“Making turtle soup,” is how today’s guest, Douglas Spale from Kansas City describes a round-about conversation of topics like the one we enjoy in today’s episode. Though he grew up hunting along Nebraska’s Platte River, a move to Chicago gave him the bug for travel hunting throughout the United States with a couple retriever and bird dog sidekicks, mixing it up on public land, and sharing his stories.

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A Love for Hunting

And I’ve been fortunate that I can travel a lot with my work and over my lifetime, and I just really enjoy meeting other people and understanding how hunting impacts them. 

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere where today on the other end of the line, I have got world famous Douglas Spale from Kansas City. How the heck are you, Douglas?

Douglas Spale: I’m well. How’s it going, Ramsey?

Ramsey Russell: Man, it’s going good. And I regret that after 2 years, because of your travel schedule and mine and I thought it inevitable, just inevitable, that our path would cross. And we find ourselves in a duck blind or walking behind your bird dogs, and I’d catch you at a tailgate and get to have this great conversation with you, didn’t work out. Maybe this fall, we get to meet and record in another one. But today we’re here with each other over the phone. And I’m glad to finally be in touch with you, Douglas, and finally get you on my podcast to talk about who you are, what you do, and where you’re going with your life.

Douglas Spale: I mean, we’ve been in the same state a couple of times, too, over this last couple of years and just haven’t been able to connect. I mean, we’ve been really close to each other and passing by. But, yeah, it’s good to get on the phone here and chop it up a little bit.

Ramsey Russell: You live an interesting life because like myself, you travel a lot. You duck hunt, you bird hunt, that’s a lot we got in common. But you do travel a lot. You go outside your home state, what are you chasing, Douglas? What compels you outside your backyard?

Douglas Spale: I think it might just be a new experience or just a new story. And I’ve been fortunate that I can travel a lot with my work and over my lifetime, and I just really enjoy meeting other people and understanding how hunting impacts them. What makes hunting special for that person in Calgary? What makes it special in Rochester, Minnesota? What makes it special for them in Stuttgart, Arkansas? I just love understanding how hunting impacts their lives.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. I think that’s the same thing that pushes me along with this podcast is on the one hand we’re all in the same life raft, you could lump us all as hunters together, but on the other hand we’re all individuals. My marvel that 4 guys go to pick a hunt down in Argentina, they’ve been buddies, they’ve been hunting together for the last 10 or 15 years and they go down to a particular hunt and they come back and you ask them how the trip went, and sometimes it sounds like they went to 4 different places because of how their memory and their own particular interest so shaped how they remember that particular hunt, they all in the same hunt, same blind, sitting around the same dinner table, but they remember something totally different. I think that’s what I love so much about the story of hunting in general.

Douglas Spale: Yeah, I stay on the continent, you go international. But just to see the mountains in the west, the valleys in the south, the longleaf pines in the southeast, the trees in the north, just to see the landscape I think is just a beautiful advantage that we have as traveling hunters, just to enjoy new spaces with new people.

Ramsey Russell: Where do you mostly hunt back home? And what do you mostly hunt? You’re from Kansas City, do you stay pretty much there in that part of the world?

Douglas Spale: I’m from Nebraska originally, I live in Kansas City, so I could stay here and hunt everything that I need to because I’m an upland waterfowl guy. So I can get my chickens, my pheasants and my quail and all the waterfowl come right through here too, from ducks and geese to the snows and cranes. But I enjoy traveling in the early parts of the season and the late parts just to hang out with my friends and run dogs and do it.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a good way to extend the season. Our motto is “It’s Duck Season Somewhere”, the name of this and that whole mantra started because I realized I could go earlier and hunt later than just the days offered in Mississippi. I could extend my hunting experience by going somewhere else sometimes. And that’s how the whole big rabbit hole opened up and off I go, like a bunny rabbit, energized bunny at times. And learning that the world is so much bigger and more beautiful than just our backyards.

Douglas Spale: Yeah. And that’s the same thing for me. I can start my season in the middle of August up in North Dakota, and that gets me off. And I can go till about, I mean, if I want to add turkeys to it, I can go till May. So I can hunt almost 10 months out of the year.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, right here in North America. Matter of fact, you can go from mid-August to mid-May, go to North Dakota, follow the bird south and east and west, and then end back up in Canada, mid-May, late-May, chasing the snow geese, done it.

Douglas Spale: Yeah. My only limitation is my wife, honestly. She gets mad.

Hunting Traditions: Enjoying the Trifecta

And that was kind of our shtick, is we’d wake up in the morning, chase ducks on the Platte River, and then after that morning flight went out, we’d go chase upland birds, and then in the evening, we’d sit in the cornfield in the blind and chase geese and that was the trifecta, that’s who I am.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about growing up in Nebraska. What was it like? What did you hunt? How’d you get down? How’d you start down this trail?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. So I grew up in Nebraska. I was adopted as a child around 18 months, and I grew up in outside of Fremont, Nebraska. My dad hunted, my brothers hunted, my grandparents hunted, so it’s been a part of who I’ve been for my entire life. We’ve always run laps. But waterfowl hunting on the Platte River in Nebraska, have you done that before?

Ramsey Russell: No.

Douglas Spale: Yeah. So that’s where I grew up, chasing ducks, for the most part. And that was kind of our shtick, is we’d wake up in the morning, chase ducks on the Platte River, and then after that morning flight went out, we’d go chase upland birds, and then in the evening, we’d sit in the cornfield in the blind and chase geese and that was the trifecta, that’s who I am. So even today, I just balance my hunting schedule with upland and waterfowl, that’s kind of what I grew up doing.

Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first hunts?

Douglas Spale: No. I do remember not having a dog, like, vaguely when I was 8, 9, 10, and I’d had to go out there and walk around. And I remember as soon as I turned 12, I got my first dog. And that’s kind of when the bug really got me. And I don’t remember the first duck, the first pheasant or even that dog’s first retrieve. But when I think back, it’s like I’ve always just been doing this. I wait for July 4th to get here because I know the summer is halfway over, and I’m getting ready to get started.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of your memories hunting with your folks, your brothers, your dad, your granddad. What are some of your fondest memories growing up?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. With my dad, it’s always that pheasant opener in Nebraska. Now I’m more quail guy now. But when I was a kid with the labs, there’s always an opener for pheasant season. And then his birthday is 26, so doing the big Thanksgiving upland waterfowl hunt was always fun. And when my dad couldn’t hunt, my brother John would take me out and we’d go, growing up, I didn’t know a person who shot more ducks on the Platte River than my brother John. He’s the one that really gave me that waterfowl bug.

Ramsey Russell: Well, your first dog at age 12. It was a lab?

Douglas Spale: It was a lab, yeah. Her name was Shadow.

Ramsey Russell: Shadow. You trained her yourself?

Douglas Spale: I did, yeah. She’s a Platte River dog. So all it is like you’re not doing the field trial stuff, because when you’re hunting the river, you don’t need straight lines in and out. You need a line of the duck and a line of the bank and run back. So it’s mostly just reps in that regard.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Do you all target mallards mostly?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. And that’s where you just pile up the mallards when I was a kid. It’s been tough the last couple of years, but when I was young, mallards and bands, and then you’d get your geese every now and then sometimes, they usually field up the geese, but, yeah, it was just all mallards. I don’t even remember shooting like a pintail or something till, I don’t know, maybe like high school. Because that was the thing, it was just mallards on the Platte River.

Ramsey Russell: Now, is that public or private?

Douglas Spale: Private. And that Platte River is private, almost east to west, and then state of Nebraska, and that land never goes for sale. So you don’t see a lot of content or videos or people doing it. I know you got some people out west in the north Platte, but on the east side of the state, that’s private and that’s been in families for generations.

Ramsey Russell: Very exclusive. So you grew up duck hunting, a little bit of upland birds in the afternoon. Are you a duck hunter or upland bird hunter?

Douglas Spale: It just depends on how I feel. And there are times when I’m chasing ducks in the morning and I’m like, oh, let’s drop the dogs and go chase some upland birds. And then I’m out in the field somewhere, and I see a flock of geese fly overhead, and I’m like, we need to go popping a blind, I wouldn’t mind knocking some honkers before this day is over. So it’s just kind of how I feel and where I’m at.

Ramsey Russell: How many dogs have you had since Shadow?

Douglas Spale: I’m on my 3rd now.

Ramsey Russell: 3rd lab?

Douglas Spale: 3rd lab and then I have an English Setter now.

Ramsey Russell: And she doesn’t hunt waterfowl, does she?

Douglas Spale: No, she sits in the blind sometimes, but no, she’s purely an upland dog, that’s why I got her.

Ramsey Russell: So you trailer one dog and drop the other. I’m going to turn out my lab, we’re going duck hunting. I’m going to put him up, turn out my bird dog, I’m going upland bird hunting.

Douglas Spale: Yes.

Moving the Hunt Beyond Your Own Backyard

Ramsey Russell: When did you start ranging out from the Platte River? When was your first trip?

Douglas Spale: When I moved to Chicago. Remember growing up in Nebraska and having all that stuff there, I really, one, didn’t really know what public lands were, and two, I never needed to leave home to chase all the species that I chase now. But I went to Chicago, went to law school, practiced there and realized there’s a pretty good migration outside of the Chicago land.

Ramsey Russell: Big history, yeah.

Douglas Spale: And I started to learn about those southern Illinois guys, but now that migration stops outside of Chicago, and I met up with some guys out there, and we just kind of got after it in the Chicago land, which was pretty fun.

Ramsey Russell: And from there, where did you go?

Douglas Spale: And then I moved to Kansas City, and that’s kind of when I started working for the Corps of Engineers here and kind of started learning what public land was. Both through work and then just through kind of social media, having this thing about shooting birds and public land and I was like, at this time, I’m going to be honest, I was, like, 30 and thinking, this is what public land is. So that’s kind of been a little bit of my grind, and I enjoy it. Going out on public land, setting up a spread and trying to knock some ducks or geese or running the bird dog and getting after it. It’s a challenge, but it’s kind of fun.

Ramsey Russell: Well, what was it like having grown up on private land hunting, get up in the morning breakfast, and mosey out to the duck blind on the Platte River versus now I got to get out and scout them and beat everybody else to it and get set up and all that good stuff. How does that change?

Douglas Spale: Yeah, that’s the challenge. Especially in some of the places in Kansas. Now, people talk about the pressure and stuff here, but the pressure in Kansas is nothing like it’s in Illinois. But yeah, doing the scouting, putting in the legwork, hauling my own decoys out every day with my dog standing my gun and scratching out a few birds, I mean, that’s kind of the life a lot of the time, as compared to waking up, having a chef make breakfast and sipping our coffee and then going out to the blind on the Platte River, having an airboat run around with us in the Platte River, it’s a different experience. But when you bring in 1, 3, 4 mallards on public land after putting in all that effort, you feel really accomplished in yourself.

Ramsey Russell: I never really had a competitive bone in my body until I started hunting public land 20 something years ago. And you had to work harder, work longer, scout harder, call, set up, play a better game, a cleaner game. And now to hear some of the guys going out to Deep South hunting public land, it’s almost a numbers game. You got to have 20 or 30 people or more to get the hole and hold. Back in those days, it wasn’t that way. If you were there first and you hung a light in the tree, they might set up a little close to you. But nobody just came in on you and said, oh, there’s more of us leave. But it made you work harder. You know what I’m saying? I mean, it made you work harder. And the more people there was, the more competitive it was, the calling and the setups and the decoys, you had to look different, call different, hide different, be different, be better. I look back on those days thinking, I think it made me a better duck hunter, it made me a better human being. It was tough, but it made me better. And I still do hunt some public land, but I’m not going out fighting myself and me and you and our two dogs, I’m not going to go fight 18 people for a duck hole, I’m just not going to do it. Number one, I’m not a fighter, but number two, I’m just not going to do it, I refuse to. It’s sad how the sport has changed, that there’s so little area to hunt anymore that that’s how it’s kind of evolved. Do you see that in some of the areas you hunt now?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. Fortunately for Kansas, there’s these big Corps of Engineer lake projects. But still it gets pretty competitive and stays pretty packed full of people throughout the year. And some of Kansas’s own new Department of Wildlife Regulations are looking to kind of limit that big migration of people that come in to Kansas to chase waterfowl because of such limited opportunities.

Ramsey Russell: Well, as an attorney for the Corps of Engineers, have you sat in on some of those meetings?

Douglas Spale: Yes, I have. Yeah. And just to understand the interplay between Kansas Department of Wildlife Regulations as it relates to the Corps of Engineers Lakes.

Challenges Traveling Hunters Face

So you’re also losing your ability to hunt and also your places to hunt that can support ducks.

Ramsey Russell: One of my clients, listeners, sent me the Kansas DNR commission, the wildlife commission, said, go to hour 5. And in hour 5, their most recent meeting, one of the commissioners got up and he knew during COVID we saw this major influx of out of staters coming to hunt public lands in Kansas. Okay, we just let it ride, maybe it’s just a flash in the pan, he said, but it wasn’t. And so now, as I understand it, I don’t know if it’s been passed, but I know it’s been proposed that non-residents can only hunt public water in the state of Kansas on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, which are fairly non-desirable days. If you got to travel hunt, it’s a pretty limited timeframe. If you got to travel from, say, Mississippi to hunt or further to hunt, that kind of does you out. And even if you want to hunt on those 3 days, you’re stuck. You can’t just got to camp out for 4 more days or whatever to get back in there. And then they mentioned that in addition to the state lands, they were going to reach out to all the federal stakeholders. Has that law passed yet, or is it inevitable?

Douglas Spale: I don’t know if it’s inevitable and it hasn’t passed yet, it’s just a proposal. But remember, how state government works in relation to the federal government is, the federal waterfowl regulations probably better than I do. So the federal government sets up the scheme on how you can regulate it, and each state individually can make their own regulations that are more restrictive than the federal regulations. So if the state of Kansas wants to limit those days on federal land, they can. The federal government’s not going to intervene in that regard.

Ramsey Russell: That’s scary stuff. I see access has becoming increasingly and debilitatingly limited for the future of hunting, especially for waterfowl hunting. I see here in the state of Mississippi, if you want to duck hunt some of the WMAs, you have to apply. And if you get drawn, you go apply and I go apply and you get drawn so you can invite me and I get drawn so I can invite you. But best case scenario, that’s two days on that WMA. So let’s say we get really lucky and we get a couple of draws or 3 draws in between us. Well, now we got 6 days, we can hunt. But you know what, 2, 4, 6 days a season does not a tradition make. I don’t know how or why these kids, these new kids coming in are going to stick with something, it’s very costly to get into duck hunting. And that’s a big expense to maybe get to go out 2 to 4 times unless I travel. Now, as I travel, a lot of states and provinces are beginning to close the gap because even though we duck hunters and we hunters in general may be declining, numbers wise, the areas that we can hunt are declining even at a greater rate. And we’ve got less opportunities to go and we’re just becoming more highly distilled into a shrinking landscape, and that’s scary. I don’t know what that says for the future of hunting.

Douglas Spale: And I share that same fear that – I’m 33 now, and I do some days wonder and maybe it’s irrational, but when I’m 53 and hopefully I’m still able bodied, am I still going to be able to travel and hunt? Am I still going to be able to do that same type of hunting here in Kansas. I mean that’s 20 years from now, I’ll have new dogs, hopefully. But is this thing that I do now still going to be there in 20 years? It’s sad to say that, I don’t know.

Ramsey Russell: When I look at the last 20 years, and I don’t mean increase it, I mean just carry it forward another 20 years. Just take the same rate of loss and project it 20 years, I think it’s very daunting because we can’t do today what we could do 20 years ago, we don’t have the access today that we had 20 years ago. What’s it going to be like in 20 more years. When I see provinces like Manitoba begin to regulate access, Arkansas already did it, they’re on their state WMAs and now Kansas, I think it’s just the spear tip and I think it’s a movement because think about it, okay, now I can’t go to Kansas like I was going, so I’ll go to pick another state. And as people start swinging over there, what’s going to happen? I believe those spigots are going to be turned dry too. I don’t know, it’s crazy, it’s worse.

Douglas Spale: The other part is it’s not just access, it’s also habitat. So we’re losing access and we’re losing a habitat at that similar rate. So you’re also losing your ability to hunt and also your places to hunt that can support ducks. So that’s the really bothersome part about all of this, is that we’re losing the habitat too. Think about 20 years ago, how many places in Kansas or Nebraska could I hunt for waterfowl that I can’t now because it’s either ag or we’ve lost a bunch of water, or a number of other reasons, which is scary, too.

Ramsey Russell: If he cited it, I don’t remember. But John Devney recently said on a previous episode that we’re losing 0.8% annually of that habitat you’re talking about. We know that means that every year that percent represents more acres, carry it forward 20 years. I can’t do the math without a calculator in front of me, but it’s significant, it’s 20%, 25% by the time you project it, what’s there going to be left to hunt? And at the same time, we’ve got anti-hunters using our tax dollars, figured out the loopholes to curb access, create economic barriers to access and the cost of ammo and the cost of munitions and the steel shot and the non-toxic fishing weights. Recently, and I’ve been gone, so I haven’t been keeping up with it. But recently, the Biden administration, these sweeping laws that are creating barriers for us to access some of that last remaining property to hunt. So what do we do?

Douglas Spale: I will say, though, there’s that big announcement, USDA last month where they’re giving out $500 million to support regional conservation. I mean, there is administration to administration, I’m not going to go down the political thing because I just don’t do that. But there still is money coming out the door, but it seems like it’s harder and harder to get a hold of that. They can announce a $500 million fund out there, but then pulling that, you know this, you worked in the government pulling that money out to direct habitat, that’s the tough part.

Duck Hunter to Outdoor Communicator

But the other side is you really trying to highlight some of our hunting culture and some of that heritage that makes us so devoted to this passion of hunting. 

Ramsey Russell: It could be good. Tell me this, how did you transfer from duck hunting into more of an outdoor communicator. Some of the projects you’re working on, you’re a writer, you write in popular magazines now, how did that come to be?

Douglas Spale: Yeah, some of it’s just kind of circumstance and just good opportunities. But I feel like I do a decent job at least articulating a good story. And my big mission is one to connect to those people that we talk about that are the anti-hunters, the people that aren’t aware of what we’re doing here and explain some of that nuance. But the other side is you really trying to highlight some of our hunting culture and some of that heritage that makes us so devoted to this passion of hunting. And I think just some of its legwork by pitching and going out and traveling and people say, how did you hunt in Chicago? Maybe you should write an article about that. Absolutely. I’ll do that to show other people that they can do it. I think it’s just circumstance and being able to articulate a good story.

Ramsey Russell: Chicago is a big city, how did you hunt in Chicago?

Douglas Spale: You know what it was, I trained a dog that I had a Labrador there, but it was just calling every guide service that I could find on Google and talking to them and figuring out who do I get along with and how far away are they. And I’d have to rent a car because I didn’t have a car when I was in Chicago and drive out to a club and then hang out there and try to get after it. But it’s legwork. And I think that’s a thing a lot of people don’t do anymore is so much just picking up a phone and talking to somebody.

Ramsey Russell: What was your first article and who was it for?

Douglas Spale: My first article was for a series for pheasants forever about raising my Labrador in Chicago for the upland side. Then I did a companion piece in Ducks Unlimited about raising that Labrador for the duck side. And I had a big feature piece that was super fun to write a couple of years ago that was published last year, just detailing my whole Chicagoland experience. I raised that dog, I hunted a lot of waterfowl, but I also got to use some of those cool perks of being in a big city by bringing all my game to really good chefs and combining those experiences and getting some really good recipes. So that was a fun time.

Ramsey Russell: That’s one thing about duck hunting and traveling, it does increase your recipe base, doesn’t it? I find myself collecting recipes along the way. When I sit down, it doesn’t matter if I’m in North Dakota or Azerbaijan, I want recipes, I love good food, and I love the way when you travel around throughout the United States, people cook duck differently. That’s a big part of this thing.

Douglas Spale: And the cool part is just you do this when you go internationally. But some of that international crowd that was in Chicago, combining American waterfowl with a Croatian chef, I think can be a really cool combination.

Ramsey Russell: What’s been a response to some of these articles you’ve written?

South Dakota Hunting Adventures

 And remember, that’s a big part of who I am, too, is my tribal affiliations. 

Douglas Spale: I’ve gotten to meet a lot of cool people in this, let’s just call this waterfowl space and I’ve gotten to work with some brands, and it’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy telling stories, and I think I’m kind of moving now where I like, initially I was writing a little bit about my experience, I’d really like to migrate over and talk about other people’s experiences, write some nice reflection pieces on someone’s duck camp somewhere or some tribal land hunting experience. And remember, that’s a big part of who I am, too, is my tribal affiliations. I grew up in Nebraska, hunting in Nebraska. And then I guess, I did travel to South Dakota a bunch to hunt the Indian reservations.

Ramsey Russell: How did you develop those tribal relations?

Douglas Spale: One of my dad’s best friends was a priest at a reservation, the Winnebago tribe and then just through intertribal connections, you would go up to South Dakota, come down to Kansas and Nebraska and learn more about those cultures. And as I’ve gotten older, when you talk about public land access hunting on reservations, if it’s a big size one that give you access to a million acres to hunt on. So it’s like if I want to do a week long trip, I go up to the Blackfeet tribe in Browning, Montana, that’s almost 2 million acres. With a Cheyenne reservation in South Dakota, that’s 2 million acres to hunt.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve hunted some native land before and reservations down in Oklahoma, South Dakota, how would you describe it as different than outside the reservation?

Douglas Spale: You know, when you’re on the radius, that’s best way to say.

Ramsey Russell: How so?

Douglas Spale: Just because of the way tribal sovereignty works and how the government is set up, they don’t have a lot of the services that we have for the most part. And then just the way the tribes have experienced life throughout the past 100 plus years, there’s a lot of unfortunate circumstances, drug abuse, alcoholism, poverty, lack of economic opportunities. And all that kind of matriculates down to some of the ways that the Indians live out there, and I’m sure I don’t know which ones you’ve been to, but as soon as you get onto the reservation, roads are different, the houses are different, the cars are pretty, it’s pretty obvious.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. The one I went on wasn’t that different. It was like being a part of Texas or anywhere else in Oklahoma. And I think fondly of it. The things I noticed were like some of the ritual, know where they danced or had ceremonies still.

Douglas Spale: Oh, the pow wows and the sun dancing.

Ramsey Russell: And did some pretty cool stuff like that. And I noticed how out around a duck hole there might be another group, but everybody just kind of talked beforehand, and it was just very amenable, it wasn’t cutthroat competitive. I think fondly, of it, I shot some ducks, had a good time, had some good food. I didn’t see a lot of that. You hear about some of that stuff, especially out west, but I didn’t see a lot of that. And I just met a lot of nice, friendly people and learned a lot about native American culture that I just really enjoyed hearing about. It was nice, but I’ve never been to some of those million acre places you’re talking about, either out west. May have pheasant hunted on one here or there, but nothing like a deep dive into it like you seem to have done.

Douglas Spale: Yeah. And I always have a tribe name, my dogs, and I’ll tell you what. So last year, I went up to the Spirit Lake tribe, which is Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, and I did a goose hunt up there for early goose season. And, man, the first night I got there, my tribal friends welcomed me, we did a scouting party where we all drove around and scouted for geese the next morning. And I don’t know, part of me is just a little nerdy about going on a tribal scouting party for waterfowl. But the next day we come out, there’s three generations of, it’s just a cool thing to be like, oh, I’m on a scouting party, right?

Ramsey Russell: Kind of like on dancing with wolves when they were looking for Tonka.

Avid Waterfowl Hunters

Douglas Spale: Exactly. But then the next day, I go out and we’re hunting, and they’re setting up blinds, and I have 3 generations of a family in a blind with me, and they’re talking about all the recipes they’re going to make with these geese and all the experiences they’ve had on this land and how this land is their home. And it’s really interesting and maybe you notice this when you’re out at that reservation that you were at. When they describe places, it’s not like mile marker 6 or street or main street, it’s like, that’s on Sundance Hill or that’s on that fork in the river. And just listening to how they’re so tied to the land is just a very cool experience to be a part of.

Ramsey Russell: Did a lot of the guys that went out, you talk about the 3 generations, were they avid hunters for waterfowl?

Douglas Spale: Avid waterfowl hunters, and that’s what I was surprised to see, because have you ever. I mean, I guess you hunted with a guy down in Oklahoma.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Douglas Spale: How many times have you seen a tribal member out there waterfowl hunting in the media?

Ramsey Russell: True. Yeah, not much.

Douglas Spale: And to know that there’s 3 generations up in spirit lake doing this day in, day out and hunting their own tribal land, and guess what? There’s not a lot of economic opportunities for that tribe up there. So when I say they’re feeding their family with those geese, they’re feeding their family with those geese.

Ramsey Russell: How were they cooking those geese? You’re talking about some of the recipes they were going to use. Was anything out of the ordinary?

Douglas Spale: Nothing out of the ordinary for me. I mean, they would just kind of breast them, skin them, put them in a stew, mix them with beef, mix them with pork. It wasn’t like traditional food, like a traditional native American meal. But they’re going back to their home, and that is the dinner for the night. When you knock down 15 geese a person, that’s the dinner for the next 3 nights.

The Journey to the Bird Dog Museum

Trigger pulls are involved, killing quail and killing ducks is involved, but it’s not the definitive part of that sport for those people.

Ramsey Russell: What led you to the bird dog museum?

Douglas Spale: I’ll make a long story short. I went down to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, spent a week down there, and did that quail hunting, which I had never done in the Deep South before. And you had that guy on here, talk about quail hunting, and we can get way into that. But on my way north, I knew that there was the national, the big field trial up there, so I stopped in there to watch part of it, and I’d never been to the bird dog museum before, and I went in there, and you’ve been there, too, to have a lab and a setter on my truck and to go in that museum that has the Retriever Hall of Fame and the Bird Dog Hall of Fame. I couldn’t have asked for a better place for someone like me to go.

Ramsey Russell: It’s pretty amazing. Did you say you were writing some stories or writing a book about that place?

Douglas Spale: I’m going to, I’m in the process. Yeah, I’m writing a few stories right now, and then I’m going to write a book about the whole bird dog culture, 100 years go back to 1926, not 100 years. But when you’re there and you saw that pet taxidermy dog, and you’re like, this dog is almost, I think it’s over a hundred years old now.

Ramsey Russell: 1891.

Douglas Spale: Okay. A 150.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s been a while.

Douglas Spale: And she told a great story about it. It was great taxidermy at that, but she told such a great story about it was such a beloved dog, now there was something I missed about the explanation. He was one of the top 6, one of the pinnacle 6 dog count somebody and the owner was so bereft and bereaved when he buried him that he went and dug him up and had him mounted and didn’t like the mount, so he remounted him. I guess some of the heirs donated it and ended up in that museum. But it’s pretty magnificent, the testament to the dog. Which takes hunting to a whole new level, it goes back to some of the stuff we were talking about earlier preceding the meeting. I guess to an outsider looking in, hunting is just about going and shooting animals. But to guys like that, it was about way more. That’s what that bird dog really represents to me, is how hunting is involved. Trigger pulls are involved, killing quail and killing ducks is involved, but it’s not the definitive part of that sport for those people.

Douglas Spale: And that’s the nuance. And that’s what I enjoy about being able to write and get my articles published and share that story to a broader audience. Both people who like, who are in the hunting community and who are outside is, you’re exactly right. There’s a nuance that you can really highlight the culture, the tradition, the dog work, the use of guns that are family heirlooms, there’s so much more to hunting than just shooting and killing. And that’s the part that I think that it’s really fun to highlight. You learn that at the bird dog museum, you’re like, when I’m sitting there at the dinner table with all these people that are in the bird dog Hall of Fame, and I’m just listening to these stories that go back 50, 60, 60 years, and I look at these two beautiful dogs that I have on my truck and think these dogs are great dogs. And that’s because people have been dedicated to these lineages for decades, perfecting, tweaking, perfecting, tweaking these dogs and that’s why we have the good dogs we have today. And part of me, there’s a somber tone in my voice when I talk about this because I worry in a decade, 2 decades, in 3 decades, is that devotion to these lines still going to be there? I don’t know.

Ramsey Russell: I don’t know either. One of the things that compelled me to the bird dog museum, other than the fact it’s just interesting, was the fact that I think when you look at quail hunting, which back at one time was extremely widespread, everybody in America, no matter what your economic strait was, everybody owned a bird dog, everybody went out around their 40 acre pea patch and collected supper, ran their dogs when they weren’t plowing up the fields with mules, and it changed. Now, when you talk to real honest to God quail hunters anywhere in the Deep South, they’re older, they’re in their 70s and 80s, and they’re talking about hunting decades ago with long deceased family members. And kind of like what we were talking about earlier, about a wonderful walk through the end of a waterfowl era. Well, quail hunting has ended, there are some great strongholds for wild bird quail hunting in parts of Texas and I’m sure Oklahoma, maybe in parts of Kansas still. But a lot of those properties are locked up. And short of being a gazillionaire, you probably haven’t got access to it. The regular guys like us with bird dogs may never again see what the people and the dogs represented in that museum experienced. And to me, it’s almost like a smoke and gun argument that just like quail hunting, this waterfowl hunting thing for a myriad of different reasons could cease to be. Maybe I’m just an old man I worry about too much, but I worry about it. I raised my kids into this stuff, it was important to me that my children understand the value of hunting, but develop a connectivity with the ducks, with the resource, with the habitat, with the associated wildlife, it was important to me that they do that. And the idea that they may be the last generation that’s imported to is disturbing. But I see that represented in that old bird dog museum.

Douglas Spale: And part of my writing is when I go out there, I work pretty hard to find quail because it’s not as easy as it was 20 years ago, 50 years ago. And I write to connect to that generation that can’t see that anymore. Because ask any quail hunter from Oklahoma what’s it like, and they’ll tell you it’s rough. But that Oklahoma used to be a bastion of quail hunting. All that oil money, and that was like golf to them. Those guys, those oil guys, they might have golf, but their big thing was their big quail spots, the quail dogs, the pointers and the setters and running dogs on quail. That was like the gentleman’s sport at the time. You go to Oklahoma now and you’ve been there. How many quail hunters do you see there?

Ramsey Russell: Not many.

Douglas Spale: It’s tough.

Ramsey Russell: You don’t meet any real quail hunters anymore. Quail hunting today is primarily put and take or subsidized. And I’m not knocking that, I’m just saying it’s not the same as having an abundance of habitat conditions that produced an abundance of wild bob white, that anybody could go and hunt anybody. It’s not that way anymore. As we talked about earlier, I kind of see the foreshadowing of that in waterfowl hunting. Luckily, ducks and geese are doing good, their populations are stable relative to migratory birds worldwide. But the access and places to go and hunt them and to cultivate that hand-me-down tradition seemed to be waning.

Douglas Spale: And that’s where our conservation organizations really have stepped up lately to really try to protect that, both by putting habitat on the ground but protecting us in the legislation, in the legislature. And that’s a big thing that comes out on the hunting community is what those legislatures and states can do both, and we can say state level and the federal level. That’s why it’s important to support those conservations that pony up for us at those legislatures. That’s a big part of keeping us alive, right?

Educating & Bringing Awareness About the Hunting Community

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You grew up with a hunting family, you evolved in this thing, you have entered the wing shooting space, the waterfowl space, “via writing”. And do you feel it incumbent on you? Do you have a mission? Are you just writing to write because you love to write, or do you feel a mission to do something? Like you mentioned talking to anti-hunters and that’s one of the biggest downfalls of the hunting community, is I feel like we’re the preacher preaching to the choir and the congregation, rarely does our narrative get outside of our own ranks. I can tell you the anti-hunters aren’t reading, they don’t care to read what we read. They won’t read their own stuff. It’s just how do you reach, not so much the anti-hunters, but the non-hunters, which are mounting leaps and bounds throughout the United States and around the world. How do you reach them? How do you communicate them this value, the value represented in that national bird dog museum, the value of Ramsey going out with his kids and his grandkids, the value to the resource, because all they see is the dead dunk hanging on the strap. How do you communicate that to them?

Douglas Spale: Well, the first part is, yes, I do feel some sort of drive or take on this mission to educate and raise awareness of our hunting community. But the answer is for me, and I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s connecting people to the dogs. I think that’s a good play. When I live in Chicago, when I travel around, I go to big cities like Denver, go to LA, go to places in Texas, stuff like that – this is going to be a little weird. But when I go to the dog park and they see me rolling with my dog box and drop two dogs with orange collars on, or one’s got a camo collar on and they’re well trained at heel, before I get in, I cut them loose and they’re like, wow, those dogs are really well trained. I say, yeah, I work hard on it. What do you do? Well, I do a lot of hunting. They say, ooh, hunting. But I talked to them about how these dogs are bred for this stuff, how they thrive in these communities. And I think if you touch someone with a dog, a dog lover, and a dog lover usually see eye to eye on a lot of things because you have that common bond of dogs. And that is my big stick, is to connect that non-hunting community or the community that doesn’t care to the dog. And I don’t know if that’s going to work, but it’s kind of what I’ve tried to move forward to it.

Ramsey Russell: I’m willing to try it with you. Char Dog goes around everywhere I can take her, took her to Argentina and man, especially Buenos Aires people, they are dog people. There’s mountains and mountains of dog shit on sidewalk down there and they all got dog living in those apartments down in Buenos Aires and they love dogs. And so when you get on a plane with a dog, they used to seeing pulling her owner down the sidewalk or barking incessantly and that’s kind of messy, they’re not used to seeing a well behaved dog. And I just noticed traveling around this year, we get off a plane or go to an airport or go somewhere and people just flock to her. We’ll sit down and pet her. They were talking about how well behaved she was, how docile she was, that dog just melts like butter when you start to pet her like a big old lap dog. You’d never imagine she looks like she was shot from the gun, the minute you say her command, it’s just time to go time, go get a duck. And I really didn’t go into that with them. Well, she hunts. I didn’t go into that with them. And that might be a good opportunity to connect with a lot of them city folk and say, well, she’s a hunting dog. She hunts.

Douglas Spale: And it’s just the hook. It’s the hook to get you to, and I use the meta-analogy here. It’s the hook to get you to my supper table. When you’re at my supper table, we can eat and we’ll have a real conversation. But if I can hook you in with that dog, I think I can convince you later on.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Where are we going to hunt together, Douglas?

Douglas Spale: We got to figure out our schedules because I go up to Canada again this year, I’m going out west, I’m going out east. I’m going to try to shoot a black duck this year, I’m going up to Maine and Vermont. Have you ever been out there?

Ramsey Russell: I have. And that’s a good place to shoot black ducks. Vermont’s a cool state, Maine, great place to shoot black ducks along the coastal areas and inland a little bit. And I love shooting black duck for some reason, I don’t know what it is about that dark mallard like bird, but I just got this thing for them. I love them. I see myself, the way we’re playing right now, I see myself more west than east. I do hope to get up to West Virginia and Virginia very quickly and knock some stuff off my list after Thanksgiving and then jumping back over into your part of the world somehow go between Thanksgiving, West Virginia and Virginia to Wyoming a few days before Christmas. But this preceding Thanksgiving, I see myself making the coastal teal, I love chasing blue-wing teal, jumping up into Canada. And this year I want to get to Manitoba for a little bit, because I’ve got some great friends out there I want to get to, of course, Saskatchewan and Alberta. But I’m planning on being in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and then somehow parking everything, leaving the dog – Char Dog can’t go to Australia because of crocodiles. But as it stands right now, I’m going over to do some research, some genetic work over in Australia in November and then somehow fly back to California, wherever I’m at, and be home for Thanksgiving. So I don’t have a schedule locked in place right now. But it’s supposed to bring me through parts of Wyoming and Montana and Nebraska, so maybe you and I finally get to join up and go hunt together.

Douglas Spale: Yeah. And if you can get late in here, you might be able to get on some of those giant Canadas that come down too. Like in the bird dog world, they go down to Arizona in January and I stay home because I know that’s when the giant Canadas are going to start rolling through here.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Douglas Spale: I love chasing those big honkers.

Ramsey Russell: Big migrator still?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. I mean, I feel like they stop in that Colorado and Nebraska area, I haven’t really seen them down in Kansas, but I’ll go out there and try to chase them for a little bit because I love those big giants. And I usually go to Rochester every September for that early season, at the very end, you can get some of them giants, too.

Ramsey Russell: So you’re going out to Vermont, Maine this year, and what else is on your horizon?

Douglas Spale: So I got a lot. August I’ll do my North Dakota early goose, and in the end of August I’m going to follow my bird dog in the Dakotas, she’s going to be a dirty dog for the season, so I’ll lose her. Then I’ll bump over to Montana in September and that early Prairie Grouse come back to Nebraska and Kansas and hit the two teal openers. Then October 1st, I’ll be up in Alberta, but I chase hunts up in Calgary instead of the waterfowl. And then the third week in October, I will go to Maine and Vermont for a week to do that. Goose season there on the Lake Champlain, I think that’s what it’s called. And then chase black ducks right off the coast of Maine. My wife will join me for a couple of days so she can get some lobster and do that to fall foliage.

Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah. Now you’re going to drive where you can bring your dog or try to fly with them?

Douglas Spale: Yeah, I drive everywhere, I don’t fly.

Ramsey Russell: Same here. I drive as much as humanly possible. I find a lot of peace behind a windshield, behind a steering wheel, that’s a real happy place for me. I think clearly, I can organize my thoughts, listen to podcasts to relax, talk on the phone to old friends or clients or whomever, I love road trips.

Douglas Spale: And I scout a lot, too when I drive. Like if it’s a 3 hour drive, it’s going to take me 4.5 because I’m going to deviate a little bit because I love scouting on the Onyx or whatever. I love to scout and get pins, and I’ll never hunt a lot of the pins that I even put down. And I love scouting and seeing the birds, seeing the landscape, especially when you go out west, driving up to Montana, that’s a pretty drive.

Ramsey Russell: Beautiful drive. Especially you start off in eastern Montana, which is just wide open, nothing. And as you drive west, you start seeing the mountains come into view. And as you keep going west, Montana, you’re finally way up in the Rocky Mountains. It’s an awesome drive. Just seeing the prairies just blossom into these snow-capped mountains is amazing.

Douglas Spale: When I got my setter last year, I picked her up in Payette, Idaho, which is like an hour northwest of Boise. So I drove from Kansas City to Denver, stopped in Denver, shot some waterfowl with Front Range Guide Service –

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I know them, yeah, good guys.

Douglas Spale: For a day, for a morning, and then drove all the way to Payette, Idaho, for the rest of the time. And just seeing that country out west, man, driving through Salt Lake and then getting up into Idaho, just beautiful. And just think, man, life is good. I’m driving here, got dogs on the truck, we’re going to do some, life’s good. But then part of that is I get to do these things. So I need to share these stories in these places with people. So whether it’s a guy or gal who wants to be motivated to go on a hunting trip or to convince someone else that saving habitat, conserving lands, and donating money to non-profits is a good thing, I got to give something back for all these benefits that I receive. And that’s where that writing comes in.

Ramsey Russell: Or just share a good time with new people, I really enjoy that. I love meeting new people and crawling into their little nook and cranny and into their little sliver of the North American waterfowl hunting experience. Their culture, their styles, their birds, their equipment, their food, I can’t get enough of it. How can people connect with you on social media?

Douglas Spale: Yeah. So my Instagram is sunka_o_war.

Ramsey Russell: And what is that? What is sunka_o_war?

Douglas Spale: Sunka is the Lakota word for dog. So that dog that I had in Chicago, her name was Sunka, which is the Lakota word for dog. And the o-war was to kind of commemorate those Lakota warriors it was that roam the prairies that I enjoy hunting. And now I got a new 2 dogs. My lab now is Nakuto, which is command chief for my fire. And then my English setter is named sta, or staa, which is Blackfeet tribe, that’s their word for ghost. She’s my ghost to the prairie because she tears it up.

Ramsey Russell: Spell your Instagram account one more time.

Douglas Spale: Yes. Sunka_o_war.

Ramsey Russell: Douglas, I appreciate you coming on tonight. Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Douglas Spale from Kansas City. Connect with him, if you like dogs and you like history and you like hunting, we’re pretty good folks, he’s your man. Douglas, I appreciate you. And folks, thank you all for this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.


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It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at ramsey@getducks.com. And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks