Ramsey Russell connects with Ira McCauley to discuss September happenings. Ira tells about the September blue-winged teal opener in Missouri’s north zone, which has become a long-standing family tradition. They hunt, for sure, but they eat right and even have fun in a variety of ways. He describes his youngest son making an important connection with hunting last weekend. Beyond blue-wingeds, Ira traditionally chases what he calls the September Quadfecta. Besides mourning doves and blue-winged teal, can you guess which other birds they’re chasing at Locust Grove this time of year? And why does he use sub-gauge shotguns? What habitat management activities kept him busy preceding the season? How do he and his sons “make applesauce”? How’d Ira come up with the new Momarsh Versavest, and what’s new in the world of Habitat Flats? Another great September blue-winged teal season discussion.
Opening Up the Blue-Winged Teal Season in Missouri’s North Zone
On Locust Grove, we killed 156 teal in three days.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Live from the Duck Season Somewhere Studio, I am in my camp, a mobile studio, and I’m sitting at duck camp and talking to the world-famous Ira McCauley, who is sitting in his duck camp, I believe. Ira, how are you today?
Ira McCauley: Good, buddy. Good to talk to you.
Ramsey Russell: Our time of year is finally here. It is mid-September and it looked like y’all had one hell of a good hunt this past weekend.
Ira McCauley: We really did. I mean, we let Habitat Flats on our place. On Locust Grove, we killed 156 teal in three days. It was pretty strong.
Ramsey Russell: What about age and sex distribution? I’m a nerd when it comes to blue winged teal because vanguard or drake blue wings and adult females that didn’t breed are all we shot down here in Mississippi this past weekend. We know there’s a lot more of the pipeline.
Ira McCauley: We had a good assortment. But there were definitely still plenty of adult males.I plucked like 12 or 14 or something and I certainly didn’t have to sort through them to find the big fat adult males. There were plenty of them to choose from. I still think we’re a little bit on the front side, though. The thing that gives you a clue is hardly any green wing [have been] shot yet and usually up the first week you don’t see very many green wings at all and by the last couple of days you’re seeing a couple of flocks of green wings. Sometimes that’s the majority of what you get towards it.
Ramsey Russell: Why do you think that is, Ira?
Ira McCauley: Those blue wings always show up earlier.I think they just have their internal clock, they’re diurnal rhythm, must be set just a little bit ahead of the green wings.
Ramsey Russell: The green wings just fall in with the wrong crowd and end up in a gumbo pot. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you were plucking those birds, you may have made a gumbo this weekend.
Chasing the Quadra-fecta
Ira McCauley: No, man, we didn’t. I cooked a big ol’ pork butt and my friends had us over one night for a big chicken wing-ding and we didn’t cook any duck at all. We shot sora rails, so my big thing, and I’ve only ever done it one time. is back in the day Worth Mathewson used to come down here and we would always try to get the small game slam or as I call it, the Quadra-fecta. What do you think that is?
Ramsey Russell: Mourning dove, for sure. Blue wing teal, for sure. I’m going to go ahead and say sora rail because you just said that.
Ira McCauley: Yep, one more.
Ramsey Russell: I have no idea.
Ira McCauley: Wilson’s snipe.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, y’all’s snipe season is open right now?
Ira McCauley: Yep, but we don’t have any, I didn’t see one all weekend. A lot of times they don’t get here till a little later, but I’ve only ever done that one time and most years I don’t even get the chance to try because something just isn’t around, whether it’s a dove or whatever. Every year I always have it in the back of my mind that if I’m seeing a little bit of everything, I’m going to make an effort at it.
Ramsey Russell: Man, let’s back off right here. Mourning doves, I get, that’s a religion, in a lot of parts of the United States and I listened to a podcast the other day from out in California. It was Hank Shaw, Hunt-Gather-Talk. He’s a world-renowned wild game chef, loved to hunt upland birds, had his own podcast. If you haven’t heard it, it’s pretty decent. In fact, I listen to it, and he’s written some really good cookbooks. He’s a chef, man, he makes an art of cooking this stuff. He explained in a dove podcast he had the other day the reason they don’t shoot or have a hunting season in some of the Northern States and out in New England is because only the poor people, brown people, and dark people hunted doves. That’s what he said. He said some of those aristocrats from up in that part of the world frowned on it because it’s what the poor people did.
Ira McCauley: Sounds like what’s going on nowadays.
Ramsey Russell: That was my take on it and that makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense on why just a handful of states don’t let hunters hunt mourning doves. I get mourning doves, having been born and raised on blue wing teal. I love this time of year and I love hunting blue wings.
Ira McCauley: I bet those non-dove hunting states vote blue.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I wouldn’t take that bet, I would be on your side of that bet. I do believe that, I really do. But let’s start with blue winged teal. I want to hear about Locust Grove tradition. I’ve been up there, we recorded a podcast last year up there at your camp after some great big-duck hunting. What is y’all’s September camp tradition, family tradition like? Run me through the Quadra-fecta.
Ira McCauley: Oh yeah, the Quadra-fecta. I’ve got a couple of little side by side 410s that I bought just to try to get that Quadra-fecta. It’s fun even if we have more than two guys to get out there and walk that stuff up. Those sora rails, they’re not the world’s craziest flyer or strongest flyer, but, man, they’re almost impossible to find. Usually, I walk the edge of an old W-ditch or something where there’s open water in the middle and I won’t even shoot them unless I can try to kill them crossing that water. They might cross it pretty quick or they may get out of the way before you can shoot them to where they’ll fall in that open water where you don’t have to go look for them. That’s how I hunt them a lot. Then, of course, you’ve shot snipe. They’re a challenge with the 410 any way you slice it.
Ramsey Russell: They’re a challenge with any sized bore.
Best Blue Winged Teal Habitat
Ira McCauley: It’s challenging from a wing-shooting perspective but it also takes a lot of things coming together to even have a chance. Like I said, this weekend I never saw a snipe and so I didn’t even bother trying for it. It’s every year we have certain spots on Locust Grove. It’s a big place. You were there. We probably have 370 acres in Wetland Management, active moist soil management, mainly. A little bit of corn. We have three different areas that we manage primarily for teal and for teal season. They’re mainly smaller pools where we can hold water through the spring and summer and pump them up if we need to and keep that water until about July 1st to the 5th. Then, we’ll cut that water loose, we’ll go in there, and walk jap millet on with a chest-spreader. Blue and teal certainly have a high preference for jap millet. They love their invertebrates but they’re not going to pass up jap millet to go eat a bug.
Ramsey Russell: That’s high carbohydrate.
Ira McCauley: That one spot we have there that we call Rockefeller Center you is about the ugliest looking place there is but it’s easy to manage for jap. Four days before teal season, Tony told me he thought there were between 12 and 1500 blue wings in a three to four acre patch.
Ramsey Russell: They must have been standing on top of each other.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, it was pretty black.
Ramsey Russell: It’s interesting because I would classify good blue winged teal habitat as being flooded grass, flooded vegetation. I’ve shot them in Yucca pens where they can get in there. Teal seem to be skittish on open water. They like to get into rice stubble. They like to get into jap millet or sprinkle top stands. I do believe they eat the seed, there’s no doubt. They’ve got a lot of miles to go and that carbohydrate is a quick turnover on energy. I know you’re big into moist soil management, especially in Locust Grove. Do y’all manage any moist soil for those birds too?
Ira McCauley: We don’t have water over the whole place unless we get a big flood during the teal season. We’re just pumping up corners, places that make sense, different low spots and all that. That’s why a lot of these places are easy to manage for jap millet because they hold water. If you just plug a tube, they’re low anyway. Then you can hold that water there until you’re ready to see it on your jap. Then, when you put on a little bit of water, those are the first places to hold it. You don’t have to pump things up more than you want to have a great flooded jap millet habitat. This year we did a huge amount of work. We had not done a big burn-down for probably three or four years. We spent a couple of weekends on tractors and wheelers with spray rigs. Spike rush is our big non-desirable weed that we deal with here. Early to mid June we went through and sprayed all the spike rush, burned much of it, tilled some of it after we killed it all. Man, the millet response was just unbelievable. I was hoping we’d get a little more pigweed. We did some later hoping we’d get a little more pigweed. It was mainly all millet. We did go through with a four-wheeler here and there and spread some jap, too, in spots where it did good where conditions were right. The wild millet and nut sedge and strangled top response was unreal. The places that we didn’t spray had a mix of Cockburn smart weed that was pretty strong. Places where we didn’t have spike rush. I bet you we sprayed over 200 acres of spike rush we sprayed this year.
Ramsey Russell: What do y’all spray for that?
Ira McCauley: It depends, but mainly Crop Oil and Round-Up. Sometimes we use crop oil, Round-Up, and 24B, but crop oil and Round-Up works pretty damn good. Our Spike rush is so thick that we went through with a torch and burned a bunch of it. It was 100 damn degrees and we were out there burning spike rush flats on the wheeler. Man, it was hot. I was blacker than buck weed when we got done, it worked out good man. We got a heck of a crop in moist soil.
Ramsey Russell: Forrest was on the podcast recently and I couldn’t believe he remembered it, but he remembered being three years old and me carrying him on a snipe hunt. That was the first time we did, because of his age and demeanor and everything else. We would hunt snipe very seriously. Back before I was traveling in February, we would hunt snipe very, very seriously, about the time water started coming off the fields here in the south. That’s wintertime: the birds are down, they’ve been down. We would pull the boards out, or glass, look and scout. [We would] go out through the rice fields or flooded soybean fields and find concentrations of snipe. I’ve actually still got a five-gallon bucket full of snipe profiles that I cut out of some old marine grade ply-board. I found some scraps and painted up and I put real long dowel eggs. Their legs aren’t but about five or six inches, but I put perhaps nearly a foot dowell on them when I stuck them out in the mudflats so that they rise up above the stubble. That was a serious sport, but they don’t decoy like a duck, all set. They come straight in and hard.
Ira McCauley: Oh man.
Ramsey Russell: You got to be really careful because at that time of year anything will decoy to them. It’ll be yellow legs or killdeer or anything else coming into [it]. It’s smaller than a dove, but it’s every bit as good eating as a dove.
Ira McCauley: They damn sure don’t fly any slower than a dove.
Ramsey Russell: No. They don’t fly any slower and are a whole lot more erratic.
Ira McCauley: I mainly shoot them on the flush, although some kind of circle back over, but they never take off in a straight dag. They fly this way and that way like one of those little bad guy jets on Star Wars and with the 410 side to side you got two shots, man, It’s a challenge. Most of the time they’re flushing it 20 yards in front of me. You got to be on it.
How Did You Get into Sora Rail Hunting?
We’d pull along and when one would flush, the shooter would shoot and then the guy in the middle would throw a tennis ball to mark the area where the bird fell, because, man, those rails blend in so well.
Ramsey Russell: How did you get into sora rail hunting? Because that’s really a very unique form of hunting. Every state in the south has them on the hunting calendar, but I can count on one hand the number of people I know that hunt them.
Ira McCauley: During teal season they’re just so thick, normally. They’re all over. When I was young, I shot a couple, and I thought, “What in the world is this?” Of course, I’m shooting a 12 gauge and you blow it up and it’s like, “golly, what in the world was that?” Then my buddy, Mark Shupe, and I, we had Worth Matthew out here and our old buddy, Steve Sadden. He’s passed on now. Mark had built a traditional pole boat for hunting clapper rails out on the East Coast. We decided we’re going to do a pole boat hunt for rails. We did it out of fat boys before that but they didn’t go through the weeds and stuff as well. It was really cool, man. We haven’t done this for quite a while, but [we] would go to the public areas and we’d have three guys in the boats: the guy in front was the shooter, he’s sitting on a bucket, the guy in the middle sitting on a bucket with a milk crate full of tennis balls in between his legs, and the guy in the back is the poler. We’d pull along and when one would flush, the shooter would shoot and then the guy in the middle would throw a tennis ball to mark the area where the bird fell, because, man, those rails blend in so well. Even if you don’t take your eye off of the area you still as you’re pulling along trying to get over there you get discombobulated. Throwing that tennis ball really helped because you’re like, “Oh man, I threw a few feet to the right of it,” whatever. You’d know where that bird was in relation to that tennis ball and all that heavy vegetation.
Ramsey Russell: How do you cook your sora rails? Bacon wrapped, like a dove?
Ira McCauley: You cannot mess them up. They’re great just flash fried, like for a stir fry. We’ll just take a little piece of bacon and a candied fig and put that on there and put them in the oven, 500°, for just a couple minutes. My brother shish kebabed a bunch of other night. That crazy sucker. the other day he had a bunch of sora rail legs with the feet on that he fried him with the feet on. They’ve got feet that are big long legs and a little bitty nothing piece of meat on them. We cook them and he’s made rail pizza out of them. I usually stir fry them, they’re really good, super tender. Good to eat. I think this year we’re going to try some fried rail livers. If you look at them, they’re like a real fatty looking liver and real tender. We’re going to try that and then we’re going to try making some dirty rice out of the gizzards because they got a big old gizzard, like a coot, and that’s what all the coonies make their dirty rice out of, the real coonies.
Ramsey Russell: I was wondering, when you started talking about those sora rails, if that went back at all to your Louisiana roots?
Ira McCauley: When I was a kid growing up in South Carolina, we killed some clapper rails there. I don’t recall ever seeing a sora rail until I was here.
Ramsey Russell: I went on a proper clapper rail hunt a couple of years ago. I got some buddies over on the Atlantic seaboard and they do it every year and you don’t just do it every weekend, you wait till the tide is right. Tide has got to be high to concentrate those birds up in the grass. If they have room to roam, mud flat to roam, you’ll never see them. You can’t push that boat around up in the mud flat; it doesn’t have water in it. I drove up there, about a 10-hour drive, and it was a riot. I sat on the front with a 28 gauge over and under. I was a bird dog and they’d get up and they weren’t too terribly hard to hit as long as they got up within 30 yards or so. It was so much fun. Some of the craziest things they did. I would have never guessed that they would swim like a deer to evade you coming up. They would be swimming like their bodies underwater and just their head is sitting on top of the water and they’re using their little spindly toes to paddle themselves to somewhere else. I couldn’t believe it.
Ira McCauley: With sora rails, it’s kind of like pheasant hunting. When you’re walking these ditches, you’ll get something up along the way but once you get towards the end you better make sure that you got a pocket full of shells handy because they’ve all been running and swimming in the front end and they’re all going to start flushing. You better be ready to reload pretty quick, but if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to have somebody that’s marking your birds for you, throwing tennis balls or whatever, because they’re just so hard to find. You shot six or something like that, you’d be lucky to find one or two.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they’re mud hens and they’re the color of mud. They’re neat looking birds, and I can say for certain I have never shot or eaten sora rail. It’s very interesting.
Ira McCauley: It’s really good.
Ramsey Russell: When you were a kid back in high school or whatever, did you ever go snipe hunting the other way? Make a proper snipe hunt?
Ira McCauley: You went on a proper clapper rail hunt, when I was a kid growing up there, I think I killed them all with the pellet gun because that was all I had. I’d go sneak up on them and shoot them before they flew.
Ramsey Russell: We had a tropical system blowing the gulf about a month, six weeks ago that hit the coast pretty hard. A lot of surge, nothing like what they’re expecting to come in the next few days but pretty serious. Somebody sent me a video and there were not tens or hundreds but thousands of clapper rails just walking down the sidewalk and on the beach, just like chickens in the barnyard. They were out there just walking. It was like they were discombobulated. I think you could have caught him with a dip net.
Ira McCauley: Half my relatives, or really all my relatives, live right there in Hackberry, Shreveport, Lake Charles, and Holly Beach. They were right there in the absolute crosshairs of the storm. They all had to evacuate and they had tons of wind damage but they didn’t get the huge storm surge and flooding that they were calling for. Even though the wind damage was really bad, it could have been a whole lot worse, like that last big one down there that had all the flooding and all the animals died and all that.
Ramsey Russell: That was some pretty serious stuff that hit Southwest Louisiana and it’s unbelievable the news is not reporting on it. It was the first time in recorded history that Shreveport had hurricane warnings. That’s crazy.
Ira McCauley: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: They’re running out of alphabet naming all these storms that are coming across the Atlantic right now.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, no kidding, we’re up to S today.
Locust Grove Waterfowl Hunting Season
His first duck on the wing and I’ll be danged if he didn’t band it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well tell me this, walk us through a weekend, this past weekend, September weekend, coming into Locust Grove. What’s the weekend look like? What are you, your kids, your brother, his kids, family and friends, what’s the weekend look like up here at Locust Grove?
Ira McCauley: Well, I mean opening weekend teal season, typically, is all for the kids, usually sports aren’t too crazy right then. This weekend, my older son Corey, he’s always liked to hunt, had a big basketball tournament. He’s a junior in high school now and so he’s taking that really seriously, so he didn’t come, but my younger son, Quinn, who’s never been a huge fan of hunting, but he loves going to the farm, he decided he was going to come and he was going to bring his little buddy. His dad and I get along, so we packed up the boys and baseball bats and we always plan on eating good and focusing on having fun and sometimes the teal hunt’s good, sometimes not great. It really doesn’t matter. We’re going to have a good time either way. Those two boys love baseball, so a couple years ago we had a bumper apple crop. We spent a whole day, probably two days, throwing apples at these boys. They were 12 at the time. It was good practice for them and we’re all covered with apple sauce by the end of the day. There will be more bees in the yard than a beehive has. It was crazy, everybody’s getting stung by bees covered with apples and so that’s become a tradition. That was a lot of fun. The really cool thing is that Quinn, I’ve never pressured him to hunt. I asked him before we left, I said, “Hey, do you want to bring a gun for you or not?” and he goes, “All right, yeah, just go ahead and bring one.” I said, “Okay.” Saturday morning, I said, “Shoot, I gotta find some deadgum earplugs for you. Are you going to shoot?” He goes, “Yeah, I think I’m going to shoot.” I said, “Okay, well let me find some earplugs.” I found just some of those little stick-in earplugs, I put them in there, and I’m thinking he ain’t going to shoot anyway and, man, here comes the teal and he starts shooting. He asked me to reload his gun and I could see he was getting excited. The first duck of the morning that comes in, believe it or not, he shoots it on the wing. His first duck on the wing and I’ll be danged if he didn’t band it.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Ira McCauley: Yeah, so that was cool.
Ramsey Russell: Was that real old band you showed us? I was in a group text the other day. You sent us a picture of a band that’s going to have to be acid etched. Was that his first band?
Ira McCauley: No, we got two bands, that was a different one than that acid etched one. I didn’t find it until we were cleaning the dust. I was like, “Well, looky here.” Another interesting thing: we hunted all last year at Locust Grove. We killed 1283 ducks and we did not have one band last year, not one. This year on the opening day of teal season, we killed two. It was really cool, because I’m thinking, “Well, he’s probably not going to be a hunter. It’s no big deal either way. It’s going to be fine.” We got done that morning and he’s like, “Man, I didn’t shoot very good.” I’m like, “Well, you’ve never shot before, you’ve got to practice,” so he and his little buddy took these pieces of chair legs and they set them up out in the yard, put apples on top of them, and they asked me for a 410. They go out there and they’re shooting these dadgum apples off these things. I’m not saying a dang word because I mean I don’t want to take a step backwards. I’m just letting them progress. His uncle, my brother, comes over, he’s like, ‘You boys look like you’re about to take a daggone sucker punch.” He’s like, “You play baseball, you’ve got to hold this gun like this, get your stance like this.” He gave him some coaching. Man, they started hitting apples sitting on these sticks out there and then I threw some clay targets for them. The next morning we went out and it was better hunting than the first day really. Boy, they had the fever. Then we went rail hunting, and they shot a bunch of rails and it was hot and I’m like, “Well we can quit anytime, boys.” They’re like, “No, no.” I’m dropping shells out of my pocket into the dadgum water. I’m about ready to go back and get a drink. Then, the last morning, I had to go get on a conference call. Anyway, the point of my story is he caught the bug this weekend. It gut hooked him and I think we got a new hunter on our hands, and that’s really cool.
Ramsey Russell: How old is he, Ira?
Ira McCauley: 14.
Ramsey Russell: 14, good for him man.
Ira McCauley: He killed his first duck when he was 7 and he started crying, and last week killed a couple. But from when he was 7 until he was 13, he never pulled the trigger. He was like, “I don’t want any part of that.”
Ramsey Russell: Well, 14 is a fine age to get into hunting because his powers of enjoyment are a lot better now than they were when he was seven. He’s an athlete, he’s a ballplayer, eye-hand coordination, all that good stuff.
Ira McCauley: Sure, man. Like I told him, his hand-eye coordination is so good. I said, “If we just do a little practice in shooting, there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll be better than me in no time because he’s got great coordination.” I can’t beat the little booger in ping pong anymore, it pisses me off. He used to cry because I beat him in ping pong. Now, I cry because I can’t beat him.
Ramsey Russell: Get him, Quinn. That’s good, maybe you need to make a big ol’ slingshot and start shooting those apples up in the air. Let him shoot with a shotgun instead of a baseball bat.
Ira McCauley: Yeah, that’s right. No, it was great man, it was awesome. I love this time of year because, man, we’re hunting again. I’m going to go dove hunting in the morning, we got several of them in there, and it’s just so cool to have all the variety. We’re going to get later in the year here and all we will be shooting is mallards and then honkers. I love the early season because the days are long, lots of socialization, lots of variety, and it’s just great to be hunting again. I just wish it wasn’t so busy.
Ramsey Russell: I talk to a lot of people, I guess that’s what I do for a living talking duck hunters all day every day. The reports coming out of coastal Texas and coastal Louisiana, most parts of coastal Louisiana, were nothing short of mind-numbing. The number of bird outfitters taking 35 groups out or 15 or 20 groups out and everybody getting their limit for most all of a three-day weekend. I think, as I remember, it’s about an eight-hour drive from where I’m at camp up to your camp. Y’all were smacking them good and we aren’t on the X in terms of blue wing teal. When the migrations hook up, we get a bunch, and there were more teal than I’ve seen here in four years. Every person I talked to, from Manitoba to Matagorda Texas, from Georgia clear out to western Oklahoma, that’s a big geography, everybody shot blue wings. Somewhere between a limit or something, but everybody was excited. Did you hear something similar? I mean, is that pretty much the word?
Ira McCauley: Yeah. I don’t know if you saw that Forbes biological station on Illinois deal, did you see that?
Ramsey Russell: What did they say?
Ira McCauley: They said it was the eighth largest count ever on the Illinois River. On September 2nd, they counted 45,000 teal on the Illinois River. That particular survey has been going on for a super long time and there’s no doubt it’s a bumper crop teal this year. Then, on our local environment, I don’t know if you remember not, I know we drove over there, but Fountain Grove is the refuge right across the creek from my place. They’re doing a construction project, they’re putting in a new pumping station. They don’t have any water and the private grounds got a decent amount of water around it. We’ve just doodles the teal, but there’s quite a few places where nobody’s hunting. There’s quite a few places where they’re pretty safe, not getting messed with. I talked to Tony today and he said it was just a slower day, there’s nobody around. It was foggy, no wind, and they had a slower day today, but he said they sat there until 09:00 and went back. He said there were 150 yards and 100 of them got up. He’s been sitting there all morning.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something? Maybe they’re retired.
Ira McCauley: He said he’d hear them quacking, but you know how it is. There’s days where they don’t move good.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the weather doing up there right now? Do y’all have north wind? I’m looking at the weather forecast. That’s why I’m at camp on a Tuesday night because I can work right here too. We’re calling for good north wind, 10 to 15 miles an hour, for the next two days. That just tells me there’s going to be a pulse of teal coming through. What’s y’all’s weather looking like?
Ira McCauley: You know how these things are, it doesn’t take much. You get a little west or a little north this time of year and, man, they’re just prime to go. Any day that we have a north wind or west wind, I’m going to try to go. Even here at City Farm, we have two farms here and we do not have good kill habitat, but I’ll still go because they’re on the move. So far this year, we haven’t had much wind at all. It’s been pretty nice, but we’re supposed to start getting a little bit of north breeze tomorrow and then it’s supposed to blow good Thursday and then continue out of the north on Friday. It will be a change-over.
Ramsey Russell: My philosophy is if you’ve got anywhere from a stock tank to a jap millet field that’s got teal on it right now, those teal are going to leave in that weather, but more teal are going to replace them because they’re going to find a track for the same thing the other ones did.
Ira McCauley: I’ll tell guys this, and of course we’re pretty fortunate, but we’ve tried in the past. We have to changeover habitat plans every three days. Guys just burned them down and a lot of these guys got flight sketch and they gotta go or whatever and they had two great hunts and we got fresh meat coming in the next day. We’ll try to save spots, or we have in the past, where we’ve just got doodles of them so that the new guys have fresh good spots to hunt. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone from just chock full for three or four days, chock full of teal, and we take the new guys in there, tell them to get ready, and we go in there, and there’s not a single bird in there. Not one. Nobody’s messed with them. No one’s even drove through there.
Ramsey Russell: That’s teal hunting.
Ira McCauley: You can stockpile a mallard, but you can’t stockpile a teal.
Ramsey Russell: No way, man. They just take a notion to go. We’ve gone out in the afternoons and glassed a pond and it’s like, “Wow, I can’t wait, I know exactly where I’m setting up in the morning.” You go out there and they’re gone, because they may have just flown in to get a drink of water.
Ira McCauley: That’s right. We’re not a destination for them, we’re just simply a skip through, that’s it. Some years we’re not even that. When I lived in Hackberry, I always saw teal there and I still talk to my relatives, they normally see teal down there before we do here. I think there’s a bunch that just go straight there.
The Creation of the Momarsh Versavest
We wanted a vest, that was something that would be modifiable to fit a dog it’s whole life and to fit any dog, any retriever.
Ramsey Russell: Well, change of subject, big change of subject, because last time you and I had last time we had a podcast we were up there at Locust Grove just talking duck hunting. The time before that we were talking about dog vests and you had told me that every single dog at a veterinarian that had ever been brought in with hypothermia had been wearing an ill-fitting vest, neoprene vest. At the time, you were telling us about this upcoming product you have developed, you didn’t really go into great detail about it because it hadn’t yet hit the market. Well, it’s hit the market and I just had one show up, I don’t know, a week or 10 days ago and I can’t wait to set my dog on the table and get her fitted. That is the cat’s meow, man. Kudos! Why did somebody not think of that decades ago?
Ira McCauley: I appreciate it, man. I hope we got it dialed in right. We knew there was a problem, and we had a bunch of mousetraps built, and I think we picked the best one, and that was a collaborative effort.
Ramsey Russell: Tell anybody listening about it. A lot of guys wear these vests. Tell everybody about this product. Everybody knows that I just get excited about stuff like this that really works. Tell everybody about it, man, and wag your own tail. Because, I’m telling you, this is extremely innovative, Ira. It’s going to fit like a glove.
Ira McCauley: You think about people when you say, “Well, what waist size are you, what shirt size are you?” and that’s how dog vests had always been. It was like that and they’re just like us. when they’re young, they’re going to have a skinny waist, skinny chest, and skinny arms, and a skinny neck. Then you get older and you get a beer gut, your chest gets big, your neck gets big, and dogs do the same thing. Every year, really, you needed to buy a different vest to fit your dog, but the problem was that the dogs, it’s a nightmare. Let’s say you’re a stock and dealer, how many skews are you going to have to try to half way fit, half ass fit, a dog, right? Then you gotta take your scissors out and try to trim it up to your dog. The bottom line is that even the best fit that you could come up with, 75% of the time, wasn’t going to be very good. We wanted a vest, that was something that would be modifiable to fit a dog it’s whole life and to fit any dog, any retriever. We came up with this Velcro, multiple layers of Velcro, that you could adjust multiple ways so you could tweak it to where no matter how old your dog was or what its body shape was like, you can just spend a little time and make that thing to where it will fit your dog perfectly for the season. Let’s say your dog loses a little weight. Let’s say it’s been a couch potato, hasn’t been doing much in your hunting a lot. All these people that are not working or some of us working too much. You can change that vest so that it still fits your dog right, you’re not going to have problems with water pooling gaps and all those different things. That was really the concept and we came up with a utility patentable design that allows us to make that thing where it fits your dog just the way that it should at every stage of its life. Then, from a retailer’s perspective or a consumer’s perspective, let’s say, you’re a duck hunter, you don’t have to buy a different vest every year that’s still not going to fit well, because that vest is going to put your dog for its life.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, one size fits all rarely fits anybody well. I’ve just really and truly never been so impressed with a product. What convinced me was looking on the website and watching the instructional video and I said, “That’s unbelievable.” I ordered one right then.
Ira McCauley: It’s cool, you’ve got the different panels you can put on and all that. We’ve got a lot of stuff coming down the pike, I’m excited for the future. It’s fun to still be a big part of the product development team and a big part of the whole Mo-Marsh team and there’s a lot of cool stuff. We’re going to continue to make cool things and think outside the box and all that.
Ramsey Russell: Ira, when was y’all’s big duck season open?
Missouri Waterfowl Habitat Management
They call them waterfowl for a reason. I mean they want to see water.
Ira McCauley: So, we’re four days in. We’ve got 12 days of teal season left and then, man, you know how the five-year framework works. This year the north zone of Missouri opens on the same day as the middle zone which is super late, November 7th, which is very late from the north zone of Missouri. We’re going to miss out on a couple weeks of good hunting. That has changed for next year. It’s going back to the old way, which I think is good. Although, hey, I’m not complaining. We’ve got a good chance every day, so it’s not like I’m complaining about it, but November 7 is our opener, it’s late, and we’ll run for 60 straight in the North Zone. It’s in our original habitat, Flats Lodge, and Locust Grove. Then our new lodge, Grand, is in the middle zone. It’ll open on the 7th also. Then we have a five days split. We’ll get an additional five days down there. But after this year, the middle zone and the north zone won’t open on the same day anymore which is a good thing for us, gives us more hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Have you got any habitat management left to do between as you transition from teal to big ducks?
Ira McCauley: Not much. The only thing we need to do, if we don’t get a flood here real quick, is we’re going to go and do our final mowing just to show water. We’ll probably go through and try and mow a good 30 or 40 acres just to give them some place to explore. This year is a little different because we did that burn down. We’ve got a lot of vegetation that’s way shorter than it would normally be. We’re going to show a little more water anyway so we don’t have quite as much mowing to do this year as we will next year.
Ramsey Russell: Good.
Ira McCauley: Next year we won’t have to do all that spike rush work.
Ramsey Russell: I’m a fan of mowing. We don’t have this flatter terrain down here as you have. Our property has 6ft risers. It’s bowl shaped and sometimes you just can’t affect the whole 20 to 40 acres the same, uniformly, when you’ve got that kind of rise. It just doesn’t happen. You’ll have some good areas and some bad areas. I’ve ]seen where mowing, just like you say, to show water, I don’t care what it is.
Ira McCauley: They call them waterfowl for a reason. I mean they want to see water.
Ramsey Russell: They want to see water.
Ira McCauley: I can tell you this, Ramsey, and you probably experienced this, but we’ve had years where we flooded. We’ve got an 80-acre field that’s full of corn and we flood. We don’t get to go in and harvest anything and we normally harvest about 2/3rd, half 2/3rd, of our corn. We won’t kill nearly as many ducks. We have not even 20% of the use and your success goes way down. They’ve got to see that water. They’ve got to have places to land and explore, see each other and all that. If it’s all corn they just land wherever the hell they want, not many of them. The same thing in moist soil. Once they get in there and they start beating some areas down then they’ll start exploring from there. Your use on the front side will be diminished and they won’t get in there as quickly as if you mow.
Ramsey Russell: I see that. I guess Quinn’s got a couple more weekends, doesn’t he? One more teal weekend anyway?
Ira McCauley: I hope. Both boys have tournaments this weekend so we’re out, we’re done this weekend and I don’t know what’s going on the next weekend but we’re still dragging. We’re so busy with everything in life. I don’t know, I bet I hunt less this year than I have in the past 20. It’s just the way it is, that’s all there is to it.
Ramsey Russell: Stages and phases. I can remember having kids, busy kids. I used to think when they were babies, I couldn’t wait for them to become teenagers so it slowed down. I wouldn’t be as busy. It just kept getting busier and busier and busier.
Exciting New Habitat Flats Happenings!
We’re hoping by early spring that Habitat Flats Kennels is up and running and helping guys have some partners that are going to be great gun dogs, companions, and field for the future.
Ira McCauley: Historically, I’ve always been able to hire veterinarians, but buddy, those days are over, there are no veterinarians available, so Ira’s just gotta bite the bullet, buddy. It’s fine. It’s good. That’s the deal. But I don’t know if we’re running out of time. If we are, we’ll talk about our dog deal next time, but we got some time. We’ll talk about that now.
Ramsey Russell: We’ll talk about that. We’ve got four or five more minutes. That’s a big announcement. Go ahead and let’s just talk about it.
Ira McCauley: Last year, Habitat Flats expanded and opened the Grand. For a little while here Tony and I have been talking. I said, “Man, we really ought to open, we’re fortunate to have some good dogs, we’re passionate about them, and we’ve always enjoyed doing what we’re passionate about.” I said, “I really feel like we ought to open a high-end retriever training complex and breeding complex, hire good people, stick to what we think our vision is and take a run at it.” We got together and tried to figure out a good place to do it. We didn’t have a place that was great. Most of our stuff is down on the floodplain. Last thing you want to do is build something down there and the stuff we had up high just wouldn’t work out perfectly. Finally, found the perfect piece of property that we would buy on a hill. It’s 220 acres and we’re going to get some more up there. We bit the bullet, bought a place, drew up plans for a big facility, excellent training grounds. We hired our main trainer and manager. I have a contract now with an assistant trainer and some other guys. We’re hoping by early spring that Habitat Flats Kennels is up and running and helping guys have some partners that are going to be great gun dogs, companions, and field for the future.
Ramsey Russell: There is a need for it, and I think y’all’s vision we’ll be right on time. I really do, and I’m imagining, you’ve got a 220-acre training facility, but will there be any hunt test? Because you’ve got some great accommodations and a pretty remote area to get some folks in and out, lodge them, feed them, and do all kinds of dog-oriented events.
Ira McCauley: We’ve got a 100 page business plan that we’ve drawn up. We’re planning on having a bunch of special events where guys, whether their dogs are in training or not, can come and it’ll be, let’s just say, a sporting clays course for a handler, a dog owner, and his dog. We’ll set up common situations that cause problems for guys, hiccups, where can the wheels fall off the cart, we’ll recreate those, and then we’ll have guys there that are watching what’s going on with the handler and the dog and troubleshoot, “okay, here’s what’s happening, we knew it was going to happen, that’s why we set it up this way, and here’s how you fix it.” But not just that, also there’d be a big fun component or we’re going to have a shooting complex there. Also with five stand, trap, skeet and sporting clays where guys can come up and shoot up on birds. Shoot that stuff, shoot pen raised ducks, and it’s not just focus on the training part, but also have a good time and then still eat good, relaxation, and all that.
Ramsey Russell: The whole lifestyle. That’s the whole total package lifestyle is what you’re talking about.
Ira McCauley: We’re planning on having some management weekends that are going to be set up the same way. We probably have like two of those, you can come up and we’ll just go to various places and talk about what we are doing and why are we doing and how are we doing it, what’s the goal, what’s the deal with timing? But also have some fun, do some shooting. Something where somebody can come and learn but have a good time, too.
Ramsey Russell: Sure. When will y’all be operational and how can people find more information?
Ira McCauley: We’re hoping that our first kennels are done sometime in February and you can go to Habitat Flats, there’ll be a dedicated section to the kennels portion, and go to habitatflats.com, that’s where it’ll be. We’ll have a big grand announcement coming up. That’s kind of what’s going on, new and exciting there.
Ramsey Russell: Fantastic, Ira. Ira, I appreciate you. I know you’re busy, I know that you are as busy as a one-armed man hanging wallpaper with all that’s going on in your life right now and I sure appreciate you coming on and sharing your September experiences and giving us a glimpse into the future of Habitat Flats, citing things coming down the road, man
Ira McCauley: Always good to talk to you, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. I’ll see you next time, folks. Thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. See you next time.