A gifted communicator, J. Alain Smith is a hunter, writer, musician and adventurer who has explored the world’s farthest reaches. He’s collected 350 different game species to include World Slams of Sheep and Goats, the North American Grand Slam of Sheep and the African Big 5. He’s authored 6 books, produces the hit outdoor TV show Rugged Expeditions, is a Conklin Award winner, Weatherby Conservation Award recipient, and SCI International Hunter of the Year–and it all began as a youngster while hunting mallards and ring-necked pheasants near home in Washington. What’s the most dangerous situation encountered? Most challenging hunt? Most unique culture? Any regrets? How does he reconcile trophy with experience? And what’s the craziest thing he’s ever eaten while in hunting camp (hint: it definitely didn’t taste like chicken)?!
Origins of the Ultimate Exotic Hunter
But you’re a duck hunter at heart.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere from Safari Club International. Today’s guest is J Alain Smith. He is a hunter, writer, musician, adventure whose success has allowed him to explore all points of the globe. And I mean all points of the globe in search of hunting thrills. He has collected over 350 big game species from around the world to include World Slams of sheep and goats, the North American Grand Slam of sheep, the African Big Five, and much more. He’s the author of nine books. He’s the producer of the hit Outdoor TV show, Rugged Expeditions. He is a Conklin award winner. He is a weatherman, Weather by Conservation award recipient, S.C.I International Hunter of the Year. He’s a keynote speaker and it all began humbly enough as a youngster while hunting ducks and upland birds in his home state of Washington. Thanks for being here Alain.
J Alain Smith: Thanks for having me. This is great.
Ramsey Russell: Are you tired from all these months of speaking again? I follow you on social media and every time I look, you’re in front of a crowd speaking. It’s dozens, and dozens, and dozens.
J Alain Smith: It’s one of those things that I like doing it. And I like to give back. And it’s my opportunity to share, whether it’s the conservation dinners that we do, or the S.C.I Awards dinners, or local chapter events. It’s fun and I love being around the people. Hunters, no matter where you go, are always great guys. I mean you always find a great group that you can hang out with if you’re going to any of the events, so.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll tell you what that’s a good way of putting it. It really like a fraternity.
J Alain Smith: It really is. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Iowa, or Florida, or Pakistan, or Tanzania, wherever it is, you run across guys in the airport or in a restaurant in some godforsaken place and it’s an instant bond.
Ramsey Russell: You can always start a conversation.
J Alain Smith: And that doesn’t matter whether you’re duck hunting, pheasant hunting, or whatever. I mean it’s always that group. There’s not many of us, we got to stick together.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a good point. Let’s talk about your origins. Alain. I mean, I follow you on social media. I’ve seen your books, I’ve seen your T. V. show. And man you were hunting some of the most exotic and relegated big game animals on God’s earth. But you’re a duck hunter at heart. And I can just tell by your post and a smile on your face when you’re holding up all those Washington state mallards when you’re home, where your heart is. But how did it start? Who did it start with? Tell me about growing up in Washington as a little boy?
J Alain Smith: Well for us, it was interesting. I’ve got a brother Norm who’s also an avid hunter. And we grew up in a family, came down from Canada to America as the classic immigrants that came down. And my dad was not a hunter but an outdoorsman, and took us fishing, and we spent a lot of time camping and that. And with three boys, my poor mother had to get us out of the house somehow. So he would take us out and we try and burn some energy off out in the woods and not getting too much trouble. And we had a neighbor across the street that he was into hunting. And my brother and I used to go over there and we’d see his guns and his pickup truck and his hunting dogs and all that. And of course we always had dogs of a variety of different kinds. But he one day, he just asked my folks, he said, your boys are asking me if they can come with me next weekend, and I’d like to take them. And so we went over there and we got the bug. So we went and got our Hunter Safety Education certificate. And that Christmas, we each got a shotgun.
Ramsey Russell: What was it? What kind of shotgun?
J Alain Smith: It was a J.C Higgins pump. I think they sold them at Sears if I remember right. And I wish I still had that thing, actually. And I’m sure it was built by somebody else. It was probably a Remington that was converted with a different name on it. But that guy got us going and we would go whenever he would take us. And we’d always bring, my mom loved cooking it up, she grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, so no problem bringing game meat home or anything. And then once I got a car, that was it because by then we had hunting ducks and we borrowed my mom’s 65 Chevy, and threw the dogs in the back seat, and drive over. For us in those days we drove from, I lived in the Seattle area, you have to drive over to eastern Washington about 150 miles and hunt over there for pheasants and ducks. And we just became maniacs between sports and other things, but during the fall, boy, that was our big passion.
Ramsey Russell: The gentleman across the street that you started hunting with. He taught you how to duck hunt. He taught you conservation values. I mean, my grandfather for example, he, well we were hunting morning doves, or Bobwhite quail, or ducks. He plucked everything completely. It was his ethic, boom, everything, no breast in it out. It was completely, we were last people to leave the field. We’ve been sitting there plucking dove. That’s just the way he was. And all these years later I still find myself kind of following some of those old habits of how I was introduced to it. As you’ve traveled worldwide extensively at some level does it go back to that early foundation with that gentleman across the street.
The Importance of Mentoring Young Hunters
They love it and they need somebody.
J Alain Smith: It really does because those values that you get are just like you’re saying utilization of the game, respecting the game, making sure that you go and you spend the time to find that wounded duck or that pheasant, you hammered him, but you can’t find him. The dogs working, and he’s somewhere around and yeah, you go back and shoot another covey or something, go back into your duck blind and leave them, but you just don’t do that. It went down that damn dogs is going to find that thing sooner or later. But I think the other thing too about what we’re talking about that’s important for us to remember, as you know, let’s call us mature hunters, is that there’s a lot of folks out there right now that don’t have a mentor. And you know, whether it’s families that are split up, inner city, youth, that kind of a thing, we as hunters need to reach out as much as we can. Go to some of the Fish and Wildlife meetings where there’s going to be kids there. Go to the Hunter’s Safety Education. If you’ve got a place to take somebody. I know we don’t want to tell anybody where our secret duck hunting hole is on public ground. I get that but that doesn’t mean you can’t take somebody on a rabbit hunt, you can’t take them out shooting squirrels, take them with a 22 and take them plinking, go shoot some cans. But so many people just don’t know where to start.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right.
J Alain Smith: Once they get going, and the same thing with gals too. There are a lot of women out there that are really getting into it. They love it and they need somebody.
Ramsey Russell: You know it’s a foregone conclusion that children of hunters are going to go hunting with their parents. I’ve come to the belief that it’s also important to recruit adult hunters. There are adults that grew up went through high school, college, into their professional lives that just never were properly introduced to hunting. And the thing I like about them, Alain, is you take a 35 year old guy who’s got a job that if he gets the bug and wants to go hunting, he’s got the resources, the financial resources to spend, which translates into conservation immediately. An eight year old little boy is going to be 20, 30 years before he’s got meaningful resources to spend the money that is so important to conservation. Would you agree with that point?
J Alain Smith: Great point. Right on and yeah, we want to keep recruiting. But the other thing too is that, you hit the nail on the head, whether that’s somebody at work, your wife’s friend’s husband, and things like that that just get them out. And even fishing, just get them out in the outdoors.
Ramsey Russell: Get them in the outdoors.
J Alain Smith: And experience it and see what really all is about because the more that people are involved in the outdoors and hunting, the more that we as a community are going to grow and we’re going to be able to protect what we have because they’re not making any more hunting ground. What we have, we need to hold on to.
Recruiting More Hunters
The world is your oyster. Ducks and pheasants beware.
Ramsey Russell: And we seem to be, especially in the world of waterfowl, we just seem to be losing habitat by the day, by the moment. If you look at us, Fish and Wildlife service numbers, hunters are dwindling but if you go to a public land to hunt ducks, it doesn’t seem like it.
J Alain Smith: Right.
Ramsey Russell: And that tells me that with fewer hunters are becoming more distilled on less habitat. That’s important man. But we need more hunters.
J Alain Smith: Right.
Ramsey Russell: We do need more hunters. So you’re a young man, you’re a teenager you got your driver’s license. The world is your oyster. Ducks and pheasants beware. At what point or when, all of a sudden you realize the world a whole lot bigger than the state boundary of Washington and that there were more critters out there.
J Alain Smith: I started a business up in Kodiak Alaska. And I’d never killed a big game animal in my life. And I got up there and of course lots of bird hunting and great, as we would call them exotic species in those days. You got harlequin and oldsquaw, and all that’s the scoters and all the sea ducks are up there. Besides, it’s good mallard hunting as well. And golden eyes and stuff like that. So just to shoot something different than mallards that we grew up on was great. But then all of a sudden a buddy of mine that was up there he took me out deer hunting, and on Kodiak you have the Sitka blacktail, and there are tons of them. I think we got five a season in those days. And then you can go and get five more if you’re a resident for subsistence hunting. So I went out and I shot my first deer and it was like I became – I was a junkie all of a sudden. And I think there was something else too about, you know we all like to have something mounted. I got that first deer head on the wall and I had this little apartment that I was living up there and I stuck that thing up on the wall. And I would go into other customer’s businesses in their homes, of course in Alaska, everybody’s got some kind of a head, caribou or deer, or God forbid a brown bear rug on their floor. And I had the opportunity, and then it was caribou, and mountain goats, and bears, and all the Alaska things that you could do. I eventually ended up getting married and remember that I’ve been saving my money. And for those of you that have been around a long time, there used to be an organization called the climb burgers. They had a taxidermy company and they did booking in that in Washington state. And I got involved with them and started planning a trip to Africa. And I saved my money. I mean, it was years. This were a long term goal. And they’re trying to start a business and all that, and wife and all that. The last thing I could do was drop any kind of money on any kind of an African trip. Keeping in mind that a safari was only $4000 in those days also. But I saved up my money and we went over there and then that took it off the charts.
Ramsey Russell: What was the first duck you ever shot back when you were a little boy? Do you remember him? You still remember?
J Alain Smith: I do. It’s funny, it was a bufflehead and I would have to admit that I sluiced him.
Ramsey Russell: All things equal. You don’t have to lead them as far when they’re sitting on the water.
J Alain Smith: That’s right. All I knew was what that thing with the big white head, boom.
Ramsey Russell: And I actually, it’s funny you say that because I actually, I duck hunting some in college. I went duck hunting in Arkansas with a team with a fraternity brother. Limit was only two mallards. But first flock of ducks come through the trees, boom, my double, boom, shot. An old man later he kind of scolded me very politely said son, don’t shoot till I call the shot, and I did it again. But he explained to me, and I’ve never forgotten this lesson, he says, you know son, our game is to land those ducks, and we want to own them. Anybody can shoot him in this tight timber. We want to own those ducks. And then he would let a wife or a kid or somebody shoot one on the water when they got up boom, boom you’re done. But their art was landing those ducks. That was what their game was. And I’ve never really forgotten that. I find the whole purpose of getting a duck closer to get them to land on the water or try to. So, I see no dishonor in that at all.
J Alain Smith: I remember I got a little stick about it from my buddies when I did it. And then of course we didn’t have a dog that would swim my setters in those days, they wouldn’t go near water. So we had to wait for the wind to blow it over to the shore line, and the pond he was on. But that was a show dove duck, to bring home.
Big Game Animal Hunting Tales
Even when you hit them good, they’re not just going to roll over. I think it’s probably the most exciting thing that you can do that is legal.
Ramsey Russell: And the first big game animal that set you on that path was a black tail deer in Alaska. Now we’re in Africa, what was the first trigger pull? And I know, I’ve been to Africa and done this. What was the first trigger pull and that the animal fell in your post behind some horns, and I know what that did to you.
J Alain Smith: Warthog.
Ramsey Russell: Warthog?
J Alain Smith: We were in Zimbabwe and I think the guy was just testing me out to see if this kid can shoot it or not. And this thing came at me and it was actually a really good one. I mean I still have him on my wall to this day. And I love shooting pigs just in general. But yeah, he came out and I hammered him, and he actually went down, not to be confused with the next three or four things that did not go down as planned. But I was pretty nervous, and just so jacked up, and excited, and plus shooting to take a 375 for the first time because I went on a, I didn’t listen to everybody else and go on a Plains game first. I figured I’m going right for a Cape buffalo. First trip, you know, let’s just go and do this. You see your first Cape buffalo, 25-30 yards.
Ramsey Russell: Describe that. I mean, what was that like? I haven’t ever done that.
J Alain Smith: There’s the classic Robert Rourke line of they look at you as if you owe them money. And to this day it still is my, by far, favorite animal to hunt, but they’re just tough. Even when you hit them good, they’re not just going to roll over. I think it’s probably the most exciting thing that you can do that is legal. I mean the adrenaline rush, the fear. And we try and sneak up on them. I mean if you want to shoot it at 300 yards with one of these fancy guns you certainly can. But what’s the point of that, go all the way over there, you want to get your blood pumping.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What is the Conklin Award?
J Alain Smith: The Conklin Award is one that they created after Dr. Conklin who is a big game hunter. They called the Tough Guy award. And the only thing that counts for that is all of the hard animals and the tough animals, the animals that bite, the animals that live in the mountains, so all of your mountain sheep, your Ibex, all your worldwide sheep and goats, all the dangerous game. So they give it to one person annually for collecting those types of animals.
Ramsey Russell: They take an enormous effort.
J Alain Smith: Yeah, it’s pretty much all the dangerous animals you have to have until you get it.
Ramsey Russell: What were some of the hardest hunts you did? Like the year did you won that contest award, what are some of the hunts and animals you had chased that year?
Hunting the Most Unique Places on Earth
They don’t care what political persuasion you are, what color you are, none of that applies to Africa.
J Alain Smith: The last ones I did mainly because they hadn’t been open for years was the Pakistan trips. And what’s been really fun and interesting is through the years, various countries open and close for hunting. So as an example, Pakistan was closed for years and years. Then it opened for a year and that was closed again. Similar to what’s happening with Iran right now. You know, I was in Iran 10 years ago, maybe something like that. But it’s only open for three weeks. Then it closed down again. We actually kind of got run out of there. But now as these countries open up you can get in there and get some of the species that are available in there. And Pakistan is a huge variety of animals and it’s a safe place to go. You’re handled very well. There are a lot of parts you can’t go to obviously that aren’t that way but the mountain species that are there just incredible. And there’s a huge hunting culture of the local people. Also, they’re not poaching but actually hunting big game and birds. Of course, they’ve got chucker that are natural there. There’s a lot of different ducks that are there. You know the typical Asian ones, I don’t know if any that are specific to there.
Ramsey Russell: They’ve got mallards and pintails and shovelers.
J Alain Smith: And we hunted them down in the Indus River flats when we were there. And a great place to go. A lot of its, well, all of its private land those various princes or people own the different areas. But they love it. We had an interesting deal there. I was over there with Craig Boddingtons, the great hunter and writer. And they set up a driven mallard hunt for us. And they went into the local village and they grabbed about, well, more than 100 guys, five or six truckloads of guys that they brought out. And they took the outfit that they wear that’s kind of like the white pajamas and they tie those up into like a swimsuit diaper thing because they’re going in the water, and they get in that marsh, and they start pushing that marsh in midday. And Boddingtons and I were sitting in canoes at the far end of the marsh and these birds started coming out. It was incredible. The only problem was it was like this dugout thing and if you moved wrong – both of us ended up in the water at some point. But it was a blast and just fun as hell. And there’s a type of a teal that’s there, I forget what it was. But it looks like our typical.
Ramsey Russell: Green wing. Common green wing they’re called.
J Alain Smith: Yeah. But lots of mallards, so that was a blast. And here again, going back to my roots, here I am their big game hunting and I’m more excited about getting to go on a duck hunt while I’m there then.
Ramsey Russell: I’m the crazy guy that went all the way to Pakistan to duck hunt and had a wonderful time. And if you listen to conventional media, it’s a scary place. But once you get there it’s like, I’ll never forget the level of hospitality, was just unequaled. They bent over backwards to take care of us and we were their esteemed guests.
J Alain Smith: And don’t you find that no matter where you go, that’s always the way? You get there, it doesn’t matter. As we were talking earlier that the country people and people that are involved in the outdoors are the same all over the world. They don’t care what political persuasion you are, what color you are, none of that applies to Africa.
Ramsey Russell: Creed, race, religion, money. It really doesn’t matter. It’s a hunting fraternity. And it’s like I’ve always described Alain you’re put four guys in a duck blind and in that moment nothing else matters. We’re just duck hunters.
J Alain Smith: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the way it’s always been. It seems like.
J Alain Smith: Yeah, it’s a one of the great things about hunting.
A Collector of Experiences
So for outside money to come in, and for us to give money to that local economy, it’s a big deal, because there’s no other way.
Ramsey Russell: As your going around collecting all these species, how do you reconcile trophy with experience? How does that all play out?
J Alain Smith: I think it’s good for starters, trophy hunting, it’s the term that people use. And I’m obviously the classic guy that you would describe as that. But it’s not really all about that. It’s not like the number of species, the number of species because you’ve been doing it for a long time and you didn’t set out to do this when you were 20 years old. Like, I’m going to shoot more animals than anybody else on earth. That wasn’t the point. But it is about, you know, I’m a collector of experiences.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.
J Alain Smith: If I hadn’t gotten the chance to go to these places and see all these things, it would have been a different life than I have. But I believe that what we do as big game hunters or as duck hunters going to the various places that we go, like you do, we’re bringing something to those environments and to those local people that nobody else does. When you went on that Pakistan hunt, or when I go to a village in Africa, or Asia, or wherever that is, especially the high mountain places, where the Ibex and the sheep are, those people have no revenue, there’s no way to make a living except to sell a domestic goat or domestic sheep. There’s no exchange. They’ve got to barter for everything that they have. So for outside money to come in, and for us to give money to that local economy, it’s a big deal, because there’s no other way. So what’s happened is as this we call the Sustainable Use Conservation model, those people there locally now have a financial reason to not poach those animals. The Markhor, one of the most classic species on earth, the biggest spiral horned goat that’s in Central Asia is the best example. In one area, in the Suleiman area, they were down to 350 animals in the mid-eighties. U. S. Fish and Wildlife went there and did a big survey with the prince that owned it. And they said if you can get these back up to a certain number, which the number was about 3000, we’ll let you export four to the United States. And some hunters are going to come and pay you to do that. He stopped all poaching. He protected them. I was actually one of the first ones to get to go and hunt them. Fabulous animals, spiral horn Markhor but that money that we paid, me and my buddy, that was more than that village will make in years.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, They’re not a cheap animal.
J Alain Smith: No. And yeah, you don’t want to write that check. But on the other side of the coin, it’s going to a good cause, and you see the results, hands on. That’s why that guy’s doing it today. There’s I think 4800 of them was the last survey, so they’re still growing hundreds every year. So it really the sustainable use model really does work. And it’s the same thing when you go ducking, and it’s really just the North American model. It’s why we have wildlife here.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s a broad now. we’re going halfway across the world and bringing that commodity value, and building an economy around that natural resource, giving it value. I mean, go out, a local villager go out, and shoot a Markhor, and feed his family for a couple of nights. But boy, with what that money will bring into his village, he can feed his family for a year. Is that what you’re saying?
J Alain Smith: And we’re talking about that in the other areas of Pakistan that I’ve been to and I’ve been back again to see them now they’ve got a school, they’ve got a medical clinic that’s there. They’ve been able to afford to bring in a doctor, there’s a lady that’s there, physician for people, not a veterinarian doctor. And so that’s a big difference. You’re talking about changing lives because of hunting. So I think that sometimes a trophy hunting idea, people get lost, and oh yeah, he’s just some rich guy that runs around shooting stuff so you can put him up on his wall. That’s not, collecting is a minor part of it. It’s being able to go and do these things and let’s be honest, it’s really fun.
How Important is the American Hunting Industry to Global Conservation?
Ramsey Russell: I started off as a young man, shooting some birds around home, and then going to Texas shooting geese and finally became aware there was a lot more species around the country. And I started chasing species getting amounted. Now there are competitions. SCI has a Game Bird of the World awards platform. There’s other, the Ultimate Waterfowl Challenge, the 41s. You hear about it all the time and people are sinking their teeth into them, but at some point in time, Alain, and I got deep down the bushes chasing subspecies and worldwide, but at some point time it’s like it changed for me, it’s like the animal, that pygmy goose or whatever it was, that wasn’t the prize.
J Alain Smith: Right.
Ramsey Russell: I can sit there and look at that animal and I start telling you a story. It’s never about that bird. It’s always about the people, the culture. Tthe Robin Caruso type boat that the boy had made that we’re pushing through the marsh to get that bird. That’s what it became about for me, a collector of experiences.
J Alain Smith: Yeah. No, it really isn’t. And waterfowl especially, there’s so much we need to do with protecting the habitat. Because we’ve got, let’s face it, I don’t think the word global warming is correct and it’s for whatever reasons, it’s changing.
Ramsey Russell: It’s changing. And it’s a natural global carbon cycle just existed forever.
J Alain Smith: For sure. But it’s real and in some places it’s raining more, in some places it’s hot or something. But so, we as stewards of the land, have got to do everything we can. So when we’re buying hunting licenses to go duck hunting, when we’re spending money on public ground and we’re going to the cafe, that’s there in those local areas, and that we’re bringing needed dollars into these areas that’s good.
Ramsey Russell: How important – because you were talking about there in Pakistan, U. S. Fish and Wildlife service came and did a survey and we’re saying, hey if the critical mass hits this big, we’ll let them start being imported into the United States, which begs the question – how important is the American hunting industry to global conservation?
J Alain Smith: It’s 75% of the whole industry.
Ramsey Russell: We are driving.
J Alain Smith: Is the numbers, you know, you see in most of what SCI studies and that have shown because we have the biggest mass of hunters. Europe totally combined doesn’t have as many, mainly because they don’t have the access like we do to A: firearms and B: public land. Europe has very little public land or Asia either for that matter. So we’re so blessed here with having all the public ground that we can all go hunting and fishing on and enjoy the outdoors and the mountains and everything else. So we’ve created a culture of hunters and firearms owners that no one else has. So the American dollars going to all these places.
Ramsey Russell: And it probably is a function of our gross domestic product as an economy, a global economy. We have the money, expendable income, to go and do this.
J Alain Smith: Sure, yeah, that’s the.
Ramsey Russell: An interest.
J Alain Smith: Yeah. And people want to go and see all these cool places.
Ramsey Russell: I sure do.
Most Memorable Hunts in the World
J Alain Smith: When you’re talking about the place that you’ve gone duck hunting in that and waterfowl in general. It’s when you think of all the places that you’ve gone that you would never ever have thought about going to, Pakistan is an extreme example. But whether that’s Nicaragua for birds, or whether that’s going to Florida to shoot. If you’ve never been to Florida, whatever the different stuff that we all got to chase after. By the way before I forget to, you’re me following me now has created this monster again. Every time I see one of these subspecies because, I guess apparently I must have collecting in my blood, and every time I see one, I was like, oh God, where the hell is he getting that thing? I never even heard of that before.
Ramsey Russell: Likewise. Yeah, I look at the big game animal, your posts enough, I’m like – I told somebody the other day, somebody wrote me an inbox – I can’t walk from here to the front door without stopping to take pictures of the taxidermy. It’s incredible. Coming to these conventions changed my life because like, somebody inbox the other day and said, man, I’ve never wanted to shoot a lion, but now I want to shoot four of them because there’s a mountain with four lions. And I said, man, there’s a world full of animals I’ve never even knew existed. I want to shoot them all because it’s incredible. I mean the world is so much bigger and diverse and interesting and beautiful than just our backyards.
J Alain Smith: Well, that’s what’s fun about coming to the Safari Club convention. In all honesty, I look forward to this thing, year after year, and missing it the last couple of years because of Covid has been a real bummer. Although my bank account’s a lot better than it was, but coming here and seeing all the different folks from around the country, and while you’re here too, it’s not all about just big game hunting. It’s there’s fishing trips, there’s bird hunting trips, duck hunting trips. There’s everything is here to see. It’s not just about going to Africa. It’s just a great fun event. Last night we had, what I think it was almost 1800 people came to the awards program banquet that we had. And there again, it’s not guys patting themselves on the back. These guys are out there having fun, doing stuff. They get a plaque. Nobody’s out there doing it because you get a plaque at the end of it. You’re doing it because hey, it turned out I ended up getting all the birds, or I got all the white tails, or whatever it is, and so.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a funny. It just pulls you in, I’ve got this experience and I’m aware of another one so I want to go. I always say this, it’s like Forrest Gump runs in the driveway and when he runs into town then it goes into the state line, then it just keeps on going. And it just pulls you in like that. I want to ask you just, I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but I know there are some stories in them. What’s the most dangerous hunt? The most dangerous situation you can remember being in, that you just go, oh boy…?
J Alain Smith: We had an instance. As I was saying earlier, Cape buffalo is my favorite thing to do in the whole world, and I do it every year, and I’m going to do it as long as I can. It never gets old. I’m not a big guy on going back and whacking the same thing over and over again because I like to do different stuff. But buffalo is different. But we had a real charge one time. And I had wounded him. We’ve been tracking him for about four hours. And it was actually a malfunction. It was a good shot. But the bullet malfunction just expanded too much. It wouldn’t go through the paunch. So we got in there, and luckily for us, we saw a really fresh blood after tracking him that far, and knew that he had to be real close. But the bull wolfed before he came and they kind of make like a, like this and then you can feel the ground.
Ramsey Russell: Could you see him?
J Alain Smith: No, could not see him at all. He was so thick where we were at and it’s actually, there’s an episode, I think it’s one of our most popular episodes on YouTube where the Cape buffalo comes, and the tracker was standing in front of me, Knock O’Donnell was his name. I’ll never forget it. And you can see him when that thing wolfed. He’d been around long enough to know, I’m out of here, and he leaps across the camera, and this thing’s coming through the brush and you can hear the brush parting, and I pulled and I was shooting a 577 double at the time. And I was just waiting for him to show and he showed it eight yards and shot him between the eyes, luckily.
Ramsey Russell: It seems like the moment just carried right through where you’re standing.
J Alain Smith: That’s one thing about a 577, is it pretty? It kills on one end and mains on the other. But it yeah, I dropped it and my cameraman had the cojones to stand there the whole time and not back up, and he got it. And that’s probably, there’s been a few times on cliffs in that you know Ibex hunting and sheep hunting internationally where you’re thinking, I probably shouldn’t be on this hillside right here. But that was probably the worst.
Ramsey Russell: What about the most rewarding? There’s one animal that stands out, when you put your hands on that animal, it just stands out of all the animals.
J Alain Smith: I had the chance to hunt in a country called Turkmenistan, which probably hardly anybody’s heard of unless you’ve been over by the Caspian Sea. It was open for a couple of years and there’s a sheep called the Trans-Caspian Uriel. And they say that that’s the grandfather of all the sheep in the world. It has genetics that are throughout all the sheep in the world, and beautiful sheep. And had gone in there, there was only a couple of permits per year and it was open for a few years. One of those places that opened and it’s been closed ever since. But it was just, one of those things that it was a long shot, it was a dangerous situation. And all of a sudden there this ram was, and they were hard to find and all that. But, when you walked up and you put your hands on that thing, it was just incredible.
Ramsey Russell: It looks like they’re fixing to start an auction, but we’ll just keep on rolling here. What about the most humbling?
J Alain Smith: Polar bear.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
J Alain Smith: By far. And also the worst I’ve ever had. I got one, but I spent seven days on the ice and with the dog sled.
Ramsey Russell: Dogs sled. Wow.
J Alain Smith: And a couple of Eskimos and we stayed in a pup tent with no heat. Never took my clothes off, never took my boots off. Even in my sleeping bag. And it was one of the few animals to that I really felt bad about killing in the end. It was, and he came, he charged, I don’t know if he charged or if he’s just looking at me like something to eat. Because you have to remember polar bears live on the ice and everything they see, they eat, which is mainly seals. So I don’t know that. As I say, that he charged so much, he’s just going, hey, that looks like something to eat and he’s coming. But up until then I had him at like 75 yards for probably five minutes, and I just looked at him, and it was the most awe inspiring. You’re going, holy crap. It’s a polar bear. Even though your polar bear hunt, right? You’re like, I can’t believe there’s one there and of course they’re solitary, these old males and unbelievable. It was just, you walked up on him and literally brought a tear to my eye. I mean it was a cool experience, emotional.
Ramsey Russell: That’s humbling. Do you remember a time as you were progressing in your travels that you just stopped and it dawned on you the cultural backdrop being so much different than anything you’ve ever done? I can remember my moment. I was in Amsterdam, but I’m like, I’m walking through the page of National Geographic with a shotgun and waders. Did you ever have one of those moments?
J Alain Smith: I was in Liberia. I got to go into Liberia when it first opened and we were doing the little Dickers. So imagine a Chihuahua with horns and you’ve got to go out there. It’s a nocturnal animal. So you go out at night with one of the little trackers that’s there and he’s got a flashlight. And you got to go during the rainy season because that’s when it’s quiet because the leaves, it’s all leaf litter in the jungle. So it’s pouring rain every night and you go out there and you have to tape your sleeves, your neck with duct tape to keep the ants and the bugs that are falling off the branches, and they sting. Just when you think a fire ant hurts, imagine a fire ant on steroids. And when they get on you, you’re literally pulling your clothes off and trying to kill them as fast as you can. So anyhow we just taped everything up. But I remember going into this little village there and these people, it’s subsistence living, Liberia is.
Ramsey Russell: Poor.
J Alain Smith: Poor and backwards. There’s no economy, even in the city, it’s just a disaster. One of these countries, its unbelievable how bad it is. And you see these people living like that literally day to day. They’re eating that, they got some chickens and they’re eating the eggs and there’s a whole system of, okay, I can’t kill the chicken, this is laying the eggs. So I’m eating eggs, not chicken and whatever meat they can get their hands on. And I thought, look at me, I’m here in the middle of this. I can’t believe that I’m here.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten? Because I’m one of those adventurous types when I’m in Rome, I’m going to eat with the Romans were eating. I mean, I’m going to try it anyway, but sometimes I’ve regretted it.
J Alain Smith: Monkey Brain.
Ramsey Russell: Hope I’ll never top that.
J Alain Smith: Remember it was in some movie that they had the monkey on the table and that’s a real thing in Central Asia.
Ramsey Russell: How does it taste? It didn’t taste like chicken, I’m sure.
J Alain Smith: No, it was. I’ll tell you what it tasted like was, it tasted like the glass of vodka or the shot of vodka that was sitting on the table because when in Rome and, A: I’m going to try it no matter what, but B: I wanted to be a good guest. And they went to all this effort to do it. And they got this thing sitting there and I put it in my mouth with a cracker, and I don’t know what it tastes like because I threw that vodka in there just to make sure that whatever it was, he was going to kill it, but it was cold and soft.
Ramsey Russell: Was it cooked?
J Alain Smith: Oh yeah, they cooked it, and then they put it back in, and then so he’s sitting there, and they take his top of his head off, and it was – yeah it was something different. But you had to kind of close your eyes, and hold your nose, and down the hatch.
Ramsey Russell: You’re like me, you’re going to be a good guest and try what they serve.
J Alain Smith: I figure if it doesn’t kill them, it’s not going to kill me.
Adventure Stories Written by the Ultimate Adventurer
Ramsey Russell: I agree. Talk about your books Alain. You’ve written nine books. What are the topics of some of these books you’ve written?
J Alain Smith: I’ve done three novels which are adventure novels for I like to think there for us guys not that women wouldn’t enjoy them also, but they are adventure stories. And those do, it’s a different market. Novels are going to be different than the hunting industry. And they are also on E-books and things like that so you sell more of them because of that. And then the rest of all have been hunting books. And what I’ve tried to do in them is do collections of short stories. So one might be on a trip for buffalo. One might be a humorous story about being on an airplane and sitting next to a guy that fall asleep and end up with your head on his lap, well not his lap, excuse me. But I try and mix them up, on the different stories in them. And that way, you can go through them and it’s very enjoyable. It’s one of those creative things that you can do in life that at the end of the day, it’s rewarding. You’ve done something and you need put something down on paper. And I really enjoy writing it. And it’s something to do on the airplanes because I spend historically spent about 250 days on the road every year.
Ramsey Russell: To me that’s the real grind of international travel. It’s just start to wear on you. Just being sitting still being on a plane and there’s no short way to get from the US to even Johannesburg, South Africa. That last two or three hours just really lays in.
J Alain Smith: No, it’s, but at least when I’m on there I can write and I get focused, I got eight hours to just crank it out, and think clearly, and I put earplugs in, and keep the cocktail waitress away long enough that I can get something done. But yeah, it’s good. And I also did it, you know, part of what we try and do. I know you do all the time as a hunter is you want to give back whether that’s to the community like we’re talking about earlier with mentoring or getting friends out hunting. But it’s also about financial contributions, when you can afford to do something whether that is D.U banquet or at Safari Club or at any of the other areas where you can do something. So what I did was when I started writing the books. I wanted to take the proceeds from it and give that back to conservation. So what’s really helped in the sales because at least people know that, if they buy one even if it’s no good at least the $20 goes to the organizations.
Ramsey Russell: What percent? It is important because you’re being very humble. What percent of proceeds from your nine books go to conservation?
J Alain Smith: 100%.
Ramsey Russell: 100%. Donated to Safari Club International.
J Alain Smith: Yeah. And to Grand Slam and to D.U. And I spread it around to different organizations, and yeah, so that’s it. It’s been great and sales still do great and so it’s –
Ramsey Russell: Where can these books be find?
J Alain Smith: You can find them at jalainsmith.com. Like Elaine, my mom’s friend, so I got the French version of it. But jalainSmith.com.. We’ve got all the stuff there and all. Sorry YouTube channel is there and we have that on there as well.
Ramsey Russell: You mentioned giving back. I mean what obligations as hunters do you think we have to give back? And how can we? How can anybody listening give back?
J Alain Smith: It’s, for starters, it’s not all about giving back 100%. It’s about what you can do and it doesn’t have to be even money at all. It’s about time. Going to volunteer at one of the events. Going to the local range and help a kid learn or an adult learn. If you’ve got a time we can all give something back. Those that can afford to give big back like at SCI here the other night what we raised $688,000 in 45 minutes in an auction for All for Conservation event. That’s great, but it’s day to day each and every one of us, you know, when we’re out in the field. What can we do? It’s doesn’t have to be all about writing big checks. That’s the most important thing I think is that we can all do something.
Getting the Hunting Message Out
Ramsey Russell: You travel a lot, you hunt a lot. But you’re also engaged with a lot of these conservation groups like SCI maybe you’ve got an awareness of the battlefield so to speak. How important is it that we speak to the middle ground? I mean, you’ve got hunters you’ve got anti-hunters, and you’ve got a whole lot of middle ground that are neither hunter nor anti-hunters but they are on the battleground. We’ve got to get them on board. I mean, how can we speak to them? And is it even important? Or are we good like we are?
J Alain Smith: No, it’s super important because there’s been a lot of surveys done and as an example, you know, hunting for food and utilization of what you hunt for, 81% I believe is the latest study of America thinks that’s good. So field to table, whatever new term you want to use about it, of course all of us already do that and we know that we do that. We don’t waste anything. Wherever you go, you don’t waste the meat, or you don’t do that. But there is a perception about big game hunting that you’re just doing it for the trophy on your wall or something like that. But for each one of us individually, let me give you an example, I live in Seattle, outside Seattle, not really what you would think of as a right wing pro-hunting community, right?
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know.
J Alain Smith: And so, although we do a lot of hunting, Washington state is actually a great state for hunting. We have more species than any other state, I think, and good bird hunting, and things like that. But we have that community in downtown Seattle that’s left wing wackos. But I’m being nice. I have a couple other words I use for them, but we won’t do that today. But I will say this, every time I have the chance to talk to somebody rationally and explain what we do, and how the sustainable use conservation model works, that we’re taking money into the economy, we do utilize the meat. We are out there engaged with wildlife. And if it wasn’t for us there wouldn’t be any wildlife. Because anybody who complains about hunting and fishing and that, they don’t do anything, they’re not buying a hunting license, and they’re not buying a conservation tag. They’re not taking money into the small communities that rely on that. So once you explain it to them, I’ve never ever lost an argument or not, maybe I haven’t converted them to our side, but they get it. And that messaging I think is super important. And I know that the organizations like Safari Club and others, it’s a high priority that we’re finally realizing, especially through the social media channels now that we have an opportunity to get our message out and that message is for all hunters. The other thing that we have a little bit of a problem with right now is it we’ve really got to watch ourselves on big game hunters against bird hunters, against bow hunters, against crossbow hunters, against of power boats, against fly fishing —
Ramsey Russell: No mojo. So it goes on and on and on.
J Alain Smith: And gang. We can’t do that.
Ramsey Russell: We’re all in the same life raft.
J Alain Smith: Yeah, we can have a discussion about it, and we can have vote,s and live with the consequences but we cannot keep trashing each other. We’ve got to be united because the bunny huggers are united. The PEETA groups when they go before a fishing game board, they’re united. We go before a fishing game board and we’ve got the commercial fishermen against the sport fishermen, against the fly fisherman, against the no more hatchery fish in the river fishermen, against the bird hunter, against the deer hunter — you sit in these meetings and you’re going like, gang, we all need to get together. Yeah, we might not agree on this one point but let’s get this part through, then we’ll work on your part later. So I think it’s important that we stick together. And SCI is doing a good job with that because they’re first, for all hunters. It’s not just big game. I mean you’re here at the convention. You see what’s happening and we need organizations like this and others like the D.U and that to really push for our rights because us doing it one person at a time it helps but we need somebody with attorneys in Washington DC to watch out for our wildlife here in the United States. We need them on the state levels, the local chapter levels that are doing these things. So I think that’s why it’s important to be a member of these organizations that we have a much bigger impact.
Ramsey Russell: What next for J Alain Smith? Where next? What next?
J Alain Smith: Let’s see I’m going to Morocco to chase game. They opened up finally. So that’ll be in their native range. Looking forward to that. Trying to get back to Alaska for a black bear hunt the spring and that’s always fun. I’m going to try and shoot some more birds here this coming week. As soon as this convention is over, we got another. We got a week left in Washington for ducks. And I think we’ll try and get back to Africa and a do a Sitka blacktail hunt again.
Ramsey Russell: Where do ducks fall in the lineup? Relative importance, where did duck fall for you, still?
J Alain Smith: Well, let me put it this way. I spend most of my summer working on the farms. And if I looked at my hourly rate of how much work I put into for my ducks, it’s a high priority, it really is. I love every bit of it and I love the whole part about you’re planting, you’re putting wood duck boxes up, you’re working on the fences, you’re in the field all through the summer. And I don’t need to belong to a gym as long as I can keep doing stuff on farms and that. And I started out doing all that. The reason I learned how to do it was. I had guys in eastern Washington who would let me hunt on their land, I would just go with them in the summer. And I’d bail, hey, I’d, get on a bush hog and whatever they needed, and I like it’s fun to do. I don’t want to do it every day, but it’s a fun thing to do. And so I learned how to do it by, it’s my way of horse trading with the farmer. So that he’d let me come and shoot pheasants and quail, and if he had a duck pond better yet. So now I get to do it myself. So yeah, it’s, I love it. I mean, well I spend more days a year doing that than anything else.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve always said duck season somewhere geographically, 365 days a year, we can hunt waterfowl, if you’re willing to travel. But the truth matter is even for the guys that never leave their home county, it is duck season somewhere, because for a duck hunter especially, you’re planning, you are building blinds, it’s always something to do to get ready for that next hunt. And it’s just like in the heartbeat. It’s like every heartbeat and every duck hunter’s duck season. Whether the middle of summer or high to a duck season, it really is, it never, it never goes out. I’ll tell you. I really, I know you’re very busy person here at convention time. I appreciate you taking the time to come and share some stories. How can the listeners connect with you social media? What’s your account name on Instagram?
J Alain Smith: J Alain Smith on Instagram. And please follow us there and we’ll follow you back. And Facebook, same. At least I got a unique name that it’s easy to find.
Ramsey Russell: Very easy to find. That’s Alain. A L A I N.
J Alain Smith: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: French belonging. J Alain Smith on Instagram. JalainSmith.com, your web page to check out some of these great books and get a lot more good stories.
J Alain Smith: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And folks trust me, you want to follow this guy’s account. It’s very interesting. He’ll take you around the world and you’ll get to see all kinds of cool stuff. Thank you very much for being here.
J Alain Smith: Thanks for having me. Can’t wait to go duck hunting with you.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s do it.
J Alain Smith: Alright.
Ramsey Russell: And folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.