Paul Conchatre’s Birdtail Waterfowl in Manitoba isn’t just another guided waterfowl destination. It’s a whole ‘nuther level experience. And it’s all by design. Whether you’re talking the best goose decoys money can buy, customized a-frame blinds, hand-carved diver rigs or even they efficient layout of the resort-like facilities, it’s all about delivering superior experiences; it’s all in the details. And details are Conchatre’s specialty.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I am in beautiful Manitoba with Birdtail Outfitters, Paul Conchatre runs a top class service right here. Paul, it has been a year, since I been here, I was navigating my way to you and run our cell phone signal, which I kind of add to the aura of this part of Manitoba, man, what a great thing to be out hunting and not have a telephone signal. Come here, I got Wi-Fi, but to be out and my phone ain’t chirping and buzzing at me. The downside of it is, I’m glad I remember my way in here because right by the time I wanted to find your pin, then I run out of service and recognize – what is that monument right over here?
Paul Conchatre: It’s an old school.
Ramsey Russell: It is an old school.
Paul Conchatre: So the province and its rural municipality kind of they put up these kind of celebrating old –
Ramsey Russell: Historical monuments. That goes back, to me, the history of here and all these other provinces out here in western Canada, because at one time, these farms were 40 acres, 80 acres and every 40 or 80 acres or quarter section had another farm on it and so there were schools like this all over the place.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. And it’s kind of cool because when you’re parking trucks or whatever, you actually run upon the old kind of, almost like rock piles with a steel stake in it and that was the quarter section that the homesteaders kind of got. And they’re still out there in the bush, so you kind of see them and you kind of go, that’s pretty cool.
Ramsey Russell: I love history like that. Where do you live in Manitoba?
Paul Conchatre: I live in Winnipeg.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. You do. And that’s not too far from here.
Paul Conchatre: No, it’s few hours drive.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Excellent. Man, I’m glad to be back here. And I’m going to tell you, man, after driving throughout Western Canada, I don’t know what it is, I turn into your gate, it’s like a little mini resort you got right here. Where was your vision for that? Well, I mean, seriously, because there’s a lot of outfits, some of them have got great big lodges and some of them are going in hotels, but where did your vision for Birdtail, this layout, this organization, what inspired this?
Paul Conchatre: I got it for a lot of years, a lot of different operators all across Canada from fishing to muskox, caribou, white tail, black bear and whatnot. So, for me, I kind of got a bit of a taste of all different operations and styles out there and I tried to take all the good parts and where the parts I liked and tried to put it all into one and it ended up being almost like a flying fishing style of kind of lodged towards like, waterfowl is fast paced, it was constantly, you’re from hero to zero, morning and night and you got to you’re moving, picking up and whatnot and to where it’s like, if you try to control all the variables that slow you down or speed bumps that kind of hurt your day and it affects people coming here and hunting. So basically, you try to contain everything right on-site and then you can actually have a smooth day because you can actually try to control your variable. So it ends up being almost like a self-sustaining fishing lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Ramsey Russell: It really is. Just the flow and I didn’t mean to start on this particular location, but since I just pulled in, it’s like, you pull in, you go all the way down to the barn, all the little cottages are on the right, pull around, there’s the guide quarter, there’s the equipment shed, there’s all your extra trailers laid up, guides move in, they go mudroom, which is heated, got a weather channel, got a TV, got a gun cleaning station, got your own personal lockers, the drive wraps around it, I mean, it’s just in and out, man.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s got good flow.
Ramsey Russell: It’s got really good flow, but the vibe is, to me, it’s like a little fishing camp resort. Clean, not a blade of grass, I mean, I thought I was going to catch you out there combing you grass –
Paul Conchatre: No, man I get busted for picking feathers nonstop. All my guides are like, hey, Paul, it is a waterfowl lodge, I’m like, yeah, I know, but don’t need it to be a chicken coop.
Ramsey Russell: How’s the season going so far? We’re getting on down towards the end of the season, how has it been? Walk me through your whole season beginning to end, how it’s been this year?
Paul Conchatre: We started a little bit earlier this year we normally do just because last few years, we’ve been freezing earlier than normal. So, I kind of bumped our season a little warmer and of course, got caught with that because we had a very wet spring with all the snow that we had and then we were covered up with rain I don’t know how many inches, like, I want to say 70 inches or something like that this spring. So a delayed seeding, so our crops are really late and it end up where everyone was really worried about, I guess, how the crops are going to turn out, but they ended up being really good, but they ended up being very late. So when we first started in September, I think I bet 2% of the crop was down, so it was it was tough.
Ramsey Russell: Late to plant, late to harvest, not many places for these geese to land.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. So thank god, we had a lot of peas around, so the peas were down some of them. So the birds were concentrated, but they got educated real quick. And we got kind of like lucky stars, we didn’t have a lot of rain this fall, so crops came off at a good rate, as soon as we got into that first part of October, we had a lot of places to hunt. But I would say that a lot of birds that come through the boreal, like the first stage of the boreal breeders, they shot through this area pretty quick.
Ramsey Russell: The opening week here in Manitoba for non-residence for your guest is 3rd week, 4th week?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s September 24th.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. September 24th, that’s a set date.
Paul Conchatre: This is set date. Yeah. Same data every year. Canadian resident, like Canadian non-resident, so people outside of Manitoba can hunt as of September 1st. So we start off with Canadians up till the 24th and –
Ramsey Russell: And that’s when the foreign nationals can start. What’s different on the opening week? What do you expect to see? If I come up here in early in the season in Manitoba, all things equal, what am I hunting? Local birds, mallards, Canada geese, big Canadas?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. A lot of big Canadas, not so many lesser, we’re finding the snows are coming down earlier and some specks, you get a handful of them a year.
Ramsey Russell: You feel like you’re picking up more specks lately?
Paul Conchatre: No. I’d say we were seeing the same number we’ve seen probably the last 20 years.
Ramsey Russell: What about snows? More or less?
Paul Conchatre: This year, more, but I think that’s just because Saskatchewan and Alberta are so dry that they just shifted towards where the water was.
Ramsey Russell: I know this year, like in other parts of Manitoba, I was seeing soya bean fields, which when you start to see a lot of soya beans, that means late planting date probably. But even with that late planting date, there were bare areas that just had water standing in when the farmer went and tried to plant some. I even saw some fallow fields that were so wet they could be planted.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. That was this spring. Like, I think a lot of our crops were actually sown past the insurance state.
Ramsey Russell: So is Manitoba still behind the curve? Is it drier than normal or is it wetter than usual?
Paul Conchatre: I’d say right now, mid-October, we’re probably where we should be at.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, so it’s normal.
Paul Conchatre: It’s normal. This spring is ridiculous.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m going to tell you what, as you start moving west, it is desert dry. Like, Paul, there were cracks out in Saskatchewan when I saw, I was like, god, I hope my dog doesn’t break her leg falling off on one of these, I hadn’t seen cracks. And I feel like if I dropped my phone and it falls down on them cracks, it’s going to hit China. Drier than I have ever seen dry.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. We were coming back from BC skiing, as a family spring break and that’s March, April, or something. Anyways, when you’re driving through, snow just all melted and it was salt stained marshes. Like, there’s no water in them and I’m like, in theory, they should be filled with all the snow melt and they weren’t.
Ramsey Russell: I know, I was over on the western political boundary of Manitoba and it was pretty damn dry. It was pretty darn dry, Paul. But it’s not that dry when you start getting over this part, like the further east you go, the weather’s getting.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Like, I don’t know if it’s Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg generate a little bit, their own precipitation or their own kind of weather and then as like Manitoba does not have a lot of agriculture in it, it’s just kind of like that southwest corner in the southern edge after that, it’s all boreal, native pre-Cambrian shield on the east side. So, that generates weather too, it’s getting moisture out of it.
Ramsey Russell: How far north have you been in Manitoba?
Paul Conchatre: Me, personally, probably, like, 400 or 500 miles south of Northern border, but I used to –
Ramsey Russell: Which is where? Where in the heck? How far away from the northern border?
Paul Conchatre: I don’t even know, long ways.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, I guess, it’s the north pole.
Paul Conchatre: No. Because you got Nunavut, which is north of us.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. It’s a long way from here. I’m probably closer to home in Mississippi than I am to the northern border of Manitoba.
Paul Conchatre: You’re probably on the center. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That’s crazy.
Paul Conchatre: Like when I used to guide muskox, caribou, I was north of Alberta on Great Bear Lake and then we go up, close to the Coronation Gulf, so Arctic Ocean. We’d see pintails breeding there, teal, blue wings, green wings, little buggers go all the way up coastal.
Geographical Marvels: Manitoba’s Central Role in Canada’s Wetland Landscape
I learned that Canada has 1/4th of the earth’s wetlands and Manitoba has an unbelievable amount of Canada’s wetland.
Ramsey Russell: It’s unbelievable. I bring up this subject and we’re going to get back on how your season progressed, I bring up the right here in Manitoba over at Oak Hammock Marsh, I was nearby and wanted to go by and take a look and I learned a lot. I mean, number one, I’m looking at where I am on a map, looking clear up to the top thinking, holy cow, I am a long way from home, but I’m a long way from the top of Manitoba and I learned that Canada has 1/4th of the earth’s wetlands and Manitoba has an unbelievable amount of Canada’s wetland. That’s crazy, isn’t it?
Paul Conchatre: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. That boreal forest produced like nothing else. It was actually kind of neat what we saw this year, is our area is prairie pothole region and we produce birds like crazy, but we had a big snow melt here, which got our potholes kind of up to an average level and then we got rain nonstop and we watched the birds kind of try to nest over and over, but they were just getting flooded out. So what the birds ended up doing is they went north and I don’t know if they bred up north, but I said they tried one to two times south in this pothole region, then they went up to the boreal, but the boreal is a massive producer, like just on an average year, but it was like in July, August, you couldn’t buy a Canada goose in the pothole region, you couldn’t buy a teal anything, there was nothing, zero. It was weird.
Ramsey Russell: It’s funny you say that because I’ve been hearing in theory and I’ve heard it heard it more and more that, historically the prairies is where the birds, but now in the absence of trapping, more beavers, more beaver ponds, a few centigrades, warmer temperature on average and then a lot of birds are starting to shift, because when I think of boreal forest production, I think, of golden eyes, buffleheads, divers in some of them deep water areas, maybe some green wings, but now I’m hearing more and more birds coming into the shallower water up there now because of the beavers, that’s an interesting theory that trapping stop because of the fur market plummeted, beaver started to dam up more shallow water areas, create more wetlands up in the boreal forest, it’s a little bit warmer. Now a lot of the prairies are dry and birds are finding sanctuary up there. But do you know whether or not they’re really surveying? We started seeing these bee pop, do you think they’re counting those areas? Because they’re not in the traditional survey area?
Paul Conchatre: No, they’re not. So I don’t know. They maybe, but I really don’t know, but there’s one thing that we’ve seen really that’s quite different this year, obviously, like I was saying, we really didn’t have a lot of birds nesting in this area just because the volume of water was getting right throughout their nesting season, so they laughed. But it was like as soon as we started getting birds maybe like 300 miles into the boreal, soon as that flight started coming through this year, we were picking up birds with that rice breast, like nonstop, never ever have seen that.
Ramsey Russell: You see that when birds are kind of in that stagnant water and I think in great congregates.
Paul Conchatre: That’s boreal birds, that’s not prairie pothole birds. Like, we’d see that in blue wings and stuff like that, like, just sitting there, but you’re picking up mallards and pintails with rice breast in the boreal. So I don’t know what that means, somebody who’s a biologist and knows the science, but I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but we’ve seen a lot of birds like that and we’ve never seen that ever before.
Ramsey Russell: Looping back around, you all started off with a normal amount or more local Canadas, local mallards, when in the process do the migrators, do the snow geese, like, okay, opening week 24th, when do you start seeing an influx of snow geese of migrator dark geese?
Paul Conchatre: So beginning of October, we think that everything’s photo period for the first part of our season. And then, like, right now, what’s it today, October 21st?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Paul Conchatre: I think this is when they’re going to be coming in on fronts.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you all got some weather coming.
Paul Conchatre: We do. We got 15cm coming, which will be great, it’ll be fun to play in. But, no, I think the snow geese, they’re photo period, a good chunk of them.
Ramsey Russell: There’s no doubt they are. Yeah. I think they move on that kind of stuff and your season’s been good talking to your guide staff here, seeing the pictures, it’s been a pretty darn good season this year.
Paul Conchatre: I think it’s been our best ever.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good, that says a lot.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. I know. Like, yeah, it’s been good. It’s been really good.
Ramsey Russell: Good on duck, good on geese.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. To be honest, ducks have been when we hit him, we hit him really well, but for the volume of birds that we’ve been seeing on a landscape, but it’s probably one of the better years for sure for consistency. But we had with fairly warm weather, probably in the beginning part of October to where the ducks would have a good pattern in the morning and then they would just go sit in the potholes in the afternoon and not go to the fields and that’s where we get tricked. We don’t like shooting the potholes because it bumps birds, so it’s kind of okay, field it is and you kind of got to weather it a little bit. But yeah, I think our overall large harvest is probably our best ever.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve been doing this a long time, you see a lot of bird die as an outfitter as a guide yourself and it’s funny if I talk to you about goose hunting, if I talk to you about puddle duck hunting, but then we start talking about divers. Just now, your eyes light up and you start smiling.
Paul Conchatre: A little different.
Ramsey Russell: What is it about the divers up here in Manitoba?
Paul Conchatre: I don’t know. Me personally, I like adventure, I like a little bit more, I like kind of, I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s a wild hunt.
Paul Conchatre: Little next level. A little bit of change, the divers in Manitoba were absolutely – they don’t get the notoriety they should, we’ve got a great diver flyway that comes through, I’d say it’s maybe on average 2 weeks to 20 days where it’s absolutely world class.
Ramsey Russell: I think a lot of divers are produced in Manitoba versus the more Westward provinces.
Paul Conchatre: It’s possible.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know, but I just know that, here, Delta Marsh.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Oh, exactly.
Ramsey Russell: Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, all these big massive wetlands you got and just a fact that I don’t know another outfitter in Canada outside of yourself, no, I can tell you right for a fact, I don’t that specializes. Walk me through it? What kind of divers do you all shoot? When do they show up? How do you hunt them?
Paul Conchatre: We shot them actually, first time this year, 2 days ago and I had thought I was risking it going for them, they’re really hard to scout just because their patterns are different. But we usually wait for first ice and then break ice to go into a couple of spots that we hunt, but it’s been somewhat unseasonably warm. We went after them just based off the date, time of year and yeah, we ended up getting into buffleheads, blue bills, ring necks, golden eyes.
Ramsey Russell: Any red head or canvasback?
Paul Conchatre: We saw a few redheads, we didn’t get any and did not see any canvasbacks.
Ramsey Russell: Do you think they’re still north because it’s warm, had they moved on through on photo period?
Local Breeders or Migrators? Unraveling the Canvasback Mystery
If you wanted a canvasback here, I would say, okay, it’s got to be on that end of September first part of October.
Paul Conchatre: I think the cans have one. Yeah. If you wanted a canvasback here, I would say, okay, it’s got to be on that end of September first part of October. And I don’t know if they’re the local ones here, I don’t know if we have a big migration of cans that come through this area. Every time, we hunt diver or almost we get them during like a mixed bag hunts, is when it will pick up cans and it’s always in that really part. So I don’t know if they’re local breeders, is what we’re picking up. But I’ve never, in the area that we hunt, I’ve never seen waves of canvasbacks going through.
Ramsey Russell: The footage you were showing me while we were drinking coffee, preceding this episode was unlike any Canada hunting experience I’ve ever done. I’ve shot a few shallow potholes, get your gadwall, get your teal, get a few mallards, not the big roost ponds, but I’ve never seen nothing like what you all did. Describe how big was that body of water? Thousand acres?
Paul Conchatre: Easy a thousand. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Big.
Paul Conchatre: Big.
Ramsey Russell: How deep was it on average? Belt deep, chest deep?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s probably 8 to 9 foot on average. It’s different, it’s mostly round stem and you don’t have a lot of open, it’s not as if you have like an open main body in that lake.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s very hemi marsh.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Big times.
Ramsey Russell: Like, you’re fighting your way through and you’re showing me you all got the boat with the long tails and you are plowing your way through the bull rush, through the tules. But even when you get “open water” it ain’t wide open like a reservoir, it’s a lot of clumps of vegetation and stuff like that. Is there a lot of submerge aquatic they’re feeding on?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. There is and there isn’t. You know what I mean? To me, it never has really looked like a lot of food in there, but a lot of birds go in there and you can somewhat pattern those birds when they do use that water body, but I think they just kind of more or less hang out in there and then, they’re feeding, but they’re going to other lakes and that I think, have a higher shrimp content kind of thing and aquatics.
Ramsey Russell: Invertebrates, they got to have that.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about your decoys. Because those ain’t just running the mill decoys you all use. When you showed me those decoys the first time, I said, wait a minute, this is getting serious.
Paul Conchatre: I don’t know. I love diver hunting, I don’t have a ton of experience in hunting divers, we’re in a great area for them. We got in this area 25 years ago, ducks, mallards, pintails, geese, Sandhill cranes, there’s tons of opportunity for all the different style of hunting, like, you can shoot mallards 50 different ways here, which is fun. But the divers was something like where I’m kind of like, hey, I don’t really don’t know this, but we’re going to learn it and see if we can find the world class in this area of divers.
Ramsey Russell: And it is.
Paul Conchatre: And I think we found it. I think we know how to do it now and basically what we’re doing is using, like, I think they’re 10 foot 6, 4 rivers layout boat as a model, I think, it’s called the mini and then a PFF shallow drive motor and it’s like, 6 and a half horse. But everyone gets their own boat, their own motor and then we put these hand carved, beautiful diver decoys out and to me, because we were using a plastic diver decoy before and you see the birds react to them, they come in and do their thing, but all of a sudden, when you switch to these hand carved ones, they’re gorgeous. But I think it’s the roll in the water is what the birds are looking for and I remember the first time, robo ducks came out, I mean, you stand there, hold one in the middle of the water or field and you can literally out their feet, well, divers react to it like a traditional decoy just like that, because it is ridiculous the difference, it’s seen as believing kind of thing to where you’re like, yeah, I would never in a thousand years hunt, go and target divers over a plastic decoy, if you do want that, 15, 20 bird banking at a 100 miles an hour and ripped through your decoys, they will do that. And that hunt, we had thousands and thousands of birds coming through the decoys. Like, we shot our 32 bird limit in under an hour.
Ramsey Russell: What are the origins of those decoys? Who carves them?
Paul Conchatre: Joe Brewer, he carved them and he’s the guy that –
Ramsey Russell: He’s from Canada?
Paul Conchatre: No. He is down in the US, actually.
Ramsey Russell: Where in the US? I would guess diver country.
Paul Conchatre: Diver country.
Ramsey Russell: Big Lake country up north.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. I think he won a competition. My dad actually found him online, because I asked my dad, I’m like, this is what I want to do, because my dad carves, I’m like, can you find somebody?
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah, I know he’s a beautiful carver, but I needed 80 of these things, my dad is like, not a chance, Paul. I’m like, come on, man, no, not doing it. So anyways, he found a decoy that he really liked and ended up being Joe Brewer, so we contacted him and talked to Joe, and he’s like, wow, that’s a lot. I’m like, take your time.
Ramsey Russell: Gun and decoy.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Like, let’s do it. And so, yeah, he carved them for us and picked all the species in the sex ratio and man, it ended up being unbelievable. And it’s the coolest thing because diver hunting is it’s so bloody traditional, that’s our roots.
Ramsey Russell: That’s just it. See, that’s what I’m leading to Paul is, when I think a diver hunting, wax cotton cokes, freaking wild vibrant marshes and wooden decoys.
Paul Conchatre: It’s hardcore. It is an absolute hardcore hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s exactly what I envision real diver hunting should be. And I think it’s exciting, look, man, I’m from the Deep South and we target puddled ducks, you let a flock of ring necks come through, my heart starts beating through my jacket.
Paul Conchatre: Try to hit them, it’s hard.
Ramsey Russell: Exactly. I like to be humbled and a diver will humble you, man.
Paul Conchatre: All day long, love them.
Ramsey Russell: Does a lot of your clients because you all stay booked out way in advance. Do a lot of your guys come up and want to target divers or is that kind of, do you see it like a specialty, a niche.
Balancing Act: Promoting Without Overexploiting the Experience
I think it’s a special hunt and I think they’re very sensitive, so it’s just every once in a while, if it’s right.
Paul Conchatre: It’s totally a niche. I’m sure if we pushed it more, promoted it more, we’d be hunting them more, but it’s one of those ones where I don’t want to use and abuse it, I think it’s a special hunt and I think they’re very sensitive, so it’s just every once in a while, if it’s right, we’ll go do it.
Ramsey Russell: When the conditions are right, windy. You want it clear, raining?
Paul Conchatre: I don’t know. Like, we’ve done well on all conditions. To me, it’s timing of the season kind of thing and it’s just don’t over pressure.
Ramsey Russell: I noticed on that video you showed me, you’re going out in the afternoons. Do you typically hunt divers in the afternoons?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Just because the adventure getting in, it’s probably better done in daylight.
Paul Conchatre: It’s a lot of work. You’re pouring in sweat. Because you’re pulling boats over and motors and whatnot overland and going down channels and then busting through cattail floating walls and then going through flooded slough grass areas and pulling over, it’s mayhem to get in.
Ramsey Russell: It’s an adventure.
Paul Conchatre: But no one goes in there.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Paul Conchatre: So that’s like –
Ramsey Russell: It looks like virgin area, virgin Manitoba. Perfect diver habitat.
Paul Conchatre: Good luck going in. Like, it’s tough. And even if you had the equipment, you need to be a little bit off kilter to go for it, because it’s a lot.
Ramsey Russell: But most of your hunters wants the ducks and the geese that are so prized here in Manitoba and this year, best year ever you say, you had a lot of habitat because of the moisture. But you’ve also stepped up your game. Walk me through, let’s start with decoys. Come on now, I mean, a decoy is a decoy. I’m a guy who go out and hunt over black pop bottles but seriously, you all stepped up your decoy game big time.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. I was the same, I learned a lot this year, we all learned a lot, a decoy is not a decoy and there’s a lot of fads out there that are trying to paint the same pig, different colors, but it’s still a pig, but these things that we’re using are unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: What are you using?
Paul Conchatre: Using Dave Smith.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. They’re not cheap.
Paul Conchatre: They’re not cheap, but –
Ramsey Russell: Hand painted.
Paul Conchatre: They’re a 100% percent worth it, a 100%, you don’t have to run giant spreads, you don’t have to put out all the effort and the time to run massive spreads, you don’t need many.
Ramsey Russell: Walk me through this then. How many decoys were you putting out and how many are in your trailers and how many are your guides putting out now?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. We’re probably running 10 to 12 dozen before and then once we switch to these Dave Smith’s, I think it’s 6 and a half dozen in the trailers and that’s with the giants, the honkers, which is one step down and these little lesser that are –
Ramsey Russell: You run it 3 sizes and I know because they’re hand painted, they’re probably painting them differently. Are you seeing a difference?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s a 100% night and day. The guys are probably only putting out 2 and a half dozen on hunts.
Ramsey Russell: Tell us what you were telling me before the show about, birds of a feather flocking together because you all got big, middles and littles about how they’re reacting to the way you all are placing, you all different Canada goose decoys out in the spread.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Well, each trailer only has 6 of these like, I think they’re called cacklers, they’re smallest goose that they have. They got little short necks, tiny little beaks, they’re kind of plumpy looking like they look gorgeous. And so it’s just a little 6 pack and so you can go and put out your honkers, which are mid-sized goose and the graders further out, but if you’re hunting these little lesser, you kind of put this little 6 pack exactly where you want them to finish and they just hone in on that specific size. So what we’ve learned this year is, having a high quality decoys, that’s the way you do it. Like, for us, that’s what we’re seeing, but once you start, when you’re scouting, you’re seeing, whatever the sub is in that field, you can target that sub on how you kind of configure your spread. So, yeah, you put whatever sub you want in the pocket they will go, they will –
Ramsey Russell: Well, my scout report is all big. I mean, I put the big in the pocket, if it’s middles, I’m setting up for the middles.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Or take your 6. For us, we only have 6 lessers, you can throw your 6 lessers, go put them a 100 yards out, 200 yards out, it doesn’t matter, they’re not going to finish to those lessers, they’re going to finish to their own sub. It’s ridiculous and it’s absolute game changer, the volume thing, not no more.
Ramsey Russell: You’re running fewer decoys than the trailer, but within that, your guides are not putting out the whole trailer, they’re putting out a little high end micro spreads.
Paul Conchatre: We are finishing birds way never finished. And the guys sit there with their phones just videoing and I’m like, in my guiding career, I never saw that. We’d finished birds, but we’d not finished birds, so consecutive.
Ramsey Russell: What are you using for? I mean, because you all are shooting for mallards and pintails, you’re shooting ducks in these spreads too, a lot of your setups are combo, are you even putting out duck decoys or will they finish to just the Canadas?
The Perfect Blind Puzzle: Unraveling Early Season Confusion
And I went out with a group and I’m watching these, we’re hunting ducks and we have Canada decoys out and a whole pack of ducks, spinner going and we’re watching all these birds come, flight of like, 50.
Paul Conchatre: It’s pretty funny. We have probably had like 14 dozen duck decoys, full body duck decoys, they look great in each trailer. And I went out with a group and I’m watching these, we’re hunting ducks and we have Canada decoys out and a whole pack of ducks, spinner going and we’re watching all these birds come, flight of like, 50 or whatever, they’re coming and it was like a tennis racket hit them at 80 yards. And I’m like, what didn’t they like? And we’re like, moving everything around, trying to figure out this is in our early season, I’m like, could not figure out for the life of us, blind was perfect. And I’m like, okay and it happened again and then again. We’re like, okay, it’s our duck decoys, they don’t marry with a high quality goose decoys.
Ramsey Russell: It was plastic all of a sudden.
Paul Conchatre: All of a sudden, there’s garbage, we’re out of here, gone. So then we don’t put out any, we put maybe 4, 5 duck decoys out for duck hunt and then all our Dave Smith and then we kill ducks like crazy.
Ramsey Russell: You kidding?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah, it kind of was forcing me to buy all brand new duck decoys of whoever makes them high quality, like kick ass, duck decoys, that’s what you have to put in with Dave Smith.
Ramsey Russell: Unbelievable.
Paul Conchatre: But we may only have to buy 2 dozen of them.
Ramsey Russell: They don’t make duck decoys?
Paul Conchatre: I wish they did, they’re phenomenal, game changer for us. It’s not a new company, like, they stood the test of time, they got their loyal followers kind of thing and I tell you –
Ramsey Russell: Old fashion, made in America, hand painted, handcrafted, you can’t get them on Amazon shipped to you overnight, it takes time.
Paul Conchatre: Not made in Ningbo Bay, China. They’re phenomenal, like, forever loyal. And we weren’t given these decoys, they were not, their outfitter discount is –
Ramsey Russell: You had to dig deep.
Paul Conchatre: Well, there’s barely a discount, but at the end of the day, these things probably cost a whole lot of money to manufacture and there probably isn’t a high profit margin on them.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a hell of a testimony for a decoy company. I’m a tell you right now, that’s a hell of a testimony. And I tell you what, I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt with people that hunt over them and they’ll tell you the same thing. I mean, they are they are loyal and for snow gear, for aleutian geese, I mean, boom, just like you say, the guides that I know out west to here that target those snows, they’re all in on Dave Smith’s snows and blues.
Paul Conchatre: They’re beautiful, those decoys. Oh my gosh.
Ramsey Russell: And I met a couple of hardcore snow goose hunters that got a trailer load of Dave Smith that were scolding me for shooting juvenile birds, because these kids are targeting hardcore targeting only adult birds.
Paul Conchatre: I could see that.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, they could do it with those decoys.
Paul Conchatre: I’m telling you, like, we were not given these decoys. The outfitter discount is like, bare minimal and no problem with it, but I’m telling you these things are ridiculous. It is an absolute game changer and all to all total because we run 3 rigs and it was a big chunk that we spent on decoys this year and I think that’s probably the best move I’ve done in 20 plus years.
Ramsey Russell: But you made that up with another part of your program. Last year, I do remember hunting out of a panel blind, so when we were drinking coffee and you started talking about you built some panel blind, I’m like, you seen one, you seen them all? I mean, different name brands, same function. But you all made panel blind, something out of all the ones you all have tried over the years mass manufacturer, something was missing, you said, no, I can do better. Tell me about your new panel blinds.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s hard to the explain but –
Ramsey Russell: Seeing is believing. I’m like, yeah, panel blind until you started showing me pictures and I couldn’t pick it out. What are you doing different? What can I expect? If I step into a Birdtail panel blind, custom built, what’s different?
Paul Conchatre: The usability, I think is number one. The last a 100 years, it’s basically almost like a cut in half triangle with spikes that go into the ground, 1 inch square tubing welded and you basically just punch them into the ground and they lay, I think it’s called a horse panel, it’s a 6 gauge galvanized panel and we cut them to the width of our trailers.
Ramsey Russell: Is it like setting up a swing set every morning?
Paul Conchatre: Almost, but I tell you, once you get in the rhythm of it and you get inside, because they’re all grassed up and like, we went through 15,000 zip ties covering these things up, like, they’re very comfortable because they’re cutting the wind. But I mean, it’s like –
Ramsey Russell: You got a good solid cover around the frame.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. And then in walls and then there are in 55° angle, which is kind of what I liked, so it next up to about a 30 inch gap. And then on the bottom, you got 8 foot of room.
Ramsey Russell: Put your bag, put your dead bird, put your coffee.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. And what the guys do is they use, like, a cordless hedge trimmer and then they just cut natural cover and then that’s how they blend the color of where they are to the blind and then it just disappears and we have these little roof caps, which is like a just 9 inch chunks of this horse panel, 9 inch wide, 34 inches long and just put like maybe, a 20° bend in the center and that just goes caps, basically go between each shooter, so you’ll have this big long, dark rectangle and the birds are flying over, they just can’t see us. And then we’re hunting in these blinds that are just absolutely sick and then you got these Dave Smith in front, and it’s like you get feet down, 5 feet over your head all these blinds, it’s just ridiculous.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me again, walk me through again – I’m not giving up any trade secrets, I’m not asking for that. But I know your level of organization. We started off talking about the way your resort light fishing camp complex is laid out for total efficiency, if a trailer breaks down, you got two more sitting back here for trailer you got. Oh, broken axel, no problem, hook this one up and it runs like it’s supposed to run. But now, as I was looking, as you were showing me these photos of these blinds and you all setup, the thing that got me is like, I’ve got a grayer brown background, I’ve got a tan background, I’ve got a green cap and by god, it blended in every time, you’re not going out and brushing this thing for 2 hours every morning, are you?
Paul Conchatre: No. It’s the guides going out and just basically – because the grass we use is like a fairly neutral color and so then you just go, because in a pothole region, there’s always sloughs, there’s little ravines, there’s bluffs, there’s hedgerows, we’re always backing up to something and it’s that something that we go and cut and then we go and put that against a blind so it just disappears.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It really does. I don’t press easily anymore and I was like, yeah, pound blind until you showed a picture, just amazing.
Paul Conchatre: I know and they’re not hard to make, I mean, it’ll last probably my career. I mean, I remember hunting layout blinds and it dried me nuts because they’re made of like super thin wall white metal and somebody from laying down, kind of push your hands down to get up and every tubing is bent, that’s done. It’s garbage.
Ramsey Russell: Well, my good buddy is are a building contractor I just hunted with him and he’s got, I don’t know what brand it was, just put it all together. It’s one of them that’s got the bungee cord stretch. So, normally, you pick up these three pieces that are folded in the bungee cord, well, after a couple of years, there ain’t no bungee cord and it would have taken me probably the rest of my life to put that thing together and he not known where each of 50 pieces goes. So it went together in about 30 minutes and stuff, but I mean, that’s a kind of a big deal, built to last.
Paul Conchatre: Built to last. Well, everything we do, it’s obvious, like, we hunt so much, so it’s in and out.
Ramsey Russell: Down these bumpy roads in and out of the trailer, up against the fence, up against the hedgerow, up against the marsh, up against, in and out, but they seem to be holding pretty good.
Paul Conchatre: And even the Dave Smith, I was worried about whether they’re going to be able to take our use. Like, some hunt you have to get out of there quick because we might be able to hit that field again, if you only touch 5% of the flock on that hunt and you let it sit for a few days come back in. So sometimes we’re like, trying to get as fast as we can and so you’re rushing and you’re pushing your equipment a little too hard, but they’ve held up really well. Like, you’ve got them in the individual sacks and then we got these 6 lot, I think they’re tangle free bags and they’re padded and zippered and whatnot. So they’re not getting dusty, they’re not rubbing together, take your time, treat them like –
Ramsey Russell: Everybody, I know that have Dave Smith treats them individually to really protect them and keep them high quality looking.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. You don’t drop them onto the stubble, it’s just everything’s very careful with them and they’ve held up really well.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t just throw them loosely in back of a trailer and let them bounce down the road like some of these other brands decoys, I’ve seen.
Paul Conchatre: No, you can’t.
Ramsey Russell: It’s funny how people that own 870 pump, treat their differently than they might treat a peroxy.
Paul Conchatre: Yes, these are peroxy.
Ramsey Russell: They both go boom, but people treat that quality very differently.
Paul Conchatre: Well, we change over and we have a new set of guests coming in, you give a little bit of an introduction speech and I always kind of explain it, I’m like, we invested in these, our guides are using them every day and they enjoy the hunt. So it’s like, they want to enjoy the hunt throughout the whole season and see how these decoys and the birds react all the way to the end of a high quality decoy, like, it’s fun to watch. So let’s not beat them up. So that everybody can sit and enjoy them in their perfect shade.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about your meals here. Walk me through it. I’ve eaten here before, I’ve seen that buffet laid out and you got a couple of choice, but walk me through an average day at Birdtail, what to expect in terms of meal?
Paul Conchatre: I don’t know what to expect. Our chef is a recreational chef, he’s a flavor matcher is what I’m told. So he’s very creative in his meals, but yeah, phenomenal food. There’s no set menu, I don’t know, it could be Greek night or I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: But he has Italian night, he has lasagne, he has meat night, he has Chinese night, pizza night or pizza lunch.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s real deal. And you know what, I guess at the end of the day, like, obviously, trying to communicate what –
Ramsey Russell: I’m sitting here looking at freaking Brownies about as thick as the rubik’s cube waiting on anybody on the walk by and have one or five.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s good.
Ramsey Russell: Coming in the morning, there’s thermoses of coffee waiting you.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. It’s a lot of vegetables, steamed and whatnot salads and –
Ramsey Russell: A nice choice.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. And I think it’s kind of probably the way you should eat, it’s not like they’re classic, okay, we’re going to have red meat and then go home, it’s like, let’s eat properly. Fish, chicken, we’ll eat a little goose, stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: Is there a way he cooks waterfowl that you like, that you particularly like?
Paul Conchatre: Well, his crane is ridiculous. That’s barbecued with a crazy peppercorn sauce, that he makes me little jars for the off season. So, I’ll go cook it for my friends, cook this crane, they will put this peppercorn sauce on, they’re always like, oh my god, your husband’s such a great cook and my wife’s always like, no, Mike made that.
Ramsey Russell: She tells on you.
Paul Conchatre: Oh, yeah. I’m not able to wear that.
Ramsey Russell: This is a silly question, but what do you expect of your guide staff? I mean, I know everybody in this business is bombarded by young people that want or think they want to do this, so you must get a lot of applicants. You must get a lot of emails, a lot of contact from young, enthusiastic American, Canadians that want to cut their teeth in this industry. How do you choose them and what do you expect of a long termer? I know, I just put a curve ball to you, but it’s important because you’ve got a big staff and you’ve got a great staff. And we talked about this last year, Paul, this trailer full of Dave Smith decoys now pulls up to the field to the X that’s been well scouted and we don’t just go willy nilly, nobody know what’s going on, man, he opens up the door flips on the light and sketches it out of a magic marker white board, so everybody knows kind of what the game plan is, that’s a level of detail, that’s a lot to expect of a young man. So, I’m just curious from your process because you’re so organized, I’m wondering what your expectations are.
Paul Conchatre: It’s a tough one.
Ramsey Russell: What is the responsibility of some of your staff? Are they guides and scout?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. They scout their own fields. I don’t know, the way I saw it way back when like when I was guiding for multi species was just let me do my job.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Absolutely.
Paul Conchatre: I will do a good job if you give me the tools to do my good job.
Ramsey Russell: You have the right people, they do the job. That’s right.
Paul Conchatre: And I think that, I don’t vet to be honest, a 100% honest is whether you fit into or fit into us on how we function –
Ramsey Russell: You don’t know till they’re here.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah, I don’t know till you here. And I made them talk to me and try to get a little bit of background. But you don’t know, like, whatever. You don’t know until you live with them.
Ramsey Russell: You’re just kind of – it’s like a live interview.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Because everybody can blow, a lot of people can blow a call, a lot of people can find birds, but to me guiding is, they’ll know it, the actual hunt is 20% of the of the experience.
Ramsey Russell: The rest is hospitality?
Paul Conchatre: The rest is your personality, you’re reading the room like, that’s a big part of this, because it is an experience and I think what this world is becoming and the way I see diver hunts, it’s almost like, yeah, you can go kill some ducks. Sure. But I mean, to take it to the next level and seeing that diver go, yeah, we’re going to go crash, cattails and round stem and get stuck and pull over and when you get there, you feel like an absolute, like, oh my god, that was unreal, just adrenalin out, but you just got to the spot, we haven’t even hunted it yet, like, if it works, this will just blow your top. And then no, let’s go do it in a pitch black together, like, that’s what I like and I think that, the people, I love them, that work for me and I don’t even like saying that because they don’t work for me, we’re a team. And it’s either you can read that room, I guess, I don’t know, identify harness facilitate that experience, you’re sitting at a higher level throughout a hunt or if the hunt doesn’t turn out and you’re watching a really pretty sunrise and then no birds come in, you’re not coming home all upset and it’s not as if you’re trying to blow smoke up anybody’s throat.
Ramsey Russell: Shit happens. The duck god sometimes just don’t cooperate.
Paul Conchatre: Broods leave too. They change, they change their diet, they change everything, we got this storm coming up and it’s going to change. So somebody’s probably not going to do very good in a field that they scouted morning or the night before, that’s hunting, that’s why we love it. But to me, the fellows at work here, they’re phenomenal guys, they look after their business, I try not to get involved in their business, their business is –
Ramsey Russell: Let them do their jobs.
Paul Conchatre: Here’s vehicles, here’s fuel, here’s the best equipment that we can get and a great environment and go have fun. It’s like Disneyland is kind of what they’ve actually said a few times and they get the job done well and having fun at it.
Ramsey Russell: So you just summed it all up, Paul, because even here in Manitoba, even with great habitat, even with great decoys and the perfect plan and the perfect accommodations, you can’t guarantee, these are wild migratory birds. Front hits, a moon phase hits, something changes, the crops aren’t cut, whatever, it’s just no guarantee wild bird duck hunting. But you can deliver, still deliver a superior experience and that’s where the resort layout, the comfortable amenities, the professional staff, the Dave Smith decoys, the custom made A frame. That’s why you’re full to the rafters every year. Am I right?
Paul Conchatre: Yeah, man, we’re trying. We’re trying to do it right every step of the way and it’s not to get like a number one status by any means, so we’re not walking around all whatever bravado –
Ramsey Russell: No, you’re not. Every time I see you, you got your nose to the grindstone, you’re hard man to get in touch with this time of year because you got a lot of irons in the fire making it happen.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. Just want to give a solid return, return that I would want. I don’t know, maybe my head is in the clouds half the time and expect too much, but I don’t know, I definitely think it’s attainable and moving today’s miss that I don’t want to harp on it, you don’t have to believe me, but it’s one of those ones where my eyes haven’t been opened up – the last time I was impressed on this game was when robo duck came in, that I was impressed with.
Ramsey Russell: But we hadn’t mentioned this yet, but if clients don’t want to pack waders, you got them, if clients don’t want to pack guns, you got them. Do a lot of your clients show up now with firearms or just use yours?
Paul Conchatre: I’d say less are showing up with firearms, for sure. But times are changing, it’s not hard to get in, but our airlines are changing.
Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you about that.
Paul Conchatre: They are. The pattern I see is all the seats get filled up midday and then all of a sudden your last run coming in is just everybody’s missed luggage.
Ramsey Russell: The really great news is the fact that effective October 1st, there’s no vaccination requirement, there’s no app to come in.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: The bad news is the airlines are still languishing, they’ve cut a lot of flights. And countless of the people – I’m telling anybody listening, don’t fly to Toronto, especially if you’re bringing firearms, unless you’re going to run a day or two early and you got time to kill. Don’t cut it close, think you’re going to make it to your hunt coming through Toronto. Calgary is a whole long way from here and really and truly, it’s a beautiful ride and it’s no big deal, let Paul and the boys pick you up, bring you across, it’s painless.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. I think we’ve had a lot of people driving this year, flying to a city closer and rent a vehicle and do the drive.
Ramsey Russell: No problem. And I know and everybody I’ve talked to has enjoyed that, I mean, they’re like, man, what a beautiful ride up, it’s no big deal.
Paul Conchatre: Yeah. No totally. Times have changed.
Ramsey Russell: But you all hadn’t changed, you all just keep getting better and better, Paul. And I appreciate, I know you’re a busy man, I appreciate your time, is there any parting shots? How can people get in touch with you? You’re a US Huntlist Outfitter, go to ushuntlist.com and take a look at the Manitoba hunt, but how can they plug directly into you, Paul?
Paul Conchatre: Oh, just go straight to our website, birdtailoutfitter.com. Phone number is there, shoot me a text, give me a call, I’m always on the run, but that’s the best way.
Ramsey Russell: How far out are you all booking up?
Paul Conchatre: I don’t want to say, a long ways. But I don’t know, it’s good, I am very grateful, I do it for a living, I’m grateful to do this, it’s a lot of fun.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Paul. Folks you all have been listening to Paul Conchatre, Birdtail Outfitters, Manitoba. Check them out on ushuntlist.com. Google him, go directly to his website, check them out on social media. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Manitoba, see you next time.
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