Duck Unlimited’s David Schuessler is back in the studio! We recap the past duck season, agreeing that for many reasons it was the best its been in along while. He also gives an update of the Into the Vault online auction, hinting at what items are already showing up for next year! “You can see, try and buy anything duck hunting related under the sun,” he says about the upcoming everything outdoors Ducks Unlimited Expo (DUX) that’ll be May 5-7 at Texas Motor Speedway. Tune in to hear why you’ll probably want to mark your calendars and attend this incredible fun-for-the-whole-family consumer event that’s growing leaps and bounds for very good reason!
Ducks Unlimited Expo May 5-7, Texas Motor Speedway
Spend Your Day Doing Something Duck Related
We started with extreme drought, which changed by the end of duck season, at the end, we were wanting less water on the ground.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, where today I am joined by my longtime buddy David Schuessler, who is sitting at Ducks Unlimited headquarters, Memphis, Tennessee. David, Spring is in the air, I’ve already got pollen on the hood of my truck. Down here in the Deep South, duck season is long over and it’s just going to get more and more springtime, it’s evolving into summertime as we move forward till next September. But when I say duck season somewhere, it may not involve just a duck blind. But there are some duck opportunities and some things to do to be involved, to support duck hunting, to support conservation, but just to get out and spend your day doing something duck hunting related. How the heck are you, man?
David Schuessler: I’m doing well. We’ve got pollen falling in Memphis, it’s all over the hood of my truck and also in my chest as well.
Ramsey Russell: I know it’s that time of year. It’s about this time of year in the Deep South, you start kind of wishing for a rainstorm just to knock the pollen out of the air and get it off the hood of your truck. And it’s only going to get worse in the next month, the pine trees haven’t kicked up yet.
David Schuessler: It’s only going to get worse. I actually was in south Alabama, as far south as you could go in Mobile for a DU meeting down there a couple of weeks ago. So I traveled from pre spring into full spring down there and got a taste of full pollen and now here we are here. But that’s part of nature, we have to go through pollen in the spring so the leaves will change in the fall and then eventually the ducks will come south.
Ramsey Russell: What I look for now, grant it goes to that old nerdy forestry background. But what I look for when I’m driving down the road or walking through the woods, when I start seeing elms, American elm start to bloom, when I see red maple starting to bloom, when in my backyard I see the red buds starting to bud out, I’m thinking, okay, spring is here. No matter what the weather temperature is or what the leaves on the trees are doing, when you start seeing those diagnostics in Deep South, spring is here. Nature is telling spring is here and it came early this year, I think I’m going to say it ran about 2 weeks early than I’m used to seeing it. But last time I talked to you was November and we were right in the middle of get kicked off good for duck season, I don’t even think Mississippi duck season had started yet last time you were on the podcast, how did your duck season go?
David Schuessler: I’m going to remember the 2022, 2023 duck season as literally 4 seasons in one. We started with extreme drought, which changed by the end of duck season, at the end, we were wanting less water on the ground. I hunted in tshirt, I hunted in parkas. I’m going to remember last year as a season where mother nature threw everything she could possibly throw at us. But for me, it was a good season, I wouldn’t call it the best that I have ever had. When the wind blew, the old birds that we had in the population would move around, that’s really what I’ve noticed from last year. And we kind of knew this going into it, that while the prairies got wet last year, that we just didn’t have as many birds breeding as we would want to and just because of the dry years we had had before. So a lot of old birds, they kind of went up into the forest for a couple of years and we didn’t have a whole lot of young birds in the population, I think that’ll change for next season. So plenty of ducks and geese to shoot at, but I noticed that they were older, so it getting cold, it would take the wind blowing to move them around. But when they did, especially during that deep historic type freeze that we had around Christmas, I had some really good hunting when those opportunities would present themselves.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to tell you what, as a grumpy old geezer, I’m getting a little cantankerous in my old age. As a grumpy old geezer, 2022, 2023 is going to go down as one of those seasons that gave me a whole lot of hope in duck hunting again. Because it dawned on me after Christmas, we had that hard freeze and it started to warm up and I went out after Christmas and that morning, I shot my first green wings of the season, shot my first ring neck of the season, shot my first shoveler of the season. Now, I’ve been hunting at it, I’ve been going at it since September, up in Canada and down the eastern seaboard and across the Illinois and Missouri area making my spin and doing my stuff and it just dawned on me, holy cow, here I am, almost a new year’s and I just shot my first green wings, my first shoveler and my first pair of ring necks. And it was a lot of mallards, when I go back and look at my journal and I don’t really keep a journal, I just keep kind of a log of what the dog retrieves, it was almost entirely mallards. And that hard freeze, that big weather that hit for about 4 days around Christmas, I sat right there in the recliner, I would give out, just needed a break, wanted to be home. But buddy, let me tell you what, if you had open water or could break ice in the state of Mississippi, you killed mallards. It was amazing.
Gearing Up for the Next Waterfowl Season
David Schuessler: We saw the same thing. And I hunt over in that grand prairie in the Stuttgart area. And we were reminded this season that God gives them wings for a reason and when it gets cold and when water freezes and when waste grain and those millions of acres of corn and wheat and everything that they farm up north is covered up, they come south the way they’re supposed to. And so I think, as I look back to last season, it was also a reminder of what happens when we get a normal winter weather cycle and how those birds do come south. I have a number of co-workers and friends that live in Louisiana and Texas and south Alabama and Florida and places like that. And that’s what they would tell you about their season, is it was one of the best they had ever had because there was weather to push the birds south and then weather to keep them south for them throughout the season. So it was a good reminder for all of us, I believe that when Mother Nature cooperates, the birds do what they do and we end up being able to have really nice flights over the blocks. I saw some flights of pintails hunting the thaw coming off of that Christmas freeze that my oldest son and I went and hunted the thaw and he got to see a 100 to 200 pintails coming in at a time into the decoys and that was special for me. Of course, we shot our drakes out of the first bunch, you can only kill one in Arkansas. But then just to watch that and it was great for me to watch my 20 year old be able to have those type of memories now of that many birds coming in. It was a good season, but I’m ready for next year already, I took about a week off not thinking about it and now I’m already getting the Polaris tuned up and already starting to buy the things that I need for next year to hopefully increase my harvest even more.
Ramsey Russell: I tell you what, you said a mouthful there. I had some buddies down in Louisiana, speaking of Louisiana, I had some buddies down Louisiana that were shooting a few black ducks, not mottled ducks, black ducks, American black ducks. And when American black ducks push that far south into Avoyelles Parish, you better believe we’ve got some real old timey winter weather pushing ducks.
David Schuessler: Yeah, I know that they shot a lot of mallards down in southwest Louisiana and along the Texas coast. In fact, I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day and he said it was the most mallards that he had ever shot and he’s an old goose guy, worked for Ducks Unlimited for a while and now is back to managing property. And he said they had never shot the number of mallards that they shot this year.
Ducks Unlimited: Into the Vault
We’ve held it 3 times now and every time we hold it, it sets the record for the largest auction that Ducks Unlimited has ever held.
Ramsey Russell: David, last time I talked to you, we were talking about the vault, “Into the Vault” into the Ducks Unlimited vault. And I’m going to tell you, I fell down a rabbit hole. After the podcast, I logged in and I lost out on some stuff, man. Unfortunately, I saw guys that sell duck hunts for a living can’t get some of the goodies, but holy cow, was there some stuff coming across on that. I started looking through the guns, I started looking through the artwork, I started looking through some of the stuff and man, there was a lot of stuff in there I wanted.
David Schuessler: There’s a lot of stuff I wanted too that I lost out on.
Ramsey Russell: We talked about it, I’m like, holy cow, look at this stuff you all got. That must have been a very successful campaign. Can you give me some highlight of what did well, how the demand was, the traffic was and what some of the big items were?
David Schuessler: Sure, it was a huge success. In fact, it broke records again. We’ve held it 3 times now and every time we hold it, it sets the record for the largest auction that Ducks Unlimited has ever held. We didn’t know if it would do it this year, but sure enough, in the last hour we eclipsed last year’s totals. As far as the high items of interest, it seems like it’s always those commemorative collectible Ducks Unlimited shotguns. And once again this year, that A5 from our 50th anniversary, which one of our chapters donated to be sold for them was kind of the highlight item along with the original art always garners a lot of interest. Every year we have some of those, really, I would call them strange, even items that come in. We had a signed Leonard Skinner, Street Survivors, L.P, that one I enjoyed watching because of my music taste.
Ramsey Russell: I missed that item or I’d have probably robbed my kid college fund to get it.
David Schuessler: So it was great. It’s a lot of fun. For me, the special thing about this is that there’s all these treasures out there that our 39,000 volunteers around the country have. And when they have learned that they can sell these items on this auction and then their local chapter get credit for it, it’s fun for me really, during the spring and the summer to watch the items that are donated by our chapters out there. And a lot of them are being donated from people that maybe bought these items back in the 70s or 80s or 90s, they might be downsizing or just ready to give it back for those items to come in. That’s the fun for me, is looking at the treasures as they come in and watching our video staff get them ready for sale. And I can tell you, I think into the vault 4 might even be bigger than 1 and 2 and 3. We already have a lot of items coming in, I think we’re already up to 40 shotguns that we’re going to offer in this year’s sale. And this one’s going to have a lot of decoys in it.
Ramsey Russell: Really.
David Schuessler: We’re already seeing a lot of collectible decoys –
Ramsey Russell: Like, Ducks Unlimited decoys or other kind?
David Schuessler: Well, some DU decoys, but also some collectibles, some masons that are coming in. I’ve seen a couple of other Chesapeake Bay decoys that are coming in. So I’m excited to see how those do because we create our own decorative decoys that we sell every year in the package. But some of these are working decoys that are coming out of people’s collections that they’re sending in. So I’m really excited about it. We open it every year on the Monday before Thanksgiving is when this sale opens and then we run it for almost 2 weeks, it closes not the next Saturday, not Thanksgiving Saturday, but the following Saturday. And we’re already busy starting to take pictures of this merchandise, starting to put it in there, starting to write descriptions. And in fact, we have so much this year that we’ll have 2 interns who will spend their summer writing descriptions of all these items so we can open it up and do it again in 2023.
Ramsey Russell: Well, David, it seems like the fall season kind of leading up to that Thanksgiving. It seems like a lot of the Ducks Unlimited banquets around the country are in the fall, September, October, November up in that time frame. All the ones I’ve ever been to here in Mississippi seem to fall around November. But now a lot of the chapters around here at least have started doing things in the spring. I mean, one of the nicest events or funnest events here around that I like annually in Mississippi is the Madison County chapter does like a crawfish boil and it gets you out a different time of year to do something. Is that kind of a national trend or is that just right here with this chapter? Are people doing things outside of convention season?
David Schuessler: It is. And being where you’re from that fall season historically or that October, November timeframe is traditionally when most of the banquets were held. And that’s true kind of across the Deep South. But as you get out into other parts of the country, oftentimes those things line up to be right before duck season. So if you go up into Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan or Montana, some of those northern states where duck season opens up earlier, if you grow up in those states and are my age and you grew up in those states, banquet season would have been more kind of starting at the end of August and running through early October because really, come October 1st, they want to go out and hunt them. So it does change, the fall banquet season changes a little bit as you go around the country. But over the past 2 decades, as Ducks Unlimited’s reach and footprint has continued to grow, there are some chapters that not only are doing what we call second events, like the crawfish boil you mentioned, not only are they doing secondary events in their off season, but we’ve seen a lot of our new chapters look around and go, gosh, the 4 surrounding counties do all their events in the fall, let’s do our banquet in the spring.
Ramsey Russell: Right.
David Schuessler: So today, if you were to look at the revenue that comes in through DU events, it’s really about 50-50. About 50% occurs from July 1st to December 31st and then about 50% is from January 1st to June 30th, which from a planning perspective, organizationally, that’s great, because you spread out all of your events and a bad blizzard doesn’t impact you as much as maybe it did or a hurricane doesn’t impact you as much as it did 20 years ago, where it’s killing X% of your business because it’s all held in that short time frame. So I think it’s healthy for the organization and it’s good for our supporters because they have all of these different opportunities to go and enjoy DU throughout the year. It’s Duck Season Somewhere, it’s also DU Season Somewhere for our supporters.
Boots on the Ground for Duck Habitat
Can you speak to some of the ongoing projects that Ducks Unlimited is doing across North America and throughout the flyways to put some habitat and conserve habitat?
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. David, I just want to veer off just a little bit from kind of what we’re talking about to talk about how those funds are being used, because there’s nothing anybody can do about the weather events, we’re either lucky like we were this past year or we’re not, it’s warm. We can’t control the climate, but we can control and put boots on the ground for duck habitat. Can you speak to some of the ongoing projects that Ducks Unlimited is doing across North America and throughout the flyways to put some habitat and conserve habitat? Can you talk to some of the ongoing initiatives?
David Schuessler: Yeah. After 87 years, when DU was founded, at that time, back in 1937, the hard focus of Ducks Unlimited’s conservation efforts were in the prairies of Canada, which still today is the best of the best of where DU and others need to be spending our time and our effort, because that is where the bulk of the migration every year comes from, is not only the prairies of Canada, but also the prairies of the north central US. That prairie pothole region that stretches through South Dakota and North Dakota, up through Montana and into Saskatchewan and Alberta and Manitoba. It touches Iowa a little bit and it touches parts of Minnesota as well. That started as DU’s focus, even today, that remains Ducks Unlimited’s focus because that is just where the genesis of so many ducks lives are, is right there in that area.
Ramsey Russell: Making baby ducks.
Alaska to Mexico: Protecting Duck Breeding Grounds
Duck populations are going to suffer because birds won’t be going back to those breeding grounds like the prairies and the Great Lakes and Alaska.
David Schuessler: Making baby ducks. But over 87 years, what we’ve come to learn is that there are other areas of great importance that if we don’t also put a focus on those areas that duck populations are going to suffer because birds won’t be going back to those breeding grounds like the prairies and the Great Lakes and Alaska. There are different breeding areas, if they don’t go back healthy, they can’t have babies, right? So if you look at where Ducks Unlimited’s work is concentrated, remembering that we do work in all 50 states, in every province of Canada in important wintering areas of Mexico. But as you look at where our work is concentrated, it’s in those places that are most beneficial and critical to North America’s waterfowl. So obviously, we have the prairies, but other areas would be the Louisiana and Texas Gulf coast, which through saltwater degration and all of that, we have to be concerned about that, we have to do work there to increase carrying capacity. So those birds are going back healthy from those historically heavy concentration areas where wintering waterfowl go. The Mississippi Alluvial Valley, where you and I spend a lot of our time hunting is an important area for Ducks Unlimited. The Chesapeake Bay, the central Valley of California, the Great Salt Lake. And one that I think a lot of people don’t realize is so important are the rainwater basins of Nebraska. And when birds migrate back north, there’s what’s called an hourglass effect and they will go. And as they’re waiting for that snow line to melt and create prairie potholes, they sit there in Nebraska and they hold up and they’re waiting, their little bodies will tell them when it’s time to go ahead and jump north. Well, this part of Nebraska, this rainwater basin, is dry in the fall and it needs to be wet in the spring. And so right now in Nebraska, there are millions of birds that are sitting there waiting to go back north and then start their – well, they’re already in breeding season, but mama ducks start having baby ducks, right? Start that reproduction cycle. It’s one state right there that’s called the rainwater basins and that’s a very important area for Ducks Unlimited because of the springtime migration. For so many of us, it’s January 31st, okay, duck season over, I need to start thinking about catching crappy or killing turkeys or doing whatever. Well, for DU, we’re worried about those birds getting back to the breeding grounds healthy so they can reproduce and then we start that process all over again in the fall when the cold fronts bring them south.
Ramsey Russell: We need to habitat up north to make baby ducks. But those ducks got to fly south and fly back north. Even if the mallards are held up because of weather you still got a lot of birds. Like, for example, one of the most interesting things is, to me, the crux of blue winged teal migration is the Central and Mississippi Flyways.
David Schuessler: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: They get down to Texas, they curve around the gulf, they spread out a lot of blue wings into way up on the Pacific coast, that’s not their flyway but that’s where they winter. And then when they come back through it, you talk to a lot of guys in the Pacific Flyway, parts of California and Utah, those blue wings are coming back through their flyway.
David Schuessler: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: It’s continental. You’ve got to have continental habitat to sustain viable populations of waterfowl.
David Schuessler: So, I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, which is right close to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s about a 30 minutes drive from the southern part of the Tallahassee city limits to the closest place you can get on the gulf, might even be shorter than that. Grew up an avid waterfowl hunter and spent a lot of time on saltwater down there, fishing and hunting and doing all of that. And what you’re describing is exactly what happens there. So the duck migration comes in and we would never see these massive groups of wigeon and these massive groups of pintail, you’d see some, but you wouldn’t see them in the fall like you would in the spring. And it was maddening to us duck hunters that we’d be out trout fishing or redfishing in late February or March and you’re just seeing these huge flocks of pintails and wigeons and of course, a lot of diving ducks on the saltwater coming back through. And it wasn’t until I went to work for Ducks Unlimited and started a conversation with one of our biologists one night and I said, why, growing up, would I see them, so many of them in the spring and not see that number coming through in the fall? And he said, well, their springtime migration is a different path than their fall migration. So as frustrating as it was as a duck hunter, especially a young duck hunter, to see them flying over while you’re trying to catch speckled trout, it was neat to learn that there is a difference. They don’t necessarily take the exact same path north that they took coming south.
Ramsey Russell: It’s got to have something to do with habitat or habitat needs at that time, that stage of their life. You know what I’m saying?
David Schuessler: Yeah, I think it’s habitat and spring time weather patterns, like, maybe it was easier to come up through the Apalachee Bay in the spring than it was to come down in the fall, going on down to South Florida and Okeechobee, where so many of those birds were headed to.
Ramsey Russell: For about 2 or 3 decades, I’ve been chasing up to Canada in the fall. I love going up to Canada and I hunt from basically Ontario all the way out to British Columbia, day in, day out or year in, year out. And meet with friends, meet with clients, meet with different outfitters, stuff like that. But at the same time, this past year and I’ve always noticed this, but this past year, it became very distinct, is driving through the Dakotas, driving into prairie Canada and it’s a wasteland, a drought like they had last year, it’s almost a wasteland of monotypical agriculture. And you pass up and you drive up on this little wetland, this vibrant marsh and there’s Ducks Unlimited signs, Ducks Unlimited easements, where they have taken some of the best of the best and locked it up into perpetuity for duck habitat and it’s very stark. Canada is the absolute stronghold of North American waterfowl production, not all of it, but a lot of it, the bulk of it. And somebody sent me a link last week David of North America’s largest or second largest landowner, is a part of an organization that it was advertising and showcasing a quarter million acre property. Quarter million property in Canada. And bragging as a selling point of how they have gone in and dirt panned in the wetlands and filled in the potholes and eradicated all the brush and all the trees and everything else and 250,000 acres of absolute positive row crop, not short grass prairie at all, a quarter million acres, boom of nothing but monotypical wheat, oats, whatever, peas that they’re growing there, that great, it’ll feed ducks a little bit, but it won’t produce ducks. And it’s just, where do we go from here? You see what I’m saying? We got to feed the world, I get it. But at the same time, we’ve got to conserve and create habitat. And in that area, as I’m driving around, I look to the left and it’s miles and miles of just sterile agriculture. To the left, right, front, back, it’s just a landscape to the horizon of this. But then you start coming into these big pockets of real habitat and there’s always a Ducks Unlimited sign around it and it just blows my mind. You see what I’m saying? I go, wow, thank God you all are around. Oak Hammock Marsh, I got to visit Oak Hammock Marsh and hunt Delta Marsh this year down in Manitoba. Holy cow, man. I mean, it’s like, just outside the borders of Oak Hammock marsh is agriculture and it’s one of the biggest bottlenecks of several races of Canada geese coming through and a whole lot of mallards coming out of that Interlake region and Oak Hammock Marsh is like the crown jewel of that entire region.
DU Canada’s Delta Marsh Initiative
But it is a balance and it’s one that I think Ducks Unlimited has done well for decades in not only partnering with farmers, but also partnering with sportsmen and partnering with governmental agencies and kind of being that cohesion that brings all groups together and we still have sustainable numbers of waterfowl that we can hunt.
David Schuessler: Yeah. In fact, our DU Canada and it’s a separate organization up there, of course, it has to be, it’s a different country. But DU Canada’s their office is right on the edge of the Delta marsh. And part of the reason for it being there is because of the historic nature of that area. It’s a balance, like you said, we do have to feed the world and it’s balance, I think, where Ducks Unlimited has been very successful is that we do not tell a landowner, you can’t do this. A landowner has the right to do whatever the landowner does, they own that land. So DU doesn’t go about it as, you can’t do this. Our programs are designed to work with landowners, especially now we’re talking about the breeding area. That area up there is to work with the landowner to understand that perhaps there are alternative programs where they can still use their land, but also have programs that are set asides where we can still have room for waterfowl to breed and at the same time, do good things for their land to sustain their agriculture efforts. But it is a balance and it’s one that I think Ducks Unlimited has done well for decades in not only partnering with farmers, but also partnering with sportsmen and partnering with governmental agencies and kind of being that cohesion that brings all groups together and we still have sustainable numbers of waterfowl that we can hunt. And really, I’m 53, if you had told me when I was 20 that there would be a longer duck season with a higher bag limit at the age of 53 than I saw when I was 20, I would have told you, you’re crazy. But here we are, and we have it. So it’s a real success story. Last year, there was a report that came out and I think it was the Wall Street Journal that covered it, that since the 50s, only 2 major species of birds have shown an increase in population, ducks and geese. Well, there’s a reason ducks and geese are showing an increase and all of those other species, those migratory species have shown a decrease and it’s because of the American hunter, groups like Ducks Unlimited, it’s not just us. I mean, it’s also the federal government, it’s state governments that fund conservation, it’s the Canadian Provincial governments and then their federal government up there. But if you look at the efforts that have gone in to protecting these species and maintaining huntable populations, here we are 70 years later and we’re still doing it. So it’s really cool. I think it’s a great story, I think it’s a story that waterfowl hunters need to own and need to be proud of, because every time you buy a duck stamp, it’s going towards that conservation, every time you buy a state duck stamp, it’s going towards that, every time you go to a DU event, it’s going towards that. So there’s a lot of groups that are working in concert to get us to where we are today.
Ramsey Russell: And the whole financial underpinnings, like you pointed out, is the duck hunter. That brings me up to today’s topic that I want to talk about. In May, you all are going to have another kick ass event down in Dallas, Texas or Fort Worth, this big DUX event. I want to talk about that because it’s going to be attended by a whole lot of duck hunters and a lot of folks in industry that are the underpinnings of this movement, we’re talking about. What the heck’s going on down in Texas in May?
The Big DUX Event
But like I said, this year we have some enhancement to it probably the biggest and this is a real spectacle for our attendees, is Purina Pro Plan, which is one of Ducks Unlimited’s strongest partners after attending DUX for 2 years, Purina came to us and said, hey, this is a neat thing and we want to bring our incredible dog challenge to DUX.
David Schuessler: Well, this will be our third year to hold the DUX, which is the Ducks Unlimited Expo at Texas Motor Speedway. This year it’s going to be May 5, 6 and 7. Of course, that’s a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And we’re excited to be back at Texas Motor Speedway for our 3rd year. We’ve made a few changes, I believe they’re enhancements to this year’s event. For those that haven’t been, it’s really everything outdoors. It’s a see, buy and try experience for attendees that range from being able to shoot a shotgun, to shoot a pistol, to shoot a rifle, to ride an ATV and then visit with hundreds of exhibitors and sponsors that we have there who were set up all over that speedways infield. It’s a really neat event, one of the biggest events that Ducks Unlimited holds. But like I said, this year we have some enhancement to it probably the biggest and this is a real spectacle for our attendees, is Purina Pro Plan, which is one of Ducks Unlimited’s strongest partners after attending DUX for 2 years, Purina came to us and said, hey, this is a neat thing and we want to bring our incredible dog challenge to DUX. So, yeah, we’re real proud of this because this is a nationally televised canine athletic event. They are going to set up, I think it’s on the first turn, if I remember correctly, inside the speedway on the infield, they are going to set up their incredible dog challenge stages and fields and everything that they do. NBC Sports is coming in to film it and people will be able to watch what eventually is going to be on TV as these dogs come in and compete and for people who have seen it before, this isn’t necessarily an AKC retriever trial. These are the dogs that see how high they can jump to catch a frisbee, how quick the small dogs can run through an obstacle course, how far dogs can jump out into water. And we’re really excited about it because we think it offers a unique experience, even though there might not all be Labradors, it offers a unique experience for folks to come and see some of the best canine athletes in the country compete at DUX. So that’s really the first big announcement that I want to share that’s going on, and we’re really excited about it.
Ramsey Russell: Every single exhibitor that I’ve ever talked to, every single attendee that I’ve ever talked to that go to this event in May, love it, absolutely love it. They come back just nonstop, talking about what they saw, what they touched, I like the way you said, see, buy and try.
David Schuessler: Yeah. It’s one of the few events where you can come and you can shoot. We have a shooting village that isn’t in the infield, it’s outside in one of the parking areas. And we built this massive 3 story berm to shoot into for the rim fire and center fire, the rifle and pistols. But you can go to the line and you can try a pistol, you can try a rifle, you can go right next door, you can shoot Benellis and Berettas and Winchesters and almost all of the firearm manufacturers are there. You can try a firearm out there, conduct a purchase and then it will be sent to the FFL of your choice. And we think that’s different with this event is that ability to go and try that. And this year, something different that we’re doing for folks that are going to attend Friday is called free shoot Friday, which so there is no cost. We have a very small charge to shoot, we have to cover the cost of the ammunition and the targets. But on Friday afternoon and our gates are open from noon to 6 PM on Friday, people can come and shoot as many rounds as they can pull the trigger on. Yeah, so that’s something we’re doing this year to encourage folks to come out on Friday afternoon and come get a sneak peek. Obviously, the biggest crowds are on Saturday, but on Friday, come and get a sneak peek and the benefit of being able to try out as many firearm styles as you can get in line to pull the trigger on.
Finding the Right Fit
If I ain’t looking for a gun, I’m liable to find one, I need it, anyway.
Ramsey Russell: See, here’s why I like, see, try and buy firearm events. I’m looking for a new shotgun or a new pistol or new rifle, and I get on Facebook or Instagram say, hey, what should I get? And you get a million different answers, you don’t know, you’re more confused. But now I get to shoulder that gun, swing on a clay target or shoot down range, see how the recoils, see how it fits me, see what I like, look down the barrel of that gun, pull the trigger and compare it to other shotguns. So who cares what somebody out there in Facebook land says about a shotgun? I get to see what I like. And I get to find in my place. If I ain’t looking for a gun, I’m liable to find one, I need it, anyway.
David Schuessler: And I think so many people have forgotten or maybe just don’t know how important firearm fit is to a person’s accuracy. And I’m going to give you a personal example, one of my favorite, and I use several different shotguns throughout a hunting season, depending on if I’m in a pit or the timber or a tree line or whatever. But one of my favorite guns that I shoot is a Benelli Montefeltro and a Montefeltro fits me perfectly. I also have some Benelli Super Black Eagles and just based on the way my body is, I don’t shoot a Super Black Eagle, phenomenal gun, right? I mean, revolutionized duck hunting firearms back in the late 90s. But a Montefeltro fits me better. Well, at this event, I could shoot both a Montefeltro and a Super Black Eagle and go, okay, which one fits me better? And that’s so important, especially for younger shooters or people just getting into the sport, that not every gun fits the same. And if it doesn’t fit the same, it dang sure isn’t going to shoot the same.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Some people really are Benelli folk. Benelli feels, it feels when I hold it, when I take it off my shoulder, when I handle it, when I shoulder it, when I look down, it feels just natural, which is not the only gun I’ve shot and killed ducks with, but there’s something out there for everybody. And just the opportunity, I mean, man, it’s pretty daunting task to sit across a glass counter at a sporting goods store and hold it up and look at it and say, oh, well, it’s nice, while that guy’s yammering about why I should buy this shotgun and take it out in the field and realize I can’t hit worth a flip with this gun, you know what I’m saying? Versus going out to the field somewhere like this in May that I don’t have anything else to do in the duck hunting world and pull the trigger and bust some targets and say, hey, man, I can kill some ducks with this gun.
David Schuessler: That is the reason, part of the reason that we have created this event is to allow people to do that and to visit with those manufacturers reps. There are going to be reps from these gun companies who are there who can talk about fit and walk to the line with you and ask questions and if people want to answer them, well, then maybe let’s go look at this model if you’re not seeing down the barrel squarely with this one. So it’s really neat. Obviously, the shooting village is one of the highlights of this event every single year, it’s fun to be out there, especially at a busy time, because it’s a shot going off about every 2 or 3 seconds, whether it’s coming from the rifle pistol line or rather the shotgun line, but it’s a lot of fun. But it’s more than just that. There are outfitters there who are talking about their trips, there’s hearing protection companies there, there’s fishing companies there, there’s folks selling boats, I mean, it’s a full array.
Ramsey Russell: Ammo, decoys, camo, boats, motors, everything in the world of duck hunting is there to crawl into, to try to look at, to talk about firsthand, to put it on, see if I like the fit of this, see if I like the fit of that. I mean, it’s just a whole ball of wax. David, are you all still doing, like, we’re driving ATVs or some of the SUV type? Is there a course still for that kind of stuff?
David Schuessler: Yes, there is. So we do have our ATV course where in the same manner that somebody can come and try a shotgun, we will have our ATV, UTV test tracks up with companies like Polaris, which I don’t know if you’ve been in one Ramsey, but now that the big deal are these waterfowl edition models of these side by sides and they’re becoming all the craze. I rode in my first Polaris waterfowl edition last hunting season with one of my club members and man, what those things will do. I mean, side by sides have been great, I’ve been driving my same Polaris since 2003. But these new additions and what they have on them now coming out of the factory, stuff that we used to have to do in our garages, snorkel kits and lift kits and skids and all this, now they’re coming that way out of the factory. And so it’s a great opportunity to go and drive those as well.
Ramsey Russell: Is there any food, entertainment, besides just all the good hunting and stuff? I’m going to get hot and thirsty out there, walking around shooting all them guns and driving them ATVs. What else is there to do? Or eat and drink?
David Schuessler: Well, I will tell you, it’s Texas Motor Speedway, so imagine anything that you can eat or drink at a NASCAR race. And those booths are going to be set up inside of the DUX in Texas.
Ramsey Russell: So it’s going to be good food and drink.
David Schuessler: That’s right. Including the big Torchy’s Tacos. They have actually a standalone building right in the middle of the infield. And especially when it starts getting a little warm in the afternoon, I have noticed that the beer line at Torchy’s is one of the most popular places to be as well.
Ramsey Russell: I bet it is. Why did you all choose Texas Motor Speedway?
David Schuessler: Part of it was for the facility and we really looked all over the country. And this is a revitalization of an event that we used to be involved in called the Great Outdoors Festival. Yeah, we had one in Oshkosh and one in Memphis. So when we decided that we wanted to bring this concept back to the organization, we looked all around, including right here in Memphis, where our headquarters is. But when we went out the Texas Motor Speedway, that facility offered us the opportunity to do things like live fire shooting. And Texas is a very important state for Ducks Unlimited from a membership perspective, obviously, we have tens of thousands of members, not only in Texas, but in the surrounding states, Oklahoma, Louisiana. And it’s with the interstate system that runs in there both north and south and east and west, as well as, not purely centrally located in the country, but a place that is easy to fly into and drivable from such a large portion of our membership, we decided that that’s where we wanted to anchor it for at least the first 3 years.
Ramsey Russell: And there’s plenty of hotels, plenty of Airbnbs, plenty of everything. I mean, if you took a line right there and said, okay, 8 to 10 hours, a guy getting up at 6 in the morning, being there on Thursday evening, getting up and doing 3 full, fun filled days, man, you’re encompassing maybe half the United States, certainly half the United States of duck hunters. A bunch of them right there within an 8 to 10 hour radius of that location.
David Schuessler: Yeah. And if you think about the facility, that facility is in the surrounding hotels and restaurants and everything else. That facility is designed to hold 200,000 people for a NASCAR race. Obviously, the infrastructure that is built up around Texas Motor Speedway is certainly capable for holding the Ducks Unlimited DUX. So it’s fun, it’s great, I love going and working it, I love seeing people from all over the country, I love seeing everybody inside of the industry. It’s very popular, right now, I think we have sold out all of our exhibitor spots inside of the garages. We use the garages as a place for our exhibitors to set up, that’s there in the infield. Doesn’t mean for anybody listening, it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to sign up exhibitors. But we’ve already filled up both of the garages, which we’ve never done that more than a month out from the event. So to the point that you were making, it’s becoming very popular in the industry to interact with folks, to sell, to get your product in front of people. So that’s great for the attendee and that’s great for our exhibitors and sponsors that are coming in as well.
Everything to Enjoy at the DUX Event
But the calling, of course, there’s a lot of callers that come and set up, like any duck hunting festival, you’re going to hear some duck calls going off and you’re going to hear some goose calls going off, but we believe not only the highest payouts, but also the biggest stage that any callers can blow on.
Ramsey Russell: One of the really great things about an event like this, David, you mentioned the Great Outdoor Fest. Let me tell you how long ago that was, that was so far ago that my 26, 27 year old son, I had to push him in a stroller.
David Schuessler: Yeah, it goes way back.
Ramsey Russell: And we went for years, we went for years until it ended and we went every year, it was just something we did. We might drive up for the day because we live 3 hours, 4 hours away or we might drive up for the weekend because you could not see it all really in a day. And I just felt know there were so many little things like the Heydells at the time, Mr. Eli was still around, his boys were coming into it, they would put on a duck calling clinic and all that for children. And so you would take your children, I had these children that were belt higher, smaller and I’d take them in there and they learned to blow duck calls, the guys to interact with them, they give them these little duck calls, we still got them that the kids learned to cut their teeth on, they got exposed, they saw the dogs, they saw the thing, they saw the camo and you can see that little light going in them. And that’s what we’re trying to do. I mean, yes, by all means, take those kids to a duck blind, but it’s way bigger than just that. You know what I’m saying? What I’m trying to say is I’m going to get to go try some shotguns and ATVs and have fun and interact and get my garage loaded with more stuff. But at the same time, it’s a great place to bring my wife and kids, they are going to enjoy. My wife still talked about that event, she loved it, she’s not a duck hunter, but she loved.
David Schuessler: And you talk about the call, the one of the things that we’re also proud of about this DUX, we actually have two different competitions, duck calling competitions that are qualifiers for the worlds and Stuttgart at the wings over the Prairie festival, not only do we have the Ducks Unlimited regional, which anybody can blow in, but we also have the Texas state championship there. And both of those are the highest payouts for any sanctioned qualifying regional or a state with a $5,000 payout to the winner of each. So it’s some pretty serious duck calling that will be going on there, we’ll also have some additional meat calling competitions with mallard and speckle belly. But the calling, of course, there’s a lot of callers that come and set up, like any duck hunting festival, you’re going to hear some duck calls going off and you’re going to hear some goose calls going off, but we believe not only the highest payouts, but also the biggest stage that any callers can blow on. And it gathers up quite an audience, especially as you get into those final rounds, because these people are going to be going and they’re going to be blowing in the world championships. And a couple of years ago, our regional winner did end up winning the worlds, Hayden Rishard out of Louisiana came up and blew in it and then won the worlds that following November. So to your point, a lot to see and a lot to do.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. David, tell everybody one more time when and where this event is going to be.
David Schuessler: It’s going to be May 5th, 6th and 7th at Texas Motor Speedway, just north of Fort Worth, Texas. And all this information we discussed today can be found at duckexpo.com.
Ramsey Russell: David, I appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule, I know you are a very busy man, raising dollars for ducks and I appreciate you joining us today. Folks, you all been listening to my buddy David Schuessler, Ducks Unlimited. Mark your calendars, May 5th, 6th, 7th, Texas Motor Speedway, go see, try and buy anything in the duck hunting world. But more importantly, take your wife, take your kids, take your friends and just go enjoy the opportunity for Duck Season Somewhere. Thank you all for listening this episode, we’ll see you next time.