These are interesting–and challenging–times. Especially for northern pintails and us duck hunters that hold these sprig-tailed, chocolate-headed beauties in high regard. On the one hand, science now demonstrates unequivocally that a 3-pintail bag limit will not affect pintail populations—and might be forthcoming in upcoming seasons! On the other hand, the continental pintail population is perilously close to the threshold below which there will be no hunting them at all in the Lower 48! Mitch Weegman is a young, savvy avian ecologist at University of Saskatoon that began researching waterfowl at a much, much younger age. Weegman walks us through the daunting pintail puzzle pieces, dispelling common pintail myths and offering a possible glimmer of hope.

Hide Article


Hunting in the Fall & Fishing Year-Round

Ramsey Russel: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere where today I am in beautiful Saskatoon at Saskatoon University. What an amazing campus, man. The architecture, the stonework, the dinosaurs in the freaking right under Tim Hortons is pretty dang cool. Great topic today, pintails. Have you seen many pintails, even though you can only shoot one lately? Have you caught wind that pintails aren’t doing good? That they’re perilously close to a threshold below which we can’t shoot any pintails? So should we shoot more pintails while we can, or should we quit shooting pintails? What do you all think? Today’s guest, Mr. Mitch Weegman, is going to answer these questions, he’s going to clarify this complex topic and folks, it’s a complex topic. And we’re going to start at the beginning, and we’re going to build up to the pintail research. Mitch, how are you? I’ve enjoyed lunch, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, I’ve enjoyed my brief campus tour.

Mitch Weegman: Yeah, this is great. Here we are in the prairies in spring. It’s a warm day today, and it’s sunny and birds are arriving. So this is an ideal time to be visiting Saskatchewan.

Ramsey Russel: The whole drive up there were mallards and pintails and they were closer and more of them, pairs here and pairs there than I’m used to seeing when I come up in the fall. It’s a different world up here in the spring than it is in the fall.

Mitch Weegman: Completely different. And they’re only just here, like they’ve arrived over the last couple of weeks, they are setting up shop for the breeding season, we’re optimistic, of course, about this summer, and it’s going to be a really interesting year, building on the last couple of years of drought.

Ramsey Russel: I learned a whole lot about you while eating my double bacon cheeseburger at lunch. It was a great call for lunch, by the way. I want to start here. Tell me about you and your brother growing up in Minnesota, where you grew up, how you grew up, and what your hunting origins are?

Mitch Weegman: So I grew up in small town Minnesota, southeastern Minnesota, a little river town called Winona. And growing up with a family mom and dad both taught, so we had a lot of time in the summers to explore the outdoors. So our family spent a lot of time outside. My dad is an avid hunter and fisherman, so we really enjoyed the time with him hunting in the fall and fishing year round.

Ramsey Russel: In his off time, he spent all his time with his kids out in the great outdoors, didn’t he?

Mitch Weegman: You bet. We were on his shoulders. Lots of classic photos, as I’m sure a lot of your listeners can relate to, of us on dad’s shoulders and holding up ducks, 2, 3, 4 years old kind of thing, and just totally immersed in the outdoors from such an early age.

Ramsey Russel: I’ve always felt, and I just believe this, that children only love what they know and they only know what they touch. You know what I’m saying?

Mitch Weegman: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russel: At that early age, putting your hands on that resource, some kind of connection and love and bond and interest in that resource develops. Don’t you believe that?

Mitch Weegman: I mean, we have a 2.5 year old daughter now, Elna, and it’s clear to me that these kids are interested in so many aspects of life, and you just show them the outdoors. And now looking from our windows facing north, like in fall migration, thousands and thousands of cranes coming down, snow geese, ducks and she’ll be pointing, “dad, the cranes” 2.5 year old.

Ramsey Russel: 2.5 year old.

Mitch Weegman: We have some friends who are forestry profs, and their daughter is similar age to ours, when you visit their place, their daughter is pointing out all the different plants. So these kids identify with their family, with their folks.

Ramsey Russel: I think they do. They get excited about what mom and dad’s excited about.

Mitch Weegman: And particularly the outdoors, these kids are naturally fascinated by the dynamic nature of the natural world. And that is so cool to see.

Ramsey Russel: Do you remember your first duck hunt? Your first duck?

Mitch Weegman: I don’t. I remember kind of 5, 6 years old hunting south central Minnesota, teal in particular were a primary early season duck. So I remember my dad and his brothers would get together and us kids would get together every year for the Minnesota duck opener. And I remember with my brother staying up all night it felt to identify ducks we were handed by a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, The Ducks at a Distance guide, 4 or 5 years old at the land, at one of the boat landings. And so there we are, quizzing each other on elements of duck ID, the night of the duck opener, couldn’t sleep, so excited about the upcoming duck season. And we blasted through all of the information and Ducks at a Distance and by the time you’re a little bit older, 8, 9 years old, well, now let’s go on legs, let’s go on feet, and let’s go on bills and all these different features of ID because we’re just so ramped up for the duck season. So it’s a very special evening. I mean, I’m sure you have those same emotions, like the eve of duck opener brings quite a sense of excitement.

Ramsey Russel: It still does.

Mitch Weegman: It still does.

An Emerging Interest in Duck Migration Patterns

And so it’s this early interest in migration and of course, a fascination of the outdoors and a natural curiosity that led to a lot of the science that we’re doing today.

Ramsey Russel: Do you remember your first pintail?

Mitch Weegman: No, I don’t remember my first pintail, but I wish I did. I distinctly remember hunting the Mississippi River bottoms, there are quite a few islands in the Mississippi River, and you hunt those islands. And in particular, the upper Mississippi River is known for its diving ducks.

Ramsey Russel: That’s right.

Mitch Weegman: So you have these rafts of thousands of lesser scaup, bluebills, canvasbacks and geez, when they’re flying through on a good wind and you’re 5, 7, 10 years old and your dad shoots a couple of these birds, go get them in the boat and bring them back and you’re holding them up, looking at them, and it’s just amazing. And then the cool thing about migration here you’ve got one day, you’re covered up in them, and then the next day they’re gone, silence on the river. And that really was impactful for me at an early age, 5, 10 years old, thinking, how can this be? How can you have thousands of ducks one night and then the next day, nothing? And so it’s this early interest in migration and of course, a fascination of the outdoors and a natural curiosity that led to a lot of the science that we’re doing today.

Ramsey Russel: The upper Mississippi River in Minnesota, the preponderance of divers, bluebills is exactly a great segue into my next question. You’re a young man, 34 years old, you told me?

Mitch Weegman: 34.

Ramsey Russel: And you’re a university professor. I think of professors being old and white hair and cognitive.

Mitch Weegman: Well, if you check back with me in a few years, I suppose that would be the stereotype.

Ramsey Russel: And I asked you at lunch, so how the heck did a duck hunter from Minnesota end up at Mississippi State University for his undergraduate? Tell me this story, that bluebills fall right into this story, it was an amazing story.

Mitch Weegman: They do so in 7th grade in Winona, Minnesota, you could take this class called Project Science. And the purpose of the class was to develop a science fair project to develop an objective, a hypothesis, test the hypothesis with data collection and then look at results and develop inferences. And because we love duck hunting and spending time with waterfowl, both my twin brother Matt and I design projects on waterfowl. And you can compete regionally at the state fair, national science fairs with this sort of research. Lots of projects in chemistry and physics and in agriculture, but for us, it was ducks and geese. And so my very first project, 7th grade, this is the beginning of the conservation order for lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese. I was testing this new call, Johnny Stewart call had just come out, an electronic call recording of many snow geese feeding. And we had been hearing from hunters that this call was becoming familiar to the geese or the birds were wary to this call. And so I recorded a number of snow geese feeding, snuck super close to a massive feeding flock of snow geese in South Dakota.

Ramsey Russel: What’d you record them with?

Mitch Weegman: Just a simple cassette recorder. You bet. Just holding it out. No audio equipment whatsoever.

Ramsey Russel: No parabolic speaker, nothing. Just going out -?

Mitch Weegman: Oh, yeah. No, definitely not a speaker. I’m sure your cell phone could do a substantially better job today than what I was doing then. But yeah, that was the old dictaphone, and that worked quite well. And we played that on these speakers and I was testing within 50 yards and within a half a mile, how many geese responded to the homemade call versus the Johnny Stewart call? That was the first –

Ramsey Russel: So, you’re in 7th grade conducting a science experiment based on snow geese which is right in your wheelhouse as a hunter, and you’re calculating what call pattern or something is working best?

Mitch Weegman: That’s right.

Ramsey Russel: And you made a science project of this?

Mitch Weegman: That was a science project, my very first –

Ramsey Russel: How far along did it go?

Developing a Spinning Duck Decoy

Your product was snow geese, his was spinner wings.

Mitch Weegman: So in middle school you can reach the state level of competition. So there’s a local fair, a regional fair, and then some are selected to compete at the state fair, which I was selected for in total blast. In high school, you can compete at the national and international science and engineering fairs. So on the heels of snow geese, my brother was working on the spinning wing duck decoy that had just been legalized.

Ramsey Russel: Your product was snow geese, his was spinner wings.

Mitch Weegman: His was on the spinner wings. This is late 90s, early 2000s and we decided that we just keep competing against each other in these science competitions. So it was one of those things that we thought, we should team up and we should instead develop a project that we’re both really interested in. And so lesser scaup were a really hot ticket in the early 2000s, they were declining substantially and so we decided to investigate some of the causes for scaup declines, which we believed were invertebrate prey. At the time there were some hypotheses about contaminants and bioaccumulation. So scaup eating prey that were contaminated, say, snails, fingernail clams, freshwater shrimp, and then passing those contaminants, perhaps to their eggs.

Ramsey Russel: Because up in where you were, you had ring necks and scaup out there rafting kind of together, ring necks were doing fine, scaup were declining because they got slightly different diets.

Mitch Weegman: Right.

Ramsey Russel: So 2 middle schoolers say, may have something to do with what they’re eating.

Diving into Scaup Diets

There were lots of projects on lesser scaup in those years, but not many folks interested in the foods that scaup were eating or evaluating the foods that scaup were eating.

Mitch Weegman: Right. And so we thought, well, there were lots of projects on lesser scaup in those years, but not many folks interested in the foods that scaup were eating or evaluating the foods that scaup were eating. Anyway, so that’s what we did. And each year in high school, we did this continuing project science class through high school, the projects got a little more complicated, the hypotheses more detailed, the scale of the project substantially larger, to the point of collecting invertebrate prey of lesser scaup and scaup eggs throughout a huge chunk of the prairie pothole region, the US prairie pothole region. And I had been reading a number of papers on scaup in those years, and Dr. Al Afton at Louisiana State University was one of the leading researchers in scaup work at the time. So I called Al, cold called him, just described –

Ramsey Russel: 14 year old kid.

Mitch Weegman: Yeah, described who I am, “Hello, I’m Mitch Weegman, and I’m interested in scaup, and I have a couple ideas on hypotheses to test, and could I ask you a few questions?” And he was incredibly amenable. He became quite a mentor in those high school years, provided lots of feedback on lots of ideas that we were considering for testing these hypotheses about scaup. So Al was critical in, I think, the development of our background scientifically, and I really appreciate his level of care and mentorship to this day, an immense amount of attention toward what we were doing.

Ramsey Russel: Tell me just a little bit now, because I was a 14 year old boy out with a pellet rock for shooting stuff, for fishing or whatever I was doing, I was not doing this. Tell me about you and your brother going out. What were you all doing out in the habitat? How were you all collecting the food base and how were you getting it scientifically analyzed? I mean, what were you all doing, mom and daddy driving you out there to the river?

Mitch Weegman: They were driving us around and we worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, sometimes state agencies, you need collection permits for this kind of thing. So we worked with the relevant federal or state agencies to get the required permits. In the case of the Mississippi River, that sampling pool, 7 of the upper Mississippi River, lake on Alaska, famous staging area for diving ducks there we were using what’s called a ponar dredge, but it’s basically a small metal contraption, maybe a 1ft by 1.5ft in size, and it’s like a big clamp. And the clamp is open, attached, kind of like a boat anchor, but it’s on this big rope and you’re lowering it to the bottom and you’re pulling a lever to close the dredge, basically the clamp, around some sediment. And we thought that the ducks are well known that they are going to the swimming to the bottom and picking up these clams and other invertebrates. And so you sample a big scoop of sediment, you put it, you bring it back into the boat, you empty it into a tray, bit of a screen, and then you flush a bunch of water over this sediment to push the silt and sediment through, leaving only the invertebrate prey. And then you grab those with tweezers, put them according to species in these labeled little bags and then we had our invertebrate samples.

Ramsey Russel: Were you doing this all on your mama’s kitchen table?

Mitch Weegman: Almost. We’re definitely doing it in the house. And so in this way we sampled all these invertebrates in the river, in the wetland systems of the prairies, we’re just walking into the wetland with waders and a big sweep net, and you would dip your net into the sediment water, we had a designated a sign number of points we were going to visit and even number of sampling points within the wetland and you would do your scoops, have all your labeled bags according to where you were and in this way, you can cover quite a bit of the prairie pothole region. Of course, gaining perspective about the area all along the way, learning about how these birds are interacting with the environment.

Ramsey Russel: Who was analyzing it for you?

Mitch Weegman: So we were doing the just simple counts and the weights of the amount of food that we were collecting, we wanted to really look at the contaminants in these invertebrates. And so we had been calling a number of chemical companies that do these sorts of mass spectrometry analysis to tell you about selenium and chromium and mercury. And eventually we were in touch with some folks at PerkinElmer, which is a large scale chemical analytical company in Chicago. And so we drove down to Chicago with all of our samples over a couple of years, we prepared them there in a more formal lab than our home, and we then analyzed them. This machine reads –

Ramsey Russel: What they think about two 14 year old kids without a driver’s license coming in with all these samples?

Mitch Weegman: I think they were kind of surprised, like, wow, you guys are kind of motivated here to do something with these tiny little invertebrate samples. This was not a company that often worked with probably animals –

Ramsey Russel: Probably with big industrial contracts.

Mitch Weegman: Yeah. So this was a small scale thing, totally different than normal, and yet they were just terrific people, real amenable. And so we stayed for a couple of weeks there in the suburbs of Chicago and ran these samples and drove home with results in a couple excel sheets and then began the analyses to determine statistical differences between these invertebrates.

Ramsey Russel: And what did you learn?

Mitch Weegman: Well, we learned that selenium and chromium were present and particularly in these invertebrates. And in the case of chromium, which can bioaccumulate from invertebrates to scaup and then to eggs, it was high, particularly in pool 7 of the upper Mississippi River. However, in a subsequent year of high school, we looked at the duck eggs, the scaup eggs, so we started doing these nest searches, identifying scaup nests and collecting eggs, and then measuring the eggs as well. This is really ideal. You’re measuring the invertebrate – well, ideal would have been to measure the hen, too, but because we couldn’t do that as a high school student, we’re measuring the invertebrate prey, there’s a middle step, which is what happens to the hen, which we couldn’t look at. But then we were able to collect these eggs and measure the eggs.

Ramsey Russel: And how involved was Al Afton at the time?

Mitch Weegman: He was providing some feedback on the sampling scale. How much of an area to sample, also the level of depth that we required for critical thinking about hypotheses. You’re beginning to make inroads or substantial progress on a part of this field. And so to get to that level, to be at a point where you’re contributing data meaningfully toward a real world problem, a lesser scaup decline problem, you want to be as robust as you can. But as a 14 year old, 15, 18 year old, it’s quite hard to know, well, how much information do we need? What set of ideas is reasonable given the scientific community? And so Al was really influential in providing guidance about, have you thought about this, or have you considered a little more of this. Not really in a pointed way, more in a collaborative way. So I found him extremely approachable. He dedicated a lot of time to us, not a part of his job whatsoever in my mind –

Ramsey Russel: But he was the foremost bluebill expert of North America at the time. Of course he had a couple of 14 year old kids, 15 year old kids going out doing his work and crunch his data, of course he’d support you. I mean really, wow.

Mitch Weegman: It was an incredible investment of his time. Yeah, there were a few people like in breeding areas here, Bob Clark here at University of Saskatchewan was also quite active in that arena. Al had been doing staging and wintering work as well on scaup. So he was certainly one of the leading researchers in North America on those birds.

Ramsey Russel: Was that research for another one of these high school science projects?

Mitch Weegman: Right. This was all in high school. So these are developing. So snow geese first as a 7th grader and then we moved into scaup for the 4 years of high school.

Ramsey Russel: You just kept building on that every year. 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, you’re building on your prior year’s research doing this.

Mitch Weegman: You bet.

Publishing in a Peer Reviewed Journal: The True Test of Research

Ramsey Russel: And whatever came of that research?

Mitch Weegman: So annually we were competing and doing a little bit better each year regionally in a state fair and then nationally and internationally.

Ramsey Russel: Internationally?

Mitch Weegman: Yeah. It’s a great way to tour the US as a student, as a 17, 18 year old, touring North America, meeting friends, folks who have totally different interests than you in math and in physics and in chemistry. And here you are, kid who loves to hunt ducks, studying these lesser scaup and talking about the foods that these scaup eat. So, in addition to competing though, we were writing research papers annually. We were writing up formal documents describing the setup of our work, but then also the results and inferences from those studies. And toward junior year of high school, Al was suggesting, have you guys considered publishing this work in a peer reviewed scientific journal? And we thought, oh, boy, that seems like quite an undertaking. And I didn’t consider this to be as robust as I was reading about in the literature. And so I said, no, I actually hadn’t considered that. And he said, well, I really encourage you to go for this. And so we did. We submitted this work to the journal wildlife management. I remember writing the editor and describing that we were high school students and we were very interested in publishing this work, very excited about it in the journal wildlife management. And the editor wrote back, very nice response and it went for review. And over a couple rounds, we were able to complete it. And I remember the day, to this day, that it was accepted, receiving that email was pretty darn special.

Ramsey Russel: Wow. You even told me at lunch you remembered what was on the cover of that journal.

Mitch Weegman: There was a musk ox on the cover of the journal. I wish I had it here in the office actually.

Ramsey Russel: That’s okay.

Mitch Weegman: But yeah, there was a musk ox on the front of that. And I remember the day those hard copies arrived and how special that was to feel through.

Ramsey Russel: I bet your mom and daddy got a copy of that magazine or journal.

Mitch Weegman: They definitely got a copy.

Ramsey Russel: I guarantee you they do. Okay, so you’re still in Minnesota, you obviously smart kid, going to probably go to college. How’d you end up in God’s country down at Mississippi State University?

Mitch Weegman: So Al Afton and Dr. Rick Kaminski were friends and colleagues for years. And Rick was at Mississippi State University, Al was at LSU. And Al had suggested to Rick, geez, there are these twins about to graduate in Minnesota, and you might consider recruiting them to Mississippi State. So I remember Rick called right before thanksgiving.

Ramsey Russel: Had you ever heard of him at that time?

Mitch Weegman: No.

Ramsey Russel: Yeah.

Mitch Weegman: Had never heard of him. Had never heard of Mississippi State.

Ramsey Russel: Shame on you.

Mitch Weegman: I know. That’s all on me. Actually, it’s probably on mom and dad. Can we put it on my parents? So when Rick called right before thanksgiving and said, I’m Rick Kaminski and would love to have you come here. And we were thinking, oh, boy, this is a long way from home for two kids from the northern US. And he said, no, I’d really like you to visit. And I also really wanted to run cross country and track division 1. And so I was considering a couple other universities, and yet I flew down to Mississippi State in February of my senior year of high school and immediately fell in love with it. Could not believe the setup. Beautiful campus, great, vibrant student life, leading researchers, it was a really nice place to thrive.

Ramsey Russel: Talk about how Rick seduced you all. Tell me about some of the stuff he showed you besides just walking through the campus, you all went to a basketball game. Southeast conference at the hump.

Mitch Weegman: Let me tell you, it was so fun. So, an 18 year old kid coming down from Minnesota, small town Minnesota and I remember we went to a Mississippi State Vanderbilt men’s basketball game, first night with the track team, and they’re dunking. It’s a big, light show, huge contest. Of course, these are huge guys. And I had not seen anything like that before. It was just incredible.

Ramsey Russel: The energy’s so intense. Your hair stand up on your arm.

Mitch Weegman: Oh geez. Sold out. It was just a really special, memorable event. And I remember thinking, geez, I love this, this is incredible. And it probably helped that it was about 75 and sunny, and I had left Minnesota in a snowstorm. So I remember thinking, wow, look at these daffodils blooming in February, this is quite something.

Ramsey Russel: He broke out crawfish for you.

Mitch Weegman: Yeah.

Ramsey Russel: That’s the first time you’d ever eaten spicy crawfish.

Mitch Weegman: For sure. Yeah, that was the first time. And the whole experience was totally remarkable on both sides, the track side and the waterfowl side. I was an okay runner, but certainly wanted to pursue that. And the opportunity to work with Rick and to continue studies of waterfowl, but now in wintering areas was just incredible.

Ramsey Russel: But as an undergraduate, you were still doing research?

Mitch Weegman: Right. So our work in –

Ramsey Russel: Because undergraduate, most of it just taking history and geometry, but you were doing research.

Research on Wintering Duck Diets

And so I applied and was awarded one of those, which was quite an honor, and that funded some more work on wintering ecology of waterfowl. 

Mitch Weegman: I really wanted to continue with research. So Rick and I had talked about potential projects. One of the areas of research that they had not yet really fully explored was the amount of acorns available to wintering ducks in greentree reservoirs. And so we designed a series of ideas to understand, to develop a correction factor for the amount of acorns actually available in flooded green tree reservoirs, these huge areas that wintering ducks rely on each year. And so we know how many acorns oak trees produce, quite comfortable with that for decades, but we really didn’t know how many acorns were available for ducks. Some are rotten, some are eaten by deer and turkeys and squirrels and so we designed a series of projects to get at that. And that was quite an exciting way to continue research and also get a view of the southern US each winter.

Ramsey Russel: So what next? I mean you’re an undergraduate and you were telling me about where your career took that research in undergraduate and working with Rick, how you progressed from there. That was pretty amazing.

Mitch Weegman: So my junior year, sophomore into junior year of undergrad, I had been working with the honors college, Dr. Nancy McCarley there was the head of the honors college at the time, and she had been suggesting to go for a Goldwater scholarship, which are undergraduate research fellowships, quite competitive in the US annually. And I really hadn’t considered that, hadn’t heard of that before, but happy to go for that, given the work we had been doing. And so I applied and was awarded one of those, which was quite an honor, and that funded some more work on wintering ecology of waterfowl. And then my senior year, Nancy and Rick together were suggesting that I go for a road scholarship at the University of Oxford, which is quite a prestigious thing, Mississippi State had not had one before, and so they were suggesting I try this. So I thought, I’ll at least apply and go through the motions and there are several steps to the review process and the final step is for finalists to go in person and interview for these scholarships. And there are 32 of these, I think, around North America, or sorry, around the US every year and a larger number of people interview for them. And so when you interview in person, you’re interviewed by previous and current Rhode scholars, and they ask you, what do you want to do at Oxford? A really important component of the interview is detailing what you want to work on. And I knew I was going to do a PhD, very interested in continuing research, had no idea what the capacity was in England to do this. And so I looked for a Ducks Unlimited, like conservation organization or Delta Waterfowl, like conservation organization in Europe or in England and this is Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Pretty historic 70, 80 year conservation organization. And so I just emailed their general inquiry line. Hey, I’m an undergraduate from Mississippi State, and I’m interviewing for a road scholarship and I’m interested in whether you collaborate with Oxford. And they mentioned several projects that they had been working on, not really collaborating or in collaboration with Oxford, but they said you could work on Bewick swans or white fronted geese or scoters. And of course, growing up in Minnesota and hunting the Dakotas quite a bit, we had seen loads of white fronts, fascinating birds. So I mentioned to them in reply, sure, yeah, I’d love to study white fronts. And they said, okay, that’s great. The world expert on Greenland white fronted geese is Dr. Tony Fox at Arhus University in Denmark and they copied him on the email. Tony and I co wrote a PhD proposal for funding, and I described this to the Rhodes committee during my in person interview. I didn’t get the Rhodes scholarship, but after we learned that I was unsuccessful with that, I reported this back to Wildfowl Wetlands Trust and they replied with, well, actually, are you still interested in this? And I said, yeah, I’m really interested in this. And they said, okay, well, we’d like to fund it. And so then it took about a year to sort out where and how, but we linked up with Dr. Stuart Bishop at the University of Exeter, and he was my advisor for my PhD. And so off I went to west Greenland to begin work on white fronted geese and a very happy few years as a PhD student in Europe in 2011 to 2014.

Ramsey Russel: Wow, that’s a heck of an upbringing.

Mitch Weegman: Pretty fortunate.

The Paradox of Pintail Limits

However, despite these cycles of more water and less water on the prairies, pintail populations for the last 30, 40 years have declined and that’s quite puzzling.

Ramsey Russel: It’s like, oh, man, it’s the difference in moon and Mars, my background and yours in that time period of my life, I’m going to tell you, I find it extremely interesting. But the reason I wanted to go deep on your background is preceding us talking about pintails. My group of friends, we all got opinions of pintails, but we don’t have your insight, your scientific background, okay. And if you want to know what’s wrong with pintails, just go get on Facebook or Instagram. Oh, boy, I got a million suggestions for you, waiting on you on Instagram, we all got an opinion. We’re sitting out in the rice field, we’re sitting out in the bean field, we’re seeing a sky full of pintails, we can only shoot one, Canada can shoot 8, Mexico can shoot 15, we can shoot one, it’s got to be a problem, something’s wrong. So I want to transition into pintails, what’s wrong with pintails?

Mitch Weegman: Pintail populations, or the midcon and pintail population in particular are quite interesting because they really buck the trend in terms of dabbling duck responses to wet conditions in the prairies. So you can anticipate that. And I’m sure a lot of your hunters can identify with this, when there are wet years in the prairies, there are generally more dabbling ducks. And in drought years like the last couple, there are fewer ducks produced and hunters see fewer birds up and down the flyway. However, despite these cycles of more water and less water on the prairies, pintail populations for the last 30, 40 years have declined and that’s quite puzzling. And we think, we’re pretty darn sure at this point, actually, that it’s due to their nesting style, the affinity to nest in short grass prairie, today’s proxy of that is stubble, barley and wheat stubble. 30, 40, 50 years ago, farmers in the prairie pothole region were not cropping a field every year to ensure nutrients in the soil and to minimize runoff, they were leaving a field fallow every other year. So pintails nesting in stubble were making it. These nests were successful, say, every other year. Now with fertilizer, with new seed types, with the amount of agricultural intensification on the landscape today, farmers can plant barley and wheat every year, it’s continuous cropping. So we often refer to this as agricultural intensification. The birds, because there isn’t immense short grass prairie across prairie Canada today, it’s mostly agriculture, these birds are drawn to this short stubble. They nest there, and then the machines, the planters, come and destroy those nests. There’s a really clear relationship between agricultural intensification and lower pintail productivity.

Ramsey Russel: Come on now, Mitch, because everybody knows that hunters up here in Canada shooting brown pintails day to day, guys like Ramsey going down to Mexico, shooting a bunch in big, beautiful sprigs, everybody knows that we and you are the end of pintails. Ask anybody down Louisiana, they don’t kill one. All them assholes up in Canada and Mexico, killing all my pintails, that’s what’s wrong with pintails. Are you saying that’s wrong?

Studying the Ecology of Pintails

So at this moment, to me, it seems that pintail populations are driven hugely by the environment, by the landscape, by the climate, and not by harvest

Mitch Weegman: Well, we don’t. In our work studying population ecology of pintails. So we’re looking over the last 60 years, there are thousands of pintails banded every year, the banding data allow us to estimate survival. We’ve been estimating productivity or reproductive success in pintails by using an age ratio at banding of juveniles to adults. So you get an understanding of regional reproductive success by looking at these age ratios in the fall, in the august banded sample. When you look at productivity and survival over the last 60 years of pintails, it’s pretty clear when you compare to harvest that harvest is not the leading driver or explainer of pintail survival or productivity or population size. So at this moment, to me, it seems that pintail populations are driven hugely by the environment, by the landscape, by the climate, and not by harvest. However, there are some small, it seems, signals in harvest, when harvest is greater, productivity in a subsequent year is also greater. So pintails are responding in a subsequent year to increased harvest. And also from the same token, they’re responding in survival. So when harvest is greater, the subsequent year survival is greater. So they’re boosting, you’re releasing these density dependent processes. So when more birds are removed, the birds that remain that are living, they respond more favorably. But what I’m just describing now is a much weaker signal in the data than habitat. The agricultural intensification and pintail productivity are linked intricately and these things are what’s driving population growth rate. In addition to the number of ponds on the landscape.

Ramsey Russel: About the time I guess they really kind of started really counting and getting a great, get their arms around their hands around how many pintail were in North America? It was somewhere around ten plus million. I heard somebody told me one time, it’s just fascinating to me that in around 1958 on Klamath Lake, more pintail were counted in a single flyover than exist on earth today.

Mitch Weegman: Amazing.

Ramsey Russel: That’s crazy.

Mitch Weegman: That’s amazing.

Ramsey Russel: And what your research is showing, and I have read papers from back in the mid 70s talking about no teal farming, that’s kind of when it came on the scene to hold topsoil. It is a very erodible environment up here, when you start row crop farming it that’s when the pintail started to decline. And it’s almost like our need to feed the world and make a living has created an ecological trap for birds like pintails. And you said something earlier at lunch about the wetlands, the association of wetlands and grasses. Can you speak to that a little bit? What you all found?

Mitch Weegman: So when you look at both agricultural intensification and the number of ponds on the landscape, there’s an interaction there whereby under greatest agricultural intensification that is the most frequently cropped, highest input landscapes in prairie Canada and the prairie US, the importance of ponds is greatest. So these ducks, these pintails need ponds more than ever under the greatest agricultural inputs. That’s pretty important because we’ve known for decades that ponds drive duck populations, but we haven’t known how agriculture necessarily and ponds are related. And so when we’re thinking about conservation scenarios, we’re thinking about scenario plan, cranking a lever on adjustments in agricultural intensification, maybe on wetland drainage or on just the simple number of ponds on the landscape, we can anticipate how these things might change in the future, given human population size, given the finances available for conservation at the continent scale, you can begin to adjust these particular, we call them covariates, but particular environmental factors and then you can monitor how pintail populations respond to these anticipated changes. And in this way, if you split the prairie pothole region, this big area, from Alberta to Manitoba to South Dakota, if you split that into multiple units, say, for conservation, investment, and you run these scenarios, you can begin to learn where to invest limited financial resources in the future with anticipated maximum reproductive output of pintails.

The Science Behind Pintail Populations

These are meant to allow for an understanding that in some years, pintails are settling or they’re going further north than the prairies because pond conditions aren’t very good. 

Ramsey Russel: Pintails got those long, beautiful, elegant necks, probably because they evolve in that short grass marsh cover. Mom and daddy go land, up comes a periscope, they can look around for predators, hunker back down on the nest, they got a brain the size of a pea, the stubble looks exactly the same, feels the same, they respond to it. Mama goes, sits on a nest, here comes the tractor, she can get up and fly away, her eggs can’t. Has there ever been any science on just how many eggs are being destroyed?

Mitch Weegman: Yes. So there are multiple scales to monitor, to understand the extent of this pintail reproductive problem. One approach is to look at settling patterns and understand how many nests are produced on the landscape. And there’s quite a bit of work on this from Ducks Unlimited Canada researchers there, Dr. Jim DeVries and others, looking at settling patterns, looking at average clutch sizes, hatching success, the probability that one egg in that nest hatches, and then extrapolating local information to regional and then prairie pothole region scales. So that’s one way to evaluate this. It comes with some biases of scale. We’re taking a slightly different approach, which is top down, and I think these things are actually quite useful when jointly considered. These top down forces of understanding survival versus reproductive success and the environmental factors influencing them, and understanding these settling patterns more locally and the habitat adjustments these birds are making regionally, and how those little micro decisions lead to potentially some differences regionally, and certainly at the continent scale, in the pintail population size we see annually.

Ramsey Russel: So how many eggs could it be? Could it be billions of eggs being disked under, multi millions?

Mitch Weegman: Multiple millions, for sure. Yeah. The extent of it is incredible, given population size.

Ramsey Russel: As you’ve already said, hunting really doesn’t play a role in it. The guys down in Mexico, the guys in Canada, and I’ve started seeing research, I stopped by Nikolai’s office yesterday, and something’s in the 4th review, and he was trying to explain some complex graphs to me, and a lot of your research seemed to support that possibly we could maybe shoot 3 pintails, 3 drake pintails in season after next. What’s going on with that?

Mitch Weegman: Yeah, I don’t work at all on the waterfowl regulation side, we’re producing the science.

Ramsey Russel: That’s what I’m asking, what are you all seeing in the data, or what are people seeing in the data that demonstrates that even though the population is declining, what was he showing me with the curves and the lines saying, this is why we can shoot 3 pintails?

Mitch Weegman: Right. So those are, I think, latitude, I think you’re talking about latitude adjustments or latitude corrections. So pintails have very interesting summer ecology. So what happens for pintails is they’re wintering in either the Pacific flyway, in the Central Valley, primarily of California, or along the Gulf coast of the southern US. And they’re staging throughout the mid continent, they’re making their way to the prairies predominantly. Some of them are going right from the Central Valley to Alaska, but a lot of them are coming through the prairies, both from California and from the southern US. When they hit the prairies, they’re assessing wetland conditions, the number of ponds, habitat suitability in real time. In years where they perceive challenging nesting conditions, they overfly the prairies and they go into what we’re calling a northern, partially surveyed area, vast landscape, subarctic to Arctic or they’re going straight to Alaska from the prairies. So they have this incredible ability to assess conditions and then move somewhere else. When they go further north than the prairies, we believe, and there’s a little bit of evidence to suggest this, that reproductive success is lower in the northern areas than it is in the prairie pothole region. However, via this continent scale modeling that we’ve been working on over the last couple years, where we have multiple breeding regions, Alaska, northern, partially surveyed in the prairies, we see that actually there are quite a few pintails produced in Alaska. It looks like the model estimates suggest that when comparing survival against reproductive success among these regions, but also the raw data support this. When you look at those age ratios at banding. birds banded in Alaska, and you look at, well, how many juveniles are banded in August and how many adults are banded, and you compare that ratio to the same ratio in the prairies for a while now, the ratio is greater in Alaska than it is in the prairies. So there are absolutely quite a few, well, absolutely, I say, really likely quite a few pintails being produced in Alaska.

Ramsey Russel: So there’s more habitat.

Mitch Weegman: There’s a lot of habitat there, it seems. And so these latitude adjustments, though, right back to your question here on what about these model inputs that USGS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service are working on? These are for the overflight idea. These are meant to allow for an understanding that in some years, pintails are settling or they’re going further north than the prairies because pond conditions aren’t very good. And that latitude determines then the number of birds in your model. And the number of birds in your model helps determine reproductive output, that determines relationships with harvest and subsequently, via this adaptive harvest management approach, how many birds are allowable in the bag per flyway.

Ramsey Russel: Back to the habitat, talking about those ponds. I drove up through here last fall, and it was bone dry, buddy. It was driest I’ve ever seen parts of Saskatchewan, and the dirt pans were rolling. I do not remember seeing the dirt pan, let alone lots of dirt pans rolling out on these farms and scooping off the high and filling in the low.

Mitch Weegman: Right.

Ramsey Russel: Somebody showed me a promotional video of a property being advertised by one of the largest landowners in North America. And one of his companies was showcasing a quarter million contiguous acres somewhere in Saskatchewan. And they had gone in, filled in the wetlands, dirt panned them, so we ain’t got that, removed the fence roads, removed the parkland like trees, quarter million acres of row crop agriculture.

Mitch Weegman: Incredible.

Ramsey Russel: And it’s not the only track like that.

Mitch Weegman: Right

Ramsey Russel: And there will never be these little ephemeral water bodies we’re talking about that are important, never again. That seems to be a trend. If habitat is where it’s at, if that’s the black hole, is it too late to curb it? I mean, what can be done?

Mitch Weegman: It’s a really good question. The motivation to clear what’s on the land and to ensure that the tractor or the combine or the sprayer can move in uniform paths, max efficiency, is that drive is really strong, it appears. People want that. They want to drain the wetlands and they want to remove. In this part of the world, we’re in the prairie parklands, so there’s a lot of aspen ringed wetlands, folks in Saskatchewan call that bush. So there’s a lot of bush in these quarter sections near Saskatoon, and you can go from northwest of here to southeast of here, hundreds of miles and this same story is playing out. People are removing bush, they’re draining wetlands, and they’re plowing continuously. We know that has lots of negative consequences on the ecosystem, not just ducks. And so a huge undertaking in Prairie Canada and the prairie pothole region of the US is to work out how to reasonably work with agriculture producers to ensure that ducks have habitat to nest in the coming years, that we don’t only have continuous cropping without additional habitats. So having some wetland policies that reduce the probability of wetland drainage, that allow some grassy areas or even conversion of marginal land to, say, back to prairie, those are worthwhile undertakings. I know the scale that we need to do it is incredible, really daunting. But it requires big teams of people to, I think, incentivize it so that agricultural producers in mass are willing to go for this. It’s common for people to know these producers, they know exactly where their yields are great and where their yields are really poor. They can tell you, I don’t make any money on this part, on this quarter. And so if there were reasonable ways to provide some habitat in those areas that make sense for the landowner, then we should be considering those. There are additional alternatives here, like planting winter wheat, for example. This is quite popular, as I understand it, in the US, it’s not popular at all in prairie Canada. It’s taken a long time for producers to have the idea that after harvest in the fall, I’ve got one more task here before the snow flies, I’m going to get this winter wheat in the ground. And there’s been a big push in the conservation community for farmers to consider winter wheat in earnest. It’s a clear way to benefit ducks like pintails.

Ramsey Russel: It would increase the farmers bottom line and it would buoy pintail populations productivity.

Mitch Weegman: You bet you.

Ramsey Russel: Because a lot of what you’ve said in this meeting, a lot of what you said at lunch, is productivity is what’s driving pintail, not hunting. Productivity.

Mitch Weegman: Right.

The Right Habitat for Ducks: Agricultural Intensification & Ponds

And I’m terrible with numbers, but it seems like there’s a threshold at 1.75 million pintails, below which US Fish and Wildlife Service says, you all ain’t shooting nothing in the United States

Ramsey Russel: So that’s the silver bullet, would be something going on with the international wheat market to where these farmers up here said, I’m going to go into winter wheat, there’s money in it, right.

Mitch Weegman: Or even describing here, we’re in an environment today where consumers have a lot of might. And if consumers knew, say, the hunting community knew that particular wheat was winter wheat or was sustainably sourced or produced working with conservation organizations, a stamp, then perhaps that’s the kind of thing that would really move the needle for more and more producers to be going for this plan. And, of course, benefits them, and they’re able to get great yields, still, we know winter wheat has a wonderful yield, but also the ducks are benefiting. So it’s not just pintails, either. We’re seeing that the relationships I’ve described with agricultural intensification and ponds, those hold for the other dabblers as well, interestingly. Because we know that those other ducks aren’t nesting at the same frequency in the stubble, and yet the same strength of patterns with agricultural intensification in ponds holds. So it suggests these really broad ecosystem impacts of continuous cropping that are not only limited to the machine tilling up these duck nests.

Ramsey Russel: It’s a very complex dilemma. I think of it as a zero sum game, the zero sum pintail game. On the one hand, the data and the science shows United States could be shooting 2 pintails. Somebody might even say, looking at those curved data they showed me yesterday saying, I bet we could shoot 7 a day and it’s not going to hurt the population. But on the other hand, it’s like we’re racing this sand of time coming out of the hourglass, because for as long as the black hole exists in the prairie potholes, because of modern agricultural practices, modern societal demands placed on those lands, the pintail population is timid wing to plummet. And I’m terrible with numbers, but it seems like there’s a threshold at 1.75 million pintails, below which US Fish and Wildlife Service says, you all ain’t shooting nothing in the United States. Is there a number like that do you know? And I know this be a better question for Jim, but is that same number abide in Canada, or is it throughout North America?

Mitch Weegman: I don’t know. That’s a great question. Yeah. Jim Leflore and others in Canadian Wildlife Service would be able to tell you all about the regulation. I think he’s done some of this already about setting the regulations in Canada. As you know, they’ve taken quite a science based approach to waterfowl regulations in Canada, in part because it looks like reproductive success of most duck populations is driving population growth or population change in ducks, and also because the number of hunters in Canada is substantially fewer than the US.

Ramsey Russel: And declining. I’ve always respected that about Canada is the powers that be, as best I can tell, especially in western Canada, seem to place great priority on the value of hunters to the conservation model. And the modernization rule for migratory birds was to incentivize hunters to continue to participate. The embroil situation in Manitoba right now is all about retaining hunters they’ve got access. And I see Canada really as being a lot more hunter accommodating, recognizing them for those reasons. But they’re not just foregoing science, they’re using science to buoy that position.

Mitch Weegman: Absolutely. It’s a super reasonable set of regulations based on what the latest data suggest for all of these waterfowl populations, not just pintails. So the canadian hunter should sleep very well at night knowing that these populations are well looked after. The folks in the management roles who are making decisions about the regulations are using data to the greatest of their abilities of what these models today allow for. So it’s a very reasonable regulation setting process. Not to say it’s not reasonable in the US, just to say that we don’t have enough hunters to meaningfully –

Ramsey Russel: It is very different on both sides of that border. We’ve got a lot more hunters.

Mitch Weegman: We don’t have enough hunters to negatively influence it. Now, you could make the case even in the US, the number of hunters is declining, has declined substantially. So is it even possible to impact duck populations like pintails in the US, given the relatively few number of hunters compared to the 1970s.

Ramsey Russel: And see, I think so, the reason I think so is because even though Fish and Wildlife service data and canadian data show that the amount of hunters are declining. Likewise, the landscape is shrinking and so fewer hunters are becoming more highly concentrate on a shrinking landscape. Go anywhere on hunt public, anybody hunts public land, myself included, will tell you it’s a circus. So you see what I’m saying? The hunters are declining, but the landscape declining too.

Mitch Weegman: Right. Access is becoming a huge issue in the US, we’re reading. And just from one person, my own perspective here, we haven’t yet hit that issue in Canada, I know you hunt quite a bit in Canada as well, and I think that’s a remarkable thing. That’s a remarkable thing at the moment about prairie Canada. But because of increasing population size and also this squeeze that you’re referencing in the US, folks who still dream of do it yourself hunt reasonably efficiently and enjoying quite a nice bag limit, they’re often doing that in prairie Canada.

Ramsey Russel: I think we’ve covered pintails pretty good. I mean, it’s complex. I heard yesterday a rumor he is not in the Fish and Wildlife Service, he has no influence over the legislation. But folks on the inside seem to think that if everything goes as planned and the pintails don’t fall below the threshold, that in the 2024-2025 season the US may have a 3 pintail limit, and that’s great news for hunters. But we still got to fix this problem on both sides of the border in a prairie pothole to somehow fill in that black hole that these pintels have disappeared into since the 60s.

Mitch Weegman: Absolutely. So I think approaches that consider the continent scale, multiple breeding regions, multiple wintering regions, really considering holistically, if you could manage pintails anywhere in North America, where should we do that? And we’re doing that in our group, there are several other research groups doing this, and that’s quite a powerful approach to compare what happens in wintering areas, say, in California and Mississippi and Texas, even places like Kansas and Arizona and New Mexico for pintails. Comparing that to what’s happening, say, in prairie Canada or in Alaska for reproductive success. And in one model, evaluating should we be investing in wintering areas, staging areas or breeding areas? And when you do all of that still yet it looks like productivity factors in summer in the prairie pothole region, and now it’s clear in Alaska, are really important. And so investing conservation dollars in this part of the world, and as we’re learning in Alaska now, will be pretty important to boosting pintail populations or at least stopping or reducing the slope of the decline in the pintail population at the continent scale.

Alternative Ways of Managing Continental Waterfowl

In terms of developing models that include the sweetest species, allow deviation from a grand mean, that is, the dabblers as a whole and maybe wigeon or green wing teal or blue wings deviate a little bit in terms of a particular management strategy.

Ramsey Russel: A lot of your pintail research, habitat harvest, this whole complex that goes into pintail. Have you thought ahead and thinking what might be the next species or how this might affect future management versus the old way? I’m not beating up on nobody or the current system, I’m just saying if adaptive harvest management was a Chevrolet truck, it’d wear an antique tag. And the world has changed a lot since 1990. What might be the next species? What might be an alternative way of managing continental waterfowl than this single species management we seem to be doing.

Mitch Weegman: Really good question. We’ve been pitching multispecies assessments, or what we’ve been calling guild level. So guild is a group of –

Ramsey Russel: The dabblers, the divers.

Mitch Weegman: You got it. So thinking about conservation planning that considers the suite of dabbling duck species seems a really good idea. We know now more than ever in the last 30, 40 years, conservation dollars are being pulled at in different directions. So we have limited financial resources here, we want to ensure greatest benefit to as many duck populations as possible. So understanding how environmental factors influence either similarly or differently individual dabbler species seems super worthwhile. And so if we knew, for example, that some management technique or some landscape level change might influence all dabblers similarly, then we could happily suggest some management technique. However, if you knew that one or two dabblers responded actually quite differently than the rest to the same management technique, then you have to have some difficult conversations with the conservation community to decide what exactly you want most out of the landscape. We’re not there yet, but we’re near there. In terms of developing models that include the sweetest species, allow deviation from a grand mean, that is, the dabblers as a whole and maybe wigeon or green wing teal or blue wings deviate a little bit in terms of a particular management strategy.

Ramsey Russel: Because really, right now, that’s not the management model at all. My layman redneck perspective understands it, mallards are driving the model. They are the rock stars. Not only of America or North America, but the entire northern hemisphere, they are the rock stars. Everybody loves a mallard duck, myself included. Pintails, I know when I was doing some banding many years ago, I was telling you about, boy, that was the target, everything else got banded, we were after mallards and pintails. And how somebody extrapolates bag limits of a diver or a teal from mallard and pintail, that’s driving it, that’s way beyond me. It almost sounds like a wild ass guess, me just thinking about it over steering wheel. But what you’re proposing is we lump these dabblers, the divers, the sea ducks, and start managing them as independent models, more finely tune this. Had we been doing that in the past 20 years, might we have somehow dodged the bullet on pintail, or might the bag limits or seasons been differently for pintail? I know we couldn’t avoid this black hole up here in the prairies, but would things have been different for pintail?

Mitch Weegman: Really hard to say, because I’m not on the regulation setting process. But from the perspective of the science, if you’re thinking about how these ducks respond to land use change, to climate change, so far it looks like most of the dabblers are responding similarly. I mentioned the same relationship for agricultural intensification and ponds for the whole suite of dabblers in the prairie pothole region. So if you knew that, then perhaps you could suggest that wetland and agricultural conditions are dominant in describing dabbling duck populations, not harvest, which would give you a little more peace of mind that if you increase the limit 2, 3, 4 birds in pintails, that you’re not going to substantially alter pintail population size. And instead we should increase the amount of support for habitat conservation to curb this trend of increasing agricultural intensification on the landscape. This is going to require a massive investment from the conservation community, in thought, in dollars, and in action to actually influence populations at the scale at which we’re talking about here, thousands of miles of potential habitat.

Ramsey Russel: It’s why we need more hunters to fund it, it’s why we need to somehow reach across the aisle and get more wildlife oriented people, whether they hunt or not, involved. It’s why we’d like to reach out to that 80% that neither hunts nor anti-hunt, that just sitting out there ignorant to this all get them somehow on the hook for this.

Mitch Weegman: Yeah. And here we are at the University of Saskatchewan Institute of Higher Ed and we have all of these trainees, all of these minds coming to learn about agriculture, about ecology. And we have the potential to be talking about how hunters contribute toward North American conservation and how we need people in this part of the world from Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg to who have never really experienced duck hunting to enter the community, to appreciate the importance of financial investments in conservation. It’s going to require folks in their 20s, 30s who have lived an urban lifestyle to begin to value the environment. And I feel like we have a personal responsibility all around North America to share this message. We have to ensure people who have no connection to the land, develop a connection to the land if we hope to maintain support for waterfowl populations for future generations.

Ramsey Russel: Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Mitch Weegman, University of Saskatoon, here in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Well try to say that 5 times real fast. Lot to think about. It’s kind of like the past is meteorically colliding with the future. And unless something’s done up here on the prairie pothole, you’ve realized it’s not us going out and shooting these pintails, we got to fill in that black hole in the prairie pothole, that is modern day land use practices. It’s a sink that they’re all sinking into this black hole and disappearing forever, these pintails are. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.


Podcast Sponsors:, your proven source for the very best waterfowl hunting adventures. Argentina, Mexico, 6 whole continents worth. For two decades, we’ve delivered real duck hunts for real duck hunters. because the next great hunt is closer than you think. Search our database of proven US and Canadian outfits. Contact them directly with confidence.

Benelli USA Shotguns. Trust is earned. By the numbers, I’ve bagged 121 waterfowl subspecies bagged on 6 continents, 20 countries, 36 US states and growing. I spend up to 225 days per year chasing ducks, geese and swans worldwide, and I don’t use shotgun for the brand name or the cool factor. Y’all know me way better than that. I’ve shot, Benelli Shotguns for over two decades. I continue shooting Benelli shotguns for their simplicity, utter reliability and superior performance. Whether hunting near home or halfway across the world, that’s the stuff that matters.

HuntProof, the premier mobile waterfowl app, is an absolute game changer. Quickly and easily attribute each hunt or scouting report to include automatic weather and pinpoint mapping; summarize waterfowl harvest by season, goose and duck species; share with friends within your network; type a hunt narrative and add photos. Migrational predictor algorithms estimate bird activity and, based on past hunt data will use weather conditions and hunt history to even suggest which blind will likely be most productive!

Inukshuk Professional Dog Food Our beloved retrievers are high-performing athletes that live to recover downed birds regardless of conditions. That’s why Char Dawg is powered by Inukshuk. With up to 720 kcals/ cup, Inukshuk Professional Dog Food is the highest-energy, highest-quality dog food available. Highly digestible, calorie-dense formulas reduce meal size and waste. Loaded with essential omega fatty acids, Inuk-nuk keeps coats shining, joints moving, noses on point. Produced in New Brunswick, Canada, using only best-of-best ingredients, Inukshuk is sold directly to consumers. I’ll feed nothing but Inukshuk. It’s like rocket fuel. The proof is in Char Dawg’s performance.

Tetra Hearing Delivers premium technology that’s specifically calibrated for the users own hearing and is comfortable, giving hunters a natural hearing experience, while still protecting their hearing. Using patent-pending Specialized Target Optimization™ (STO), the world’s first hearing technology designed optimize hearing for hunters in their specific hunting environments. TETRA gives hunters an edge and gives them their edge back. Can you hear me now?! Dang straight I can. Thanks to Tetra Hearing!

Voormi Wool-based technology is engineered to perform. Wool is nature’s miracle fiber. It’s light, wicks moisture, is inherently warm even when wet. It’s comfortable over a wide temperature gradient, naturally anti-microbial, remaining odor free. But Voormi is not your ordinary wool. It’s new breed of proprietary thermal wool takes it next level–it doesn’t itch, is surface-hardened to bead water from shaking duck dogs, and is available in your favorite earth tones and a couple unique concealment patterns. With wool-based solutions at the yarn level, Voormi eliminates the unwordly glow that’s common during low light while wearing synthetics. The high-e hoodie and base layers are personal favorites that I wear worldwide. Voormi’s growing line of innovative of performance products is authenticity with humility. It’s the practical hunting gear that we real duck hunters deserve.

Mojo Outdoors, most recognized name brand decoy number one maker of motion and spinning wing decoys in the world. More than just the best spinning wing decoys on the market, their ever growing product line includes all kinds of cool stuff. Magnetic Pick Stick, Scoot and Shoot Turkey Decoys much, much more. And don’t forget my personal favorite, yes sir, they also make the one – the only – world-famous Spoonzilla. When I pranked Terry Denman in Mexico with a “smiling mallard” nobody ever dreamed it would become the most talked about decoy of the century. I’ve used Mojo decoys worldwide, everywhere I’ve ever duck hunted from Azerbaijan to Argentina. I absolutely never leave home without one. Mojo Outdoors, forever changing the way you hunt ducks.

BOSS Shotshells copper-plated bismuth-tin alloy is the good ol’ days again. Steel shot’s come a long way in the past 30 years, but we’ll never, ever perform like good old fashioned lead. Say goodbye to all that gimmicky high recoil compensation science hype, and hello to superior performance. Know your pattern, take ethical shots, make clean kills. That is the BOSS Way. The good old days are now.

Tom Beckbe The Tom Beckbe lifestyle is timeless, harkening an American era that hunting gear lasted generations. Classic design and rugged materials withstand the elements. The Tensas Jacket is like the one my grandfather wore. Like the one I still wear. Because high-quality Tom Beckbe gear lasts. Forever. For the hunt.

Flashback Decoy by Duck Creek Decoy Works. It almost pains me to tell y’all about Duck Creek Decoy Work’s new Flashback Decoy because in  the words of Flashback Decoy inventor Tyler Baskfield, duck hunting gear really is “an arms race.” At my Mississippi camp, his flashback decoy has been a top-secret weapon among my personal bag of tricks. It behaves exactly like a feeding mallard, making slick-as-glass water roil to life. And now that my secret’s out I’ll tell y’all something else: I’ve got 3 of them.

Ducks Unlimited takes a continental, landscape approach to wetland conservation. Since 1937, DU has conserved almost 15 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America. While DU works in all 50 states, the organization focuses its efforts and resources on the habitats most beneficial to waterfowl.

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