It’s all about attitude. Whether galloping sidesaddle behind wailing foxhound packs or paddling quietly through cypress-studded swamps with he powerful labs, Mississippi born-and-raised Allison Crews is all in. A bonafide Swamp Witch, casting spells with her distinct sense of style, charm and contagious energy, Crews describes finding “gifts” while hunting, magic happening behind the levee, and gaining agency as a lady hunter. Ladies, dads, daughters, boyfriends, husbands: listen up!
Argentine Pampas Swamp Witch
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I’m on the banks of the Paraná River, but heading home today. Joining me today on the podcast is Mrs. Allison Crews AKA The Swamp Witch. Alison, I’m used to hunting with you in the tall cypress swamp, not in the pampas swamps here in Argentina, but what a week we had?
Allison Crews: Oh, yes. And I hate leaving, most of the time when I’ve been a place a week, I’m ready to go home and although I love my home, I always miss the sound of Argentina. The sounds and the birds and the variety and the people and just everything here, just the glorious sounds of this place is hard to capture at home.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of sounds, describe that?
Allison Crews: Well, all the different kinds of waterfowl, the different sounds of the ducks, the little mewing of the silver teal and the peeping of the Brazilians and then the sound of the lovely Spanish language all the time in the background, it’s just such a pretty sound.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve always been cognizant of that, but you’re right. We horseback ride in or walk in or boat in, just depends on what the water conditions are here and how we get into the marsh, but it’s always pitch black, there’s one sunrise a day and if you’re late, the day is ruined and they’re never late. This week, for example, I was never in a duck blind earlier than an hour before I could see to shoot and sitting there in the dark, the sound of the southern screamers, just gazillions of – and the snipe?
Allison Crews: Yes, I love the roaring of the snipe. That is such a wonderful sound and bringing back to that Ramsey, one of my favorite things about Argentina is they hunt like Jim and I like to hunt, the loudest motor we ever hunt with is this an old go devil, that’s pretty quiet. But my favorite hunts are either walking in or canoeing in no lights and it freaks a lot of people out because they’re like, why don’t you wear a light? Well, you can see better if you’ll just be patient, you can actually see better without light. So that was what we had here too. We got to go in the dark and the horses and we had some light if we needed something immediately, but pretty much it was all in the darkness and you could see the stars and what a magnificent show we had that first morning with all the stars everywhere. And then, Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellite going across the sky, SpaceX went across the sky and we looked at each other like, we’re not sure what that is, but I think we know –
Ramsey Russell: We have people talking on the tailgate like they seen flying saucer, they got a little worried. It’s just amazing when you get so far removed from street lights and anything, how many stars there are in the sky, I don’t see that.
Allison Crews: No, we saw a shooting star and then SpaceX, so that was interesting, but it was beautiful. The sound of all of that and how peaceful it is. And what’s also fun is where I went that morning, there were so many ducks already there and I could watch them in the barely early morning dawn light and could see them just flipping around and swimming and making all the different noises that these different ducks make.
Ramsey Russell: Want to describe just a little bit of introduction of who you are. We had a great conversation this morning, it started with, I’m sitting there pecking away on the phone as usual because I’d gotten an email or an inbox and I get quite a few of them people, see us out here doing what we do, telling the stories and living in a duck blind and it’s funny how social media perverts reality and it looks like all Ramsey does is sit in the duck blind. He don’t have to care in the world for going out and killing a duck. And I do get regularly, I get inquiries from young people asking for job opportunities. This morning, a young man out of California just graduated high school, he’s been duck hunting since he was 10, he loves a duck hunt, who doesn’t? And am I hiring guys because I am his future, he thinks and I write him back, but that’s not really what we do. And besides that, there’s a lot of ways to make money in America and there’s a lot of ways to make more money than being a duck guide. Go become a doctor and call me. Trust me on that, go make a lot of money and then let me do what I do, what I really do besides in a duck blind to get you out there. And that dove tailed into, you were telling me an interesting story because for example, I do what I do now, but it’s not what I want to do in high school, it’s not what I want to do when I started college, it’s not what I want to do when I got out of college and yet here I am. When you come to a fork in the road, take it. What about you, Allison, how did you start?
Allison Crews: Start earning a living or start duck hunting?
Ramsey Russell: Well, from where you are right now doing what you do very successful, but that ain’t what you thought you see yourself doing when you were in high school.
Taking the Fork in the Road – Into Duck Hunting
And horses have been a way for me to connect with people on so many levels, that and duck hunting.
Allison Crews: Well, one of the things, exactly. I was going to be a veterinarian, then my mother pointed out to me, honey, you’re allergic to horses, that could be a bit of a challenge. And although it’s never stopped me from having horses, I have plenty, she said, why don’t you find a way to make money where you can have horses and not make a living from them. And my father and mother always encouraged me and told me I could do anything I wanted. I started out after watching Top Gun, I wanted to be a fighter jet pilot and they said no women aren’t able to do that right now, you can fly the different jets. But so I looked at doctor, being a doctor and I went to school for that for a long time and then visited a hospital and followed up some doctors around and decided that really I didn’t feel as comfortable there as I thought I would. So it was about time to graduate because I was not one of those Children, my father said that they could just keep taking classes because I’d still be taking classes, really loved all that. So anyway, ended up finishing out in English and Journalism and Biology because I could just take those and be finished, those were some natural fits for me and worked for a few years and ended up with a master’s in business. And after working for several years for other people, I enjoyed it very much, but my father had asked me to help him with the family business, which I thought would be a short term assistance for him because I had no interest in insurance. I mean, how boring could that sound? But I ended up really liking it because mostly we solve problems just like Ramsey does here and Martha does here, we take care of people, we solve problems, take the headaches off of them. And with that income and the freedom that brought me owning my own business helps us able to do these kinds of things. We can make enough money to enjoy life, I don’t work all the time, I’m able to spend some of my resources coming down here.
Ramsey Russell: It’s important to me, we’ve all got to make a living but we got to make a life, that’s the whole point. I’m going to change it up because we keep talking about horses, you want to be a veterinarian because you love horses, you’re a swamp witch, you giddy up, got rode horses down that was a big part of this experience for you. But I know you for horses to be a huge part of your life. When did that start?
Allison Crews: Well, I’ll tell you, back to tie in the income and all this, we’re all made with a certain level of gifts and interest and one of the things my parents also taught me is, just the safest place you can ever be is in God’s Will you find out what God wants you to do, what he’s designed you to do and you take off and go so even work and play it all together just, it makes you learn how to reach out to other people and connect with them. And horses have been a way for me to connect with people on so many levels, that, and duck hunting. And what I ended up doing is many of my friends that I met through horseback riding also had an interest in hunting and some of them didn’t had never been exposed to it because their spouses did not hunt. So I took them and we ended up being a little band of women that every year hunted together 2 or 3 times a year and I’ve had many other friends that have hunted. But my hunting started with my father. When I was a little girl, I loved to go out with him any time, any place and just be in the woods in the quiet. And then I also love the camaraderie of the dove field, I was more of a retriever than a shooter because I always had a dog, always trained a dog and the dog and I would go together and I would take the cripples home and turn them into pets or dispatch them quickly. I don’t ever like to see anything suffer, but I love the camaraderie of the dove field and the silence and solitude of hunting deer with my father. And that I wanted to share that with other people, my friend, my other friends. So when I met my husband, he’s the one that got me interested in duck hunting and that combines the hunting aspect, the quiet of the morning. But the camaraderie and the dogs and all that together was a perfect storm for me. I just took to ducks perfectly, I love that. So, yeah, I was just going to say that, but you’re right. Anyway, so I started taking my girlfriends and they got hooked as well. And what I’ve always found about taking people hunting whatever it is, is you encourage them to like it for whatever reason they enjoy it for. Mine, my number one reason is the dogs, I like to work and train dogs, I’ve done that since I could give an order. I’ve been giving puppies, dogs orders around and trying to communicate with animals. And when Jim and I met and he opened the world of the cypress brake duck hunting and I opened the world of dogs to him because he had not been a dog person before and we have just loved it. And one thing he does is, he allows me to do whatever I like in the duck swamp, I like to do the dogs, I like to cook, I will shoot and I can shoot, but that’s not my focus for being there. It’s mostly facilitating others to have a good time shooting and being out there and I like to bring the food into the swamp, make sure they’re comfortable, they’re having a good time they’re safe and I mean, sometimes we’ll bring one or two guests, but we usually have 3 or 4 dogs, so it’s usually a big operation in the swamp.
Swamp Duck Dogs: Tips for Training & Breeding
…I bred a little bit more fire into the line and now I feel like we have the perfect swamp dog.
Ramsey Russell: You and Jim have got an enviably large pack of swamp dogs. Obedient, well trained, bulky, big, strong, powerful swamp dogs, one of my favorites is Congo. By the way, if I ever run out of name to name a dog, I’m going to call you because you all have always got a great name for your dogs too. And you don’t have a dog, you don’t have two dogs, it’s like every time I go to your camp there’s 3 or 4, 5 or 6 dogs, greeting me, various ages, some up and coming, some in retirement or soon there. And they’re all just kind of like, cut from the same fabric. They’re big and they’re durable and they’ve got to be in where you all hunt bottomless mud and cypress logs and scrabble over. And it’s one thing if a bird gets away from you in a rice field or shallow water, something else entirely different if he starts swimming off 100 yards in a cypress brake and you do train dogs and who taught you to train dogs and how do you train dogs because you’re not a professional trainer, but you’ve got some very good swamp dogs.
Allison Crews: Well, I spent my whole life training dogs, they’ve trained me. And so ever since I was really small I had one of the last brilliant Irish Setter in the world, they’re not many of them are brilliant anymore. But he used to pull me around on my skateboard in the neighborhood, I could give him, I didn’t know what a hand signal was, but he and I knew how to communicate left, right, I would tell him voices and I really didn’t know about the world of retriever training until Jim and I got married as well. And we got a little tiny British lab when we first got married, that was really small. She was a nice little 30, 40lbs little female. And we took her to one time, trained her up, I’ve got a book and I follow the Robert Milner’s retriever training for the duck hunter, that’s my favorite one because it does allow you to – it encourages you to train for the dog and you do different things, you have a set path, but each dog is different. I started out with golden retrievers who were so – after the Irish Setter, I had a lot of golden retrievers and all they want to do is please, they are the easiest dogs to train, they’re very smart. We had those and they were good in the swamp but they weren’t great, some were great, some were not, so you really didn’t know what you would get out of a litter moved into the British Labs because they are – actually mine are Scottish. But they are like a golden retriever and the willingness and wanting to work and they weren’t hyperactive and so I really like that. But I did find that some of our swamp situations pretty intimidating for some of the pure British, I’m sure there are plenty that are lots and lots of abilities in the big swamp, but I bred a little bit more fire into the line and now I feel like we have the perfect swamp dog. It’s about 80% British and Scottish labs and then a little bit of other American lines, but I always have to have a lot of fire and that will lie down at your feet at night and be a good house dog as well. And then I’ve always liked Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, I thought they were just such great looking dogs and I would say those are their trainers dogs for sure. They are a challenge, it has to be their idea, but they have so much personality and they too, they have plenty of fire and they’ll also calm down as well, but great dogs.
Ramsey Russell: We were talking on the drive up the other day, we had plenty of time to visit. And you all’s Chesapeake have inspired me to want a Chesapeake Bay retriever at some point in time that I can have another dog and right now I got a backyard full of old and mut type dog, it just got to thin out and I’m poor right now, but as soon as I got room for another dog in the backyard, it’ll come. What is it about those Chesapeake? You say they got to think of something themselves but I like their size, I like their durability, but I’ve always heard Chesapeake were aggressive, they didn’t like other people, they didn’t like other dogs, but you all are just great dogs.
Allison Crews: Anytime you’re looking for a dog, I would tell people you pick a good litter. You ask a lot of questions from the breeders and the people and the families that have them and make sure that they are not – I mean, ours have a trait that they all have, they will guard their game. So when we kill a turkey and hang it up on the porch, Axe will sit there and guard it all day. Now, he’s not going to bite your hand off, but he’s going to raise that growl a little bit to the other dogs, like this is my turkey don’t. And he’ll do the same with ducks, but he’s never been aggressive or mean to people, but he will stand there and make it clear that those his ducks and pretty much he doesn’t even have to raise a hackle, he just looks at you and you’re like, okay, got it, I understand you that these are your ducks.
Ramsey Russell: That reminds me of a German short hair the other day perdiz hunting on the other side of province, I took Char dog out, made her walk a hill, she is not an upland bird, but when you shoot one, she marks it, she’ll go get it for you. She beat that little German short hair to the mark and that German short hair come out of nowhere, I don’t know what she growled or said the Char dropped it, tucked her tail and came back and then the dog followed it like, hey, just scolded her all the way back. And on the last bird of the hunt, we shot a bunch of them on the last bird of the hunt that Char was done picking up birds at that point and I just left her on heel and that little German short hair picked up a perdiz and didn’t run to the handle, run straight to me, dropped it in front of us and then tried to pick another fight with my Char, this is my game, you’re on my turf.
Allison Crews: Well, when we hunt several dogs, that’s part of the lesson is, they learn to honor each other. Like if one’s going after one duck, we don’t have to go after that duck. They learn to honor each other and that German short hair was trying to teach her respect.
Ramsey Russell: Heck yeah, he did.
Allison Crews: That’s exactly what he was doing.
Ramsey Russell: Char, has no compulsion of conflict, she doesn’t like that at all, all she wants to do is fetch.
Allison Crews: Those dogs communicate, they have a language of their own and what makes Jim and me look like such great trainers is that we have great dogs and they train each other, that’s part of the magic of it. Jim is very good with the dogs and they love him because I do all the grunt work at the beginning and obedience and all that and then Jim takes him to the birds and boy after that, they love him.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t use like conventional methods training your dog. No, shock collar reinforcement, no force fetch or do you force fetch?
Allison Crews: I do force fetch to some extent, it depends on the dog. I’ll spend a season, I don’t start out with that and I know that it’s a bit controversial, I start with obedience and then I see how they do their first year and if they’re good enough or have enough to – since I have so many dogs, I don’t have to hunt the young dogs really hard, really early. So if they have a lot of promise, I will go through the force fetch and all that. And then with Axe occasionally with the Chesapeake, it’s nice to remind him of with the shock collars, it’s more of a reminder that, hey, I can reach out to you when you’re out there a long way, I don’t usually have to use it, but sometimes at the beginning of the season, I have to remind you, but I don’t have to do a lot of that because Jim hunts some dove hunting every weekend and so he can really polish them back up, but I do have them, I do train them, they know what it is. I mostly use the sound and the vibrating function on it, but I have had to use it on up there to get some Chesapeake’s attention from time to time mainly if they’re not honoring another dog. If we’re hunting with someone else, I want to be sure they honor each other and we don’t have any dog fights in the swamp, that’s just not going to happen.
Ramsey Russell: Hunting with Jim up in the swamp for sometimes we’ll get together and do a little cork decoy hunt. And I’ve got some cork decoys he does, we get off in that old ancient swamp and who knows what kind of decoy Jim’s going to throw if we don’t do a cork hunt, it could be the oldest decoy on earth and it still works. But one of the interesting things I love it when Allison is going to be in the group because you bring food and a grill and all that good stuff. And I understand teaching a retriever to mark and fetch ducks, I can get that, I can train a dog to do that. But how do you teach a full grown lab or Chesapeake Bay retriever to walk from the boat to me and hand me a biscuit with a lamb chop in it without eating it. I mean, I just feel like every other lab I’ve ever owned would swallow it on the way, unapologetic.
Allison Crews: I can promise you the first time that one of that did not happen the first time and it was not just thought of at that moment at the swamp, there was a lot of practice involved. It’s just like when my friends say, why don’t your dogs eat those chickens that I raised, I said, well, it took a few chickens, but now they know they’ll leave the chicken alone. Now, the first pork chop that went from point A to point B probably didn’t make it all the way, but after a little training, it’s just a little time, a little bit of training and one of my favorite stories was when I had my golden retriever crocket and we were hunting with some friends and I used to love to play this joke, I would introduce them all to Crockett. I would say Crockett, this is Ramsey. Ramsey, this is Crockett, they make a big deal about the manners and all that, especially if they had kids, make sure everybody knew everybody and where they were going to stand. And later that day, I would say, I would put the pork chop in their mouth and say or I wrap it up and say, take it to Ramsey. And of course I was given a hand signal, but they didn’t know that and they thought the dog remembered their names.
An Unconventional Attitude of Adventure
It’s an attitude, that’s all I can say.
Ramsey Russell: What is a Swamp Witch?
Allison Crews: It’s an attitude, that’s all I can say. It’s an attitude. I’m going out in the swamp, I’m going to have a good time doing what I want to do with friends and we happen to be all girls that have been tied together from the horse interest of the beginning and then we add more people around us, not an exclusive situation at all, there are just 6 of us that really started this out, but it’s really an attitude. We want to go out there, we want to have a great time with each other, it’s about the camaraderie, the fellowship celebrating who we are as individuals. And of course, being women, we loved it look nice, we have fun with our different hats and our different scarves that we wear, but we want to shoot ducks as well and we’d like to see what we can bring out in the swamp, what’s more good food out there. And my friend Lila loves the dogs as well, we all have dogs almost and she’s the one that turned me on to the British Labradors because she had a fantastic one when we first became friends. And I said, oh, and she’s always trained her own as well. I mean, over the years a long time ago used to have some others train, I think, but mostly she does it all herself and she just lives with her dogs like I do, we live and play with them and keep them around and you asked me earlier, how did I ever train them? Well, I mean, when we’re just around them all day long, when I’m on horseback with them, they have to learn to heal, stay with me if we’re going somewhere and then they can roam and they have to take commands from off a horse or the ground or wherever they are.
Ramsey Russell: Who are the Swamp Witches as individuals? You said it’s a celebration of you all as individuals. And I’m building up to a point down here, as real important topic we talked about yesterday. But who are you all as individuals?
Allison Crews: Well, let’s go back to Lila Sessums is a world class, very highly ranked show jumping competitor and she has been awarded horse and rider of the year many times, she is a nationally internationally known show jumper, horseback rider and she also was brought up by her mother into the duck hunting community in Louisiana. So she was raised duck hunting in the swamps in Louisiana. So of all the Swamp Witches, she’s probably the one that had the most experience duck hunting when we started out altogether.
Ramsey Russell: Will you describe – I know what it’s like, but for those listening, Swamp Witch is a long standing tradition, it’s an attitude but it’s a tradition that you and you all have there on cypress swamps, a collection of ladies with common interests that no boys allowed on swamp which weekend that go out and do you all thing and just describe. And it’s not like you all are out there with face paint and rock and roll, heavy metal and the latest, greatest corporate camo patterns and technology, no, it’d be kind of like watching generations ago but describe to me from the time you all meet at the cabin through you all’s weekend, a Swamp Witch weekend. You all make you all brew in the swamp. I want to hear it, as well as describe it to everybody listening.
Allison Crews: There’s so many different ways to go on that. And I know, I told you we have Lila Sessums, my cousin Kate Morrison, who’s actually Jim’s cousin by blood, Susan Williams, Lee Bailey, Lynn and those are just sort of the core witches that we’ve had. And then of course, my friend Julie Woolley has also now become a witch, she’s more of a recent addition and my friend Harriet McFadden, I would call her a swamp witch as well. But when we all get together, we get together for dinner the night before or if they come earlier, we will maybe go shoot hogs or deer or something in the afternoon because we always gather at our hunting camp at Ward Lake because it’s a place behind the levee amidst the cypress, both the titles of my husband’s books, all the magic happens back there and we usually have a friend Chris Robinson who comes and cooks for us, so we can just go hunt and then we celebrate all the things he teaches us and the things that he cooks, we all like to cook, but Chris is fantastic, he is a chef by trait. We’ll come in and he’ll cook for us and we have a great evening of catching up because we’re all very busy, we either are raising families or raising businesses and we started out doing this all during the week because it was easiest for us to get away during the week than on the weekends when we had all these other family plans together. So we get in there together, have a great evening just catching up and then, like you said, these folks here at La Paz know to get everybody in the swamp an hour early. I get the witches up very early because it’s quite an operation to move us all from point A to point B. And most of the time we go by canoe and I usually have to make sure I have the – we have to call for spots at all the places I hunt the night before. So I have to have a plan in place and it’s a moving target every year where the ducks are going to be and it’s difficult to hide that many people that many conversations and all that. So I try to get there well before dark because our best chance of shooting is early when it’s a little dark and that works in our favor to be able to be quiet because we’re not very quiet bunch of people and we do like to shoot a lot. So we do get in there and have a good time and we take some food and at either half a limit or by 10 o’clock, I usually start the grill or get some food going and we eat for a while and while we shoot and just a great day. At our club, we can hunt until 1 o’clock and usually we hunt with the witches till about 11 because most of us have somewhere, we have to be that afternoon, but we stay out there a good time, 11 or noon or something, have a good time.
Ramsey Russell: Do you all shoot over and unders?
Allison Crews: Yes, we all shoot over and unders. We just think, pretty guns for pretty birds and there’s nothing wrong with automatics or any of that and look corporate camo, all that’s fine. I mean, believe me when I’m turkey hunting, I want to be covered, head to toe in camouflage. But where we hunt, we usually go where the ducks want to be, we all know how to be still, when the time comes, we hug up against a cypress tree, we just want to wear – my favorite way to put it is, my friend Lila’s mother, Sissy Levine when I was asking her, what do I wear when I go driven Pheasant shooting in Scotland? And she said any color of the pheasant is appropriate to wear and I said, oh, and it’s all because you want to look good in the landscape. You want to blend in with the landscape, not just camouflage, but just when you’re part of a picture, nothing stands out, that’s not the right color. And so we have a good time dressing the part and wearing any color of the pheasant out on the swamp.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. I’ve never really thought about that until you said it yesterday. Any color of a ringneck pheasant is appropriate to wear in nature.
Allison Crews: I mean, you wouldn’t want to wear a full blown navy blue, everything but your little accent of navy blue there’s no problem but all the colors of a pheasant and a little red here and there, a little red’s, okay, a little gold.
Ramsey Russell: The scarf you were wearing the other day, I guess it was a scarf, it was like a poncho looking thing, you could have worn a shawl, but you had use like a scarf under your wax cotton coat kind of looked like a pheasant.
Allison Crews: Right, it just looks pretty in the pictures with the game, it doesn’t clash when you’re taking pictures of the pretty birds and all the landscape around and it’s just part of the flavor and the sound and everything. It’s just a sensory experience for me to be outside and I like to draw it all together with colors and sounds and textures and tastes, it’s just the whole thing.
It’s All About the Swamp Hunting Hat
So that inspired me, which inspired others to look your best when you go out.
Ramsey Russell: It really is an attitude, isn’t it? Well, talk about your hats a little bit now. Because Jim, for example, wears a swamp hat, a very traditional, a lot of guys wear it, I wear ball caps, it’s just what I’m comfortable wearing, but a lot of people wear, the broad brim, you all take it to another level. I mean, you all got some beautiful hats, I’m going to tell you, it’s like a hat contest out there watching, for anybody listening, I don’t mean like a little hat at the Kentucky Derby, I’m talking swamp hunting hats, very decorative, very nice, each hat is almost like a book and the stories you can tell from where the features of the hat came from.
Allison Crews: All the pins, all the feathers and maybe a little pit – one of our prettiest hat bands came from Susan’s horse blanket. She turned her horse out into the wilderness, one day, we were fox hunting in one of the best wool blankets and of course, the horse shredded it, so we took that blanket and made it into hat bands and that’s a funny story. But Jim really inspired me with that because when we first started dating, he always wore that barber jacket and he always looked nice. And in fact, for most many years, he always wore town opening day, I don’t know if you know that, Ramsey, but he always wore a tie on opening day of duck season. And so he taught me how to elevate and it all goes with horses too. When you’re riding horses, you should look nice when you’re on a horse, out of respect for the landowner, that’s one of the fox hunting things, you should look nice out of respect for the landowner, when they see you right across their land, you want to look nice and want to blend in with the scenery. And Jim always did that with duck hunting as well. So that inspired me, which inspired others to look your best when you go out.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen a lot of photos, Nash Buckingham era, Nash Buckingham himself, his camp, the gentleman he hunted with there in the cypress swamps of Mississippi back in the day and they wore ties when they hunted and it wasn’t dressed up like you going to church, but they wore neck tie.
Respect for the Hunted and for the Hunter
The generation has lost that aspect, it seems like.
Allison Crews: It’s respect. And that’s one of the things, a lot of us have lost – I mean, everybody likes to be comfortable.
Ramsey Russell: The generation has lost that aspect, it seems like. Contemporary hunting has kind of lost this sense of respect for hunting, for the hunted and for the hunter.
Allison Crews: I mean, our bird boys love – I want to immediately go look at my bird, I don’t want to just throw it in a bag or what I want to look, I celebrate each creature, they’re just God’s beautiful creation and I celebrate each one of them that comes and I feel like it’s real important, whatever we shoot, we eat, I’m going to eat a parakeet and I did, I enjoyed it, but I’m not going to shoot something, I’m not going to eat, my father taught me that. My mother taught me always, when you leave the house, look your best, you never know – you always need to make a good impression, you never know when you make a first impression on someone, you want to look your best, be your best, be on your best behavior. And I try to take that into the swamp with us as well.
Ramsey Russell: And among your collection of Swamp Witches, it’s really not at all about – I mean, nobody’s out there to watch the sunrise you all got shotguns, you’re all got hunting clothes, you’re all blazing away in between bites of biscuit and stories, but it’s really not about body count, it’s something different.
Allison Crews: Well, we definitely want ducks for the strap for the pictures, we want to have to, but it’s not body count, we love to shoot and we count, we will shoot it. In fact, I have to take Lila’s gun away sometimes she gets most excited, she definitely is a very good shot and I have to take her gun away and say, wait, the limit. And anyway, we have a great time shooting, but it’s not all about that, if we don’t shoot one, we still had a great time, but it’s very rare, we don’t shoot something.
Ramsey Russell: Do you feel like as an individual, that individual Swamp Witch is all get something different out of the Swamp Witch we can or out of duck hunting in general?
Allison Crews: I do. I think there’s some that really love the shooting, they want to improve their shooting and they’re working hard on that, they’re ones that want to learn more about how to set out the decoys, which way we need to do this and how we need to go in with the swamp and which place are we going to hunt tomorrow, why are we hunting there? They want to know different things. But they all know there’s so many aspects to hunting and so many ways to like it. And one of the things we all love each other, we have such little time that we can all be together that it is about the camaraderie, we do want to be able to get together and talk and while we’re between the flights of ducks, it’s important for us to do that. And like, Lila and I love it for the dogs, but she actually would just as much want to shoot as play with the dogs. But I would rather just let me work my dogs and you shoot for my dog, please. So it’s we’re all different in that sense.
All In the Chase: Fox Hunting
Duck hunting is full of camaraderie, but it doesn’t require a group, whereas fox hunting does, you have to have a lot of people working together, a lot of type A plus people like you and I are working together.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve gotten that way, especially, bringing Char dog to Argentina taking her anywhere, I love to shoot, I love to hunt. But there are days, it’s gotten to be to where now after about two boxes, I’m starting to wrap up, I’m starting to find an exit and maybe I’ll go 3 or 4 boxes on a dove hunt. But at that point, I’m happy to just go stand behind you or Jim or somebody and let Char pick up birds and that’s becoming my experience. Now, I want to change the subject and I want to ask you about fox hunting because everything I knew about fox hunting would fit in a snuff can. I saw the pictures growing up, the red coats and the horses and Merry Old England and all that good stuff. And one day I was on a property and we were talking about this property recently, you and Jim and I, because you all were familiar with it. It was years ago and I was working on, doing some biological survey out there and they had this thing over the fence. It’s like, it’s kind of like a cattle crossing in air, 3ft, 4ft tall and I’m like, what the heck is that? And the guy was like, that’s for fox hunt. And I go, what? He said, well, yeah, they jump over it in hot pursuit and I’m like, you’re kidding me. But you’re really into that stuff. I mean, when people think, well, I like to ride horses, well, that’s me going out through the swamp trying not to bounce funny and sit on something wrong or not spine, I mean, I can ride a horse but I don’t ride a horse. Now, Allison, you’ve got a collection of different saddles and riding types and freaking flying out over a cotton field wide open and clearing a 4ft fence and that’s a whole another level. And it’s not about just the pageantry of looking like you’re fox hunting, you all are actually fox hunting.
Allison Crews: Absolutely. And I would say in the United States, it’s all about the chase and this is not a kill sport in the United States, it’s all about the chase and how the game is chased. And what’s so interesting about that is similar to what we’ve been talking about with the duck hunting, we definitely kill duck hunting, we eat ducks and then we do that, but it’s not all about the killing, it’s more about the chase. And you and I talked about this yesterday, Ramsey, I can shoot a duck flying by me just going from point A to point B but what I loved about this week at La Paz is we had those Brazilians and Betto was helping me, the Brazilian would go by, he’d hit the peep and it would come back around and that’s my magic point at duck honey. I want him to come back around and work. Where I come from, we like to see them come in in groups or even just by themselves, I don’t care, as long as they stop, circle, take a look, fall into those cypress trees or fall into that little spread that Jim and I have created, we’ve communicated with that creature to come back, we’re not just shooting it on the fly, going by it, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that but to have it connect come back. So with fox hunting, it’s the same. We hunt with a pack of hounds and how they chase the game, all it together. Like if you’re at this place, we said, and we saw 2 coyotes and you’ve got 30 hounds out there, most people realize that that is quite a feat to have all those 30 hounds go after one coyote and not both of them and split. So part of that sports magic is having to chase one and chase it, now it always gets away because it’s not about the kill, it’s about the chase and how they chase it and how fast we can keep up with it and how long we can stay up with that game until it gets off the property or we call the hounds off and say, nope, we can’t go that way, stopping them at the line, so they don’t keep going. There’s so much, it’s a lifestyle just like duck hunting and raising retrievers. You don’t just walk up there and take Char and say, let’s go hunting and you’ve never trained her. I mean, it’s daily you’re working and communicating with Char, same with the fox hounds and going out there and just riding around, I like to trail ride, but it has none of the appeal, none of that appeal as fox hunting because you never know what’s going to happen on a day, how your horse is going to react, how the people are going to get along, it’s a group sport. Duck hunting is full of camaraderie, but it doesn’t require a group, whereas fox hunting does, you have to have a lot of people working together, a lot of type A plus people like you and I are working together. And that’s an art in itself is getting all these chiefs to act like Indians and follow the leaders.
Ramsey Russell: Describe the dress and regalia and the pageantry like, you all meet in the morning daylight, do you all just – the hounds just follow the pack of horses and then they strike and take off running into the horizon and the horses try to keep up.
Allison Crews: I don’t know that we have enough time in this podcast for me to explain, but I will try to make it short.
Ramsey Russell: Just a little bit, it’s like, I’d almost like to be an observer and see it not on a horse, but just see it.
Allison Crews: We can make that happen. Well, anyway, there’s basically 3 seasons of what you like, this time of year when it’s very hot. You’re exercising the hounds, but starting in September, they have what’s basically practice sessions, which it’s called Cub hunting and you’re just wearing something, so you don’t burn up and something like a shirt with a collar, that’s any color of the pheasant and we wear that and we go out and the hounds are trained to stay with the Huntsman as a pack until he or she cast them into the cover to hunt there and if he or she calls them off, they come back to her. So it’s all about – and then you have certain groups, you have the first flight group that wants to go fast and keep up with the Huntsman. Second flight, that kind of goes along easily but doesn’t jump the jumps and then third flights where we put you Ramsey with the little flask of champagne or a flask of some kind of whiskey to sit back and just watch them go around, go whatever pace you want to. And then later in the year as the fall comes, we wear the tweed jackets as it gets cooler and then after opening hunt, which is the second Saturday of November for us, that’s when the staff wear the red coats and the black coats with the colors and all that stuff. So that’s a different reason for different attire. But you always want to have your horse cleaned, the horse properly groomed and yourself properly groomed out of respect for the landowner.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. There’s so much to be said about that respect aspect. I see a lot of disrespect just to take a side. I can remember going up north to Boston, my wife wanted to go up there and we met with old Captain Adam Smith and his wife just for a 3 day weekend, it wasn’t duck season, we were just going up there to do something together as a family and they were older and my children being from the south, yes, ma’am, no ma’am, yes, sir, no, sir like that and the wife kind of took umbrage, they say, yes ma’am and it almost offended her to be told, yes, ma’am and I just let it ride and one day we were at a restaurant eating dinner and she is sitting next to Duncan and Duncan was like, yes ma’am and she snapped and I saw it across the table and she’s like, young man, do not call me ma’am again because she was taking it like a sense of age and it made her feel old.
Allison Crews: It’s not about her.
Sportsmanship and Tradition in the Hunt
You want to respect the sport, you want to respect the game, you want to respect each other.
Ramsey Russell: So I swallowed my bites, I said, whoa miss Barbara, this ain’t about age, in the South we teach our children to say yes ma’am and no ma’am, so that they respect others. It’s a show of respect because if you don’t respect others, you don’t respect yourself.
Allison Crews: Exactly. She didn’t know that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s just a cultural thing. But about that time it’s a sassy ponytail tattoo waitress comes up smacking gum, you know taking the orders and Duncan goes ma’am and she goes, I ain’t no ma’am and Barbara goes, you sure are, but it’s a thing about respect. And I think in a lot of aspects of hunting culture today, maybe we’ve gotten away from that.
Allison Crews: You want to respect the sport, you want to respect the game, you want to respect each other and with fox hunting, fox hunting is unique and that you can’t, mostly even in the United States own enough land to fox hunt on without having some cooperation from your neighbors. You need about 3000 to 6000 acres to hunt a coyote. Well, foxes don’t need quite as much, but that’s why it’s so important to respect the landowners because they’re the ones, if they don’t allow you across your property and most of the time you don’t pay for that, it’s just a matter of they invite you to come hunt and you want to respect their land, you jump the coops that you talked about because you don’t want to damage any place on the fence line, that’s the place where you jump, if you don’t need to go through the gate, you hop over the jumps. So, anyway, if you want to respect the sport and the landowners and like you said, the people that are more experienced than you in age, that’s how we were taught.
Women in the Hunting World
I feel like it’s important for me to take people and expose them to the sport.
Ramsey Russell: Allison, next spring, when I go down to Louisiana to band ducks, I want you and Jim to come with me because I think you all will really enjoy it number one and number two, I’d love you to meet my friend Mama Duck, who is a true blue duck hunter and biologist and everything else. But we had her on a podcast one time and she talked about women in the outdoors having a sense of agency that was her word and it was a very apt description because there’s a lot of women that want to hunt, there’s a lot of women that do hunt, but a very small proportion of women hunt relative to men, it seemed to be a male dominated sport. You’re a shining example of an exception to that rule. And what gives women a sense of agency? That’s what I’m trying to get at. How did you develop your sense of agency and authority? Just absolute owning that sport? Not as a instant famer, not as I want to be, not as a girlfriend or a wife but as absolute hunter yourself, a Swamp Witch, a fox hunter, where did that come from? How did that happen? And how can it happen for other women? That’s what I’m trying to ask.
Allison Crews: Well, First of all, I think it was how I was raised because my mother and father both raised me to feel like I could do anything I wanted. I’d never saw a glass ceiling, still haven’t, never have experienced that and I think, again, it’s about the attitude, I don’t want to be a man, I don’t want to be a woman and I want to be a woman in a sport that I enjoy, so that’s what I do. And I’ve never felt shunned for being a woman and one of the things, I think it’s the way I was raised, I was raised to not try to be better than just be the best of who I am, I’m not trying to compete with anyone, my mother did teach me and my father that you need to be extra good at what you do as far as careful and safety because people are watching you because you were a female and all I ever remembered back to the hats is, I’ve always worn hats because I’ve always had this bright gold hair that I was embarrassed about in the hunting field because I had to hide it from everything is, I always had to keep it contained. But back to the sense that, I’ve always felt like to be part of this, I love what I do and I’ve never thought of it being anything that I could not do but just being who I am. And even with Jim, he never has acted like, we always help each other in a sense but we have a – I don’t know how to answer that question, I’ve just always been who I am.
Ramsey Russell: Have you got any advice for dads or husbands or boyfriends to help or for women, for us encouraging our female counterparts to understand hunting and for women that really want to be as a hunter and experience what you do because it seemed to me to be a barrier for women to become true hunters.
Allison Crews: Well, I think it’s difficult to go with a spouse for the first time because a lot of times that spouse might pressure you to like it for the reason they like it. But I think it’s important for us and for me, I feel like it’s important for me to take people and expose them to the sport. So I try to do that with this, take as many women as I can. And one other thing too is access to the sport, you want to try to – the people that have access to the land and the properties should invite as many as they could to come and bring them into the sport and just expose them to it.
Ramsey Russell: I kind of feel like a – I grabbed my two sons and throwing them on the back seat of the truck and taking them to hunting camp was one thing, but my daughter, here I was giving a daughter and she’s hunted, she gets it, she’s not the hunter my boys are because I treat her like a breakable china doll, I was awkward around that situation not knowing how to treat a little girl relative to little boys. Little boys are like black labs, you can spank them with a boat paddle and it doesn’t hurt their feelings.
Allison Crews: Well, I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much on that because I’ve exposed many people to it that just don’t like it just because you expose them to, it doesn’t mean they’re going to like it. I mean, some people love this, some people don’t and with your own children, you love the child you have, not the one you want. So, even at this age, my boys love to hunt, but they’re not as crazy as Jim and I are a lot of times about some of the different ways we hunt. So I think you just expose the kids that really like it and encourage that.
Ramsey Russell: How important is it that people be and do their own thing in hunting? We had this great discussion leaving the dove field yesterday, Allison about everybody’s kind of – it started with the dress code, I don’t notice at all what people wear, I really don’t and I do see the uniforms, the corporate camo uniforms like, the stiffed out of a magazine, how can you miss it? But at the same time, I really don’t pay much attention, I know I wear what I wear. I like the earth tones because it’s very universal, I can have one jacket to fit all needs that kind of business there. But when you get off into hunting, I’ve just noticed that everybody, if I talk to the 7 people that were here this week about when we did on a podcast, what did you enjoy about the hunt? What do you remember about the hunt? It was like they went to 7 different destinations because hunting is so subjective. How important is that to hunting and how important is it to female hunters?
Allison Crews: Well, I think the most important thing is when you take anybody out into the woods, you let them enjoy it for what they like. I’ve taken many people that could care less about shooting that just wanted to experience the bird watching or the sound of the waking up, of which birds wake up first in the mornings and teaching them the different sounds, they just never had heard that before. And just hearing what all these things are and exposing them to that. And I was born with that passion and some develop it later but I think you just exposing a lot of people to it to like it for what they want to like it for is very important.
Sharing This Beautiful World
…just connecting with people on that level and showing them that gosh, what a magnificent world we have…
Ramsey Russell: Last question. I heard a story a few weeks ago. One of my guests was telling me, I don’t have what we were talking about, but he got to talking about Mr. Rogers, you know what I’m talking about? The guy with a little sweater and little slippers that walked around talking to children was a really nice guy. But they said, this guy would tell me the story, he read a book about him, Fred Rogers, I think his name was and he could carry a conversation with anybody whether it was 8 years old or 80, he always had the same question for them and I wrote it down. I said, I’m going to use this question sometimes and it’s this. Allison, who made you who you are?
Allison Crews: Oh, no doubt about it was God. I mean, I came in and my parents taught me how to listen to God’s direction and guidance and encouragement and it gives you such a confidence when you know that you were doing something that God wants you to do and you’re in the middle of his will, teaching people to appreciate his outdoors and you’re not worshiping nature, you’re worshiping the creator and just connecting with people on that level and showing them that gosh, what a magnificent world we have and what we have in store after this is a very comforting thing because like God, that would create a place like this is a God, I want to serve. And that’s who I am as I’m here to try to expose others to this beautiful world and get to know them on a soul to soul level. Not just hello, how are you doing? But the way you can learn who somebody is by taking them outside of themselves and into the outdoors and you can find out quickly a lot more about people than you can just over a dinner conversation.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Alison. I’ve enjoyed the week, I’m looking forward to visit tomorrow on the drive back to Buenos Aires. It was great to spend a week with you outside the cypress swamp and in the swamps of Argentina. I have certainly enjoyed my week with the Swamp Witch and the Swamp Warlock her sidekick.
Allison Crews: I’m his sidekick now, come on. Give credit where credit is due here, I would not even know about ducks if it had it not been for him and he would know about horses and couldn’t have handled them that well, this week without me.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.