Lee Kjos and Ramsey Russell visit over hot coffee before Dallas Safari Club Convention, immediately stepping into a memory-filled swamp of hunting wild ducks in wild places, past duck hunts, real duck hunters, waterfowl conservation narratives. Kjos shares his “Walter Mitty Moment.” They then wade through a waist-high slough of ducky topics that hunting buddies usually do.
Wild Ducks in Wild Places, Duck Hunts and Other Stories with Lee Kjos
Ramsey Russell: Ramsey Russell. Get Ducks. I’m on morning two of Dallas Safari Club Convention. The show opens up in about an hour and a half. Sitting in the booth, across the table, with my buddy Lee Kjos. How are you this morning, Lee?
Lee Kjos: I’m good. How are you?
Ramsey Russell: I’m good. We were going to meet this morning at the vendors breakfast, and that’s a massive room. What is it? Two hundred yards across? It’d be a good shot on a deer with a high-powered rifle, across that dinner room. You called, and I was like, “Where are you?” I’m squinting, trying to look, and right across from me was an African guy. He goes, “Mate, there he is. I see him. He’s got the checkered shirt on.” I don’t know how he saw that. I’m sitting there looking. He spotted you right off the bat.
Lee Kjos: You know how those guides are, down there.
Ramsey Russell: Unbelievable.
Lee Kjos: Trackers, and how skilled they are. But, yeah, I’m surprised. How would he even know who you were talking to?
Ramsey Russell: I’m telling you, I don’t know. He was five feet from me, across the table. There were just three of us, and you weren’t yelling on the phone where he could hear you, but he could hear me and see me looking. He saw you hang up, said, “Oh, that guy in a checkered shirt just hung up a phone. I’m pretty sure that’s him.” Sure enough, I squinted a little bit more and there you were, walking back to your table. Man, there’s some real talent here in this show.
Duck Hunting Adventures at Dallas Safari Club
Maybe one day they look around, and they realize, “Boy, some birds, and the colors, and the different positions would really make my game room sparkle.” Or they’ve ran out of animals to hunt, and now they are looking for a new frontier. Or they’re too old to go climb a mountain and chase a markhor.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think about this Dallas Safari Club event?
Lee Kjos: Oh, I came for my first time last year. Well, doing what I’ve done for a career—Kjos Outdoors and my photography—I’ve been to lots of trade shows. Mostly shows like the SHOT show, or a few others. But this Dallas Safari Club show is unique because, well, it’s a different culture here. The demographic is certainly different, and a lot of interesting people. I love the art, the taxidermy. It seems more—I don’t know, SHOT is an intense place to be. Like, the business influence; it’s intense. This is a chill, laid-back, cool place. You meet a lot of cool people. The nightlife is a blast here. Yeah, it’s fun.
Ramsey Russell: This is our tenth year exhibiting here, but I read, one time, that Dallas Safari Club didn’t want to be the largest hunting show in the country. They wanted to be the nicest, and I think they’ve achieved that. To me, as an exhibitor setting up—the people are so helpful. Like, they serve barbecue down here in the mornings. When you’re setting up, there’s a barbecue going. “Get you a barbecue sandwich while you’re waiting to come inside.” Then you move in, and everybody is so helpful. Boy, we’ve been here ten years now. It’s crazy. We meet a lot of people from Texas, which is great. But we meet people—I met people yesterday—from all over the United States that come here to shop hunts, or to shop art, or to shop sport stuff, or just to come and have a good time. A lot of the folks we hang out with here, now, are here just to socialize. It’s like a big event. They come from the outskirts of Dallas to stay downtown, and just socialize and eat dinner and be with their friends and go to some of the banquets and stuff like that. I enjoy it. It’s got a good vibe to it.
Lee Kjos: I was going to ask you. You’re a duck hunter, and you have these crazy trips all over the world. Here, at this show, it’s mostly big game, right? In Africa and all kinds of places.
Ramsey Russell: Africa. All the big game animals in North America. I’ll tell you how we ended up here. A dear friend of mine, from Mississippi—it took me forever to get to know him, but I met him at a very small show in Mississippi. Just about the third time he came by my booth in Mississippi, he looked around—we had talked for an hour—he said, “Ramsey, you need to go to Dallas Safari Club.” I said, “Really?” He says, “You’re ready. That show needs you.” Well, we had a hard time getting in. I had to call a favor to get in, through Mr. John Lomonico. The rest is history.
When we showed up, we didn’t know nothing, man. We just showed up with whatever mounts I had handy. I had some scoters and geese, nothing really. What I realized, like you just said: right here, within a two-minute walk of where we’re sitting, you can go buy a markhor hunt. You can go buy an elephant hunt, a leopard hunt, little dik-dik hunt. Just anything. What I realized is, these guys are “trophy collectors.” Which, I don’t mean necessarily trophies, but trophy experiences. That’s when I kind of found my bearings and realized what they wanted.
In the following year or two, we brought a king eider hunt to the auction. I got to my booth about five minutes late, because we’re back here in the back, and at nine o’clock in the morning the doors open. The public starts coming in, and it takes about an hour for them to get kind of saturated into the walking aisles, and for people to find you. So you got five or ten minutes to get to your booth. I walked in, and there was a crowd waiting outside. There was like twenty people in front of my booth at 9:05.
That king eider hunt had been auctioned at the Thursday night banquet, or Wednesday night banquet, and it was astounding. One of the former club presidents stepped up, grabbed my hand, and said, “Son, I’d have bet nobody could blow up this event like you did last night. After twenty years, nobody.” I said, “What?” He said, “You know what? I’ve seen everything come across, but when they started describing your hunt on the auction—Alaska king eider hunt—you could hear ice rattling in the glasses, because nobody in the room had one. Now, you brought something that nobody had, and everybody wants it.” The rest is history. Ten years later, see, now we’re having to up the ante. Now, we have to bring bar-headed geese, red-crested pochards. People come by the booth, our repeat guys, come by the booth just to see what new birds Ramsey brought to the show.
Lee Kjos: Do you think there’s a big crossover between the big game hunters that travel all over and the guy that would want to go on a duck hunt?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I think most of our avid-type customers are true duck hunters—their first passion is duck hunting. Okay, consider the guy that led me to Dallas Safari Club, from Mississippi. He had killed thirty-something Cape buffalo, a bunch of leopards and lions, and nine or ten African elephants, but his passion was bird hunting. A lot of these people walking up and down the aisle, here, have got massive—I’m talking tens of thousands, maybe, of square feet of trophy room that looks like a museum. And I feel like, just from conversations, maybe one day they look around, and they realize, “Boy, some birds, and the colors, and the different positions would really make my game room sparkle.” Or they’ve ran out of animals to hunt, and now they are looking for a new frontier. Or they’re too old to go climb a mountain and chase a markhor. It takes a man to go walk nineteen miles in a day, up in the mountains above tree-line.
Now, it doesn’t take quite that much effort to go to a duck blind, even in a remote place like Rio Salado. We can get anybody there. So, maybe a different phase of life. But, anyway, we do very, very well at these large shows, in terms of just traffic. We’re on our feet all day, but I love it. Man, I get in this show environment, Lee, and it’s just question, question, question, question. It’s like boom, boom, boom. Person, person, person, person asking different questions. Mongolia, Australia, Argentina, through the United States and Canada, New Zealand. Or, nothing to do with anything we do, something different. I’m thinking on my feet, and I’m jiving with hunters. I’m just in my element.
Wild Duck Hunts in Wild Places
My most memorable and favorite experiences are so far off the beaten path. It takes an hour and a half to get from the airport through Buenos Aires, the fourth largest city in the world, to get out of the city limit, and you’re still in civilization. I don’t want to go there to duck hunt. I want to go somewhere that I feel like nobody else has ever stepped foot. I want that wildness. Don’t we all? – Ramsey Russell
Lee Kjos: We’ve only been talking here a short time, but you brought up two interesting hunts. You brought up Rio Salado duck hunt, which is in remote Argentina, and then you brought up the king eider hunt, which is in remote Alaska. How different are those two hunts in regards to your client—what are they looking for? Because it’s not like this is a cushy hunt to go on, but they are just outrageously good and fun hunts, though, to go on.
“I’m a Real Duck Hunter”
Obviously, I’ve got a lot of ducks stuffed here, but I’m not a trophy collector. I’m an experience collector. That’s all. I don’t need any of this other stuff. I just want to go experience it. – Ramsey Russell, Experience Collector
Ramsey Russell: They’re adventures. I’ll back up by telling this story. I was at this convention, years ago—maybe my first or second year—and somebody came up and, pursuant to the conversation and the business cards and the way he was dressed, I just realized, “Man, this guy is maybe third-generation oil money.” He wanted to go to Argentina, and we started talking about “five star” accommodation. He goes, “Whoa boy, whoa boy, you got me hung on the wrong peg.” I said, “Sir?” He goes, “I’m a real duck hunter.” He said, “There’s not a lodge down there that’s as nice as my accommodations. But if you come to my duck camp, it’s a ten by seventy mobile home that my grandfather moved in. And if you want a place to sit and eat your steak, you got to pull a lab off the couch.” I mean, that’s my kind of duck camp, Lee.
He said, “Son, I’ve heard about you, and what I want, I want a real duck hunt. I want to be with real duck hunters. If I want all that shit,” he said, “I’ll take my old lady to Italy.” And I’ve used that line a million times. People call up asking about accommodations and all this non-hunting-related stuff, and I’m like, “Whoa, mister, you got me hung on the wrong peg. If you want all that, take your old lady to New York City. You want to shoot the F-bomb out of ducks, call me. Or adventure. That’s what we do.” We do ducks, and what I realized is, real duck hunters, they don’t fit on a peg. They just want to duck hunt. It’s funny you should hear me talk about Rio Salado and St. Paul Island and draw those two, because I would add Peru, Mongolia. I would add to that list. My most memorable and favorite experiences are so far off the beaten path. It takes an hour and a half to get from the airport through Buenos Aires, the fourth largest city in the world, to get out of the city limit, and you’re still in civilization. I don’t want to go there to duck hunt. I want to go somewhere that I feel like nobody else has ever stepped foot. I want that wildness. Don’t we all? I think humanity’s crazy.
Lee Kjos: What does it for me is wild ducks in wild places. If it has that, then I’m good.
Ramsey Russell: Hunting king eiders—to me, there’s nothing sexy about that hunt. That hunt is a brutal, in the nature—you are sitting on a forty squaremile piece of volcanic rock in the middle of the Bering Sea, in January. If the wind’s blowing too hard, you’re not in a boat—you may not even be out on the points—but if you are, you’ve got a forty mile an hour wind cutting through you. You’re looking at twenty-foot waves, and I have never felt so insignificant, relative to the universe, as at that moment.
Lee Kjos’s “Walter Mitty Moment” at St. Paul Island
Lee Kjos: I think that’s how I felt, my first trip. You remember that movie, Walter Mitty?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Lee Kjos: Matt White, from Rockhouse, shot a photograph of me high up on a rock, one day, and I think it was ripping like sixty miles an hour. That surf was crashing in, and it would come up a hundred feet in the air. Anyway, he snapped a picture, and that’s what my wife calls that. She goes, “That’s your Walter Mitty moment. Is that what you do when you’re out there doing this all the time?” And I go, “Well, not all the time. Most of the time it’s normal or relatively soft, but not St. Paul.” That is a beast out there.
Ramsey Russell: There’s hardly a single really long—like to Africa or Asia or New Zealand—flight that I get on that I don’t watch that movie.
Lee Kjos: You like that one, too?
Ramsey Russell: I liked that movie. Everybody needs a Walter Mitty moment. We all crave it.
Lee Kjos: Yeah. Well, I loved it, too, from the photographer aspect. Remember that missing slide? That one missing step. That ending is brilliant, right?
Ramsey Russell: It’s very good. Wow. He found himself just getting out there, and I think we all want it.
Lee Kjos: Wild things in wild places.
Ramsey Russell: Wild thing in wild places. But don’t get me wrong, here at this show—our lineup of duck hunts—for me, it all boils down to an experience. As a product line, let’s call it, it’s almost like we’ve got trigger-pulling vacations and going all in. Like going all the way to Mongolia. You’re all in, in Mongolia, hopefully to find that bar-headed goose. Got one shot at a bar-headed goose. They’re both equally rewarding to me, but they’re both very different experiences. When I look back at my most favorite experiences, to a hunt—except for one, Netherlands, which I love that hunt, for some reason, but it’s just very wild and remote places that you can’t hardly get to from here. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of ducks stuffed here, but I’m not a trophy collector. I’m an experience collector. That’s all. I don’t need any of this other stuff. I just want to go experience it.
What’s so special about that Rio Salado duck hunt in Argentina?
When I did that Rio Salado duck hunt, down in Argentina—and I had been to South America, many times—that, to me, was wild things in wild places. I didn’t even know that anything like that existed. – Lee Kjos
Lee Kjos: Again, to circle back to where I started this conversation: hunters differ in what they’re after. So if you walk up and down these aisles, you can find a beautiful place to go to where it’s well taken care of, it’s pretty much cut-and-dried how the day is going to go. And they’ll shoot their game, and they’ll sit and relax, and all that. I’m not saying that’s not cool, but I am saying that, when I did that Rio Salado duck hunt, down in Argentina—and I had been to South America, many times—that, to me, was wild things in wild places. I didn’t even know that anything like that existed.
Ramsey Russell: I didn’t either until—Martha and I were talking about this in a podcast we recorded yesterday—she led me to that place. It was a heck of a testing adventure. Plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G to get there during the exploratory trip with her and a couple of clients in tow. The first time I came out, never, ever will I forget. I had been to Argentina many, many times, and went to a place I didn’t expect to go, even on that trip. I walked a half mile through ankle deep muck and shot a bunch of birds. But throughout the morning, in between the volleys, my bird boy would touch me, say, “Señor, señor. Aquí, aquí, aquí.” I was just shrugging him off because I had a bunch of dead birds, but I was still seeing birds fly everywhere. I just realized that—at the end of where those muddy boot prints stopped, where I was standing—that I had walked all over Argentina to find that place. I knew it, I recognized it, I felt it. I said, “Oh, my gosh, I found it. I found what I’ve been looking for.” It was like Christopher Columbus. Just, boom. Just put on Plymouth Rock, or whatever. It was like, “Holy shit. Here I am.”
Lee Kjos: Tell people how big that marsh is.
Ramsey Russell: At full water, like it was last year and this year, it’s 130 square miles. Multiply that times 640 acres. Just think about that. And what’s so crazy, Lee, is we hunt a part of it. Because up on the upper reaches, which I’ve been to with David, you can’t hardly get there. Even if you do, we had to leave three and a half hours, from that little camp house, to get there one morning, in a dry year when the roads were good. There’s absolutely, positively—short of pitching a tent—nowhere to stay. There’s nowhere to stay. Wow. It’s just an amazing place.
Lee Kjos: When would have been the last year a marsh in North America looked like Rio Salado?
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know. I would like to know. 1900?
Lee Kjos: I don’t even think so. I think it would be pre-1900. I think it’d be like 1880’s.
Ramsey Russell: Maybe. It’d be in that era. I became aware of a marsh in northern Indiana, of all places, which really doesn’t have a bunch of ducks. Nobody just beats the wall downs to go to Indiana to shoot puddle ducks, anymore. But if you look up Kankakee Marsh: 99% of that marsh was drained in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. Biologists estimate that America—not the Mississippi Flyway, the entire continent—lost 25% of migratory waterfowl with the draining of that marsh. And in scale, I think it would have been about comparable in size. That’s astounding.
Lee Kjos: I’ve seen marshes—like Saskatchewan, around Moss Bank, Old Wives Lake, back in ‘70—I want to say it would have been 1978. Maybe ‘80. Nah, ‘78-ish, around there. I was eighteen. You remember Jimmy Robinson? James “Jimmy” Robinson? Remember, he’d do his annual duck forecast. He’d do it in Sports Afield, right? Well, he wrote an article in there, and on that marsh he said, out all of his travels, it was the most waterfowl he’d seen in one place at one time. Well, I’m like, “Whoa.” As a budding photographer, back then, I’m like, “I got to see that.” So I went there, and it was staggering. Well, that was a hundred square miles of marsh, at that time. And I saw that dry up in the 90’s in the drought. That whole thing is gone.
Ramsey Russell: And once that part of the world dries up, farmers drop a disc and convert it. That shortgrass prairie is quick to follow to agriculture. We got to feed the world, I’m not disputing that.
Lee Kjos: It can come back there, though. There’s other areas, like what you’re talking about, it doesn’t come back.
Ramsey Russell: The entire country of Argentina is kind of like North Dakota in the Prairie Pothole Region. I’ve been in that Buenos Aires province a lot, and to drive five hours through Buenos Aires, south of the city, it looks a lot like the Mississippi Delta, but it’s pasture. There is a lot of soybeans and corn and whatnot, but it just looks flat, like the Mississippi Delta. What I have finally become aware of over the years is, it’s all marsh. It’s all cattail-type marsh in wet years. As it dries up, farmers will turn their cattle loose. And as the cattle start eating some of that grass and stepping on it, and it becomes dry, it converts into more like a Bermuda pasture. A few years ago, I was down there in an area that had always been like a big Bermuda pasture. It was very, very wet. All of a sudden, out in the middle of that marsh—where the water was just sheet water collecting—I can see all this cattail coming up. I say something to my host, and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, yeah.” He said, “Next year, if the water stays on, that will be a marsh.” That’s crazy how nature is resilient and can cycle like that.
For example, I talked to an outfitter in Mississippi yesterday. Right now, a lot of outfitters are calling me, saying, “What’s the duck hunting situation?” And I asked him, “Well, what’s the duck hunting situation?” Because, man, Catfish Flautt has got some of the best dirt in the state of Mississippi, trust me. He goes, “Ah, we’re killing some ducks every day.” I said, “That describes the entire continental United States, right now.” I’m not saying, tomorrow you’re not going to step out your blind and have one of them banner days, but they’re real far and few between right now. And I’ve covered a wide path throughout the central Mississippi Flyway, this year. It’s just some ducks every day. A lot of the conversation here in the booth has been, “Where are the ducks? Where are the ducks? Who’s got them?” I’m shrugging, and they’re like, “Why?” And I’m like, “I don’t know why. I think there’s something going on, continentally. Population, or habitat changes, or hunting pressure, or probably out of the rhythm of it all.”
Changing Waterfowl Habitat Conservation Narratives
If there’s one thing that I could do in my life, it would be to reverse that narrative and get people back on habitat and conservation. – Lee Kjos
I’ve really developed an opinion that the future of hunting is not technology. All this marketing today is to substitute skill set for technology, and I believe the future of hunting lies in its past. Men conducting themselves with an awareness. We shoot ducks for fun. It is fun, it’s a great sport. They’re great to eat. But at some point in time, we all need to give something back. A hundred dollars worth of raffle tickets ain’t real conservation. That’s like throwing five bucks in an offering plate and saying, “I’m a Christian.” That ain’t how that works. We all need to take a more active role. – Ramsey Russell
Lee Kjos: You’ve seen it change a lot over the course of a few decades, haven’t you?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of changes in south Mississippi. Well, south Delta Mississippi. I’ve seen a lot of changes. None of them good. None of the changes have been positive.
Lee Kjos: That would be a good topic to bring up, and maybe even a larger one for another episode. I’m going to blame part of this on the Instagram culture, the social media culture, and that might not be accurate. I want people to understand that this is my opinion. But it seems like lots of this has turned into a “Me too! Look at me!” kind of thing. Lots of things are done just for the post. Nobody talks about habitat and conservation, anymore. No one. I try to bring it up in a post, once in a while, and the posts tank. I don’t get that. When I was a kid, it was a big deal to go to one of the events. Like, let’s pick a DU Event. I remember people getting dressed up in a suit and tie to go to a banquet. It was a big deal.
Ramsey Russell: Minnesota had a conservation organization that was a big deal to go to. They just shut down, didn’t they?
Lee Kjos: Yeah, they just shut down. Yeah. It’s horrible.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. So it was a big deal going— Excuse me, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Lee Kjos: Oh, no, it’s just, it was a big deal. Back then, if you were a hunter, if you were a sportsman, hunt fish—seems particular in the duck hunting crowd, though—the people were into habitat and conservation. They were involved. They participated in programs. They were involved in wood duck boxes. It just seemed like it was a lot bigger conversation than it is now. You and I are both big fans of Boss Shotshells and part of that group. Man, if there’s one thing that I could do in my life, it would be to reverse that narrative and get people back on habitat and conservation. It’d be the one thing, if I could pick.
Ramsey Russell: That’s important to me. We’ve had this conversation before, Lee. I think back to my dad, to my granddad. Their duck hunting stories—not once, in ever, do I remember them talking numbers harvested. They went through some dry times, point systems, and they went through some bad times. My dad one time told me, twenty years ago, we’d come off the river with a bunch of mallards. I said something to him like, “Oh, I’d like to have hunted back there in the good old days.” He’s like, “Uh-uh, the good old days are now. You can go shoot four mallards.” He said, “That wasn’t always the case when I grew up.” But those men—they didn’t talk about numbers. They were out there having a good time.
If you look at the way they conducted themselves—their regard towards the resource, towards conservation, towards habitat, towards the future—the guys that put together organizations like Delta, and the group in Minnesota, and Ducks Unlimited because they were worried about the future of duck hunting: they made America great the first time. I’ve really developed an opinion that the future of hunting is not technology. All this marketing today is to substitute skill set for technology, and I believe the future of hunting lies in its past. Men conducting themselves with an awareness. We shoot ducks for fun. It is fun, it’s a great sport. They’re great to eat. But at some point in time, we all need to give something back. A hundred dollars worth of raffle tickets ain’t real conservation. That’s like throwing five bucks in an offering plate and saying, “I’m a Christian.” That ain’t how that works. We all need to take a more active role. Part of what we try to do—and I don’t go out of my way to do it, but I guess it’s just part of who I am. At these shows people come up, we’re talking, and in the social media inboxes I hear a lot of comments about conservation. It’s like, “Man, I love what you’re doing for conservation.” I don’t know what I’m doing for conservation, but showing these birds around the world is making people aware of conservation, globally.
Lee Kjos: Do you remember when— Well, it was this summer. You and I were at Rio Salado. It was the first time I’d seen it. I said, “This must have been what it was like. When you read all those classic stories of guys back in the green timber, back in the day down South or in the Susquehanna Flats, shooting canvas bags back in its heyday. Or the prairie Canada, back what it was like in the mid-50’s during the soil bank era.” What makes Rio Salado so unbelievable is—for people that haven’t seen anything like that—is, the reason it’s like that is because of the habitat. No other reason.
Ramsey Russell: That’s it. It’s habitat.
Lee Kjos: That’s what it is. If it’s not there, it can’t happen like that. But that is such a spectacular place in the world that those ducks have. If there was ever a home for a duck, it’s there.
Ramsey Russell: I agree, Lee. My favorite habitat—and I could not have said this until I stepped out of my backyard into the world—my favorite habitat. I was talking to somebody yesterday, here in the booth. I pointed to a drone picture of Rio Salado that was coming out on the screen here, and I said, “That. That’s duck habitat. That right there. You see that? Wild, unspoiled, God-given, perfect, intact marsh. That’s duck habitat.” We shoot a lot of birds in rice and flooded soybeans and flooded agriculture. But I think that’s because that’s what ducks have to use. I don’t think they would choose to use that, given a viable choice. Between Rio Salado vibrant marsh habitat versus a third-generation soybean field with six inches of water—there’s no way that that produces for waterfowl what a vibrant marsh does. You know?
Lee Kjos: No way. You know Brandon Cerecke? At Boss Shotshells? I talk to him a lot about these things, habitat and conservation. Because, like you just said: I don’t know. What should we do? I mean, people have a voice, so you should definitely use your voice. We all have a vote. You should use your vote. But I don’t think everybody knows what to do. “How can I help? I’d love to help if I knew how. Is it just as simple as sending—to you and Delta and the other cool organizations out there—a few bucks?” Yeah, that’s certainly part of it. But the mix has to be bigger than that because there’s a lot of work that has to be done, right? So I tell Brandon, and he knows how much I love this stuff. We’re like, “I wonder if we could do a special project every once in a while. Maybe run off of some old-school paper-looking shells with a custom two-piece old-school cardboard box.” You know how they used to box them up way back in the day? Do that, and then have an artist paint the art for it. Then do, maybe, a signed and numbered thing, sell them off, and then all of the money—all of it—goes to a project, or something, where people can see it. You can watch it. We could follow it. In the day of social media, you could watch all of that happen. I just try to think of these ways of giving. You got to give back.
How can one person start a wildlife conservation movement?
You’ve got to create a movement. – Lee Kjos
Ramsey Russell: I was out in Utah, and, by the time this podcast airs, we would have heard this discussion with some of those Utah guys, talking about conservation. What they’ve done, they’ve passed—in the Salt Lake and out in that marsh—some of those old Utah duck hunting clubs that are protecting their habitat, they’ve actually legislated the protection of those marshes in perpetuity. Civilization cannot come and encroach on that old habitat. They’ve legislated it to protect that remnant marsh, those parts of it. For the benefit of everybody, whether you duck hunt or not, but certainly for themselves to go out and shoot ducks. My question to anybody listening is: don’t worry about the Great Salt Lake, don’t worry about Kankakee Marsh, don’t worry about something like that. But look in your own backyard. Look right out your window in your own backyard, and ask yourself, “What needs to be done? What could be done? What needs to be protected?” If nobody’s in charge of it, put yourself in charge of it. There’s no better way to grease a squeaky wheel than calling your congressman. Call him. He’s got a telephone number. Call him, or write him, and let your voice be known. I think everybody that duck hunts has to shoulder that responsibility themselves. Just call somebody and squeak the wheels, squeak the wheels, squeak the wheels. I think if enough of us do it collectively, if we all work together in our own backyards, then, continentally, we make headway. That’s the only thing we’ve got. And social media will work to do that. Man, you don’t have to be a bazillionaire. All you have to do is have an Instagram account, and you, too, can start a movement in conservation.
Lee Kjos: You’ve got to create a movement.
Ramsey Russell: It’s easy to do now.
Lee Kjos: We’ve got to create a movement.
Ramsey Russell: One man can do it. What’s that show, Independence Day, where that guy grabbed that flag and started running the other way into the British. You know, Mel Gibson, leading the charge. Lead the charge right there in your backyard. It may just be a little WMA. It may be a property, it could be a public resource or a private resource. Lead the charge to protect that habitat in perpetuity. We all work together, and we’ll make some headway. I can tell you this, you hit the nail on the head. Not enough is being done right now.
Lee Kjos: Not when you have organizations like Minnesota Waterfowl Association that are folding. It’s terrible.
Ramsey Russell: That’s terrible. Would you say it’s apathy, or?
Lee Kjos: It’s probably a bunch of things. I think the largest factor in hunter—I guess you’d have to consider that hunter recruitment, because numbers are falling. Numbers are declining. To me, it would seem to be lack of access to quality ground for average, everyday, common, walking-the-street people. I think that’s the number one thing. Now, we have the private sector doing lots of things in regards to habitat. They buy big chunks of land. They turn them into sanctuaries. They turn them into paradises for them, right? But that’s just for a few. We need to get the rest involved. Yeah, we do. We need families out there again.
Ramsey Russell: We certainly do. When you look at this show—kind of how we started, we’re running a full loop—you look at Dallas Safari Club; on the one hand, it’s a hunting show. You want to come buy hunts, buy sporting art; you come here. But it’s astounding that what this organization does, they exist to generate conservation dollars. Global hunting, protect hunting, different global conservation initiatives in wildlife. They’ve got enough money they can get political, just like Safari Club International. They are kind of the NRA of the hunting world. Not just ducks—that’s my heartbeat—but for everything, and that’s astounding. But you have to start somewhere. You’ve just got to start. That makes me proud to be a part of this group right here, because they are advocating for hunting, and hunting quality, and protection of species, and things of that nature. And I love it.
Making Duck Hunting Plans
Duck hunting trips in North America
Ramsey Russell: What else, Lee?
Lee Kjos: Well, let’s see. I’m going to go down the end of next week, and I’m going to try to hunt some greenheads down in Oklahoma with Alex Brittingham. I’m going down to hunt with her and Gator. I’m looking forward to that. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, right now. Yeah, she’s a peach.
Ramsey Russell: I love those little dogs of hers. That’s the second little dog like that she’s had. First time I met her, she came into the show, and I’m like, “Where’s he at? Oh, good to meet you. Where’s your dog at?” She goes, “Well, he’s out in the truck. I didn’t want to bring him in.” I said, “Oh, bring him in.” She went out there and got him and brought him in. Boy, those little dogs have so much personality, but she brings so much out of them.
Lee Kjos: Oh, man. She’s a cool girl. I don’t know if everybody knows this about her, but she’s quite the dog trainer herself. She does that on her own and all that work. Yeah, she’s pretty cool. So I’m looking forward to that. Then, me and the boys, I think we’re going to go down and see the Hurt Locker guys in Kansas. We absolutely love that trip. They have their own special brand of cowboying down there. I tell people it’s like going to a rodeo and a goose hunt breaks out. Christian and Baylor, they have their own style of hunting. It’s absolutely a blast to be down with those guys and watch them. When they’re on littles, and they’re hunting them? How they do it? Man, they’re good at it.
Ramsey Russell: I love to shoot ducks, but that is really one of my primary reasons to travel in the US. I like to get on those little geese. I like to get on the big geese. I like to goose hunt. We just don’t have enough of that culture in Mississippi. As for me, I’m wrapping up Sunday and heading back to Mississippi. Home for a few days. Jake Latandresse is coming down. We’ve got a special Mississippi Home is Who You Are project we’re working on, right there in Mississippi. Get to show my home. The Mississippi Delta. The history, the culture, the duck hunting, the old, the new. From there we’re going to Mazatlán, Mexico to duck hunt. Good gosh, it’s just non-stop.
Lee Kjos: Is Jake going on that too?
Ramsey Russell: He is. Jake’s going to come down to Mazatlán. On the one hand, it’s a great duck hunt. Until noon, and then it’s just a great vacation. We wanted to depict it, and I was explaining it to some of the staff and organizers, my team down there I work with. They all but insisted, “You got to come do this.” They had seen some of these little short films we had done. They said, “Well, if you did, señor, if you came down here, how would you describe it?” I said, “Come duck hunt on the fun side of the wall.” That’s how I’d describe coming to Mazatlán, Mexico. It’s fun. From there, we go to Azerbaijan. We’ve got these red-crested pochards, finally, in the booth, and, well, I guess I’m not surprised, but I am kind of surprised at just how much attention they garnered yesterday.
Azerbaijan duck hunting trip
Lee Kjos: Where is Azerbaijan?
Ramsey Russell: It’s on the west side of the Caspian Sea. Just south of Georgia, just north of Iran. West of the Caspian Sea, east of Turkey.
Lee Kjos: Is it safe?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Man, I was really nervous the first time I went.
Lee Kjos: Well, you just mentioned the word “Iran,” I mean—
Ramsey Russell: I know. I know.
Lee Kjos: You been paying attention, or?
Ramsey Russell: I’ve been paying attention. It’s like, I’m watching the news, a few weeks ago, and the whole 24-hour news cycle is talking about impeaching Trump. Then I turned the news on a week later, whoop! Iran. I’m like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I’m going to Azerbaijan.” But, now, here’s the deal. Here is what you’ve got to understand about Azerbaijan. I guarantee you—if you haven’t looked it up, everybody’s looking like, “Where the hell is Azerbaijan?” I had to look it up. They’re an Islamic country. They’re Muslim, but they ain’t, because Russia occupied them for their oil until the George Bush administration. I mean, since forever. They had an independence revolution, or whatever, and got their independence from Russia. I had to ask the host down there—because I’ve been to Pakistan, I’ve been to these conservative Muslim countries, and you don’t see women. And if you do, you don’t see nothing but a slit in a black veil with their eyes. Down here, you see women dress like my wife dresses, or a lot of money, a lot of food, a lot of this.
We were sitting there, the first time in Azerbaijan, in camp, and somebody mentioned something about, “Ramsey, I can’t believe you’re not having a toddy.” I’m like, “Dude, you can’t.” My host goes, “You want drink?” I go, “Yeah, where do you get it?” He goes, “The grocery store.” They don’t sell liquor in grocery stores in Pakistan, let me tell you. I asked him, “What is the distinction? What’s the deal going on here?” He said, “Well, Russia occupied us. Russia didn’t care how we practiced religion.” And, essentially—my words, not his, my interpretation of what he said—we all became back row Methodists. So we’re Muslim, but we’re moderate. We’re liberal.
Lee Kjos: I’m like you. I’ve traveled my fair share, in my life, and I’ve always found that, when I’m with people that I would consider just the average people—regardless of religion or country I’m in—they’re no different than we are.
Meeting Real Duck Hunters
Regardless of what walk of life you come from, when you’re with them you say, “Yeah, they’re duck hunting brothers.” That’s what they are. – Lee Kjos
Ramsey Russell: No. I would take it a step further: in a duck blind. In a duck blind. We’re all duck hunters. I don’t care what the guys were, how he practiced, what color he is, what he does in his parts—we’re all duck hunters. That’s what I love so much about this thing I do. And those guys are serious. Very, very serious, fundamental duck hunters. They are the best duck hunters. They still market hunt, over there. They’re feeding their families with a lot of these birds we’re shooting. That makes them a very, very good duck hunter.
Lee Kjos: Remember what I told you when we were down at Rio Salado? Those, you know, some people call them bird boys, or guides, or whatever. I’m like, “No, these guys are duck hunters.”
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember? The last morning, Checho and his brother and me and you went to the blind, and we were there way early. Remember it? We had scouted that hole a few days before. We knew what was fixing to happen. Photographed in it. We got there that morning, and we had twenty or thirty minutes before it was light enough for us to see. We don’t speak Spanish. They don’t speak English. But they pulled out their iPhone and—right there in the dark, through the glow of that screen—they started showing us their other brothers and their uncle and their daddy and granddaddy. Started showing us their personal duck hunts.
Lee Kjos: Their duck hunting pictures.
Ramsey Russell: That was pretty special. For them to show us what they did in their personal time, which was exactly what we were doing together that morning.
Lee Kjos: I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. Regardless of what walk of life you come from, when you’re with them you say, “Yeah, they’re duck hunting brothers.” That’s what they are. They love it just like we do. The other thing, culturally—I try to do this whenever I’m traveling—I talk to local people and stuff like that. What are they after? What makes them tick? And they just want to raise a family, most of them. Just work a job, come home. They want their kids to be educated. It’s the same stuff everywhere.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody wants the same thing.
Lee Kjos: Man, it seems like the government is getting away.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a whole another discussion, Lee. It’s a big one.
Lee Kjos: Greed is a whole other topic. We’ll save that one for later.
Ramsey Russell: We’ll save that for tonight, over cocktails. We’re going to start solving world problems. But, hey guys, @RamseyRussellGetDucks. Check it out on Instagram, and, while you’re at it, keep up with Lee @BossShotShells. And, hey, Dallas Safari Club @OfficialDSC. Check it out, man. It’s not but a five or six hour drive from Mississippi, if you ever want to come by and see what a big, old, great, wonderful hunting show is all about. Thank y’all for listening. Look forward to seeing you next time.