Hunting Limits: Rio Salado
I’ve been to Argentina and Uruguay many times, but there’s nothing like Rio Salado.
Ramsey Russell: And welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere sitting on the front porch of a little red house, smacked up, absolutely positively in the middle of nowhere Argentina. Folks, you can’t get here from where you’re sitting right now hardly, but getting here is something pretty special. I’m sitting here with today’s guest, Mr. Lee Kjos back for a second dose of Rio Salado, what you doing, Lee?
Lee Kjos: Well, just like you just said here, I’m just sitting here in the most incredible place of travel right now that I go to, I can’t wait to get back to Rio Salado.
Ramsey Russell: What’s it like for a guy like yourself to be sitting here unplugged? Completely, positively unplugged.
Lee Kjos: Well, I was just talking to one of the other guys that was in camp here and I looked at him and I said, I never do this, then he’s like, what are you talking about? I’m like, I never can sit and chill, it just doesn’t happen. I work 70, 75, 80 hours a week, I work nonstop. For some reason here, well, part of it is, there’s no connectivity here so I can’t do anything. But I have my camera and we photograph and we talk and we have fun, but I seriously can sit here for hours and just chill here. It’s like, unlike any other place I’ve ever been, I think I’ve even told – well, I’ve told a number of people at home this too and you and I’ve made a lot of trips in my life out of the country, I’ve been to Argentina and Uruguay many times, but there’s nothing like Rio Salado.
Ramsey Russell: We came here in 2019 and it was a totally different world, almost like a different destination, just getting here was a shore because it’s 52 kilometers down a dirt road, not gravel road, dirt road and it had been raining so much that some of their staff and had to go out and create trails out through the high places just where the road was underwater to get here and it was much wetter, it’s a very dynamic wetland. And this year it’s dry and that’s part of hunting a dynamic wetland is, it’s dry this year, not say it’s bad, but it’s dry, but it’s different, isn’t it? And I could tell just 52 kilometers of dusty road, oh, boy, some of those areas we hunted last time I could look out and see nothing but dry tule, it’s dry, it’s different.
Lee Kjos: Looked way different. But I’m going to say this, that’s the beauty of Rio Salado. It’s 100% wild, 100% fair chase ducks, it’s the last best duck hunt out there. Like if you want to see something that I would say is like, I don’t know, maybe it’s turn of the century stuff, I don’t know. I don’t know much about what that era was like, market gunning days back. But I mean, there’s no people here, there’s nothing.
Ramsey Russell: I describe it a lot of times, maybe it’s just partly imagination but it is a place on a map but even trying to tell you the other day where on the map it was, it’s kind of hard to find. I mean, it’s out just literally in the middle of nowhere. And you look at Google Maps, it’s just literally nothing around it and how these guys found this place is beyond me, but they did. And to me, it’s more like a place on a timeline back to what I imagine America looked like in the 1800s, 1900s pre-agriculture and stuff like that before now. And that’s partly what appeals to me. But Lee, duck hunting is a numbers game, just because there’s a limit, it’s a numbers game, if for no other reason, it’s a numbers game because there’s a limit and coming down to part of the world like this, it’s a very generous limit. And there are times like 2019, the limit was far more generous. But the daily bag was far more than it is now, which is not to say it ain’t great now, but it’s different and it’s a quality. And I kind of like the idea because this is now my 10th year coming to Rio Salado, less and except two years of bat shit crazy COVID and which in and of itself it makes being here so much better and frames the perspective differently of being here. I’m telling you, the way I feel and think and sit and appreciate things in a blind now versus then is totally different after two years of not being able to do it. But it’s like every year I’ve been here, same Red House, same staff, same methods and everything, but almost like a different unique destination unto itself, that’s crazy. We’ve got clients in here that have been here for 4 times, 5 times now.
Lee Kjos: That’s the beauty of this place, it’s still duck hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What are some of the obvious differences and similarities you see between last time and this time? Extremely wet years and dry years.
The Last Best Duck Hunt in the World: Selling Experiences
The beauty of Rio Salado, it’s 100% wild, 100% fair chase ducks, it’s the last best duck hunt out there.
Lee Kjos: Well, similarities would be the hospitality here, the staff, the same ladies are here. I mean, that’s always fun, right? To see similar faces. I mean, I got out of the truck and they called me Lee, they remembered my name, that’s incredible. That’s really in business or just in general life, it’s really cool when you go somewhere after a couple of years or 3 years or whatever and they remember your name, but that says a lot to your staff. So that would be the similarities to me would be, just being here on the grounds at Rio Salado as far as the duck hunt goes, it’s nothing like it was in 2019, it’s fantastic, but it’s nothing like it was in 2019. Different species, the landscape looks different, the walk in is different. Well, they’ve given – I mean, like a perfect case in point was this morning, the mayor and I got out of the vehicle and we’re walking to the blind that we’re going to and we’re going through a pasture, you can tell cattle have been in there, it’s pasture and all of a sudden we walk up, we come up to the blind, those cool little makeshift blinds they make out in the middle of nowhere and I look at what? And I’m like, what? Because you couldn’t see water. We’re literally in a pasture. But it was black when we were out there, right? And then it starts to get light and you see a little water and you can tell the food that they’re on there and pretty soon the capuchins are ripping around and the white cheek pintails are ripping around, the first, 30 or 45 minutes today was just a freaking rodeo out there, it was so much fun. But way different than not one was better than the other. I don’t measure anything on numbers, I measure hunt on quality and who I’m with.
Ramsey Russell: Experience. I’ve gotten to the point in it all, we sell duck hunts and duck hunting is a very subjective experience and some people are here for numbers, some people are here for species, some people are here for something different, everybody’s here for a little, something different. But I sell experiences, not dead ducks, that’s what we sell, dead ducks come with it a lot of times but I sell experiences man and this is a standalone experience even compared to other parts of Argentina.
Lee Kjos: Well, I think big difference is, there’s lots of places here in these Uruguay, Argentina where let’s face it, it’s baited and I mean, I know that’s common practice down here, but I dig the 100% wild, 100% fair chase thing here.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of that, I had an outfitter the other day we were talking and I never really put two and two together like this, going back to fair chase and wild. But he said, you think about it, game animals are called game because there is a game involved of win and lose, it’s a cat and mouse game. I never really put two and two together of game animals, but the game. And that’s a good way of looking at. I mean, there’s a lot of satisfaction in win, lose or draw just playing the game, to me it is. I find a lot of satisfaction and one thing I really like about hunting here is the way they delivered is, you and I hunt together a lot, you and Watt hunt together, I’ll hunt with other clients just because, but to be able to go somewhere with the quantity of birds, the quality and be able to be in a blind by yourself, that’s kind of game changer. Because almost by necessity and we get into this a little bit more North America hunting versus here, you kind of got to play for keep, play a different mindset, kind of huddle up and hunt together sometimes. I mean, you got to be in those blind with a lot of your buddies because that’s where the ducks are and ain’t everywhere, right and it’s different and that’s one thing I really enjoy about being here. And like this morning, do you know you two guys that already shot before I’d even walk to 20 yards from dry bank to my blind? Because I was sitting there laying with my head on my back, I’ve made up my mind, I am not going to pull the trigger before 07:15 to 07:30, my internal trig don’t work, I just don’t work, I’m just pointing and pull the trigger, I can’t hit shit when it’s dark. But I was sitting there looking at the stars and there were no planes flying over, there’s no ambient light anywhere within 100 miles of me and it’s like every single star in the universe I can reach out and touch them almost, the milky way from one horizon to the next, shooting stars going left and right, it’s unbelievable.
Travel Tales: Getting to a Remote Duck Hunting Location
What kind of trouble were you starting coming down here, man?
Lee Kjos: Never seen the milky way that clear before. I mean, you see it, I’m from Northern Minnesota and you see it in the winter in cold and clear and you’ll see it but not like yesterday morning and this morning was incredible.
Ramsey Russell: We’re beyond the reaches of civilization here. Even the way the locals live, we go by them and we stop by some of these gaucho homes and all I can think is, man, I know what this road is like when it rains, what do these people do?
Lee Kjos: Amazing. I can’t –
Ramsey Russell: A lot of them are still living by kerosene lanterns. They’re going out and those turkeys and chickens walking across the front yard aren’t decorative. I mean, that’s dinner one night, I guess, when you can’t go to the grocery store to 70 miles from here.
Lee Kjos: Well, we were talking, driving home from yesterday’s hunt and I was looking at a single phase power line, right, well, that single phase power line is going to service one place, right. I mean, there’s nothing in between these places, these gauchos homes where they live. I mean, there is no infrastructure out here, none.
Ramsey Russell: Their nearest neighbors are miles away. Change the subject, just a little bit on you Lee. I know we were all talking, you’re very busy, Watt’s busy, I’m busy, we’re all busy and so you’re starting to get ready, you starting to come down here and I’m looking forward to seeing you because man, I had such a great time, the last time we all met here, it was probably one of my favorite groups ever, forget the ducks just the camp. So, I’m leaving the destination coming up to Buenos Aires to meet you all and I read a headline Rock Star Airport Debacle, Wall Street’s boot Argentina bracing for trouble. What the hell happened in Minneapolis Airport? What kind of trouble were you starting coming down here, man?
Lee Kjos: Well, typically, I really don’t have much trouble with air travel, not very often, but bringing our guns this year and I get to the airport and I mean, sky priority, I mean, typically the service at Delta anyway, it’s pretty good and although I will say of late it has been lacking and I don’t know why, but that being said, I get up there and this lady says, do you have guns? And I’m like, yes, I have guns and she goes, can I see your paperwork? And I’m like, there is no paperwork, paperwork’s in Argentina waiting for me, we already filled everything out, it’s already done. Well, then she tells me I’ve never done this before, hold on. And I’m like, this might not be good, right?
Ramsey Russell: Is there anybody behind you in line?
Lee Kjos: Oh dude, I text Anita, right? And I said, this isn’t looking good right now. And she got on the website and she started to look and she finds this on this website where I need this paperwork, this form filled out. And I’m like, ma’am, I don’t have that paperwork, I already did the paperwork. I said, so the paperwork that I did have there was two forms that you have to have to fly. So I gave them to her and she goes, this isn’t your gun work and I’m like the gun work is in Argentina waiting for me. So, I got Anita on the phone, your wife, I get Anita.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I know.
Lee Kjos: Yeah, you know her, she’s a nice lady, she really is. So I get her on the phone and she talks to this lady and then the lady gives the phone back to me and Anita goes, Lee, I don’t know what she’s talking about. So this went on for an hour and a half and the people in back of me in sky priority, we travel a lot, right? You know what that feels like, I left the lady and I walked over to the people that were waiting in line and I told them I said, I’m really sorry that you have to see this, there was 14 gates open and only two people working.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of like Walmart.
Lee Kjos: It was stressful, it really was bad. So, she goes, I told her I’d like to see the marshal because I know there’s a marshal there at the airport. She wouldn’t go get the marshal but she did go get her supervisor and her supervisor came over, very nice dude, maybe Indian or something, it was hard and I don’t hear well, that’s my fault, I’m not picking on anybody, that’s my fault that I can’t hear. Sabbath in 75 and shooting shotguns is like destroyed my ears.
Ramsey Russell: They’re probably wearing mask so you can’t read their lips.
Lee Kjos: Well, that was it. And the fella had a mask on and I asked him if he would lower his mask and he told me he wouldn’t do it, he didn’t feel comfortable. Oh, I’m like, this is just too weird. Oh, anyway, the dude reads this whole form and it says whatever this lady said, I had to have filled out, she didn’t read the whole thing because then it was or that paperwork will be waiting for him when he gets to Argentina. Well, she said, well, that’s how you interpret it. Well, whatever the guy eventually they let me go and I went on and got my gun scanned and got on the airplane and it’s been great ever since.
Ramsey Russell: For those you all listening to, it’s really not a big deal, it’s really not a big deal bringing your gun, it’s just sometimes you deal with people like this lady that’s never done it before in an airline and she makes a national security threat of it and it’s not. You bring your gun, sometimes you have to go to the consulate, get some paperwork, you show up, you go through line and we have somebody meet you there and you come out the other side and here you are. It’s not that big a deal unless somebody makes it that way. But I thought it was hilarious to bust your balls about a little bit, because I know you were glad to be on that flight.
Lee Kjos: I was, I called my son and I said you might have to come to the airport and pick me up.
Ramsey Russell: Well, talk about the gun you brought, that’s what I was kind of coming around about leading into is, we got semi-automatic guns here last time I saw you shooting a semi-automatic 12 gauge you didn’t break at this time.
Lee Kjos: No, I brought – well, pretty much anymore, all I shoot is a 28 gauge at everything and I have a Winchester Model 21 side by side. I brought the Winchester model 21 28 gauge and a Connecticut shotgun RBL reserve a 28 gauge or 30 inch barrels board full and full.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, fantastic man. What is it about this place or maybe it’s everywhere. Do you hunt everywhere with those guns everywhere?
Lee Kjos: Everywhere.
Hunting Without the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Ramsey Russell: Because generally, a lot of clients come to Argentina where they don’t have the Migratory Bird Treaty Act covenants that we do back home, they don’t have a shooting time, they don’t have a plug shot gun, they don’t have a non-tox mandate, they don’t have an end of shooting hours, they don’t have a lot of stuff like that. And so a lot of guys come down here and they shoot lead for the first time, like the good old days, you and I grew up doing, they have unplugged guns, which is kind of fun shooting 4 or 5 times if you’re that guy, and but then, guys like yourself go the other direction and shoot two shots and it ain’t like you’re coming up with less birds, you come back to lodge with the same amount of birds everybody else is.
Lee Kjos: Well, I think, I mean, obviously when it comes to little guns right now, little boars, I mean, the shotgun shells have gotten a lot better which make shooting a 28 gauge not near the handicap, but maybe it was a while ago, I don’t mean decades ago, I mean, post ban on lead.
Ramsey Russell: I pride myself on traveling light. A gun case with some gear in it, maybe 40lbs and a suitcase with 40-45lbs, I can go anywhere in the world for any amount of time with about that much gear and sometimes just one or the other. And boy, did I come with some gear this time, man, I had both bags weighed over 70lbs and I had two more bags, I had 4 items and it’s like, I needed a detail to help me haul gear, I needed a U-Haul van because decoys and equipment and just spinning wing decoy, just all this gear I brought for the guys who for 3 years that virtually have not had any access to any gun parts. And then I decided, man, I will be down there forever, I’m going to bring something. So when I got my gun permit, I went ahead and put on there and last time I think I brought 100 rounds, man, I brought 400 rounds, well, that’s 50lbs in and of itself, two cases of Boss shotshells and holy cow, it was an ordeal, I was glad to get here and get unpacked and be Santa Claus and get everything away, now, I’m back to my normal traveling standard and of course, going back and forth to Buenos Aires every weekend, I’ll have my toothbrush, I won’t be bringing anything, my toothbrush and my passport and that’s it. But you’ve been shooting Boss shotshells the entire time you were here. I brought some 28 gauge and I brought some 12 gauge and –
Lee Kjos: Is there a handicap?
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s no handicap at all. And somebody was asking at lunch today, have I ever shot geese with it? I’m like, yeah, I mean, I hunted in Canada with it, hunted the Dakotas with it, hunted everywhere with it. And I don’t see a handicap but I will say this man, those 3inch, number 4 are just for me, it’s just a dope. And the guide that I had yesterday because where we hunted has been here in this marsh for 20 years. The whole thing started right here at the Rio Salado when I broke out some Boss shotshells in 2019 and my guide was looking back at me because he could tell a noticeable impact on the birds I was hitting and the lead versus the Boss shotshells. And it’s interesting to me that bismuth 10 alloy copper plated is 80 some odd percent the density of lead lighter, energy efficient, but then the component quality is so much higher that it hits those birds differently. And yesterday, oh boy, did I have a great hunt? Oh God, yesterday was awesome when that little 28 gauge and the way the birds were setting up and it was just crushing them, it was absolutely crushing them, lead was killing them too. But this was smoking and he could tell the difference, this guy I’d never hunted with could tell the difference and it makes a difference and what a great place to do an apple to orange comparison, lead versus something else. What a great place to do it.
The Boss Shotshell Experience: Fun and Functionality
If you put it on the bird, you’re going to kill the bird and there’s no recoil, none.
Lee Kjos: I really got on the little gun kick this sub gauge stuff hunting with Jeff Watt, I call him the mayor, everybody knows he’s my buddy and he’s got this beautiful woods, green timber to hunt green heads in and down there, it’s 28 gauge or 410 only and it’s not because – well, part of it is the sporting part of it too, but there’s a real clear benefit to it and it’s such low impact on the woods or on the environment that you’re hunting in. If you put 4 guys or 6 guys shooting 12 gauges in a duck hole and you’re going to wreak havoc with it, they’re noisy. And when you’re shooting 28 gauges and 410s at them and you’re picking your shots, which is another really cool thing because you’re not taking flyers and stuff, we try to finish our birds, do it right, get them to set up, right, make good shots, dogs do their job just clean way to hunt.
Ramsey Russell: It really is. And you talk about the noise factor. Several times now, the last couple of mornings I’ve hunted with an eyesight right next door, we were out of each other’s sphere of influence, but I could look down and see you’re blind and if I squinted, I could see little dots fall, but both mornings you all came out with way more ducks on the strap than I heard shots, I mean, it really was, if you all were shooting the other way, I didn’t hear it. I mean, that’s noticeable difference.
Lee Kjos: It’s noticeable difference and fun and I can’t stress this enough with people other than there’s less pellets in the shell, you’re not sacrificing anything, you’re not losing anything, right? Everything’s still there. If you put it on the bird, you’re going to kill the bird and there’s no recoil, none.
Ramsey Russell: No, there’s no recall. If I missed a bird with a 28 gauge, it’s no different than a 12 gauge or a 10 gauge or an 28 gauge, I just missed, I’m usually behind or below or above or sometimes in front of him, it happens.
Lee Kjos: We noticed this morning, both of us, I noticed this morning early, like you said and by the way, it’s rare that anybody shoots before you shoot in the morning. In fact, I’ve never seen it. It might have happened this morning, but that’s the first time, but we couldn’t find our ass with either hand me in the mirror. There’s no depth perception. You whip, you’re out in front of them, and I rarely – I mean, I miss with the best of them, but typically when I miss it’s because I’m lazy, I’m tardy in. But not early this morning, I was like, whistling them right in front of him. So that’s total depth reception stuff though.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think about little Char dog?
Lee Kjos: Well, I told you, if you don’t start talking nicer to her, she’s going to go home with me.
Ramsey Russell: She’s sleeps with me every night, I talk plenty of nice to her.
Lee Kjos: Jeez. For those folks out there that know me as Lee Kjos the photographer, they’ll know that I have like major affection for dogs, not just my own but other people’s dogs. Watt’s Keeper, I mean, I absolutely love her and he’s got a black female named Jewel that is just a freaking, she like hits the crack pipe in the morning and peels her hair back and she just goes like a wild woman in the woods, she’s an absolute blast to hunt with. And then like, your Char dog now, you get out with her, I mean, her duck hunting ability is without question, I mean, that’s one thing, but I particularly like dogs that I can live with, that I can be around. I mean, I guess the new thing is the off switch, they have the off switch, well, there’s a lot of them that have that now, but she’s a spectacular duck dog, she’s a great size. I like little dogs like that, especially in environments like this, maybe littler dogs, smallish dogs like that, maybe late in the year up north and big heavy hard water where it’s cold that might be a little bit of a deal there. But boy, is she fun to be around. Rock steady, quiet, not a heavy breather, not a drooler.
Differences in Duck Hunting: The United States vs. Argentina
You come down here because you love to hunt ducks, that’s it. There’s nothing else going on here.
Ramsey Russell: She is unwind, she’s totally in the game. The minute we step out of the truck, boom. Like this morning, I was laying down looking at the stars and her eyesight is much better than mine, boy, her ears would perk up and I’d watch her head go left to right watching those ducks trading around out there in front of the blind. But there’s no real duck hunting culture in Argentina, they don’t have the culture that we do in America and that’s what’s missing.
Lee Kjos: Only we have that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, the dogs are such a huge part of duck hunting culture and she and I spend so much time together, man, I don’t even want to come without her, it’s just a good, bad or ugly man, she’s in it with me, man. But it adds so much to just have her there and I will say this, I do here in Argentina, you do compromise a little bit of shooting opportunity because when she’s out doing her job and hunting, you don’t need to be shooting at ducks, I mean, so big deal. It’s just body count.
Lee Kjos: Everybody would rather have the dog with.
Ramsey Russell: I would. And that’s what I’m kind of leading in about the absence of a duck hunting culture and the abundance of ducks, like stepping back in time. And you’re in the industry, you’ve been in the industry for a long time, I’m associated, because I worked with duck hunters in industry and out for a long time. And every time you and I get together, we get together, we meet at the apartment, we drive over to stay at the camp to eat that great dinner the first night and just like every other time I’m sitting with you, we get to talking about the status of North American duck hunting.
Lee Kjos: What’s wrong?
Ramsey Russell: Now, I feel a lot of times, I can remember way back in the old chat room days, way back 20 years ago, there’s a couple of grumpy old men I described and I don’t say that in a bad way. They call themselves madduck.org. There were a couple of old East Coast waterfowlers and just really about the good old days, about the hunters, about the people, about the hunting quality about this, about that. And I’m starting to feel like a damn dinosaur, Lee. I’m starting to feel like I’ve gotten older and I’m starting to feel like that grumpy old man now looking back and things change. But how would you compare hunting here versus there besides just the absence of a culture? There’s no hunting pressure. But how do you see that become manifest here versus back home?
Lee Kjos: You come down here because you love to hunt ducks, that’s it. There’s nothing else going on here. You come down here to hunt ducks, right? Not media, don’t have anything to do with media, you come down because you love ducks. We can’t hunt them at home right now, it’s like, well, let’s go to Argentina and let’s go duck hunting.
What’s Changed? Duck Hunting Then & Now
Well, I think outdoor TV started in the beginning but I definitely think social media has taken it to a next level.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the complete opposite. Winter time is coming here, summertime is coming back home, it’s funny because I’m in touch with all my friends down here year round and you always think of Christmas and slaves and Santa Claus and felt suits and winter time and down here they’re on a patios, barbecue and with flip flops and shorts on because it’s 4th of July for them, Christmas Eve. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it in the southern hemisphere? So it is a duck hunting opportunity. But I’m getting into – we talk about this place being like the 1800s. What is the state of affairs in America right now, in terms of duck hunting now versus 20 years ago? And how does that compare to this?
Lee Kjos: Well, there isn’t any of it here, there isn’t any media here, media and the commercialization of the sport and media in my opinion and let’s be clear about this, it’s just my opinion. Maybe not the opinion of who I work for or boss or we’re talking about my personal opinion as a largely a DIY waterfowler in the north that ran around that country with a camera? Is it different now? It’s drastically different than it was 2, 3 decades ago, drastically different. And then we’ve talked about this and you asked me, why do I think that? And I think, it’s media. I mean, I think –
Ramsey Russell: Social media?
Lee Kjos: Well, I think outdoor TV started in the beginning but I definitely think social media has taken it to a next level. I think you have a lot of people in the game right now that are in it for that. They’re in it for the post or they’re in it for the like and here’s the deal. It’s America, you have that choice, you know what I’m saying? It’s not illegal, but it’s definitely a lot bigger part of duck hunting now and probably other kinds of hunting, but I’m a duck hunter. So I’m only going to talk to that, it’s drastically different because of the reasons that people hunt. And I’ve brought this up to you too. I mean, I can post and I don’t post that often and people know that too, I am not big into it. But I try to post about conservation and habitat and they absolutely tank. I really don’t think that many people care anymore, dude. And that to me is alarming. Likes, follows all that happy horse shit is way more important. I could post a photograph of an absolute mountain of dead ducks piled up and the post go through the roof. Well, I got news, I’m not into any of that. Without changing some narratives out there, piles make smiles, full straps, 8, 10, 12 mans before 9 o’clock in the morning, take it to the plug, the grind, all that stuff, paying rent, those narratives have got to be reversed, they have to, I’m telling you, all you young dudes out there, it’s got to change. I’m telling you.
Ramsey Russell: It’s got to be some give as well as take. I mean, it seems to me to be a lot of all take no give.
Lee Kjos: We have to give back. If we don’t take care the number one – I travel everywhere and I talk to people and the one common, the common thing statement regardless of region in our country is where are they?
Ramsey Russell: Well Kjos, I sit here with you on the front porch and there’s a dozen of us sitting here drinking bourbons and malbec wines and cold beers and in between the hunts and in between the meals and we’re talking all over the country, man. Canada to California to the east coast are represented right here and we’re all kind of saying the same thing and you hear the stories about the eiders, the brant or the mallards, where are they? And that’s the million dollar question. Where the hell are they?
Lee Kjos: It’s a great question and it’s one that, I not only want people to ask the question, I want to demand answers from people so that – and let me get this part straight too so that we can generate honest, open, respectful dialogue back and forth with hunters, operators, industry people, biologists, legislators, this is going to take everybody, but here’s what I’m afraid of mostly. I’m afraid that at some point if we don’t start to shift narratives and start taking care of this, where it’s going to become like turning an aircraft carrier around. Now, you could say as soon as rains come back to the Central Prairies, Prairie pothole region and then in Central Canada that it’ll take care of itself, rain and habitat will take care of itself. Well, that’s true to a degree, but that’s only true to short term solutions. We need long term solutions, long term narrative shifts on how we’re going to start respecting this resource and take care of it. Habitat is number one, always has been number one, always will be and it’s not close.
Ramsey Russell: I feel like, when we talk about habitat, I think that there’s a lot of private landowner, state and federal governments doing a lot of habitat. But for every acre that we put out there and improve, I feel like there’s 100 or 1000 or more acres paved or drained or developed that wildlife and waterfowl use and I believe it’s become a cumulative. Like, I left college Mississippi State University as an undergraduate in 1994 and I don’t know how I stumbled across this little statistic, but since I left college, there are half as many fish in the oceans worldwide as there were just when I was in college. And I can remember being an undergraduate and ditching class or crafting my schedule to accommodate a morning duck hunt, a deer hunt before class and I could go anywhere and shoot some ducks and I don’t feel that, I don’t feel like I can do that anymore.
Lee Kjos: Well, we have fellas in camp with us right here right now, I mean, I had never met them until a couple of days ago and they’re talking about what duck hunting’s like where they were and they’re saying the exact same thing we’re saying, where are they? It’s not like, it was 10, 20 years ago, my dad said this or I just think we really –
Ramsey Russell: The biggest thing I see down here, there’s a lot of habitat, nobody’s out there, you can’t manage this marsh, God manages it, nature manages it, it manages itself. And here’s an interesting tidbit, if you see these straight line ditches and canals here there and they got a few bridges here and there over them and the staff indicates it’s the river, but it’s not, it’s a man-made canal that historically, 20, 30 years ago, I don’t know what agency came in here to drain this wetland and develop it as agriculture, but it backfired and the size of the marsh doubled over a couple of decades, that’s a rare anomaly in this world, in this day and time, usually effective engineering companies are able to come in and drain and farm and plow and develop and build houses and residential developments and everything else. But then we as a people, it seems like – you got to remember, man, there’s a big drought going on out west right now in the United States and back when there was the dust bowl drought, our forefathers went out and found Ducks Unlimited. I mean, they went all in to take steps to conserve for themselves and for future generations. And we were talking about this on the drive back to camp today, Lee, now it seemed like it’s all about what can the resource do for me, for my life, for my status, for my sense of self, for this, for that? Not what can I do for it, what can I do for my kids and future generations to conserve these thing we so freaking love or do we?
Lee Kjos: Isn’t that what – and Darren was sitting here talking to us a little earlier today and he brought that up with social media, it’s like me, look at me, dude, that’s not cool, that’s not going to be good. It’s not good. We need to talk about us, talk about habitat, have real conversations on. I mean, you got to admit social media could be like killer in moving the needle one way, right? That’s what we have to do. I get on these kicks or I get on my rants and I really don’t want to sound preachy, I don’t want it to be like that, but it’s alarming to me.
Ramsey Russell: It’s scary to me Lee, that if I look at the last 20 years then and now and I think, okay, now to then, at future tense, 20 years from now, you can’t subtract that much again.
Lee Kjos: I don’t think so.
Ensuring Waterfowl Survival: The Critical Importance of Conservation and Habitat
Where does hunting belong in the world anymore?
Ramsey Russell: You can’t subtract that much again, it’s gone. And that’s what worries me and I don’t have 20 more years in the game, I mean, like I’m doing it now, I just don’t see that, I’m an old guy now. But my kids that I’ve raised into this thing, my grandkids, I hope do it, future generations, if for no other sake, then just it belongs. But now we had this conversation the other day, where does hunting belong? And here’s where I’m getting at, when I was a little kid in 1970s, the good old days when dad and granddad were going out banging on mallards in the Deep South, we just put 3 men on the moon, I remember sitting in black and white TV and watching Walter Cronkite talk about it. There’s that astronaut bouncing across the moon in a tank commercial that was a big freaking deal, man, that was a monumental achievement for humanity. And now we got private, wealthy individuals building spacecraft to fly to Mars themselves. Where does hunting belong in the world anymore?
Lee Kjos: I heard you talk about that like 2 days ago or something. Where does it belong? Like if we’re so insignificant that we don’t. But I don’t think that’s true.
Ramsey Russell: I can tell you this, my universe spins around it because it’s what I do and the guys listening right now it’s what they do.
Lee Kjos: We’re passionate about it. I think we’ll be around, but do I think we need to change? Like I say, I’m going to use the word again, do we need a narrative shift? Big time. We a hard reset.
Ramsey Russell: I was talking to an old professor of mine recently and by the time this episode airs his episodes would have aired and he spent half a century science research all across the facets of the North American waterfowl management plan whole career dedicated tirelessly to it. And I asked him the same thing, I’m like, Rick, back when I was in your class, I shot ducks, there were ducks everywhere it seem like where are they. And what came out in that discussion with the fact that, we hunters, all know that through Pitman Robertsons and Ducks Unlimited contributions and just with our time and our money are footing the bill for this whole thing. But really and truly when we start talking about habitat loss in North America, it’s way bigger than we hunters and NGOs can tackle ourselves. We have got to get the non-hunters on the hook to understand the importance to society and to wildlife and to a future world of conserving these wetlands and this habitat. It’s now bigger than we hunters can turn the tide on, we cannot turn the tide. I don’t even know that we can be like a little boy that stuck his finger in the dike and hold it, I don’t think we can hold it. I think, the last 20 years has proved the fact that we hunters can’t hold it, we can’t turn the tide we’ve got to get, but how do you do that? You’re the guy in marketing and communications, how do we get a Manhattan-ite on the hook to care about this stuff?
Lee Kjos: Well, I think you need grassroots movements but in the end, you need legislative change to make wholesale changes that protect habitats, right? I mean, the public sector can only do so much, the private sector is coming on and while the private sector can create incredible habitat, it doesn’t really help that much for access for everyday common walk in the street people to go to have quality access to good ground hunting ducks, right? That being said they’re both still very important, it’s still habitat. The big game is legislative changes. I mean, I’ll give you an example, 1985 Farm Bill when Swamp Buster and CRP was part of the farm bill in 1985 right? And then, they came up with the North American Waterfowl Management plan and I could be fact checked on this. But I believe the goal was a fall flight index of a 100 million ducks. CRP became an incredible boom for all wildlife, not just duck. During Bush’s second administration, one fell swoop of the pen from the USDA and it was wiped out. We lost 13.5 million acres, think about that. Ducks Unlimited, one of their last issues, actually, it was a hen mallard with a brood of image I shot was on the cover and the whole issue was dedicated to their 15 million acre conserved. 13.5 million came out one fell swoop of the pen. Here’s the problem with that program, is it great? Oh, the short term value of CRP programs are undeniable, it’s fantastic. But the problem is, it’s a farm subsidy. It’s not a permanent solution and then when it’s gone, the taxpayer funded it. So that’s what I’m talking about, big legislative changes. How do you preserve in permanent easement, grasslands and wetlands? So now, when you say it’s monumental, I agree, it’s a big one, but do I think it can happen? Yeah, for sure. I do. But not with people being quiet and not with social media posts that are piles, make smiles and take it to the plug and all that nonsense, dude, stop it, it’s not good. Matt Rinella wrote a killer piece that got pulled down a little while ago about these massive grip and grin kill pile picks all that stuff about unfollowing them because it’s that harmful to hunting. The dude’s spot on, I don’t know, the man personally, love to meet him someday and have the chat with him because I’d like to get into more. That’s the kind of whether you agree wholeheartedly with it or not, it’s the kind of conversations that have to happen. Not look at me, look what I did, look at this, not that, we don’t need that, serious.
Ramsey Russell: We got to get back to the roots like our granddad and our forefathers were, they just went out there and hunted.
Lee Kjos: Again, I’m going to go back to, I no longer think people celebrate the sport of hunting and fishing. I think, it’s turned into, look at me.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. You talk about the future of duck hunting and it’s not just North America, here we are, I mean, this is where I want my ashes scattered right here in this marsh and for the second year in a row, 2019 and now 2022 it’s been a near miss on the liberal politicians in this province shutting down duck hunting here because there is no duck hunting culture, there’s no relevance, there’s just people that are content, they wouldn’t know a ring teal from a white cheek pintail that flew up their ass and quacked. But they’re happy just knowing they’re out there not being killed here in this country, in this remote area that there is a political undertow to shut down duck hunting and now 2019, no, you talk to other people. But now this year since I’ve been here on the ground, it’s my 3rd, 4th week here, everybody’s becoming hyper aware in all the provinces that if it closes here in this province or the one just north of here, it’s going to tumble like Domino’s and it is freaking over. There will be no duck hunting here at all for anybody for any reason right now, the big guys are going, well, I ain’t going down there because I can’t bring a duck back home to mine and put him on the wall and you know what? You probably ain’t never going down there then, ever. And you’re going to miss out on hunting, seeing what hunting was like back then because it’s going to close, it’s going to end. Australia is shutting down, man, they’re in their gap, they’re in their last gap, it’s coming, man. 5, 10 years from now it’s over, Netherlands over it, it’s shrinking, so where does hunting belong? Apparently, a lot even in this wilderness nowhere and here we are in America, the me generation, pissing it away, I think.
Lee Kjos: Well, like I say, I hope I don’t –
Ramsey Russell: It concerns me, I’m just speaking it out loud because it concerns me, man I love this stuff.
Lee Kjos: It’s way concerning. Again, I’m just going to go back to that phrase, you talk to people and they’re like, where are they? So that’s one thing. And then, I mean, I guess you could bring in social and political pressure too, I suppose you could, I really think hunting if we take care of it, I think it’s going to be around for a long time.
Ramsey Russell: I hope you’re right Lee. But you say narrative and I think that for the narrative change, really what we’re talking about is our hearts and our action and actions speak louder than words. So we’ve got to start looking at it like JFK did, that’s not what your country can do for you, what you can do for your country, substitute resource or ducks or that, that’s what we all need to be doing something out here to do something to move the needle.
Lee Kjos: Perfect. Why can’t we read or see more of that type of work on social media where it brings that messaging to the forefront.
Argentine Duck Species
Well, the beauty in photographing them and the beauty of the white cheeked pintail would be my favorite, but as far as like a duck hunt, no, it’s a Rosy.
Ramsey Russell: What’s your favorite duck species down here, Lee?
Lee Kjos: Well, Rosy, not even close.
Ramsey Russell: You sure seem to have something for those white cheek pintail.
Lee Kjos: Well, the beauty in photographing them and the beauty of the white cheek pintail would be my favorite, but as far as like a duck hunt, no, it’s a Rosy. I mean, for all those folks out there listening right here, Rosy are like bull canvasbacks coming in and I mean, they fly and they can be up high and when they decide to eat it, I mean, they lock their wings up and they put it on like their fighter jets, I mean, they just roar and they’re unreal. They got them big back feet paddles and they’re incredible that’s a duck hunter’s duck right there.
Ramsey Russell: Last time we sat in this marsh habitat conditions as closely as – I’m looking at this little wetlands dry right now, it is all full of Rosy bill habitat and it’s just now their habitat is deeper, just a little more scattered. And the other morning we were hunting in, I don’t know, chin in deep water shooting a lot of silver teal and some white cheek pintails, a few other species and it hadn’t really gotten under the way yet, the hunt hadn’t, in about that time, here come these jets right into the freaking decoy sitting right in our lap, boy that woke us up quick, didn’t it?
Lee Kjos: How quick do they get on you?
Ramsey Russell: They’re like canvasbacks as a pochard, but there’s far more nimble, no way a canvasback could have turned in that short of arc and come right into those decoys.
Lee Kjos: They totally remind me of how cans fly.
Ramsey Russell: They hook just like on a tight and they were right. And this morning, I had a flock, they were heading, I guess they were heading south to a bigger body of water and they flew right over my little position and we started calling to them me and the guide and they hooked down and got right over the decoy bam, bam. It’s a thrill every time.
Lee Kjos: Oh, yeah. They’re something else, man. They’re cool.
Ramsey Russell: Lee, I appreciate you, we’re back again. You think you’ll ever come back here?
Lee Kjos: If God willing, I’ll be here next year.
Ramsey Russell: It’ll be different.
Lee Kjos: It is always different. It’s 100% wild, 100% fair chase, that’s why I love it. This is the only place I’ll ever go in Argentina again, that’s it. Yeah, right here. If I can’t come here, I’m not coming.
Ramsey Russell: One thing I’ll wrap up saying before we do wrap up, one of the topic is how you and Watt and Darren come, I got some individuals here, I’ve got a couple of guys here, a dozen hunters in camp and right here on the porch is where it all goes down and everybody is just one big happy family. I mean, the first night, we ate dinner, we go to bed, we get up, we go hunt, we come back, we start aggregating here and talking and drinking and before dinner on the second night we were at camp, it’s like we’ve known each other a whole lot, birds of a feather flocking together and that’s what’s so great about the hunting community.
Lee Kjos: Oh, here’s another cool thing. I mean, we talked about it last night with everybody sitting here, it’s the ducks that brought us together, but it’s not necessarily the ducks that are going to keep us together, it might be, but they definitely brought us together, but now everybody’s going to exchange information and we’ll stay in touch and Christmas cards and hey, I hope I see you here, other people are inviting us to go other places to go hunting and again, think about that little microcosm of us right here, right? Why can’t that happen on a large scale in waterfowl when it comes to media and social media? Why can’t that happen? That’s what we need, we need to stick together, not look at me.
Ramsey Russell: Well, we’re off the freaking grid here. And it’s like if we did have world class Wi-Fi probably everybody sitting in their chairs, their faces glowing blue looking at social media, that’s dangerous, isn’t it?
Lee Kjos: Yeah. Well, the last time I was here, I think I got like a couple feature articles and magazines about the place and I’ll definitely get one from this trip. But I think about the title of it or whatever and I just keep coming back to nowhere. Nowhere in Argentina, I wish I could illustrate to people just how remote this place is. I mean, I’ve been to Alaska a lot, Alaska ain’t got nothing on remote when it comes to this place. There’s no infrastructure, no people, nothing, beautiful place, beautiful people, the people, the gauchos, the families, how humble, gracious, it’s fantastic.
Ramsey Russell: What about those two little gaucho girls with pigtails walking out to get few ducks?
Lee Kjos: How cute was that? Oh, my God, was she adorable? Oh my God. She was happy, beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: Do you like the food here?
Lee Kjos: Yeah, I do.
Ramsey Russell: They work hard.
Lee Kjos: Oh, the staff here is like, the boys are next level.
Ramsey Russell: They’re real duck hunters.
Lee Kjos: They’re hunters, they absolutely are duck hunters. They watch me like a hawk when I’m out there, not because they want to see what I’m doing because they want to make sure if I need help, they want to make sure that they’re there like now and they are. Yeah, it’s fantastic.
Ramsey Russell: One more day, Lee. And if I understood the translation today, I think we might get on a Rosy bill hard, heavy tomorrow, I’m hoping, I don’t care, I just want to see the sun rise and go shoot ducks and have fun.
Lee Kjos: And I’m sure we’ll do that, but that would be fun to see them.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, Lee Kjos, thank you for joining me, see you next time.