Ramsey visits an exclusive swamp property that is a Mississippi Delta landmark and among a precious handful of crown-jewel properties strung together in Tallahatchie County, only recently trading hands for the first time in a half-century. It was at this particular camp house that a popular bourbon-based, ceremonial duck hunting concoction was formulated. Meeting with host Craig Rozier and long-time caretaker, John T, Ramsey learns something of this property’s colorful history and ongoing waterfowl management activities.
A Bucket List Duck Hunt
It’s a large series of ridge and swell topography. A lot of breaks, a lot of flood prone agriculture, the river nearby, federal sanctuary not too far from here, other landmark properties within a few minutes duck as a duck flies.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today I checked a bucket list. I’m in my home state of Mississippi. Duck season today is in Mississippi. Free state of Tallahatchie County. I’ve driven by this property for 25 years, working for Fish and Wildlife service. Way back in the day, flying over and looking, and it’s the epicenter of Mississippi duck hunting. I mean, it’s the kind of place y’all, that the last mallard duck in the state of Mississippi is going to die. Perfect habitat in the perfect part of the state. I’ve heard it coined by the late Bubba Thompson as the Brazil flyway, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. A lot of habitat formed by the Meander and Tallahatchie River back in the days. And boy, you should have seen the ducks. I’ll bet that this neck of the woods has got, I just guess over half a duck state of Mississippi or up in this fly away right now. We went out this morning and slid off into a beautiful tupelo break and had the time of our lives. Joining me today are Craig Rozier and longtime property caretaker Mr. John T. Gaston. Craig, how you doing?
Craig Rozier: I’m good Ramsey. How are you today?
Ramsey Russell: How about you, John T., how are you today?
John T: I’m doing good today.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a kind of a spring weather feeling, hot day for duck hunting day. But we did alright, didn’t we?
Craig Rozier: We did.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think about the duck numbers out here right now?
Craig Rozier: I think they’re really good. We were in conversation last night, and I’m not a big duck numbers kind of guy. Well, we killed 1200 ducks on the property this year. Definitely don’t get into bragging about it. But I do keep a record just to see if the improvements we’re doing is helping the duck population on the property. We took this property a little over two years ago. This is our third duck season. And it’s historically known to have a lot of ducks, but the property, instead, it kind of started going downhill and had to have a lot of drainage structures putting it, and we’re slowly doing that. When you take on the property, you can’t get it all done in one year, you’ve got to have a plan, a minimum of a five-year plan and more probably more like ten. So I keep up with what we’re harvesting to see, in my opinion, lets me know what we’re doing is right. And as of yesterday we had hunted two last days and what we had, is it the same day in 2020. But we’ve killed more ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, well that’s pretty damn good considering it was 82° when I left Brandon, Mississippi to drive up here, that’s all I could think. I’m going to a bucket list hunt. And it’s 82° in Brandon, Mississippi. And of course it’s raining cats and dogs when I got here last night and cooled off considerably. And we saw that, you took me on a little tour, went out there and looked at some of your rest areas and there’s a bunch of ducks flying around. But this area has historically held ducks forever. It’s a large series of ridge and swell topography. A lot of breaks, a lot of flood prone agriculture, the river nearby, federal sanctuary not too far from here, other landmark properties within a few minutes duck as a duck flies. You were telling me yesterday you started seeing mallard ducks showing up on this property when?
Craig Rozier: Late October.
Ramsey Russell: Late October.
Craig Rozier: One thing that as a landowner, you can never ask people too many questions. And when one thing I’ve learned is, from my wife’s uncle who now calls me his favorite son in law, I mean nephew. He always flood mid-October. He said you got to catch that Halloween flight of ducks. And that’s what we do. We flood that sanctuary feed acreage up starting in mid-October. And around the 31st of October you’re going to start seeing some ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about this. Talk about growing up – you grew up not far from here in Leflore County, Greenwood, Mississippi. Folks listening, have heard your daddy talk, right there at Crystal Grill, told some duck hunting stories and around in? And what was your duck hunting background growing up? What are some of your fondest memories as the duck hunter?
Craig Rozier: I shot my first duck out of a boat at McIntyre Scatters.
Ramsey Russell: Really? How old were you?
Craig Rozier: Oh Lord, I cannot even remember.
Ramsey Russell: Well your daddy was president of the club forever.
Craig Rozier: Yeah. I was probably eight or nine years old.
Ramsey Russell: Mallard duck.
Craig Rozier: Mallard duck. Yeah. We would hunt there. We would hunt over there, a good friend of his farmed over there. And that’s really the two places I remember hunting a lot. We would get invited to hunt Pino, the private portion of Matthew’s break. And that was really good hunting. I grew up duck hunting. That was the first hunting I started doing. Really didn’t get into deer hunting until dad moved to Carroll County.
Ramsey Russell: Well, where’s your heartbeat at now? I know you deer hunt somewhere. Where’s your heartbeat?
Craig Rozier: If the birds are flying I’m not deer hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. This morning was unusual, speaking of ducks flying, cause we drove around yesterday and there was a lot of ducks laying in a different place. We watched the ducks fly to bed last night over that sanctuary. It’s supposed to cool off. My weather forecast said clear, and I was thinking, all right, this could work good. And we got out there and it was foggy. It added his aura to that break. It was just, it was holy looking, I mean with that that mist out there floating through. Holy for sure. So I don’t think the ducks got up and flew like they’re supposed to, we had a great hunt, but we didn’t – you couldn’t see them birds over the treetops hardly.
Craig Rozier: I know when I walked out of the house here at 5:00 A.M, I could see stars in the sky still. It wasn’t that foggy when we left out on the range, but man, right there about shooting time it’s set in.
Quality or Quantity in Duck Hunts?
Ramsey Russell: I will say this. The ducks we shot came in this textbook-perfect course. That little tight hole we were shooting, how far is that? 30 yards maybe, maybe?
Craig Rozier: Yeah, 30 from one side.
Ramsey Russell: It was. When they came through those trees it was over. They were dead. And that was a great group of guys to hunt with, some of the stories told there in the blind, some great dog work. It just – you could hardly ask for a better morning, I don’t think. A few more ducks maybe, what would a few more ducks have added to today? Nothing.
Craig Rozier: It’s like I always say, do you want a quality of duck hunts or do you want quantity of duck hunts?
Ramsey Russell: I’m with you on that. Then we came back and ate real good. We had a great supper last night. How long have you been hunting up here in Tallahatchie County?
Craig Rozier: We first bought property here, I’m going to say 9, 10 years ago – 10 or 11 years ago, I think what it was. And it’s a big W.R.P track. We have combined it all to be named as my address now. But originally, what we bought was called Haney Break. And as you and I talked today, I’ve said that there are no two pieces of property that are alike. Even though these two pieces joined, you had to hunt them different. This was a W. R. P. track. When you got it, everybody said, oh, we’re just going to duck hunt in the morning and we’re going to deer hunt in the afternoons. And that wasn’t the case on this property. We had to change the way we duck hunted and we duck hunted in the afternoons. And I’ve had some wonderful duck hunts.
The Crown Jewel of the Mississippi Delta
It was always hunted by one man and whoever he wanted his guest to be.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something? Let’s talk about the property y’all just acquired. Let’s talk about Mallard Rest because that to me represents, I say, the crown jewel of the Mississippi Delta. To me it is. It’s a historic piece of property. The previous owner had it since the early ‘70s. And enjoyed some very very good duck hunting. What do you know about the history of this property?
Craig Rozier: Well, the previous owner, like you said the previous owner had it from since back in the ‘70s, started piecing it all together. And John T probably going to have to help me on the history of the property.
Ramsey Russell: Jump in when you see a chance John T.
Craig Rozier: What I can tell you is it was never over pressured. It was always hunted by one man and whoever he wanted his guest to be. Wouldn’t you say John T?
John T: Just 100% right. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about those days. How long you’ve been here? Since what, 1989?
John T: I’ve been on the farm since ‘89.
Ramsey Russell: 1989. What is your job duties been since 1989? What would you do to help the landowners get ready for duck season?
John T: I always help get the duck blind ready. Helped plant the crops, then sure had water in the duck hole, and all that kind of stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir.
John T: Now you telling, if you want to go somewhere, you had to haul them around to keep him around different places.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you didn’t have the four-wheeler technology back in the ‘80s that you do now. How did you get him to some of these blinds, because it’s a hard place to get to?
John T: Well, we need to pull him out there in the boat. Then we, sometimes we had a track, and we just go get the tractor and take it to the house and load them up with the best and take them out there to the blind.
R: In a tractor?
Craig Rozier: John T, elaborate on that tractor? What was it?
John T: What kind of wood? It was a Caterpillar. Track tractor.
Ramsey Russell: A track tractor.
John T: Yeah. Like they had a big basket behind. He never kept two people on the hunt with him.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, himself and two others?
John T: Yeah. Himself and two others. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What were some of his favorite blinds? It’s a big property and Craig had told me earlier this morning, how many blind have you found on this property since the ‘70s at least, if not earlier?
Craig Rozier: I’ve discovered two this year.
Ramsey Russell: How many total would you say there are on this property?
John T: But one time we had more, about 50 blind.
Ramsey Russell: 50 blinds. In timber and open water and ag fields?
John T: Yes. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What were some of his favorite places to hunt? What were his favorite blinds?
John T: The Macoma. Then thee hunted over the real one, that was one of the favorite places to hunt too.
Ramsey Russell: What was the Macoma blind like?
John T: Oh, it’s a big old floater.
Ramsey Russell: Big floating blind?
John T: Yeah. Then we had a boat shed behind that we pulled up in the blind and they’ll get out of the boat into the blind.
Ramsey Russell: What would he like so much about that? Why was that his favorite spot?
John T: That we had ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Always had ducks? Was it out on the big break?
John T: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: A big body of water. What was his favorite species of ducks to shoot out there in that open water?
John T: Mallards.
Ramsey Russell: Mallard ducks.
John T: And pintails?
Ramsey Russell: And pintails.
John T: Yeah. Nobody shoot pintails but him.
Ramsey Russell: Really? Would he shoot just drakes only? Or would he just shoot ducks?
John T: Drakes.
Ramsey Russell: Drakes only.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something? Mostly you all had to get him around in a Caterpillar.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Which took forever, I’m going to guess, to crawl out there. But he’d go anywhere you wanted to go? He took two people to the blind. His favorite blind was the Macoma. Somebody told me he had a roof on it and he really liked it in the rain?
John T: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And then he had another hole called the honey hole.
John T: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Was it open water too?
John T: Water, out in the field.
Ramsey Russell: Out in the fields?
John T: Yeah.
Hunting with the World’s Largest Cotton Broker
He hunted about 10 blinds a season.
R: What was his management style back then? I mean, he was the world’s largest cotton broker at one time. He could do what he wanted to do. Did he plant a lot of egg and leaving it for the ducks and then hunt some of these other areas. How would he hunt?
John T: Yeah. He will leave some feed in the field. Say again one more time.
Ramsey Russell: What was his strategy? How did he rest the ducks? Did he have like sanctuaries that he never hunted?
John T: He hunted most of all the fields. But I didn’t find out how he hunted leases. He used to hunt, probably made it about seven times a year. I guess, I mean with real special friends.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Yeah. I mean you had this much property and this many duck colds and that many duck blinds. It was basically just you and two other people. It was always just one blind being hunted when he was here. They weren’t hunting a lot of different blinds were they?
John T: He hunted about 10 blinds a season.
Ramsey Russell: Right. 10 blinds a season. You told a funny story while he was on the front porch drinking Coca-Cola. You got a special cap signed D.H. And he only signed that name to people he liked. And you said that everybody else was scared to go knock on his door.
John T: That’s my job, to wake him up.
Ramsey Russell: To wake him up. Everybody else was scared to go wake him up.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That was your job. You knew he wanted to get up and go duck hunting.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: How would you wake him up? Just knock on the door?
John T: I just used to open the door and go in there and tell him, get up, let’s go. I’m ready to go.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
John T: Now I’m up at 5:00 AM and you sleep, let’s get up, let’s go hunt.
Ramsey Russell: He wanted that. He wanted to go duck hunting.
John T: It made a day.
The History of Mallard Rest
What are some of the historical stories you can tell that you remember, John T., that happened since 1989 or before then?
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something? Craig, what do you know about the history of this camp? When he started buying, the former landowner started buying it back in the ‘70s, he kept it to himself until what, last year, 2-3 years ago? Except for a few of his friends. And it’s been talked about in some different history books. Well, who did he get it from? How did he start building this property? What was the history of it before then that you’re aware of?
Craig Rozier: I think a lot of it belonged to the Turner family. Isn’t it right John T?
John T: That’s right
Craig Rozier: Is what I do know.
Ramsey Russell: There’s so much history around this part like Macoma, I learned. If you look at a map it’s a town that doesn’t exist anymore but it did back when. And this morning we were talking, your daddy was aware that Charleston, Mississippi and the railroad was a major timber hub back in old logging days of the initial clearing of the Delta. And then there was also a little community called Turner.
Craig Rozier: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Probably a Turner family.
Craig Rozier: That’s right. What I’ve been able to, searching on Google and the Internet, Macoma had its start from the railroad and logging. Yeah, that’s about all I can find on it, and it’s back in the early 1900s. But if you look on Google Maps or some of these other GPS services, it will show up like a settlement and then you go up there to where the houses is, you see the name Turner show up and it shows up as a settlement. And I think the Turner family still owns it. I think they own the majority of this, didn’t they John T.?
Craig Rozier: And we still lease some property from the Turner family.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the historical stories you can tell that you remember, John T., that happened since 1989 or before then? Like I remember a story about a notorious Game Warden trying to get onto this property but all the roads getting onto it were gated off. And he came up one time and he asked somebody to open the gate, do you remember that story?
John T: I don’t really remember that. I remember I was at the gate one time. The Game Warden came up to me. Now we always kept all the gates locked with no ducks even going out. I just push straight out of the lift.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, you just drove off.
John T: I didn’t know what to do. I just like Frank Microgram, and looking back, and I just made me a loop.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Until he was gone.
John T: I didn’t come back. When I came back he was gone. And I told Mr. Dermott, the game will put behind me on the left.
Ramsey Russell: He liked you, he liked it, probably.
John T: And he said you did the right thing.
Ramsey Russell: There was another story. I just, I think it’s such a great story about, there was another caretaker that was told to open the gate.
Craig Rozier: Yeah, what was the name? Brody?
John T: Brody.
Craig Rozier: I’ll let you tell that story John T.
John T: I don’t know much about this story.
Craig Rozier : What I was told is federal Game Warden pulled up Brody, he was sitting at the gate, and he said, “Brody, I need you unlock this gate.” And he said, “No sir, I’m not unlocking.”
Ramsey Russell: Because the landowner was in there hunting.
Craig Rozier: The landowner was in there hunting. And he said, “You don’t understand, I need you to open this gate or I’m going to take you to jail.” He said, “Sir you don’t understand.” He said, “I can open this gate and I can lose my job or I cannot open this gate, you can take me to jail and I’ll be out by the end of the day.”
Ramsey Russell: He kept his job. What did the Game Warden do?
Craig Rozier: Turned around and left.
Ramsey Russell: One of the famous stories and I think, I think Catfish told us on another podcast that that Game Warden ended up coming in. Eventually coming in, but he stopped a train and came in and stopped it again on the property and walked off. And that’s the only way he could access this area back in those days, decades ago, was by train. And it’s a swampy area. That’s the thing about it is, it’s a swampy area. You’ve had this property for three years now. There’s no way y’all have hunted all the areas to hunt. I mean, cause like this morning, we set up on just one of those swags, or one of the swells, out going out through there and we hunted that little pothole. But I can see another one down there about 100 yards. I can see another one down the other way about 100 and you can tell the ducks while they work. I mean there’s just countless little places like ducks can get into. How do you decide what that looks like a needle in a haystack, but the ducks are everywhere, but they can go anywhere?
Life-long Learning About Mallard Rest & More
The ducks and geese have got a lot of places to go and lay up and y’all really minimize hunting pressure.
Craig Rozier: Yeah. I mean, I’m still learning this property, learning something new.
Ramsey Russell: Will be learning the rest of your life.
Craig Rozier: Yeah. One of the greatest tools we have to learn property is Google Earth and I’ll sit there and study Google Earth, then I’ll go out and take a look at what I’ve been looking at online. John T. was very helpful the first year and a half, two years. And learned what he knows. But there’s still – and that’s part of the improvement is improving access to these areas. As we drove through some areas today that most people probably wouldn’t drive through to get to where we hunted. There are some areas in the swamp that you can’t get to by boat, you’ve got to walk in there too.
Ramsey Russell: But y’all really do a lot to minimize disturbance. Y’all have a handful of owners. Maybe two groups out on some days, usually one which leaves thousands of acres more unhunted. You’ve got sanctuaries, you’ve got other parts of the break that you hadn’t for 3 years. The ducks and geese have got a lot of places to go and lay up and y’all really minimize hunting pressure. And I noticed they’re just areas you just aren’t going to drive at all, you’re going to hold those ducks in here. Even if you could or needed to, you’re going you’re not going to drive, you’re going to let, you are not going to disturb those ducks.
Craig Rozier: That’s right. So I mean you’ve got my father, and my brother, and myself that own the property. And then we’ve got two members that are part of this property that hunt with us every year. One rule is we’re done hunting by 9:30 AM.
Ramsey Russell: 9:30 in the morning, done.
Craig Rozier: Limit or no limit, we’re done hunting. And I really had to enforce that this year. And I think it’s paying off. And we don’t hunt a whole back to back. We got enough areas on this property to where we can hunt a spot and give it three, four, or five days of rest before we go back and hunt it again. And to me that is key pressure, you know, do not over pressure these birds.
Ramsey Russell: John T, how did how did Mr. Billy decide where he was going to hunt on any given day. How many days a week did he hunt this property? Was he hunting it five or six days a week.
John T: Somedays he would hunt five or six days a week.
Ramsey Russell: Never the same spot twice.
John T: Never same spot twice. Unless it be real cold and the ducks becoming so fast, he might consider to hunt it the next day.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Right. And, wow, I mean, hunted every day for the season or six-seven days a week of season, but never go to the same place twice. Did he hunt all day long or would he knock off at a certain time?
John T: He probably hunt in the morning around about 9:00 or by 9:10 he’ll start.
Ramsey Russell: That was it.
John T: He will go back to evening, he might let it rest a day, let it get come in and he’ll give him a morning hunt then an evening hunt. And that was it.
Ramsey Russell: That was it.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: He believed in letting those ducks rest as much as he could?
John T: Make sure them do it rest. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And he planned a lot of food for them and let those ducks rest.
John T: Yeah, he planted lots of feed. He made sure the duck got a lot of rest.
Ramsey Russell: Hmm, he wanted quality.
John T: Yeah, that’s right.
Sweet Lucy & Proper Southern Fried Pork Chop
And the first thing I noticed was y’all had a little sign hanging up that said Sweet Lucy recipe.
Ramsey Russell: We walked into the old Mallard Rest camp house last night and two things stood out at me: very modest, very comfortable, very nice, very comfortable, very perfect for entertaining but a modest camp house. And the first thing I noticed was y’all had a little sign hanging up that said Sweet Lucy recipe. And for those y’all listening, I know you’ve been to a liquor store and drank a kind of a bourbon and peach brandy-infused brown water called Wweet Lucy. Be very careful with it if you haven’t. But try it, it’s great. And it originated right there in that camp house.
Craig Rozier: That’s correct.
Ramsey Russell: You can now buy it on liquor shelf anywhere in the country. And it originated right there in that camp house. What do you know about that? Because you got the recipe right there and talk about what you know about the history of Sweet Lucy.
Craig Rozier: Well, what I know about it is Mr. Donovan’s wife Miss Tommy, her job was to make that every year. And he always, I can’t remember the ratio exactly. You may have a picture of it on your phone but it’s, what, one or two parts bourbon, one part peach and then it was one part aged Sweet Lucy?
Ramsey Russell: A half Old Charter, a fourth peach brandy, and a fourth aged Sweet Lucy.
Craig Rozier: The aged Sweet Lucy is the Sweet Lucy from the previous year that’s been sitting in a decanter. And John T, he would pour it up in water bottles for every hunt, for the hunt that morning, right?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s right.
Craig Rozier: Wow. That keeps you warm on the cold days.
Ramsey Russell: Be careful folks.
Craig Rozier: Not the most legal thing to do.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, just be careful. It’ll keep you warm all night. And it’s very good. An Old Charter is, heck I still drink Old Charter. And somebody asked me one time my papa drank Old Charter, what are you after? I’ve been drinking since I was 15, why stop now? Just a good Kentucky bourbon. And I’ve heard it’s hard to come by in its original formulation because so much of it goes into the manufacture of commercial Sweet Lucy and stuff like that now. But that drink, that cocktail was born. I would love to know how long Mr. Billy and his guests drank it right there in that camp house before it got public, and everything else, and got out to the public probably for decades.
Craig Rozier: Probably so.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that amazing?
Craig Rozier: Oh it is.
Ramsey Russell: And I really felt like I knew the man when I walked in the kitchen and there was another recipe posted Mallard Rest pork chops.
Craig Rozier: That’s right, fried pork chops.
Ramsey Russell: Good Southern fried pork chops.
Craig Rozier: Miss Vera Williams who had the Web Diner here in Web Mississippi. She was the chef here at the camp and that was one of her famous recipes that she would cook.
Ramsey Russell: I think I’ll post them up. I got to take a picture if you don’t mind me sharing. I think everybody like to know how to make a proper fried pork chop.
Craig Rozier: That’s right.
Duck Habitat Like Only God Can Make It
You’ve got everything that a duck wants.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me, what kind of habitat, so much of this habitat on this property, Craig, is natural. I mean it’s like, you know, we were talking today we were picking up, y’all were signing that travel decoy when we’re talking. It was a – just to be on this property and get to hunt – it was extremely rewarding. And let alone to share it with three great guys and all the great stories we had today. But it is duck habitat like only God can make it. And after all the years and all these decades the timber is still healthy. The cypress I’ve seen, the tupelo I’ve seen, it’s still vibrant. It’s a vibrant ecosystem. A lot of these brakes are just loaded with buck brush, with submerged aquatics, with natural foods. How much of it is managed and how much of it is just trying to just hope it stays just like it is, just like God made it?
Craig Rozier: You know what I’m going to back up. I want to add to one thing you were talking about like how do we know where to hunt? And I’m going to tell you a key thing to us scouting. We do not scout using ATVs or UTVs, they’re too loud, noise carries too far and they’ll blow ducks out of a spot in a heartbeat. So we’re either on electric vehicles or gas powered vehicles. As far as management, you’ve got to manage every square inch of this place and it takes a team. You know, us as property owners, hey, I like to get my hands dirty. I love doing this stuff. I wish I could do it for a living. But unfortunately none of us would have this place if we did it for a living. But like where we hunted this morning, you got to be able to, the biggest thing in managing duck property is water management. You got to be able to get water off when it’s time to get water off, but you got to be able to get water on. It’s time to put it on. Now, does that mean you get water off in every spot there is, no. That place we hunted today, we’ll pull the water down pretty low in it because it acts as a reservoir for the ag fields if we were to get a big rain during the summer, it’s got somewhere to run to before it eventually gets off the place. I’ve learned the hard way, you don’t want to go in and blow every beaver dam on the property. Beaver dams can be good. We got one area that I blew some beaver dams in the cypress, tupelo break. It dried up. It didn’t drive completely. Water got out of there. And it caused a bunch of aquatic leaves to come in. Now there’s no water showing for those ducks. Before I blew that beaver dam ducks were using that spot. Now they’re not using that spot. So we’ve got to get in there this coming spring and summer and spray that and get all that clean back up. So there’s beaver dams you want to blow, there’s beaver dams you don’t want to blow. We’ve got some green tree timber areas, some of them we can flood up some, we can’t. My biggest thing is is that I don’t like to get water on there too early. I’ve learned from asking questions. You’re better off to let a good killing frost come in and knock those trees back before you start putting that water on. But we got to draw it off there fairly early too. My coma swamp, it’s full of it. I was two years earlier before it’s full of coon tail moths. Two different types of duckweed and mosquito firm, cypress trees, tupelo gum trees and buck brush. And one of the worst things that could happen to that swamp is to drain it. We control the water level in that swamp. Worst thing you can do is drain it. When that happens, all your buck brush gets thicker, your cypress starts coming up fast and your cypress really becomes an invasive species at that point. So we don’t drain that. There’s areas we drain, there’s areas we don’t drink.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s the spot you were telling me one time y’all found just after walking in and scouted and found a bunch of ducks and it was wall to wall ducks and you just fired a shot off, see what they do and they were so comfortable where they were. They just sat there.
Craig Rozier: Oh yeah. We had that. There’s so many little holes in that and they could be anywhere from 10 by 10 holes, 20 by 20 holes in that buck brush. And those ducks are, we have got videos of those ducks landing in that spot and literally within seconds they have swam up under that buck brush. You know, we got a spot called the Willow Break. The biggest thing in it is crustaceans. You don’t have to plant stuff to improve it. You just got to manage what you’ve got there. We’ve got another area that we call it Cattail Pond. It’s full of cattails, buck brush, willows and all duck potato and all other sorts of aquatics in there. When we first bought the property, I’m like, well John T, what y’all used to do with this? He said, well we used to diskette and plant millet and whatever else in there. And they quit doing that and ducks use it. So if it’s not broke, why try to fix it?
Ramsey Russell: I don’t think, I really don’t think you can improve on God’s handiwork. I mean there’s places like this that it’s there and we really, we’re fooling ourselves, we think we can improve on it.
Craig Rozier: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what I think. And what strikes me about just what I’ve seen in the last 24 hours on this property, it satisfies all the life cycle requirements. You got a little bit of ag, you got a little bit of natural, you’ve got green timber, you’ve got cypress, you’ve got open water, you’ve got emergent marsh, all kinds of stuff. You’ve got everything that a duck wants. He could live on this 4000 acres all winter long and never have to leave it if he didn’t need to. And y’all can’t possibly put enough hunting pressure where y’all hunt to make them have to leave. You can’t, you couldn’t, you really can’t, like you said, you can’t access most of this property with machines. You don’t need to, but I mean geographically, you couldn’t, so it’s just, it’s almost like a little fortress for these ducks, it’s got everything inside that they need. You know what I remember this morning? It struck me is like, I know those wood ducks, especially a few of those mallards kind of came in high, but instead of breaking down into a hole, they slid on down and maybe landed out there 50, 100 yards. I never heard him get up, never saw him coming back or nothing when we shot. But what I remember we had a pair of mallards hook in from the right, kind of there on the far side, 35 yards, and I’ll admit it, I missed trying to help you out.
Craig Rozier: We both did that.
Ramsey Russell: And they continued on, they never flapped to get out of that hole. They just sailed right in the direction they were going. Landed, I could see them out there and it kept swimming off. I mean getting shot at and they just landed cause they were safe and slammed on further away from us. They never got out of there with subsequent shots, they just slam up in there. That’s unbelievable.
Craig Rozier: Yeah. And that’s what ducks want, that’s what I try to tell people. What I’ve learned is during the day they want to go get out of the public’s eye, and they don’t want to be seen by the public, they want to go in there. Fight, make girlfriend boyfriend, and sleep, and they’ll eat on the coon tail, they’ll eat on the duck weed. If you got green timber, they’ll snack on a few acres, but they don’t want to be bothered. You saw it last night, they pick up starting about 4:00 and they start coming into those, whatever you want to call it, a feed area. I wouldn’t call it a roost area because they don’t sleep out there, they’re feeding all night. They’re coming in to feed all night long.
Duck Habitat Management Techniques
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, some of the late matters we shot this morning was full of rice, that rice field was a mile and a half away. And I thought that was interesting how when most people think rice, if you’re farming for a living, it’s one thing but y’all are farming for ducks. Talk about that rice field you’ve got. How it was planted differently, how it was managed, managed differently and how plant composition wise it is different than a commercial rice field?
Craig Rozier: Well, at the end of duck season, beginning of spring, my farm manager Tyler and I will, we’ll sit down and kind of come up with a plan of, hey, this is what we’ve noticed through duck season, how ducks reacted to the issue of that. And we’ll kind of get a plan as to what we’re going to manage more soil, what we’re going to plant and add crops and so forth. This past year, we had some areas that we were going to plant rice in, we were going to drill the rice in. And then back in June had some historic flooding up here. I think we had 20 something inches of rain within 48 hours. It was awful. We do farm commercially up here and I will admit that it just supports a bad habit called duck hunting. But it flooded the fields that we were getting ready to plant rice. And I called him, I said go ahead and get the rice. He said well it’s flooded. I said I know but we got to play the cards, we’re dealt. I said watch that water when it starts falling, flying on. And he thought I was crazy. And that’s what we did, we flew the rice on. And we never conventionally flooded that rice after it peg started coming up. We just kept flushing it with water all during the growing season. Well in doing that, well let me back up before the flood, they had already gone in there and work those filled up, dust them up, which if you manage more soil that is stimulating your more soil grasses. So all that had been done, floodwaters come in, they start receding, we fly the rice on. And then once the rice starts coming up we’re just flushing water across it. We’re never actually flooding those fields. When flushing that water across that rice, you got your sprinkle tops, you got your sedges, and you got your barnyard coming up with that rice and it was textbook duck food.
Ramsey Russell: I bet it was. Well last night it looked like every duck species in the world is in Tallahatchie County right now. Wanted to be there. We saw green wings, wood ducks, lots of mallards, gadwalls. They have been a lot of shovelers in Mississippi this year.
Craig Rozier: We haven’t seen a lot now. I will say we will shoot them if we see them but we have not seen a lot of shovelers this year. We’ve seen a good many gadwalls this year. And I’m telling you we’ve seen a lot more hens with the amount of population and I have seen in the past.
Ramsey Russell: Really? John T. what did — somebody told me one time that Mr. Billy likes to shoot ring necked ducks. Did you ever see him shoot ring necks?
John T: He shoot a lot of ring necks.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
John T: He sure did.
Ramsey Russell: He liked that fast flying, hard flying bird?
John T: Yeah. Down there, like in the hole down there. He go down there to shoot.
Ramsey Russell: Wear him out. Did you duck hunt at all? Have you ever been duck hunting since you’ve been a part of this?
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What is your favorite duck?
John T: I like to shoot teal.
Ramsey Russell: The teal. People ask me what my favorite duck is. I like the next one that flies in. That’s my favorite duck. But I do got a spot for all species. I like mallards. I love shooting ring necks. And I was just wondering, how could you be around this part of the world and working here and helping out and stuff, and I figured naturally you probably had a shotgun and did some duck hunting in times.
John T: Give me opportunity to hunt.
Craig Rozier: John T. is a heck of a shot.
Ramsey Russell: Are you really? Would you ever be one of the three people that shared a blind with him?
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Did he call a lot?
John T: He loves the call. He make sure he tell you what duck he shoot.
Ramsey Russell: He would. She’s the one on the right or the left or I bet he called the shot and he’d tell you when to shoot.
John T: Yeah. He wanted left, on the left hand side.
Ramsey Russell: He always wanted the left hand side.
John T: Yeah. He will tell you what duck to shoot.
Ramsey Russell: And I heard a story today, you’ve got a dog that fetches ducks.
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What’d the vet tell you about that dog? He’s a good dog, I know.
John T: Oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What the vet tell you? I thought you said that the vet that told that it was a great dog but he was crazy.
John T: No, my family.
Ramsey Russell: Your family told you that?
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. What makes him crazy?
John T: They just don’t like it. My wife got a little half dog, she take him outside and say to my dogs, like to play with, and they get upset.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I see.
Craig Rozier: That dog half barks and half laughs.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Craig Rozier: The boy has a problem with it.
Ramsey Russell: I see.
John T: She’s just a good dog.
Future Goals for a Mississippi Legacy Property
We just eased in and walked a whopping 50 yards. We were way off in the break. We had a little hole in front of us. It was beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What are some of your future goals for a keystone property like this in Mississippi? Are you always thinking Craig just towards next management season, or next duck season, or do you have a longer plan in mind? Do you see your kids being your age one day hunting here with their kids?
Craig Rozier: Oh yeah, mine and my brother’s kids. It’s a legacy property. It’s like, my niece, she loves to hunt, she loves to deer hunt. I got to work with her on that shotgun. She can’t hit the broadside of a barn right now. She tried to.
Ramsey Russell: How old is she?
Craig Rozier: 21. She’s probably going to be mad at me for saying that. My nephew, this past week, he had four of his buddies up that they love to duck hunt and man, it was fun just taking those young kids, 18 year olds out there duck hunting, giving him a hard time. So that’s what’s fun about it.
Ramsey Russell: Talking about that hunt, like you said something about this morning, describe that hunt.
Craig Rozier: I had my nephew and two of them with me and we were hunting close to where we were this morning. And of course when I got there, I gave him a few rules. There was no duck caller since they used to hunt public land. I didn’t want that kind of calling going on. And I was just joking with them, don’t shoot till I shoot first. And don’t shoot when the dog — don’t shoot cripples until I tell you to — I don’t want my dog to get shot. Oh, but man, it was an epic hunt that morning. We had ducks coming in. And they weren’t shooting good that morning. I don’t know if they stayed up too late or what. But they couldn’t shoot good that morning. And thank goodness I didn’t call the shots early right at shooting time. The ducks were breaking through the treetops and man, it’s so dark you couldn’t see them. But I told them, I said, boys, folks here don’t get to witness that every day. Yeah. And I had my youngest son with me that day. I had Parker who, he’s six years old, he was with me, first year to wear waders and he thought he was big stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Craig Rozier: Reed, my oldest one, he was out.
Ramsey Russell: How old is he?
Craig Rozier: My oldest one, Reed, he’s nine. And he was hunting with my dad that morning in another spot.
Ramsey Russell: Your dad likes that old Macomber blind.
Craig Rozier: Oh, he loves it.
Ramsey Russell: He was saying that’s his favorite spot.
Craig Rozier: That’s because it’s easy.
Ramsey Russell: I really like, I don’t say get much easier than what we did today. We just eased in and walked a whopping 50 yards. We were way off in the break. We had a little hole in front of us. It was beautiful.
Craig Rozier: Oh, it was.
Ramsey Russell: But I can see, you know, early when the birds get in, especially if it’s sunshine and shadows. I don’t see how you see them when they get that timber behind that close. What I see is the white wing flash, but that’s about it.
Craig Rozier: Yeah, I mean and that’s the last thing we want to be doing is wounded a lot of birds. That’s not good for the population and I just don’t like to do it. We all do it. I’m guilty of wounding them too.
Ramsey Russell: It’s an imperfect spot. Sometimes ducks get away.
Craig Rozier: I’m going to tell you one of the best things I love is to watch my dog go after a wounded duck and that duck diving on him, and see that Black Lab go completely underwater and pick that, catch that duck underwater. I mean to me it doesn’t get any better than that. But that’s not the best practice in the world.
Future Ambitions for Habitat
Sometimes you got to leave it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ramsey Russell: Right. What are some of your future ambitions in terms of habitat?
Craig Rozier: You know, right now the biggest thing we’re working on is water control structures. The way John T. has been flooding this property up for, I don’t know how many years he’s been doing it this way is go buy sheets of plywood, put in front of the pipe and take the backhoe and put mud all in front of the sheet of plywood.
Ramsey Russell: It works, doesn’t it?
John T: It works.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of like a beaver with a piece of ply board.
Craig Rozier: It works. But there’s more efficient ways to do it with slash board risers. Man, the cost of steel pipe these days, man got lucky and found –
Craig Rozier: It is. And we’re using tongue and groove 2 x 6 slash board risers. That’s the biggest thing we’ve got to work on. And then I would say access to a lot of places. And it’s not necessarily boat access or UTV access. It’s just, hey, we can get the UTV to this ridge but to get to where we need to hunt, we need to build a handrail and maybe go in there, mulch all the deadfall that’s on the forest floor. That way you’re not tripping over anything. And there’s areas that we’ve got to build some blinds on. And we’ll usually build about one blind a year. After we hunt a place and we say, okay, we need a blind there and this is where we need to put it, now we need a position and that’s what we’ll do. And the worst thing you can do, you talk about access, is in that swamp area is open up access to all those different holes in that buck brush. That’s the worst thing you can do because it takes the cover away from them and it just puts more pressure on.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. You’re exactly right. But you got to have, you know, as much as that as you can maintain. Actually, met with some folks years ago, had a beautiful break. Very small, with a lot of cypress, a lot of buck brush in there and held in place by a beaver dam. And they had the idea to bust beaver down, drain it and push out all the brush. And it never was the same again. It never was the same again. They could access it but it didn’t have no ducks access.
Craig Rozier: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Sometimes you got to leave it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Craig Rozier: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: You talk about 50, 60, 70 old duck blinds on this property. Some of them may precede the 70, some of them may have been here before the previous landowner? Do you think so John T? You think some of them were built by the turners back in the day?
John T: I believe it would.
Ramsey Russell: Do any of those old areas where some of the blinds from the turners are they still good duck holes?
John T: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: How important is that to you, Craig? I mean or is it important? I don’t know. What do you think about – like you were telling me something – you’ll find a spot on Google Earth, like a spot we hunted this morning. You found it on Google Earth. Navigate your way back to it. Get ready throughout decoys and there’s that old blind. It could have been hunted a lot. It could have been hunted. That blind could have been built back in the ‘50s or ‘60s. How important is that kind of that historical context to you on a property like this?
Craig Rozier: Well, it tells me that the ducks use it.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.
Craig Rozier: The previous owner, you know, I don’t know how old that blind is back there. It could be before Mr. Donovan bought the property. They may be the type of people that, hey, I only want to hunt out of a blind. Well, me, I’m the type, if I can’t stand next to a big tree, that’s the way I’m going to hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Mee too.
Craig Rozier: But there are certain scenarios where you need a blind. So it tells me that, hey, it’s been hunted in the past, there’s no reason not to hunt it now. It’s just like, I went to a that hole we hunted this morning and I’ve hunted it before but Monday morning I went to a different spot in that same group of timber. Went to a smaller hole, and Lord, it gets daylight and look and there’s a whole blind on the other side of the hole. I mean it seems like everywhere you turn you see a new blind.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that’s something?
Craig Rozier: So that tells me, hey, that was hunted before.
Ramsey Russell: For a long, for decades. Decades and decades. I just, I can’t help but wonder, you know, as good as the duck hunting is now. Even in 80° weather you’ve got these birds obviously imprinted on this area. For mallard ducks to start showing up in these breaks, in late October, they’re coming home. They’re not just flying along and say, oh, let me, now they’re coming home. I just can’t imagine what hunting here back in the ‘40s and ‘50s would have been like. I just can’t even imagine.
Craig Rozier: I can’t either.
Ramsey Russell: Because a lot of this ag wasn’t here, it’s all swampy. And even right now if you look on google earth from where we are up towards the crowd of Mississippi, you know, just the federal sanctuary that the keystone properties between here and there, it’s the best properties in the entire state of Mississippi. Here we are in woods. And it’s right here. It’s got to been that way since forever.
Craig Rozier: Yeah, I mean you look right here. You got Herbie to the north of us. You got, oh Lord, what am I thinking of? York Woods. Straight line five miles to the east of us. But we were killing ducks coming out of that rice. It was a mile and a half away from us this morning. You got some down to the south of us, Tallahatchie Refuge to the south.
Ramsey Russell: Cold Water Refuge.
Craig Rozier: Cold Water Refuge to the north.
Ramsey Russell: And a lot of federal sanctuaries between here and Tallahatchie Refuge. I mean just section bigger sanctuaries, a lot of great clubs that have been there since forever. And I know too that catfish can explain this better than me. We talked about this, but there are times this country floods with backwater flooding that forms the largest freshwater body in the United States of America that is separated only by a few dry ridges, and highways, and things of that nature. When you’re driving this part of the world and you see just miles of highways built up and rip rap on both sides. You better notice some water in this part of world.
Craig Rozier: Yeah, that’s just like, over here where we’re sitting, there’s a reason this section on the north side, it’s WRP. I mean it’s just, it is so flood prone. It’s crazy. We got that flood in June. And we had a little cabbage patch, tractor set up on a levee, trying to have a pipe that got stopped up with beavers, and we were trying to pump water across the levee. And next thing we get a flood, I got a tractor underwater. So there’s a reason that this is in WRP. And we managed, the WRP, you know, we put all this together now and you’ve got to manage it all as one track.
The Best Duck Recipes in the Great Magnolia State
Ramsey Russell: Right. You told me a great duck recipe this morning. Tell me your duck recipe. Everybody at camp last night was bragging on your duck recipe. Tell me how to make that duck recipe when I get home. I’m going to take some of these mallards home and I’m going to cook them. Tell me what to do with it.
Craig Rozier: First of all, you got to pluck that duck.
Ramsey Russell: Alright. Whole pluck mallard.
Craig Rozier: Whole plug mallard or any duck. Mallards are good, especially a fat one.
Ramsey Russell: But green wings would be good.
Craig Rozier: Green wings. Probably a wood duck too. Take your cast iron skillet and line the bottom with a couple stalks of celery. Take that duck after you’ve dried it off and make sure you just kind of torch all what little bit of feathers are left on it. Take half a lemon and squeeze over that duck over that duck skin, stuff that lemon inside the cavity. Sprinkle a little kosher salt and black pepper.
Ramsey Russell: There you go.
Craig Rozier: You have the oven preheated at 450 and cook it till it reaches an internal temp of 140 degrees. Cut that breast off, slice it up and take that rendered duck fat, pour over the top of it. And I can tell you I’m not a celery guy, but that’s some of the best celery you’ll ever eat.
Ramsey Russell: You have a favorite duck recipe, John T? How do you like to cook duck?
John T: I would like – Mr. Donovan showed me how to cook them in the fireplace in the ashes. Put your onions inside the duck, some butter and put it all on the inside, and wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in the ash, and let it cook for about 15 minutes.
Ramsey Russell: Like in the fireplace?
John T: Cooking 15 minutes, take it out, slice, you just eat it.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
John T: I like to eat duck breast. You take it out, cut a little bit, about an inch long. You tenderize them. And you marinate them in any kind of marinade and you put them in the fridge and let them marinate for about five days. Take him out, ram out, put your bag around, put on the grill and get it done.
Ramsey Russell: There you go. Both sound very good. Sounds like some great recipes. I guarantee some good deck recipe. And your daddy cooked some real good shrimp last night.
Craig Rozier: He did. He’s kind of proud of that.
Ramsey Russell: That needs to be one of the official recipes I saw up on the wall. It was really, really good Creole shrimp. Next time I get him on here, I’m going to get him to talk about his recipe. Well folks, I really appreciate being up here Craig. I really appreciate the invite. I’ve had a great day, a great time and appreciate y’all both being here on this podcast today. Any parting words?
Craig Rozier: Let’s do it again.
Ramsey Russell: That’s going to happen. What about you, John T? You going to join us in a duck blind one day or cook me some duck?
John T: I will.
Ramsey Russell: Well, thank you both for being on Duck Season Somewhere podcast. And folks from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Mallard Rest. Thank y’all for listening. We’ll see you next time.