In today’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode, more Louisiana market hunter stories as Mr. Johnny Borrel continues describing differences between today versus then. Why might there be fewer ducks in Louisiana? How has the landscape changed? How have duck hunters and the way they now hunt changed? How important is hunter concealment? What are Mr. Johnny’s thoughts on shooting flying birds? What he can he tell from hunters’ volleys from a distance? And does he have any regrets? From Avoyelles Parish, Mr. Johnny unapologetically takes it to the plug again, connecting listeners to the not-too-distant past as fluidly as shells shucked through his well-oiled Model 12.
“No Regrets” – More Louisiana Market Hunter Stories
When you see duck hunting now, when you’re duck hunting with your grandkids now, do you ever look back and say, “Golly, I wish I’d done something different”?
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere as our conversation continues with Mr. Johnny Borrel in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. Have you got any questions for Mr. Johnny about these good old days? Inbox me @RamseyRussellGetDucks, or text message me. My number’s everywhere on the internet. I’ve heard from a lot of y’all listeners, a lot of you folks that just found us because of this topic, this current theme of connecting, today, with those “good old days” where the duck numbers darkened the sky. Not turn of the century; our lifetime—or a lot of our lifetimes. Your daddy’s lifetime, if you’re young guys who are listening. Anyway, shoot us an inbox or contact us if you’ve got any questions. We are going to have Mr. Johnny back on this season. Let’s continue with part two of “No Regrets: Modern-Day Louisiana Market Hunting Stories” with Mr. Johnny Borrel. What would you show them?
Johnny Borrel: I’d say, “Look, boys. Put the decoys out. Now, y’all watch. Give them a call. When they start piling up in there, let them pile up. Okay. One, two, three—shoot them!” When they get up, shoot. You make a short day, that way. Then, most of the people can’t shoot—
Ramsey Russell: Mm-hmm. Most of them didn’t grow up shooting ducks on the fly with a pellet rifle.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. Well, I did, and I’d like to know how many shells I’ve shot since then.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think about this— It ain’t news no more, but it is. I grew up just on the tail end of lead—the ‘70s and ‘80s. In 1990 or ‘91, it went full-blown nontoxic. What do you think about this steel shot?
Johnny Borrel: Steel and lead— There’s so much difference. I can remember that I could reload an ounce and a half of #6 and shoot a duck at sixty yards, flying; kill him stone dead. That was with a thirty inch full choke. I didn’t hesitate to shoot at fifty or sixty yards. Today, you’re looking at forty yards, with steel.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, yeah. You still duck hunt, now. Do you have any regrets when you look back to the old days? When you see duck hunting now, when you’re duck hunting with your grandkids now, do you ever look back and say, “Golly, I wish I’d done something different”?
Johnny Borrel: No. I don’t have those. Like I tell a lot of my friends, I was lucky to be born when I was. I hunted in the best of the best. It didn’t cost me nothing. Compared to today, it didn’t cost me nothing. It was unbelievable to me when people say— Well, I stopped at the Marksville landing during the duck season—last year, I believe it was—and they were coming out. I said, “What y’all got?” “Oh, we got our limit.” I said, “Yeah, what you got?” “A hooded merganser, a spoonbill, and two ringnecks.” We never shot that. You couldn’t sell that. A hooded merganser? This year, I saw more hooded mergansers in my life since I’ve been living. I saw bunches of fifteen, twenty hooded mergansers. Are you kidding me? I ain’t never seen that. Now, I don’t know what’s going on.
The first hooded merganser I saw, a buddy of mine in Hickory Hills shot it. I said, “What’s that?” “A hooded merganser.” I said, “I’ve never seen one.” The only reason I’ve shot that shoveler was that, like I said, I’d never seen one. Then my daddy got onto me for shooting a shoveler. He said it ain’t worth a damn.
Ramsey Russell: Did you shoot anymore after that?
Johnny Borrel: Nope. You can ask my grandson. When he started hunting with me, we didn’t shoot a grey duck, a wigeon, nothing like that. We shot mallards, pintails, wood ducks, and green-winged teals.
Ramsey Russell: The good stuff.
Johnny Borrel: The good stuff.
Changes in Hunting Since the Good Ole’ Days
They surveyed four species: pintail, mallard, black mallard, and canvasback.
Ramsey Russell: What other changes have you seen? You’ve talked about the clearings. You’ve talked about the bean fields. I think you talked about the Dismal Swamp, how you feel like all those hardwoods stretched clear on up to Minnesota. What other changes? We’ve talked about the climate. We’ve talked about the refuges. The good old days in Louisiana, as you describe it— The best days would have been back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.
Johnny Borrel: Right. Even in South Louisiana and the marsh and all that. Today, what are they killing? A few blue-winged teals and some trash ducks, in my opinion. No mallards. The mallards quit going down there. The pintails, I don’t know if they go down there any more. This year was the first time—the last day of the season—that I saw a large amount of pintails. They worked on us, but they never came low. It was always a strange duck in the bunch. That’s another thing I noticed. Back when I was a young boy, when you caught a bunch of ducks, it was either mallards or you might have had a couple of black mallards in there. You never had pintails mixed with them. You never had green-winged teals mixed with them, or wood ducks. It was either mallards, wood ducks, or pin tails, or green-winged teals. Now, you start working a bunch of mallards, and, all of a sudden, you have grey ducks in them. We never used to have that. When we were doing all the killing— Like I said, mallards and pintails. That was it. Back in the ‘50s, or the early ‘60s, they had a survey. You know how many ducks they surveyed? They surveyed four species: pintail, mallard, black mallard, and canvasback. Did you know that? Check it out. That was the only four species they took inventory on.
Ramsey Russell: Nothing else mattered.
Changes in Louisiana Duck Numbers
Avoyelles Parish was killing fifteen thousand.
Johnny Borrel: Nothing else mattered. Now, back in ‘83, me and my buddy were sitting in the blind, and we were talking. We used to read the Louisiana Conservation survey. Cameron Parish was killing a million ducks a year. Avoyelles Parish was killing fifteen thousand. That’s what they said: fifteen thousand.
Ramsey Russell: That they knew about.
Johnny Borrel: I said, “They’re way off on Avoyelles Parish,” because I could name forty people that were killing a thousand ducks back then. In South Louisiana, Cameron Parish was number one. Then, up in that area, they had some bigger numbers, but as far as up in North Louisiana? Avoyelles Parish was at fifteen thousand, if I remember right.
Ramsey Russell: I think back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s—I was born in the ‘60s and grew up in the Delta in the ‘70s—that a lot of that marginal farmland, those sunken bottomland hardwoods, got cleared back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but it was different. I’m just thinking about the Mississippi Delta, my roots, but it was different. Like the crops you had then, maybe the water’d come up, but the terrain was different. There was more topography. Low spots got wet. It wasn’t zero-graded. But those soybeans would last. Maybe you wouldn’t get the full value, but you’d get some value when you’d come harvest them in the spring. Now, we’re on generation three, four, five, six, seven, or something. The rice ain’t weighed, clean farming practices, Roundup Ready technology—there’s a lot less out there in those bean fields. So when you’re talking about the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s down here, you’re thinking of a lot of button-willow swamps and timber, and I’m thinking of the Mississippi Delta that I saw growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which was a lot of that buckshot land just being cleared and a lot of open water. There were a lot of ducks. Now, there’s all regenerated hardwoods there, buckvines again, and there ain’t that many ducks in the Delta.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. The US Forestry came in to check the reforest deal. The best place that they planted, that did so good, was where we duck hunt out of. That was the only place where the oak trees and all that did outstanding. If you go, right before you get there, into Randy Moore’s port in Doucet, the oak trees ain’t there. It’s scrub trees. Then, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we used to get a high-water every year from the end of February to about the middle of May. It would flood all this. That was before they cleared out the bean fields, you understand? Since then, it was like right there in Spring Bayou. Like you said: now that the bean fields— We used to have birdseye plants. Doves love birdseye. Now that there ain’t a birdseye, you don’t see those doves. Because of the poison and the technology, they did away with all that. Am I wrong? What people don’t realize— I believe y’all call it “potato”—
Ramsey Russell: Duck potato.
Johnny Borrel: Duck potato? They called it “cosh-cosh.” Well, in springtime, it would dry up. People raised hogs in the woods, and they’d get into the lakes and root this root up. It makes a little potato. When they start on that, it’s unbelievable. They would come to eat that. That’s like cocaine to them. Until they sold the property that we used to hunt on, right there, that’s where the little duck potatoes were. He ain’t never seen that before. Why would they root it out, when the water would get like that, so that a duck could walk and eat and had water? It was a massacre.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. You show me somewhere with duck potatoes right now, and I’ll show you some ducks, come duck season. I guarantee you.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: I guarantee you, some of my favorite places have been hunting over duck potatoes. Have you ever hunted, or do you ever hunt today, rice and bean fields? Do you hunt like that anymore?
Changes in the Louisiana Hunting Landscape
I’ve been hunting in this hole for forty years.
Johnny Borrel: Back in the early ‘70s, I used to hunt with Bobby Laprairie in the beans. Back then, I’d get to hunt there one day a year. Bobby would call me. He’d say, “I’ve got the blind for two days. We’re going to hunt for two days.” “Okay, Bobby, I know.” I’d get out there, and I’d tell him, “Look, I want to shoot just pintails.” “Okay.” I’d get out there and kill fifty to eighty pintails. We’d come out. They’d see that say, “Don’t bring him back no more.” The next year, I’d get one day. Same thing. After two years, I said, “Bobby, don’t call me no more. I’m going to kill all of the others.”
Ramsey Russell: Unbelievable. Do you like hunting ag? You don’t like hunting ag. You like natural habitats.
Johnny Borrel: Right.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what you want to hunt. Is that what you hunt now, when you go hunting?
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. I’ve been hunting in this hole for forty years.
Ramsey Russell: So that’d be some of the same places you hunted back in the day.
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. Well, I’d say, air miles, I’m maybe ten miles away from where— Well, I doubt if it’s ten miles. It’s probably about six air miles.
Ramsey Russell: As far as a duck flies.
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. I hunted Pomme de Terre. That was some nice hunting there. It was flooded willow trees and swamps. When those ducks came in there, they came to rest. In Pomme de Terre, you’d shoot in solid rice. When my grandson was five years old, we bought him a .410, cut the barrel to the stop so he could shoot, and went to Red River Bay. We’d caught a drought, and I told my son-in-law, “Let’s bring the pirogues all the way around to the back, because you ain’t going to be able to come in from the front. It’s too shallow.” He said, “You think?” I said, “I know so.” So we left that afternoon at six o’clock, and I drove up pirogues until one o’clock in the morning to get to the back of the lake. The next morning, we went, we got in there, and we killed a bunch of ducks. He kills his limit with a .410. The duck that lit, he’d shoot. Then we went to this little island, and we sat there for that year. I’d like to know how many ducks we killed, sitting on that little island. Nobody could get to us. They weren’t smart enough to do what I did. You’ve got to work to kill some ducks. You just don’t say, “Well, I’m going to sit.”
Ramsey Russell: Even back in those days, it wasn’t easy.
Johnny Borrel: It wasn’t easy. You had to figure out how to do it and how to kill.
Hunter Concealment Tricks & Techniques
I use the vines that grow, some slabs of cypress that stack up, a few little willows, and a pull string.
Ramsey Russell: And do it right. How important, back in those days, was concealment? Being hidden?
Johnny Borrel: I learned something a long time ago. You get on the shady side of the tree. You don’t make no sudden moves, because that’s what they see: movement. You can ask my grandson. The blind I’m sitting in, I’m sitting on a five gallon bucket. I’m sort of underneath the tree, but I’m always in the shade. I use the vines that grow, some slabs of cypress that stack up, a few little willows, and a pull string.
Ramsey Russell: You like a pull string?
Johnny Borrel: Oh, yes.
Ramsey Russell: You use spinning wing decoys?
Johnny Borrel: No. Well, this year I did. My grandson and them use them. When I go with them, I use them.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start using the pull string? Back in the good old days?
Johnny Borrel: Back in the good old days. That’s where I learned that.
Ramsey Russell: Back when you were market hunting?
Johnny Borrel: Right.
Ramsey Russell: How would you rig it, then versus now? Use an inner tube or something?
Johnny Borrel: You get you an old inner tube, you cut you a strip, and you put you a stop and tie it. Put you four or five decoys, and start pulling. Because, hunting in the trees, you don’t have the ripples like in the lake. You have to make ripples. The sun hits that and reflects, and they see that movement, so they pile in.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the good old days, a pull string only?
Johnny Borrel: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: I know you sold the ducks themselves, the meat and the heart and the gizzard. Which, I love duck hearts. I think it’s one of the best things on a duck. Did y’all sell the feathers too?
Johnny Borrel: I never did, but Mr. Guinaive and Mr. Tesson saved all their feathers.
Ramsey Russell: I guess it must have been lucrative.
Johnny Borrel: Mr. Douglas told me that it takes eighty ducks to make a good feather pillow. They were only keeping the chest feathers, the soft feathers. You couldn’t take the tail feathers or the wing feathers.
Ramsey Russell: They were too long, too coarse.
Johnny Borrel: The quills were too big.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s easy to think, when folks are thinking the skies were just dark with ducks, that y’all would just go out there and half-ass shoot a duck, but y’all were skilled hunters. You hid in the shadows and camouflage and natural cover, and you were patient enough to let those birds get right. That’s how you made those numbers. And you used a pull string, way back then. I had never even heard of a pull string until—
Johnny Borrel: Till I met those boys.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. They showed you how.
Johnny Borrel: They showed me. There was something I wanted to tell you. When they made the bean fields, when they first cleared them, they windrowed everything. You had a big windrow and, about every fifty yards, another windrow. What you would do is, you’d walk to the end of windrows, on the dry ground, and you’d start looking. Oop! There they are. Well, you’d get on that far side. You’d walk down and get to where you think they are; you’d climb up on top, and “Bam! Bam! Bam!” You’d wait a little while; you’d watch while they went down; and you’d go and do it again. It was a lead-pipe cinch on them, sometimes. I pulled some good stunts in my life. I ain’t joking you.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me more of those good stunts.
Johnny Borrel: Hell. Like I said, we’d wait for a roost. Now, some of the boys that would shoot a roost would wait until it was all light, and then they’d “Pow! Pow! Pow!” but then they. Whereas, I’d get on the roost—and they’d start coming early, back then, and you’d start. If they had a moon—you waited until a good full moon—and you’d put the moon where’d they come in at.
Ramsey Russell: You were looking at the moon so you could moonlight them?
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. The moon would light them up. Hell, I shot them until eight o’clock at night. Then, if you had a headlight, you’d pick up. It’s hard to explain. There were so many ducks. In the morning, in the bean fields where they hunt at now, they’ve got to be out at ten o’clock, they can’t leave no decoys, and I don’t know if they’re killing any mallards now. Am I right?
Ramsey Russell: Now, they’re paying a lot of money for fewer ducks. There’s more pressure. It’s getting tough, and it’s getting discouraging, to duck hunt in this modern era. Now, here’s a question I’ve got for you that I was going to ask you a little while ago. Given your past duck hunting, back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s—some of these stories you’ve said may have been back in the ‘90s—what is it like when you go out with your kids and grandkids, today, and hunt? Pick a day this past season, your best day or your worst day. What’s it like?
Johnny Borrel on Duck Hunting Today
Opening day of squirrel season—first weekend in October—there’s not a man in Avoyelles Parish. They’re in the woods with their kids.
Johnny Borrel: Well, my last grandson lives in Shreveport. Last year, he came down and spent a week with me in the woods. Thank God, we caught a good week. One morning, we caught a bunch of mallards and grey ducks that came and lit right in front of him where he could shoot them.
Ramsey Russell: How old is he?
Johnny Borrel: He was ten years old. He killed his first mallard and two grey ducks. I gave him my 20 gauge to shoot. He killed a wood duck. He killed one or two ducks every day. I cleaned them for him, and he brought it back to his mom and his grandmother. This year, he didn’t get to come down. I’m hoping that, later on in life when he gets old enough, he comes back down. I’m hoping I can still move and take him in and show him, or else his cousin can do that for him. When I was growing up, opening day of dove season in Marksville, there wasn’t a man there. That was September 1st. Not a man in Marksville that was dove hunting. Opening day of squirrel season—first weekend in October—there’s not a man in Avoyelles Parish. They’re in the woods with their kids. Today, when my grandson—he’s 27 or 28 right now—and I were going to Grassy Lake, to my camp—I brought him, his little brother, and all his little buddies—I was the only camp that had kids in the woods. I’m 73 years old, and I’m still bringing kids in the woods. If you don’t do that, you’re going to lose this heritage.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. Why is it important to you that this heritage persist?
Johnny Borrel: Well, I’ll tell you why. There’s two things. If you don’t hunt, if they do away with hunting— Well, why do you need a gun? These liberals up there are screwing with our lives. That’s what I’m getting at. I think, with all these types of reserves, that if they don’t start opening them up, start letting them at least go and scare them out, start letting people start seeing ducks and hunting and getting more people involved, we’re in trouble.
Ramsey Russell: Your story reminded me of when my boys were little and playing baseball, Little League. Come Labor Day weekend, opening day of dove season, that coach always scheduled practice because it was three days out of school. I go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, we’re going to be dove hunting.” I had the only two kids on the whole team that was going to be dove hunting that day. I always had to call the coach to say, “We ain’t going to be there. We’re going dove hunting.” What I think about is, I’ve always believed that kids only love what they touch. They don’t know it unless they touch it. If the only way that future kids, and future society, is connected to the resource is by looking at pictures on the internet, they won’t give a damn. They ain’t going to care less whether it’s out there or not, or how many there are. I respect the fact that some people don’t like to hunt. Take a birdwatcher, for example. If you’d rather go out and look through binoculars, that’s fine. But the distinction is that the average birder is happy to say, “Oh, there’s a mallard duck. Check. I’ve seen him. It’s on my list.” We duck hunters want the sun to be eclipsed when mallard ducks fly over. I want a great abundance of them. That’s why it’s important to me that people hunt. I’ll say this too, to anybody listening, that it ain’t important to me that it just be kids. I hunt with a lot of adults now, grown men, that have just been duck hunting for five or six years. That’s okay. They don’t duck hunt like I do, like you do, but that’s okay because they’re interested, and they’re contributing immediately. They’re buying the boats and the decoys and the guns and paying the taxes. They’re contributing to the economy of hunting. I think it’s important that we have greater hunter participation. I believe, too, that this heritage of ours is under attack. We’ve got to do it. I guess that brings me back to why I asked you the question, Johnny, of how do you feel, having seen what you’ve seen back then, versus now? It must be frustrating trying to get your grandkid on a duck today, versus back in the day when that little ten year old boy on his first hunt might’ve shot twenty.
For Love of Hunting
I’m not a rich man, I’m not a poor man, but I’ve been a lucky man as far as hunting-wise.
Johnny Borrel: Well, that’s a good example right there. From the time he was old enough to walk, I remember we were going to the Red River Bay, walking all the way. He was only six years old. I said, “Boy, give me your gun.” “No, I can carry it, Papa.” Carried his gun and his ducks. I’m talking, we walked a mile and a half through the woods to get back to the truck. We’d go in the morning, and he had his hunting bag and his gun and his little headlight, and he followed. Now, he’s stuck on that. It’s a disease.
Ramsey Russell: Well, all you’ve got to do to get kids involved—or anybody, really, grown or young—is take them. Take them and show them. Once they see it, once they see it, once they touch it— The first time any human sees a duck hook up to a call and start working and responding to them, I can’t imagine their heart not beating through their chest.
Johnny Borrel: I’ll tell you this, you can verify that. I have a friend of mine that lives in Dallas, Texas. He’s a billionaire right now. He was the number four man behind Bill Gates. The first time he came hunting with me, he stayed with me for two weeks. He hunted with me for about ten years, then he quit. Now, he’s running a business. He has five major businesses: two of them in the United States and five of them in different countries. I talked to him the other day. I think he’s going to come back hunting with us again this year. But he hasn’t hunted in the almost fifteen years since he started this business. I’ve told him all he has to do is come, and I think he’s beginning to realize what he’s been missing. Money ain’t the answer to everything.
Ramsey Russell: Money is good. I’d like to have that problem, but there’s also the issue of living.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. I’m not a rich man, I’m not a poor man, but I’ve been a lucky man as far as hunting-wise. I’ve had the best. I don’t care who it is; they have not had the hunting experience I’ve had.
The only time I didn’t kill a duck was when my buddy got caught by a game warden. We went on the roost together, and I didn’t get to shoot. I was in the wrong place, and he got caught.
Ramsey Russell: None of us—nobody I know that’s duck hunting—are out there just to watch the sun rise. We’re not birdwatchers. We like to watch ducks over the top of a gun barrel. But so many of your stories have been about people and places and times, not just about dead ducks. As a market hunter, I know dead ducks were important because it paid for things. But so much of your conversation is not coming from a market hunting standpoint, it’s coming from a real, emotional place, just this love for this duck and for the people.
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. I lost two good friends, who died, who loved to hunt. The only time they really enjoyed it was when we were together.
Ramsey Russell: In a duck blind.
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. Killing ducks. Both of them are dead now. My grandson’s dad, my son-in-law, was hunting with his uncle and them. They were killing ducks, but they were shooting black ducks, you name it. Then, when he started dating my daughter, my daughter asked me, “Brent wants to go hunting with you.” I was sort of leery. I said, “Okay. Tell him to come.” We went. We got in the blind. Well, here comes three big mallards. I gave them a call; they lit about twenty yards from us. I said, “Boy, there they are. Kill them.” Well, he jumped up, fired three shots, and missed. I grabbed my gun, and I killed them. I said, “Boy, sit down right here. You’re hunting over here in the woods. When they light right there, that business of jumping up like that— Ease up. Shoot on the water. You’re going to kill two, and then you kill the other one.” After that, I didn’t have no trouble with him. He learned. Hunting with his uncle with them, they would jump up and have to shoot on the wing all the time. I said, “Over here, we let them light.” That’s how we started. Now, that’s all he wants to do, is let them light.
Thoughts on Shooting Flying Birds
But he ain’t never shot a flying duck and wasn’t going to start that morning.
Ramsey Russell: That reminds me of a story. I hunted, back when I was living in Grenada— Somehow or another, I ran across a ninety year-old man that had hunted parts of that area since right after World War II. He knew all the history. We met, and we were going out to a public spot. My freaking battery-operated light went dead, and his eyes adjusted. He said, “Just go where I tell you.” We cleared through that little bottleneck of timber, and he said, “Where do you want to go?” I told him, and we navigated to it in the pitch-black dark. He knew right where he was going. We set up. I got a little pull-up blind and everything going. Enough ducks were flying that we got two limits of ducks, but we were kind of shooting a group limit. It was way back when. He shot a single-shot Sears and Roebuck shotgun. I remember telling him, “We’re getting close to the end of the limit, sir. Don’t you want to shoot any?” He goes, “Son, I ain’t shot a duck flying in fifty years, and I ain’t going to start this morning.” And he was serious! The one pair of ducks that I actually let land without getting shot at, he couldn’t get a gun up before they fled, because it was public. There was a lot of shooting going on, and they were real skittish. They wouldn’t just sit and stay there forever. But he ain’t never shot a flying duck and wasn’t going to start that morning. He was just happy to be there, and he was happy to take his share of them and go home. He didn’t care.
Johnny Borrel: Back then, like I said, you could tell when they shot on the water. Well, it was in 1993 when my buddy—he was the management area warden—finally told me, “Put the plug back in your gun because I’m getting too many complaints.” I said, “Okay.” But, before that, you could tell. You’d hear ten shots, then you’d start hearing a few slower shots. That bunch lit, you’d start shooting, and then, after all that, that was the broken wings they were shooting. Now, you just hear a bunch of quick shots. People that box, “High velocity,” or “Shooting 1,500 feet per second.” 1,500 feet. That BB isn’t traveling that 1,500 feet, but they think it does. And that steel. I’d like to know how many times I’ve picked a duck and it had a bad spot on it from a steel BB.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, where it heals over and stuff like that. I see the same thing when we hunt in lead-friendly countries. I hunt with enough people, during the course of a year, I sit in a blind watching them, and I say, “You’re shooting behind a bird.” “Well, how do you know?” I say, “Because you’re shooting lead. It’s 1,250 feet per second. You’ve got to get out in front of your bird, every time.” And I understand, it’s been a long time. It’s been an entire generation or two of duck hunters shooting steel shot, now. That’s all they know, is that super fast junk science of speed. But you put a lead shot in their hand, especially when you go to somewhere like Argentina where they’re shooting target loads, and it’s slow, man. It may be 1,150 or 1,200 feet per second. You’ve got to get out in front of those birds.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. Like you just said, I can see it through my marsh, but I’m lucky. The farthest shot I’m shooting, where I hunt at, is 35 yards. That’s how big my range is. From this end to this end it’s 50 yards, but it’s only 35 from where my blind’s at, all the way around. So I’m good. But in open water, you don’t have nothing to judge your distance by. That’s what’s bad. Whereas, I know exactly what’s what. People don’t realize that, especially these younger kids.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it comes with experience, and fifty thousand ducks or thereabouts—which is what you’ve shot—is a lot of experience that a lot of folks aren’t going to have. I remember reading old Nash Buckingham. He was reputedly a great shot. He was shooting those long barrels—lead shot—and tree topping birds. He was, supposedly, a very, very good shot. He said, “Future generations will not shoot as well as my generation did because they don’t have the opportunity to shoot.” Because he was hunting pre-Migratory Bird Treaty Act. His club had a self-imposed limit of fifty ducks, so he was shooting a lot of ducks legally. In one day, he was shooting as many as six good consecutive days, right now, in Mississippi or Louisiana. That’s a lot of experience.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. Back when I was young—when they started clearing out the bean fields and the ducks didn’t have a place to hide—every day, you had ducks. Today, a lot of people go, “Well, I didn’t shoot.” They might go four or five days without pulling the trigger. I’m lucky. In my little hole, I’m still shooting every day. We’re still shooting every day.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. Well, that brings up a good point. You were talking, earlier, about when that big front hit, and how on the day of the front it wasn’t any good. The ducks were kind of discombobulated, getting settled. Did you hunt every day back then, or did you go just on the good days? Nowadays, everybody goes every day. When I come outside of my garage, or come out there to my hunting camp, and a warm front done hit—what I call the days of the concrete sweat—you know it ain’t going to be no good. There ain’t no wind, there ain’t no sun, there ain’t no weather, there ain’t no reason to go duck hunting, but I go. Did y’all ever just sit in and hunt just the good days?
Duck Blinds Then and Now
These market hunters— if you’d see their blinds that they built – they had a room with a heater, a stove, a bench, and a bed.
Johnny Borrel: Well, where I’m hunting at there, it’s like I tell them: when there’s sun, there’s fun; when there’s no sun, there’s no fun. You understand?
Ramsey Russell: That’s a fact. Yes, sir, I do.
Johnny Borrel: But we’re lucky. Back when I first started hunting there, we prayed for somebody to go into the bean fields to scare them up. You’d never stop seeing ducks pass at the treetop level. Once they’d see that hole, they’d dive in. When I started hunting there, I didn’t have a hole to hunt. I just started creeping in the trees. I brought my little boy. I’d paddle him in the pirogue, and he’d shoot ducks swimming across. When I’d get to a certain place, I started killing mallards. I’d see mallards all over the place. Said, “Where in the hell are they coming in at?” I kept looking, kept looking. Finally, I took another old logging road, and I came up to this little bitty hole about the size of this room here. From the top of the trees down was solid feathers. I said, “This is the place,” and I started clearing it. I remember the first day I went in there. I had my boy sitting in the pirogue underneath a big pecan tree, and I was with a bucksaw cutting the little bitty trees that were starting over. I hauled them out, and he’d holler, “Daddy, here comes the ducks.” I’d run, get in the pirogue with him, and we’d shoot them. Finally, he can tell you how big I got it. I made three holes. He can tell you that’s possibly the three best holes he’s ever hunted in. There’s my hole that they call Pops’s hole, Lassie’s hole, and Hunter’s hole. When he was four years old, it took me three years to figure out where to cut that hole. I just don’t go butcher a tree down. You’ve got to get it right, and that’s how we did it. It’s not where you want to go; it’s where they want to go. I see people put blinds in the wrong place every time. I started hunting at this place when we passed down the bayou, paddling. I’d always jump ducks at one place. Well, when I didn’t have a hole, I’d hunt that at one place in the bayou and kill what I wanted. But then the more people that came—because it’s public land—I stopped hunting that. That’s why I have these holes. Another thing: today, people are lazy duck hunters. If they can’t get that Go-Devil or that Pro-Drive or that Gator Tail to the place, they ain’t coming. If they have to walk or paddle a pirogue, they ain’t going.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of folks want to drive their Polaris right through the field, right to the duck blind, and scare those ducks to high heaven. I’m thinking that, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe you didn’t have those loud motors. Maybe you didn’t even use an outboard. Maybe you were pirogueing or paddling quietly over to those duck holes.
Johnny Borrel: You had big blinds, back then, with a roof. These market hunters— if you’d see their blinds that they built – they had a room with a heater, a stove, a bench, and a bed. You’d walk out on the shooting deck, and you had enough overhang in case it’s pouring down rain. He had a stool like that. It was always a three or a four shooter. You’d sit there. It could be pouring down rain, unless the rain was blowing in, and then just one man would stay until you’d see some ducks. You sat there, and you never got cold. Even with that ice that they had there, you had that heater in there. You’d sit there, you’d warm yourself. One man would watch for the ducks. The boat— Most of these guides had 20 horsepower Mercury’s with a wooden boat. A jon boat, you’d call it. They’d put them underneath the blind. Nobody would see that, you see. You’d park your boat on the bank, and then you’d cross the ridge and get in the flat water, and you’d walk. But in Spring Bayou, you had to have a boat to get back and forth. The bean fields, you’d drive up and walk. Where the dirt road stopped, you walked after that. We had a camp in the woods on the school board. We’d cut across the school board, and then we’d walk roughly a mile and a half to two miles to get to the good part.
Ramsey Russell: How important were camo patterns back in those days? I’m trying to imagine what kind of camo pattern you wore back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Probably none.
Johnny Borrel: Okay. 90% of the people back then had an Army surplus shirt, a wool shirt in a drab green. Or the Army coat, drab green. 90%. Watch, I’ll show you if I can find it. We might have some here.
Ramsey Russell: He’s looking around at the pictures on the wall.
Johnny Borrel: That old camouflage. You remember? It was that spot— That three spots, there. That was it. If you had that, you were high class, then. It’s the truth!
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Those men were hidden, and they were comfortable. I bet it was a lot of work, putting those blinds together like that.
Johnny Borrel: They’d cut boatloads of willows. They might cut five boatloads of willows. The boats were four foot wide, fourteen foot long, and there were always more in front. They’d pile them up as much as they could. They’d put two or four stops to keep them there, and they’d pile them. Then they’d bring them out there and start brushing. They always kept a lot of brush on the site, during the year, to keep re-brushing. They did it first class. There wasn’t no slack in them.
Predictions About the Future of Duck Hunting from a LA Market Hunter
Ramsey Russell: Mr. Johnny, what do you think the future of duck hunting holds? From what you’ve seen to now, what do you think the future holds?
Johnny Borrel: Well, I’m hoping that, one day, they wake up and realize that all these rest areas they’ve got— Now, keeping the cornfields flooded and all that, that has been a major disaster, really. They’ll go to the federal reserves, stay there all day; then, at night, they hit those fields. So there’s no moving, no looking for something to eat. Back when we were hunting, they were always looking for a place to hide or eat. As far as the water, they had water. When you stop and think about it, it was mostly looking for a place to hide because of the pressure. They had pressure, back then. Everybody could hunt any place they wanted. They were skinny ducks. When they’d come down, they were blue.
Ramsey Russell: From flying.
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. They didn’t have nothing to eat, really.
Ramsey Russell: Well, now they’ve got ag all the way down.
Johnny Borrel: Now, when the bean fields started, then you started killing big fat ducks. Am I wrong? But, before that, huh! That’s why I was creeping in the button-willows, back then; because they were eating the button-willows, and they were white fat. Bean fields? Yellow fat. That’s two different fats and two different tastes. Next year, watch that.
Ramsey Russell: I will. Just so that nobody listening gets me confused with regard to opinions; I really am a proponent of sanctuary areas because I think there’s so much hunting pressure across the landscape—that y’all didn’t have back then—that ducks have got to have somewhere to go and not get shot. I was out in California for a couple of weeks, hunting every day, and my host said, “The only problem with trying to lay out two weeks is trying to hunt non-shoot days.” I didn’t really understand what he’s walking about, shoot days. Well, so many of the clubs and public lands out there only shoot Wednesdays and Saturdays or Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The whole rest of the week, there ain’t a footprint or a motorboat in all the place. It really does provide a total quality experience. In so many parts of the world, like we’re doing right now, ducks get shot at seven days a week from daylight to dark, and they’ve got to have somewhere to go. I was speaking with Dr. Osborne up there at University of Arkansas in Monticello, and he had a radio pack on a mallard that showed up and stayed the entire season on one of three areas. A week after the hunting season ends, that duck’s all over the county. That duck feels that hunting pressure. It’s a very difficult time. We spend a lot of money, we spend a lot of time managing for waterfowl. We want to go shoot them every waking moment. We only get sixty days, anyway, but whew. How do you step back and let that pressure off and still get your money’s worth “about shooting ducks”? That’s a real problem we’ve got today.
Johnny Borrel: Well, I had a buddy of mine, Johnny Lazarone, that killed a male pintail with a radio on him. They were tracking that duck flying from the Catahoula rest area to Arkansas three times a day.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. How far is that? That’s got to be a while. It’s got to be 50 miles.
Johnny Borrel: I would say maybe 75 miles. A duck travels 45 miles an hour, but if he has a tailwind of 50 miles an hour, he’s driving 90, right? Okay. It doesn’t take him long to get there, eat, come back to the rest area, and leave again. Three times a day, they said, he was flying to Arkansas. Okay. I can remember now, I wanted to tell you about that. When we were hunting in Red River Bay—when he was a little boy—every day, from 9:30 to 2:00, these ducks would come to this lake to drink. I don’t know why they came all the way to this lake from around Bucky and Ville Platte and all of that where the rice fields are. Solid rice. They’d come there, and they’d light—I’d watch them light on that lake—wash themselves, drink a little bit, get up, and haul ass back the same way they came.
When Did Market Hunting End?
Now, in Avoyelles Parish, they eat ducks, but I don’t know about the rest of this country.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got three more questions for you. Is market hunting over completely?
Johnny Borrel: I would think so.
Ramsey Russell: When did it end? Back in the ‘70s?
Johnny Borrel: No, I’d say it ended about—
Ramsey Russell: Last week?
Johnny Borrel: Oh, no. I’d say about 2000. It went way down from 2000. Well, I’d say about 2005, for damn sure.
Ramsey Russell: As recent as 2005, there were still folks out there shooting ducks to make a living?
Johnny Borrel: Shooting just to sell. Not to make a living. They were selling ducks.
Ramsey Russell: They were selling ducks. Just for tradition, if nothing else. Then the time you’re talking about, fifteen years ago, is about the time you said, previously, when the duck just fell off. The opportunity to do it just didn’t exist anymore.
Johnny Borrel: That, too. Plus, nowadays, there’s a lot of people that don’t eat ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Why do you think it is?
Johnny Borrel: I think because of my generation— I still eat ducks, but we’re dying off. That’s another thing. Now, in Avoyelles Parish, they eat ducks, but I don’t know about the rest of this country.
Favorite Duck to Cook and Eat?
The green-winged teal and the wood duck are about the two best.
Ramsey Russell: Well, last episode, I had asked you your favorite way to eat duck. What I have seen in our social media and our keepings on and goings on, is that a lot of folks don’t know how to cook duck. What I’ve realized from talking to young folks—let’s just say in their twenties—that it ain’t that they don’t know how to cook duck; they don’t know how to cook. It’s kind of a quantum leap to go from frozen pizza to duck. We had a guy on here many episodes ago talking about cooking duck. He pointed out that, all three of the most famous chefs out there today, if you asked them, “What’s your favorite meat to cook and eat?” They’re going to say, “Duck.” Because that fat and everything. Kids, they don’t get that. Duck is good to eat. Some of the most expensive meals ever sold in the most opulent restaurants in New York City were wild ducks. It’s a gift. But it ain’t like cooking a frozen pizza or hamburgers. It takes a little something to it. They don’t know how to make a good Cajun gravy.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. Or a good duck gumbo.
Ramsey Russell: Good duck gumbo.
Johnny Borrel: I don’t know about you, but they better get down on their knees and thank the good Lord they were born in Avoyelles Parish.
Ramsey Russell: Why’s that?
Johnny Borrel: You have some of the best food here. You have some of the best people. In my opinion, you still have a lot of hunting culture here. There’s still a lot of people that are still pounding.
Ramsey Russell: It’s still a Sportsman’s Paradise down here in Louisiana.
Johnny Borrel: That’s right. Back when I was a kid, Spring Bayou was the talk of the world for fishing, everything. I can remember that they had three boat landings. Mind you, Mr. Gilbert had 100 boats, Mr. Carla Fargue had one landing with a bar and gas station. He had 150 boats, and Mr. Greenhouse had over 250 boats sitting right there. If you didn’t put your name down a week before, you wouldn’t have a boat that weekend. That’s the truth. We were kids. We’d go over there, and we’d help load the boat and unload the boat. They’d give us a nickel, a dime. At the end of the weekend, I made more money than my daddy made in the whole week.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. What’s your favorite duck to cook and eat?
Johnny Borrel: The green-winged teal and the wood duck are about the two best.
Ramsey Russell: You like them with a lot of fat on them?
Johnny Borrel: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You cook them with that gravy recipe you told us about? Or your gumbo?
Johnny Borrel: I’ll tell you what, my grandson and my son-in-law do damn good.
Ramsey Russell: Good. Last question. I’ve just got to ask, because folks know me. Back in the day, your daddy got onto you for shooting those shovelers. Today, as tough as it is to hunt compared to back then, will you shoot a shoveler if he comes in?
Johnny Borrel: Nope. You can ask him. I don’t shoot a shoveler. I very seldom shoot a grey duck. That’s right. A blue-winged teal, I’m just about ready to leave those damn things, because he’s on the shoveler’s side. The only reason they put the green-winged teal with the blue-winged teal was because it was a small duck. But look at that beak! The cinnamon teal and the shoveler and the blue-winged teal, they all have that.
Ramsey Russell: They’re all in the same genus. Spatula. We all call them Spatula now. That’s right. That’s exactly right. The number one, most-requested species that I ever get a call about is that cinnamon teal. Just imagine you had three sisters: the bluewing, the cinnamon, and the shoveler. One of them became a doctor, one of them became a judge, and one of them became a crack-smoking somebody out of the ghetto. Yeah, that’s that cinnamon teal, the way they live and eat. They live way down the habitat chain. They are absolutely beautiful birds, but they live in the muckiest, raunchiest habitats. I would not eat a cinnamon teal on a dare.
Johnny Borrel: I’ve seen one cinnamon teal killed in Louisiana. My boy killed it in Red River Bay.
Ramsey Russell: As many ducks as y’all killed back in the day, did y’all ever kill anything interesting like that? Like a hybrid or something crazy?
Johnny Borrel: I killed a cross between a pintail and a mallard.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I believe that. Had the stripe on it?
Johnny Borrel: I have him mounted at my camp.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Johnny Borrel: Yeah. Really.
Ramsey Russell: Mr. Johnny, I sure appreciate you coming on. This has been an absolutely fascinating couple of episodes. I know, after the last episode, that everybody was banging me up and asking a lot of questions, wanting to get you back on here. Folks, y’all have been listening to Mr. Johnny Borrel down in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. Market hunter back in the good old days, and still duck hunts. Has a lot of very interesting thoughts and ideas about duck hunting now versus then. Thank y’all for joining us for this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.