Following a successful North Carolina tundra swan hunt during this year’s epic North American Waterfowl Tour, Ramsey visits with host, Tyler Odell and other members of his swan hunting party. Food, camaraderie and fun times shared in the blind while chasing North America’s largest waterfowl.
The Allure of Tundra Swan Hunting in North Carolina
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Ducks Season Somewhere. I am in North Carolina swan hunting with some folks today. Many, many years ago came here in North Carolina to shoot my first tundra swan and my second tundra swan. You can now shoot swans in ten states in the United States, ten states. Either over the counter or draw, North Carolina requires a tag draw. And I thought it’d be interesting to meet with several of the swan guides and outfitters today and just kind of get a real good feel, you know, because I do get asked, why do people want to shoot a big white bird? Anyway ask me that question. Tyler Odell, Blackland Guide Service. What the heck Tyler, how are you?
Tyler Odell: Good buddy. How are you?
Ramsey Russell: I’m good. I’m good. I didn’t really come back for the swan. I came back for the oysters.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, I believe it as many as you ate last year.
Ramsey Russell: I didn’t slack off last night. It kind of hurt. I couldn’t lay on my side when I got in bed last night.
Tyler Odell: You better bush it by yourself.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, well I tried to, I got some practice. How long have you been swan guiding? How long have you been doing this?
Tyler Odell: About 12 years. I was a senior in high school.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Tyler Odell: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: How did you get into it?
Tyler Odell: Well, I was with some friends and one of their dads asked if anybody knew any swans or where else to shoot. My granddaddy’s farms loaded with swans. I was like, I got plenty. So we went out there and took him swan hunting. And then somebody said, hey, can you take me? And that’s how we got the ball rolling.
Ramsey Russell: First one thing and another, you are a swan guide.
Tyler Odell: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: Has it hurt since your voice changed?
Tyler Odell: No, no, not really.
Ramsey Russell: Because I know you mouth call them down here a lot. And talk about growing up in North Carolina. I know your family farms? Did you hunt growing up? Did you hunt waterfowl?
Tyler Odell: No, I never started hunting waterfowl until I was 14. I’ve always dog hunted for deer with my dad.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a big thing.
Tyler Odell: Down here it is anyway, so I’ve done that. And then my uncle one day come up after Christmas and said, hey you want to go duck hunting? And I went, like I said, I was 14, and he took me to a duck impoundment and man it was spitting rain snow and just a beautiful day for duck hunting. I think I shot three boxes plus his box finally beat down my own limits. So that’s how it all started for me. And ever since then I just had the itch.
Shooting a Banded Swan
You got a better chance to win the lottery than shooting a banded swan.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start swan hunting? When the guy offered you to guide and hunt?
Tyler Odell: Yeah, when I was a senior in high school.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about that first swan hunt that you went on as a guide. You were in high school.
Tyler Odell: I was in high school we had a Christmas break and I met my buddy there at the gas station and hopped in the truck with him and the clients follow us out there. And we put maybe a dozen decoys. By the time we got to the end of the field, they called us and said they had their limit, and one of them shot one while it was flying over the truck. They were thick out there. And we just told him to hang out and take pictures, and they called us back and said one of them shot a banded swan.
Ramsey Russell: Really? How common is that over here?
Tyler Odell: Oh man. You got a better chance to win the lottery than shooting a banded swan.
The Technique of Guiding a Swan Hunt
Y’all do a lot of mouth calling.
Ramsey Russell: I agree. I believe that about tundra swan, I should say. How has your business changed since that first day when you were 17? You’ve been doing this for 12 years now. He’s still a young man. But you put out more than 12 decoys today. How many decoys we put out six, seven dozen?
Tyler Odell: Yeah, I would say that.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about what it takes to put clients. Just run me through a swan hunt, the decoys, the technique and whatnot like that.
Tyler Odell: Well, it all starts with scouting first. You know, you got to find the right field. And for me, I like hunting on the X.
Ramsey Russell: Which means the feed.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, me I have to hunt where they were at. That’s how I am. So it all starts with riding around and finding them, and then making phone calls getting permission if they’re not on the land I can hunt. And the decoys you know if you hunt the X a lot, shoot, two dozen decoys is all you really need for swans. But when you’re running traffic like this morning we put out about seven dozen decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you were telling me last night that the birds are feeding really hot and heavy on a piece of property that nobody can hunt and just kind of a corporate piece of property they don’t let you get on there and hunt. And we hunted very closely to where me, you, and Forrest hunted last year. Forrest drew a tag, I did not but I got to come watch him shoot his first swan and that was pretty dang exciting.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: So there’s a lot of ditches around here. That’s a real common technique, I’ve noticed. It’s just putting out your spread and climbing off into a ditch just to break up your profile. That’s how everybody hunts around here pretty much or pit blinds I guess I have hunted in some pit blinds up around Mattamuskeet.
Tyler Odell: Ditches are about the easiest way because the farmers around here, they bush hog their ditches, you know, and there’s no cover. So it’s hard to put “A frame” out in the middle of the field. So these birds get real spooky when they see a big thing out there that they haven’t seen before.
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Tyler Odell: So the ditches, to me, are just the easiest way you can hide. They don’t know you’re there. So like this morning, it was great. They ditches won’t cut. So we had a bunch of cover.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they came right in. But you could put some decoys out there beforehand a few days ago, whatever, just to kind of get them stopping over in the area.
Tyler Odell: Just trying to get them to shortstop where they were going. My stepdad had a wheat field out there that was corn before. So I was just trying to get them to shortstop and luckily it paid off for us.
Ramsey Russell: This morning we got off in a shallow ditch and there was a clump of decoys out there about 25, 30 yards to our right, there was a clump of decoys about that many over to the left and then there’s a clump of decoys back behind us. And I asked you where those birds were going to land, how they’re going to work, how do swans behave to the decoys?
Tyler Odell: They want to be in the front of the decoys, they’re like snow geese. So when they see a piece of white out there, they’re going to come check it out and then once they see the swan decoys, they’re going to come out there and land and start feeding.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all do a lot of mouth calling. I describe it kind of like Jerry Clower or like a pack of bagel hounds.
Tyler Odell: The way I like it when people say if they can call, I tell them the best way to do is to sound like Rick Flair.
Ramsey Russell: Rick Flair.
Tyler Odell: That’s what I tell people.
Ramsey Russell: And then you helped him this morning. He was making a woo-woo-woo. He was trying to give a little melody.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, I don’t know what he was doing there.
Ramsey Russell: But it worked.
Tyler Odell: It worked, it worked pretty good.
Ramsey Russell: This morning those birds were kind of late flying and y’all had said they would be, do you ever start kind of getting worried? I mean you got clients on it.
Tyler Odell: I ever do.
Ramsey Russell: Is there a pressure or anything?
Tyler Odell: Every hunt I worry until the first bird hits the ground.
Ramsey Russell: And when the first one hit. You ain’t worried about the other three?
Tyler Odell: Because I know they’re coming.
Ramsey Russell: You know they are coming. This morning we were just standing around forever. And the first white bird that came in was not a swan. How often do you see snow geese around here?
Tyler Odell: This year has been pretty often, but years passed when they fly over there ten miles high. You know, you can barely see them.
Ramsey Russell: Did he decoy just right in. We’re all just standing out there until it came right in.
Tyler Odell: He was sitting there.
Ramsey Russell: It’s come right in like nobody’s business. Must be the dumbest white bird in the continent.
Tyler Odell: You got them.
Swan Habits & Preferences
But here man, for 12 years, I’ve killed them all over fields, dry land.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about the swan. Is there any particular agriculture they choose over another? Like today we hunted winter wheat. Can you hunt them at all ag fields equally or what?
Tyler Odell: So in years past we had more wheat here than normal. But now wheat prices have gone down so the farmers just don’t plant it. But here in the last 2-3 years they’ve been going to play with corn fields.
Ramsey Russell: It makes sense that they would transition over to other crops and stuff like that.
Tyler Odell: So wheat fields, you just don’t see them no more that much. But when you do find it, it’s good to hunt because they’re going to be there for a while.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody actually saw some pictures and video this morning. I didn’t think to check and see where he was from. Just somebody in social media, but they actually asked the question. You mean, you could shoot swans over dry fields because a lot of people hunt them over water.
Tyler Odell: A lot of North Dakota people do.
Ramsey Russell: That’s how they hunt him in North Dakota it’s over water. And as far as that goes, Montana. And a lot of the other places I’ve been you hunt them over water where they feed on Sago pond weed. Utah, Montana, Nevada.
Tyler Odell: It’s all the West coast states, I think. But here man, for 12 years, I’ve killed them all over fields, dry land.
Ramsey Russell: North Carolina seems to be where the eastern population really preferred over winter. I know they’re in Delaware. I know they’re in Virginia, Maryland, but here’s the greatest density right here in North Carolina. Do you have a lot of outfitters or competition?
Tyler Odell: Oh man, a bunch. Last year on a Martin Luther King Day, we were riding around. I didn’t have no clients because I knew it was going to be a busy day. We counted 12 decoy spreads within three miles.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody’s a guide over here.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, if you got 12 decoys, you’re a guide.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody wants to be a guy until it’s time to do real guide stuff.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s not a particularly hard hunt. I mean it’s really not a — spring snow geese can be far more challenging.
Tyler Odell: Oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You know, these birds, you just kind of get where they are kind of get hidden, kind of do a little call and a little Rick Flaring and I mean it really kind of sort of come in. It’s just not enough hunting pressure really. These birds, you said there’s a lot of competition relative to say 12 years ago, but I mean they didn’t seem particularly wary to me.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, well later in the season, they get wary. So deer season ends January 1st and that’s when the phone starts buzzing.
Ramsey Russell: Because now everybody’s going out and they got the deer, they’re going out to get swan.
Tyler Odell: They want to feel the swan tags.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s when the pressure’s on.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Tyler Odell: That’s when everybody starts wanting to go.
Ramsey Russell: This year I think the swans were late getting down here.
Tyler Odell: Oh big time. I had to cancel two hunts this year because there weren’t no birds. Last year I killed my first one, November the 17th. This year I booked November 17th and it was the beginning of Thanksgiving week before I see my first swan.
Ramsey Russell: See, I was up in Montana around Halloween and usually around Halloween, 1st of November, Freeze Out Lake starts to freeze out. I was over in Eastern Montana hunting but I heard reports that Freeze Out Lake was not froze out, it was up in the seventies and eighties there were still nearly 4000 birds sitting on it. So I knew things were going late. I know a lot of birds end up this way, not all of them but a lot of them do end up this way. And so it was late this year wasn’t it?
Tyler Odell: Oh man it was very stressful, very stressful.
Ramsey Russell: When would you say maximum number of swan seemed to be out here on the landscape?
Tyler Odell: A normal year about right now but there’s probably going to be the next full moon in December when the —
Ramsey Russell: That’s when you start piling in?
Tyler Odell: — when the majority because —
Ramsey Russell: I see it’s nearly warm and dry this year.
Tyler Odell: Yeah. And I still think we’re getting new birds every day. And this full moon coming up we’re going to get a lot of new birds. So just the cold fronts and the full moons.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me some funny stories. Because we were talking, we were chit chatting this morning out here in the blind, waiting on the first swan to come by. I mean this is a big white bird I guess about the size of a sheet of ply board but it’s surprisingly easy to miss.
Tyler Odell: Man. I had a fellow one day we were sitting there birds coming in 20-30 yards and the decoys perfect, feet barely touching the ground. I don’t know if he was shooting blanks but he shot three boxes of shells.
Ramsey Russell: Golly.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And killed one finally.
Tyler Odell: Yeah. One did. I’ve had two guys actually shoot three boxes of shells. One did not kill a bird and the other guy finally beat one down. It makes for a long day.
Ramsey Russell: They’re flying pretty darn – it’s an optical illusion for them to be so big. They look like they’re moving in slow motion. But even when they’re lollygagging over the decoys, kind of trying to work it out they’re still moving like a mallard duck.
Tyler Odell: Yup.
Ramsey Russell: But their wing beats are so slow, they’re just getting so much air push off of each down stroke. They look like they’re just flying slow.
Tyler Odell: I tell people that ain’t just about 6″ in front of them, even when they’re still out in the decoys.
Ramsey Russell: I tell people try to remember to look at their head. If you’re looking at their head, you’re, you’re probably leading them. What are some of the most interesting stories you’ve got after 12 years of doing this? Memorable stories.
Swapping Swan Stories
So he takes off running, and when he comes back, it has a neck collar and two leg bands.
Tyler Odell: Probably my favorite one is – well, two of my favorite ones. One, I was taking my dad who never went waterfowl hunting and was finally applying for a swan permit and got one. And me and my wife and him went out swan hunting by ourselves and he killed his first waterfowl. That was pretty memorable for me.
Ramsey Russell: Was he one of the guy who went three boxes of shells?
Tyler Odell: No, I would have helped him out if that was the case. Another very memorable one was, the guy who actually got me started, we’re out swan hunting. We had about 200 snow geese tornado over top of us. It was pretty cool and I was sitting there in the ditch, looking through blind we made, and I’ve seen this swan fly by, and I was like, man, that thing’s got a tattoo on his neck. It dawned on me that it was a neck collar, and I screamed, I said, “Neck collar,” and it was the bottom one. I said the third one on the left, and he pulls up and shoots three times, and breaks the wing, and I think he went seven cuts over and each cut here is 100 yards apart. So he takes off running, and when he comes back, it has a neck collar and two leg bands.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Tyler Odell: And it had four screw holes on the neck collar where transmitter was there but it’d fallen off somewhere.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Tyler Odell: That’s a pretty good trophy,
Tyler Odell: Yup. 3200 miles in the northern slopes of Alaska.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something?
Tyler Odell: Yup. And he was seven years old after they banded him.
Ramsey Russell: So he’d flown over 20,000 miles. I mean he’s been made this trip a lot of times. And I think they quit putting those neck collars on a lot of these swan because people were targeting them.
Tyler Odell: It was like a suicide mission for them.
What’s the Best Part of Swan Guiding?
I tell people the most enjoyable thing is meeting new people.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. That’s crazy. What do you enjoy most about swan guiding?
Tyler Odell: I tell people the most enjoyable thing is meeting new people. Some of my best friends have come from swan hunting over the years.
Ramsey Russell: I can see that because it’s a people business.
Tyler Odell: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You run a bunch of clients in a year. How many of them are first time only time swan people. And how many of them just — I mean if I live in North Carolina, I would hunt swans every year I got drunk.
Tyler Odell: So the one and done is what I like to call them are the ones that are trying to get their 41 species. They’re just here for trophies. So they kill one, you’ll probably never see them again.
Ramsey Russell: Is that most of the hunters that come through in a year?
Tyler Odell: Most of them are getting trying to knock the 41’s off. But a lot — I mean it’s hard to vary because some people that you see over and over, I’ve had people get their permits 10 years in a row.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Tyler Odell: And then I’ve had some who applied five years and get it one year. So it’s hard to say. I mean I still see a lot of repeats but I also see a lot of first timers.
Ramsey Russell: It used to be real easy to get drawn in North Carolina back when I was coming here 15, 20 years ago. It was a foregone conclusion that if you applied you’re going to get drawn and it’s not that way anymore. It could take you three or four years.
Tyler Odell: So it was 5000 permits. It was like that for a long time. And then they went to 68-50 I think something like that. But they issued Delaware Tags and then that dropped our tags down to 48-50.
Ramsey Russell: oh, okay.
Tyler Odell: So that’s how that started.
Ramsey Russell: And Virginia now issues tags. Delaware issues tags. Maryland should but they won’t.
Tyler Odell: So a lot of what I call birdwatchers they apply for them so hunters can’t get them.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard that 10 – 15 years ago that Peter who was right up the road here in North Carolina, Virginia, they apply. And I think that’s why North Carolina mandated because back in the day you didn’t have to buy a license tag. Now you got to buy a license to apply for a tag.
Tyler Odell: Which to me is not fair for the out of staters. So I think out West if you buy a tag for a deer, if you don’t get it, they issue some of your money back. But here if you’re at a state and you apply for a swan permit, you still have to buy your hunting license. But if you don’t get it, you then wasted that money, which to me is not right, but it helps to keep the bird watchers from hoarding all the swamp.
Ramsey Russell: I wouldn’t say birdwatchers, I’d say anti-hunters.
Tyler Odell: Anti-hunters, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Because I’m a bird watcher myself, most of my watches are over the top of a shotgun. But I do know some avid bird hunters that that also our duck killers. You know we’re talking anti-hunters.
You know 15 year old little girls think they’re saving the world because I can’t come over here and shoot a little swan. Do you ever catch any grief in social media about your swan hunting?
Tyler Odell: Yeah, I do. I had a few people a couple weeks ago, tell me it wasn’t right shooting poor swans which people don’t understand. You know, these swans are pretty and everything but are also a nuisance to the farmer just like that wheat field. Their feet are humongous, and they can push down that wheat, and you get 3000-4000 out there, they’re going to do some damage.
Ramsey Russell: Not to mention the wheat they’re eating.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, especially they’re eating.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a few. I wouldn’t say kicked in the shins, but there are even some hunters that don’t yet understand why. Why did you shoot swan? Well it’s North America’s largest. It’s good to eat. It’s fun. It’s legal. You know when it’s biological, we did a podcast and a little short films in the past about why they started swan hunting in Utah back in the fifties and it was a conservation.
Tyler Odell: Yeah, they were going out there to the lake and eating all the vegetation out there.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, eating themselves literally out of house and home. Tyler, I do appreciate coming out here. And every year I get drawn, I’ll be back out of here.
Tyler Odell: I appreciate it.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve got an Instagram page @blacklandguideservice
Tyler Odell: Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: And people can find you if they want to come over here and hunt with you. What about oysters? I’m I the only guy or you cook oysters if anybody wants them?
Tyler Odell: I ask them, I’ll give them a heads up, two weeks, heads up, they like oysters do let me know and if they do get them up and we’ll steam them.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you for having me Tyler. I enjoyed it. Hudson Pinegar from North Carolina joined us today in the duck blind. Hudson that was a fun hunt we went on.
A North Carolina Native Hunter
Yeah, because not too many people waterfowl hunters around where I was from.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, it was a great hunt. My first time ever shooting a swan. Lucky enough to draw for a permit.
Ramsey Russell: Was that your first time you applied?
Hudson Pinegar: We applied last year and didn’t get one. But we got one this year.
Ramsey Russell: You’re from here in North Carolina. What about an hour from here?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, about an hour, hour and a half, something like that.
Ramsey Russell: How long have you been waterfowl hunting?
Hudson Pinegar: I’ve been waterfowl hunting since I was about 14. First time I ever went hunting I was 13. A guy from my church took me turkey hunting actually.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Who got you into waterfowl hunting?
Hudson Pinegar: So me and a buddy from high school, we would go limb lining for catfish, actually, and we’d always do it in the wintertime. Because that’s when you have less black fish and gar and stuff like that, snapping turtles. So we would always see all these ducks flying around when we’re checking the limb lines in the morning. So we got into it kind of on our own.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of taught yourself how to do it. Wow.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. And not the not the right way.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Hudson Pinegar: A few run ins too with the Game warden when we were younger got us straightened out
Ramsey Russell: That’s a good learning curve.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, because not too many people waterfowl hunters around where I was from.
Ramsey Russell: Because you’re not here from the coast, you’re not from like the eastern part of North Carolina, you’re from a little bit further away and they’re just not the duck hunting culture there?
Hudson Pinegar: I’m from the eastern part, I’m from around New Bern. So it’s coastal. I just didn’t know a lot of people who went duck hunting when I was coming up.
Ramsey Russell: Besides the Game Warden what was the genesis for you doing it right with the decoys and the whole drama?
Hudson Pinegar: So just being successful at that duck hunting, you can go sit on a creek bank and pass shoot all you want or do something like that, but it’s not really the ethical way of you know doing things.
Ramsey Russell: I think as duck hunters or as people in general we want to progress, we want to get better, you just want to get better, and better, and better.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, that’s the driving force, yeah. Because once you go with somebody and that first time you have a duck cupped up in the decoys, there’s nothing better.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember the first time you had a duck cupped up in the decoys?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah I remember it was actually I had a swamp behind my house that same Game Warden hunted. So he kind of showed me a few things.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, so I got to go hunting with him when I was probably about 16 or so. So he showed me showed me a few things and then we kind of picked it up from there.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That was mighty good of him.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, well, he runs into a bunch of young kids not really knowing what’s right from wrong.
Ramsey Russell: It sounds like a good way to kind of ward off some future problems, show somebody the right way to do it.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah and once we started doing the right thing, it was just like clockwork, we’d start going and killing ducks, figuring out where they were going – a lot more scouting. And that’s a fun part of it is the scouting.
Ramsey Russell: How far do you have to travel from your home or how far do you travel from your home to get into good waterfowl hunting?
Hudson Pinegar: Not too far actually. We have a field behind our house that loads up with geese in September.
Ramsey Russell: See that’s what I see a lot of – y’all really do get after those Canada geese.
Hudson Pinegar: Oh yeah, that’s what we love. You know, ducks are kind of various with the weather patterns, it’s like, you can see this morning, it was 30 degrees and now it’s probably closer to 70. So they’re just here and there. But geese always seem to be around and in pretty good numbers.
Ramsey Russell: Big old resident Canada’s.
Hudson Pinegar: Resident Canada’s, and then towards the end of January, and then the two weeks that we get in February to hunt them. We see some migraters come down here.
Ramsey Russell: Growing up in North Carolina do you remember or did you see a lot of swans trafficking around? I mean, did you see them in the sky where they migrated through or even feeding around your area?
The Pull of the Hunt
And then you go outside of your comfort zone and then you see a lot of different things that you wouldn’t normally see.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, we’d always hear Hyde County, places like that, that’s where you go for the swans. And we’d see one every now and again, have one come into the goose decoys every now and again, but they’re really not too prevalent where we grew up at.
Ramsey Russell: I think Hyde County, which is where Mattamuskeet is, I think that is the nexus of the wintering ground, and I’ve never set foot on Mattamuskeet. But as it’s been described to me, it’s relatively shallow lake a massive lake and its slap full of submerged aquatic food, which is what these birds really like to eat. That’s kind of their thing.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. And then they come out to the fields like you’ve seen this morning.
Ramsey Russell: They’ve started to do that because there’s so much agriculture.
Hudson Pinegar: And they eat a ton.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve started traveling around a little bit, just keeping up with you, you travel around quite a bit. I mean where are some of the places you’ve been outside of North Carolina?
Hudson Pinegar: So I started traveling with my job and then I was like, well, you know, I’m traveling with my job, I could travel in duck hunt. One of my first work conferences I went on was during the last week of duck season and I was like, if I get a spare day, I’m going to go do some duck hunting in Texas. So that was the first time I’d ever been out of the state about three years ago. So I’ve been to Texas, Arkansas, and I think that’s about it.
Ramsey Russell: What trips have you got planned because I know you’re doing some of the hunts?
Hudson Pinegar: Next week we’re going up to Massachusetts to hunt eiders. So that would be a lot of fun. And then I’m actually going out to Wyoming.
Ramsey Russell: Wyo-Nebraska.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah in January. And then I got another trip planned to Kansas towards the end of the season.
Ramsey Russell: You know waterfowl migrate. And my granddad’s generation they just kind of hunted pretty much where they grew up back in the day. But more and more a lot of us migrate too, we go with the birds, are we go to chase species, we go to chase experiences, and things like that. What is it that’s pulling you along the path? What is it? I mean why Wyoming? Why Massachusetts?
Hudson Pinegar: I think it’s more, I’ve shot most species of duck that I want to shoot. I’ve shot pintails, black ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Here in North Carline?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, here in North Carolina. I want to see a different setting, different layout of the land. You know, that’s what does it for me. And then you go outside of your comfort zone and then you see a lot of different things that you wouldn’t normally see.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about swans, when did swans fly up on your radar? When did you just up and decide I want to kill swan?
Hudson Pinegar: That’s kind of when I started talking to you.
Ramsey Russell: Contagious. Like it.
Hudson Pinegar: Honestly because I never really thought about it. You know, I was like, man, I got to apply for a swan permit and just never got around to it. And then I started talking to you and you said you’d stop in North Carolina every year just about so I figured I ought to apply.
Ramsey Russell: If I’m in the Atlantic Flyway, I’m going to apply for North Carolina swan tag because it’s fun, it’s easy. The birds are colored up good and it’s just a great experience, you know? And I don’t count 41 species, I count 58 subspecies. But I love swan hunting. I really do. It’s just something about that great big white bird. It gets that big ass neck coming in like that kind of slow motion – it looks like but it ain’t. You know, I told you this morning we got done setting up decoy and we’re waiting. If I lived here, I would want a swan hunt every year.
Hudson Pinegar: Every year. Which may be what we start doing. It was a great experience, like you said, them big birds just breaking down and coming right in. It was a definitely a new experience and a good one.
Ramsey Russell: We took turns this morning – there were four shooters – we took turns, you were third up. What was going through your mind when them birds started working? Were you trying the big one, trying to lock into one?
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, I was trying to lock into one. And when it came my turn there was four and then just the one — they were all white so just the one closest to me. That’s the one I locked on. And it took me a few shots.
Ramsey Russell: You got it though.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah I got him on the last shot. I think I was thinking about it too much and just body shot him on the first couple.
Ramsey Russell: I did the same thing on mine. I did on the first, I body shot him. Had to think to get out ahead of him.
Hudson Pinegar: Now the other two, I think it was a spur of the moment, they had to shoot right then so they didn’t think about it too much.
Ramsey Russell: They didn’t have time to think.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, they didn’t have time to think so.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start biting the head on ducks? I mean I’ve been in it my whole life, you know it is a quick way to dispatch an animal. Is that something you saw on TV as a kid or is it something the locals did? Did the Game Warden do that?
Hudson Pinegar: I’m trying to think of where I learned it from. I think watching Duck Man when I was young.
Ramsey Russell: Way back when.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. The originals before Duck Dynasty. I would always wring their neck or something like that, and then the head would pop off, and you don’t want that. So yeah, I just start biting their heads and it’s a quick way to dispatch them.
Ramsey Russell: I think something about the round neck it just looks terrible in the pictures. It looks bad.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. And you kind of feel a little bit bad when you’re twisting its head around a couple of times, especially on a goose or a bigger bird like that.
Ramsey Russell: What advice would you give somebody about biting a swan head?
Hudson Pinegar: Well, the advice I would give is you might need a dentist afterwards. It’s a habit for me and I’ll bite a goose’s head. So I figured they weren’t that much tougher. They all got a soft spot back there.
Ramsey Russell: I think if you’re into that tool, The Finisher will work good. But the best way I’ve seen the dispatch a big swan is just to kneel on its back. Don’t be all crazy where you knock his feathers off. But if you’re just taking and asphyxiating, it’s pretty quick. That’s what I saw. I saw Tyler do that this morning. It didn’t take long.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And he got rid of them pretty quick.
Hudson Pinegar: Because that’s what you want, the quickest way you know to dispatch them.
Ramsey Russell: What are you going to do with this big swan you got?
Hudson Pinegar: Going to get the one mounted and then the other one that we got going to try to eat him.
How to Cook a Canada Goose
So I’ve got several different recipes.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I think they’re delicious. To me they’re a little tough, kind of like a big Canada goose. But I think they’re absolutely delicious.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah because we get a lot of flak for eating Canada geese. You know people are like, how do you eat them things? You know they’re so tough but it’s all in —
Ramsey Russell: How do you cook a Canada Geese?
Hudson Pinegar: So I’ve got several different recipes. To get the bulk of it, we do a lot of jerky. It makes really good jerky. I favor it over deer jerky or beef jerky. So we’ll do that, and then a lot of times we just cut it real thin, do a marinade, wrap it in bacon, put some pineapples, bell peppers, and stuff like that. And then throw it on the grill.
Ramsey Russell: I got a recipe I’d suggest. I can’t remember who I ran across this with but I tried it a couple of times. It’s pretty darn good is take that big goose – and I’ve done this with swan also – put it in the crock pot with apple cider, like apple juice, apple cider. And I found out that putting a stick of butter or some fat, even some vegetable oil in there really helps it out. And cook it until its tender. And I saw in the grocery the other day they had even a little pack of pulled pork seasoned, pour it in there till it cooks down, then you can shred it apart and put barbecue on it and just have barbecue sandwiches, like a pulled pork sandwich.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah that sounds really good.
Ramsey Russell: Because you all shoot a bunch of Canada geese. I mean it’s not like just two or three a year, you are all shooting them up.
Hudson Pinegar: We shoot a bunch of them but we eat a ton of them. I probably eat Canada goose once a week, to be honest.
Ramsey Russell: And my favorite way right now to cook these swans and I’ve been doing a pot roast recipe, then again in a crock pot with pepper, zucchini, peppers, and veggies, and gravy packs, and all that good stuff. And I really like that a lot.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah, I’m going to have to try that. I did try that duck recipe in the skillet with the homemade jam and stuff. Yeah, that’s to die for.
Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah with a big old fat mallards, I guarantee to you.
Hudson Pinegar: Mallards. We shoot a lot of wood ducks in this neck of the woods.
Ramsey Russell: Wood ducks got some good fat on them.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. Wood ducks, they have nice good fat usually.
Ramsey Russell: Hudson, I enjoyed hunting with you this morning. Glad I got to meet you finally. And I’m glad I got to see you shoot your first swan but hopefully not your last one.
Hudson Pinegar: Yeah. I don’t think it will be my last and it was a pleasure hunting with you.
A Swampy Intro to Waterfowl Hunting in North Carolina
Yeah, first duck was probably most likely a wood duck because they always fly first.
Ramsey Russell: Carry Salem, had a good time hunting with you this morning.
Carry Salem: Here, same.
Ramsey Russell: How long have you been duck hunting over here in North Carolina? What drug you down this crazy path?
Carry Salem: Well, I had never really been introduced to duck hunting. I grew up with my granddad deer hunting a little bit, kind of got bored of it because of all the dog hunters, so I kind of had come to a stop in hunting, picked up a new hobby, was doing a lot of paint balling and stuff like that. Then I was introduced to Hudson, he did a whole lot of hunting. And I told him, I was like, man, look I got a swamp behind my house, nobody really hunts it. I was like, I’m pretty sure there’s a few hundred ducks back there on the regular. And he was like, well, man, you know we ought to come over and check it out one day. And that was that was it, it was on like Donkey Kong after that.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of ducks mostly did you got back in that swamp?
Carry Salem: Well, when we first found out about it, it was wood ducks, mallards, gadwall, teal, so a good combination.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good.
Carry Salem: But yeah over the years it’s definitely died out a lot due to climate change, I guess, and weather. Just different fly lines that they’re flying.
Ramsey Russell: It could be a lot of different reasons.
Carry Salem: Yeah, exactly.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first duck back in that swamp? I guess you were hunting with Hudson?
Carry Salem: Yes, I was. Yeah, first duck was probably most likely a wood duck because they always fly first.
Ramsey Russell: You’ll put out decoys and stuff for them?
Carry Salem: Oh yeah, we usually put out about three dozen.
Ramsey Russell: Mostly wood duck decoys?
Carry Salem: No, it varies to mallards, gadwall.
Ramsey Russell: Any motion decoys?
Carry Salem: We started getting into motion decoys probably about two or three years ago. We didn’t really use any when we first started because we didn’t really need them. We used the occasional Mojo here and there but nothing crazy. I think now we got some different style motion decoys, ones that are sitting on the water and splash, and a couple that vibrate.
Ramsey Russell: In trees and timber and swamp, like what you’re talking about. I don’t know any decoy I like better for wood ducks than a Mojo.
Carry Salem: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Especially at daylight. They just love it. I mean, right there in the low light they absolutely love it.
Carry Salem: Yeah, they see the wings flapping, and it just catches their eye, keeps the attention off.
Ramsey Russell: And something on the water to make it splash and ripple because I think they key in on that, they come in. You know a lot of times they’ll be all feeding at night, and they want to come in and loaf up or roost up during the day. And so right there in the first hours when they start piling in, I think they really key in on that motion and that movement if they want to be in there. What do you like most about duck hunting? How does it compare to paintballing?
Carry Salem: Well they’re both definitely — it’s a lot going on. Then that’s what I think I like most about it. Deer hunting it can be real calm, you’re not going to have a lot of action. So when it comes to duck hunting, you might not even kill anything, you might just go out there and see a bunch of ducks moving, and that alone gets your blood pumping and just puts you in a good mood. You’re hanging out with friends, having good conversation. So I think that’s one of the things I like the most about it.
Keep on Your Toes When Swan Hunting
You know, I got to do something that was out of my comfort zone.
Ramsey Russell: Born and raised here in North Carolina. You’ve been duck hunting to say 4 or 5 years. When did swan fly up on your radar?
Carry Salem: That’s another one of them Hudson’s, man. He just talked me right into it.
Ramsey Russell: Did he have to twist your arm hard to come over here and do it?
Carry Salem: Honestly, a little bit, yeah, because like I said, I’m a local hunter. I like my you know right behind the house spot not a whole lot of work. I know the area, I know what I’m getting into. So when he started talking to me about it, I was just, oh man, I don’t know man, maybe I might do it, and then you know, to be honest I’m really glad I did. I got to meet some you know really cool people. You know, I got to do something that was out of my comfort zone. So I enjoyed it a lot and that’s what good friends are for. They kind of push you over the edge there when you get comfortable, they make you step out and do something.
Ramsey Russell: Like get outside the box and try something new.
Carry Salem: Something new. Exactly, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: But you didn’t look like you needed no arm twist because like, there were four of us in the blind, we all decided we’re going to let the lady go first. This morning we’re getting — we hear one of those things coming in and I’m like, oh yeah, that’s a swan. Boom. I’m like what the heck — she wasn’t even loaded up, man. You smoked him.
Carry Salem: Yeah, that’s another thing I’ve learned with hunting with Hudson.
Ramsey Russell: Get the first shot.
Carry Salem: That too for sure. But you got to be on your toes, because they’ll come out of nowhere, and they’ll come when you don’t expect it.
Ramsey Russell: When you’re least expecting.
Carry Salem: Exactly, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: How did it feel for somebody that really didn’t know much about her to think much about it? How did it feel when you when you pulled the trigger at that great big bird, that was a great big gander fold it up and hit the ground behind you.
Carry Salem: All right to start with, I didn’t even think I hit him but he sure did. I mean he went right down. So I mean it was a kind of a relief feeling because I was nervous, I’ve never shot at a swan before. So just getting a feel for how they fly. It’s definitely different from geese or ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Do you think you’ll hunt them again?
Carry Salem: Most likely. Yeah. So if we can get another draw, then I would definitely do it again.
Ramsey Russell: If you keep applying you’ll get drawn sooner or later.
Carry Salem: Especially, now that I have a good guide.
Ramsey Russell: What was the rest of your season here in North Carolina look like? Are you traveling like Hudson or you just going to hang out close to home now?
Carry Salem: Yeah, probably not as much now. I just do more of the local hunting so I haven’t really got into the whole traveling.
Ramsey Russell: What would you tell anybody listening about swan hunting?
Carry Salem: Don’t hate it till you try. Just one of them things, some people like it, some people don’t.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody that does it like.
Carry Salem: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody tries it likes it.
Carry Salem: I agree with that.
From Skeet Shooting to Waterfowl Hunting
I’ve told you, I’m a newer hunter, so it’s been interesting in the last three years.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much. Mrs. Austen Collins here in North Carolina swan hunting. We’ve been talking about this for a while.
Austen Collins: We have. Yes sir.
Ramsey Russell: I asked you last night while we were eating oysters and drinking some of that 1856 bourbon that you got. What got you into bird hunting? What got you into waterfowl hunting because your mom and dad didn’t hunt.
Austen Collins: No. So about four or five years ago it actually didn’t start with bird hunting. It actually started with skeet shooting. So a friend of mine, Tom, was a competitive shooter. He talked about it a lot. They talked about dove hunts that they went on, and so I said, hey take me out. I would love to see you shoot. So me and my husband were going to go, and he had to bail that day for some reason and I still wanted to go. So I was like, I’m committed to it, let’s go. So I show up and they’re like, where’s Clay? I’m like, well I’m here, show me how this is done. So the next year, time goes by, I hear the stories about their hunting. And the following year I asked him again, take me out shooting again. So he actually started me on a 28 gauge, that’s what I learned on. On a Beretta A400. He knew that with women, you throw a 12 gauge at them, they might not return, right? So start on the 28 gauge, got better and better. And then I just loved it but they would never invite me hunting. You know guys crew, I get it. I’m the only female. But a friend of mine, Sebastian, he was like, hey, you know, we don’t go out to the fancy Ford Ranch, which is a yearly hunt that Tom used to put on, he was like, but we go public land. Me and my brother will take you hunting if you want to go, and that was it. That was the first hunt I went on, was a dove hunt. It was raining that day. I remember it vividly. It was not going to be a good day for birds and we only got one bird that day, and that was my bird, so it was pretty cool. And then from there, went from dove to duck that season, and I was hooked. That was about three years ago.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. When was your first duck hunt?
Austen Collins: My first duck hunt was three years ago. It was out in public land in Central Texas, Granger for those that might know. Excuse me, Thrall, we normally hunt Thrall and then the split goes to Granger so I happen to not — I got out there late, my dog was sick that day, and so I got out there late and didn’t have the best opening day. I went out multiple times with them and it’s definitely a different kind of hunting, for those that know public land. I feel like that’s kind of what I cut my teeth on.
Ramsey Russell: You all are walking in. I mean miles.
Austen Collins: Oh, we walked a mile. Yeah, we walked a mile. So the first hunt I walked in and I was late, like I said, because I didn’t wake up to my alarm. They drop me a pin. I was like, hey, I’m still going to go, drop me a pin. So I remember getting out there with my gun in tow, and I’ve never done this right? So I’m like out walking the middle of nowhere thinking what am I getting myself into, like can I do this? But it was, it was worth it. But yeah, we usually walk about a mile. We don’t have a permanent blind out there. So we lay on a bank around a pond, and we usually lay down, so I have to a lot of times shot laying down, and then I set up. We’ll cover up with the grasses and things out in the land to blend in. I’ve learned everything from Sebastian and Wendell, it’s up to them that I got into this. Sebastian knows I’m forever grateful because somebody gave me a chance.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember your first duck?
Austen Collins: Oh yeah, I mean my first duck that day was not really my duck. So there was a gentleman that I don’t know. Why to never leave your gun, that’s one thing I’ve learned. He left his gun on the other side of the pond. So he had a cripple and he was like, hey, can you shoot that cripple for me? I was like, okay, so it was a beautiful mallard, so that’s the first duck I really ever killed. My first duck was I think it was a bluebell or gadwall. I had booked my own hunt, I was the only one that showed up. It was a women’s hunt and then I was the only one that ended up showing up with the outfitter down South, and so it was just me and him, which was really cool. But that was probably my next major hunt that I paid for, and that season I think I looked like two or three additional hunts, and I would just go by myself. I just found out where was I going to go. I was traveling for work at the time, so there was a trip where I went on to Colorado, and I just started Googling what kind of birds are in the area. So I got on a Canada goose hunt and that was pretty cool.
Ramsey Russell: That’s big on the Front Range. Yup.
Austen Collins: It was awesome. We were in underground blinds with slides and I learned a bad lesson that day. When you close the slide, maybe turn your gun barrel, twist it because I was getting sand up in my gun, and I had a couple of malfunctions, so things that I learned. I’ve told you, I’m a newer hunter, so it’s been interesting in the last three years.
Why Duck Hunting Over Any Other Hunting?
It’s being out in the field, it’s setting up, and it’s the camaraderie with your friends.
Ramsey Russell: But you seem to be just extremely excited for waterfowl hunting, you’ve been hunting for three years. You got introduced by Sebastian, you booked some trips to other places, and you booked some trips here. What is it about duck hunting, say instead of dove hunting or whatever else you do down there? What is it about it?
Austen Collins: I think it’s a culmination of a lot of things like the species. One thing that I kind of got into last year was like this trivia that I started and just learning about the different birds. It’s being out in the field, it’s setting up, and it’s the camaraderie with your friends. If you’re familiar with Hank Shaw I read his books and his blogs and taught myself how to clean the birds myself and wax my birds when I can and it’s a process, you know, to get to do the bird justice by taking the extra time to do more than just rest it out. What can you do with the hearts, the liver, the necks, just all of that, I think it’s so much more than just pulling the trigger. But yeah, if I could do this every day I would.
Ramsey Russell: What led you to go outside of Texas? I mean it was just a three year period since you went out there and shot your first duck in other places, other species. What is just pulling you down that path? It’s hard to articulate, isn’t it?
Austen Collins: Yeah, I mean I’ve been a couple of places, so I’ve done Colorado, Arizona which wasn’t ducks, it was pheasant and chucker. Went to Canada, that was a big hunt. Kansas, Arkansas, I mean like I just want to check them all off.
Ramsey Russell: All the species.
Austen Collins: I think it’s really cool, one I think the people are just amazing, I think the people that you meet, not everyone, 99%, are awesome.
Ramsey Russell: It’s always that 1%.
Austen Collins: It’s the people and then it’s just the different environments that you’re in, learning how people do it here versus there. Definitely want to make that eventual list. You call it how many do you say?
Ramsey Russell: I say 58.
Austen Collins There you go, I’ll go with 58. So that, and then just learning different things. But yeah, just kind of applied myself and wanted to just explore. So at the beginning of a season I try to figure out, okay where can I go, where can I go this year? And what big trips will I take? Where I live is Central Texas, so it’s not super great hunting, we are in public land again. I don’t have access to a boat, like there’s a lot of things that I’m limited by, so thankfully I find hunts that I can go on and some people are prideful that they do it themselves, and that’s great, and I would love to do it myself, and we do, but I also enjoy being out there with a guide service and learning from them and enjoying the time that I’m able to spend. And I know it can be costly for some people, some people can only do so much. But that’s where I’m spending my extra dollars. It used to be on Louis Vuitton. Now, it’s on shotguns.
Ramsey Russell: Life’s short. Get Ducks. Whatever you’re passionate about, go for it.
Austen Collins: Yes.
A Waterfowler Trailblazer
So there was a level of that that I had to overcome, but again it didn’t stop me.
Ramsey Russell: How hard is it for a young woman like yourself to kind of just do this to find your way and to cultivate your own tradition in waterfowling? A lot of guys listening, and a lot of young girls listening, they were coached along by my mentor, their dad or granddad or somebody else. You’re a grown woman and you’re passionate about this and you’re blazing your own trail, which to me is extremely admirable.
Austen Collins: Thank you, first of all. Yeah, so like I said even just getting into hunting as I mentioned, well I love my friends that taught me how to shoot. There was this level of like, we’re the guys group, we’re not letting the girl in, right? So there was a level of that that I had to overcome, but again it didn’t stop me. I was thankful to Sebastian for that one shot. But I think I’ve told you this before, I put myself out there 110%. So what I commit myself to do, I go do. So can you say it’s hard, can you say you’re challenged? Yeah, maybe. I choose not to look at it that way, right? I choose to say — the Internet is amazing thing and it also can sometimes be a two sided coin there because a lot of opinions and maybe bad information that you might learn, but that’s what’s great about the Internet and Instagram and connecting to people is the fact that you can teach yourself through. In finding — what I would suggest to anybody, especially a female – is find a mentor, find someone that you’re willing to and be okay to be a newbie, right? I’ve said this too. I’m okay to say I’m still new. I don’t know a lot of things and it’s great that when I do know something, I can impart that knowledge to someone else. But you have to want it and it has to be in your heart and decide that this is what I want to invest my time in. People ask, “What about deer? Are you going to get into this?” I’m like not right now, like I want to focus my attention on this, and I’m passionate about it, clearly. So I think if you have that passion and you have that right mindset – I think that’s the other thing – a lot of people think about why can’t I or what challenges would you have to overcome? If you have that mindset that I can do whatever I set my mind to, you can. It’s about making it happen. It might take you a little bit longer than someone else. But I think that’s what it was, and I think my friends and family would agree with that. Knowing Austen for who she is knows that she does what she sets her mind to, and I think that’s what it was. I’ve learned it is challenging and there are some themes of women hunters can set a bad rap for us, but I choose to look past that. I mean, yes, any woman can set a bad rap if you’re posting photos or whatever just for the Instagram likes or whatever. But yeah, I mean those that actually get to know and talk to me understand like it’s not just me wanting an Instagram like.
It’s All About the Climb
I don’t know, I think there’s something to be said for going at a slower pace and enjoying the ride.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the hurry? It’s what I ask myself sometimes. What’s the hurry? I see people, young people like yourself, and they seem to be in this hurry to get to this purported top of a mountain, and so much of who we are is the climb. Going through the stages and the phases, and the learning process, and I still learn a lot, you know, and man, the day I quit showing up somewhere like North Carolina or Virginia or somewhere, then there’s nothing else to learn. What’s the point? I mean to me that there’s no shame in being a “newbie” in your words. We’re all different and it’s finding your pace, and your place, and just start climbing.
Austen Collins: Yeah. And I think it’s okay to again not be the expert, to your point of people are trying to learn go fast or trying to be the best. I don’t know, I think there’s something to be said for going at a slower pace and enjoying the ride. And there’s going to be failures along the way. Like, I’ve certainly had moments of learning for me in my last 3-4 years or 4 seasons, I guess I should say. And recognizing that, and just learning from those and again, I think if you have a mentor that you can trust and confide in as you’re learning through that journey. You know we talk about that a lot with like dogs right, is like, I want that finished dog. You want to enjoy the process every single step of the way. And same thing, like me growing up as a waterfowler now in my journey. You want to enjoy that every part of the way. It’s not about — bands would be great – never had a band, would be great. But when it happens it’s going to happen and it’s going to be great. But everyone’s journey is different and I think if you’re constantly thinking about the end of mine, or like I’m going to be the best, and you can’t be humble about where you’re at today, I think you’re missing the point.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. Why swans? What is it all of a sudden that led you to shoot a great big white bird in North Carolina?
Austen Collins: I think you had something to do with it. I feel like I had to think about that one. It was like last year, I think I saw some photos of multiple people, but it’s just one of those on the list kind of things. It’s another experience, another opportunity, something different. So I applied to Virginia and North Carolina and someone told me that a lot of new first timers in North Carolina, you have a good chance of getting it. So I didn’t get the Virginia one, but I did get obviously North Carolina. So yeah — and it’s just another opportunity, I think it goes back to the species, like that’s what I love is to learn about the nuances of different birds and the monogamous, like how big do they get? Like just all of the ins and outs and there’s so much to know about all the species. I mean I’d have to go to school to remember all of it. But it’s just one of those things. And I’ve learned like on the tundra’s versus the trumpeter and trying to understand those differences. I think that elevates your game as a hunter. I think especially for people who aren’t from our world, if you can educate them, if you know more about a species that you’re about to go hunt and you do your work and you read about them that sets you up is not just someone that’s pulling the trigger. That creates a brand for us that we’re more than just “hunters.”
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Austen Collins: So my friends and family, they find it interesting and I try to impart my knowledge to them of what little I know. Still being new.
Ramsey Russell: Have you started mentoring anybody?
Austen Collins: I had someone the other day. Not necessarily mentoring. So a friend of mine does have a group that she’s with, and she takes out young students essentially in the young generation, so I wanted to get out with her and something like that. I had someone reach out the other day and it was really nice, she said something like I’m just really impressed by what I’ve been watching you, and she goes, you make me want to like hunt. I was like that’s awesome, I was like, let’s do it, like let’s get you into it. I had a girlfriend at a brunch that day. She was like I want to go hunting with you, I was like come on, let’s go. So I think when that happens, that’s awesome. I think I not mentor but I’ve had this Tuesday trivia thing that I’ve been doing, I had to take a break for about the last month.
Ramsey Russell: It’s kind of like you’re learning yourself.
Austen Collins: Yes, and they take a long time. So for any anyone out there that’s following, I’m going to pick them back up, but because I take like anywhere from 2 – 5 hours on each topic, because not only do I like research that —
Ramsey Russell: Is it kind of your way of learning?
Austen Collins: I think it is. So I love a good game, like I’m a huge game nerd, I love games. And so I just came up with this idea one day, this is probably last year around this time, maybe a little bit early and I was like, you know what? Oh, I know I love reading the different waterfall magazines, like you name them, I’m subscribed and through that I was like, this is really cool, I would learn things and I think about them in a trivia term. So I said, I’m going to use knowledge that I’m learning from these magazines and turn them into trivia and see if people will play along. And every week I would rotate topics and so I branched out from the magazines to actually researching and using credible sources out there, besides the magazines. I don’t mean to say they were not credible, and that could just kind of turn from there, and it’s been interesting and fun because I learn as I go, and then I’m also teaching others. I love when people comment back or they give feedback around, oh man, that one was really hard. I didn’t know anything about that and I’m like that’s okay, like it’s not meant to be a test, it’s meant for you to learn and educate. So I think that’s the way is, it goes to show. Even as a new hunter, I don’t have to be super knowledgeable to impart knowledge to others. And I hope that through that trivia, it creates a desire in Water Fowler’s to want to know more about their birds because I think that we again as a generation should be wanting to know about this and wanting to conserve and understand like why we do all these things and many people do. So I think through that it’s accomplished that for sure.
Female-Friendly Firearms for Hunters
Ramsey Russell: You were saying something this morning along the lines of a new female hunter like the firearm fit. It’s very difficult for you to just go grab one off the rack. Did you look and found a female-friendly firearm. But then like the clothing, you never thought about that. There’s really, it seems to be where I heard you express a lack of clothing that fits and forms for females. Do you think that’s an impediment for people? For women getting into the sport?
Austen Collins: No, I mean no, I mean I follow a lot of the Facebook groups with the women and many women buy men’s brands. I guess my comment that I was making this morning is when I first came on, I saw a lot of pink and purple and I’m not into that. And so some of the well-known brands out there don’t always cater to the female, one in particular even said when we see more female hunters, we’ll create a product to serve the demand. And I’m like, well the demand is there, you’re just even not seeing it or you’re not wanting to create the product to then support that demand. My point in all of that was to say that females – I mean from a shotgun perspective – I bought a Benelli to start with and it just didn’t fit me right, and you don’t know that until you go get fit. So that would be my recommendation for anybody new is get with a gun, a knowledgeable gun distributor representative in your local town, and go get fit, try on different guns, see if you can take them to a range, different ranges do offer that. And that’s when I decided on the current Chuck that I have which is a Syren, it’s a female’s line made by four females. Fiber arm and Cesar Greener are the back end of it. But what I learned through the process of my initial gun was about fitment and there’s just front parts that you want to know, so save the time, get fit from up front, and it is harder for females. There are some parts of the business that are a little more challenging. But again, you can either view it as, oh, what was the female or you can say, well we’re going to navigate around it. So, again, it’s that mindset that you have and how do you approach things versus just this is a challenge, oh women, this or that.
Ramsey Russell: Last question because you never, you never can tell what you’re going to learn about somebody while you’re waiting on waterfowl to start flying. But how in the world did you end up on The Price is Right? I’ve never known anybody to be on The Price is Right?
Austen Collins: That again, is I think kind of —
Ramsey Russell: And if I remember that said, “Come on down Austen Collins.”
Austen Collins: Yeah, so I’ll try to make this into a little shorter story. But yes, it goes back to what I told you is, I put myself 110% into what I go to. I mentioned I love games, so I watch The Price is Right for as long as I can remember. And one year I was like, I’m going to go for my 30th birthday. So this was a few years back and I committed myself to it. So I got my tickets and then that whole summer I was almost watching every single episode and I would track the prices on an Excel spreadsheet to track the Showcase Showdown, and I’d study, and I would tell people I’m going to be on The Price is Right. Again the mindset, right? And they wouldn’t believe me and one even girl said Austen, she goes, you seem so excited about this and I’m so happy for you. She’s my work colleague. She goes, but have you prepared for yourself for if you don’t? And I didn’t even let her finish the sentence, and I just said, no, no, no, no, no, don’t even put that out in the universe, like we’re not going there. You know, again, just like that positive mindset and affirmation that this is what I want, right? And people talk about that, right? People say you should profess the things that you want in your life. There’s a lot of inspirational books out there and podcasts, I’m sure. But I followed that, and we get down there, and sure enough, I got chosen and I was in the prime time spot. So I was in the last position so I bid $1 over the next person to me. Funny because I worked for Dell and the prize that came out was a laptop and I’m like, oh, I got this in the bag, get on stage and up there, I’m just like shaking and I just remember thinking I did it, you know, I’m up here, I said I was going to do it and I did it right. So we go through the game and it’s a pretty big game, for those that know, it’s the Golden Road and at the end of the Golden Road, before you play the game, they show you what’s at Door Number Three. So they get everybody hyped and it was an Audi, and I even remember again in that moment I was like jumping up and down, I turned to Drew Carey and I said, we’re going to win this. You see me on camera and I look at him, I’m like we’re going to win this, right? Again, that mindset, right then and there that we’re going to get this done. Now, you can say the game is definitely a game of chance, some strategy in there for sure. It wasn’t all the pricing Excel spreadsheet, I wasn’t able to use all that knowledge. But yeah, I won and it’s probably one of the top, maybe three to five highlights of my life. But yeah, I think that just goes to show again even as a new hunter that didn’t come from, my dad teaching me, although I would have loved that. And that’s amazing. Like I’m only envious of the women and men that have those stories like that in itself you should hold as a treasure that you’ve grown up into something like this and you still have that passion today. So I’m envious of that. But even a three year, four season hunter, you put your mind to it and you can do it
Ramsey Russell: Well, you sure made a heck of a shot on that swan this morning.
Austen Collins: Oh, I think it was good.
Ramsey Russell: I think it was the best shot in the morning.
Austen Collins I think it was meant to be. I mean Carry did go first. I was supposed to go first but I wasn’t – my gun was over here in my bag and I was getting ready and I didn’t even see that bird coming in and Carry took it. So I was glad. It was meant to be. But I was nervous because often when I think about a shot you miss, and so when I was like, hey, you know Ramsey, you’re going to have to call the bird. So I got up and just went with it.
Ramsey Russell: Smoked it.
Austen Collins: It was good. It was good. I think it’s that natural reflex.
Ramsey Russell: Was that one of those top two-three-four-five highlights? Shooting the swan?
Austen Collins: Definitely. I mean today was amazing. Well, one being here with you. So I just have to say thank you again for having me.
Ramsey Russell: My pleasure.
Austen Collins: Yeah, I mean shooting a swan. It’s not as much action as what you normally see with ducks. There’s so much pressure that you build up around like the one swan, you know? So I kept just trying to not think about it, because for me, when I think about things, it can get in your head a little bit. So and then there’s the pressure of shooting in front of you, don’t want to miss.
Ramsey Russell: I miss with the best of them. But wasn’t that awesome how – and that’s my whole point is, you know – the four of us met. All right here. Got to know each other over steamed oysters. Go out and have the hunt of a lifetime, and just the camaraderie, and how birds of a feather flock together. That’s what never fails to amaze me is how four different people from different walks of life, boom. Right here. Having a great time shooting this beautiful bird.
Austen Collins: Yeah, I think that’s a special one. Although often times, I’m like the solo on trips, I’m looking for my own little group that I go out with. Like I’m in that part of the journey where I’m finding like those are my hunting friends because they’re not going to likely live in my city. They’re going to be across the world or across at least North America. We’ll start with North America. But that’s what I’m on the journey for, is like who are my people out there?
Ramsey Russell: Who’s your tribe?
Austen Collins Yeah, yeah. Obviously Sebastian, he’s one of my favorite people to hunt with. But I do enjoy travel hunting and getting out there with people. So I think that’s what’s really special is you get to meet people from across and that’s what I’ve committed myself to. Yeah, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Enjoyed hunting with you.
Austen Collins: Yeah, same.
Ramsey Russell: Thanks for being here. And folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from North Carolina swan hunting. Come get you some, see you next time.