This episode begins with special guest, Joseph Richard, a 97 year-old US Navy Veteran briefly recalling the historical events of December 7, 1941. He was there. What does he remember from that infamous day in history? Does he consider himself a hero? Sobering thoughts. Then Bigwater and Ramsey Russell recount the first leg of the ongoing 2020 North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour, discussing some highlights. What inspired Ramsey to make such an undertaking? Where’s he hunted so far and who’d he hunt with? Any surprises? Where to next? How’s Char progressing, what all has she retrieved, has there been a learning curve? What’s up with the travel decoy – what’s the significance, where’d it come from and why did he choose that particular decoy? All of these questions and more in this episode of Duck Season Somewhere podcast.
Ramsey Russell Recounts Highlights of the 2020 North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour
This Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode aired December 7, 2020, the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack. Between waterfowl hunts in North Dakota, Ramsey Russell meets with 97 year-old Joseph Richard, of Louisiana, who tells Ramsey about his experience at Pearl Harbor.
I just did what my duty called for. I’m no hero and I don’t want to be a hero. And if I was, I wouldn’t tell nobody. – Joseph Richard
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to a special episode of Duck Season Somewhere. You know, December 7th, 1941 has been described by FDR as a date which will live in infamy. That’s the day the Japanese declared war on the United States and bombed Pearl Harbor. I remember my grandfather telling me as a child two-three decades later. I remember him describing that day as a beautiful day in Mississippi. They had gone to church. He and my grandmother had some friends come over to eat lunch: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. I bet that meal included some of her homemade dinner rolls. They were sitting on the front porch listening to the radio. That’s what folks did back then, they sat on the front porch and they listened to a great, big wooden radio. They interrupted the program to announce that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. Today’s guest, Mr. Joseph Richard from Louisiana, is 97 years young. He’s a lifetime resident of Louisiana. He was there at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day. Mr. Richard, how are you today?
Joseph Richard: Just fine.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. You are living in Louisiana? You were born and raised in Louisiana, is that correct?
Joseph Richard: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. What events lead to your joining the U.S Navy preceding World War Two?
Joseph Richard: I finished school and work was pretty hard to get. I decided to join the Navy. They promised me a job as a welder and that’s where I went.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. Do you remember the events of December 7th, 1941?
Joseph Richard: You can never forget that. It may be in the back of your mind, but it’s always fresh.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. What were you doing that morning? How did your morning begin?
Joseph Richard: I was getting ready to go ashore. I was eating grapes.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. What happened? Can you describe in detail the morning to that event?
Joseph Richard: The first thing I knew, I looked through the porthole and I could see that smoke. So, I went on top-side. That’s where I saw the planes. Heading back to the bank, I saw a red ball and I knew we were in trouble. They would wave at us they were so low. You wanted to drop the torpedoes so they wouldn’t go underneath the battle wagons. I could see them and they just waved at me.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joseph Richard: Yeah. It passed over our ship. We were working in the battle wagons. It was going over us.
Ramsey Russell: My goodness. What ship were you on?
Joseph Richard: I was on the U.S.S. Rigel it was a destroyer tender.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir.
Joseph Richard: We got hit with a shrapnel bomb. We had 150 holes in the ship and we had a wheel boat tied in the bow and had three men in it. They dropped the bomb that went between the three men. It went through the boat and didn’t go off. We’re really lucky, because if that bomb would have gone off, then I don’t tell them what would have happened.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. You’re fixing to go to shore, you hear the bombs go off and you see planes with the red circle on them. They’re so low they’re waving to you. What happened then?
Joseph Richard: They kept bombing, and there was nothing we could do, because we didn’t have bombs. We didn’t have guns. They caught us by surprise. By the time we woke up, they had everything destroyed. Do you know who dropped the first bomb on December the 7th?
Ramsey Russell: No sir.
Joseph Richard: We did. We had a Japanese sub trying to get into harbor and a destroyer dropped their charges on it just before the planes came in. So we were the ones that sank the first ship of the war. It was one of the two-man subs.
Ramsey Russell: I had never heard that.
Joseph Richard: Well, they said they didn’t sink it, but about two years ago they raised the little sub up. [They had] the fellow that kept saying it so he could see the evidence.
Ramsey Russell: The U.S was caught flat-footed, unaware. It was a surprise attack. For how long did the bombing last?
Joseph Richard: About two hours at the most. We knew that the Japanese ship was in the neutral water. I knew three months in advance that the [Japanese] fleet was out there. The destroyers would come along and they would tell us that the Jap fleet, all the aircraft carriers, cruisers, battle wagons, and everything, because they had been out there just maneuvering neutral water. Roosevelt didn’t know. J. Edgar [Hoover] had gotten the message, but he deleted that from the file, so Roosevelt didn’t know anything. But J. Edgar Hoover knew and he didn’t tell the president.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joseph Richard: Yeah, it was something, let me tell you. My job right after that was as a shipfitter. [We would try to] get these people off the U.S.S. Arizona. We got 33 of them. Then we had to stop because every time we tried to cut, the whole ocean would catch on fire.
Ramsey Russell: Because of the fuel on the water
Joseph Richard: Because of the fuel on the water.
Ramsey Russell: How did you know they were down in the shiphold? Were they communicating?
Joseph Richard: It was bottom up. We were just cutting, hoping we could get to where they were at. We heard a tapping until December 7th, but we never answered them back because we didn’t want to give them hope because we knew we couldn’t get to them. Then, the day after that, I never heard anything else. Then we patrolled the Harbor three days later. On the Oklahoma, we were searching around and I thought I heard a tap. I was one in charge of the boat to cut the mold and said, “We got to battle around.” So sure enough, when we got around I hear “tup, tup, tup” and we went and got the equipment to cut them out. There were three men in there with their heads just out of the water. I didn’t know who they were. They went to the sick bay and we went about our business. Fifty-seven years later, I was at a meeting in Las Vegas and I was sitting at the table. I had a friend of mine in between me and this gentleman. He told him, “My friend,” he said, “I wish I could meet the ones that cut me out of the Regal.” He said “You want to meet him?” “Yeah,” he said, “I’d like to meet him.” And he said, “Well, he’s right on the other side of me.” So he got up and we started chatting. A few days later a friend of mine asked, “Well, what did he tell you?” I said, “He didn’t tell me anything. He got up and kissed me like I was something.”
Ramsey Russell: How did it feel meeting him?
Joseph Richard: It was something. It makes you feel good that you helped somebody out of all of it. Meeting them was something. We remained friends. He died three years ago.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you when you joined the Navy?
Joseph Richard: When I joined the Navy I was 17 years old. We got into Pearl Harbor December 7th. On the 23rd I turned 18 years old. I turned 18 at Pearl Harbor. I made every invasion except the first two. I even went to two places where they dropped the atomic bomb. I was sad to see. The first one had 60,000 that were killed. On the second bomb, 80,000 got killed.
Ramsey Russell: My goodness.
Joseph Richard: On the first atomic bomb, when we went to deliver equipment, on the wall where a man was standing, his imprint was printed into the wall from the flash of that bomb.
Ramsey Russell: How did you spend the war between the two events between Pearl Harbor and the atomic bomb? What were your duties and where did you spend the war after Pearl Harbor?
Joseph Richard: We would follow that and repel the ships we could to send them home and to get really repaired. We didn’t have any time to do anything but work because we had three shifts most of the time working. So I didn’t get to see much of anything but work.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah sir.
Joseph Richard: We were getting ready. If they wanted to drop the bomb within a month, we were getting ready to invade and to send troops. That would have been a disaster. Would have had that much more kills. Oh, no, thank God that Truman decided to drop the bomb. That was the best thing that ever happened to it. It was something sad to do but it had to be done. They started it and we had to finish it.
Ramsey Russell: What do you remember most when you think back to December 7th, 1944? When you’re laying at home and you’re thinking all these years later, what do you remember most?
Joseph Richard: It’s all of the people that was on the Arizona. He got killed and his body still on it. My mind just stays on that. Oh no, we couldn’t do anything to get them out of there and we weren’t able to do anything that we could do.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir.
Joseph Richard: That’s something that you never, never forget. I hope nobody else has to go through what we had to go through. We were young. We did our best and we came out heroic.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. Have you been back to Pearl Harbor?
Joseph Richard: I have gone back there a couple of times. I like to go back. But my condition: I’m crippled and partially blind. If we can make it I would like to take my two daughters over there. More than that it was three months before they knew I was dead or alive. I wrote them but the mail didn’t go out. I don’t know how they found out, if they got a hold of me or if the navy sent somebody out. They never asked me anything. If they want to know something they did it through my brothers and sisters but they never talked to me about what I went through.
Ramsey Russell: I think they were just happy that you were alive.
Joseph Richard: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: I’m trying to ask this the right way. What do you feel like in all these decades since? What do you feel like you and people like you that served in the U.S military, accomplished for America?
Joseph Richard: We had accomplished or not. But what I see bad about it now is these young people going over there and they can’t do anything. They got this house here protected, the other house if they go in and kill somebody they want a court marshal. Well how can you do anything like that? That’s sad to send our young people over there and let them do that to us. It’s just not right.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. They’re handcuffed more or less.
Joseph Richard: I think every young man when he comes out of high school should go into the service for two years. I think we’ll have a better generation if they go into the military right out of high school. It’s hard to say but we got to do something.
Ramsey Russell: Why do you feel like everybody should go into the military? Why do you think that would benefit society and young people?
Joseph Richard: Well, the younger generation doesn’t even respect the flag. Military would make them love America or leave.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Do you feel a certain sense of pride when you see the American flag?
Joseph Richard: Sure. It’s a symbol, it’s beautiful to see it fly and it should be respected. It’s what we live for.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Mr. Richard, I certainly appreciate your generation having sacrificed and done what you did during those dark days. I feel like we all prosper and benefit under that flag thanks to your generation having served.
Joseph Richard: I was proud to do it and I’d do it all over again. I appreciate you calling and interviewing me. It was really nice of you.
Ramsey Russell: It is my pleasure Mr. Richard. It very certainly was. I think, on behalf of everybody listening, that we are truly thankful. I’ve got one last question for you and I think I know the answer but I’m going to ask you. Do you consider yourself a hero?
Joseph Richard: Oh no, I just did what my duty called for. I’m no hero and I don’t want to be a hero. And if I was, I wouldn’t tell nobody.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir.
Joseph Richard: Because that’s what we are supposed to do. Protect our country.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. Folks, in this very special short episode, y’all have been listening to Mr. Joseph Richard share his experiences in Pearl Harbor. Today was struck, today the Japanese struck war. Mr. Richard, do you have any parting words you’d like to share?
Joseph Richard: No, just thanks for interviewing me.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. Thank you very much.
Ramsey Russell Tells Bigwater About Parts of His 22-State North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour
Kind of like that Forrest Gump, he ran down the driveway, got that far, went into town, into the county, state of Alabama line, and just kept on going. That’s kind of how I felt at times, on those long stretches in between destinations. It’s a true run-and-gun North America waterfowl hunting trip.
Ramsey Russell: Mark, can you just imagine what it was like being at Pearl Harbor and watching the USS Arizona sink and to be under that kind of fire and be under that kind of pressure? I really can’t imagine.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: No way.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, Mr. Richard and his generation, I really believe they are the world’s greatest generation. They are the generation that truly made America great. I heard my grandfather talk about it. I’ve talked to a few of these vets now and it humbles me when somebody like Mr. Richard just describes that event as him doing his duty, not him being a hero. What do you think about that?
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Those guys were ready to answer the call, that’s for sure. It’s amazing that they put the country first and just the sacrifices that generation made, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: They just stepped up.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: A lot of debt owed to them.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of debt owed to them. Wow, I tell you what, they’re not getting any younger but I’m indebted to them. I sure appreciate them feeling a sense of duty to do what they did on that fateful day. Mark, how have things been going with you? How did your opener go?
Bigwater Mark Wilson: I couldn’t ask for any better. The 75th birthday from my dad, Ramsey. Two hunts: shot 18 birds in 8 minutes the first day and 24 birds in 33 minutes the next day. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good. We had a good opening at Willow Break too. Ian Munn and I have been hunting together now for 20 consecutive openers in Mississippi at Willow Break. And of course Forrest has been going with us for a long time. We had a good opener, we got a good draw. We went to a blind we don’t typically go to, and we shot quality ducks. No shovelers, no ring-necks, didn’t even see gadwalls. It was mallards and wood ducks and green-winged teal. We felt very fortunate for that and were glad to do it. Of course, Forrest and I started our third-annual road trip together, which is the second part of an extended road trip I’m presently involved with. I got to come home for two or three days. I got to go through some familiar moves at my camp and my duck calls and my family and celebrate Thanksgiving, but then we were right back on the road and its well and going now, I’m going to tell you. We’re in Michigan right now.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: So, are we at the halfway point of this road trip? This 2020 North American waterfowl hunting tour?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, we’re probably close, for the 2020 North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour, pretty damn close to halfway, maybe a little over halfway. I’d say we’re over halfway in terms of days, probably in terms of states. I left Mississippi and made a big run, knocking off states I’ve never hunted ducks in before, catching up with some old buddies, and some favorite places. Knocked off Iowa, Wisconsin, passed across Minnesota, and spent about 9, 10 days in North Dakota jumping around basically from the southeast corner up to the northwest and all points in between. We spent a good long time there in Utah, jumping around some of the camps in public land with friends and everything from ducks and swans. We jumped down to Arizona then New Mexico. Kind of like that Forrest Gump, he ran down the driveway, got that far, went into town, into the county, state of Alabama line, and just kept on going. That’s kind of how I felt at times, on those long stretches in between destinations. It’s a true run-and-gun North America waterfowl hunting trip. Forrest and I have been going up through the Central Flyway, more or less. Just imagine a territory from Mississippi up to Nebraska, the North Platte River, driving, for the last couple of years. This year we did not. This year we went north to Indiana, Michigan, and now we’re heading east.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: This is the second mega trip. But on this first leg, it took you from up north through Wisconsin, Iowa, over North Dakota, then down into the Southwest. Any idea, Ramsey, as to kind of a ballpark figure, what we are looking at miles on your truck that you’ve gone in so far on this trip?
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to guess 10,000 miles. I think that’s pretty darn close because I changed my oil today before I left and it was past due for an oil change. It was well past due when I came rolling in before Thanksgiving. Took it back and managed to click along. That truck doesn’t need oil change but every 7,000 miles. It’s going to be due for an oil change when we get back, no doubt.
Diver Duck Hunting in North Dakota
North Dakota dry field hunts, mallards, Canada geese, and snow geese are expected. But all of a sudden,I get an invite to come shoot divers with Jeff Pelayo.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Man, these trips, there’s some specific waterfowl hunts I saw following you on social media. Those are honestly highlights. I’m like, “All right, let me see where we are, where we’re going and what it looks like and what the plan is.” There’s some specific hunts that I want to ask you about from your trip and maybe get some feedback on. I want to start with one, the North Dakota diver duck hunting thing. Everybody, 99% of people, like you said, are going to think North Dakota is potholes or dry field duck and goose hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Mallard and Canada geese or snow geese.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: You threw us a curveball with that diver hunt up there.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that was a huge opportunity for me, too.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Can you give me the “behind-the-scenes” on that?
Ramsey Russell: I’ll give you that, because what compels me about traveling and this road trip and doing what I do is not necessarily the ducks. It’s where they take you off the beaten path. Just like you said, North Dakota dry field hunts, mallards, Canada geese, and snow geese. All of a sudden,I get an invite to come shoot divers-the Jeff Pelayo Old School North Dakota Diver Hunt podcast episode has already aired. The man’s got a beautiful wooden decoy collection, soaking out there in front of a dry shore blind, and we’re targeting bluebills and canvasbacks and redheads. There were some common goldeneyes and some buffleheads. And I told him, “There are parts of the world back home where some of these species are regarded as trash ducks, not by me, but by others.” That’s not the case with these guys. Man, they target them, a lot of these guys up north. They prize scaup. They are fast and sporty birds. They know how to cook them good and everything else. But just sitting there, thinking of all the times I’ve been to North Dakota hunting, I’d never experienced a diver hunt. It was just a fresh perspective on the same old place and that was very rewarding.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Let me ask you. We’re doing a diver hunt on a big lake up in North Dakota right now. Are these local birds that have been raised in that part of North Dakota?
Ramsey Russell: No, they were migrated. They may raise some of those species here. But I know they had gotten a fresh slug of birds because it was cold, it was bone chilling cold. A big front had hit. They were excited because there were a lot of new birds buzzing through. They think they may have lost a few of them. But they picked up a lot of them. They had not been seeing some of those birds, some of those species. We saw canvasbacks, shot a bunch of blue bills, shot some golden eyes, and shot some buffleheads. No, those birds were coming out of Canada, for sure.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: You got some good video of swans working over the spread too, right?
Ramsey Russell: I did. I think he’s going to name that little private lake, his Swan Lake. Those birds were brand new. They had seen a few swans, but the minute that front hit there were hundreds of swans. Chris Nikolai came down with his daughter Grace. She was still shooting a 20-gauge and she was trying to get her tag. She was the only one that had a tag for North Dakota and she hunted with us. That particular day, the wind just wasn’t cooperating, so she didn’t get to close the deal. But there were a lot of swans in the area.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Yeah, that was it. What’s the deal with the swans up there? Tell me about that.
Ramsey Russell: They’re migrating through.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: That’s a fun hunt. You got to have a permit, you can buy a permit, and you can be drawn?
Ramsey Russell: You got to get drawn. If they got any leftover you can buy them over the counter but you have to get drawn. This year, because Canada was closed, there was a high demand. Non-residents coming to North Dakota, there was a lot of pressure. All the outfitters and everybody recognized a significant increase in numbers of white trailers and out of state plates prowling around.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: The covid effect was easy to see?
Ramsey Russell: Oh it was easy to see. Very, very easy to see. Extremely easy to see. A lot of people for the first time anybody could remember did not get drawn. I did not get drawn from North Dakota and there were none available after the drawing to buy over the counter. I’ll continue to apply, I’m going to shoot a swan in all 10 states now that are legal if I can.
Swan Hunt in Utah
Swans are a very iconic species. In Utah, I learned some stuff about swans, about their habitat and the role of hunters as swan conservationists.
Ramsey Russell: I did get a swan tag in Utah, which is a hard draw. I got lucky doing that. That was one of the big highlights of the trip, ending up in Utah. We had just an absolutely beautiful swan hunt. Ed Wall came up from Hinds County. He’d been filming in Nebraska. He came up and filmed it. We did a little piece on Utah swan hunting. Not just about Ramsey Russell shooting swans, but about swan conservation swans themselves. Swans are a very iconic species. In Utah, I learned some stuff about swans, about their habitat and the role of hunters as swan conservationists.
Two-thirds of the continental migration migrates through the Pacific Flyway. One of the big, major staging areas is the Great Salt Lake Basin. There’s tons of sago pondweed and back in the 50s they were literally eating so much sago pondweed that when they would get back in the spring after the thing thaws out, there wasn’t really enough to get them back up to the arctic in good shape to where they bred. The biologists started seeing a decline in swans. They came up with the idea of hunters having a season in Utah for swans just to put enough pressure on the birds to push them on down the fly away, get them on out of there before the freeze, to keep them moving down the pipeline so that there would be some Sago pondweed when they come back. That’s how swan hunting became a thing in the United States of America. It was Utah. “To conserve the swan, let’s get some hunters on board.” And now the populations of both tundras and trumpeters are trending upwards. That’s where hunters can really pat themselves on the back and say this is how we help conserve wildlife.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Ramsey, when we talk about these swans and these tags, do you have any idea how many tags are put out there for purchase on an average for a state?
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know for all the states. In the state of Utah, I think they’re putting out about 2500 tags. I think that’s right. I cannot recall the exact number. We interviewed Rich Hansen, Why Utah Swan Hunting, He’s the biologist at Ogden Bay. He’s State Banding Coordinator for the State of Utah, too. He says that number, I think, is around 2,500. I think that’s right. It may be 600 and 2,500 applicants. I may have my numbers mixed up. It’s not a ton.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Is there a limit on out-of-state hunters that can draw for Utah swan hunting permits like that?
Ramsey Russell: That I don’t know. I think all the names are going to the same hat. I know that in Delaware and Idaho, the two states that most recently let a swan season, both started with residents only about 65. Now, this past year, Delaware opened it up for nonresidents. Still there’s only 65 total. I think Idaho is going to be around 65 total.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: But let’s talk about your specific Utah swan hunt for a moment. I’m just curious because I saw that on your instagram feed @ramseyrussellgetducks. The Swan Hunting Utah video appeared when you went swan hunting, you all didn’t go out at first light, it kind of looked like it was on up in the day when you all went out.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, we would have gone out at first light but it was really, really bad weather. It was a momentary blizzard. So we just waited on the snow to let up a little bit. We knew they wouldn’t fly in low visibility snow, so we basically sat at the boat ramp until we could see the radar and see that it was about to pass. Once it started to pass, we jumped out, hit the canals, and went to the place we’re going to go to hunt that flyway that Chad Yamane had picked. We quickly set up a bunch of decoys, and a few ducks, and got hidden real well and waited on a big white bird. [There were] some young birds in the area, some family groups that didn’t decoy. It wasn’t long, I’m going to say an hour and a half, two hours into it, a great big white bird came easing up in there and put him down, coming right into the pockets, sailed right in there. I had pointed to Ed, “I am going to shoot him when he gets right there.” And that’s exactly where he was when I double-tap him, “boom, boom.” That’s the third one I’ve shot. If you don’t hit him in the head, their head will fly back over the body and they’ll die in slow motion. They’re a very big bird. Two solid hits, he was down. He went down on the first hit, I just got excited, I guess. “Boom, boom,” just the old mafia double-tap and got him good. But it’s a very, very exciting hunt. On the one hand, it’s North America’s largest waterfowl. I’m excited for them. I love them. Very, very beautiful, very iconic species when they fly. It all boils down to one trigger pull. Just one play, one swan. That’s it. A lot of people do miss swans, they were telling me, because they tend to body shoot them. You’re focusing on the big white bird instead of on its head. And you’ve got to look at their heads. You’ve got a key in on their head when you start swinging through.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Yeah, that big body, big breast would make an inviting target, I guess.
Ramsey Russell: It would make an inviting target. They’ve got a six-foot wingspan and probably a 3.5-foot long neck. That gander I shot, they called him a Cob. They call the male swans Cobs. It was 22 pounds. It was the largest swan that Chad Yamane had laid his hands on at the time for the season.
Ramsey Russell: It was a Tundra Swan. Once you shoot a swan, it must be reported within 24 hours. You go to a biologist and they take bill measurements and they take a little biological sample, 55 millimeters or less is a Tundra swan. Larger than that, when he gets up in that 60 mm range, is a Trumpeter. And of course, in hand, you can really see the yellow eye patch. Right there and what they call the lores. A notable yellow eye-patch on the tundra swans. That’s what I shot, it was tundra. And the week after, I was scared because once I was there, I got an email from Utah saying, “Check your email regularly because there have been 14 Trumpeters killed and once they hit 20 it was going to shut down,” so it could have been any day they shut the season down. Even though I’ve gotten drawn, which is a hard draw, I wouldn’t have gotten to go hunt my bird. That happens.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: So, you’re saying that they shut the season down when they reach 20?
Ramsey Russell: When 20 trumpeter swans have been reported in the state of Utah they shut the season down, yep.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: So you can’t shoot anymore tundra swans then either?
Ramsey Russell: No more, nothing. No more swans. That’s how they roll.
Duck Hunting on Utah’s Great Salt Lake
A lot of people believe that the airboat was invented in the Great Salt Lake where you’ve got tens of thousands of acres of open water inches deep. Once those duck hunters figured out how to access those remote shallow water areas where ducks like to hang out, then they had to figure out how to hide. “Where do we hide?”
Bigwater Mark Wilson: That was an interesting hunt and an equally interesting style of hunting that really looks cool. Tell us about that black silhouetted shallow-water layout.
Ramsey Russell: That is a distinct Great Salt Lakes hunting method. And I guess I was excited to do it as I was to actually go shoot a swan. I had shot swan before in North Carolina. I was very excited to do that particular hunt. A lot of people believe that the airboat was invented in the Great Salt Lake where you’ve got tens of thousands of acres of open water inches deep. Once those duck hunters figured out how to access those remote shallow water areas where ducks like to hang out, then they had to figure out how to hide. “Where do we hide?” There’s no vegetation, no cattails, nothing. There’s nothing to hide in. But when you see those rafts of birds on the water across there, it just looks like a black raft. The reflection of the water, the reflection of the sun, the scenery all around it. You just see silhouettes, black silhouettes.
Somebody, very smart, had the idea of going and hand cutting a bunch of silhouettes in the shape of ducks and painting them black and sticking out hundreds of them in a long column. Then we came in with these little open coffin blinds. It’s kind of like this little sledge we pulled decoys in there at Willow Break, but black. We put them in the decoys. You sit in them and of course the bottom is touching the soil. It’s just a few inches deep. That’s how you stay dry. Your low profile below them and the green wings and the shovelers and the goldeneyes, particularly, just come in low and fast and hard, right in your face. It was a riot. It was an absolute riot.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Strictly a Utah Great Salt Lake duck hunting technique. It reminds me of the body booting they do back east except in shallow water. Instead of setting out some decoys and body booting, you’re doing it in a sled in shallow, shallow water. Right?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah, that’s a good way of thinking of it. It’s kind of like body booting. It was shallow decoys and shallow water. There’s a good chance that Forrest and I are going to do some body-booting in Delaware for Brant with Brian Rogers over at Fowl Intensity Outfitters. He’s trying to get off work. He’s a firefighter, his main job, but does a really, really good job hunting on the East Coast. We’re actually looking at doing some body booting. I’ve done some body booting up in this part of the world where we got behind Canada geese and shot canvasbacks on Lake St. Clair. Talk about cold! It’s only fun when it’s not cold. But going out there to Utah, that was a really, really cool deal of shooting the swan. It was awesome. Going out and hunting that style, that Great Salt Lake black silhouettes, was a lot of fun. Just one of those kind of funny life experiences I’m looking to do in duck hunting. I really enjoyed that.
Visiting Historical Utah Duck Camps
Ramsey Russell: You know another big highlight in Utah was going to some of those old duck camps. There’s a lot of old duck camps around Utah. I went to one called New State that had been founded the year that Utah became a state, and went to the Chesapeake Club. It used to be called the Chesapeake Bay Club because back during the market hunting days, they were shipping a lot of their ducks out of state and they wanted to borrow from the name brand of Chesapeake Bay to get top dollar for their canvasbacks. We went to another duck club that has been around since 1903 called the Rudy Duck Club. The way they lay those clubs out is you pull up, you got this camp, you got a metal storage shed with doors, you walk through the doors, and it’s a mud room, most of them heated. You’ve got dry docks or wet docks inside. You just place your decoys, climb in the boat, little custom boats for running through those water control devices. That’s how they manage the sago pondweed. We drive out, we hide the blinds, we pull up the blind, push up into cattails, and shoot a fair amount of quality ducks. It’s a lot of fun.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: It looked incredibly neat. That’s a really rich environment for waterfowl hunters out there.
Ramsey Russell: Utah is a special area. I love Utah. It’s one state in America I would very seriously consider moving to, if I ever pulled up my Southern roots and moved somewhere. The duck hunting is good, the people are friendly, very high quality standard of living, and I just love it. You’re sitting out there in those marshes looking at the Promontory Mountains to the west, the Wasatch Mountains to the east. Sitting on the outside, the cities will be lit up against those purple mountains in daylight like a Christmas tree. Always, that Mormon Tabernacle church is like the angel on top. It’s very bright, very prominent. It’s just very serene and beautiful. It’s just a nice place to hunt. I love hunting those marsh habitats like that.
Duck Hunting Montana
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Let me back you up for a second. I do want to ask you about one backup. You took a tour through Montana and I know the hunting has been slow, got friends out there and they had some tough duck hunting and you were in that time period. But tell me about that historic Bighorn River. When you hear about hunting the Bighorn the first thing I think of as General Custer out there and all that.
Ramsey Russell: We didn’t get to hunt the Bighorn. My buddy Ryan Yarnell, we were supposed to hunt the Bighorn River. He got COVID. He didn’t get sick, didn’t get deathly ill, didn’t feel good for a few hours and a few days but he got quarantined. So scratched that but I did go to the Yellowstone River which was unbelievable, just walking across that river in the dark, the sun coming up, the purples and the pinks and reds and the majesty.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Paint a picture for me. How big is this river, about how wide?
Ramsey Russell: The parts we crossed were riffles and it was knee deep and slippery. I mean, boy, it’s like a trout stream. It’s as slippery as a fresh cutthroat. I mean it’s slippery. You have to be careful walking across there. It’s slippery, like walking on ice underwater or a bar of soap or something. Then we just use natural cover on a gravel bar. There weren’t a ton of ducks. It was so interesting because I left home on October 17th wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I got to Iowa, it snowed. A big front hit. By the time I got to Wisconsin, there’s 5″ of snow. By the time I got to North Dakota, they caught all that snow when it got bitter cold. During several of those hunts, it was down the single digits. Ducks flying one time of day, eating and what not like that. By the time I got to freaking Montana, it was 75°, and two days later, it was 80° when I rolled into Bozeman to hunt with a couple of boys.
We went out and shot geese and shot some ducks out in the field. It was awesome. We had a great time and recorded the Hippies and Cowboys episode describing Bozeman, Montana hunting culture. But I had to leave. I was thinking about staying one more day and coasting on in, and they’re like, “Man, you need to get out of here because there’s a blizzard hitting.” I said, “No way. They said, “Oh, it’s coming.” And then I started getting inboxes like, “Hey if you’re still in town because you get snowed in, come eat dinner with me.” I’m like, “Man, they’re serious.” Because there’s a mountain pass going from the Gallatin River Valley over into Utah, to the Madison River Valley down over the, into Utah. And they’re like, “Dude, if it snows like they’re saying, you’re going to get snowed in, you’re not going to better make that pass.” So I just skedaddled on over it and got on down. Sure enough, the next day, I get a bunch of texts saying, “Good thing you left.” They started showing me pictures and whatnot, all the snow they got. It’s crazy weather in those mountains.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: And when you’re putting a trip together like this, it’s kind of a well-oiled machine. You get out and stick to deadlines.
Ramsey Russell: It is. I try to do that. Sometimes when I do these six- and eight-week trips, I’ll end up spending 2 or 3 nights at a hotel, washing clothes or doing something like that. On this particular trip, I stayed with a lot of people, a lot of people’s houses. That wasn’t an issue. I just tried to really run it and make every day count. We’re running, just Forrest and I, real close to the timeline. It’s like a total force, we’re literally one flat tire or a post-truck stop burrito emergency from missing the next hunt. We’re rolling in two nights, one day, and the next morning. Two nights, two mornings around lunchtime, midday onto the next destination. We’ll get to New Jersey next weekend or about midweek this upcoming [week]. We will be there about when this podcast airs, we will be getting to New Jersey. We’re going to camp out there for four days with a friend, and target brant and black ducks and just really lay in with them. More of a quality hunt. But other than that, we’re just a day and a half, two days into it.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Look, I’m a big fan of off-the-beaten-path duck hunting. That’s me. Everybody that knows me knows that. Anybody can go to the Hollywood spots, the best, the glamour spots, the Arkansas and all the historical places and kill ducks. But I like to hear about these off the beaten path spots. These next two spots we’re going to talk about were easily my favorite of your trip. Everything from wild horses coming through the decoy spread, to city tourists who looked at you. I could just see them looking at you. “What is that? Who are those guys?” They gave you that look like you had about a 10 inch penis hanging off your forehead. I got to hear about these two next spots, Arizona and New Mexico. You really got into some good action on both those. Tell us about that.
Duck Hunting Arizona
We were actually closer to Mexico at the time than we were to Phoenix and stepped into a duck hole.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got time and covid really inspired me to branch out and see a lot of opportunities in my backyard. I’ve hunted a lot of different countries, but there’s a lot of locales and opportunities here in America that I had not yet explored or hunted. I thought this would be a great time to do it. When I left Utah, drove south, it was an amazing ride. Probably the best windshield time of the entire trip. It was a long drive, probably 10 – 12 hours. But I enjoyed every minute of it. My mouth was open. My eyes big, “Holy cow, look at this!” John Wayne cinematography, epic Hollywood scenery on both sides of the road as I was going through the great desert, they call it, into Northern Arizona. We went into Phoenix, six million people. Hunted with John Odell, a biologist, and my buddy Steve Comus, for a couple of mornings. We hunted the Salt River just outside of Phoenix. It’s so amazing because you go from this metropolis of Mesa, Arizona and at about the 11th green light, you’re on national forest land, the Sonoran desert, its pitch black. You can see every star in the sky all of a sudden. We drove to a little parking area and parked. We walked down a sand trail to this little Salt River that is 10 – 15 yards wide. It’s a little clear trout stream, pitched a few decoys and started hunting ducks. There were other places we could’ve hunted and we’ll hunt next time I go to Arizona, but I got to really see how a lot of Arizona hunters hunt and at times when it’s cloudy they won’t, when things are going on and making ducks move, it can be a little more productive, and it was. I got to have some great visit time. Saw some great scenery.
I tell you it’s like, “Toto, you ain’t in Kansas no more.” We were sitting out there on the Salt River one day and we heard some bushes rustling and some people talking. It was three European photographers coming talking along, “Oh, oh hello, hello, how are you?” And then later some cowboys come by or just some people riding horses. And then the next day hunting, we had a herd, and I did not know there were wild horses in Arizona, but we had a herd of wild horses, mustangs, come walking through the decoys. That was interesting. We shot a few birds and then I joined Colin Shepherd for epic feedlot pigeon hunt with some friends and really, really Argentina-like, not almost Argentina. It was epic, the number of pigeons and decoy pigeons shot around this feed.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Your Instagram feed looked like the plague!
Ramsey Russell: It was unbelievable. I spent a lot of time just filming some of that stuff. The highlight of Arizona was going way down. We were actually closer to Mexico at the time than we were to Phoenix and stepped into a duck hole. There had been a lot of mallards on it and we walked into the knee deep water. It’s probably 10 – 15 yards wide, surrounded by mesquite trees, 100 yards long, surrounded by an ocean of agriculture, predominantly corn, a lot of irrigation, just cattail water. Irrigation runoff, that’s what it was, just a little sump. Loaded with duck feathers. Really expected a good thing. They had seen a couple of hundred mallards. We don’t know if somebody turned on a well and put water somewhere else or because it ain’t like the birds are going to migrate that far south. Those green heads are there, those mallards are there. We didn’t fire a shot at a mallard. We saw one green head. He was working. Buddy, he was hooked up, about 9:00, we called him and he hooked up. He started coming in and I had looked to my right where he was going to hook up and come right through the pass down over the decoys.
I heard a flap or something and looked up above me and there were two Mexican ducks that nobody had seen just silently coming in. “Bam, bam,” I knocked out a pair of them. Don’t know what happened to the green head. But I saw those Mexican ducks. I knew what they were. Picked the drake first, the hen next, doubled on them. When a little char dog went out to grab those birds, the first big drake, I realized that I’ve shot a bunch of those birds down in Mexico in the Sonoran Desert, but I never shot one on American soil. That really to me, other than the people and the culture and the visits and the stories and the habitat and stuff like that, duck hunting wise that was a big highlight for Arizona. I got to knock a species off my bucket list.
Sandhill Crane Hunt New Mexico
“Shooting sandhill cranes near Roswell, New Mexico.” How cool is that?
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Yeah, that was good. I was a big fan of the Arizona hunt. And then in New Mexico, wow!
Ramsey Russell: That was the grand finale. It turned out to be the grand finale.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: I’m going to be honest with you. The New Mexico sandhill crane hunt, I think the biggest miracle of all was how you didn’t shit yourself after eating the morning burrito.
Ramsey Russell: It was a damn good burrito, man. It didn’t faze me a bit, I guess I got a cast iron stomach. David Masteas had invited me to come by. I didn’t get there, such a long drive from Arizona to his place. I didn’t get there until about 08:30 at night and his wife just had this incredible homemade New Mexican Chile Rellenos and Tamales and Tacos and all this wonderful food ready. We feasted and went to bed late and got up early and went to the Rio Grande River and hunted. It was just one of those days, tons of ducks. We saw some too high ducks going elsewhere, but just one with a lot of traffic, with a lot of activity. I expected to see more mallards and wigeons than anything else and tripled on a four pack of gadwalls that came in. “Boom, boom, boom,” I tripled on gadwalls. That was it. We went home, ate more of her excellent home cooking. She’s definitely an excellent cook. He says, “Do you like to shoot sandhill cranes?” I go, ”Yeah.” He goes, “I’ve been invited to a Sandhill Crane Hunt. We’re invited to go. It puts you closer to Mississippi when we leave.” I said, “Perfect.” I did not even know there was sandhill crane hunting in New Mexico, but it was epic. It was like the grand finale of the first leg of the trip because it was so epic. We got there, the young boys had scouted it and we showed up to a wonderful barbecue dinner. We went out and the weather changed. It’s kind of cloudy. It’s spitting a little bit of rain and mist.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: What are we hunting over there? What kind of concentration of birds in the cut cornfield?
Ramsey Russell: I posted some video on the storyline, there had been 400 or 500 Sandhill cranes using this field, that area, for about 3 or 4 days. It looked really, really good. To see that many Sandhill cranes, the way they line up. It’s probably a half-mile line of them. It was a bunch of them. But you know, they’re subject to change fields in a heartbeat on you. We’re sitting there at 09:00, we were beginning to wonder if those birds were going to come on in. Right about the time we’re starting to get worried, we hear one out through the mist and look up and here comes the line of about 25 of them. I double, “bam-bam,” the limit’s three. I sat out a volley of two and did a little video on my phone. I think it was four volleys and we were done, “bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam.” It’s done. Once those sandhill cranes get in, they don’t get out quick. It’s almost like shooting a flat screen TV.
You know what’s so crazy about that trip? The windshield time and the things you see were coming down through Roswell. I don’t know if it’s just something weird about coming through Roswell, New Mexico. I hear so much about flying saucers and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t know where I was. These GPS days, I don’t really study the map too much. I just punch it in and go where she says go, left, right, straight, 26 miles, bear off, do this, do that. It was late at night and we were coming in, pitch black dark and I didn’t really think much about it until the McDonald’s looked like a flying saucer. I started and I saw a lot of alien signs and things like that. I kind of cropped out a little bit and I realized I was in Roswell. I said, “Wow, shooting sandhill cranes near Roswell, New Mexico.” How cool is that?
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Did you see anything that night that freaked you out?
Ramsey Russell: No, it was too cloudy. The only flying objects I saw were identified as sandhill cranes. They look like folding chairs being tossed from a plane when they start flopping down. It was a great ending to the first leg of that road trip.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: If you could do it over, would you do anything differently on the first leg of the trip?
Ramsey Russell: I might. You know, I really, really, really love Utah, I love the people, I love everything about it., but if I had to do it again, I might have reorganized Utah and added a few days to go visit Nevada. I still haven’t hunted in Nevada and would like to hunt Nevada. But it’s going to take extended time. I shot four ducks in three days, three mornings hunting in Arizona. I want to go back because there’s a lot of places there. I want to go up North, out West, down South. There’s a lot of unique hunting opportunities. I want to go there. Likewise with New Mexico, in Nevada, you don’t just go to one place. It would be like going to Arkansas and going to Stuttgart and nowhere else. There’s hunting north and east and south of Stuttgart. I’d like to go. I’d like to get back off in those areas. That is the only thing I would have done differently. I left in October and all the lawn art looked like scarecrows and pumpkins and Halloween and election signs. Here I am after a three-day break at home and now the Christmas decorations are up in full swing. It’s too many places, not enough time to see it all. My only regret is that it’s just too many places, not enough time.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Hey, Char Baby dog grew up on this trip, huh?
Ramsey Russell: She did. She’s about 20 months old, 21 months old. I picked her up from Alan Sandifer who had gotten her senior-titled and she knew his game. She knew that hunt-test game. I picked her up and about the second weekend of teal season. We got off to a little bit of a slow start. She didn’t know me, my game, it was different. She’s had about 5 or 6 days off since I picked her up. She has hunted the Blue Wing Teal down south during that season. She has hunted big Canada geese, Green Wing teal, she retrieved that tundra swan. She has hunted in trees. She’s hunted from blind. She’s hunted from mud huts out in fields. She has hunted in the snow. She has hunted in 80 degree weather. She has swam the Yellowstone River. You know the Yellowstone River, Salt River, Rio Grande River, Great Salt Lake, divers, puddlers, big ducks, little ducks. The learning curve was real quick. She knows her game. She’s probably one of the huntingest little dogs I’ve ever owned. That dog loves to be petted, like all the labs do. But when we get in the blind, and that gun’s loaded, she is game on. Son, she is all business. She has hunted 11 or 12 states so far and picked up around 400-450 birds, 22 species. It’s been an epic couple of months together. I’ll say that.
Special Travel Decoy for 2020 North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour
It’s a way that I can memorialize and remember these event. It is the people that made all these waterfowl hunting experiences possible.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: It’s only going to get better this second leg. I got to ask you, what about this travel decoy? What a memory maker that you’re going to have from years from now to be able to look at that name when you look at that hunt.
Ramsey Russell: I’m glad you asked about that because a lot of people have been inboxing us. They’ve been inboxing and asking, “Why that decoy? Why are you getting people to sign it? What do you do?” And I’ve always said what defines duck hunting, especially my form of duck hunting, the most are the people. I call this the 2020 North American Waterfowl Hunting Tour. No, man, it’s the Hospitality Tour because the many, many, many people that have invited me into their homes. They invited me to dinner, invited me to their duck blinds, into their duck camps, into their duck boats, into their slice of duck hunting in America. It has been overwhelming. It’s a way that I can memorialize and remember that event. It is the people that made all these experiences possible, and as to the decoy itself, I’ll just say it. I told somebody a few weeks ago why I chose that particular. It’s not a perfect decoy for this kind of project, it’s one of more foam herders, Styrofoam decoys. It rubs its paints and gets scuffed up very easily. So I’m really not throwing it out in the water a lot. I don’t want the ink to come off and it’s full of ink right now. I have no idea how many signatures, but I think by the time we get done in January there will be signatures on top of signatures painted up, which is fine. After this tour is over, and I take that decoy back to my game room, I’m going to explain why I chose that specific decoy. That was not the decoy I was going to use initially.
I was going to use a wooden decoy, a black duck decoy.I saw this one laying on the shelf right next to it and I chose it and I chose it for a good reason. When I told this person why I did, he said, “Well, that’s kind of bad, I don’t know if I like it.” I said “No, no, no, it’s perfect. When I explain why it’s so perfect, you’ll understand it.” But I wish I had thought of having a travel decoy with me at all the places I’ve hunted the past 20 years. I’d have a decoy sack full of signatures of all the people I have been blessed to hunt with over the years. The full answer is going to come later in January, February, after this magnificent 20 plus state North American Waterfowl Tour comes to a conclusion.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: All right Ramsey, before we close this out, I have one more question for you.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good to see.
Mark: It’s a GetDucks question. Where does your crystal ball see these borders in Canada, et cetera, in the fall of 2021?
Ramsey Russell: I predict they’re going to open. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what an extremely liberal government like the Trudeau administration is going to do. Having been through some of these democratic rule states like Michigan that I’m sitting in right now, the restaurants are closed completely except for carry out. I don’t know. But I forecast that Canada is going to be open. Just my belief and I’ll tell you why: Argentina supposedly just opened, tourists are supposedly going to start coming into Argentina now. I believe it’s going to open up. I believe there are going to be protocols in place: wear a mask, wash your hands, exercise, good, good health measures, vaccines probably. But I believe this time next year, I believe it’s going to open up, and we’re going to be starting to feel a little bit more normal again.
Bigwater Mark Wilson: Good. I’m glad to hear that. I’ve enjoyed it, man.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, I appreciate you all listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. I’ve got you caught up on this 2020 US Waterfowl Hunting Tour we’ve been doing. Thank you all for keeping up with us on Instagram and thank you all for listening. If you’ve got any questions, give me a shout. Hey, see you next time. Forrest and I are fixing to load the truck and head south towards Ohio. Thank you all for listening.