The world’s a whole lot bigger than our own back yards, and about half-way around the world nestled right up against the Caspian Sea is Azerbaijan. Find it on a map. We all had to the first time.  There are surprisingly long-standing duck hunting traditions. While there chasing unicorn duck species, there’s no ignoring cool-factor surroundings.  Back for the first time since the pandemic, Ramsey meets with long-time associate Kenan Sherif, deep diving into a cultural backdrop that makes Azerbaijan duck hunting an old-timey National Geographic magazine story type adventure but with waders and shotgun. This episode depicts one of the most off-the-beaten-path places you’ve never thought about duck hunting. Until now.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, where today I am wrapping up another epic hunting adventure in the tiny country of Azerbaijan. You all have heard me talk about it a lot. Hell, I had to look it up on a map the first time I got invited to come here, which was a long time ago. And it’s good to be back. I’m going to tell you, Azerbaijan is not necessarily a high-volume duck hunt, although it can be. They don’t have bag limits. It is not necessarily a species destination because we don’t always see all of the great unicorn species available to us in Azerbaijan. But it is nonetheless, according to every client that’s ever been here and myself, a world-class duck hunting destination. And it’s got a lot to do with how they hunt, who the guides and the staff are. It’s got a lot to do with the entire cultural backdrop, the Caspian Sea, flying carpets, duck hunters that still use the absolute fundamentals that duck hunters have forever. Even if they wanted to go and buy the latest, greatest gizmos to put ducks in front of them, it ain’t available. They can’t go to Mack’s Prairie Wing like we can. It ain’t here. So they make do with what they’ve got and in my humble opinion, they’re some of the absolute best duck hunters I’ve ever met. And this is important. They hunt differently than we do. When we go out and hunt with our guides, they’re very, very good duck hunters. They know the habits, they know the species, they know how to do it, they know how to hide. They know how to pay attention to the fundamentals. But they’re trying to hunt our way, the American way. To an Azeri hunter he knows how to go out and sit with four decoys in pitch black dark and shoot them with a flashlight. He knows how to kill ducks. Not the sport, but he’s feeding his family or he’s selling those ducks to feed his family. He’s very serious. In many ways, it’s like going back to yesteryears, many yesteryears in America. One of the most alluring aspects of this trip, no matter if the hunting’s great or it’s just good, no matter if we’re getting all the species we want, those unicorns I talk about or just some of them, what makes this hunt so unique and so enjoyable is the Azerbaijan culture and history. And that’s why it was important to me today to introduce my associate, Kenan Sherif, who I’ve been working with now for half a decade. I want you all to hear some of the stories and some of the things he’s told me. I think you are going to find this as equally fascinating as everybody that’s been here. Kenan, it was great to see you after a long, long time. I am glad to be back here. Thank you for an excellent week.

Kenan Sherif: Welcome, Mr. Ramsey Russell. Thank you for inviting me to this podcast. If true, it is the first time I am on a podcast and I am very happy and very excited, and I hope I can tell your listeners, all your audience, everything about Azerbaijan, everything about culture in Azerbaijan, tradition in Azerbaijan, hunting in Azerbaijan. Thanks again and I am ready to reply to all your questions, all your interests.

Ramsey Russell: Azerbaijan is one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever been to. Very, very interesting, unique into itself. I did have to Google and find it on the map. I had no idea. And when I talk to people about it, they also have to, where is it? You grew up? Born and raised in Baku, the capital city. Describe Azerbaijan to the listeners.

Kenan Sherif: First, I want to mark again that my English can be a little bit –

Ramsey Russell: I’ll coach you long.

Kenan Sherif: Little bit, not good. But I try to explain everything properly. Azerbaijan is a transcontinental country located at the boundary of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is part of the South Caucasus region. And it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the East. Azerbaijan, by our history, it is a very long history. And this country begins like from 12 centuries, that if you come to Azerbaijan, as you see everywhere, we have many ancient monuments which shows that Azerbaijan is a very ancient country. And the traditions, mentalities also connecting with this ancient. I was born in the northwest of Azerbaijan and I live in Baku already 20 years. I was born during the Soviet Union period. That time was a very different life. Maybe I can say something was very interesting, but it was not a long time that at 8 years old when I was, Soviet Union empire collapsed and Azerbaijan got independence. And now we are an independent country and one of the powerful, one of developed countries in the south Caucus.

Ramsey Russell: You told me the story earlier today at lunch, a wonderful lunch. We got to talk about the food. You told me the story that in 1908, Azerbaijan gained its first independence. And I’m assuming from the Arab nations, because of the trade that was done on the Caspian Sea, which get this folks, it’s called a sea, it’s freshwater. It’s the largest freshwater lake on Earth. Lot of trade over in this South Caucus region. And in 1908, you all gained an independence. And if I understood you right, Kenan, you all were one of the first true oil countries. Tell me a little bit about that history.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. First about as your remark that about Azerbaijan independence. Azerbaijan got independence, not only 1990, Azerbaijan got independence, the first time was in 1918. And it was only for 2 years. In 1920, Soviet Union Red Army occupied all Azerbaijan territories and we lost our independency.

Ramsey Russell: Who did you gain independence from in 1918? The Arabs.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Okay. And then, because you have oil, booyah, here comes Russia.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. During these 2 years, it is the first time the local Azerbaijanians get oil from the land. And it is the first time it happened in Azerbaijan. And after that, not only Russia, also from England, like Nobel brothers began to be interested in coming to Azerbaijan to see it. And they were excited about how the Azerbaijanians can do it. It happened for the first time in Azerbaijan’s history. And after that, during these 2 years and as oil industry owners from Europe began to come, they brought culture, theater, music and western traditions. In this case, in Azerbaijan, cultures changed very often. First, it was like the Arabic Empire culture. After that, it became like European culture, and then Soviet Union culture. And we are very different from the border countries, like Iran, Turkey and other Islamic countries. We are not like they have Islamic traditions. We are more liberal yes.

Ramsey Russell: I described your practices oftentimes in my words, not yours. Don’t be offended. I described Azerbaijan’s practice of Islam as kind of like a back-row Methodist. It’s very relaxed. I hear prayer music at times, but the women dress differently. They dress more modern. I mean, they wear tight jeans. I can go to the grocery store and buy alcohol, liquor. I can drink it in a restaurant.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a very western feeling. In 1918, when you gained your first independence, was the practice of Islam in Azerbaijan more conservative? And then the Russians occupied from 1920 until 1990, 70 years. Is that when it became less conservative and more like what it is?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Why? Did the Russians quell the practice of conservative Islam? Because, I mean, religion is a form of politics and if I’m an occupying force, I may not want any trouble. Is that what happened in that 70 year period?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, as you mentioned before, in 1918, we had a big influence from the Iran side, from Persian. Before, it was like the Arab Empire then the influence of the Persian Empire. And when there was a war between the Russian Empire and the Iran Empire, they made a peace agreement, the Turkmenchay Peace Agreement and they divided Azerbaijan into two parts. The South Azerbaijan went to the Empire of Iran and the North Azerbaijan went to the Empire of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan was divided into two parts. And my brothers live now in Iran, my relatives live in Iran. And we are, for now separate.

Ramsey Russell: Separated only by political boundary.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Not by anything else.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. That time, Azerbaijan was a very weak country and like between the Iran Empire and the Russian Empire, we could not defend our country. In this case, it was easy for them to divide Azerbaijan into two parts. And we are very hospitable people and we don’t like war.

Ramsey Russell: Very hospitable, very peaceful.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, peaceful. And for us, maybe at that time, it was easy to make an agreement to divide into two parts, but we gained independence after 70 years. But South Azerbaijan is still under the Iran Empire.

Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up in Azerbaijan? You’re a little bit younger than me. What was it like growing up when it was under the influence of Russia? You told us a story last night at dinner about it wasn’t all bad. There were actually some benefits to it. What was it like growing up when it was Russia, not Azerbaijan?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. During Soviet Union time, I was at childhood age, around 9 or 10 years old. But I remember a little bit, but I listened every time. My parents, my grandpa, grandmas, as they told everything about Soviet Union time. And until today, I remember all their words, really. Life during the Soviet Union time had very good quality. Everything was of high quality, like education, medicine, food, life, salary. Everything was wonderful and everybody was happy. There was no difference between – you couldn’t see in Azerbaijan during Soviet Union time that he’s very rich, he’s very poor, no middle class. Approximately, everybody was the same. Yeah, approximately like that. You couldn’t see that somebody had a 3 floor house. Everybody had approximately the same house, same cars, same meals –

Ramsey Russell: Same relative income.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. If we compare it with today, there is a big difference. In this case, for me and I think for more Azerbaijanis, life in the Soviet Union was more tasteful, I can say like this, more sweet. But today, also, we are growing, today also we are developing, today also we protect our traditions, our culture, our food, our economy. Of course, it is also going to be good. But Soviet Union time, it was made like this for 70 years. Quality life, high-quality life. But now we have been independent for only 32, 33 years. Of course, we need a little bit more time to get the same quality.

Ramsey Russell: What happened in 1990? During the Clinton administration, what happened in 1990?

Kenan Sherif: In 1990, the Soviet Union Empire collapsed. And inside the Soviet Union there were 17 countries. And all these countries began to go to demonstrations to gain independence. One of them was Azerbaijan. Yeah. And in Baku, everywhere, in regions, all people began to demonstrate that we also want independence. We don’t want the Soviet Union Empire. Everybody made fire passports, all documents from Soviet Union time. But in 1990, 20th of January, the Soviet Union Red Army entered Baku and they began to kill demonstrators.

Ramsey Russell: Quell the uprising, kill the demonstrators.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. To control the country and not give permit for independence.

Ramsey Russell: How many did they kill?

Kenan Sherif: It was around 200 people. And there were 700 people wounded and there were maybe more than 100.

Ramsey Russell: 200 fatalities, 700 casualties.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: Many people till today, they don’t find what happened with them. We have an avenue where you can go and you can see the grave, but no name and we don’t know who they were.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a very beautiful monument. There’s a perpetual fire that you can see from a long ways away, a beautiful park. And you walk through this park-like setting with a lot of the avenue of Martyrs. What was the demonstrators response to the Red Army killing 200, wounding 700 that wanted their independence? Did Azerbaijan just quit demonstrating, what happened?

Kenan Sherif: After this one, people began to be very angry about like this. I can say, genesis, that to kill people without any gun. And the next days in Baku began to collect people from all other regions. Maybe it was 1 or 2 million demonstrators.

Ramsey Russell: 2 million demonstrators showed up.

Kenan Sherif: On the streets and it is facts. You can see by photos by Google Search.

Ramsey Russell: There are states in America that don’t have 2 million citizens. 2 million people showed up in response to stand up to the Red Army.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. And during the 2, 3 days all army left Baku as they see that not possible to stop this amount of population. And they left Baku. And after that demonstrates begin to be more stronger. And after that, we got our independence.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: And we are the first country between this ex-Soviet Union 17 countries, first country that we push out all Soviet Union army from Azerbaijan.

Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible. And today it is still a prosperous country because of all. One of the most interesting things to me, we fly into Baku. Did you all know, people that the Formula 1 is raced through the streets of downtown Baku? That’s why it’s so beautiful. They’ve got permanent bleachers and little barriers and stuff wrapping through the city. And it goes right past part of the track, goes right past historic Baku. And that wall that surrounds the historic city is 1500 years old. It’s old. It goes way back. And it’s so amazing walking through that old, well-preserved downtown. It’s a little touristy. You’ve got the tower, you got the cobblestone streets that are 1500 years old. But then you look over the walls and you see one of the most amazing skylines in the world. The buildings, the architecture, the shops, the stores, the name brands, the wealth that is outside those walls is nothing short of amazing. When you grew up, did many people hunt as you were growing up? Are there a lot of hunters in Azerbaijan?

Kenan Sherif: If true, during the Soviet Union time, it was very strongly controlled hunting in Azerbaijan. Of course, we have hunting farms especially that was under the control of the government and it was very strongly controlled during Soviet Union time. But when we get independence, the government began to give more permits for local hunters, Azerbaijan hunters, to hunt more. Now, if true, the local hunters can go to the Minister of Ecology, can ask for a license and they can go for the hunt. Before it was not like this easy.

Ramsey Russell: But I think even maybe from some of the people I’ve met and some of the traditions that still persist, like market hunting, that probably out in these rural communities, people still had to feed their families and they hunted. And, I want to just break off just a little bit before we break for dinner and just get a little more oil. You told me one time there are two goals in Azerbaijan. Of course, oil. It is an oil nation, but also it’s agriculture. Cotton, one of the first places we used to hunt, the entry to the town was cotton bowls. My hometown is a cotton town and it just felt home and very different people, very similar feel. And agriculture is huge in Azerbaijan. I think you told me one time that there’s a lot of different environmental climates here. How many environmental climates are there in Azerbaijan and the crops are just, what you can buy in a fruit market is amazing. All the fresh fruit.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Firstly, I want to say something about Azerbaijan nature. Azerbaijan nature, it is unbelievable. You cannot imagine it that you need to walk every village in Azerbaijan. After that, you can understand how they reach Azerbaijan nature also natural resource, unbelievable. We have everything. We have oil, we have gas, we have gold, we have uranium, we have aluminum, we have everything.

Ramsey Russell: Everything?

Encounter with diverse hunters, appreciation for their countries.

We have very good rivers, we have very beautiful forests, mountains, lakes and a very beautiful Caspian Sea.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. What do you want, you can find in Azerbaijan about a natural resource, nature very rich. We have very good rivers, we have very beautiful forests, mountains, lakes and a very beautiful Caspian Sea. That it is unbelievable. I am in the hunting company already 15 years and I meet maybe a 1000 hunters. And I like to speak with everybody about their country. And when I listen to them, I say to myself. I am proud of my country. It is unbelievable rich. It is unbelievable beautiful. And sometimes I think that you cannot find in the world like this country, that in this case, the rich country by his nature and the people very rich, rich with heart, rich with mind, rich with hospitality, rich with – I don’t know that it is unbelievable. And in this case, I love my country. I am proud of my country. About Azerbaijan like economy, as you said, of course, oil is the first our destination to improve the country. And now we have a very big resource of gas. During Soviet Union time, the Soviet Union did not give us a permit to get out our gas, but now we begin to take our gas. They used only our oil for their own interests, over their own economy. And I want to mark that during the Second World War, 70% of the oil and gasoline, benzene for the airlines used Azerbaijan oil.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, 70%.

Ramsey Russell: 70%. All the planes –

Kenan Sherif: Planes for the army use Azerbaijan oil.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: And plus, 90% of tanks use it, Azerbaijan oil. It is a fact. You can search and you can see.

Ramsey Russell: Of course. Yeah.

Kenan Sherif: And during the Soviet Union time, oil began also to increase the oil industry and plus began to increase the cotton industry. During Soviet Union time, Azerbaijan oil and Azerbaijan cotton were very good developed. And now the government begins to develop agriculture also, as we have an unbelievably beautiful resource for agriculture. Azerbaijan produces many fruits, vegetables for the border countries. Also, as you said about climatic zones, in geography, there are 11 climatic zones, and 9 of them are across Azerbaijan. It means, if you go south of Azerbaijan, you can see there are orange plants, trees. There is tea, Lyman like subtropic zone.

Ramsey Russell: Pomegranates.

Kenan Sherif: Pomegranates, hazelnuts, chestnuts, apples, pears, any fruit except of bananas. Any fruit you can find.

Ramsey Russell: No tropical fruit. I’ve got 9 environmental regions for growing different kinds of agriculture. That’s amazing.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: In addition to all the agriculture, I find it very interesting, Kenan, that you also make honey. You’re a beekeeper in Azerbaijan and it makes sense with all the agriculture that there are flowers everywhere. But what do you have, like a hive? One hive. How did you get into beekeeping and how big is it? I think it’s hilarious how many hives you have?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, I began my beekeeping when there was this pandemic situation and everything was closed. And for me, it began to be interesting to start beekeeping.

Ramsey Russell: Who taught you beekeeping? Who introduced you to it, one of our guides?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, it is our friend and our guide named Elchin. He has beehives at home. And every time when we stay at his home, I go and look at how it is going, what is interesting. He told me something about bees and then I began to search it. I began to look on YouTube, how everything and it began to be for me very interesting, and I decided to start this work. And as you know, during the pandemic period, no tourism, no hunting, nothing. And I began to make investments like agriculture, also for beekeeping.

Ramsey Russell: How many hives did you start with?

Kenan Sherif: When I started, I had 50 hives, but now I have 150 hives.

Ramsey Russell: 150 beehives.

Kenan Sherif: Beehives, yeah. And as I said before, Azerbaijan’s nature is very rich and we have many plants, many trees, which the bees can bring honey.

Ramsey Russell: Talk about how, because you’ve got a very diverse climate, from mountains down to the Caspian Sea, agriculture, fruit trees, forest. Talk about how you start. Right now, it’s wintertime. Where are your bees right now?

Kenan Sherif: Right now, my bees are in a semi-desert area. It is like the south of Azerbaijan in this area the temperature is not very high. Especially I keep my beehives there. And approximately from next month, some plants begin to open the flowers and the bees will begin to bring the first bee pollen. Bee pollen, it is very essential for the beehives to increase the population of the bee in their hives. And also, we collect this bee pollen to sell. That bee pollen, very healthy products, bee products for humans. I can tell you one example that in 100 grams of bee pollen, there is 40 grams of protein.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: It is especially very good for people who are doing hard jobs, who are doing sports.

Ramsey Russell: Athletic endurance. You start with row crop farming in the spring. And you were telling me every few days or weeks, you begin to move 150 hives up the mountain.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Normally from March, to the top of the mountains and down, there is snow. We begin from the semi-desert areas, where there is no snow. And they begin to grow some plants. And slowly, every 15 days, new plants begin to open their flowers on high altitudes. We move them from approximately the end of April, beginning to move them at the end of August. Our hives on top of mountains, like around 1400 meters above sea level. That last trees and last plants open the flowers in August on top of mountains, when there is no more snow, when new plants appear. And we begin to collect honey from these plants. And these plants are very healthy for human health. In August, it finishes and we bring back again to the semi-desert area our beehives and we get the honey.

Ramsey Russell: You sell honey. The other day for breakfast, you brought four samples of honey of your honey. What were those four flavors? I know one was a linden tree.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, it is a linden tree. Linden tree is only on mountains, approximately at the end of June when we carry up our beehives. But before we collect other plants, which have a different taste, different smells, that every month has different kinds of honey. We are collecting that when we finish the hunting. We had around 7 or 8 kinds of honey.

Ramsey Russell: And they all got distinct colors and subtle flavors. That’s crazy.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Of course, it depends on which tree or which plant bees carry the honey. Every plant has its own smell. In this case, the taste of honey, the color of honey changed. It can be very dark, maybe. I’ll give you one example, honey from chestnut. We are collecting it only maybe one month, approximately. During the one month, chestnut opens the flowers and the bees carry this nectar. And it begins to be honey that only one month. And this honey is very dark. And then when we go like linden to collect linden honey, it is yellow color. The taste, the color and the smell are very different. These two trees have different trees. In this case, the taste, the color, the smell are different.

Ramsey Russell: Bees, I know they have pollen, that yellow pollen on their legs. When they go to make honey, they go and visit these flowers. Are they drinking the nectar? You said, are they getting something from the flower besides the pollen to make honey?

Kenan Sherif: In the beginning of spring, bees do not bring honey, they bring only pollen.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Kenan Sherif: But in beehives from winter, we keep honey for them that they eat the honey, which is reserved in beehives. They eat the honey there and go to bring the bee pollen from the flowers.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Kenan Sherif: And when they bring bee pollen to beehives, the queen bee begins to lay more eggs and the population begins to increase.

Ramsey Russell: What is the pollen used for? That’s what they eat.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, it is for eating, of course.

Ramsey Russell: And the more pollen they bring to the hive, the more eggs she makes.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Right.

Ramsey Russell: And she has lots and lots of eggs. And the eggs hatch into bees. And every bee in a hive, you said has a job.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: What are the different jobs?

Kenan Sherif: Beehives are like a factory. Everybody has their own job. There are some bees that protect the beehive from other bees, enemies and other parasites. There are some bees that clean beehives.

Ramsey Russell: Really? They are janitors.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. There are some bees that go to search for areas with honey. And they return, giving directions to the worker bees who bring honey, guiding them in the right direction. It is unbelievable. To this day, science is always researching about bees and every time they find something new, they cannot finish understanding the bee life.

Ramsey Russell: You said at dinner the other night, you were saying that an egg hatches, a bee is born and the question was asked, is it born to be a janitor or a guard or a worker? And you said some of them are born only to breed the queen. They breed one time and die. Those are called drones.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Are they genetically, does that egg hatch and out comes a drone, out comes a janitor or do they learn that job from somebody?

Kenan Sherif: No, they learn the job from somebody. There is also a group of bees that teach newborn bees.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. There is a group of bees teaching newborn bees to fly. And I see it, my eyes, I see it in front of beehives and I see how they are doing it. When this bee life begins in spring, when they begin to go to work, seeing it in front of beehive, it is very exciting. You see all the processes and it is unbelievable to watch the bees. It is a big pleasure how they are working, how they are doing everything.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: It’s true, every day I learn something new from the bee, about bees. It is very interesting.

Ramsey Russell: What is honey? How is it made? What makes honey? How do bees make honey? From pollen.

Kenan Sherif: Bee products. Many bee products, one of them is honey. And there are different kinds of honeys.

Ramsey Russell: It’s derived from nectar?

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Kenan Sherif: They fly to the flower and push their nose inside the flower, absorbing nectar. The name is Nectar. They absorb nectar and bring this nectar to the beehive. They put it in holes and during several days, this nectar begins to vaporize water. Every nectar has around maybe 70% water. After vaporizing this water, there is remains only honey. The bees work very hard, they bring nectar.

Ramsey Russell: Sitting there flapping their wings.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, of course, there is a group of bees, as I told you, that controls the temperature in the beehives. If it is hot, they make an air condition to maintain the same temperature. If it is cold, they make a hot air condition. It is unbelievable. Every day you can learn new things about the bee life.

Ramsey Russell: Do some bees work harder than others? Do some beehive colonies produce more than other hives?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Everything depends on the Queen bee. Now, in the world, science begins to work on the selection of queen bees. They are making new selections, new stronger queen bees. And if the queen bee is of very good quality, after selection, it is going to be more productive in bringing good honey or bringing good bee pollen or increasing the population Very good. The queen bee’s quality is different. It can be loud, it can be very strong, it can be medium and we control it. If we see the queen bee not working well, we kill her. We are going to make a new queen bee.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Wow. I just fascinating and it’s something I know so little about. And I love honey. And I told you I like raw honey. I just think it’s very good and very healthy. You sell honey, you sell bee pollen.

Kenan Sherif: Honey, bee pollen, bee bread.

Ramsey Russell: Bee bread.

Kenan Sherif: Propolis, drone brood. There is queen jelly. There is also beeswax.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Kenan Sherif: We also make, when dead bees, we collect them. We put them inside like spirit, alcohol.

Ramsey Russell: Vodka.

Kenan Sherif: Vodka. Like vodka. And we keep them. There is 40 days. We dry dead bees, we smash them, we put inside the alcohol, we keep them and after that, we use it as medicine.

Ramsey Russell: Now, did you invent that or is that a standard practice for dead bees? Did you invent that product or is that always –

Kenan Sherif: No, I didn’t invent it. I read about it.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve never heard of.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, never heard it. I read about it and I begin to do it, especially, I read much about it in Ukraine beekeepers. I was also in Ukraine and I learned many things from Ukraine beekeepers. They are very professional about these products.

Ramsey Russell: Wow. I want to talk about changing the subject. We’re going to come back to food in just a minute. But I want to talk about this Baku, a very historic city. We talked about the old wall going around it.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And the first time we visited, we’re walking down this cobblestone street and there are all these vendors, all these people selling stuff, very hardworking trying to sell stuff. And there are little oil lamps, just like you see on Aladdin. There’s little oil lamps. I mean, just little oil lamps. And the other day, I was in a shop. We went in to get something and he had 150 or 200 year old swords with ivory handles. And one day we were walking down and there was an old tavern. That tavern was built in an era that Sinbad would have come whooping in, one of the traders off the Caspian Sea and drank ale. And there are real authentic carpet rug stores. And you go in and they’re rolled up tight, standing upright, and there’s just 100s in a tiny room the size of this hotel room. There are 100s of carpets. And I walk in one time, never dreaming. Some clients wanted to go look at rugs. I said, that’d be kind of cool. And they started unfurling these rugs and unfurling them, and rolling them out flap, flap. And all of a sudden, he threw one down about knee high. The pile was knee high. Then I go, ooh, that’s a nice rug. And then the bartering started. We went to a Persian rug museum or a rug museum.

Kenan Sherif: It is Azerbaijan carpet.

Curiosity about the origins and cultural significance of these iconic stories.

A lot of those ceremonials are hung up on the wall, it’s like their family emblem.

Ramsey Russell: Azerbaijan carpet. And I had no idea, the history and the time that it may be, a whole generation goes by with them making this elaborate rug, these women, and it’s not really used, even though it’s used for the floor. A lot of those ceremonials are hung up on the wall, it’s like their family emblem. So one day, we’re walking through Baku and there’s the oil lamps, and there’s the carpet sprugs, and there’s the people selling you stuff, and there’s a sign that says flying carpet. Listen, guys, for those of you all listening, let me just give you a word of advice, before you buy a flying carpet in Azerbaijan, take it for a test drive. And it just reminds me and I’m bringing this up because we’ve all seen Aladdin, we’ve all heard Sinbad the sailor, Alibaba and the 40 thieves. That’s that vibe in Old Baku. And I asked you one time, did you hear those stories growing up? You said, of course. Where did those stories originate? Where did Sinbad and Aladdin and flying carpets, how did it originate? Where did it come from?

Kenan Sherif: If true, it is like a fairytale that when we were a child, we heard about it, we see some films about it, that it is like a fairytale about the east countries that approximately, I have information that this fairytale came from Baghdad, from Iran and we are as a Muslim country, it is transferred to Azerbaijan.

Ramsey Russell: Was it once a part of the Ottoman Empire, was it once a part of a big Muslim nation, Azerbaijan?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And it was all trading on the Caspian Sea.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. In history, there is one of the main roads. The name is the Silk Way. And this Silk Way begins from Asia and they finish in the West. And we are on the way of this Silk Way. And maybe 200 or 300 years ago, all these traders, travelers across it from Azerbaijan, they stayed in Azerbaijan. And like these traditions, like these fairy tales, like these carpet traditions, came to us from east to Azerbaijan. And of course, Azerbaijan people are very, how to say, clever and like hardworking, and they begin to make our own carpet and Azerbaijan carpet traditions very old, very beautiful, very traditional. And, I remember that my grandma, they did a carpet. It depends, of course, on the size for the married day, her daughter, it is our tradition that –

Ramsey Russell: For her marriage, to commemorate her marriage.

Kenan Sherif: To make a gift, if there is a daughter, okay. The mother begins preparation for her daughter’s marriage. Maybe after 20 years, from maybe 5, 6 years old, the mother begins to collect everything for her daughter. Also, begin to make the carpet. Normally, to make one carpet, it takes maybe 1, 2 years.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. In that time, now, most of things are fabricated, but that time, no fabrics. Everything is handmade.

Ramsey Russell: Handloom.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. Till today. I remember my grandma, this machine for a carpet. Till today, it is in front of my eyes, how she works, how she cuts, really. And I remember how they did the wool. I remember my grandpa cleaned on the sheeps the wool.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: My grandma boiled them. My grandma, there are colors, all colors were original colors, like from –

Ramsey Russell: Natural, organic colors.

Kenan Sherif: Organic, like maybe from pomegranate. It makes red, maybe from onion, maybe from another kind of fruits and vegetables. They change color from the wool.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: And this color, all life not change, why it is a natural color. After they make the color, they begin to make, how to say –

Ramsey Russell: The strands, they make the thread.

Kenan Sherif: Yes. And then they begin to make the carpet.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: It is a very long time. And everybody, most of our mothers, they prepare it like these gifts for daughters, carpets, maybe another necessary things. And the carpets in Azerbaijan tradition, we put it on the wall, we can put on the floor, we can put on the table, on the chairs. It was very traditional that to make their house beautiful.

Ramsey Russell: When you buy a rug, a carpet. When you buy a carpet, like several of the clients and myself bought just a carpet at one of these stores. What an adventure. And the first thing they do and I said, I want that one. And we agreed on terms. They took it out and they laid it in the sunshine and took a picture and we couldn’t leave with it until they had a piece of paperwork. What is the nature of that paperwork? The certificate for the carpet. Why did a government office have to issue a certificate for me to leave the country with a carpet?

Kenan Sherif: There are some carpets that are very old and ancient.

Ramsey Russell: Like a Picasso, like an old painting. This is like a valuable piece of cultural art.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. In this case, the government began to protect our national heritage. Like one of them is a carpet. This certificate is not only for the carpet. There are many things that when you buy in Azerbaijan, you have to get the certificate. This certificate shows that this carpet is not very old, not ancient, not heritage. In this case, they give you a certificate to take it out. Approximately, If the carpet is 70, 80 years old, it’s not a problem. You can take it. There is a permit for exportation and the government gives you a certificate. But if the carpet is more than 100 years old, it is not possible to take out from Azerbaijan. It is Azerbaijani heritage. And the government tries to keep it in Azerbaijan to put it in museums like that.

Ramsey Russell: Wow. The Caspian Sea, as stated, the world’s largest freshwater lake, goes clear out past the horizon. It’s massive. And there’s also a lot of sturgeon in this lake. 90%, I read one time that the world’s Beluga caviar comes from the Caspian Sea. How important is that to Azeri culture?

Kenan Sherif: In Caspian Sea also, as Azerbaijan, I mean, the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan’s side, the Azerbaijan Delta, is also very rich, water very rich.

Ramsey Russell: Very rich.

Kenan Sherif: What I mean is that I’ll give you one example that the Kura River. It is one of the biggest rivers in Azerbaijan. And the beginning of this river begins from Turkey, then across Georgia and then comes to Azerbaijan. And from Azerbaijan flow to the Caspian Sea. It makes like this river, which takes all minerals from all these countries and the mountains and carries all minerals to the Azerbaijani Caspian Sea Delta. In this case, the fish in this region, Azerbaijan’s part, is very tasteful. And the caviar. I can say with 100% confidence that Azerbaijani caviar and the Azerbaijani Beluga, it is one of the best in the world. That’s because of how they reach the water. The reason is that these rivers bring very rich –

Ramsey Russell: Water is very rich, very productive.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. And the Azerbaijan government began to protect also caviar, also beluga, sturgeon population.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Kenan Sherif: There are limits for catching. It is impossible to make illegal fishing. Also, we have now very big factories to increase the population of sturgeon, beluga and Caspian Delta.

Ramsey Russell: We went to a bazaar one time, just an open-air market, fruit stands and just everything. And knocked on a door right in the middle of a fruit stand, a tiny little door and walked into a tiny little walk-in closet-size room. And they were selling caviar. I’ve never had caviar. Do you like caviar?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, I like.

Ramsey Russell: I’m not crazy about it. I’ll eat it. But there’s other things I’d rather eat. But it was fascinating. I mean, it’s a big deal. And we sample it, and they give you this tiny little taste. And it was like $100 for the side of a snuff can. But it’s $300 if you buy it retail. But it’s a big deal over here. Is a lot of it imported or goes to other countries, Russian caviar comes from the Caspian Sea? Do you think a lot of the caviar, Russian caviar actually comes from the Caspian Sea?

Kenan Sherif: If true, it is. And I think for now maybe normal, maybe abnormal. There are as many fake caviar. If you have not experienced, if you have not somebody who can help you. Of course, you can buy the fake caviar or low quality caviar. But for exportation, there are limits. If you come to Azerbaijan, you can buy and you can take with you only 100 grams caviar.

Ramsey Russell: 100 grams?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Not more.

Ramsey Russell: That’s one jar.

Kenan Sherif: One jar, yeah. And about that, there is quality, especially in these bazaar markets, difficult to find the best quality, necessary to find somebody that can help you, can recommend you that it is –

Ramsey Russell: Be sure you’re getting the real thing. I just find that so interesting that all this is going down right here. I’m going to change subjects and I want to get into duck hunting a little bit.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: I want to talk about Azeri duck hunters, the people that guide us, the staff that guides us. You organize these areas. How many hunting areas are there in Azerbaijan? How many duck hunting areas approximately?

Kenan Sherif: In Azerbaijan under the control of the Ministry of Ecology, 10 ten hunting lakes, 10 hunting farms and all hunting farms are available for everybody. For local hunters and for foreigners. For local hunters, by the rule, only 2 days they can hunt.

Ramsey Russell: What?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. And it is Saturday and Sunday that you can buy only for 1 day, not 2 days that you can buy for one day for your hunting license. And you can decide when do you want Saturday or Sunday. And you decide which hunting lake you plan to go.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Kenan Sherif: For foreign, say, in Azerbaijan it is 5 days.

Ramsey Russell: Okay. 5 day permit. That’s why we do a 5 day hunt.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, 5 days hunting and with a license, offshore license. And we recommend to foreign hunters which lake is better, which lake has a more good quality of the migration that as a company, we have information about it. We are all-time in contact with the local guides, our guides who work there. And we make like this decision which lake we can go, normally as a company we have a permit for all 10 lakes to organize that kind of thing.

Ramsey Russell: And you reach out to people like Elchin or Ralph and we go hunting. I want to talk about first, I want to talk about them, those people that take us hunting as hunters themselves. The first trip we ever came to Azerbaijan, we were driving somewhere and on the sides of the road there were little highway vendors like back home in the deep South. They would sell boiled peanuts or fruit, watermelons. And so, I see fruit and fruit. All of a sudden there’s one that got 2 big hairs and then there’s some that have ducks. And there’s another one that has ducks. And there’s another one has. Whoa, whoa, stop. And these ducks were harvested by Azeri hunters?

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: And they sell them. And that’s a common practice here. They still hunt for market. And I asked you one time, is it legal? And you said, not really. I said, but they’re out here in front of the whole world selling. He goes, my people have been eating ducks for 2000 years and they’re not going to stop. That’s kind of how it is, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a part of eating duck is legit. That’s not just a hobby. That’s like a real part of the Azeri culture. They like duck.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, you’re right. Azerbaijan duck hunters. I can say that they divide into two parts. We have very few international duck hunters. Maybe you can say 2, 3. If true, I don’t know more than 2, 3 hunters which go to other countries for shooting. And if true for them not necessary to go to other countries that we have all species in Azerbaijan, but we have many hunters which like to hunt for resting plus get some ducks for eating.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, if true last year’s.

Ramsey Russell: And by resting, you mean recreation?

Recreation: Enjoying nature and hunting requires endurance.

And of course, as I said, our dishes, our meals very tasteful, especially when we add there like wild animals like duck.

Kenan Sherif: Yes, recreation, resting. That to get pleasure from the nature, from the hunting trip. Like good endurance. Not everybody can go to duck hunting. That you have to be stronger by your mind, by your physical condition. And of course, as I said, our dishes, our meals very tasteful, especially when we add there like wild animals like duck. In this case, most of the local hunters going for hunting as forget for eating the taste of the meat of the duck. And we have also some illegal hunters which go to hunt for sale. That is especially hunters from poor families. And for them, it is like also a tradition that they love to hunt, but also they sell it to keep their family and make money.

Ramsey Russell: The law doesn’t allow them to sell the hunt. But even though we’re in the year 2023, we’re kind of where, we were in America back in the late 1800s to where so much of the public wants to buy their duck that the market still exists and it exists fairly out in the open. And I have actually seen policemen at some of these roadside shops because they eat duck also. So the shop gives them a couple of ducks.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And I’m not saying that in a bad way, it just is what it is. It’s interesting coming back in this time because a man that is a pure recreational hunter is a sport. And in any sport, you have rules.

Kenan Sherif: Of course.

Ramsey Russell: And hunters, like football players or baseball players, operate more or less within the rules. But my observation is having hunted with some of these Azeri hunters, is they are poor, they are feeding themselves with the bounty of their keel, and they are selling it because they need the income and because it’s not just a hobby, it is how they live and survive. They have elevated their ability to kill a wild duck to an art form. They are the best killers I’ve ever met. In the times past, we get out very early in the morning, very early and I’ve heard shots at 04:00 in the morning. And that’s somebody sitting in the tools with decoys waiting on a duck. He’s been there all night shooting a duck here and there, coming into his decoys. And I have seen my own guide. One day we were hunting Kenan, and I could hear above me, Gadwall. I could hear Gadwall. And my guide was indicating to shoot. It was pitch black, dark. And I kept shrugging him off, so I gave him the gun. He started spinning around, watching as the duck went to the right. He went to the right. He was sitting there. He could see that duck.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: I couldn’t see it. I could hear it. Boom, He shot, splashed the duck. Then he handed me the gun back, said, no, do that. I can’t do that. I can’t see daylight. It’s crazy. That same guide would call with his mouth all the species.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Very good. When an Azeri guide or hunter hides, you can’t see him. He hides very well. Not an inch of the boat is sticking out. If he sees a duck a mile off in the distance, he starts calling it.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: Because maybe that duck won’t come in. But the more time the more ducks I call to, the more I’m going to kill. He’s taken it to such a level. I really appreciate it. And he doesn’t have a lot of modern, conventional comfort and tools. They don’t have a lot of the warm waterproof gear that is regularly available in the United States. They don’t have a lot of the mallard calls, pintail whistles, mojos, semiautomatic shotguns. They don’t have that. But they, by God, feed their families. And I’ve got to respect that.

Kenan Sherif: I know many local hunters, like you said and most of them now work as guides. Of course, some of them have unbelievable ability about to understand duck hunting, that they know everything from A to Z, that they know everything they can, by the voice of the flying duck, can say which duck is flying now.

Ramsey Russell: By his wing beats.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Not just his vocalizations, by his wing beats, they can tell which duck it is.

Kenan Sherif: And like these hunters, we try every time to take to us, to work with us. It is very good for our hunters that they work as guides for our hunters. And they don’t go to make illegal hunters. They get good salary, they get good equipment and they are happy to work with us every time. It is also one way to protect illegal hunting in Azerbaijan. And I think it is one of the best ways that to collect all the illegal hunters near the lake, most of them live nearest village and take them to work, and everybody will be happy.

Ramsey Russell: The ducks are better off.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Their family gets fed with gratuities, so the resource benefits and the Azeri hunter, market hunter benefits by guiding tourist hunters.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: You asked me a question on the way to supper tonight because we were talking about species. I’m going to preface it like this. Did you all know that here in Azerbaijan, we shoot shovelers, we shoot gadwalls, we shoot northern pintails, we shoot a lot of green wing teal, Eurasian green wings. Wigeons, Eurasian Wigeon, common pochards, mallards and mallard is a big duck, big deal duck. But then we kind of come here chasing unicorns, red-crested pochards, ferruginous pochards, common shelducks, ruddy shelducks, garganey. I’ve even seen marble teal. And you asked me, you said something along the lines about, did all Americans collect trophies? And I believe that a lot of the hunters that are coming here, everyone we’ve ever brought does want to put their hands on those unicorns, but they’re also experienced collectors. Purpose of this podcast. They’re trophy hunters. And it occurred to me, as you were telling me the story of Azerbaijan, the history that in 1918, when you gained your first independence, briefly, America had, because of economic market hunting, depleted many of its wildlife species to the point of extinction. Passenger pigeons, which were once the most abundant bird on earth, we killed to extinction for money. Carolina parakeet, bison, it just went on and on. And in 1918, the same year you all got independence, we enacted a Migratory Bird Treaty Act and states and federal governments began to protect the resource with laws. Shotgun shell limits, the time of day you can shoot, how you can transport them, you cannot sell them and the whole federal government comes down on you for this kind of stuff, okay. To protect that resource. And what has since happened, Kenan, is in contrast to a lot of the Azeri hunters that I’ve met. America transitioned from hunting just to eat, to feed their family and they transitioned more into a sport. And in doing so, we became extremely passionate in the same way that Europeans are passionate about football. We call it soccer or somebody’s passionate about their team sport, hunters are very dedicated to perfecting the call. Shooting well, hiding, hunting, grinding, going deep to get their birds. And eventually, as you get older and your world gets bigger, you begin to evolve as a hunter in phases to where going to a foreign country like Azerbaijan and chasing a unicorn species red-crested pochard takes on a new aura. That’s where a lot of the hunters that come here are all about. And for me personally, it’s not just the red-crested pochard or pick a species. It’s where the pursuit of that species takes me in the world to find and introduces me to cultures such as the Azeri culture. That’s what it means to me. That’s where it comes from. You see what I’m saying? But I know that you have noticed a difference in American hunters versus Arab Emirate or Lebanese or Italian hunters that you’ve hunted. What are some of the differences in an American hunter versus some of the other hunters that you guide?

Kenan Sherif: If true for duck hunting, first time from the United States, I accepted hunters from you, with you. You were one of the first hunters from the United States which came to Azerbaijan and hunted with me. And I am in hunting already 15 years. And I had many hunters, especially from Italy, from France, from Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia, from Russia. It was, for me unforgettable days.

Ramsey Russell: How?

Kenan Sherif: When I met you, when I spent 5 days with you and with your hunters. For me, big difference between United States hunters and another hunters in the world. I see in United hunters like nobility, like professional –

Ramsey Russell: Nobility.

Kenan Sherif: Nobility, professional. And also how they feel and they understand duck hunting. I see only professional mind of duck hunting in United States hunters. Till today, I cannot say that about another country. I have many clients from many countries that these clients were same as United States hunters. United States hunters, for me, it is unbelievable not only about hunting, about intelligence, about being attentive, about understanding the situation, about helping on something. Every day, now, when you have clients and the father with 2 sons, Mr. Blanchfield, I am proud like this father, I am very proud. When I see his sons, I see how upbringing him. It is unbelievable, when I see him and I begin to think that I have to upbringing my sons as him.

Ramsey Russell: Upbringing?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Can you tell that hunting in America is a hand me down tradition? A hunter like myself or like Mr. Blanchfield, we hand down the respect for the resource and the ability to hunt and we hand it down to our future generations. Can you tell that transition when you deal with Americans?

Kenan Sherif: Yes, of course. I see the process which during these 5 days, father show his sons and how he teaches them this duck hunting experience about how to do everything. Really, it is very interesting and it is very, how to pronounce, I don’t know, that I can remember these persons every time they are in my mind for a long time. That I see like these persons from the United States.

Ramsey Russell: The first trip we came here was very memorable for me also. We hit it just right. We shot most of all the species we’re after, had an amazing time. It was kind of high volume. It was kind of high species. And, I brought some really well traveled and experienced hunters that first trip. And Azerbaijan is the kind of hunt that attracts that kind of hunter. And the head guy, Elchin, as we were leaving that night at dinner, he speaks no English, very friendly and personable. But he came in and he was kind of talking to us at the table with you as a translator. And he said something to the effect of what you just said. He said, he’s hunted with a lot of hunters to include Azerbaijan’s. And he said, if all Americans hunt like you all hunt duck, America is truly the greatest duck hunting country on earth. Is that what he said?

Hosting American clients for big game hunting tours in Azerbaijan.

Our chief guide, he is also a very good duck hunter, he is a very clever hunter and he knows everything about duck hunting.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, yeah. It is true. Our chief guide, Elchin, he is also a very good duck hunter, he is a very clever hunter and he knows everything about duck hunting. When he saw your group of hunters, he was really excited. It is unbelievable that every time he says that I am a very clever hunter, I am a very professional hunter. But when he sees you and he says, Kenan, I am zero compared to the United States hunters professionalism, this professionality is unbelievable. We saw it and we see it today also. Every time, as you know, I also organize big game hunting. I have many hunters for big game in Azerbaijan for hunting tours. Every year, I have clients from the United States. Believe me, I can say the same things for them also that United States hunters are very professional.

Ramsey Russell: Very professional, very serious.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, very serious. When you hunt for 5 days with United States hunters, you don’t get tired. You get pleasure only, not only from hunting but also from the relationships and friendships, the way they are frankly, they speak with you as if they’ve known you for 10 years.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Kenan Sherif: Really, I haven’t known you for a long time. But every time I see you and I see your new clients, I am very happy. The team is also very happy to see how you are, good mans like.

Ramsey Russell: Google Translate is almost useless in communicating with Azeri staff. I cannot have a conversation using Google Translate. And they don’t speak English and I surely don’t speak Azeri. You speak very good English compared to my Azeri. And I can barely speak English, can I? But they’re duck hunters. I can spend all day with Ideal, Elchin, Ralph, the others. We never speak a word that we understand, but we get along perfectly. What I’ve noticed traveling around the world is you can put an Azeri, a Pakistani, a Muslim, a Christian, the rich, the poor, into a duck blind, into a duck boat. And 99% of the time, we’re just duck hunters.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: We had a client here one time that was complaining. I just wish they spoke English. And I’m like, he’s a duck hunter.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: He said, what do you mean? I said, He’s a duck hunter. All you have to do is kind of point. He understands. Oh, you want the mojo mood? You want something? He’s a duck hunter. He gets it.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, he understood everything in 1 second.

Ramsey Russell: And we got back to the boat ramp. He’s like, holy shit, you’re right. That guy’s a duck hunter. And you’re a duck hunter. You can get along. I am Changing subjects. A lot of people read the news. I don’t read much news. There’s a lot of fake news out there. A lot of people hear about you all’s skirmish with Armenia. They’re aware of the fact you’re Muslim. I get asked a lot. And I’ve asked you in the past, why should Americans feel safe in Azerbaijan? Because when I’m here, Kenan, everybody at the hotel, everybody at the house, everybody at the grocery store, everybody in town, everybody at the restaurant, everybody on the boat ramp, everybody I’m in the blind with, they are the friendliest people and so hospitable and so glad. One time I was in one of the towns we were hunting at and Elton introduced me to everybody as his American friend.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: They’re just friendly and safest. I’ve never felt any animosity or hostility or resentment. Am I right? Should an American feel safe in Azerbaijan?

Kenan Sherif: 100%. And not only Americans. Azerbaijan is in the top 20 countries for safety. It is not my words. It is the United Nations Organization report. About criminality in Azerbaijan is zero. At night, at 03:00, you can go any street, you can go any village, you can go any city, nobody touches you. Everybody who sees you at night at 03:00 alone will come to you and ask if you need any help. What do you want? They can take you to their home for 1 or 2 days to help you. Really. I am 100% sure in the world you cannot find a second nation hospital as Azerbaijanis, I am 100% sure about it and very friendly, very polite about safety, Of course, you are not the first time already several years coming to Azerbaijan with many hunters. And you see safety. You see everything. In Baku, you were in the border with Iran.

Ramsey Russell: We hunted 8 miles from Iran.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, there is a 16 km distance. You were in other cities also. And you see all the safety in Azerbaijan, one of the safest countries in the world. You can be sure and statistically, if anybody looks in a Google search, they can see how many 1000s of tourists from all around the world come to Azerbaijan and stay in Azerbaijan and return back. Everybody is very happy. As you said, we are an Islamic country, a Muslim country, but we are not radical. In Azerbaijan, you cannot feel yourself that you are in an Islamic country. As you see, everybody, especially our women, they don’t cover their heads, don’t cover their faces. Everybody wears clothes, as in the United States.

Ramsey Russell: They dress beautifully like Americans.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. In this case, in Azerbaijan, about safety, about religious safety, about personal safety, everybody can be 100% sure that Azerbaijan is not like, as you said, Pakistan or Iran or Afghanistan. It is very fake news.

Ramsey Russell: But I asked you the other day at dinner, we had a very good conversation. And I asked you, I said, do you think I would be safe in Iran? You said, absolutely.

Kenan Sherif: Of course.

Ramsey Russell: You think, I would be safe in Iran as an American.

Kenan Sherif: I am sure.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Kenan Sherif: I was in Iran also. And as I said, our border with Iran, there are Azerbaijanis and in Iran lives 40 million Azerbaijanis. They are our brothers, they are our relatives and we know them. They are the same as we are here. Same tradition, same mentality, same hospitality. In this case, I say that the people in Iran, they are also like Azerbaijanis. I mean these 40 million nationality. And I am sure that if you go to Iran, you can feel yourself also in safety there, by the side of people. Of course, the government is the government. Nobody can give a guarantee for now that we can understand the policy, we can understand something different. But about people, the people are in good mind, the people about the United States hunters that I know it exactly.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s been my observation, kenan, that there are 8 billion people on earth. I haven’t met near about all of them. But of the many people I’ve met, there are some bad people and there are some good people, but 80, 90% of humanity is just people. Just like me, just like you, just like the guy listening. We’re just people living our lives, going to work, going to the grocery store, doing what we love to do, be it duck hunting or playing golf. We’re just people. And everybody kind of, sort of gets along, don’t we? That’s been my case here. I can’t end this podcast without talking about the food. It’s been my experience that coming to Azerbaijan is not the place to go on a diet. Forget about that. You feed us three meals a day. I usually try to eat just two because they’re ginormous. The food is amazing. The food is utterly amazing. The last 3 or 4 meals we’ve had is amazing. But in wrapping this up, I want to talk about one meal and I’m going to go back to the Azeri hunter. The other day, we go out to hunt in the afternoon. Never done that before in Azerbaijan. We always hunt in the mornings and it’s late. By looking at the sun, we got 45 minutes to hunt, but the moon’s coming up. If we’re hustling to get in the boats and go, you tell me, they asked that you shoot the black bird.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: I go, what black birds? Coots.

Kenan Sherif: Coots, yeah.

Ramsey Russell: I go, really? What are the two favorite ducks of true real Azeri hunters?

Kenan Sherif: First, coots, as you said. And the second, mallards, and the third, teals. They are favorite ducks for Azeri hunters.

Ramsey Russell: Coots are the favorite?

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, Coots is the first one. And the main reason is the taste of coot, that it is unbelievable for us. Tasteful meat.

Ramsey Russell: Well, seeing is believing. And so one night, the chef cooked green-winged teal that was amazing. Nothing short of grilled and just unbelievable. And the next night, I thought you were kidding. He cooked coot.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And I cannot believe how good that was. Describe the dish that he cooked and what it was. Describe how he cooked that coot. What was the name of that dish, that recipe and how did he cook it?

Kenan Sherif: It is a very traditional meal for Azerbaijan. Like to prepare from coot, several kinds of meals that each region alongside the Caspian Sea or near the lakes, they have oven meals to prepare with coot. And our cooker also prepared one of the special coot meals here in this region. And the ingredient, it is very simple. There is coot, there is onion, there is butter, there is –

Ramsey Russell: Sauteed onions.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: I think he sauteed or put some pomegranate seeds.

Kenan Sherif: Pomegranates, yeah. And the tomatoes.

Ramsey Russell: And he had boiled the tomatoes. And then he put it all together.

Kenan Sherif: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: And baked it.

Kenan Sherif: Baked it.

Ramsey Russell: There wasn’t a drop left. There were 4 of us, 5 of us at the table. And he brought out a big pan and there was none left.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: It was unbelievable.

Kenan Sherif: Tasteful.

Ramsey Russell: And what was the dish we cooked last night? I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s traditionally served at weddings.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. This meal is a shah plov. It is a rice meal. It is a very traditional meal of Azerbaijan. Especially, we prepare it during the wedding days.

Ramsey Russell: Wedding days.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. Especially, when any guests come to our home. The first meal is shah plov rice meal. And it can consist of beef meat, consist of lamb, meat consists of chicken, turkey.

Ramsey Russell: Last night he used our gadwall.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah, gadwalls.

Ramsey Russell: And to describe this meal, he’s talking about this plov. It’s like he used saffron to make batsami rice. That’s the base. And he had the ducks and he added apricots and raisins and hazelnuts and that’s all good and fine. But then he put it in his pan that had been lined with the finest, flakiest, most delicious pie crust pastry you have ever bitten into. Put a lid on it and baked it. I really thought I was going to explode last night before I finished eating. It was that good. It was unbelievable. The food is amazing. You said something one time, you said that not everything, you all got forks, but I’m saying as a culture, quote, you like to eat with your fingers.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Why? Because I know we’ve got vegetable pickle dishes, all these little platters laid out on the table and you reach with your hand and eat it. Explain why your culture with your fingers?

Kenan Sherif: First, I want to tell from my own feelings about to eat with fingers. When I eat with fingers, I feel the meal, I feel the vegetable, I feel the fruit more close to my heart or to my mind. First, I touch it and the appetite begins to increase. First, I feel this meal by my fingers. And the reason on the fingers, many nerves that can send information to your brain and your appetite goes up and you begin to eat more tastefully than normal with any iron spoon or knife, at home normally, I eat every time with fingers. Sometimes, of course, in restaurants also, I do it, really it is unbelievable, tasteful. Only you have to do it and you have to feel it. Especially under rice meals. We love to eat these fingers and, in our tradition, we have proverbs. This proverb means that you have to eat all kinds of meats only with hand. Yeah, if you don’t eat with hand.

Ramsey Russell: It’s kind of where the kebab came from.

Kenan Sherif: Any kind of meat, like fish or chicken or beef or lamb, mutton, is that you have to eat by hand. If you don’t eat by hand, it means you don’t feel the taste of the meat.

Ramsey Russell: Wow.

Kenan Sherif: Yeah. It is like a proverb in Azerbaijan.

Ramsey Russell: I’m going to end on this note right here. Azerbaijan is not necessarily high volume, it’s not necessarily species. Species move, same as back in America. We hunt the habitat. We don’t always get the species. It’s about the chase. We’re chasing unicorns, red-crested pochards, ferruginous pochards. Today, this morning, I saw more ferruginous pochards than I have seen in the past 5 visits combined. Many more shot more this morning than I have shot in the past 5 or 6 visits combined. The birds are here. This is where you come to hunt. Red-crested pochards and shelducks, primarily common shelducks, ferruginous pochards. And this is their habitat, this is where they live. This is their wintering grounds. But unfortunately, in the 5 or 6 visits I’ve been here, it could sometimes be very high volume, it could sometimes be average duck hunting because of the weather, because of the climate, because of whatever the migration, sometimes we get all the species. So far in the past 4 days, we haven’t seen a red-crested pochard, we haven’t seen a shelduck, shot a lot of ferruginous, shot a lot of gadwalls, shot a lot of teals, have not seen your redhead wigeons. It’s a big country, it’s a big area. We continue to move and scout and try to stay in the greatest possibility of hunting. But beyond all that, we don’t sell dead ducks, we sell experiences. And I think you all can see from the meet with my friend Kenan tonight, why Azerbaijan, as a cultural backdrop to an amazing traditional duck hunt, is a pretty cool place to come hunt. We eat good, we tell good stories, we see all this stuff we talked about today and we hunt with some very good and capable duck hunters that teach me new things every time I come here. Azerbaijan is right on the Caspian Sea and it’s a pretty cool place. Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Azerbaijan, we’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks