Long before the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, a former market hunter named Jack Miner was the very first person in Canada–and likely anywhere in North America–to attach metal leg bands to migratory waterfowl. And the leg bands he attached to his “flying preachers” were very unique. Known as Wild Goose Jack, many famous American celebrities were among his closest associates. But who was Jack Miner really? Have you ever even heard of him? What did he mean especially to locals in the southernmost portion of Canada and to the conservation movement in general? What’s becoming of his legacy in this modern era? In candid conversations with local hunters, foundation board members and long-time staff, the Jack Miner legend is explored in-depth. Whether your lanyard carries a few highly collectible Miner bands or you’ve never before heard Jack Miner, here’s an episode that you’ll definitely want to hear and share with friends!
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Man, have I got a story for you all. I am in Kingsville, Ontario, which is the southernmost town in the entire country of Canada. In fact, parts of Michigan are north of us right now, we’re right on one of the Great Lakes, we’ll talk about that in a minute. And I’ve got some guests today to tell you all the story of Wild Goose Jack. Have you ever heard of him? I bet some of you younger guys have not heard of him and I bet a lot of you guys that know who Jack Miner was have never put your hands on a Jack Miner band that you killed yourself, because it’s a very rare thing to do, especially anymore down south. First up is my buddy Jeff Wood, born and raised right here. And as we’re talking, sitting in between us is a colossal mound of lanyards and bands, a lot of which are Jack Miner. Jeff, how are you? Long time no see.
Jeff Wood: Hey, good to see you, Ramsey. Been 4 years since we hunted last.
Ramsey Russell: 4 years. First thing you said when I walked in with that black dog is last time you saw her, I had just picked up Char dog, she was about this long.
Jeff Wood: And you carried that dog?
Ramsey Russell: I carried her. She was a puppy I had her for about three days when I come by here, she’s grown a little bit since you’ve seen her.
Jeff Wood: Certainly has.
Ramsey Russell: Jeff, who was Jack Miner? Who was he?
Jeff Wood: Jack Miner was a great guy. Kingsville born and raised, best friends with Ty Cobbb, built a baseball field for Ty Cobbb, had a room in his own house for Ty Cobbb when he stayed here, they hunted a lot, he’s also good friends with Henry Ford and a great guy. He liked to hunt and fish, enjoyed Jack Miner’s, brought the foundation together and wanted to feed ducks and geese and his biggest thing was he wanted to band.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I heard stories that I read somewhere, something that way back when he had actually been a market hunter to help feed his family and make ends meet. But did you ever hear any stories of how or why he got into banding, specifically some of the bands he put onto those birds?
Jeff Wood: Well, he had a lot of birds coming into Jack Miner’s since he started the foundation feeding them and he wanted to see how far they traveled. So they banded them and they got several responses. Now, back in the day, mind you, we didn’t have internet, so it was all mailing people that would shoot the band and say where they were from, yada yada. Nowadays, it’s great because we have the internet, so people just internet in, say, oh, I shot this band and these bands are like, worldwide, they’re all over the map. There are places that these Jack Miner bands were shot is incredible. I don’t know personally, but I think Jack Miner, well, they started in 1904, so that’s quite a long time. So I think they’re probably one of the first banding places in Ontario, Canada.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I heard that he started banding in 1909 and that his first band recovered, he actually got a letter written to him, Jack Miner, Kingsville, Ontario from South Carolina. But I’ve never really heard of how he knew these birds were going up to Native Americans, I think Inuits or why he started putting scripture. He must have been a religious guy to start putting scripture on them.
Jeff Wood: Yeah. You can show several bands, whether it’s duck or goose and there’ll always be a scripture on the bands, I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I can read you several bands because I have several ones sitting in front of me. Brandon, do you want to?
Ramsey Russell: I can read.
Jeff Wood: Can you read a scripture?
Ramsey Russell: I’m just grabbing one from the – my eyes ain’t no better than yours, Jeff.
Jeff Wood: You want some glasses?
Ramsey Russell: Be not afraid, that’s a good one. Be not afraid. But I wonder how he picked some of this scripture here. But he would put this scripture and he would date it with the year and whether it was fall or whether it was spring and he turned these birds. And I’m going to back up a little bit off of Jack Miner and we’re going to circle back on this, because this is Jack Miner story. But when did you start goose hunting? You were born and raised here in Kingsville?
Jeff Wood: Yes, I have.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start goose hunting?
Jeff Wood: Well, I can’t honestly tell you, but I started shooting trap at the Kingsville shooting sports at 8 years old. My mother always gave my dad crap for taking me out because I was too young to even barely walk, but I hunted with my dad. My best experience with my dad was we were hunting just actually a block away on the 3rd concession and I said to dad, what are we doing? He’s like we’re going hunting geese today, boy and I go, okay, so we’re out hunting geese, we put 6 decoys out, we’re hunting with holt calls, we didn’t need decoys, we didn’t need calls back then because we had feeder fields and we had so many geese at Miners. So here come the geese, they’re out checking out the fields and my dad goes, get down, here comes a flock of geese, so I jump into the ditch where we were hiding and I ended up jumping onto a pile of rocks, I knocked the breath out of myself, I couldn’t breathe, my dad’s going, what the heck’s going on? And dad goes, you’re all right? I go, yeah, well, the geese are coming just get down. I said, all right, I was so excited and I got goosebumps, that’s where I really started hunting geese with my dad, sorry, my dad’s gone now, but it was fun. We shot Miner bands that day, I remember we shot two Jack Miner bands that day.
Ramsey Russell: On your first goose hunt?
Jeff Wood: Yeah. I can’t say what years they were, I was 8 years old, I’m 56 now, but back then, it was a bonus, oh, look, it’s a band, it didn’t mean a whole lot, not like now you shoot a band, it’s like, oh, my goodness, I just shot a band.
Ramsey Russell: It’s like winning a Nobel Peace Prize or something.
Jeff Wood: I know. It’s like, oh, my God, I won the lottery. But that’s where I first started hunting and it’s kind of emotional for me because my dad’s gone now. And then, obviously, I grew up and taught my son Brandon, he started hunting probably the same age, but just love this town, it’s a great place to hunt, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve hunted with John Miner, he was really good friends with my dad, we hunted blinds all over like Hillman Marsh, hunted ducks and geese there and all the fields in Kingsville.
Ramsey Russell: You were telling me earlier that it wasn’t just your dad, you had uncles, you had friends of the family and other people like that that you all hunted with. Talk about some of those stories, that would have been 70s and 80s, that’s the good old days, man, in my book, that’s the good old days, 70s and 80s.
Jeff Wood: So we were out hunting on the 4th recession with a good friend of my dad’s and my uncle Larry’s and the whole family, Tom Reeves and he had a pond and we always saved the geese, we had a pond there and the geese were going in and I always called him, Uncle Tom, he wasn’t my uncle, but Tom would say, you’re watching the geese, Jeffy? And I go, yeah. He says, how many is going in there? I said, oh, I don’t know, about a thousand. He goes, well, it’s not enough, I said, all right, he says, we’ll wait for another week. So we watched and calls me a week later and says, how many birds are going in there, Jeffy? I said, about 2500, says, okay, we’re going to hunt it. All right, so he gets the guys together, we go out, we surround the pond and the surrounding cornfield that’s around the pond and it’s all buddies. We’re having a good time, we’re telling jokes, it’s a great day and here comes the geese, that’s when everybody went silent, here comes the old floater decoys and the old land decoys, the flambos and stuff and our holt calls, hunting today is like blowing a holt call, are you blowing a holt call? But whatever, hey, that’s how we blew them back then and it didn’t take much. They were already coming, we didn’t need decoys, and we didn’t need calls, they were coming anyways and here they come. And the way we set it up, we had the main shooters coming in, the birds came in, we shot and we always had guys at our flare points, whether they’re east or west or north or south, depending on the wind and the birds got shot off, the main shooters and whatever way they flared, those other groups of guys were the cleanup guys, not too many birds got away. So it was a great hunt, we filmed it, I still got film of it, it was a great film. And once again, we shot several Miner bands. We got back to the garage, we laid them out on the floor, we’re having a couple of cocktails with all the guys and shooting the shit and we were looked down and goes, well, you guys want some bands? Nah, you take them, whatever. And everybody took what they wanted and it didn’t matter back then. But it was always about the hunt and it was always about the friends and the people. It was always that way because it was such a – I still talk about today and if my dad were alive and Tom were alive, we’d talk about it forever because it was always a great hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Your dad was obviously to take an 8 year old little boy back then hunting, he was obviously a big hunter, he probably hunted a long time, too. Was he born and raised here in Kingsville?
Jeff Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Did he have a lot of Jack Miner bands or did he just give them away?
Jeff Wood: He had several Jack Miner bands. To him, it was, well, actually, can I be honest with you? He calls me and says, hey, Jeffy, I got a guy who wants to buy Jack Miner bands, he’s paying $3 US for bands. I go, oh, really and I go, wow, that’s a lot of money and that was, like, 30 years ago. And my dad says, they’re just sitting around, I got them in a coffee can. He says, I’m just going to sell them, I’ll just buy some stuff for the cottage up north. I go, go ahead, whatever you got to do, dad. So he sold, like, 54, 55 bands with no regrets, whatever. I did the same thing, I sold 63 and it was crazy, because 3 months later, the same amount of bands that I sold went for $14,000 to $15,000 from other people that there was a band frenzy and I go, oh, my God, then I realized what I’d just done and now that I think about it, I just wish I would have never sold them, because I’ll never sell another Jack Miner band, I wish I’d have kept them from my son Brandon, but that’s the way it is.
Ramsey Russell: Bands were cheap, it sounds like. I mean, you’re right here in Jack Miner backyard, it sounds like practically every hunt you went on, there were Jack Miner bands on there. Were those birds local or were they migrating in every year still when you were growing up, was it like migrating coming in?
Jeff Wood: Well, back then, all the birds that were banded here, there were some locals, obviously, but most of the birds here that were banded were migrating birds. So what Jack Miner did is we had a back net, a trap net, they would fill it full of corn or whatever it took, put the corn in the center and once the net filled up, we would drop the net and then they would call around and get a group of guys together to band the birds and release them. They filmed it, it was a great day, they did a lot with Jack Miner Public School, they’d have the school come in and have the children band the geese and ducks, we’re doing ducks also as well, it was great. It was always a great family thing to do, a great place for Jack Miner Public School to do because it was a nice outing for the children, which were only like a block away and it was great.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the day, Jack Miner was like the epicenter of Kingsville. I mean, it sounds like a lot of community participation, the schools, the hunters, the old timers, the young people, everything kind of spun around Jack Miner, back in the day.
Jeff Wood: Of course, it did, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: He would put out season long bait piles and you took me by there last time I was here, there was a massive corn crib full of just corn cobs and they’d feed it up, the birds would come in, they’d band them and then those birds just wouldn’t leave for somewhere. I mean, they might go down south, but a lot of them hung around here and then each fall, they’d return with those bands, so bands were everywhere. Did your dad ever tell you any stories that you share, like sitting in a blind, you know how it is when people talk in a blind, you have conversations you just don’t have. Did he ever tell you any stories about what hunting was like before you came along for hunting for geese?
Jeff Wood: Yeah, he did. I’ve seen part of it, but I was too young. But I remember when I was a kid, Jack Miner’s, don’t forget our migration has changed a lot over the years. Like back in the day and they’ll tell me stories and I’ve heard them all, you go to Jack Miner’s this time of year and we’re talking, what is it, October 30th?
Ramsey Russell: Late October.
Jeff Wood: Yeah. So Halloween is tomorrow, this time of year, we’d have between 25,000 and 30,000 geese in the front field including ducks. And, well, it’s changed, we don’t have that anymore. We might have 5000, 6000 maybe at our most, maybe a little bit more, but our migration has changed.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard that a lot of birds are shifting over towards the Ottawa Valley, a lot of the James Bay birds like, I’m sitting here in your man room of epic proportion and right above me is a double banded Canada goose with an orange collar, which I know came from James Bay.
Jeff Wood: Yeah, he was banded at Jack Miner’s. When he got to Jack Miner’s, he had the collar and the federal band and then he got banded with the Jack Miner band and I just happened to be underneath him the day that he flew into my decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the day, you’d say the old timers, you all lay the geese out here in the garage and oh, there’s some bands, oh, there’s another band, if anybody wants it, take it and some guys might take it or might not. When in your career, when in your life, did those bands take on a better meaning, like the fact that you started putting them on lanyards like this right here. If I had to weigh this I bet it’s 5lbs, 10lbs of bands right here. When did you say, well, I’m going to put them on lanyard, when did that kind of change revolve for you?
Jeff Wood: I don’t know, Brandon, what do you think? 10 years ago, I would say. Yeah, that’s when you hear people, you’ll get a Jack Miner band, yes. So I’m going, oh, everybody loves Jack Miner bands, how about we save these? Back in the day, it didn’t matter. I remember doing renovations with my dad, I was renovating a house and we turn apart the insulation, the drywall and we get in there and had the old copper tubing wiring going through the studs with the little glass balls for the wires and I’m looking with my dad and my dad goes, look at this, Jeffy, he goes, those are Jack Miner goose bands, they folded them out and stapled the wires with them all through their studs and I’m looking, I’m going, oh, my God, that’s crazy. So we took all these out and because it was being rewired with 14-2 wire and it’s like we kept all these bands and then put them in a can, but it didn’t matter then because it didn’t matter then or before that, when that happened and we just put them in a can.
Ramsey Russell: It’s just so amazing that the holiest of holy special bands out there were so cheap in this area that somebody built a house and rather than go to the hardware store and buy wiring staples chose instead to go to this coffee can and pull out these bands, flatten them and nail them.
Jeff Wood: Of course, you know as much as I know, the guy goes, oh, my God, I got to staple this wire up, I don’t have anything, he goes, oh, these will work, it’s a piece of aluminum.
Ramsey Russell: He can save $2.5 in building costs by using his old staple, that’s crazy.
Jeff Wood: I know, and I’ve seen it.
Ramsey Russell: What other stories like that have you heard or seen around here? I remember one time you telling me that folks would have carport sales, garage sales and folks would come up and just see a duck decoy and say, well, have you got any them metal things for sale?
Jeff Wood: Yeah, so can I tell you this story? I’ll tell you this story. I’m doing a service call, I own universal doors and I repair garage doors and install them and sell them. Anyways, I go to this customer’s house, we do a service call and we get the service call done and we start talking about different stuff and I got into hunting, which I love hunting, so I just start talking about hunting. Well, apparently this gentleman, he hunted and we’re talking about bands. And I said, oh, I collect a lot of bands, like the federal bands, Jack Miner bands, he goes, oh, I got a whole pile of those. I said, they’re in a can here. I go, oh, nice. I said, well, I collect them, they’re great things. And I said, oh, those are nice, there’s a lot of bands and he goes, well, would you like to take them? I go, no, I’m not going to take your band. He says, no, I got no use for them, you take them. And I go, oh and I’m looking and I go, oh, my goodness and I didn’t even want to charge him for the service because I’m going there’s a lot of bands in here. And at that time, when he handed me the bands and I’m going, there’s a lot of money here, but I felt bad, so I didn’t charge him for the service call and I said, I won’t charge you for the service call and he says, no. I said, no, but I felt bad, but in a way that I’m going, well, at least it went to somebody that appreciated him just as much as he did.
Ramsey Russell: But you know what else? When I start hearing about all the old timers around here that were studying up their wiring in their house and collecting big coffee cans full of these bands, what also it tells me is that there was a lot of goose hunters back in the day here, a lot of goose hunters. Whatever became of those goose hunters or goose hunting around here? The migration shifted, the landscape changed.
Jeff Wood: Yeah, well, we still have a lot of goose hunters here, obviously the younger generation, but it’s a hit and a miss in Kingsville. Like, you can go out and I can sit in my blind and watch geese and ducks fly over me all day long and go, well, they’re going to Miners. And then the next day it’s like, here they come, they come in, it’s a hit and a miss here, but that’s hunting. If you go out and shoot something, every time you go hunting, it’s killing. And I enjoy hunting here and the fact that you got a chance to shoot a Jack Miner duck or goose and if you do shoot a band, it’s like there’s a bonus, that’s a huge bonus.
Ramsey Russell: If you had to guess and I know you don’t know a number, but if you had to guess just throw out two numbers for me. How many banded birds do you think you might have killed and how many bands do you think you might still have? Just a guess.
Jeff Wood: I don’t know, there’s probably over 200 right here. Yeah, there’s at least 200 or maybe more, I didn’t count them, but sitting in front of you right now, I don’t know, I sold 63. I don’t know, I might have shot –
Ramsey Russell: 400, 500 maybe.
Jeff Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And you’ve probably been on 3 times that many band kills, maybe 10 times many.
Jeff Wood: Yeah. The band kills where I didn’t get the bands, obviously, they’re dispersed out. I got pictures on my wall there, right there, there’s 22 legs there with 22 goose bands just on one hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Were those all Jack Miner’s?
Jeff Wood: Yeah, all Jack Miner’s.
Ramsey Russell: I’m looking at. You got these yellow tarsal bands. What are these yellow tarsal bands on here?
Jeff Wood: Now, what they do, Jack Miner’s, when they have a gosling, they’ll put a tarsal band on that because it’s a gosling, because they’re much narrower and they’ll stay on the leg. But, yeah, all the goslings are banded with those and when you get those, like, wow, there’s a bonus because that was probably here 4 or 5 years ago, no, more than that, both 6 years ago, I guess they started doing that while you were here, when you hunted with me, there was tarsals then, that was 4 years ago, before COVID.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, right before COVID.
Jeff Wood: We didn’t shoot any tarsals, but we got the double banders.
Ramsey Russell: The very first time I ever visited Jack Miner was probably 5 or 6 years before I met you all and they would feed these ducks, put a pond out and just feed them and feed them, which is legal here. I talked somebody, they told me that they issue permits to bait ducks, even for like camps, but the rule is you can bait them, but you can’t hunt within 400 meters of it. So they would bait Jack Miner and one of the first visits I walked through, I’ve got a picture, because he was right here from here to those bands from me, of a drake shoveler, Jake, they would basically banded anything that flew in the pin. This was a drake shoveler with a Jack Miner band on it and just anything that got off under that net, they banded it, didn’t they?
Jeff Wood: Yes, they did.
Ramsey Russell: What species of Jack Miner banded birds have you collected over the years seen? I’m sure, black ducks, mallards, wood ducks.
Jeff Wood: Wood ducks, black ducks, mallards, shovelers. I haven’t shot them personally, but there’s been teal banded there, the green wing and yeah, that’s about it, I think. Don’t recall anything else.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the oldest Jack Miner band that you have on a lanyard?
Jeff Wood: It’s a 1925. I didn’t shoot it, obviously and that’s where I’ll back up to the story, where the guy with the tin can with the service call. So I got a 1925 Jack Miner band on my lanyard.
Ramsey Russell: What is the most monumental band? I’m trying to think about the one you shot.
Jeff Wood: Okay. I shot that with my son on Lake Erie, I had a blind out there. So I got quite a story to this, we’re out, it’s November, it’s end of November, it’s cold, I have no waders, Brandon has no waders, the one guy I was hunting with had waders. So we brought our boat out there, we anchored it about 300 yards from the blind and the anchor let loose. And the good thing, the wind was out of the south, because the boat was heading towards shore. So my buddy Casey said, well, he’s got the waders, he was going to pursue the boat. Well, between the time that he was pursuing the boat, I had a flock of 5 geese come in and Brandon was there with me and this flock of geese landed and they lit on the water and I shot 3 of them, back then, we had a 3 bird limit. So, anyways, we’re still waiting for Casey to get back with the boat, it’s getting dark and Brandon goes, dad, I go, what? He goes, they’re banded and I go, oh, my God, yes, they are, I have no waders, so I’m going, oh, my God. If I don’t get these birds before dark, they’re going to be gone, they’ll float away, won’t find them. So I had my phone in my pocket, I jump out of the blind into the water, my phone’s vibrating in my pocket to go retrieve these 3 geese. So anyways, I get the geese in the blind, and Brandon looks, he goes, dad, you shot the 100 in 1001 band I go, no way, look, I go, oh, my God that was 2005, I shot the 100 in 1001 band, the 100,000 band sold, the previous week for $2,500 on eBay because it was the 100,000 band. So I was so nervous that I would sell this band I handed to my son and I said, put this on your lanyard, so I don’t sell it.
Ramsey Russell: I’d probably have sold it.
Jeff Wood: Yeah, you probably would have. But you know what that meant a lot to me because that water was cold that day.
Ramsey Russell: I heard that. That’s a good story. That’s a real good story. What changes have you seen? You talked a little bit about the migration, shifted the bird numbers is not pulled up. What are some of the important changes you’ve seen? I’m going to point this out. When I last saw you, we went hunting and now you all are more deer hunt, you’ve always been a deer hunter, but now you don’t even really fold. You told me when I walked in, you didn’t even buy a license this year.
Jeff Wood: No, I didn’t. Well, first of all, I’m on crutches, I broke my femur, so haven’t been feeling the greatest and it’s hard to get out. But we have a lot of greenhouses moving in the area, I lost my spot for hunting and kind of lost my passion for hunting a little bit for ducks and geese because this avian flu came in and Jack Miner’s can no longer feed, the birds aren’t here as plentiful like they used to be and it’s kind of a bummer.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of a kill joy.
Jeff Wood: Yeah. And then I bought property up north recently, so I go up there and just having the time, but I just don’t have the passion because there’s no birds here and then this avian flu just kind of ruins it because we can’t feed. We have all the birds nor can we ban birds, we can’t even touch the birds.
Ramsey Russell: Here’s the last question, Jeff. What does Jack Miner, what does this sanctuary, this foundation, what does it mean to you personally? It’s obviously a very big part of your life. What does it mean to you?
Jeff Wood: It’s a hard question.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you were telling me earlier about where you process your paperwork.
The Beauty of Jack Miner’s Sanctuary
But doesn’t matter to me, I just enjoy being at Jack Miner’s to watch the flight, the flight is amazing, the ducks and geese coming in, watching them bow up, tumble in.
Jeff Wood: Oh, yes, you’re correct. Yeah. Like I was saying to you earlier, you know what I do every day? Like I said, I own a company, love my office in the house, but my office is Jack Miner’s. I get in my truck and I go there an hour right after light, first morning light, that’s when the birds start coming in. I sit there with the radio on, listen to country, I do my emailing, my paperwork right in my truck, talk to clients while I’m watching the birds, I enjoy Jack Miner’s, I go there. I know exactly how many birds are coming in every day because I’m there every day and I enjoy being there watching the birds come in. And unfortunately, with this avian flu, you don’t have as many birds coming in because they come and they go because there’s nothing to eat. But doesn’t matter to me, I just enjoy being at Jack Miner’s to watch the flight, the flight is amazing, the ducks and geese coming in, watching them bow up, tumble in and while you’re on the phone and sometimes I get disturbed because with my clients, because I have the window open, they go, is that geese? Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m at Jack Miner’s doing paper. They go, oh, that’s great, that sounds great. So I’d roll up the window so I wouldn’t disturb the conversation, but do it every day. But it’s fun. I just like to get out and tour around and see where the birds are flying when they do go out in the morning or go out at night to scout them and see where we can hunt them. And that’s what I didn’t like to do.
Ramsey Russell: Just in the last half hour, you’re 56 years old, you killed your first Jack Miner band of goose at age 8, 48 years and in just the last half hour, you’ve talked about 48 years of family before, during and after your dad, your uncles, their friends, your friends, you, your kids, these Jack Miner stories. Do you feel like that foundation down the road there connects you to that community and to that past and present and future?
Jeff Wood: Oh, for sure. With all the friends and family. Like all my life, I hunted with friends and family and it was a whole huge community of family. I’m talking about all the Kingsville redness with my dad’s friends and then their friends and I’ve hunted with all of them. I was hunting with this one guy, we called him Big Tree, the guy was like 8’7ft. He would go out hunting with us and he’d always fall asleep and I remember my dad yelling over, Big Tree, here comes some geese, that’s all right, I’m having a nap. But you know what? He was there with friends and having fun, that’s what it was all about.
Ramsey Russell: Tell the story about. I came up here to hunt with you 4 years ago, preceding COVID, I’d met Brandon over in Manitoba, he invited me over and you and I got to hunt, we went out one day, and we didn’t fire a shot, didn’t see a goose, didn’t fire shot. And I was going to head on back, head west myself, you said, no, you got to stay till tomorrow, tomorrow is migration day and I looked at the weather, it’s going to be 75° and a 7 mile an hour wind out of the north, you said, no, I promise you, they’re going to migrate. I would say 07:30, 08:00 in the morning, we go out an hour, 2 hours, we hadn’t seen a goose, I’m like, I don’t know, Jeff. And all of a sudden I hear and we look straight up from the north with a 7 mile an hour tailwind, here comes 2 little pods, about 16 to 20 geese broken into 2 little pods and your blind was right there on a corner and half the first bunch set up right in front of us where the decoys were and the other bunch was going to slide just past them and set the landing gear out to go off your end of the blind. And the last thing you said, you didn’t say, take them, you just said, the bird on the right is banded and that’s where I started. Bam, bam, I shot 3 geese.
Jeff Wood: That’s right. Yeah. Well, I knew you were here and I knew you were interested in the Miner bands, well, I’m not bragging or anything, but I just look at the legs when they come in, I seen a banded and I’m going, okay, the one on the right. As soon as I seen one band, I didn’t care about the rest, hopefully. Normally, if there’s one band on a goose in that flock, 9 times out of 10 either the whole flock is banded, which I’ve shot. We just slaughtered geese and the whole flock was banded. Normally, they’re all banded, but then again, you’ll shoot one goose out of 8 or 10 and it’s the only one banded. But I figured, well, this is the goose, go kill them.
Ramsey Russell: 3 shot powerball of my lifetime so far, all 3 of those birds were double banded. The left leg had a Jack Miner band and the right leg had a Fish and Wildlife band. And it was like, now, that yellow dog you asked about, Cooper, was a band magnet. This little Char dog ain’t no band magnet.
Jeff Wood: Take him along to get out there to fetch him, either.
Ramsey Russell: No, that little yellow dog, I killed more band with that dog than every other dog I’ve ever owned.
Jeff Wood: And I’ll never forget this, too. When you got in the blind in your video and you go, I can’t believe this, we just shot Jack Miner goose bands. Mission accomplished.
Ramsey Russell: Mission accomplished. Jeff, I appreciate you. It’s good to see you and thank you so much for sharing these stories about Jack Miner.
Jeff Wood: Oh, it was great. It was a great experience talking with you.
Ramsey Russell: And Mr. Brandon Wood, my introduction to Kingsville, Ontario you and I shared a room over in Manitoba with a former associate and we’re getting ready to go hunting and you threw your call lanyard on the bed, and I’m like, how does a kid this age get all these bands? And I start looking at. And the thing about a Jack Miner band, it’s longer and it’s different shaped than a Fish and Wildlife band and so I knew immediately what it was.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, it’s like a band and a half of a fed.
Ramsey Russell: Where’d you get all these? Well, I’m from Kingsville, that’s where Jack Miner is.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, hometown.
Ramsey Russell: Who was Jack Miner?
Brandon Wood: To me, Jack Miner was like the pioneer of geese around here. I wasn’t the right age to ever meet him, but to me, hearing stories from my dad and local guys around here, he was like the pioneer that started it all, right. And the goose hunting around here and everything evolved from him, basically, like, with starting the sanctuary and banding the birds.
Ramsey Russell: He was certainly the very first person in the entire Canadian country to band wild birds.
Brandon Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Did you take any school trips out there to it?
Brandon Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What do you all do out there?
Brandon Wood: I went to Jack Miner Public School.
Ramsey Russell: Really? He got a public school named after him.
Brandon Wood: Public school named after him. I went there and I remember we would take field trips every once in a while in September and October down to the sanctuary and we’d go there when Joe has dropped the net and we’d go for a day of banding and it was a great day out of school and good little field trip and we’d be there banding all the birds, ducks, geese, everything.
Ramsey Russell: Did you get to put hands on the bird?
Brandon Wood: They let us get right in there and handle the birds, showed us how to handle them, holding them by the two wings and the process of how the band is put on the leg properly so it’s not too tight and not too loose and yeah, it was a great experience as a kid.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start hunting with your dad?
Brandon Wood: I would have started hunting with him probably when I was 8 years old, he would take me out –
Ramsey Russell: About the same age he started hunting with his dad.
Brandon Wood: 8, 9 years, I would go out with him and just observe. Here in Canada you can legally shoot at 12, when I was 12, I remember my first ever Jack Miner band, we were just a concession over from the sanctuary, just outside the sanctuary bounds and there’s a group of 30 black ducks that came in and I remember one landed right behind the mojo and I pulled up and shot it, I didn’t know at the time, I ran out there and grabbed it and had a 2004 Jack Miner band on it and that’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Miner’s.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember what the scripture was? Do you have it on your lanyard here? Can you read it?
Brandon Wood: I do have it here, I’m not sure if I can find it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you got a bunch of them all.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, there’s a few of them here. Here’s a 2004 duck band here, I’m not sure if this is the one, but this one says, cast all your care upon God, 2004.
Ramsey Russell: Jack Miner Christian School was it public? Did they teach religion in this program? That’s interesting. I just had this question.
Brandon Wood: That’s a good question. No, I’m not too sure on that. I know Jack Miner was a very religious man, I just know that from talking with local guys.
Ramsey Russell: Well, he must have.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, he was obviously Christian.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember some of the stories your dad told you? Tell me about hunting with Jeff. It ain’t no tell, what kind of stories Jeff told you. Tell me about growing up with your dad hunting around here.
Brandon Wood: Growing up around here, it was like, we started off with waterfowl, there was what we call the flyway, the flight would be from the roost on the Lake Erie to Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary. And there’s a bunch of groups of guys that hunt along here in the flyway and I remember going out as a young kid and we’d sit out in the pit or we have a blind down the road here and there’d be thousands and thousands of geese, this was years ago now, but things have changed. But yeah, it’d be like half the day, there’d be just group after group of geese coming in and you may not always get them in, but the days that you had them come in, you’d get the odd band and it was a great time. It’s changed a lot since, though, just migration patterns and now with the avian flu, now Jack Miner’s can no longer bait, so it’s changed a lot. Like the amount of birds in the area, not too many guys go out anymore.
Ramsey Russell: It seemed like they were feeding at such a level that it held a lot of birds and when they quit feeding, the birds dispersed elsewhere, maybe out in the country where there’s more corn or something like that.
Brandon Wood: Yeah. What I think happened is, like, all the clubs on the south end of Lake Erie in Ohio are doing a lot of baiting, so I think they just travel right across the lake, right to the States and just pass right through. But we get a few that hold up here, but not too many anymore, they just migrate right through this area.
Ramsey Russell: When you grew up going to school at Jack Miner, did all the boys and kids hunt?
Brandon Wood: There was a few of my classmates that hunted and good buddies of mine, but no, I would say I was one of the kids that did a lot of hunting and there’d be a couple of others, but no, I would say about 60% of kids didn’t really hunt and then the rest, 40%, they would duck and goose hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Where did you learn to call geese? Because I’ve heard you call geese and you’re a good caller.
Brandon Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You’re like a goose culture goose caller.
Brandon Wood: Yeah. So good friend and friend of my dad, Craig McDonald, he was the one that taught me how to goose call at a young age, probably right around 8, 9 years old.
Ramsey Russell: Was it a goose flute or a goose short reed?
Brandon Wood: It was a short reed, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What kind? Do you remember?
Brandon Wood: Yeah. Giant Killer calls in Michigan.
Ramsey Russell: Giant Killer, that’s what GK stands for.
Brandon Wood: Giant Killer calls.
Ramsey Russell: And you all’s got some of the calls and I know Glenn sent me a Jack Miner goose call one time, man, it’s just one of the most beautiful calls I’ve ever had.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, they make some nice, really nice calls.
Ramsey Russell: Your first Jack Miner band was a black duck. You obviously got a lot of Canada geese. Have you killed any other species Jack Miner band?
Brandon Wood: I’ve got the odd wood duck, Jack Miner band, mallard, black goose, I got some shoveler bands.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Brandon Wood: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: The holy grail.
Brandon Wood: What else do I have. I might have one teal band, green wing teal Miner band.
Ramsey Russell: Your dad was talking about when he was a young man, it was just a banded bird, there were a dime a dozen. People use them as nails or whatever, but your first band on, did it mean something to you? Was it different? Had times changed by then?
Brandon Wood: Yeah, it meant a lot to me. I remember that story very well just because everyone wanted to get a band, it was the era of goose band, duck bands, it was a big thing, like a reward, when you shot one. And my dad at that time, he had a bunch of bands and he started putting them on a lanyard with calls. So I was at the age where I was like, I really want to get a band, I’ll never forget that.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the most Jack Miner bands you’ve killed in a single hunt, personally or with a group?
Brandon Wood: Personally or with a group. What I can think of a few years ago, probably 3, 4 years ago now in early goose season, which is in the first week of September here, we hunted around Kingsville here and I think we killed around 40 birds and 27 were banded.
Ramsey Russell: All Jack Miner?
Brandon Wood: All Jack Miner and fed. So at the time, they double banded them, fed Miner, so there was a lot of double banded birds with the fed band on the left leg and the Jack Miner on the right leg.
Ramsey Russell: What does Jack Miner mean to you? You grew up here with a dad that was born and raised here, did you ever hunt with your granddad? Do you remember him?
Brandon Wood: Yeah, I remember him well. I can’t say I’ve ever duck or goose hunted with him.
Ramsey Russell: He might have aged out by then.
Brandon Wood: Yeah. But I remember going on a deer hunt with them locally. But, no, I don’t think I ever got to duck or goose hunt with my granddad, no.
Ramsey Russell: You grew up in the shadow of Jack Miner, which is just a very interesting thing to me. Because bands are prized elsewhere because they’re very hard to come by. It may be every 200 ducks, every 500 ducks or geese that you come up with bands, but here, at least back in the day, they were a dime a dozen.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, exactly.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of which, when do you think it changed? Like I heard last year, maybe they only banded 30 geese. When did it go from shooting 27 bands out of 40 to different?
Brandon Wood: Just recently, actually, I would say 2020 was the last good year. Last year they banded a decent amount of birds, too, but I would say the last big year for goose banding was in 2020. And what’s changed is just they used to get the geese from around the Toronto area surrounding –
Ramsey Russell: They’d catch residents in Toronto and bring them over here.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, exactly. They would catch up all the resident city geese from Toronto and they would ship them down here and then they would leave them at the sanctuary and they’d get banded with a Jack Miner band.
Ramsey Russell: So finally, what does this Jack Miner Sanctuary, what does it mean to you personally? You went to Jack Miner school, you’re in Kingsville, everything’s Jack Miner. You know what I’m saying? You got pounds of Jack Miner bands, you’ve got generations of Jack Miner bands sitting here, but what does it mean to you? What would it be like if Jack Miner weren’t around anymore? Anything?
Brandon Wood: It’d be really sad to see the place go. To be honest, I grew up as a kid going there, like, banding the birds, that was my first ever job, I worked at Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary with Joe, Joe Vermulen when I was 12 years old, started there and I worked till I was 16 or 17 years old, I worked there.
Ramsey Russell: What did you do at 12 to 16?
Brandon Wood: Daily tasks, like going out, feeding the birds, cutting grass. I’d take the tractor out and go spread corn in the front field for the birds. Yeah, it was just a great job, especially for a young kid. It would be really sad to see that place go, it’s changed a lot.
Ramsey Russell: It seems like funding is an issue, it’s all privately funded.
Supporting Conservation through Jack Miner’s
So Jack Miner’s is a nonprofit organization, so they run strictly on donations and whatever donations they can get to the foundation.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, exactly. So Jack Miner’s is a nonprofit organization, so they run strictly on donations and whatever donations they can get to the foundation.
Ramsey Russell: I was just wondering on the drive over, the Jack Miner bands are very historical, very cultural, especially for this area right here and I’ve never killed one in the South, I’ve only killed them right here. But I know people that have and if you know, you know, they prize them like none other. But there’s no scientific data, they’re not using these bands to calculate any kind of harvest, any kind of population, there’s no Lincoln estimator in terms of a scientific value, but the cultural value. A guy that started banding these birds back in the early 1900s died in 1944 and here we are, I can’t do the math, 60, 70 years later, 80 years later and still they’re banding birds as best they can under private funding, it means something. And it’s just hard to believe that, it occurred to me that, well, number one, we’re increasingly secular world that really don’t care about Bible verses or that heartfelt guy from back in that generation thought to preach the gospel with wild geese, but this world doesn’t care about that.
Brandon Wood: No.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s almost like in Kingsville, Ontario, it’s shocking to me as a waterfowl and I know I’m biased, but it’s shocking to me, Brandon, that I’m staying at a hotel in town and it’s got 5 just send me an email 5 must things to do in Kingsville and Jack Miner ain’t on that list, it ought to be number one.
Brandon Wood: I know. Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You ought to go see all these wild birds and see what this guy did. I mean, put us on a map back when.
Brandon Wood: It’s overlooked now, yeah, people don’t even think of Jack Miner’s anymore.
Ramsey Russell: It’s hard for me to believe.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, the birds aren’t there like they used to be just because no baiting now, but yeah, it’s just been overlooked. A lot of people from out of town are moving in and the town is expanding and no one’s really thinking about Jack Miner’s Bird sanctuary anymore.
Ramsey Russell: Or about geese or about hunting, I mean, you said maybe 60% of the kids you went to high school with hunted geese, I bet it’s a fraction of that now.
Brandon Wood: Yeah, if that. Yeah. Less than half, I would say, probably hunt nowadays.
Ramsey Russell: When was the last time you shot a Jack Miner band?
Brandon Wood: Be a couple of years ago, I think.
Ramsey Russell: A couple of years ago? 2 years ago. But looking at this lanyard, I’m guessing, how old are you?
Brandon Wood: I’m 28.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, 28. I’m guessing that there were years since you were 12, you shot at least a band, if not more.
Brandon Wood: Oh, yeah multiple in a year, like probably 10, 15, 20 maybe in a single year on a good year.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s been 2 years since you shot one. Has it occurred to you that maybe that was the last Jack Miner band you’ll ever shoot? How does that hit you?
Brandon Wood: It could be that, hits home right there. It’s scary to think about, to be honest. We need to get some birds banded.
Ramsey Russell: You think your dad will ever sell any more bands? You going to let him sell any more bands? Are you ever going to sell any?
Brandon Wood: I don’t think I’ll ever sell, no. They’re too special to me now, just the memories in them, right. So I don’t think I could ever sell them, they’re nice to look at and tell stories on, right. So I would just hold on to them.
Ramsey Russell: Brandon, I appreciate you. Thank you for having me.
Brandon Wood: Thanks, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Mr. Jim Branth, foundation board member, local goose hunter, volunteer for Jack Miner. Jim, who was Jack Miner? Who was Jack Miner?
Jim Branth: Well, Jack was this guy that moved up from Ohio and had a passion for birds and he wanted to figure out how know keep track of them for the migration and so he started banding them. And I’m not sure how many banded off from the beginning, but these birds went south and in time he’d get, I don’t know if it was by telegram or I forget how he was told, but when a bird was shot, the information would come back.
Ramsey Russell: Probably good old fashioned mail.
Jim Branth: Maybe good old fashioned mail, you’re right. I’m not sure.
Ramsey Russell: Back in those days, you could put on an envelope, you could put Jack Miner, Kingsville, Ontario and they knew how to find you.
Jim Branth: Yeah. It was interesting because way back in the first ones, people were sending the bands back, says, well, we don’t need them back, we just need the information. You’ve got yourself a trophy there, you got yourself a keepsake and you’re better off to keep it in the round, don’t flatten it out, cut the leg off and keep it in the round, that’s what you want. And so now we have lanyards full of them.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever heard of, do you have any idea why he started putting scripture on it?
Jim Branth: I’m not sure the reason and it’s written in his book, Wild Goose Jack. Obviously he was a religious man and even us guys, we’d read that scripture to most of us it didn’t mean a whole lot, it just meant, hey, we got a Miner band. This is cool.
Ramsey Russell: You’re 68 years old?
Jim Branth: 68.
Ramsey Russell: You grew up here in Kingsville?
Jim Branth: Pretty much, yeah. I was 7 when we moved here and I really took an interest of Jack Miner’s when I was maybe around 12, 13 years old. But in those young years it would be nothing to see 20,000 geese come out of that front field of Jack Miner’s, it would blacken the sky on a sunny day.
Ramsey Russell: Was that the air show?
Jim Branth: Their air show. Yeah, it was like a daily thing. And it was usually Jasper Miner, which was one of Jack’s sons, it was number 3 son, I believe. There was Theodore, Ted and there was Manly and then there was Jasper and they all had family, they had sons in that. Anyway, so Jasper would go with a tractor and it was a manure spreader, they’d load it up with corn and at 04:00, he’d drive down the field with a spreader, spreading this corn, the geese would get up and they’d circle right back around and feed in behind them and they just knew they wouldn’t go that far.
Ramsey Russell: What did it sound like when 20,000 geese get up?
Jim Branth: Thunder, beside each other you couldn’t speak. You’d have to yell from 3ft or 4ft apart and the crowds that drew back in the day was phenomenal.
Ramsey Russell: Back in the day, put me on a timeline.
Jim Branth: I’m talking late 60s, early 70s, that’s when I paid attention to it.
Ramsey Russell: And what was the crowd like back then?
Jim Branth: Lines up of cars, Jack Miner’s, it was a fairly large field and angle parking and it would be full of cars, there’d be nothing to see. 7 buses, busloads of people coming from wherever, out of the city –
Ramsey Russell: Not just Kingsville from surrounding areas.
Jim Branth: From all over, surrounding areas to watch this show, watch these birds fly. And there was like after 04:00 they’d have to put an officer on the main intersection roads to direct traffic to get them in and out of there, there was that many people came to visit Jack Miner. Just unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: You grew up local, did your daddy take you down to see the air show back in the day?
Jim Branth: No, I went on my bicycle, it was funny as heck. So when I was about 12, 13 years old in the fall, how do you pronounce that when you want to make a little bit of cash when your kids? We’d hustle and pick up the corn that the machine left and I had an old hand crank grinder and I’d grind it, we’d put it in lunch bags and mark them 50 cents, 75 cents, a dollar and we go down there and we put out a card table and a couple of chairs and people coming by because the traffic is just walking speed and they say, you don’t want to buy some corn? And it was the funniest thing, Ramsey, because we’d be selling the corn and then Manly Miner, which would have been Jack’s, I believe, number 2 son, he’d come along in his Mustang convertible, black Mustang convertible rig top. And he’d say, now you don’t have to buy corn from those kids, we will give it to you for free when you get there. And we’re going Manly get out of here, leave us alone. We were trying to make a buck.
Ramsey Russell: Freaking awesome.
Jim Branth: It was the funniest thing, right?
Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up hunting in this area?
Jim Branth: I sure did.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about your first goose. It’s a long time ago, been back in the 40s and 50s, tell me the story.
Jim Branth: It’s not that far back. I was 15 years old, so we’d have to do the math, right? I was born in 54, so, whether he was 69, I guess, 1969, didn’t have a driver’s license 15 we were over with a friend, a friend of mine lived on Pelee Island and we’d go over there and because either of us had a driver’s license, my mom would take us to the boat, we boat across and I had an old browning auto 5 that I hated, it was an old humpback, full choke and that’s all I had, I learned to shoot it because that’s all I had. We’d go over there and we’d hunt the canals and we’d be riding his dad’s old Ford tractor, I’d be riding the fender, Rick would be driving shotguns loaded, hunting the canals for wood ducks or mallards, anything to come out of the canals on Pelee Island and this flock of geese flies over and I haul Rick geese, I come up, bang, I said, I fold up a goose and says, Rick, I got one, well, Rick’s shooting, too, we almost end up in the canal with this old tractor. I run over there, I pick up the goose and right in the center of that goose was a fiber wad. So back in the day, we were loading BB shot number 2 shot, all lead, we could shoot lead back then and my dad taught us to hand load our own shells, save money and there were prestige loads. Because you ump them up a little bit, a little bit of unique powder, whatever, there’s different types, right? I pulled this wad out of the middle of this goose, the first one I ever shot, saved it and I got it to this day. I brought it home and I wrapped it up in my very first hunting license and I have it at home in a drawer. That was my first Canada goose ever.
Ramsey Russell: Was that bird banded?
Jim Branth: No band.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember killing your first band?
Jim Branth: I don’t. Because when we first started shooting banded birds, I don’t know, it just didn’t mean a whole lot.
Ramsey Russell: It didn’t mean a lot?
Jim Branth: No, it didn’t mean a lot. I kept them, I just put them in a can or on a shelf, eventually I put them on a lanyard and then years and years and then it became more of a prize to get bands. But I’m going back, go back a little further before I was hunting, I’d go down to Miner’s, not only when we were selling corn to the spectators in the fall, I used to work for, it would be Jack’s grandson, it would have been Theodore’s son, John Miner, who was an avid hunter and he also raised pheasants and had a preserve, I’d go down there and I’d help him defeat pheasants and I never asked for money because I had a love for ducks and geese, I had a permit, I got a permit and he’d give me a dozen mallard ducklings. I’d be working all day or for two days, helping him pinch the beaks off these pheasants so they wouldn’t kill each other, because that’s the how pheasants are, right? And that’s how he paid me. I’d cut his lawn and what’s that worth, John? He goes, give you a couple of ducks for that, give me a couple of black ducks, I never got any money from him, he was paying me mallards or black ducks or different ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Who did you learn to hunt from, really hunt? Not hunting from a tractor, like we all did when we was young, but who was your mentor? Your dad, your granddad, was it John Miner?
Jim Branth: My dad was a hunter, he was a waterfowl. I had an uncle that owned a private marsh right up on the Thames River, they called it the Jeanette’s Creek Hunt Club, these fellows were American. But the property we hunted, it was all fixed up by DU and it was 5 man made ponds and we always got to hunt it on our Thanksgiving weekend, which is usually the second weekend in October, so to keep poachers out of the marsh, whatever, we had the run of the marsh on that Monday, so every year my father, my brother and I would go up there and I mean, it was just lousy with ducks. You walk into a pond and I’d never even get to the blind, I’d walk into the pond and the ducks are getting up and colliding and falling back in the water and I’m only picking greenheads. And then my dad, he’s a couple of ponds down, he hears all this gunfire and I come walking down and how’d you make out, son? He says, oh, I’m done. I says, I think I’m going to have to give you a couple of these, all I have is greenheads.
Ramsey Russell: You learned to keep that browning pretty good, it sounds like.
Jim Branth: Yeah, I’ve always had a good eye and coordination. One of my big loves was archery and over the years and I kind of got branded into that too and a lot of guys used to shoot competition and I’ve had a really good success with archery, 87 deer over the last couple of decades in that and some really dandies in that. But the waterfowl end of it, what had happened was I had 17 years of Point Peele National Park duck hunting, duck hunting only, you couldn’t shoot geese there, but it was ducks only. And what had happened was it was a treaty, when it became a national park, we had 100 year treaty that you duck hunt in that marsh and it was amazing. So when I started back in the early 70s, the way it changed over the years, the season would open at noon of the opening day, we’d go there in the morning, we had specific places to hunt, there was like 30 sites and we’d build blinds and we’d go there in the morning and cook our breakfast and wait and the marsh is just full of mallards, full of every kind of duck you can imagine, puddle ducks mostly. And at 12 noon, it always was like a minute or two before it sounded like World War III. It was like the sky would go black with ducks and it was like, you get your limit between 12:00 PM and 01:00 PM you get your birds and that’s how that started. And when we first went, I paid $7 for the permit, for the annual permit to hunt waterfowl there. And then over the years, I had the privilege of doing it for 17 years of my life and it got to the point where then you could hunt half hour before sunrise, but you could build, like, a makeshift blind or hunt close to within 50 yards of a steak and it was incredible hunting, I never advertised my spot too much, because if you’d advertise, they move in on you. You learn that quick, right? So I used to keep dozen little tiny, plastic, cheap decoys hidden in the marsh and an old 7, about 10ft punt boat and I had it tied up down in there. So I used to walk the beach with my lab before daylight, unchain my boat, go out and set my decoys and you know how motion decoys became so famous? Jim Branth had motion decoys when nobody else had them and I never told anybody.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of motion decoy?
Jim Branth: I had was a string on my decoy in the spread, because you’re in a place where the wind doesn’t even affect the water, it was quite thick down in there and I’d sit back and just the ducks would become and I got really good at duck calling and knowing when to call, not to call, I always told people, you never call ducks coming at you, you call when they’re leaving. And I said, so let’s get past and I had that high ball, that return call and they’d put the brakes on and they’d come right back in and you worked that string, I had really good success. Oh, yeah. It was fun. And unfortunately, the government stopped us because it was the only national park in Canada left that allowed hunting of any kind and they stopped it. I said, but we had a treaty with the natives, it became a park because of this treaty, that don’t matter anymore, it’s a national park, so they stopped it. It was about 1989.
Ramsey Russell: Sounds like some liberal politics.
Jim Branth: Oh, yeah, definitely liberal. Yeah. I don’t even want to tell you what happened to that guy, it’s like karma.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, good.
Jim Branth: You want to hear it? Well, the guy got the flesh eating disease.
Ramsey Russell: That’s bad karma.
Jim Branth: That’s real bad. And it ate his legs up and he didn’t live much long after that, but that’s still karma. Bouchard, do you remember that guy in power? You wouldn’t know the name, I’m not sure of his first name, but his last name was a Bouchard and it was a liberal government, definitely.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me, how many bands did you kill over the years?
Jim Branth: I don’t know, 100 and 150, I still got about 40, 50 duck bands left, most of them federal bands, even though I’m this close.
Ramsey Russell: What did you do with all those Jack Miner bands you told me earlier?
Jim Branth: Yeah, I have passion for Bow Hunting and I hunted Michigan quite a bit, I did hunt Tennessee a bit and I’ve hunted Kentucky for whitetail deer, I love my compound bow hunting for whitetails. And so when the license to go on sale back in the day, in the early 90s, they were only $30, $35 for a deer license, you could buy multiple. So I was selling my Jack Minder bands for most of them, a lot of about $100 each.
Ramsey Russell: Like on eBay or something?
Jim Branth: No, just word of mouth. $100 a band, that’s what I let them go for. And a lot of bands went for a lot more than that, depending if they were really old. I still have a couple of oldies, 1933 and 1932.
Ramsey Russell: Where’d you get those at?
Jim Branth: I acquired them from somebody in a barn, had it in a can, sitting in a can in the barn and he said, you want these? And I said, yeah, I’ll take them and I go through, oh, wow, that’s pretty cool, those are pretty old. My birth year being 1954, I got my birth year band from a friend of mine in Kentucky who I’d sold a lot of bands to and he found over the internet, he found 1954 band, he gave it to me and then he was born 57, I had a 57, so I gave him, we swapped. And a few years later, unfortunately, I got robbed someone broke into my truck and it was a nightmare, I think about 2000 –
Ramsey Russell: They probably broke in to get the band.
Jim Branth: I don’t know about the bands, but it was 2012, I just got back from a bow hunt in Tennessee, I drove all day and Tennessee, I was Western Tennessee, near Clarksville is where we hunted and when I come home, I drove in the rain all day and got in about 10:00 at night, I walked in the house with my just bag of clothes, my bow and quiver, that’s all I came in with and I left everything else in the truck, I was tired, I went and showered and went to bed and it was locked up. The next morning, my brother comes along and he says, I want to hear about your hunt in Tennessee. How’d it go? I says, yeah, it was really good. Why? He says, you must have come in awful quick last night, your 150 quart cooler is out by the road, upside down, empty. I said, what are you talking about? And so we go out and look, I had 4 nicely cut up deer in my 150 quart cooler, so what had happened was the thieves that came in that night broke into my truck, I lost my lanyard, this was interesting, I liked Jeff Foyle’s calls at the time, so the guy by the name of Jeff Vickers was one of the first guys that did the prototype that made his calls for him and I had one of the very first prototypes and it was an amazing, I learned to call it, well, the short read call. And what had happened was, well, they took that and I had, I think, a half breed and another call in my lanyard, maybe one of night and hails, one of the cheaper versions of the short reeds and they broke into my shed, there was garbage bags in there, so I think they took the garbage bags, they put all my deer meat in garbage bags because whatever they were driving was too large, the cooler was too large. So they stole my deer meat, they took a couple of chainsaws, my chest waders, oh, my gosh, I lost good glasses, my range finders, stuff you shouldn’t leave in your vehicle. But I mean, Kingsville.
Ramsey Russell: You lost your bands?
Jim Branth: I only lost 3 or 4 bands, I only had 3 or 4 on my lanyard at the time and one was my birth year and I’ve since got another birth year band from another fella and his birthday, he was a 58 and he got one from someplace. So I do have a 54 on my lanyard now. I got a replacement, but, yeah, it was interesting.
Ramsey Russell: When and why did you become a board member? And what is a board member? You grew up duck hunting, did you go to Jack Miner’s store?
Jim Branth: Yeah, I’ve been on the board for just a couple of years. Craig McDonald, he’s a board member, Tyler and these guys, we all just have a passion for Miner’s and hunting and we want to make sure it lasts forever, that’s what it’s all about. And so we discuss how we can make money, how we can get funds.
Ramsey Russell: Because it’s all privately funded.
Jim Branth: Yeah. It’s not government, it’s all private funds. It’s just people that love to see the flight of birds, not just hunters, but just everybody. A lot of just straight birders that want to come and see that airshow, want to see the ducks and the geese. The sad part is now, because of predation, we got a pond there that it was, like I said, full of every variety of duck and now you go there, there’s a few angel wing crippled geese, you’re familiar with angel wing because of it. People feeding bread, we put signs up, so don’t feed them bread, well, why not, they love it. Sure they will. But it sickens mostly the goslings, it twists their wings and they’ll never fly.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Jim Branth: That’s what it does.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve never heard angel wing, I didn’t know that’s what caused it.
Jim Branth: That’s a fact. And when you’re there tomorrow, you can read that sign itself and we got it posted right out front, in front of the front pond.
Ramsey Russell: You’re a hunter, I know some of the other board members are hunters. Why is it important that board members be hunters?
Jim Branth: I think we have more passion. We want the birds to be there so we can hunt them, we want them to survive so we can enjoy our sport forever. That’s the whole reason.
Ramsey Russell: Do you still goose hunt?
Jim Branth: Oh, yeah. 1995, I was the first one around this area, I put in a cement vault, it’s still active today, it’s 58 inches deep, 3ft on the inside by 20ft, it holds 8 guys comfortable. You can hunt it with a 3 piece suit on. This year we got it covered in fast grass and I had dug a pond the one day I thought, maybe we draw some ducks in it, too. And so I walked out of the pit one day, centered it, I walked 7 paces, put in a steak, I walked 20 paces, put in another steak and then I went south and north, 20 and 20. So I got this pond water surface, it’s 20 yards by 40 yards, we had a professional come in, we had good clay ground and doesn’t matter how dry it is in the summer, we always carry anywhere from 14 to 20 inches of water just perfect for waders or working a dog. We keep the banks manicured, just like a park, because geese love that park setting and this was in 1995, so just prior to 1995, we could shoot 5 geese up until, I think, 1991, I think 1991 or 1992. And then all of sudden it dropped off to one or two bird limit, a one bird limit for a while and then back to a two bird limit. It went to a one and then it went to a two bird limit and it took us forever just in the last couple of years, it’s been 3 years now to get back up to a 3 bird limit. And they’re telling us it’s because of the James Bay flyway geese and it’s not the hunters that have put those numbers down, it’s the amount of snows, blues, the white goose, they’ve taken over their nesting grounds up there and between predation and the white geese have just annihilated the food source. A lot of the geese would die of starvation before they even come down through their migration because of so many white geese up there in the nesting grounds.
Ramsey Russell: You also volunteer and you’re a certified bander.
Jim Branth: I am not a certified bander, I’m working on it. No, the only certified bander other than Canadian Wildlife Service for waterfowl that I know of is Joe Vermulen. And in the last couple of years, we’re working on it, it’s going to happen within the year. A good friend, Norm North, who’s retired, it’s been like almost 40 years now, 37, 40 years from Canadian Wildlife Service, he’s still active with the banding program and I met him just a few years back and we were bringing the city geese down from Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, out of the parks where people don’t want to walk around, they’re walking with their kids and there’s goose manure all over the place. So they bring them down here and then between us putting a Miner band on their right leg and the federal band on their left leg, it became even more of a trophy for the local hunters, we can get double banded geese here and it became quite popular. And unfortunately, like 2021, we banded 880 birds because 53 came in the truck already banded, so that’s like 1670 bands, right there that we put on harder than blazes because as you know they go flightless for 40 days near middle of June or late June and we got a time frame in there, maybe about 10 days where we got to get all these birds banded up and so I just call the local kids and anybody interested and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s just hilarious.
Ramsey Russell: What time of year is that?
Contributing to Avian Research and Conservation
We were catching them in groups of 50 to 100 over every time or we’d go out and band them up and just release them again, record it all and away they went.
Jim Branth: That’s July 1st as far as the last week of June, when they’re flightless. So they heard them up like cattle, they come down on 3 tiers of a turkey hauler truck, we backed them into the yard there and we walk them all out and I’ve got video of it, of them walking them out of the truck and we were catching them in groups of 50 to 100 over every time or we’d go out and band them up and just release them again, record it all and away they went.
Ramsey Russell: If I’m in North America, call me, I’d like to show up and volunteer to do that.
Jim Branth: That would be amazing. Hopefully avian flu is gone by spring, hopefully it’s gone and we’ll be doing it again for sure. Like I said, about the 3rd week of June, 1st week of July, Norm north will contact us. And like, we were supposed to have 1500 birds this year to do and they canceled because of, we didn’t want to spread avian flu.
Ramsey Russell: As a board member, I know I’ve had friends and known people to hit the powerball and pick up a Jack Miner band as far south as Mississippi and I’m sure all throughout the Mississippi, Atlanta Flyaway, these have been recovered. Are you aware that they’ve tended to recover less in the future in recent years than or closer?
Jim Branth: Less because in the last 5 years or so, other than these birds that – a lot of those birds that we banned now with the double bands, they don’t go that far south. Is it global warming?
Ramsey Russell: Most od the harvest is here, Ohio, Michigan.
Jim Branth: Ohio, down Tennessee. They’re going to go south for a short distance, but we don’t have those cold winters, they don’t have to leave, all they need is food and water, the lakes don’t freeze up, they don’t migrate, they go from here and some of them go back up north, some hanging around and a lot of them are taken locally for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about how the geese were traditionally captured, the waterfowl were traditionally captured, what kind of trap they were using and the modifications that you brought to the table. Like, what was it 4 or 5 years ago, it was very simple.
Jim Branth: It’s just a drop and that’s all it is. It’s been that way forever.
Ramsey Russell: Like, literally in the backyard.
Jim Branth: Yeah. So Jack Miner’s, his living was clay tile. So all the ponds in the back were shallow dug ponds, so they could just draw the clay to make tile. And so that trap, I don’t know how much of it’s original of Jack Miner’s, but that entire trap is just two big walls, netting on top, it used to be wire, and we changed that up because wire was critical. The ducks and geese would fly up and hit the wire, they get hung up in it, you’ve seen it, you worked there and it was hurting a lot of the birds. We switched it all over to nylon fish net. They call it number 2, which is a 2 by 2, 2 or 4. Anyways, it’s a fish net, so they hit it, it doesn’t hurt the bird, it just drops back in the water. And so when we go in there, we walk them all into a smaller catch pin once they’re trapped and then we start banding them and recording it and sending them out of the trap. But that trap, what’s the size? I’m thinking it’s 150ft by 40, 50ft, it’s not that big. But over the years, this is the same trap that Jack used and all the way up till the present, I just want to modernize it because it’s getting the help.
Ramsey Russell: You have labor hard to find.
Jim Branth: You have to manually trip this trap. So what you do is you watch back there, you feed the center of it –
Ramsey Russell: Let me describe it, because I’ve seen it. It’s like telephone poles around this pond, big cargo net hanging around it.
Jim Branth: Yeah. And there’s pins that hold it up. So on the one end of it, just out, you would sneak down a fence show you’re going up in an old wooden tower and there’d be two handles in there, this is how primitive it is, you grab those handles and give them a yank, the sides would drop in and then Joe Vermulen, whoever’s there, they’d start making phone calls. Hey, we got 120, we got 75, maybe 150 geese and then we get the public school involved, the grade 8s would come down and educate them and let them band some birds get covered in goose poop. Because it was really comical when you were doing it. You had to go home and shower after you banded. But it was fun. Anyways, with modern technology, all I wanted to do is let’s set it up on remote so that with chain falls, we could reset by pushing a button on your cell phone and when it comes time to trip with game cameras and surveillance cameras around this trap, all you’d have to do is, oh, yeah, we got 50, 75 birds in there, go to your phone, hit the app, the sides would drop, there you go, there’s your catch and that’s what I want to see in the near future. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost, but if it’s going to allow us to band more birds and draw more people to the sanctuary to see this, to witness this, that’s what I’m looking for. So in the last five years or so, I came up with this idea, it’s a lot of work setting that big trap up and getting some help and resetting the trap, nobody wanted to help reset, it was a lot of works. So I come up with an idea, people lay a bed, they count sheep, Jim Branth lays on a bed trying to think, how can he make banding easier? So I said, okay, so I bought 2 dog kennels, 6ft tall, put them together, I made it so the one side kind of turned in, I put fish net over the top and the door, I put a rope on it, over to our shed as a trip, right by the front pond, very simple. So you feed it with corn, buckwheat, whatever, barley and I’d be driving by, oh, shit, I’ve got 4 or 5 mallards in there, I got a couple of geese. I go into the sanctuary, hit the trip, caught them, call up Joe, because I’m not certified, he would have to be present when we put the bands on their legs. And the other thing I brought to their attention, I still find it hard on the birds to trap, band them in daylight because they bounce off of everything. And so I said to Joe, I said, I know it’s after hours, but I said, I’d rather band after dark because those birds are a lot more calmer, I said, I can go out there with a headlamp on a clipboard, capture the duck, clamp the bands on the legs and gently release them out into the pond, half the time they don’t even fly away, there’s the water right there in front of you. You just let them go without the stress.
Ramsey Russell: Sound like a good idea.
Jim Branth: It works great. I just got caught up with COVID and I got caught up with this avian flu, so I haven’t done any this year, but I plan on banding many more with just that simple operation.
Ramsey Russell: Jim, why is Jack Miner important? Why is the Jack Miner place out here, why is it important?
Jim Branth: Well, he was the first. He was the first conservationist that I know of to do banding.
Ramsey Russell: He was the first person in Canada to band waterfowl, for sure.
Jim Branth: Yeah. I think it’s because he’s –
Ramsey Russell: But now I’m going to be devil’s advocate here, okay? Who cares?
Jim Branth: Waterfowlers.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, I’m just being a devil’s advocate. Who cares? He’s no guy that puts scripture on bands and who cares? But why is it important? Because it’s important to me, I can tell you that.
Jim Branth: It’s important to me and anybody else that has a passion for waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And it’s very important to the local waterfowl hunting culture, what’s left of it.
Jim Branth: I don’t even care what I shoot anymore, it’s not about me shooting birds because it’s been like hundreds over the years, but I get a young guy in there and mentor him.
Ramsey Russell: That’s why it’s important, that’s why it’s important to you, because it perpetuates the future of waterfowl hunting in this part of the world as you know it, that’s what you’re saying.
Jim Branth: We need funding.
Ramsey Russell: What’s happening? And I want to get off in the deep end, but you all used to be funded, you all had funding, where’d the funding go? Has society moved on, has just the world moved on?
Jim Branth: We’ll never have the birds like we did. So when no till farming come into effect, there was less and less birds, they didn’t have to go to Jack Miner for corn, they could go into any farmer’s field and get corn, that was one reason. So there’s less birds. On a good season, it’s usually more towards our end of our season, our season over now, by January 1st, pretty much, especially for the geese. I think this year it’s the 28th of December. But the geese just start showing up about that time and we might only have between maybe 5000 and 8000 at the most, you don’t see that 15,000 to 20,000 anymore. And you haven’t seen that since the 80s, I don’t think, since the mid late 80s.
Ramsey Russell: Over dinner, Jeff said something I wrote down because when I met with him, he was talking know how growing up in this region, hunting with his father, hunting with his father’s friends who were the giants, whose shoulders he rode on into duck hunting, hunting with his son and he just walked me through what it was like to grow up around here and on the shoulders of those giants and one thing he said, he said, if there’s no Jack Miner’s, there’s no birds and there’s no goose hunting like I know it to be.
Jim Branth: Right. We’re not in the right funnel, I think that’s got a lot to do with it. You don’t have to go very far east and you have a natural funnel of birds going through, going south, going for migrations, do they come down Lake St. Clair? Yeah, a lot of them. But they follow the river down. They go right down the Detroit river, down through Ohio, so we’re just a little bit off course, off target here. So by feeding them here, we hold birds, a lot of birds, a lot more and that’s the key holding birds to me.
Ramsey Russell: And what Jeff said, if there’s no Jack Miner’s, there’s no birds. And with that in mind, as a board member, as you grow up, you’ve volunteered your time, you’ve put your money, you’ve put your energy into preserving the Jack Miner legacy. What is the future of Jack Miner?
Jim Branth: It’s going to be gone shortly. Without funding, personally, I think it’s gone in 5 years. And it’s an awful shame, it’s sad. But that’s my vision right now.
Ramsey Russell: From 1909 to 2027, it’s over, this whole 100 something year legacy could be over.
Jim Branth: Because we need funds badly, we need funds. We do. We want it to live forever for our kids, their kids and if we don’t get the funding, it’s not going to happen. I’ve got so many ideas about building proper cages, they used to have lines of – they had ring necks, silver, red gull, yellow gull, all types of pheasants and nice cages, we got none of that now. We got a few quail, they’re not even bob whites, they’re farmers quail. We’ve got some peacocks, I mean, what’s a peacocks? They’re pretty, people like to see them they’re native to India. So we got peacocks, we got ring neck pheasants, we got a few of them in a cage. But I do have a connection with a fellow that I want to get on our board shortly, his name is Jeffrey Carche, he was on the board Canadian Ornamental Pheasant and Game Bird Association. And if you go on the internet, go on a Facebook page and you can see these guys have a passion for raising birds, they got all kinds of pheasants and ducks and geese, but they have them caged to the part where predators can’t get them, they’re in a controlled environment.
Ramsey Russell: Just explain to the listeners, what do you need funding for? What is funding earmarked specifically for? How is that funding used to preserve the Jack Miner legacy?
Jim Branth: We have a small museum there, we’d like to build a big one to raise funds we’ve talked about in the last couple of years. What do you call it? It’s like a hall, like a wedding hall, I’d love to build one of those and draw people so they can have their weddings there.
Ramsey Russell: Keep the public involved. Keep the public community involved.
Jim Branth: Something we’ve done since COVID is we’ve got this thing called Kennedy Woods and you’ll see it when you drive by and even like tomorrow on a Monday, even if it’s raining, there’s always people there and instead of walking the street in town, we have trails in behind Miner’s where people can go for walks on these trails.
Ramsey Russell: Public use facility.
Jim Branth: Yeah, public use facility.
Ramsey Russell: What do you think you can do? I’m just thinking out loud here, what can you do for the geese? What can you do for the waterfowl hunting culture nearby? What could you do with this data to contribute to band recovery? Science? I mean, what could you do with more funding in those areas of conservation? A lot, I’m thinking.
Jim Branth: Yeah. Where do I start? I don’t know. First of all, we got to be able to draw the geese here so that we can band them.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. That takes money for corn.
Jim Branth: Yeah. For feeding that, we grow our own feed, but still we have a farmer do it for us. And you hold that corn, you spread it. So you need money for the feed, that’s really important. We’ve had students now in the last couple of years, we have kids come out, we’ve got the old clubhouse, they call it and we fix it all up. And kids come in there and we teach them about migration, about waterfowl and different things. I’ve put a couple of my mounts in there from over the years. We’ve got one fellow that works for Joe, I don’t know if he’s – Joe Vermulen, the superintendent from Jack Miner’s, Joe, which you’ll be speaking to tomorrow. This fellow Matthew, trying to think of his name, Oluski is his last name. He’s actually a school teacher, left the school teaching profession to be the maintenance guy at Jack Miner’s and he’s helped clean the place right up, he still wants to educate kids. So we’ve already given a raise to bring the kids in on Saturdays and just give them a tour of Miner’s and the birds and what we have there.
Ramsey Russell: Now, on the one hand, there’s a lot of scientific research going on around waterfowl, lots of it going on. But on the other hand, there’s not a lot of opportunities to bring children. Children love what they know and they only know what they touch and here’s an opportunity to let the 8th grade kids, the kids that may or may not hunt, that didn’t come from our generation to let them in to touch and hold and connect with migratory birds.
Jim Branth: And we’ve done that when we’re banding and the kids show up and we even teach them how to actually put a band on and we’ll hold the bird and we show them how to squeeze those pliers so gently so it doesn’t hurt the bird and put them on and we do that now. It’s great, we love it. Like, even my mouse and that they’re allowed to touch or pet them, the feathers carefully, the ones I have donated to the club. But with the real birds, for sure, we’ll hold them so the birds safe, but we’ll let the kids, so they can pet that mallard duck or whatever touches web feet, all that cool stuff that they’d never be able to do otherwise.
Ramsey Russell: There’s banding programs I can think of back home that invite very aggressive and big banding programs for a scientific purpose, they invite volunteers to come out, adult children, whomever to come out and cooperate and handle these birds safely and connect with the resource. And then there are some state and federal managers that they take some kind of ownership, exclusive ownership in the birds and they don’t want public involvement. Oh, no, you don’t get to come and touch my birds.
Jim Branth: But who are these people?
Ramsey Russell: Well, I ain’t going to call them out by name, but they’re assholes is who they are. At a time we’re losing this culture, we need to connect the non-hunting society right with these birds, whether they hunt or not.
Jim Branth: That’s right. It’s not all about hunting, we know that.
Ramsey Russell: Jim, I appreciate you, I appreciate your time and I appreciate you talking about Jack Miner with us and I appreciate all you’re doing to preserve the legacy up here.
Jim Branth: Oh, I appreciate it. I want you to do me a favor right now. Can you call this phone number for me? You have a phone handy? One of you guys, can you call this number, please?
Ramsey Russell: Call his number.
Jim Branth: He’s got it.
Ramsey Russell: He’s got it. You don’t want to say it in public, you’re going to get a million phone calls.
Jim Branth: Yeah, right. Just phone it.
Ramsey Russell: Turn the volume up, you turned it off. Technology is eclipse you, Jim.
Jim Branth: I hit the top one.
Ramsey Russell: Hello?
Jim Branth: Do it again. Wait a minute. I had it, buddy. This is cool.
Ramsey Russell: You did it again.
Jim Branth: I’m hitting the right button, it’s just not working. I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: One more time, do it one more time. There it is. I can hear that, cry of wild geese.
Jim Branth: So I’ll be in a restaurant or someplace with my wife, and she’s giving me the look because I don’t turn it down. I’m kind of proud of it. People in the restaurant like looking out the window, where’s all the geese?
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate you.
Jim Branth: I enjoyed that very much.
Ramsey Russell: Mr. Joe Vermulen, you’ve been working here at the Jack Miner Migratory Bird foundation and Sanctuary for over half your life.
Joe Vermulen: Yeah, that’s a little bit of an understatement about. I started here when I was 17 and I’m just a splash over 50. So it’s been a great life. And thank you for coming to visit us up here at Jack Miner’s and help us promote the sanctuary. Jack Miner obviously started this and worked very hard at it, followed by his sons who also did a great job, Jasper, Manley and Ted. Kirk Miner was the last Miner to work here and he’s now retired. But the sanctuary is still going strong, it’s got a few changes in the wind and we’re doing a bit of a migration path ourselves as a sanctuary in regards to just upgrading and upselling ourselves to help people understand what we’re still doing around here.
Ramsey Russell: You’re 52 years old, you’ve been here for as long as I’ve ever come around here, which haven’t been near as long as this place has existed. But tell the story about how you got a job here at a tender age of 17.
Joe Vermulen: Yeah, I was 17. My grandfather had a dairy farm across the road from our farm and we used to frequently go there after school every day and I was working as a pot and pan washer at a local restaurant and I walked in and my grandpa was all upset. So I said to my grandma, what’s got him so upset? Figuring my brother, I must have broke something, but it wasn’t us. My cousin Christine was employed here at Jack Miner’s and she quit her job and that upset my grandpa quite a bit. So I left the house, jumped in my 1970 Aspen at the time, drove to Jack Miner’s, knocked on the door, the door I didn’t even know where it was going to lead to and a man came to the door and his name was Kirk Miner, although I didn’t know that at the time and I just came right out and said, I’m looking for a job, he asked me who I was, I told him and then I said my cousin Christine just quit here and he said yes, she did. He asked me when I could start and I told him I had my work boots on and we went for a walk and I started that moment. That’s how I started here.
Ramsey Russell: Never look back. That beat washing pots and pans.
Joe Vermulen: It sure did.
Ramsey Russell: Now, you were a waterfowl hunter?
Joe Vermulen: That is correct.
Ramsey Russell: I mean everybody back in that era, nearly everybody you knew your age, pumped bicycle down the road, but you get your driver’s license, it opened up, you all were in goose country, goose hunting culture, a lot of ducks around here in this part of the world, not far from Lake Erie. But you duck hunted growing up?
Joe Vermulen: I did. I did some duck hunting and some goose hunting in my grandma’s pond across the road from the family farm. My dad was a duck hunter, my uncle was a big goose hunter. So I was introduced into all that a young age. I’ll be honest with you now, I don’t duck or goose hunt anymore, I’ve kind of lost my interest in that, I still have an interest in ducks and geese, I love talking to local hunters and hearing their great stories. I currently still am a moose hunter and I’ll call myself a deer hunter, although it hasn’t fed my family very much lately.
Ramsey Russell: It makes perfect sense to me that someone like yourself, that for 26 years, Monday through Friday, a lot of Saturdays and Sundays, comes here and puts his hands on a lot of waterfowl, that your interest in waterfowl, like we always talk about the stages and phases of duck hunters, well, you’re off the chart. You’re still actively involved in waterfowl, your love for waterfowl, but it doesn’t involve trigger pulling anymore, it involves putting these bands and doing this research and taking care of them at a conservation level. That makes perfect sense. Let me back up, I want to ask you, what are some of your earliest memories or fondest memories of hunting with your dad and your uncle?
Joe Vermulen: Well, I was hunting with my Uncle Ron and a friend of mine, Larry and we were hunting this shallow pond and all sitting on Silverwoods crates, which is an old milk crate, out in the pond and there was a few geese coming in, my uncle jumped up and started calling and calling the geese turn and they started banking and coming in and coming in and he looked back at us and he had dropped his shotgun in the water behind him and he had no gun. So needless to say, at that little bit of a spookness on the pond, all the geese left, we didn’t get any, but we still laugh about it today.
Ramsey Russell: Did you all shoot Jack Miner ducks and geese back in those days that you did hunt, the bands?
Joe Vermulen: I personally, yeah, the bands were very prevalent back then also.
Ramsey Russell: And what were your thoughts on them? What was your dad’s thought, your uncle thoughts? They get a band, it’s got the Jack Miner band, did they pride it? Did they mount it?
Joe Vermulen: The reality is, because it’s just a few miles from Jack Miner’s, although they were proud to get that band where they honestly ended up at the end of the day was in the drawer underneath the telephone. So my uncle, in his later days, he’d pull out his drawer and he had his bands and every band had a story. But he wasn’t a lanyard wearing hunter, they weren’t on display, they weren’t hanging with his shotguns, he had his drawer of stories.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of those bands ended up in coffee cans and barns and just weren’t – I even heard a story, somebody flattened them out and stapled wire to the studs of his home because they were cheaper than buying wire and staples down at the hardware store. That’s crazy.
Joe Vermulen: That is crazy.
Ramsey Russell: Who was Jack Miner?
Joe Vermulen: That’s a great question. And obviously I’ve never met him, but off the top of my head, I’m going to say Jack Miner was an overeducated, undereducated man. And I say that in the fact that his education, his love of nature conservation, how the outdoors works, were in the fact that if you put too many geese in one area, you’re going to attract too many predators. So we need to do predator control. So the intelligence of this man was absolutely incredible, but his education through schooling was a mere 3 months. He learned to read and write with his Sunday school students, I believe he was approximately 30 years old at that time and so, like I said, he was an overeducated, undereducated man. Absolutely brilliant man with no formal schooling.
Ramsey Russell: And yet he had a lot of famous friends. He was life, street smart.
Joe Vermulen: Yes, he was.
Ramsey Russell: And somebody told me at one point in time, he had actually been just living in this part of the world, had been a market hunter to feed his family.
Joe Vermulen: Yes, he was.
Ramsey Russell: He was a hunter.
Notable Associations: Thomas Edison, Ty Cobb, and More
So you’re talking about famous people that he knew, I mean, Thomas Edison, Ty Cobb, Massey Ferguson tractors, he knew those guys, the owners of Massey Ferguson, quite well.
Joe Vermulen: Over in Ohio, him and his brother were market hunters, exactly to do that, feed their family and put a few dollars in the household. So you’re talking about famous people that he knew, I mean, Thomas Edison, Ty Cobb, Massey Ferguson tractors, he knew those guys, the owners of Massey Ferguson, quite well. The Royal Bank of Canada were close friends with Jack Miner back in the time as relationships build and bank accounts came about. The Royal Bank, Stuart Playfair, very wealthy man. So a lot of great people, the Kellogg’s foundation knew Jack Miner’s. Ty Cobb was so close to Jack Miner and Henry Ford, Henry Ford paid for all the fencing you see around Jack Miner, the old metal fencing, Henry Ford paid to make the Jack Miner Current documentary, 1 hour long that we have and Ty Cobb was so close to Jack Miner, they moose hunted together in the Jack Miner homestead, still to this day is Ty Cobb’s bedroom there. So Jack Miner put a Ty Cobb bedroom in his house because Ty Cobb came over that often. And we had the Ty Cobb baseball diamond set up here also, where local kids on Sundays would come play baseball with Ty Cobb on some Sundays, if he was playing local, we had church leagues using it throughout the week and Jack Miner used to go out there and host his own little church after his own little baseball after church on Sundays just for the younger students.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of education, one of Jack Miner’s quotes is get all the education you can, then add the learning. And he must have been a very learned man.
Joe Vermulen: He must have been, yes. And if you look at the people that surrounded him, as we just mentioned, all those names, also very successful business people.
Ramsey Russell: How do you think he met Ty Cobb? And I saw pictures up here, Ty Cobb, Thomas Edison, presidents, senators, how did he meet those folks? How did he met them orbits, a duck bander.
Joe Vermulen: I can’t tell you exactly how he met Ty Cobb because I really don’t know. What I can tell you is throughout his speaking career, he spoke to so many people, stayed in so many different towns and cities and was such a strong willed person that he was able to just take himself and introduce himself to whoever might be around. And when you’re talking to back in those days, which doesn’t sound like a huge number today, when in 1923, you talk to 13,000 people two different nights in Winnipeg, you’re going to meet some very prevalent people because they’re going to come and see you, if you’re drawing that kind of crowd in 1923.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of big deal. Do you have any idea what he was talking about? What would been the nature of that to draw that many people back in that era?
Joe Vermulen: I was always told that one of the main things Jack Miner talked about was he liked to preach conservation and make a practical demonstration.
Ramsey Russell: Preach conservation.
Joe Vermulen: He liked to preach conservation and make a practical demonstration. And when he says that, and now, I never got to hear him speak, obviously, but part of his speech, he used to say, if you give a child enough wood to build a birdhouse and they build a birdhouse or you give them enough wood to build a bird feeder, you just created another conservationist and it’s that simple. You’re introducing those children to the outdoors through conservation by a birdhouse or a bird feeder and it’s that easy to do. Now you’ve created another conservationist.
Ramsey Russell: And working with his sons and grandsons, did you ever gain a sense of why wildlife conservation was so viscerally important to Jack Miner?
Joe Vermulen: Well, I’m sure it was.
Ramsey Russell: Preach conservation, got scriptures on his Bible verse, but he was preaching conservation, that was his pulpit, was wildlife conservation. I’m just wondering, did you ever gain a sense of why geese, wild geese were so important to this guy?
Joe Vermulen: Well, what happened, he was hunting geese and this is what took him away from hunting geese and he shot goose coming in and with it, when it came to the ground, injured was its mate and its mate did not leave its side until it had passed away. So that turned Jack Miner’s brain and he said, when these two geese are that mated, there’s got to be more to this. And he really started looking into it and he realized that geese mate for life and they will defend their partner and he realized the true bond they have between each other and that’s when he decided he was done hunting geese. He was trying to start preserving geese, conserving their area to breed, to feed and all that kind of stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Did you see that, like yourself, as his growing interest at that level of conservation? He went from hunting to market hunting to hunting, now he’s going out and commanding crowds, preaching his gospel of conservation. Did you see that as he evolved a little bit, he no longer hunted waterfowl? Did he just put that energy into a higher level like yourself?
Joe Vermulen: He did. He completely stopped hunting waterfowl. And he did. He put so much time into the conservation efforts, into promoting conservation, into traveling in a speaking tour just to pay for the sanctuary to keep it open, that he was at that point, finished duck and goose hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Joe, why the scripture? Any idea why the scripture?
Joe Vermulen: Jack Miner was a very religious man and if you read his book, it’s throughout everything he writes down. Yes, Wild Goose Jack, he called the geese preachers of the air, his winged preachers and in his mind, be able to send God’s message throughout North America, any place the geese or ducks went and carried God’s message and he was a very religious man, but yet held no formal religion that he believed 100% was his religion.
Ramsey Russell: Not committed to a single denomination.
Joe Vermulen: He was not committed to a single denomination. He did teach Sunday school at some churches, but he believed that you have your own right to love the religion you love and he was very passionate about that. So I can say this, though and without going off track in more than one occasion and I can tell you just about everybody that’s answered the phone here at Jack Miner’s or the emails, it is very often that we will receive a phone call and I say often, as in probably once or twice, maybe more per year, that a hunter or somebody out walking found a dead bird and they might have been at a very trying point in their life where they weren’t sure what they were doing or where they were going. And this hunter, the one story that pops to ahead, he was hunting and him and his wife were going through a really tough time and there were some illnesses and to make a long story short, his buddy called him the night before and said, let’s go hunting tomorrow morning and he didn’t want to go and he wasn’t going to go, but he decided to go. And that day he shot a Jack Miner band and I don’t recall the exact words in that Bible verse, but he called here in tears and said that band saved his life. He said that band and those words were what he needed to hear to continue on with the way he was going. We heard from that same gentleman a few days later saying that things were looking a little bit better for him and then he actually came to visit us about 5 years after that and just told us the amazing story, the journey of life that he had been through because of that one band that he shot, that he read God’s message and that’s what it meant to him.
Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing. That is an amazing story. He was involved also with other conservations. You were saying something about the Everglades. What were his other conservation interest?
Joe Vermulen: So the Kellogg’s corporation, he was involved with them, the Florida Everglades, he had a part in their conservation area, Point Peele National park, obviously, the Jack miner Bird Sanctuary, so there was many times that he would head out with the exact that part of education for conservation and that’s what he would do. He would show up and help set up the conservation needs in the area that it’s at. So let me talk about conservation since you’re already there, in February 15th, 1971, the Honorable Jack Davis, who is a minister, Department of Environment and Pollution Control, confirmed. Now, this is the first person Jack might have died in 1944. In 1971, he was recognized for being the first person to speak about pollution in our Great Lakes. So this is something way ahead of its time, we weren’t even talking about it until the early 70s, he’d been talking about it before he passed away in 1944.
Ramsey Russell: What an amazing man he was.
Joe Vermulen: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: I see the sign out here says, since 1865. Is that right? Jack Miner, it’s what says on the patch right here on your shirt, since 1865, but he started banding birds in around 1904.
Joe Vermulen: Correct.
Ramsey Russell: So what was happening between 1865 and 1904?
Joe Vermulen: That was Jack Miner’s life, so he grew up in Ohio, Dover Center, Westlake, Ohio, over there. He was a young man that didn’t do well in school, after 3 months, he retired from that and he got his living, I’m going to call it learnedness in the outdoors and being sprayed by skunks and running around and poking at frogs and then becoming a market hunter for his family, that’s how Jack Miner received his education in life. And then it wasn’t until later in life that he moved over here to Canada and they opened the brick and tile yard, it was through the brick and tile yard and the making of the ponds with the brick.
Ramsey Russell: He was digging it out to make clay, I heard that.
Joe Vermulen: To make Clay, yeah. And then as the rains came, they flooded and that gave him the idea in his head, I’ve hunted wildlife for so long as in waterfowl. Can I attract him? And that was the first thing. And the story was told to me by Jasper Miner, that when he first started to try and he bought 5 geese from the neighbor and he put them in his pond and he tried to track more geese and tried to track, it took a couple of years. And the second or third year, he did track more geese, the neighbors came over and shot the geese. So he shoot all the neighbors away and they started calling him crazy Jack and Wild Jack and what are you doing? They’re here to eat and so on and so forth. But he found his calling and managed to create the sanctuary where we have it now. But it wasn’t just a walk in the park, it was quite a struggle.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And a hell of a commitment.
Joe Vermulen: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: Personal commitment. And I’m sure a lot of money came out of his pocket.
Joe Vermulen: I’m sure it all came out of his pocket at some point in time. It wasn’t just his commitment, it was his dream, it was entire family commitment that made the place happen. Because they all stayed and worked in the sanctuary in one –
Ramsey Russell: 3 generations.
Joe Vermulen: 3 generations, yeah. And as of now, we have John Thomas, JT, which is Jack Miner’s great great grandson, who signed your band recoveries.
Ramsey Russell: Great great grandson. I want to transition into the banding because if you’re a duck hunter, if you know, you know Jack Miner is a big freaking deal, if you pick up a bird, especially down the Deep South anymore and it’s got bands on it. What all species have you all banded here?
Joe Vermulen: So we’ve banded, I haven’t done it, but back in the day, there was doves banded here, then we get into our small bands, we call those teal and wood duck bands. Then we call the next one a mallard band, black ducks, so on and so forth. And then Canada geese, mostly the lesser Canadas, but a few greater have come through here, so that’s our main banding.
Ramsey Russell: Has there been any just crazy birds that really don’t like. Let’s lay this out, I’m going to lay it out like this. I’m sitting here in your office, I’m looking 100 yards across to the house, right behind it is the pools that you catch them in, there’s a front pond right here, it’s like a front yard, it’s like a barnyard, it’s just right here. And you all put a lot of corn out historically, a lot of corn to hold a lot of birds, to attract a lot of bird. Joe, the first time I ever walked here, I was walking around the front yard, there’s no net over the sky. Birds just land and walk around and become tame and I squatted down, I was almost hand feeding a northern shoveler that was banded with a Jack Miner band. And there were teal swimming and black ducks and mallards just walking around, you thought you were in a zoo, but you weren’t, these were wild birds landing here. And because there’s so much foot traffic coming in, they were habituated and comfortable with the people, but have you ever caught, like, has there been any species that all these years only caught one or two of because he really doesn’t belong in that pond, but he just ended up in the right place at the right time, a canvasback, a golden eye.
Joe Vermulen: I would say those are the two you just mentioned. There’s been a few of each of those banded here, but not many, that’s just not the normal ducks that we attract here. So there’s been a few of those, but not many.
Ramsey Russell: Talk a little bit about the number of birds you all have banded ducks and geese, let’s talk about recoveries.
Joe Vermulen: Well, at the sanctuary, I can tell you this right now, the first goose band to go on this year as we are under avian flu, so we can’t band right now, that’s our Canadian Wildlife Service has suggested we don’t and we do our best to keep good relationships.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the first time since 1904.
Joe Vermulen: Since 1904. So our first goose band number to go on is 103,883, that’s our first goose band. So that’s how many goose bands have been put on at Jack Miner Sanctuary.
Ramsey Russell: Next bird that you banded is going to be that number.
Joe Vermulen: That’s going to be that number. Our next duck band is 114,001. So that’s our next duck band for this year. So that’s where we’re starting with our numbers for this year. So that gives you, we are well over 200,000 birds have been banded here now. It’s changed a bit since I started here. When I first started here, Kirk and I did the banding, we would band 1500 geese a year and 500 ducks. Now our numbers have changed and I think there’s 3 reasons behind that, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Now, we band more ducks than geese, we do work closely with Canadian Wildlife Service and we bring in some reintroduced birds into the wild, hoping they’ll migrate, they come out of Toronto area and they are banded with our band and the Canadian Wildlife Service. But I think our banding has changed for a number of reasons. The first 3 reasons, I believe, are, one is we’ve had climate change. Climate change affects their migratory patterns, that’s one. The second one, which I think is a big one also, is hunters. We don’t have the hunters we used to have for ducks and geese, as the sanctuary is 2000 acres of non-hunting area without the local hunters around the sanctuary, it’s not going to push the birds into us. And I think the third part of that equation in my brain, the third part of that equation is no till farming. Back in the day, when every farmer would combine the corn, they’d plow the field, so any leftover grain in a field was now turned under due to the competitive nature of farming right now, the cost of fuel, farmers are going to a lot of no till farming. So whatever the combine misses, whether it be beans, corn, wheat, oats is still left scattered on top of the ground in the field. So geese can now have a meal from here to wherever they want to go, wherever there’s active farming, because the ground is not worked up at the end of the season.
Ramsey Russell: It sounds, from talking to some of the locals, talking to yourself back in the day, it sounds like a lot of the recoveries are right here in this geography over the years.
Joe Vermulen: Yes, you’re correct.
Ramsey Russell: But not all of recoveries. Where all have Jack Miner bands been recovered.
Joe Vermulen: Well, it’s a great question. I would like to say the majority of the bands are recovered down close to the Carolinas. We get a lot of recoveries out of Tennessee, we get recoveries down in the southern states. So if you look at where the Mississippi flyway goes through –
Ramsey Russell: Primarily Mississippi Flyway.
Joe Vermulen: So that Mississippi flyway, that’s our primary recovery zone.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Do you still get recoveries from up around Hudson Bay, James Bay, up in the Arctic?
Joe Vermulen: Yes, we do.
Ramsey Russell: The Inuit still report them?
Joe Vermulen: Yes, we do.
Ramsey Russell: So it’s both sides of here, way north and way south, and it fans out through the Mississippi flyway, maybe a little bit of Atlantic flyway and Central Flyway over mix Earth get blown around.
Joe Vermulen: They do.
Ramsey Russell: It’s just a thought that popped in my head, but have you seen a decline? Because talking about that warming trend? We can talk about habitat throughout the whole Mississippi flyway. Have you seen that Southern ban recoveries are becoming fewer over the years?
Joe Vermulen: I don’t know if we’re going to say, let me say consistent way back when they were originally started up, there was a lot more recoveries. But if you consider the number of hunters compared to the numbers of hunters we have now, I would say per capita, it’s probably about the same.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Joe Vermulen: In my opinion, it’s probably about the same per capita.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s interesting. Let me ask this question here, what species seems to be most recovered? Which species are flying, penetrating the flyway? Do you see where the geese stratify, they don’t go quite as far south, but the ducks go further south. Would it be mostly mallards and black ducks and wood ducks that are ended up down on the south end of the flyway?
Joe Vermulen: Yeah, you’re 100% correct. Our geese don’t migrate as far as the ducks do. We’ve actually had a duck recovered in Cuba.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of duck was that?
Joe Vermulen: Teal. It was a teal that was recovered down there.
Ramsey Russell: Blue wing, green wing?
Joe Vermulen: I honestly couldn’t answer that question. Kirk was still here at the time, but he was telling the story and it was quite a story for all of us, knowing that duck we had touched had traveled that far without buying a plane ticket.
Ramsey Russell: I know you’ve heard, you shared one interesting story about how a down on his luck duck hunter picked up a Jack Miner band and it saved his life. What are some of the other recovery stories?
Joe Vermulen: Well, I can tell you one, it’s kind of a funny story.
Ramsey Russell: Wait a minute, now. Lead this in, because you were telling me, sorry to interrupt. But you were telling me that for the longest time, telephone, people would just call. So you were on the phone with people reporting them personally, so go ahead.
Joe Vermulen: Yes, that’s 100% right. So that’s changed. Way back in the day, the Jack Miner band said, right Jack Miner, Kingsville, Ontario, PO Box 48 and the band would actually be physically sent back to us. That’s way back in the day. Then we changed over to telephone so people would call in the band. And when they called in the band, we needed 5 pieces of information and this is kind of a funny story and we were pretty much sitting right where you and I are sitting today when this happened, it was on lunchtime. So somebody calls in, I need 5 pieces of information, I need to know the serial number off that band, I need to know duck or goose, I need to know the year, I need to know the person’s name and their address, so I always ask people to say their name and spell it and then I need to know the location where that bird was recovered. And please say it and spell it. Because a duck certificate from a Jack Miner band, handwritten by Kirk Miner, signed by Kirk Miner, is a very prized possession when you have the band to go with that. So if we send out the certificate and it’s spelled wrong, that’s not a good thing, it upsets the person the other end and it upsets us too, because we like to do things right the first time. But this story is a little funny, so I was sitting approximately where we’re sitting right now and the phone rang and I put it on speakerphone. And I explained I needed these eye piece of information, this Southern boy told me he recovered a Jack Miner band. So I said, hello, Jack Miner’s. And he’s like, yeah, my name and I just shot one of your geese and I said, all right, this is the information I need. So he did a great job and gave me the serial number, great job explaining to me that it was a goose, he did a great job give me the year on it and then I said to him, all right, so I need your name and address, please say it and spell it. So he gave me his name, perfect job, address, another perfect job. And I said, all I need from you, the last thing I need you to tell me where you shot that bird. And this Southern boy goes, I shot that bird in the head. I shot that bird in the head and I was laughing so hard, I was trying to shut off the speakerphone while spitting my soup on the table, my brother’s sitting across from me laughing, we barely couldn’t finish the phone call. So that’s my funny story on band recoveries.
Ramsey Russell: I know that guy. That is a good story. All these bands that you’ve handled over 26 years, look back to the scripture, just a minute. Do you have a favorite passage?
Joe Vermulen: I do. I do have a favorite passage. And let us consider and the reason I say that is I kind of like to believe that’s the way Jack Miner would have looked at it is let us consider, because the Jack Miner Sanctuary, when he passed away, he wanted this place to be one place on earth that you can’t exchange money. Well, we do sell hats and t-shirts, so I guess you can. But his belief was regardless of your race, your religion or your financial standing, everybody was welcoming these front gates. And to this day, our board of directors still supports that, that it doesn’t matter your race, religion, financial standings, our gates are open for everybody.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of that, I’m looking at a picture Jim told me last night, Jim Branth was telling me last night about the aerial show and you’ve got some pictures from the 50s and 60s here, almost 70s, it looks like the New York City Macy’s Day parade.
Joe Vermulen: In the late 50s, early 60s the Jack Miner Sanctuary was the second biggest tourist attraction in Canada. Second only to Niagara Falls. So that’s where we were and that’s where we’re trying to strive to be again. Now we’re playing with a whole different world now.
Jim Branth: It’s a different world.
Ramsey Russell: It is.
Joe Vermulen: But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it again. To get people back outside, to get our trails booming again, to get people believing in conservation one more time. In order to do all that, we need the aggressive board that we have right now to try and change things, to bring us back to where we used to be. But yes, that is Jack Miner’s.
Ramsey Russell: It is the most amazing spectacle. Now what were they coming to see here? I mean, I’m sitting here looking, I’m going to say there’s a half mile of sedans backed up and throngs of people looking to the west watching for something. What in the heck were they waiting on?
Joe Vermulen: That’s when we were holding so many geese. And geese were a big spectacle back then. Everybody wanted to see geese, it was conservation, it was everything in a nutshell, it was Bible verses, it was a place for your family to go and understanding go back in those days there wasn’t as much TV, video games, mom and dad both didn’t work every single day of the week to try and get together. So that’s why a great family day was to come out to Jack Miner and just enjoy it. Now, geese are kind of getting a bad rap right now, we get a lot of complaints from golf courses, we get a lot of complaints from people live along a river and they’re walking in their backyard, they’re pooping on their decks, so on and so forth, so geese are getting a bad rap. But we as a society have kind of encouraged that, where a golf course will buy two geese because it’s cute, then the next year they have young, the next year they have young and so on and so forth or people down by the river feed them some bread, even though we shouldn’t feed them bread. Next, there’s 500 geese walking around their yard, and they call us and say, what do we do? Well, what do you do at that point is a great question, it depends on your local rules and regulations. But we have kind of created our own problem with a lot of this.
Ramsey Russell: You shoot them in the head. H-E-A-D. That’s interesting. How have the numbers since then changed? Because I think you just hit the nail on the head of what I perceive as being a growing issue with regards to waterfowl conservation is times have changed. People are not turning out anymore to see 50,000 geese get up. People are not bringing their kids, this is not Mayberry RFD anymore. I mean, we’ve got the internet, I saw that on YouTube and it’s different. It’s almost, we’re at this time in history, Joe, that we need people to connect with wildlife and not just us hunters, the habitat problems throughout North America are far greater than we can foot the bill for. We need to get everybody involved in loving these geese, whether they hunt them or not, to conserve the habitat, the waterfowl, the wetlands, we need this conservation. That’s what I love about Jack Miner is a lot of the band recoveries have not been dedicated towards a scientific harvest rate or something like that, ee got federal bands for that kind of stuff. It has always been, since day one, a way for humanity, whether you hunt or not, to touch the birds, to see the birds, to love and become concerned about the conservation. And that’s what just hits home with me about this little place right here in Kingsville, Ontario. It really resonates. It’s like this is, we need to preach Jack’s Gospel again.
Joe Vermulen: I agree. Every bird band and I say this for bands that are recovered, every bird band that goes on here. And often a lot of the ones that go on because the local schools help us put the bird bands on, local farmers help us put bird bands on. So every bird band has a story behind it that’s recovered. And even if it’s just you and your wife out walking, you find a dead bird on the side of a trail and it’s got a Jack Miner band, well, now you have a story, and –
Ramsey Russell: I would never be so lucky, but go ahead.
Joe Vermulen: But now you have the story and you have that band and that’s a generational thing, that’s something the grandparents talk to their grandkids about. So hopefully we can continue with our conservation efforts and we can continue with Jack Miner’s word in those ways, but how do we spread it farther? There’s a great question, I think, opportunities of you coming down to visit us and thank you for that to help us put the word out is an amazing thing. And I think, like I said before with our aggressive board of directors looking in different ways through media levels, that we can continue to promote conservation, we can continue to promote bird banding, we continue to promote, like Jack Miner said, give the kid some wood, let them build a birdhouse, you just made another conservation. And part of the trick, I believe, is getting kids out of the house and getting them outside, getting them walking trails, getting them going hiking, watching the sun come up and watching the sun go down.
Ramsey Russell: Amen. I’m going to shift gears just a little, back for the longest time at Jack Miner was banding these birds locally. I’ve had some of the local hunters, generational hunters, granddads, dads, sons, say, well, it just wasn’t that big of a deal. You even said it yourself, it just wasn’t that big of a deal. They put them in a coffee can, put them in a drawer and then somewhere along the way, bands became a big deal, it became a status symbol. And don’t get me wrong, I love to pick up a band, but the collector value, especially of Jack Miner bands, is unbelievable. And you all have banded over a quarter million ducks and geese, what would you estimate the sheer monetary collector’s value of that resource? It’s more valuable than gold, it seems like. What would you estimate it is?
Joe Vermulen: Well, if you take a quick number, first of all, let me jump back a bit. I just read a story by Sean Weaver in regards to the fabled million dollar band that was out there, not out there. Is it just a duck blind story? Is it a couple guys sitting around at the end of the day enjoying supper talking up, making up story. Well, there’s a lot of fact and fiction to that whole thing, but that million dollar band brought the thoughts of this. If we at Jack Miner’s have put on over 100,000 goose bands and well over 100,000 duck bands, that’s $200,000 bands. If you flip through to eBay right now, you’re going to find the Jack Miner duck band is worth $50 to $75, maybe even $100 or $150, depending on the age. And the same with the goose band, they could go as high as $300 to $500, depending on the age. So I’m going to say Jack Miner Sanctuary out there has approximately, I’m making up this number of $20 million just out there in bands right now. So this $1 million that was fabled is just a story, I can tell you what’s factual, that there’s that many dollars in bands out.
Ramsey Russell: There as rookie numbers.
Joe Vermulen: Exactly. And I know you talked about the gentleman you knew worked with duck banding that had a large collection of Jack Miner bands, I can tell you locally, there’s a gentleman, Paul, up in London, Ontario, his collection is worth well over $200,000. There’s a local guy, Ted, here in comber, his collection is worth $75,000 there’s big collectors and bands that are just that valuable. And one of the biggest things we get calls for, we don’t sell bands, we encourage people to go on eBay and look there for them, people seem to always want their birth year. So 54, 72, whatever it is and that becomes a very special band to them. And if they can talk to a local hunter that actually has one for sale and get the story with that band, it’s even a bigger deal.
Ramsey Russell: You all put the number, the chronological number, like 100,372, you put the year it was banded, you put the scripture and you put, whether it was fall or spring, a lot of information goes on that band.
Joe Vermulen: That is correct. And not very many spring bands go on, it depends on our hatch around here, which depends on the weather around here, the majority of our bands are all put on in the fall.
Ramsey Russell: Some things change the value of bands, the number of birds coming in and out, the humanity’s momentary interest in waterfowl conservation are coming out to see a lot of work. But some things don’t change, it just blows my mind that in you all’s, all these years since 1900 and something the press that you all turned, these bands come in flat metal pieces and you put them on a press and you bend them and that’s like one of the originals. Jack Miner himself turned that thing.
Joe Vermulen: That is right. There was only two of those was made in Illinois. One was believed to be lost when our brickyard burned down and that’s the second and only one that we still have.
Ramsey Russell: And all those quarter million bands have been turned off on that one press by somebody.
Joe Vermulen: By somebody, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Not by a factory that’s putting them on strings and giving them out to federal biologists to make their job easy, it got to be personal at some point in time. How many birds? I know this is a wild ass guess, a wag, how many birds might you personally have handled in 26 years and put that band on?
Joe Vermulen: Well, we banded it a lot more when I first started here, so I’m going to say for the first 15 years, probably 1000 birds a year, next 50, there’s 30,000, 40,000.
Ramsey Russell: 40,000 birds banded. That’s amazing. And something else I learned interesting. Now I tell you this story, one time in Mississippi, I was hunting with an old friend and we were shooting mallards, it was late, you had to be off that property at noon, so it was 10 or 11 and that’s really when a lot of mallards come into that particular habitat. And we were pecking away at them and I had a young dog and he said, I’ll go get this one. He insisted on going out and picking up this one particular bird that was the first tip off and when he comes back, he said, well, look what’s on here and he held up a bird with a band on it and the first thing I noticed, as somebody that has banded government bands, I noticed that the crimp was overlapping a signature Jack Miner to me. And the second thing I noticed, even though it was overlapping like a Jack Miner on the back, instead of being crimped perfectly, it was a little bit overlapping. Second thing I noticed, it was a short, like a federal band, it wasn’t tall, like a Jack Miner band. So I knew something was up. Sure enough, it was a gag band, I still got it on my lanyard because it was a special day, it was a funny moment. But one thing I noticed when I came up here a few years ago, and we were turning a few bands there on the old press is a very unique shape that you all’s bands are. They’re not only longer or taller, I should say, but they’ve got a – It’s like the letter capital D shape, not round D. Why is that?
Joe Vermulen: Well, you’re 100% right. And that was Jack Miner’s creation. A goose leg is actually a D shape, it’s not completely round, so when we put our –
Ramsey Russell: Bones lay in there.
Joe Vermulen: That’s right. It’s a D shape, so we make our band, when that roller you were just talking about, that press, makes them into a C and we have special pliers to bring them back and make them flat in a D. Now, our duck bands, they do overlap a bit and that’s the way they’re designed, it was always the fear that the crack in the bands where they butt together if they came loose with something, the birds get snagged on things. That’s why we do it that way.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve actually known some old timers that got a bunch of bands in their lives and they get them off of geese and rice fields because they’ll pick the bird that’s dragging some long stubble on his foot or something and it’s in that band. Caught that little crack or something. That’s interesting, isn’t it?
Joe Vermulen: It’s funny. We’re just talking about every band has a story and you just talked about that band. It was a gag band and there’s your story, so that is reality, every band has a story.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s just purely a gag, but it’s a sentimental story. Why does he change the scripture every year? Just to keep it fresh, just to keep it going, did he go through his Bible and pick these, you reckon?
Joe Vermulen: Yes. All the original ones were picked by Jack Miner and they were picked by things that were relevant in his life at the time. So as the Bible verse came up, there was some point in his life that was relevant to it. So it wasn’t just flipping open the Bible and picking second page halfway down, it was something it meant to him, something he could have learned at church, something that was relevant to maybe his brother’s passing. So all those Bible verses meant something to him before he put them on.
Ramsey Russell: In that way, it was almost his personal salvation.
Joe Vermulen: That’s right. And if you think about it, so we get the band now, it does say right Jack Miner on it, that’s pre stamped. We still have to individually stamp the year on every band, understand, when Jack Miner did it, he had to stamp in every single letter. So if it was God is our refuge, he had to write Jack Miner, God is our refuge and the mailing address, each with an individual letter. It took hours.
Ramsey Russell: Why is preserving Jack Miner important? Or why should it be important? The bands are not used right now for any harvest data, Lincoln estimator or anything biological. It’s got a long standing history, it means a lot to a lot of people. To me, it’s a cultural beacon, to me, it speaks something this world of waterfowl conservation very sorely needs, which is a commitment and an interest in waterfowl and their habitats. But come on, man, I mean, the year is 2022, I got video games, I got YouTube, I got the internet, I go to church on Easter, if Mama drags me, who cares? I’m being a devil’s advocate here, but I’m asking you, why is preserving Jack Miner important?
Joe Vermulen: Well, I think you just hit the nail on the head with the Internet, with video games, with all the things that keep us locked inside of our homes, why are we not taking the past and putting it in the future? Let’s take the way a family used to be able to function, when you could go outdoors, you could hike through the bush, you could enjoy the sunsets and the sunrise and just step outside and enjoy Mother Nature. And with all the data that Jack Miner’s has recovered over these years, yes, I think that it should have some very strong, I think it does have very strong scientific applications, we have not applicated that yet, but it is there. So I think we need to preserve Jack Miner’s and the fact of not so much preserving it, but preserving the value of it and taking the value of Jack Miner’s into the future.
Ramsey Russell: Do you all get a lot of support or interest or financial or time or publicity or anything whatsoever from any of the prevailing conservation organizations?
Joe Vermulen: No, we don’t. The only real financial money we get from our government, we do receive money for our summer students so they can have summer jobs. The majority of our money all comes from private donations and the majority of our manpower on the sanctuary is mostly volunteers, there’s only 3 of us full time at the sanctuary, the rest is a large group of volunteers that come in and help us with our trails.
Ramsey Russell: Who are those volunteers?
Joe Vermulen: Our volunteers are local retired couples, they are people that come in and just love to set up for Christmas, people that love taking care of the trails, people that like to do banding, so it’s a very wide spectrum of local people that just want to help out.
Ramsey Russell: Do you see where a lot of kids that may have come back here in the 50s, 60s, 70s watched the spectacle, that may have come out here in 8th grade and done a field trip? Do you see a lot of those guys just kind of like, “coming home by coming back here to Jack Miner”?
Joe Vermulen: I think you are 100% right and hit the nail on the head there. We’ve had students here as long as I’ve worked here right now on our board of directors, we have two board of directors who used to be students at Jack Miner’s and their love and passion is still here for it. And it’s very common for just a tourist to be walking through and we stop and say hello and they’re like, oh, I came here when I was 15 with my grandmother or same thing, like you’re thinking, they were here years and years ago with a school trip, they were here with their parents. They might be the first time they’re just passing through and then 3 years later you see them like, I was here 3 years ago, you guys did this, you changed that, we like this, so on and so forth. So, once we get somebody here, it’s easy to get them to come back, it’s getting people to come here.
Ramsey Russell: In the beginning, it blows my mind and I think that because of time, because of progress, because of some of the different emerging thought, the ethos of humanity, Stuttgart, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce built a billion dollar economy around the mallard duck. I checked into a beautiful little hotel last night and Kingsville is awesome, man. Coffee shops and breweries and restaurants, I mean, it’s really a hip little town. And the hip little hotel I stayed at, awesome hotel, it sent me an email saying five things to do in Kingsville, breweries, wineries, nature tours, top 5 things, Jack Miner wasn’t on there, that blows my mind. The Jack Miner goose, that emblem, that man of that picture of that man holding a wild Canada goose back in the day, it ought to be a statue, 50ft downtown, tall, just right here, bring people into this thing. When I look at these pictures from the 50s and 60s and I see what it meant, it was like a hub that drew in the entire community versus today, it’s just like, wow. Do the city leaders and the county leaders not see what this could represent in terms of tourism?
Joe Vermulen: That’s a great question. I wish I had the real correct answer for you. It’s almost like it’s in your own backyard, so you don’t think about it. And there’s many people in the town of Kingsville that don’t even know where Jack Miner’s is. We do have some very strong leadership in the town of Kingsville that are pro Jack Miner, that are on our town council, but once again, change takes time and I do know they are working on that. I don’t know about your 50ft statue, but they are working on getting some things there for us and we have been talking with the town in regards to how can we redirect our tourism, not just about Jack Miner’s, but bringing Jack Miner’s into our town tourism as a bigger venue. So we just did migration festival, we got through that, we did some work with the town, it was nice, everything went smooth. So hopefully we can grow on that and build on that and it can be much bigger and much better in the future, which is what we need to do.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve been here over half your life, over half your life you’e been under the influence of 3 generations of Miners. You’ve handled a lot of birds, talked to a lot of recoveries, what does Jack Miner mean to you personally?
Joe Vermulen: That’s a great question. I think Jack Miner to me, well, because I’ve been here so long, is –
Ramsey Russell: How can it not be a big part of who you are.
Joe Vermulen: It’s a huge part of who I am and a huge part of my entire family, too. My wife has volunteered here, 2 of my kids have worked here, my parents are here often, it’s become a family tradition. It’s kind of like having a dairy farm, it’s there every morning when you get up and it’s there when you go to bed every night and that’s a great thing to have. And so I’m not complaining, but it’s been a great job to work at. I’ve met a lot of amazing people just like yourself and it’s just every day is a new story.
Ramsey Russell: What would you do tomorrow? And if it wasn’t a Jack Miner.
Joe Vermulen: That’s a great question, too.
Ramsey Russell: Do you want to think about it?
Joe Vermulen: I don’t think I’d be a male model.
Jeff Wood: No.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, you ain’t got that.
Joe Vermulen: I honestly don’t know, it’d be a really tough, life changing decision.
Ramsey Russell: Future of Jack Miner, that’s why I’m leading into what is the future for Jack Miner? I mean, you mentioned earlier, and here’s where I’m going at. You mentioned earlier environmental change affecting migration, landscape habitat, no till farming affecting migration, we’re looking at public interest in waterfowl, public interest in habitat conservation, public interest in interacting with the waterfowl, we’ve touched on a lot of critical points in the year 2020 versus the early 1900s, mid 1900s, wasn’t life simple when we all live like Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and Aunt B and Little old Maybury, that was America at one time, it ain’t no more. But what is the future? What does the future hold? Without getting too political or off the rails on this thing. What is the future of Jack Miner and what can be done to resurrect it?
Joe Vermulen: Boy, that’s a tough question.
Ramsey Russell: What’s on your mind?
Joe Vermulen: What can be done? I think it’s all about promoting the sanctuary, promoting the values of the sanctuary and in doing so, understanding that it takes X amount of funds to run this sanctuary. So at some point in time, which is hopefully sooner than later, we have to figure out how do we take the sanctuary to the next level? How do we bring this into a household name again that everybody thinks about Jack Miner’s, that people are interested in donating to Jack Miner’s, that we can keep our waterfowlers, our conservationists, our bird watchers, our mom and dads that still remember Mayberry can influence the younger generations to think about those things and bring them here?
Ramsey Russell: I know that yourself and several of the people I’ve met with, while not recording, have got some great ideas, but at the end of the day, it does boil down to just funding, it does need some funding. State, federal, NGO, private, we need funding for this vision. And what you said is not that Jack Miner continues, but that the conservation ethos continues and I think that’s where we are. And that’s why it was important that I come and meet with you all here in Kingsville. I appreciate your time.
Joe Vermulen: Well, thank you for coming.
Ramsey Russell: I know you’re a very busy guy and I do appreciate your time. And I’m going to end on this note, a quote that Jack Miner said was a man’s reputation is the opinion people have of him, but his character is who he really. Especially, having met with you all, especially having met with you, Jack Miner was viscerally committed to waterfowl conservation back in the good old days when waterfowl were plentiful. And it just speaks volumes to me where today, where we need it more than ever. We need some more Jack Miner’s to step into this, don’t we?
Joe Vermulen: Yes, we do.
Ramsey Russell: And I’ve asked everybody about scripture and I’m going to tell you one of my favorite ones, let us consider one another, Hebrews 10:24, that was one of my favorite ones. And I bring that up because let us consider one another as hunters, as conservationists, as visionaries, what does the future hold? Let us consider our grandkids, our children, because Joe, it worries me that right now, Jack Miner is on an era could have passed, these wonderful stories, what he did, how he moved in political and social circles to promote wildlife conservation, wildlife hunting, hunting as conservationist is slipping right out of our fingers. We’ve got to consider future generations, we’ve got to consider ourselves. Most folks listening right now that are my age are sitting there saying hunting is not as good as it was 20 years ago. How can I turn the tide? How can I work through people like Jack Miner or others to turn the tide? We’ve got to do something, let us consider one another. Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season somewhere. Please share this episode or your favorite episode if you’ve not yet done so, please go to Apple or Spotify, give us a rating, give us a comment, let us know your thoughts, hit us up an inbox, Instagram especially or text message, let me know what you thought of this episode. Go to what is the website jackminer.com.
Joe Vermulen: That’s correct.
Ramsey Russell: Go to jackminer.com, get on eBay and pick up the book Wild Goose Jack, if you hadn’t read it, you need to. And answer to the question who Jack Miner was? Now, you know. See you next time.
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