Ramsey Russell recaps his Canadian road trip then tells a couple of stories about his good friend Ryan Bassham. Finally, we close out the podcast by the telling the story of Ramsey’s dog, Cooper, who he calls his “chicken dog.” It is one you don’t want to miss!
On the Road Again…Duck Hunting Around the World
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of the Line Podcast. I am Rocky Leflore in the Duck South Studios in Oxford, Mississippi today, and a man that is well travelled, beaten down, tired, and back to the office with me today. Mr. Ramsey Russell.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yes, sir. How you doing, Rocky? I’m back, alright. I mean, jump right into the freaking frying pan, putting out fires and everything else. Got back today. I kind of wish I was up in Canada still, but no, I’m glad to be home. I had planned last night – I left Central North Dakota about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, fixed a cup of coffee and said, you know, I’m going to stop over here and see Zach Myers and Wild Deer. He’s got a pretty exciting project coming on. He didn’t tell me to say anything about it, so I won’t say anything about it just yet, but he and a partner got something pretty exciting coming down the pipe. I’m excited for them, I see a need for it. But anyway, I stop by and have lunch with him and I said, no, I think I’m going to try to make St. Louis. Let me listen to podcasts, and hammer down on some music, and the road will clear out, I’m just going to truck. I talked to Josh Criswell, had to stop by his shop, I talked to him last night about 7:00. I said, yeah, I can come by about at noon, I’m going to spend the night somewhere and I’ll come by about at noon and pick up that duck on the way back home. I got all the way down to St. Louis and a couple of things, I mean, I was back home. It’s just like across this imaginary line that’s coming in the state of Missouri, and the temperature spiked up to 77°, which reminded me, my air condition didn’t work. I got it recharged before I left and it run out but it was cold up there so I didn’t need it. So, I cracked some windows and was trucking on down the road, and I stopped to get gas outside of St. Louis, right next door to Waffle House. I said, man, I think I’m going to get a bite to eat. So, I go in and get my old staple at Waffle House. I’m going to tell you what, if Waffle House and Love’s Truck Stops had miles like airplanes do, I’d be loaded. I mean, I’d have it made. So, I go in demanded the perfect omelette, just like I like it, jalapeno, bacon, 2 eggs over easy on top. It’s all I ever get at Waffle House, and having a couple of cups of coffee, I aired the dogs out, and I said, you know, I think I can make a little bit further. Before I realized, that I texted Josh at 4:00 in the morning, hoping his phone was off, and I said, Josh, hey, just in case you’re an early riser, I’m going to be coming through Senatobia at about 5:00 A.M., I think, and he hit me right back. He said, I’m up, come by. So, I pulled into his driveway at 5:00 this morning and we BS’d for 30, 45 minutes, and finally, I said, Josh, I have got to go, if I sit still much longer, I’m going to fall asleep. And I pulled in the driveway about 8:00 A.M. Something about, Rocky, not being gone forever, and I love seeing this countryside. People say, man, you’re crazy, you ought to fly, and I’m like, no, you don’t get to see it from 30,000ft, like you do at 90 mph, which is basically what I drive, especially at night when nobody’s on the roads. But it was just a really cool trip. It’s like the closer you get to home, this gravitational pull just starts winching you in, and you just turn up the music, roll down the windows, and let her rip, man. But I got in at about 8:00 this morning and got my little old dog squared away, and got everything unpacked, and washed, and lay down for a few hours, and took a nap, and I woke up and –
Rocky Leflore: I am sorry, I woke you up.
Ramsey Russell: The world was burning. No, you didn’t wake me up. I was sitting there, just fixing to get out of bed. I have to take me a little power nap, shake it off. There’s a whole lot of just rustles and irons in the fire that needed taking care of after being gone that long.
Rocky Leflore: Hey –
Ramsey Russell: Let me say –
The Work Behind Guided Duck Hunts & GetDucks.com
It’s people, it’s relationships, it’s relationship building, it’s dealing with the public, the travel experience varies, their expectations vary, their times vary, when they’re available to talk, and how they like to process information.
Rocky Leflore: Hey, before you leave that, please tell everybody the Ramsey saying. Everybody wants to do Ramsey, everybody wants some Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You know, I got 2 or 3 emails, and texts, and inboxes in the last few weeks, from young people wanting, man, how can I work with you? Or, how can I do what you do? And I’m going to tell you, Rocky, I’m telling you guys – listen, I’m going to tell you all the same thing. I’m serious as a heart attack. Get a job, make money, sleep in your bedroom every night, kiss your babies goodnight, and then call me when you want to go travel and do trips. You know, I’m lucky in a lot of different ways that my relationship and everything just works out to be gone like this, because on the one hand, Rocky, just life experiences, I guess. Past life experiences. I have got an absolute wanderlust. I just absolutely love being on the road. I love being by myself with those times, when I’m driving, I love listening to music, and talking on the phone, listening to podcasts, and just kind of getting in my head, and thinking, and reenergizing, and just strategizing things that need to be done, to help me sort stuff. I love seeing. I love seeing America, out the window. I love stopping by these tiny, little towns, and going to these restaurants, and just meeting people, or not. You know, just, I just love being on the road. I love to travel. I love seeing new places but there’s nothing like home now. I mean after a while those boys in North Dakota will be wrapped up. We’ll get to that in a minute. We’re like, man, you all stay another day or two. Well, I really do need to stay a day or two. You ought to see what’s happening up north, right now, Rocky, it is unbelievable. But, I absolutely could not. I had to get on the road, I had an appointment change on Wednesday, I was going to stop in Johnson City, Tennessee. The goose hunting world lost a great man. So, that appointment came open and I decided just to hammer on past it and get home, and it was a really nice ride. But let me tell you, that heat and humidity started up in around Blissville, Missouri, up in that area right there and it’s like, okay. It was 40 degrees, when I left North Dakota, it was 50 degrees when I ate lunch in St. Paul, Minneapolis area, and it was 78 degrees when I hit that Missouri state line, and it stayed that way the entire ride home. That little black puppy I got, we’ve been traveling up north for about a month, 6 weeks. The first thing she did – I filled up a 5-gallon bucket full of water, and the very first thing she did when I put her in a kennel was dive to the bottom. That is absolutely to the bottom of it, and came up, and then climbed into it. So, I had to go crank on the hose and refill it for her to drink. First thing she did was just dive bomb into the water bucket. But anyway, I’m glad to be home, it’s just busy man, it’s work, like everything else. There’s a lot of, lot of, lot of irons in the fire, always.
Rocky Leflore: I’ll say this. Well, you and I’ve been recording now for about 3 months, every week, 4 months now, and a lot of people see pictures on social media and they would love to do what Ramsey does. It’s just like any great production. There’s a lot of work, back breaking work and stress that goes on behind those curtains. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to kind of see through the crack in the door how much Ramsey puts into this. It’s not just hunting, it’s what you think it is.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s not, it’s definitely not. It’s people, it’s relationships, it’s relationship building, it’s dealing with the public, the travel experience varies, their expectations vary, their times vary, when they’re available to talk, and how they like to process information. I’m very blessed. I really, truly am very blessed. I’ve just got the personality that I cannot sit still very long, and what a wonderful age we’re living in. I was thinking this, on last night’s drive, and I was running on fumes of caffeine, and air breezing in through the window, and nicotine, and I was just thinking, what a great world we live in. I can fly on autopilot because I’ve got my GPS going, telling me take a left, take a left, take a left. You just missed it, take the right, take the right, or just navigate me home. I’ve got 100 hours’ worth of my favorite tunes, beaming from my phone to my radio speakers, and most importantly because of this Smartphone, I’ve got contact to the world, as long as I have a bar or two. I get text messages, and I get social media, and I get telephone calls. It’s easy to think that Ramsey’s sitting behind a desk because I do quite a bit, but really and truly, Rocky, times I’m behind the desk, I’m not talking on the phone, or answering emails. I’m working on the web page and doing that kind of stuff. I’m bending over spreadsheets or something of that effect. I’m not doing this, but it’s just, I can be sitting in a blind, countless with the people, the clients that call, or email, or text. I’m talking to him live from a blind, or going down the road, or sitting on the side of the road, or sitting in a café somewhere, and it’s really opened up the possibilities. That’s what I’m trying to say. It’s the perfect time and we talked about time, that one time, perfect time. There are so many irons in the fire with this business. You know, I had a great time. I did a six – not quite six weeks – a 30 day, trans-continental, Canadian, four provinces and North Dakota tour. I picked up a few more contacts, and clients, and meetings, just stuff along the way, coming and going. I got to see a lot of country but it was all work related. Most of the people I was visiting are US Hunt List outfitters. I got to meet with them, first hand and see how their operation processes, and all that good stuff. It was wonderful. Of course, I’d go out and shoot, I take pictures and post up in social media, and that’s another great resource. My buddy Ryan Bassam kind of prodded me along Instagram. He took the GetDucks page to a whole new level, and he prodded me along into Instagram, and he’s the one that told me about this thing called a storyline. That’s amazing because you know, you just take little 15, 20 second videos or pictures from start to finish of your whole trip, and it’s amazing how many people, I don’t know, respond to those little visual cubes, and will contact me and ask me questions, and we’ll just kind of build a relationship like that online. What a great world we live in. That kind of information and visual imagery, it’s just so readily available to be consumed, and you can travel virtually with somebody just by plugging into their storylines. That’s just been a very rewarding thing and I just enjoy it. But it’s work, whereas clients come in and eat breakfast, and go to bed. Ramsey answers emails, and answer text messages, and posts on social media, steps outside to meet with the outfitter and blah, blah, blah. I’m not complaining, I love what I do. I remember other jobs I had, I went to work and I did this, and then I came home, and now I go to work and I do this, and I come home today, and there is a mountain of to-do waiting on me. There’s no time like the present to hit it, so I just jump right into it.
Rocky Leflore: It’s kind of funny that you bring up Ryan Bassam. I want to spend a few minutes on this. I just released Ryan’s part four of his story, The Mission, and in that episode, he spends a lot of time talking about, not only his father, but also Pat in a way, but also Ramsey Russell, inspiring him. It changed his path forever, and I said, this after listening to him, I listened to this three different times. This was just a chance meeting that you and Ryan had, at the L’Anguille Lounge. Because I know from your story, you didn’t go up there all the time. Your kids were in school, you went when they were out, and you just happened to be there, and your paths crossed at the L’Anguille Lounge.
What it Takes to Talk Duck Hunts at a Convention
You better know your product and know what you’re doing…
Ramsey Russell: It was crazy because, I do remember vaguely meeting him. As I recall, there were only two people in the camp house – Pat was in the kitchen, which meant he was probably cooking gumbo or kill pot, one or the other, I guess – and I was in the den taking my nap, right on the couch, right next to his blue chair. There’s a little spot that fit me just right to pull my cap down and doze off. I remember somebody coming in and hearing the conversation, and somebody walked in the den and introduced himself but I’ve never seen this kid before, and he was a kid. Not a man, he was a kid, you know, like Forrest, coming up. We talked a little bit, that’s how we met. With just him coming by. He was at the time doing something, and I was passing through the area, and wanted to meet Pat, and so I was there and we met briefly and talked, and then just kind of hit it off after that. I’ll tell you kind of how we really formed a relationship – Ryan and I – and I don’t know what he said on his podcast. I wish you had played it last night so I could have listened to it. He came by from Dallas, or one of those little Dallas suburbs, and I was at Dallas Safari Club and I had some help in. M.S. Ducker was helping me at the time, a good friend there, and he was coming up and helping. I think that was our first year and she’s evolved. But let me tell you what. If you’ve never been in that kind of environment, and depending on what your personality is, it can be a little daunting to work convention when it’s busy because, you’ve got people – a steady flow of people coming in and asking questions and yada, yada, yada. I’ve got the personality. Believe it or not, Rocky, believe this or not, this is the God’s honest truth, I’m a naturally quiet person, and shy. That’s the truth. Given my druthers, I would be – high school era type stuff, I was quiet. I might be loud sometimes but generally my personality is quiet and very just kind of standing on the fringes, watching, not engaging. But pursuant to this business and talking about what I love, I do talk and I do tell stories, and I can answer questions. It’s just what I do. So, thrust me in this position, and a lot of the people that come to the shows, come up to our booth, they don’t want to talk to somebody. They literally walk into the booth, and say, “May I speak to Ramsey Russell,” and I’ll introduce myself unless I’m busy. Because when you come up, Rocky, to a show, and you want to talk legitimately about a specific hunt – just imagine, 50 people or 100 people come by the booth a day, asking about similar hunts and different hunts, but they’ve all got 50 different questions, and it’s all just seat of the pants. You better know your product and know what you’re doing, which is why it’s so important to have been there. So, you’re just constantly bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, answering all these questions, and it’s very rude and everything else to – but when you come up, I’m talking to you. Other people are coming up in a lot of times, I’m oblivious to it, it’s just background noise because I’m visiting with his client, he’s got my attention. He deserves my attention and so I’m focusing. What I tell a lot of the helpers, is answer what you can, give them information, don’t let them leave, make conversation with them and stage, you might call it. Just hold them. If they absolutely, positively have to leave before I have the time to get their information or whatever. Ryan Bassam came to the booth one day and introduced himself, and we were chatting and it’s like a red light set out, and all of a sudden, we got flooded with people. As I was talking to someone, I noticed that Marsha was over there, kind of chit-chatting, a little shy and reserved, it’s her first show. My helper, who had a very good helper, didn’t really know the product because he was just a friend and was a little shy and reserved. And there was Ryan Bassam, across the booth, just, boom, just engaging, the client, smiling, talking. He pulled out Argentina, “Yeah, let me show you the brochure” and he’s pointing bullet points like he’s been there or something, but you know, he’s very informed, he was doing a great job. That’s my really my first big, professional impression of Ryan, is how just – I didn’t ask him to help, but he was there whatever you need, he just stood in and that really got my attention. As this client left, Ryan motioned the client over and said, “Ramsey, let me introduce you to so and so, he’s interested in Argentina and I was telling about this particular hunt,” and then we just went from there. That was a very big impression of Ryan, it just showed me that for a very young person, he had a skillset and an interest in this kind of stuff. We get approached by a lot of people, a lot of younger people, my son included. Forrest would love to do this business and quit Mississippi State and go duck hunt around the world, but we get a lot of inquiries and we have a lot of interest and stuff like that, but it really does take a certain skillset to service intelligently client inquiries. It really does it. I believe it is a slight function of age. I don’t believe 20 year-olds can do this business. I really don’t. I mean, I’m asking you, Rocky, would you write a $5000 or $10,000 or $20,000 check to a 21-year-old kid. No. I would not. I can tell you for a fact, I would not. I think it takes being in that 30-plus range to be really at all capable and credible in this industry. But then, it really takes a certain people skill, just to stand up and communicate, and look the person in the eye, and shake hands and give them information and talk. No, just a simple act – and I’m a lousy chit chatter. I’m lousy at just chit chatting. I’m really am. How’s the weather good? Okay. I’m terrible at that kind of stuff. But in my boots, in my world, in my element, I can talk ducks, and I can listen and understand what this person is telling me that he envisions for a trip. Then, we can steer towards that direction, and then I can answer his questions as he needs to. A lot of people, when you go to these big hunting shows and conventions, you get all kinds of clients, and if you’re an elk hunter, or a lion hunter, or one of the big game animals, that’s a very solo-type sport. And people come with an idea of what they’re going to buy an elk hunter, moose hunter, or something like that, and they sit down, and they discuss it and they write a check, and they go moose hunting. Wing shooting and duck hunting, it’s not like that. Now we do have a lot of solo clients – you’re a solo client, you want to go somewhere, call me, we’ll put you in a hosted group or with a team. But generally speaking, most of the clients we talk to are there to get intel, and to get a good information, and get a good feel of who they’re talking to, and then jump around. They have got to go home, and talk to their family, talk to their buddies, sort through the information, and they come back, in months, or days, or weeks, or years later, is what we see. They don’t just – we do take a lot of checks at big conventions, but it’s really not – in bird hunting it’s not quite what, from not point of sale, like big game hunting is. It’s a process, and to me, it just takes a little bit of experience. And Ryan’s got it – Ryan had come from a real big people experience. If you listen to the first several segments of his podcast, about his mission, communicating with people at a foreign language, and of all different socioeconomic, third-world country type classes. Ryan’s just filled in and he’s got a very incredible communication skills, and I saw. That very first time I met him at L’Anguille Lounge is one thing, but the first time I really got to see him and know him, just a glimpse of Ryan Bassam, was that convention, live on the stage, just jumped in, just because he was there, and then it just kind of evolved from there.
Rocky Leflore: Well, I just found it really, really interesting, what he had to say about you, man. It was just –
Ramsey Russell: All the good stuff is probably true.
Rocky Leflore: Let me say – I want to say a couple of things that just came out of that. One of that conversation that you just talked about, but also about Ryan, who could have been 30 seconds thanking you for being a part of who he is today. Man, he spent 10 minutes, 15 minutes talking about how you inspired him to be who he is today, and it’s really, really good. Now, backing up to what you were talking about. Why do I find that in so many successful people, that personality trait that they’re really good at? Is it because – and I’m like that, so don’t take it in the wrong way, I’m like that, I’m not a chit chat person, but if we’re talking duck hunting, man, I’d sit here and talk to you all day. Duck hunting, Duck South, podcasts, blah, blah, blah. Why is that? I’m not a good guy to talk to about the weather outside.
The Secret to a Successful Waterfowl Hunting Business
It’s all about GetDucks, duck hunting, and business, and schedules, and timelines, and web page, and other associations.
Ramsey Russell: I think it’s hyper-focused. When you own a business, and we are passionate about something, in my world, I’m very passionate about duck hunting, I’ve got a very huge perspective, golly, just I figured up the other night. Just last night, just driving along, trying to remember everybody I hunted with. In the last 5 weeks, since September 24th, I hunted with and got to know and made new friends and acquaintances with 85 or 90 new people, and they’re all duck hunters or in the duck industry. I knew some of the outfitters, I didn’t really know them, and I didn’t know their staff at all, let alone their cooks, and lodge managers, and scouts, and things of that nature, plus all the clients. You’ve got to be that people guy. But getting back on track of why it’s like it is, it’s because even though there is an enjoyment factor and a recreational factor, you can enjoy what I do. I like to duck hunt – I see it a lot with my clients, they own businesses. Their business is their life, that’s why they call us, because they’ve got money but they don’t have time because their life is calling. This business consumes your life, consumes you, and it’s really and truly, it’s almost sad to say, the longer I get into this business of GetDucks.com, and duck hunting, things of that nature, the less outside of that I’m able to truly converse. It’s almost like every waking moment of my life anymore, whether I’m on the road, or driving, or at camp, or in a foreign country, or here, revolves around that. It consumes me, it is my life, it is my mission, and that’s really so much my every waking moment. It’s all about GetDucks, duck hunting, and business, and schedules, and timelines, and web page, and other associations. That consumes 99% of my waking life anymore. If you’re a business owner, or working at a high-level, management level, for a company, it’s not really the way it is. You can’t just flip a switch. And there’s a lot of advantages to working at home. We have a home office, or a mobile office sometimes when I’m on the road. But the disadvantage of having that iPhone in your pocket and being at the office anywhere you have cellular connectivity, and the disadvantage of having a home office is this: you never leave work. Never. You never leave the office. And that’s why I believe that what your point was, people that you’re talking about – you’re so hyper-focused on the prize, on the tasks at hand because, as a business owner, my to-do list never disappears. It just gets longer, and longer, and longer, and I can work 40 hours, or 80 hours, or 100 hours a week, 8 days a week, and that list just continually grows, and you’re continually working on it. So really and truly, who cares what the weather’s going to do unless it affects duck hunting or something? Matter of fact, I hate to say this because truthfully, I never really did keep up with sports like a lot of guys. But today, I really don’t keep up with it. I don’t have a clue. I don’t care. It doesn’t affect GetDucks. Now, I do keep up with a little bit of the economy, and politics, and things of that nature. But I really don’t keep up with trivial matters. I couldn’t tell you who’s on the top Pop 40. I could care less. It just doesn’t consume me. My world just revolves around this thing and they do not, and that’s why I’m a very poor conversationalist, I think, unless I’m telling stories or something of that effect.
Rocky Leflore: Well, hey. Let’s hear a couple of stories or maybe a review because –
The Best Waterfowl Hunting in Canada
But the next day, we went to do what I love to do in Canada, which is shoot geese. I’d go to Canada to shoot geese.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, let me wrap up good with Canada. God, there’s a good – I’m going to tell you all – you all watch, it’s going to be a very interesting situation unfolding right now. Very exciting. I don’t know where it’s going to go but it’s very exciting. The last time we talked, I was in Kansas with my friend Ben Webster. Excuse me, I was in Saskatchewan with my friend Ben Webster of Big Kansas Outdoors. We shot a lot of birds, we had a good time. I took an afternoon off and he’s got a couple of young cooks, and don’t ask me why, but I did and I decided I was going to chicken-fry some ducks and make some dipping sauces. It was a huge hit. She wrote down all the recipes – you happen to be by that lodge, be sure and ask for some Southern chicken fried duck with some of those different recipes we covered. And then I drove over to my long-term outfitter Kris Wujcik, at Michitoba Outfitters in Manitoba, and I left. It was really seasonable weather in Saskatchewan at the time that I left, and then it started to snow. I mean really snow, and I decided rather than hunt one more day there, and I could have and sweep in late, I was just going to go ahead and get a head start to Manitoba, and wash clothes. After a few weeks on the road it’s a good idea, and catch up on some things like that. So, I drove over and it just kept snowing, and kept snowing, and kept snowing, and by Sunday it was, man, if we had snow like that, 6″ or something in Mississippi, you wouldn’t have been able to find a loaf of bread, or a gallon of milk. It rained and cleared off but it really kind of messed up the hunting a little bit. They were sitting at the time with mostly local birds, and those birds, with the inclement weather, had fed. So, when Monday morning we started hunting, it was slow, slower than expected. We killed some birds, but it was slow, and then they came out and started feeding on day 2, 3 and 4, and we had some very, very, very memorable hunts, very good hunts. No light geese. When I was there, there’s a roof pond down in these camps, and for the 7 days I was there, a flock of snow geese showed up. A small flock of snow geese showed up about midway through my stay, but there weren’t any snow goose feeds there yet. The most memorable hunting we had, for me, was duck hunting. There were some spectacular duck hunts, even for someone who’s been to Canada a long time. Two of the most memorable duck hunts I can recall, in a long time over there, Rocky. We hunted a really high hilltop, the pond back behind us, a little drinking pond I would call it, will cattail line with the duck. After they feed, they come in to drink. There was a hot feed for ducks on the side of this hill. You can see the whole countryside and it was spectacular. The rainbow down the valley, the barley was just golden, and a lot of the aspens were just bright yellow, and the dogwoods were just straight red. It was just a gorgeous spectacle. And we shot the fire out of ducks. We got our limits, lickety split. Mallards and a few pintails, but mostly decoying mallards – just right in, they would get down out of the wind and get down on the slope, come right up the slope, pitch right over the decoys. It was spectacular. The next afternoon, we had a good goose hunt in that morning and went duck hunting again. Little difficult because it was horrific wind. I’m talking 40 mile-an-hour wind, and the front came through. We almost called it quits. The front blew through, the rain quit, and the ducks – we wrapped up pretty solid on it. But the next day, we went to do what I love to do in Canada, which is shoot geese. I’d go to Canada to shoot geese. We don’t shoot migrator geese, really, where I hunt at all, let alone Canada geese. All the Canada geese I felt like. I’ve never shot in Mississippi in my whole life of resident birds, we’ll shoot some cacklings. But I love shooting those big sky pounders. They come in little big B52s, and the very last day we were hunting, we set up on a hunt for greater Canadas. I got very lucky. I tell you, I got very lucky. I was hunting with four men that I’ve known – I knew one of them, I met him 20 something years ago, when I was working with Fish and Wildlife Service – I finally got to share a camp with him. I actually had led him to Chris back in the day, and we all got to hunt together. These gentlemen have been hunting together for 15 years, 20 years, and it showed. They were older. But the way they process the shots, the way they shot zones, the way they kidded and cut up, you can just tell, these guys have happily been hunting together for a long, long time. I was proud to be a part of it, I fell right in with them, which is to say they gave me as much devil as they gave everybody else, and we had a great time. You know what, the last volley of the day, the geese have been kind of coming in and pitching right into the kill zone, or passing right over the decoys, and we were making our numbers on big Canadas. The last three, they called back around and as they approached out of range, they slid on my side, and somebody said, “Ramsey, if you can kill them, you better triumph.” We were hunting out of a very nice A-frame blind, not one of the store-bought. Kind of a custom built, very, very nice, very concealed, very roomy and comfortable with a flip down front. I jumped up the first shot, boom, I folded. They just kind of crossed a fold of the back too, and then I got caught up in the dadgum grass, and missed the next two shots. First bird that Cooper brings in was a banded honker. I asked, just in case, I said, “Anybody else shoot the bird?” And they said, “No, we couldn’t shoot. It was all you.” I said, “Good.” So, I got this bird but I just know that the 2nd honker wasn’t banded, but I bet the 3rd one was. Those were molt migrators. I have not caught a banded yet, but I’m going to guess it came from North Dakota or Minnesota. Most likely one of those two states. They come up to Canada to molt. We talked about that previously, and that afternoon, after lunch, after dinner, Chris said, I’ve got a great duck hunt for you all. We’re going to hunt a little pothole, which you rarely hunt potholes, like on the water, and that’s where your gadwalls, and your teal, and wigeons, and things of that nature. Some of these little, small cat-tail line potholes, that’s where the little ducks hangout, and when we pulled up through, it was kind of situated in a canola field. The birds don’t utilize canola at all. Cut canola field. When we set up, the wind was blowing good, not too hard, but good, the front was coming and we pulled up. I’ll bet 2000 ducks got out of the hole. We pitched them decoys really quick, stuck Mojo. I parked the truck 100 yards away, and by the time I got back, those guys already had a half dozen birds on the water. Forty-five minutes, it took us to shoot our 6 limits of mostly gadwalls. Rocky, we made the gadwalls pay rent. I thought about the podcast we did a few weeks ago. Every night I get a gadwall act like a gadwall in Canada that day, but that day they did not. They came in, as good as any duck, like college kids and nickel draft, I mean, they just bombed right into the decoys, and we had the decoys right up against these trees that were in the hole, and they just come right up, crowded to it, and we stood up to shoot. They had nowhere to go but straight up and we just made them pay rent. We ran the ball, our ducks, all four – must have been five, the limit, we killed 40 ducks. Killed 40 ducks on the money. We were back at camp at 5:00 PM. The next morning, those gentlemen left, I had a cup of coffee, and I woke up and did not know this was coming, but it was snowing, and I mean was it snowing. Big, big old flakes. It was coming down and I kind of planned on just hitting the road, going on down to North Dakota. Over a cup of coffee, Chris said, we don’t leave? I said, I’d like to go hunt. He said, well, it would be just you, where do you want to go? I said, I’d like to go back where we hunted last night. I could just imagine, Rocky, that with that wind and all that snow falling, those birds didn’t want to fly in the snow. I could just see – decoys were still out – I could just see walking up to the spread and bouncing 500 ducks and them, rallying a couple of times, and me being done, and back for a second cup of coffee, and he said, that sounds like a good plan. So, off we go, and we pull up, 15 ducks on the whole spot. I don’t know where they were but they weren’t there. Got one green-wing teal, packed up, boom, drove in the snow. I got sideways on the road the snow was coming down so hard, I had to put it in 4-wheel drive. Of course, us Southerners maybe don’t know how to drive in that stuff anyway, but I did get sideways pretty good, scared me and I drove all the way down to the boarder. It snowed just about down to the North Dakota border, and then started warming up a little bit.
North Dakota Duck Hunting at its Finest
The next day, we use layout blinds, we pushed them back into some uncut soybeans, on the edge of a harvested wheat field, and shot 11 mallard limits, lickety-freaking-orange-split, and a few Canadas.
Rocky Leflore: Ramsey, what is it like for you to cross that border?
Ramsey Russell: It’s not bad. It’s really not a bad situation, and I usually cross down below Winnipeg. I can’t remember the name of that cross, and it’s a big crossing, and I don’t know why. I’ll plug in my truck GPS and I’ll plug in my phone GPS, and I’ll follow one or the other, and not paying attention, just following it to where it was telling me to go. It didn’t bring me through that border crossing because I was going down towards Jamestown, not towards Grand Forks or Fargo. Anyway, so I went to a real tiny, tiny crossing and it was very easy, you know. You have got to have your paperwork in order, if I bring dogs, and if they ask, you have got to have your health certificates, if they ask, you have got to have your gun paperwork, are you bringing any biologicals? Are you bringing any anything in? Are you bringing alcohol? Are you bringing them back, or are you doing this, doing that? Just basic questions, and if they want to, they’ll unpack you, and take a good look at everything. But I’ve not yet quite had that happened. Going into Ontario this year, they opened up things and took a look, they were most concerned about that puppy. They felt like I was bringing her to leave her. I mean, other than that, it’s not bad. It took 5 or 10 minutes to get through. I ended the journey hunting for three days with Dirty Bird Outfitters, there in North Dakota. I have hunted in North Dakota one time, and that was a couple of years ago, during their early Canada goose season, over near Devil’s Lake. This time we were hunting south of Devil’s Lake, during the regular season. I was there for the opener and I always wanted to do that. Always wanted to go to North Dakota to hunt, and it’s very similar to Canada, and I find myself just in the haze of too much time on the road. It’s very blurry, if you know what I’m saying. I mean it’s like endless crop fields, the same kind of crops. All the little towns – all the little dirt road towns, are having elevators and a railroad – live and die by the grain elevators and the railroads. The people talk funny, their accent sounds exactly alike to me. That’s funny for a Southerner to say they talk funny, but they do. The restaurants, they have got liver and onions on the restaurant menus in North Dakota, same as Canada, and I love liver and onions, so I’m in hog heaven there. So, I stopped and hunted with them, and we had a great time. We went out and the same type of hunt set up, we hunted near drinking ponds and feed areas. So we found an active feed that night, about 2000 ducks on it, and some geese, and we set up an A-frame blind. It’s crazy how you’ve got enough hedgerows, and bushes, and trees and stuff, scattered about on the field edges. You go in the middle of a film set up, a couple of A-frames, and really the more A-frames you set up, the better it looks. You grass it up, or it’s grass, t panels of grass but then you lay tree and willow cuttings on it so it looks like heads or something, and the ducks and geese just come right into it. And boy do we have a great time too. Rocky, obviously in Canada, the ducks are, “brown” compared to what we shoot down here but they don’t have a hen limit. So, you just shoot brown ducks and really and truly, if you just shoot random ducks, chances are, because there’s more drakes than – hens produce more drakes than hens – so you end up more hens. But in North Dakota, the ducks look the same, but there’s the two hen limit, and you’ve really got to pay attention and you can’t. You let the birds work, you let the birds work in close, and you look for the tell-tale signs of drake mallards, and that’s the ones you target. Now you shoot hens, of course, but you target – when you’re hunting in North Dakota, and places like that, and the birds are still in their molt plumage, their eclipse plumage, and you say, well I can shoot one more hen, he can shoot two more hens, whatever – you have to watch that flock, and shoot that drake. You can’t shoot that third hen mallard. So, it takes the sport to a little bit newer level. You step it up just a little bit, you have got to pay close attention, and hone your duck ID skills, and you do see some greenish heads. They have got green in them, but a lot of times your hatch, your ducks, don’t have green head at all. They’re brown and they have got those streaks on their breast, like a hen. But you’re just looking for the chest contrast. Sometimes they’re close enough. You really can – even if the very drab bill is not bright, you can see the bill well enough at 10 yards, 20 yards to say that’s a drake. And that was very fun. We had a spectacular duck hunt that first morning, so well played. There were 7 of us hunting and we were done so quickly. They had some friends elsewhere, that had shot some geese, but no ducks and they said, hey, you all come on over really quick, and so we unloaded. Well, we didn’t unload, because the geese came by, but we just sat down and drank coffee, and man, all the boys showed up with goose jerky, or pepper sticks, they call it. And we snacked and ate. Very quickly, those 3 guys got their limits. So, we finished that first day with 10 mallard limits, went out and found a feed for the next day. The next day, we use layout blinds, we pushed them back into some uncut soybeans, on the edge of a harvested wheat field, and shot 11 mallard limits, lickety-freaking-orange-split, and a few Canadas. The following day, which was the last day, I was up there in North Dakota, there were just 3 of us. It was a weekday now, and we hid a stand in the corn, but Nick and I found a really, really nice feed. I would say 400 or 500 Canadas, mostly big ones, and some ducks mixed in, and we showed up, we got there early. We didn’t have to set up blinds. So, we set up a nice spread and those boys up there and know how to shoot ducks, Rocky, but they are goose hunters. They live and die by Canada geese. They are goose hunters and I love it. That’s what I was there for. We hid up in the corner a little bit, you know, I expected the birds, the ducks especially to come just bombing in right off the bat. They did not, it was an hour. It was just a little bit of snow, it’s like it was misting, but it is frozen snow. Wasn’t accumulating, just snowing. I expected the ducks to hit the decoy real hard, right at daylight. They did not shoot in time. Nothing flew. An hour later, we hear some geese, and it became game on, it was game on. We had to work with it a little bit, but it was game on and we ended up shooting. The limit on Canada geese in North Dakota is 8, same as Canada, and we came up 2 short on limit when we called the hunt, and we got our duck limit. Mallards and pintails, and we shot 3 cacklers, and they were big ones, and those big ones would just – they’d get out there and they called and just – I love it when a big migrator Canada gets that bow in his neck, sets his wings, and starts to come right into the pocket. If some are going to land, let them land, they are on the ones behind them, that’s the one, right when those guys are sitting down, you call the shots. I wanted to jump up. If you still got shells left on you, they’re pretty easy to knock out, but it was a really, really great way to end the hunt. Now let me, let me tell you the story.
Rocky Leflore: Hold on.
Ramsey Russell: Go ahead.
Rocky Leflore: I want to ask you this. Couple of things, really quick. A couple of unusual things going on right now, as far as North Dakota and Canada. Number 1: it’s really cold. It’s moved a lot of birds already. Number 2: the farmers in Canada are way behind the harvest, correct?
How Does Early Snow and a Late Harvest Affect Waterfowl Hunting?
When you’re seeing bird migrations on radar, stuff is moving.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s correct. That’s what I was saying. Some of the interesting stuff going on. I just got wrapped around the axle, telling the story, but it’s very interesting what’s going on. Those cacklers that we saw in North Dakota, were 3 weeks early and with that snow, the snow we encountered in Saskatchewan, in Manitoba, is early. It’s like it went from fall to winter and skipped the typical Indian summer days. If you go to get gas, you go to the grocery store, you talk to somebody, at the restaurant, they’re like, we’re not supposed to have this yet. The last time we had weather like this, it was a brutal winter. There are still tons of crops sitting in the fields in parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and they’re getting all this precipitation, and they can’t traffic out and harvest those crops. Nick Marcyes, which is the head guide for Dirty Bird Outfitters, and Matthew Piehl, he’s got phone calls. The air traffic control called them last week, the day I showed up, that Friday, to tell them there were so many birds flying in towards North Dakota out of Canada that they were being picked up on air traffic control. When you’re seeing bird migrations on radar, stuff is moving. All the guys up north were starting to lose their birds. Peace Country still hadn’t got the crops out. They were camped up in Peace Country, Alberta. That shut camp early because they didn’t have birds, they were cancelling hunts, laid them off for next year. I heard of a camp today, well north of Battleford and Saskatchewan, that the crew they’ve got in now or next is the last crew they’re running. They’re laying off hunts because they’ve lost their birds. Down the Southern tier, like the Southern Third or whatever, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, they’re loaded. I’m hearing the reports of Brennan Hudson, and some are out better to tell us they haven’t ever seen speckled bellies stacked up like they are now. Liable birds are coming off the Arctic and staging. But there’s a lot going on, and it’s early, and it looks like it’s going to be very early winter, and that bodes well for the South. I mean, really? Who knows what it’s really going to do, it hasn’t warmed up to be 80° next week, we don’t know. But right now, it looks like winter is coming, and it’s really coming this year; that’s the way the Canadians’ drafting, like winter is coming. On the one hand, of all the snow geese we shot, we did not shoot many snow geese, relative to years past this year; I’d say 1% or 2% are juveniles. Of the speckled bellies we shot, I’d say no more than 1% to 2% are hatch year birds, and of the cacklers we shot, I saw very few hatch year birds. I don’t believe those Arctic goose populations did very well this year. That means, it’s going to be tough hunting out there hunting for snow geese and normal. But now, see on the other foot, if they don’t get a lot of those crops harvested in the Dakotas – North Dakota and in Canada – if they don’t cut a lot of that wheat and barley that’s still out there, and some of that corn is still standing, what’s it going to be like when those birds come back through in spring? Probably going to be some pretty big feeds going on, and big feeds, with that kind of food could produce some pretty spectacular hunts. It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be very interesting, and it was interesting to me – remember when I showed up to Ontario on September 4th, it was 92°? It was just like it was in Mississippi, and when I got over to Saskatchewan with Matt Schauer, it was moderate. It was seemingly moderate. Little rainy, little wet, but it wasn’t cold. By the time I finished up in Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and jumped back down to North Dakota, it was wintertime, it was cold. I was glad I brought those layers. I’m glad I brought those layers because I needed them. Old southern boy, I was glad I brought them and let me tell you something. Let me tell you a funny story, Rocky, you’ll appreciate this. You all will appreciate this. In a lot of your podcasts, you talk about duck dogs. Well, I’ve got a great duck dog, but she’s a Chicken Dog, okay? I call her Chicken Dog. When I tell stories, I say, wow, my Chicken Dog, Cooper. That’s how she got her name, Coop. Chicken Coop. Right? Cooped up in the duck blind. It’s her registered name because I had heard this story preceding getting her that she’s a Chicken Dog, that her daddy was a famous Chicken Dog, and I had her, I said, well, I can’t go wrong with that. But I’m coming to believe that this little yellow dog Coop, had a nose for bands. She picked up over 700 birds in the time we were up there hunting Canada. Only 3 days did she hunt by herself. The rest of times we had 2 or 3 retrievers going. So we had some good hunts. But she picked up over 700 birds in the time that I was hunting up there. Picked up 10 banded birds. I get down to North Dakota, and as many mallards and Canada geese is those guys shoot in a season, they kill very few bands. Some of these guys, born and raised right there, they shoot very, very few bands. And we were eating dinner one night and talking about it, I said, “Well, I’m going to be here for 3 days. I think that’s going to change.” Oh no, we aren’t going to shoot no bands. Well on day two, heck yeah, man, got a banded mallard. Some of those guys, born and raised right there had never been on a band kill, never been on one. Some of the guys that have been guiding and working up there for years, that was only the 2nd or 3rd band they’d ever harvested. We drew forward. I didn’t win it. That’s fine. I think the guy that won it was very, very deserving of it. But I can tell you this, old Chicken Dog got an invite back. There’s no doubt she got an invite back. They want her back. They said, “Yeah, come back, Ramsey, but don’t come back without that yellow dog. We want her to come back.” Made believers out of that, she can smell a band. She’s got some horse shoe or something going on with the band luck, which, that’s not the end all be all, but to a lot of people, it’s funny. I’ll tell you, this Chicken Dog, when I call her Chicken Dog, everybody wants to know, well what’s a Chicken Dog, and that’s the same question I asked, you know? Now, years ago, I had this Black Lab named Delta, great dog. It was the dog. You know, you always hear about that one dog, and she is so far that one dog in my lifetime. She was a Senator Charlie Moody trained. She was the sister to Jeff Anastasios’ Lacey from a repeat breeding. Well, Jeff and I have hunted together down in Texas. She was at 9 months old, 10 months old. She was just a really, really nice animal, and I asked him about it and he put me in touch with the guy who said, “Yeah, I’ve got another litter coming.” I bought one the following year. I got second pick on females, called her Delta, I just liked the name, but she was – gave her to Charlie Moody to train for about 6 months on, after Forrest pitched on, and she was Master National’s eligible at 16-months old. She was just a very trainable and very, very, very, very good dog. Died too young, died at 9 years old. I had since bought a puppy to replace her with, as she got older, that didn’t work out. This dog had a pedigree a mile long. It was just nuts. Just absolutely nuts. And I gave it back, “Yeah, I got a problem. It’s already on the truck, coming back. Just sell it to somebody, and let me get some money out of this dog, or something because this dog is not going to work out at all.” And Charlie called me up one day, he said, “Man, I heard about Delta dying. I know you’re looking for a dog and I know that little black dog you bought didn’t work out,” he said, “But I’m just going to tell you about this litter, and you do what you want. But I don’t think you can go wrong with this.” I said, “What is it, Charlie?” He said, “Well, a little girl’s over here that we train on her papa’s farm. He owns a poultry farm, and she’s in high school or maybe junior college at the time, I think high school, and one day while she’s gone to school, her granddaddy came by the shop and said, I need a puppy. I need a puppy now. So, I was like, man, all my puppies are field trial stock, you know.” Charlie got big, after he sold that dog to Michael RT, he got big in the field trial and all his puppies coming out of field trial stock, were destined for field trials. He said, “Oh, I’ve got a lot of money in these dogs, little puppies and stuff and you know, it’s just not what you want for a pet.” Man broke out a check and said, “Look, I just run over her dog accidentally. When she comes home from school, I’m going to give her a puppy. That’s how we’re going to make things better and move on.” So, he reached his kennel and pulled out a puppy, about 8 weeks old. He hadn’t trained it at all, and gave it to the guy, and Charlie was telling me this story, he said, “You know about 4 months later, of course, she’s out there helping him throwing birds and doing things on the farm, and they would train that little dog too.” He said, “I decided I want that dog back, and I offered her $3,000 for it, and she wouldn’t sell it.” No sir, I love my dog, I love my dog. He said, “Next time I saw about 5 months old, I offered about $4500, which is all I’m going to pay for that dog, and she wouldn’t take it,” and he said, “About 9 months to come along, and I had some good clients out there working with me, I told her to break that dog out, she calls it Hercules, I told her to get Hercules out of the pound, just running, and as he was running along Mark, one of my clients said, I’m going home with that dog.” Charlie said no you’re not. She’s not going to sell that dog. The gal 16, 17-year-old little girl, offered $9000 for a 9-month-old lab. She wouldn’t take it. Well, I heard all this, and he said, “Ramsey, the mom was a full blood lab, she doesn’t have any big field deal hunting style, or not like that in her head, she’ll fetch your duck, and I think the puppies will make a pretty good duck dog for you. It’s only $250.” I said, $250, how can I go wrong? I can give it away if it’s no good, right? Beats buying a $1,500, $2,000 dog that is no good. So, I called her up, I’m talking to her, she’s in Winston County and everybody listening knows, that Winston County, Mississippi is not the Duck Mecca of Mississippi. Hill country, piney woods, headwaters of the Pearl River, but not really duck country. But you know, a lot of people come out of the hills and go to the Delta and duck hunt, or go to Arkansas, that’s fine. So, she got this big high caliber dog, I just assume she’s a duck hunter. I called her up, I’m talking, saying, “Well, Hillary, how many ducks a year does that dog pitch?” She said, “Oh no, sir, Mr. Ramsey, old Hercules, he’s not a duck dog, he’s a chicken dog.” I said, “Well what’s a chicken dog?” And she goes, “Well, you know, we own poultry houses, we got five poultry houses, I don’t know if you know anything about a poultry house, but it’s a lot of chickens inside them and every night they die. Lot of chickens die every night. So, you have got to clean them, you have got to go get all dead chickens out, put them in the incinerator, and that’s my job. I clean out the poultry house before I go to school. Me and Hercules go in there, and he runs around all those live chickens and picks up dead ones. I lay a basket down, he comes up, drops the basket, goes back and fetches, and fetches. When he stops, and sits, and looks at me, there’s no more dead chickens in that house. So, I take him to the incinerator, go to the next house. So, with that done, I got to be a smart dog to do that. It may not fetch your duck, but I bet it could, if you wanted to, that could be a duck dog.” So, I agreed to buy a puppy. I’m a black dog man. Now, just don’t ask me why I love them. You know, once you go black, you never go back. We all know they’re talking about Labs. So, when I showed up on Christmas Eve, about 8 years ago to get my dog, she stepped out with this little marshmallow. I go, “What is this?” She goes, “That’s your puppy.” I said, “They’re not black.” I forgot to ask what color they were, I just assumed they were black. What kind of chicken dog would be yellow? But anyway, that’s my Chicken Dog story. Cooper is a bona fide Chicken Dog, but she’s a really, really soft sweetheart. She flies on planes, she sits down. She’s that dog you never know is in the blind, or in the world, until it’s game on, and then she’s on fire, and she has fetched a lot of ducks. In fact, she surpassed her 5000-career retrieve while we were in Canada this trip. She’s actually retrieved more ducks than Delta in her career, and this will probably be her last full season. She’s got some bad off-riders. She’s just getting long in the tooth. She’ll be 8 years old in November, and she’s developed some arthritis, and I keep her on Remodel, twice a day. Little painkiller that will help her forget that she’s hurt and she’ll run hard. But if you don’t put her on it, she’s uncomfortable enough that she she has become inactive off season. But that’s why I picked up that other little puppy. That’s her backup coming up, so, I think I’ve got a good one coming.
Rocky Leflore: Well, I think we found out the title of today’s episode. Chicken Dog.
Ramsey Russell: Chicken Dog.
Rocky Russell: There we go. Ramsey, it is good to have you back. Well, I can tell you the mainland – you’ve been on the mainland. It’s good to have you back in the US. Good to have you back in the state of Mississippi. Thanks for the update with what’s going on. I know you’re tired, man. I just appreciate you taking the time to be here today because I know you’re just worn out, and you got trillion things going on, but people are going to listen because they won’t know what’s going on up there.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you all, everybody needs to buckle the hatches for this duck season. I’m telling you, I’m excited. I’m cautiously excited for the upcoming duck season. Last year, we in Mississippi felt like we had enough cold fronts to get the ducks down. We didn’t have enough water to hold them and protect them. This year, we’ve had plenty of precipitation. The Delta ought to be in good shape, fingers crossed. I hope that what I saw develop in Canada and the Dakotas is a good sign of things to come. Could be a good duck season this year. It could be an extra good duck season in South. Fingers crossed, I hope I’m right.
Rocky Leflore: Fine, Ramsey, and well look, I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for being here. We want to thank all of you, that listen to this edition of The End of The Line Podcast, powered by DuckSouth.com.