I’d stopped by to paw their new pintail and swan calls. Never mind that it was Sunday morning, or that a cold, wet rain was falling outside. Turning off the lights, we then had to lock Allen Bliven Call’s shop doors to stall customer traffic long enough to record uninterrupted. But it was worth it. How’d Allen and Julie Bliven begin duck hunting? And where’d 8 years-old Julie learn to kill her first duck that way? How’d they meet and why was it love at first sight – for Allen?! How’d they get into the waterfowl call making business, and how’d he develop his famous pintail whistle? What’s so unique about Hyde County, North Carolina, what’s its history? Y’all are going to enjoy this Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode.
Allen Bliven Calls: Creating the Best Pintail & Swan Calls
“It’s duck and bear hunters galore.”
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. I am in Hyde County, North Carolina. I can’t believe it’s the first time I’ve ever come here. Well, I think I was here twenty years ago. I duck hunted somewhere around Lake Mattamuskeet, and swan hunted some, but that was a long time ago. It feels like I’m here for the first time. I came down here to shoot some ducks with my buddy Parker Cooper. He’s got a beautiful impoundment. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of duck hunters and duck hunting culture that I’ve seen in the last 48 hours since pulling into town. You go to one of the two local restaurants and it’s all duck camo or bear hunting camo. Right down the road from where I’m staying is a little shop: ABC, Allen Bliven Calls. I said, “Well, I’m going to go see my buddy Allen.” I met Allen a few years ago through a mutual acquaintance who had given me a pintail call. It’s one of my favorite pintail calls, and the only pintail call I blow at times when I get down to Mexico and parts of the world that have got lots of pintail. I’ve had a real good time visiting with him and his wife Julie. How are you guys doing today?
Allen Bliven: Good morning. How are you doing?
Ramsey Russell: I’m doing good despite the weather outside. How about you, Julie? You’re being quiet all of a sudden. Are you shy or something?
Julie Bliven: No, I’m not shy. I might be a lot of things, but I’m not shy.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, Lord. What is it about this area? Because you’re staying right here next to a commercial operation and every time I pass by here, it looks like there’s a party going on or something. There’s so much traffic, so many people. There’s a campfire out front, right in front of your shop. There’s a fire pit, and I’ve seen grills going. It’s duck and bear hunters galore.
Allen Bliven: Oysters being roasted.
Ramsey Russell: Oysters being roasted. Yeah, we’re not far at all from the coast, are we?
Allen Bliven: We’re about ten miles from the sound, right here where we’re sitting.
Julie & Allen: Love at First Sight?
“He had to grow on me a little bit.”
Ramsey Russell: A lot of folks I’ve met and have hunted with around here are crab fisherman or oyster fishermen and stuff like that. This is coastal. This is real coastal. Now, did y’all grow up here in Hyde County?
Allen Bliven: We grew up in Manteo in Dare County, on a little island called Roanoke Island.
Ramsey Russell: How far is that from here?
Allen Bliven: By the road, it’s an hour and fifteen minutes.
Ramsey Russell: Hour and fifteen minutes.
Julie Bliven: If you talk to older people like my father, it would be across the sound. When we would come over here to visit, he would always say you were going across the sound.
Allen Bliven: There’s a ferry you used to have to take before the bridges were built, when he was growing up.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. Well, I don’t know where to start with you two. Now, Julie, do you hunt, or no? You just pluck ducks?
Julie Bliven: No, no. I will pluck them, but I’d rather shoot them.
Ramsey Russell: How did y’all two meet?
Allen Bliven: Well, we knew each other our whole lives. Her mother was my kindergarten teacher. She was a year older than I was. My next door neighbor used to take me hunting along the shoreline of the Croatan Sound on the western side of Manteo. One day, she came walking by with her Humpback Browning, going hunting by herself. She was like a legend growing up. She pitched Little League baseball and struck guys out, people who were up-and-coming stars, made them cry and never play baseball again. She won all the trophies in the Punt, Pass & Kick contests we used to have in elementary school. She was just a local legend growing up. I worked for her brother-in-law, building Pirate’s Cove there at Manteo, building the docks. We got hooked up on a fishing trip together. She slalom skied from the Roanoke Island bridge all the way to the end of Wanchese. She dropped off the skis and jumped in a boat. We caught a bunch of fish; speckled trout. That night, we fried them up and went out on our first date. That was July 14, 1989. I knew from the moment I saw her that I was going to marry her.
Ramsey Russell: How old were y’all then?
Allen Bliven: I was probably 22.
Julie Bliven: I was 23.
Ramsey Russell: Met a young lady going duck hunting by herself with a Humpback Browning, and it was love at first sight.
Allen Bliven: Love at first sight. Not for her.
Julie Bliven: Not for me.
Ramsey Russell: Not for you?
Julie Bliven: He had to grow on me a little bit.
Allen Bliven: I was doing marine construction, putting in pilings and bulkheads and piers and stuff. Her daddy looked at me one day and said, “What are you going to do to support my daughter?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Well, how about getting a job with Merchant Marines?” I tried that, and they were in a hiring freeze. He retired from the Coast Guard in ‘66. He said, “How about joining the Coast Guard?” I said, “Let’s go.” So in 1990 I joined the US Coast Guard and did twenty years. I retired in 2010. In 1993, we got married. I was an E-5 at the time.
Julie Bliven: What was cool about the Coast Guard is that it is a big tradition on the Outer Banks. All of our families have been members of the Coast Guard, and they never made us move from North Carolina because of my teaching job, because I was a career teacher.
Ramsey Russell: What did you teach?
Julie Bliven: I taught PE, and I’ve taught drivers’ ed, and I’ve taught civics. I was a drivers’ ed teacher for five years, over here in Hyde County, because they couldn’t find anyone. I felt sorry for the kids. I hadn’t taught drivers’ ed in 25 years. They called me and said, “Would you teach it?” I felt bad for the kids. But I’ve coached my whole teaching career, and I’ve had a good life. I’ve had a fun life. I love kids. We absolutely love kids.
The History of Waterfowl Hunting in North Carolina
“Well, I think it started out as a goose hunting capital.”
Ramsey Russell: What is it about this area that makes the hunting so—? Because there’s a long-standing history of duck hunting, I’m learning, in this part of the United States. Why is that?
Allen Bliven: Well, I think it started out as a goose hunting capital. The local game warden, Speedy Tunnel, had blinds out on the lake, and young boys would take parties out. I think he would facilitate the hunting. Then the Canada goose population started to drop, and they put a moratorium on hunting. Then, about four years later, the federal government put a moratorium on goose hunting. Right now, we can hunt for thirty days in September—the resident geese—and then if we want to hunt the migratory geese, we can buy a $5 permit and shoot one a day.
Julie Bliven: I think it might be a $10 permit.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s one a day, just at the very end of the season?
Julie Bliven: Yeah, the last two weeks.
Ramsey Russell: Not much at all. What about the swan hunting? Did y’all grow up swan hunting? Was that something y’all did growing up?
Julie Bliven: No, that didn’t really come around until— We couldn’t shoot them when I was a kid. It was illegal to shoot them.
Allen Bliven: They were an endangered species or critical species.
Julie Bliven: It was during my first couple years of teaching in the mid to late ‘80s when this started up again, when you could get a permit to shoot a swan.
Ramsey Russell: It’s only been since the ‘80s that you could swan hunt?
Julie Bliven: Yes, I believe so.
Ramsey Russell: Incredible. I’ve always heard of Lake Mattamuskeet as where basically a third of the continental population of swans are aiming for when they leave Saskatchewan.
Allen Bliven: This is their biggest wintering ground, they say.
Ramsey Russell: This is their wintering ground, and they are everywhere. Sitting here at the camp house in the evening, going over to where we were hunting yesterday— There’s just freaking swans everywhere.
Allen Bliven: They showed up on Halloween Day. Last year, they showed up on the 5th of November. This year, they’re a little bit early.
Julie Bliven: That’s when we noticed them. There may have been more somewhere else, but that’s when we noticed them here.
Allen Bliven: I heard a hoot and looked up, and there was a flock of fives. That’s how we noticed.
Ramsey Russell: I was up in North Dakota around Halloween. Let me tell you what, it got single-digit cold. It got bad cold. It got “I ain’t from around here” cold. I wanted to be somewhere else. It was 4°, 9° in the afternoon, and it felt like somebody was hitting me with baseball bats. That’s why those swans showed up early, I bit.
Julie Bliven: I’m sure.
Ramsey Russell: Do y’all hunt swans?
Allen Bliven: If we get a permit.
Bear Hunting in Hyde County, NC
“Well, I don’t know about hunting something that can eat you. That’s the only problem with hunting bears. Ducks, you can wring their necks. Bears are going to eat you up.”
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Somebody told me there’s more bears in Hyde County, North Carolina, than there are people.
Allen Bliven: Well, there’s a lot of bears in Hyde County. Hyde County and the next county north, Carroll County, are the biggest bear harvest counties in the state. Our bears do not hibernate, so they stay active year round. They continue to grow.
Ramsey Russell: They get bigger. They get big. I came over here and bear hunted, and that’s what everybody said about the size. “They’re big, they’re big, they’re big.” I’m like, “Well, I’m not a trophy hunter. I’m not looking for big; I just want a good meat bear.” Man, every time you hear somebody say they shot a bear, they’re like, “How big is he?” You hear some astounding numbers. Five and six hundred pounds, all the time. Nothing to it.
Julie Bliven: The place where we have the shop, where we’re sitting right now— The gentleman that owns this operation has been nice enough to let us rent this building. His operation is called Dare to Hyde, and it is a huge, huge bear operation. The largest black bears in North America, we’d have to say, overall. They’re just phenomenal. Just the numbers and the amount of bears that they kill.
Ramsey Russell: It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Julie Bliven: It is. They have a nice duck hunting operation, as well.
Allen Bliven: Eva Shockey has been here. Jim Shockey’s killed a bear here. Trump Junior’s killed bear. This is the place to come.
Ramsey Russell: This is the place to come, isn’t it? Well, I will be back. I need a distraction. I need some more wondering in my life, and I think bears are going to be it. I ain’t got nowhere to go but up, from here.
Allen Bliven: Well, I don’t know about hunting something that can eat you. That’s the only problem with hunting bears. Ducks, you can wring their necks. Bears are going to eat you up.
Growing Up Duck Hunting in a Town Full of Fishermen
“The old next door neighbor used to take me hunting, and he used to show me how to set decoys out because in North Carolina and on the coast here, we’re known for our decoy carvers and our decoy placements.”
Ramsey Russell: Yep. Tell me a little bit about growing up in this area, growing up where y’all grew up, which is about an hour and a half from here, but still pretty close. Tell me about growing up there and how y’all got started duck hunting. That’s a good starting place. How did you get started duck hunting, Allen?
Allen Bliven: Well, my father took me hunting at a young age. I have two more brothers, and they would go too. I was the only one that really showed any interest in following the sport. He was always talking about responsibility and proving ourselves to be responsible with a firearm. That’s the first thing that somebody who’s going to start duck hunting needs to learn: the responsibility of a loaded weapon. My other brothers would do things that were a little bit dangerous, and I always paid real good attention to the safety of a weapon. To this day, when I’m in the blind, if I hear somebody click off early, I make sure that they don’t do that.
Ramsey Russell: Like when the ducks are setting up, you hear a safety.
Allen Bliven: Oh, yeah. Before the gun is even drawn.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t understand that, either.
Allen Bliven: It doesn’t take but a split-second to take the safety off. I’m always the one that’s going to ask everybody if their safety’s on, every single time. I don’t care if it makes you mad or what’s going on, I want to be safe. You’ve got to assume that nobody’s safer than you are, so you’ve got to assume everybody’s a risk. I treat every duck hunter that way.
Ramsey Russell: You bring up a good point. When it’s go-time, when you’re sitting in that position where you’re ready to spring up and shoot, I’ve got my finger on my safety. Boy, it feels good. It’s right there. But I never think about it. My finger is on the safety, not the trigger. Nowhere near it.
Allen Bliven: I shoot a Beretta, so my safety’s forward, so I’m guarding my trigger.
Ramsey Russell: See, that would mess me up, because mine is behind it. I never think about that safety coming off. When I shoot, it’s just a part of my mount, taking the safety off. Then by the time I’m unmounted, the safety is back on, but I’m not cognizant of having done that.
Julie Bliven: With so many people, you’ll hear them when they’re in the position you were talking of. They click off, and you can see it if they have a dog. Their dog catches on to that. I watched one yesterday.
Ramsey Russell: You’re right about that. That’s exactly right.
Julie Bliven: They clicked off, and as soon as they clicked off, that dog ticced.
Ramsey Russell: One of the funniest videos I ever saw was a camera pointing on the end of the blind. Somebody clicked the safety, and that dog popped up. He’d been laying down in the blind, and he clicked up. You’re right about that. I have found myself sometimes, Julie, when the birds are just hanging and taking forever to get there, click my safety off. What do I do that for? Because I know it’s just going to mess up my timing. There have been times, I guess, in real fast and furious Mexico- or Argentina-type hunts, where I don’t put my safety on. I’m thinking that as I’m swinging instead of thinking about swinging, if that makes sense. I like that safety on. That’s my point. So your dad taught y’all this responsibility?
Allen Bliven: Well, my dad’s father died when he was sixteen, and my next door neighbor kind of took my dad under the wing, duck hunting wise. Dad is kind of crafty. He can make things. Growing up, we had an airplane that had a twelve-foot wingspan, had a crank inside that would crank the propeller around, and had a wheel in the back. He would drive us around the yard. He made us an army tank that had old wagon axles in the bottom of it and had a turret on top made of ABS pipe. The old next door neighbor used to take me hunting, and he used to show me how to set decoys out because in North Carolina and on the coast here, we’re known for our decoy carvers and our decoy placements. Nobody had a duck call, growing up, except for the odd gentleman who had been off and purchased a triple reed Yentzen and had it around his neck but was a little afraid to blow it. So he kind of taught me how to identify birds as they flew by the white patches on their wings, the shape of their bodies, the shape of their wings, and how they flew. That’s how I got started.
Ramsey Russell: Your neighbor. What about you, Julie?
Julie’s: Duck Hunting as a Youngster
“Where did an eight year old girl learn something like that?”
Julie Bliven: I was always a tomboy, and I had two older brothers. I had three, but two that were closer to me, and they always took me. If they didn’t, I would raise cain. They would feel sorry for me. My parents were older when they had me. There were six of us. They would take me because they felt sorry for my mother having to deal with me if they didn’t. I was a mess. They took me, and then we grew up on that island. Boys and girls all played together. We didn’t have very many playmates. The two boys down the road from me always hunted, and my first duck I ever shot was a black duck on the ice over corn.
Ramsey Russell: Was it flooded corn, or?
Julie Bliven: No, it was ice. The sound was frozen over, and I had thrown corn on the ice, and the duck was eating the corn. It was illegal. I was eight years old, and I shot it with a 12 gauge shotgun with Mike Brown and Murphy Krief, two of my neighbors.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s a long, long time ago.
Allen Bliven: Statute of limitations is over.
Ramsey Russell: The thing that strikes me is not that you put corn on the ice, but that you were eight years old and knew to put corn on the ice. Where did an eight year old girl learn something like that?
Julie Bliven: My brothers. I can remember my mom taking my brother Crockett— His name was David, but my dad shaved his head one summer, and he wore a Daniel Boone-Davy Crockett coonskin hat all summer long because he hated his shaved head. So Dad started calling him Crockett, and that name has stuck. So Crockett is twelve years older than I am. My mom would drive him down Highway 12 to the refuge—we called it the Flats, it’s on Cape Hatteras National Seashore—and drop him off to hunt illegally in the refuge. He would walk through the marsh and jump shoot on a northwest wind. He would jump shoot all the ponds. My mom would come back. She would say, “What time should I pick you up?” He said, “Just blow the horn.” So she and I would come back, and they would blow the horn. He would come out. But he baited ducks in a pit to capture them to bring home to put in his own duck pen. He would walk in that marsh with hundred pound sacks of corn and bait places either shoot them or trap them and bring them back. He was caught by a federal game warden.
Ramsey Russell: How old was he?
Julie Bliven: Seventeen. The deal was, “If you can help me catch the other boys, we’ll let everybody go. Just give everybody a good talking to and move on with our lives.” He and that game warden became great friends. In fact, every wounded or crippled bird that the man found, he would bring it to our duck pin. We had a swan that lived eighteen years from the time we got him until he died. I don’t know how old the swan was when he brought him to us. My brother was always an illegal hunter.
Ramsey Russell: It says a lot to me that that game warden found it a teachable moment. That’s a good story. That’s a really good story.
It’s All in the Family: The Market Gunner and a Famous Decoy Carver
Julie Bliven: Oh, yeah. My great-grandfather was a market gunner.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Julie Bliven: Yes. I have a booklet with all the birds that he shot. He was also the sheriff of Dare County.
Ramsey Russell: I’m taking notes, right here. Tell me about this booklet.
Julie Bliven: After he started taking clients, it would document how many birds they would kill on Hatteras Island, in Salvo. I think the most was 115 or something in one day.
Ramsey Russell: This would have been pre-Migratory Bird Treaty Act, huh?
Julie Bliven: Yes. Then he started taking clients, and, of course, the numbers went down a little bit.
Ramsey Russell: Did you ever hear any tales growing up, Julie, about him market hunting back in those days?
Julie Bliven: Oh, yes.
Ramsey Russell: Was it punt guns, layouts, live decoys?
Allen Bliven: She has his gun.
Julie Bliven: I have his gun.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of gun?
Julie Bliven: It’s a Parker double barrel. 12 gauge.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Julie Bliven: And we have booklets. My dad saved the booklets, and it just tells all about it. He was the sheriff, he did everything by horseback, and he never charged people. He had so many IOU’s that people couldn’t pay. Their taxes. He would pay it himself. They did a lot of sink boxes.
Allen Bliven: Tell him about the gun.
Julie Bliven: What about it?
Allen Bliven: Where it came from.
Julie Bliven: Oh, it came from my other grandfather. Great-grandfather.
Allen Bliven: His last name was Parker.
Ramsey Russell: Like Peter Parker?
Julie Bliven: No. He was from New Jersey, that grandfather was, and he gifted it to my grandfather in Salvo. My great-grandfather. There’s big Coast Guard history, too, on Hatteras Island. One way, you had to go by ferry; the other way, you had to go by ferry. They were just their own entity. They got a lot of things from shipwrecks.
Allen Bliven: Her father was stationed with Mannie Haywood, the famous decoy carver. Mannie would be down in the basement, and he’d carve decoys and look at the head and pitch it in the fire and burn it up. He was making solid wood decoys for like $2 apiece.
Julie Bliven: They called it the basement, but it was actually just a closed-in bottom— We can’t have basements here because of the sea level, but that’s what they called it. Dad would go, “Man, that really looks like a great decoy.” He’d go, “Nah, something’s wrong with the head,” and he’d throw it in the fireplace. Now they’re selling for thousands of dollars.
Ramsey Russell: I was going to say, I bet they’re selling for more than $2 now, if you can find one.
Allen Bliven: My mother’s sister is married to a Haywood. Mannie is his great-great-grandfather.
Julie Bliven: If you don’t know any history on that, he is a big decoy carver for this area. They’ve had some good carvers over here. Mr. Percy Carawan carved his decoys out of cypress roots. He used the root head. They’re called root head decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody was telling me this morning, one of the local guys that collects decoy, that it was this area that the root heads came from.
Julie Bliven: Probably so.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all have seen some of those in these local collections?
Allen Bliven: We know his grandson very well. Benjie Carawan.
Julie Bliven: But yes, there’s a couple in Martelle’s Restaurant.
Allen Bliven: There’s actually a little tribute to Percy in Martelle’s.
Ramsey Russell: How did I miss that?
Allen Bliven: It’s on the wall.
Ramsey Russell: I may go down there and eat a sandwich here in a minute.
Julie Bliven: Ask him about it, because they have some.
Allen Bliven: I know we had a DU banquet here one time, and Benjie auctioned off a Percy Carawan. The price was just crazy for it.
Julie Bliven: But we didn’t call, like Allen said. Most of what we ever heard about around here was carving, the decoy carving.
Allen Bliven: And how you place it to attract the birds and get the birds to land where you want them.
Julie Bliven: Just placement and carving decoys.
Calling Competition & Mallard Timber Hunting in Arkansas
“I came home one day from work, and she was quacking.”
Allen Bliven: We started dating, and she got a video called Green Timber Mallards by Kirk McCullough. We were like, “Who in the world would want to go to Arkansas and shoot mallards in the timber?”
Julie Bliven: We were married.
Allen Bliven: We were married. After a while, she’s like, “Let’s go to Arkansas and shoot mallards in the timber.” Well, before that, she bought us a duck call apiece. It was a Ron Wieneke’s Woods brand single reed cocobolo duck call. I have no idea where they are now. She bought a video of Buck Gardner’s Straight Talk. We started watching the video. I got a little bit of ADD and kind of left. I came home one day from work, and she was quacking. I was like, “Heck no, this can’t happen to me,” so I started practicing. It kind of made us both better callers by having the competition. I didn’t know anything about trimming reeds, and that call was the hardest call in the world to blow. The reed was too long in it. I think in 1999 we planned our first trip to Stuttgart, and we hunted the day after. We flew out of Wilmington Christmas day. The airport was empty. Flew into Little Rock, rented a vehicle, drove into Stuttgart, and stayed at the Super 8. There wasn’t a thing open to eat. The Taco Bell, the McDonald’s, the Walmart— Everything was shut down, so we had to drive to Pine Bluff, the next town down, and the only thing that was open was a movie theater. We got one of those great big boxes of popcorn, a little drink, and one of those giant Crunch bars.
Ramsey Russell: Merry Christmas, baby.
Allen Bliven: I had TMJ from eating that popcorn and chewing so much. Finally, we found a little diner open and got a hamburger. The next day, it was just the two of us with the guide. He was a phenomenal caller. If he could see a duck in the sky, he could call it and could bring it down.
Julie Bliven: Who was he?
Allen Bliven: Dennis Campbell, Rolling Thunder Guide Service. He was one of Kirk McCullough’s good friends.
Ramsey Russell: Was he blowing one of those Cut Down calls?
Allen Bliven: Yeah. He would get one and he would file it down. He said that one year he got so frustrated that he threw his call in the fireplace; said he was going to quit guiding and changed his mind. It was the best call he ever had. You can never get another call exactly like that one, but he tried. He regretted throwing that call on the fire. It was a keyhole Cut Down call. They would modify it in some way. I think Kirk actually came out with a modified keyhole duck call for a while there. I think everybody’s copying him. The next day, the real hunting started. We had a group from South Carolina. South Carolina does a lot of hunting in Arkansas. It was a pharmacist and a dentist and their sons. A construction worker, Rocky, came up. For the next three or four years, we all hunted together. But that day after Christmas, the day the season opened back up again, was always just the two of us. It was just the most phenomenal thing you’ve ever seen. That first year, she asked me if I wanted a duck call from Rich-N-Tone. That was back when Mack’s Prairie Wings was a cinder block building that looked like they knocked the wall out of two buildings and made one store out of it. Every morning, they would bring over a stand of Rich-N-Tone duck calls to sell. Every day, by lunchtime, they were all going. Behind that was where Rich-N-Tone was. It was another cinder block building painted white, and there was a line out the door.I waited in line for, I don’t know, two or three hours, and finally got inside the door. There was a lathe to my right, and in front of me was this old couch with two or three kids sleeping and this mangy dog laying on the couch and an old man in the back. I finally got to him, and he asked me what color call I wanted. I said ivory, and he said he didn’t have ivory. He shook a shoebox lid at me, and I picked a teal color out. He made me my first Rich-N-Tone duck call. I thought that thing was the best duck call I ever had in my life. I love that duck call.
Julie Bliven: What was his name?
Allen Bliven: Butch Richenbach. I got to thinking. I said, “If he can make a duck call, I can too.” After multiple failures and struggles and cuts and bruises and words we cannot repeat on the show, I finally made a duck call that worked. In my third attempt at a duck call, I finally got one to quack.
Ramsey Russell: Do y’all shoot a lot of mallards over here?
Allen Bliven: Nah.
Ramsey Russell: Not at all?
Allen Bliven: Hardly at all.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what impresses me about y’all’s lineup of calls. You’ve got mallard calls, but you’ve got other calls—we looked at two this morning—that better reflect North Carolina than a mallard call. I haven’t seen a mallard over here. Yesterday we hunted, and we saw ringnecks, a few greenwings, wigeons, pintails, wood ducks, and swans. You’ve got a lot of those calls.
Allen Bliven: Well, we’ve killed a few mallards over here, but nothing like you would expect in the Central Flyway or even the Pacific Flyway.
Julie Bliven: Or the Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: Well, the Atlantic Flyway— We’ve had biologists on here before. Phil Lavretsky was on here. He did a real good job talking about mallards. I did not know this until we were talking, but, 150 years ago, there were zero mallards in the Atlantic Flyway. The mallards that y’all have now are remnant holdovers from birds that were released way back when by the state and federal governments and private clubs. They’ve kind of become naturalized, and they blow on down the coast. I think there is a big release program, or was, down in South Carolina. So they’re really kind of a resident population of mallards, anyway.
Allen Bliven: Well, the release programs work. For instance, turkeys. We never had turkeys here before. They released turkeys, and now they’re everywhere. It’s a good program.
Julie Bliven: We never saw a turkey, growing up.
The Key to Creating a Pintail Call
“The most important thing is the tone board inside of it.”
Ramsey Russell: Talk about your pintail call. Allen, we’re just friends, but how we met and got to talking to each other was due to the fact that I was down in Mexico and one of the local guys, somebody from North Carolina, was leaving. He handed me his call and said, “I think you’d like this. This guy makes a great call.” He left it with me. I can blow it, and it sounds like a pintail. I have blown it and do blow it. I keep it on my little Mexico lanyard with my teal call. How did you come up with that design? Y’all do shoot a lot of pintail and a lot of wigeon over here?
Allen Bliven: Oh, yeah. Teal, pintail, wigeon, gadwall.
Julie Bliven: Who was it that had the call? Was it Aaron?
Ramsey Russell: Aaron Horton.
Allen Bliven: Well, I started making them out of wood. The key to that call is just a couple of things. The most important thing is the tone board inside of it. I used to make them out of cocobolo. When I first started making duck calls, I’d make a call and give it to the local guides. I’d say, “Tell me what you think.” If the finish didn’t stay on or the band tarnished or the band got loose or whatever. I learned from the commercial hunters about making a call that lasts. Because my guarantee is that as long as I live is the guarantee of my call, which I hope is a good guarantee. I’m 53 right now, so I hope there’s a few years of guarantee left in these duck calls. They would blow that pintail whistle. I would use a walnut tone board inside of it, and the wood would swell. As it swelled, it would decrease the opening of the air chamber and the call wouldn’t sound good. I had a guy from Rhode Island call me up and ask about acrylic duck calls, so I made two. I think one was ivory and one was transparent smoke. I bought this glue that was supposed to bond acrylic, and the stopper came loose. He sent it back to me, and I had to put a pin in it. I stopped making them. The local guide on the beach, Jamie Parker of Parkers Waterfowl Guide Service, asked me to make him an acrylic call in the same color you have: that mallard green, that dark green. I made one for him, and everybody wanted one.
Julie Bliven: Can I interrupt for a second? Then the guides here at Dare to Hyde, the younger boys, were having some of those same issues. So Matthew Ekes, Dylan West, and some of the first guys that were guiding here wanted an acrylic call.
Allen Bliven: It took two or three days for that wood call to dry out enough to get the sound back.
Julie Bliven: They were having issues, so we made them for those guys. It’s just been one of those things that kind of snowballed.
Allen Bliven: Truly, the acrylic is the superior material.
Ramsey Russell: It is. It’s the soundboard being wood that’s the problem. If you could make a wood call with an acrylic soundboard, it’d be okay.
Allen Bliven: That’s what we do. There’s two up there. I sold one this morning. That’s what I do.
Ramsey Russell: I didn’t think to ask him about it, but I noticed yesterday when I was hunting with Parker Cooper— He was blowing one of your calls for wigeons. It made them hook up, and it was a wooden call. It’s a pretty call.
Allen Bliven: I usually have four price breaks in my calls. The first price is the wooden barrel and the pre-manufactured insert. I can sell that cheaper because I have less time in it. The next one is a solid wood call, and the next one is a wooden barrel and acrylic insert. The next one was a fully acrylic call. All of them have different prices. I only make the lower end calls for retail stores, now, and I charge the same price for any of the other variations because the warranty is the same and it takes the same amount of effort to make it. The acrylic call is the better call, so I kind of want people to buy the acrylic instead of the wood unless they really want the wood.
Julie Bliven: It’s more durable.
Ramsey Russell: More durable. It is. It’s far more durable.
Allen Bliven: Cocobolo has been put on the CITES’s import restriction list. It’s been on there for five years now, and you cannot import it anymore. It was being illegally harvested and purchased by the Chinese, that’s what happened. So you had to look for other types of woods. That kind of brought bocote in, and bocote is a little bit softer than cocobolo. It still has a little bit of oil in it. Osage orange—which is a hedge, as people call it—is a good wood to make calls out of, but it’s subject to splitting and different things. It’s more of a risk to make a wooden call than it is to make an acrylic call, because you just know they’re more durable.
The Latest ABC Creation: Swan Calls
“I’ve tried different things, and none of them really satisfied me enough to bring it on the market until now.”
Ramsey Russell: This morning, you showed me your latest project, which were swan calls. It will make both the honk, as I call it, and the trill. That, I would expect to be developed right here in North Carolina on the banks of Lake Mattamuskeet. How long did it take you to come up with that?
Allen Bliven: It took several years because all the swan calls I’ve ever heard sound like snow geese.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, me too. I’ve seen a lot of guys blowing goose flutes for swans and stuff like that, but I’ve never seen a swan call.
Allen Bliven: You know Ric Flair, that whoop he does? That’s the name of our swan call. The Carolina Flair. You can call swans with your throat, but, about ten minutes later, your throat’s raw.
Julie Bliven: Ric Flair’s from Charlotte, so everybody would whoop.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. They were talking about Ric Flair the other day on Forrest’s swan hunt up north there with Blacklands. I’m like, “What are they talking about? Ric Flair?” But that makes perfect sense now.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, that’s called a Carolina Flair.
Ramsey Russell: I called it a rabbit hunt because it sounded like somebody out there rounding up a bunch of dogs.
Allen Bliven: That swan call kind of takes that sore throat away from the game, and the guides really appreciate it. I think you have, probably, the fifth or sixth one that I made.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m proud to have it.
Julie Bliven: We’re prototyping them still, a little bit. We want to get some feedback from people and see what they think we need to change or not change.
Allen Bliven: See, I made whistles like the pintail, teal, wigeon, drake mallard, bobwhite, and gadwall whistles that I make. I made them bigger diameter to change the pitch to try to get it sounding like a swan, and it didn’t work. I tried registers like the flutophones we used to have in elementary school. I tried the whistle off that. I’ve tried different things, and none of them really satisfied me enough to bring it on the market until now.
Ramsey Russell: What are you working on next?
Allen Bliven: Next is going to be a teal call.
Julie Bliven: A hen teal. We get a lot of people asking for a hen teal call.
Ramsey Russell: Bluewings, greenwings? Stuff like that?
Julie Bliven: Just that “ca-ca-ca.”
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, changing the subject again, how is y’all’s duck hunting going this year?
Allen Bliven: Well, compared to last year, this is the best year we’ve had in two year.
Ramsey Russell: Where do y’all hunt? In impoundments?
Allen Bliven: Yes. We have a fifty acre impoundment that we own.
Julie Bliven: And we’re in a club, too.
Ramsey Russell: You plant corn?
Allen Bliven: Corn, Egyptian wheat, Japanese millet. Got some chufa, got some golden millet, and have some rice out there.
An Interesting Wedding Gift
“I had a house, but he gave me a single-wide trailer and a pineapple upside-down cake he made.”
Ramsey Russell: That’s good. Y’all had told me before the show that Julie’s dad gave y’all an interesting wedding gift. What was that?
Allen Bliven: He gave us a single-wide trailer.
Julie Bliven: As a hunting camp. I had a house, but he gave me a single-wide trailer and a pineapple upside-down cake he made.
Allen Bliven: We wanted to get married at sunset, but the preacher was on his way to Hyde County to preach a sermon, so we had to get married at four o’clock. We all ran in different directions. I got a shirt from a friend of ours. My next-door neighbor gave me a belt. I was in shorts. I called my daddy up, and he was the photographer and best man. She rounded up her sister and a couple of friends. We got married in the game warden’s backyard.
Julie Bliven: Fourteen people showed up. This was in August. We had planned on getting married in October. I shouldn’t say this, but I will. My sister started planning my wedding, and I knew that it was going to be a big event if she planned it. My dad thanked me. He said, “The $2,500 for this trailer; it would have been $3,000 with your sister planning it.” I think everybody thought I might have been in the family way, because it happened so quickly. I saw fourteen people along the way, and that’s who showed up to the wedding.
Allen Bliven: Her daddy went home. Her daddy went to his house and cooked us a pineapple upside-down cake for our wedding cake.
Julie Bliven: I had borrowed a dress and was barefoot. We were on the sound in the game warden’s backyard.
Allen Bliven: I had built a bulkhead for the game warden the week before I joined the Coast Guard. That was my last construction job that I did. I built a bulkhead, and then, actually, I came back later and put the jetties in for him.
Julie Bliven: That was on a Saturday. Our first teacher workday was on that Monday. I went to school. My mother passed away when I was 22, and I was 27 when I got married. I had her wedding ring on. We were sitting talking, and some of the older ladies said, “Well, when are you getting married, Julie?” I said, “Well, I got married the day before yesterday.”
Ramsey Russell: That’s a great story. What a great story.
Allen Bliven: The trailer was in an area where there were a lot of older people. They fished on the rivers, and there was a big deer hunting club that we were all in. So we put duck hunting on the back burner and started deer hunting. There was a logjam on this drainage ditch, back on that farm that we were on, and it backed some water up. We were riding by on our three-wheelers and saw the ducks, so we kind of got back into duck hunting. Actually, we went swan hunting one time on that road.
Julie Bliven: With trash bags.
Allen Bliven: Yeah, trash bags and sticks to hold them down.
Ramsey Russell: Can’t hardly do that anymore, can you?
Allen Bliven: Mm-mm. They’re a little smarter now.
Ramsey Russell: A little bit smarter.
Swapping Swan Stories & Best Recipes
“I pull it out of the oven and eat the stone.”
Allen Bliven: It’s funny how things are. In the old days, they had the plywood silhouettes; then, they went to the shells; then, they went to the full bodies. Now, they’re transitioning back to the silhouettes again, like Dive Bomb.
Ramsey Russell: It’s like a cycle. You would think silhouettes are brand new, man, and they’re not.
Allen Bliven: Or snapback hats. We had that growing up. That’s all we had. Now, you’re back into silhouettes and panel blinds again. Everything kind of evolves back to the beginning and reinvents itself a little bit better than what it was before.
Ramsey Russell: I’m surprised somebody over here hunting those swans has not used stuffers. Because you wouldn’t need but a dozen stuffer swan decoys.
Allen Bliven: Well, I have hunted over stuffers for Canada geese, one time, and the rats eat them up. You’ve got to be careful with them. They look mangy when they get wet. It’s a lot to take care of.
Ramsey Russell: It does limit you a little bit, but, boy, they will sure come. I have hunted over stuffers, man, and they just come right in.
Julie Bliven: They love them in Maryland. The people in Maryland use a lot of stuffers for their geese.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve shot sandhill cranes over them, and they just come out. Little dots in the sky get bigger all of a sudden because they see those live-looking birds.
Julie Bliven: That’s a good idea. It’s something to think about.
Ramsey Russell: At one a year, you might have to spend the rest of your life building a spread, but—
Allen Bliven: They’re giant birds. Their wingspan is over six feet long for a mature bird. They’re unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: They are big birds. How do y’all cook swans? Do y’all cook them?
Allen Bliven: What I do is, I skin them and put them in the oven. I find a stone and sit it inside the body and pack onions, carrots, potatoes, and celery around it. I cook it at 375º for about two and half hours. I pull it out of the oven and eat the stone.
Ramsey Russell: Aw, come on, I didn’t see that coming.
Julie Bliven: You can roast them, bake them, and pluck them, of course. Or breast them out. They do a lot of things with that, and some people make jerky. How we would have cooked them when I was growing up would have been stewing them. You’d stew them and put in pie bread, and that’s how we always ate our ducks and geese.
Allen Bliven: My mama would always boil the ducks in water to get that wax off their skin. Then she would bake them, after that stuff rose to the top of the water.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve never tried that. That’s old school. I’ve eaten swan. I’ve eaten them several times this year, and I think they’re good. They’re a little tough like geese, like the big Canadas can be tough. I’m just toying around with the idea of what the best way to cook one is.
Allen Bliven: Well, I deep fried a Canada goose one time, and it tastes like roast beef.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, absolutely.
Allen Bliven: Now, the swans are picking what I guess is called spring wheat. It’s planted in the winter and harvested in the spring. When you clean them out, they have the freshest smell. They don’t smell gamey or anything when you clean them. It’s just a real clean, fresh smell.
Julie Bliven: If they’ve been in that wheat for a little bit, oh my gosh.
Allen Bliven: Now, if you’re down the banks, they’re grubbing, they call it. Oh my gosh, they smell like rotten eggs.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I even talked to somebody who said that black ducks and brant and birds like that, who live in the marshes— Even black ducks will get a little strong.
Allen Bliven: And snow geese, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And snow geese are historically a marsh bird. They’ll get a little strong, but once they get on that agricultural crop, they’ll probably clean out a little bit.
Allen Bliven: That corn makes everything taste better.
Ramsey Russell: Do y’all eat much bear out here?
Allen Bliven: We’ll eat a piece if it’s given to us. We haven’t had any in a while.
Ramsey Russell: But y’all don’t hunt them?
Julie Bliven: No. I shot one. I felt so terrible after I shot it.
Allen Bliven: Her bear was probably 250 to 300 pounds. They’re just so hard to handle. A deer, you can pick up, but that bear— The head’s heavy, the legs are heavy, the body’s heavy. You can hardly get him in a truck. They’re just tough to handle by yourself.
Julie Bliven: I don’t know, I just didn’t— It wasn’t the thrill that I thought it would be. I just felt bad about it because he just kind of lumbered out. It’s just not my thing. I dropped it right there. It’s just not my thing. The same thing with deer hunting. I’m not into deer hunting anymore. I used to love it. Now, I could care less.
Allen Bliven: She shoots a .280, and everything she shoots, she shoots it in the neck or in the head. I get so excited, I get breathing heavy, I snatch the trigger—
Ramsey Russell: Just aim up amongst them.
Allen Bliven: I’ve got to hit something brown, and I’m trailing it.
Julie Bliven: I don’t like trailing anything. I don’t like for anything to suffer. So I just got away from it, and I love duck hunting. I love working a dog. I love taking kids hunting.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the thing about waterfowling. There is such a social aspect: in the blind, in the camp, the food, the dogs, the calls, the decoys—
Allen Bliven: The coffee. Cooking in the blind.
Ramsey Russell: Everything. There’s just so much ritual to it. I’ll tell you: golly, if I lived somewhere where I could hunt bear every year, I’d probably have something like Elvis’s green room. Have you ever been to Graceland? He’s got a room in his house about half the size of this, and every single surface is covered with green shag carpet. I think that if I could live somewhere with bears, I might do that. Just have it all bear hide. I don’t have an emotional problem shooting a bear, but I will say this: I’ve got to shoot bigger bears, now. I don’t need to shoot a 500 or 600 pounder, but I did shoot a bear, and it was small. That’s okay. I’m not a trophy hunter, but it was small, small. I walked up to him and went, “Oh, he got real small all of a sudden.” It was legal, perfectly legal, and everything was fine, but I did want a little bit more bear meat than that. I still want to shoot more bears. We don’t have them in Mississippi shoots. I guess I’m going to have to come over here and hunt.
Allen Bliven: This is the place. This is the best place in the world to shoot a bear.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody I’ve talked to who does hunt bear has told me that it’s way better than deer meat. I’m dying to try some.
Allen Bliven: They taste like prime rib, from what I’ve eaten.
Julie Bliven: It’s more like beef. It has a beefy texture.
Allen Bliven: Broiling in the oven, the fat bubbles up. It’s like prime rib. It’s like a ribeye.
Plucking, Cleaning, and Cooking Techniques
“How do you like to cook your ducks then, Julie, if you whole pick them? Do you roast them?”
Ramsey Russell: What about your ducks? How do y’all like to cook duck?
Allen Bliven: Well, in Canada we process our birds. What’s that thing you bought me? A bird breaster? You hang it on the side of the house, you put them in there and stomp the thing, and the breast comes right out.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. Bone and all.
Allen Bliven: Yeah. If you want to leave a wing on it. It’s got a saw way up top. You take the wings off with the saw blade. I’ve got one here at the house. We put a video on the internet, Julie did, and everybody wanted to know if I made it myself because I’m always making crazy stuff. I said, “No, I bought it,” and they wanted to know where it came from. She likes her birds plucked, and that’s my job. We went hunting yesterday, and I plucked some teal for her and cleaned them out.
Julie Bliven: He and my great-nephew. My great-nephew is eight. His name is Neil, and I’ve got to mention him because he’ll be listening.
Ramsey Russell: Good. Hey, Neil.
Julie Bliven: He’s addicted to hunting now. He shot a couple squirrels, on the run, in the head, and Matthew Ekes took him hunting last year. He is just, whew, so he wanted to see how it was cleaned.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good.
Julie Bliven: He told Uncle Allen, “Thank you for teaching me.”
Ramsey Russell: I like plucked ducks.
Allen Bliven: We cleaned the squirrels last time he was over here, in the garage. He didn’t care for that too much. But the ducks we were plucking, he was all right with that.
Ramsey Russell: Man, I tell you what, squirrel cleaning is a chore. To me, it is. That just takes a lot of practice to get right and to not get hair on it and all that mess.
Allen Bliven: Yep. He shot right through the middle of it, so it was a little bit gooey.
Ramsey Russell: How do you like to cook your ducks then, Julie, if you whole pick them? Do you roast them?
Julie Bliven: I like them roasted and I like them baked.
Ramsey Russell: Is gumbo a thing, out this far East?
Julie Bliven: No.
Ramsey Russell: But stew is?
Julie Bliven: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: Do you leave the skin on to make that stew?
Julie Bliven: We always did. They’d put the whole duck in, and it would fall apart. It’d just get so tender that it would fall apart.
Ramsey Russell: Mm-hmm. I like the fat on ducks.
Julie Bliven: We call it pastry. We call it stew chicken and pastry, or stew ducks and pastry, or pork chops— They stew pork chops, too. They stewed everything when I was a kid. That’s probably my favorite way to eat it. I just don’t know how to really fix it. I probably could ask some of the older people and fix it, but, right now, I bake them. He’s not a big wild game eater, but I like ducks.
Allen Bliven: Last year, we shot gadwall, wigeon, pintail, wood duck, teal—
Julie Bliven: The year before, not last year.
Allen Bliven: I cleaned them out for her, and she went through and found out the ones she liked the best. That’s the ones we shoot.
Ramsey Russell: I bet it was the teal.
Julie Bliven: Yeah. I like teal. Teal and wood ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere that they shoot greenwings, that’s their favorite duck to eat. Everywhere.
Julie Bliven: I love them. I like shooting them, too. They are my favorite duck to shoot.
Allen Bliven: They ones yesterday were fat. God almighty, they were fat.
Ramsey Russell: Well, they’ve been off in all those good impoundments y’all have got.
Allen Bliven: Three kernels of corn came out of one of them.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of planted corn around here.
Allen Bliven: A lot of planted corn.
The Landscape of New Holland & Hyde County
“This refuge system is the most diverse refuge system in the United States.”
Ramsey Russell: I heard somebody say this week that it’s crazy that you can put water on corn, but you can’t put corn in water to hunt ducks. That is kind of odd, isn’t it? Talk about this little town right here, New Holland. I know it’s right down the road, here. There’s a lighthouse and a flood control type structure, or water control. Do y’all know the history of that? Isn’t that where they tried to drain Lake Mattamuskeet?
Julie Bliven: That is the lodge, I believe.
Allen Bliven: It’s the observation tower where they would look out over the lake to see the level of the water.
Julie Bliven: That’s where they drained it.
Allen Bliven: Around the turn of the last century, they drained the lake. The average depth of water on that lake, I think, is two feet. They had these tractors with steel tires. The back tires were steel, and they had big old lugs on them. There’s one down the road, actually, in a barn. The pump would break, and when the pump would break everything drained into the lake. There’s 264 right here, and North Lake Road and Piney Woods Road, and they’re the ancient lake shoreline. It’s the highest land in Hyde County. If you look that way, it drops off. If you look this way, it drops off. They say the buffalo used to walk the high parts, and the Indians followed the buffalo. Then the settlers came in and followed the same path everybody else followed. That’s why 264 and North Lake Road are where they’re at. Everything on the inside of that road complex drains into the lake. Everything else drains to the sound. Last week, we had an inch and a half of rain one day, and then, two days later, we had two inches of rain. So think: it takes 27,000 gallons to flood an acre one inch deep. For eighteen square miles, it takes a lot of pumping to get that water off. They would lose the lake. Another company bought it, and they tried to do the same thing. Finally, they gave up and sold it to the refuge system. This refuge system is the most diverse refuge system in the United States. We took some kids youth hunting the year before last, and they killed nine species of birds there on the youth hunt. They shot so much that they raised the water level in our impoundment an inch. All that steel made the water go up.
Ramsey Russell: Eight species of ducks.
Allen Bliven: Nine species.
Ramsey Russell: What species were they?
Allen Bliven: You’ve got blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, shovelers, pintail, wigeon, ringnecks, wood ducks— They might’ve shot a mallard.
Julie Bliven: They shot gadwall. One group shot nine different species.
Allen Bliven: And then the mergansers on top of that. See, we can shoot six ducks and two mergansers.
Julie Bliven: The hooded mergansers is what we shoot.
Allen Bliven: Not the red-breasted mergansers or the common. The hooded. Everybody gives those a bad rep, so we kind of changed their name to hairy-crowned teal to make them sound something more than what they are. Merganese screws or lawn darts, some people call them.
Julie Bliven: Now, my cousin swears that he can stew a wood duck and a hooded merganser from a duck impoundment, and you can’t tell the difference.
Ramsey Russell: I’d like to try that. I’d be willing to try it.
Julie Bliven: Well, a gentleman down the road from us— I kept hearing him shooting more in the afternoons. He had taken someone. I said, “Why are you shooting so much?” He said, “I’m shooting mergansers.” He said, “I’ve never shot him before, but I took a guy a while back and he cooked a couple of them. I couldn’t tell the difference, so now they’re fair game. I’m shooting mergansers.” He said, “I’ve got my kids.” He gets about four kids in there, and they get to shoot their two mergansers apiece, and then he’s got a mess to eat.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll be.
Allen Bliven: What’s funny about duck impoundments is the water level. Your dabbling ducks need eight or ten inches to tip and dabble. Once the water gets too deep, they’ll leave. Then your ringnecks and your other divers will come in and start eating. I think the gentleman you talked to had a rise where he put a tube in, and it brought the level up seven and a half inches. All of his puddle ducks left, but he noticed that all the ringnecks showed back up. He pulled his board out, and the ringnecks left and the puddle ducks showed back up.
Julie Bliven: That’s what he told us several years ago.
Allen Bliven: See, my impoundment is not level, so it’s got deep spots and high spots.
Ramsey Russell: So there’s a little something for everything. That makes perfect sense. Is Lake Mattamuskeet a refuge now, or a sanctuary? Do people hunt it?
Allen Bliven: It’s a refuge, and there’s draw hunts. If you go down here and cross the little bridge, they’ve got ten or twelve blinds. They have a handicapped blind. I took some kids hunting a couple years ago and drew Blind One, which is the handicapped blind. We shot bufflehead. I didn’t know this, but we shot a merganser in our place years ago, and it was banded. We called in the band, and it was a male that had been banded in Ontario, Canada. They said it takes several years for their plumage to change to the black and the white plumage, and the bufflehead do the same thing. These boys are shooting buffalohead, and the hens have gray feet. The drakes have pink feet. So, say it was a hen with pink feet; it was an immature male. If you look at the bufflehead killed, you’ll see the little teeny tiny hens, and you’ll see that the immature males are almost twice as big as the hens, but they look the same except for the feet.
ABC: Full Time Hobby
“It’s a wonderful thing.”
Ramsey Russell: If folks listening want to get in touch with y’all, what’s the best way they can connect with y’all on social media and online?
Julie Bliven: @alanblivencalls, or they can phone us at (252) 926-9969. We take a ton of orders over the phone. In fact, we kind of prefer talking with people and getting to know people.
Ramsey Russell: Even at midnight?
Julie Bliven: Even at midnight. I will speak to you.
Allen Bliven: Well, see, I’m a one man band. I’m doing this by myself, and she’s running her part. It started as a hobby, and it’s turned into a full time hobby. It’s a wonderful thing.
Julie Bliven: Well, he does have one person. He’s got one person whom he depends on to help him polish. He’s a local guy. He’s a state highway patrolman, Darryl Pugh. He helps him a lot. If it wasn’t for Mr. Darryl, we’d be in a bind sometimes.
Allen Bliven: We call him the Blue Man because that blue buffing compound just gets all over him. He looks like a smurf when he gets to buffing.
Ramsey Russell: You work here too, right, Julie? Y’all are partners?
Julie Bliven: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: You’re the brains and he’s the good looks? Kind of like me and Anita?
Allen Bliven: No, I’m not even that, I don’t think.
Julie Bliven: We’ve had a great life. We have done everything you could possibly want to do. We have so much fun together. We’ve hunted. We go to Canada for a month. We don’t have kids, and we have done just so many fun, different things. We’ve fish, we’ve hunted, we’ve flounder gigged, we’ve clammed, we’ve trained dogs. We just have a good life.
Allen Bliven: I have a local decoy carver, every year for Christmas, carve a pair of birds. Pintail or bufflehead. It was actually blackheads and teal and canvasbacks. It’s always a pair. He had never carved an oldsquaw, a pintail, or a wigeon, so I commissioned him to do that for me. Nick Sapone out of Wanchese. I had the first and only solid wood decoy of that species of birds. But if you ask Julie what she wants for Christmas, it’s not a diamond ring. It’s a Pulsator.
Julie Bliven: That’s what I got. I have about six Lucky Duck agitators. I want motion in my spread.
Ramsey Russell: We needed it yesterday, too, I guarantee you. Y’all have got a great headquarters location right here. Every time I drive past this corner, there’s a party going on, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Julie Bliven: Well, that’s the lodge. We’re usually not here. That’s the lodge and Dare to Hyde. They cater, they have cooks.
Allen Bliven: Big John, he cooks. He’s an excellent cook.
Julie Bliven: You have Chase Luker, a younger fellow that lives right down the street here. He’s a decoy carver. He’s unbelievable. He’s a general manager. Oh, he’s a great guy. Then you have Mr. Simmons, Damon Simmons, who owns the place. He’s very hands-on with what goes on here. In fact, he lives right across the street over here. It’s a nice little place here. We’re very thankful and blessed that they let us rent this place. It’s a great place for us.
Allen Bliven: Well, people start planting their impoundments and letting the ducks finish eating the crops, so you probably don’t pull your riser boards until the end of March. The Youth Hunt is the 1st and 2nd of February, and veterans now can hunt, and kids. Last year, Neil and I—my great nephew—Matthew Weeks took us to his place, and we shot mallards. I bought Neil a Burris Red Dot for his .410 Mossberg pump because it’s too much confusion to get the cheek on the gun and look down the barrel and find a target. Now, all he’s got to do is put the red dot on it. That made him a killer. That’s what he shot the squirrels with on the run. That red dot.
Julie Bliven: Actually, we kind of stole that idea from— Have you ever heard of Lost Brake, the island? Well, one of the gentlemen that’s on that show, one of the people that helps out there a lot at Lost Brake, is named Murray Shiles. Sporting Life Kennels owns the dog, but she pretty much lives with Murray. Anyway, that’s the mama dog to my dog. So he and I and Allen became friends, but I watched this video of these kids just blistering these ducks with this red dot. So I texted him, and he told me what to get. So I kind of stole that idea, but it has helped. It’s been a game changer for him.
Ramsey Russell: Awesome. Next time I come back to Hyde County—and I will—I want to hunt with you two.
Allen Bliven: Well, if COVID stuff changes, we’ve got bunk beds in the garage and a mini-split.
Julie Bliven: If COVID wasn’t here right now, this place would be hopping with kids. We would feed them every night. Every Friday night, we have a get-together.
Allen Bliven: We’ve got Blackstone grill outside. We cook steaks. The crab company down the road, they pick crabmeat and have oysters. We get crab cakes and cook them on the Blackstone.
Julie Bliven: We’d have people in here.
Allen Bliven: Do a shrimp boil.
Julie Bliven: Just to hang out and have a good time.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. I’m definitely coming back now that you’re talking about all that good food. COVID isn’t going to be around forever. It can’t be. It’s not going to be around forever.
Allen Bliven: It’s almost like you’d rather catch it and get it over with than wait to get it, you know?
Ramsey Russell: I’m just waiting for it to go away. Folks, y’all have been listening to my friends, Allen and Julie Bliven, here in New Holland, North Carolina. Now y’all have got a good glimpse of what Hyde County duck hunting is all about. Thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.