In this edition of The End Of The Line podcast, I am joined by Ramsey Russell for another episode Life’s Short, Get Ducks podcast series episode. Ramsey and I visit on Azerbaijan duck hunting. Where in the heck is it? What in the world is there to attract ducks? And attract people to hunt those ducks there? What kind of ducks are they killing? What is the landscape? We finish by talk about history of that geographical area, how the world all started there.
Always on the Hunt – World Travel Woes
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of The Line podcast, I’m Rocky Leflore in the Duck South studios in Oxford, Mississippi. Joining me from almost halfway around the world, old Double R, Azerbaijan. How far is that exactly, as the crow flies from Brandon, Mississippi?
Ramsey Russell: We’ve got 3G Wi-Fi out there. In the blinds, in between volleys, I mapped it the other day. Maps on my iPhone said it was 6800 miles from Brandon. We’re good ways over here.
Rocky Leflore: Great minds think alike.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s a lick out here, man. But I’ll tell you, Jake is coming next week and we’re going to do a show that’ll probably be out on the internet year or so. Rocky, I’m going to tell you this: what an incredible trip. What an incredible week. I couldn’t even remember when I called you a little while ago if we did a podcast last week or the week before because I have gone from Mississippi time to Mountain time to – since mid-January I think I’ve been just rolling and going. You reminded me that I did do a podcast last week and you ought to hear about my week.
Rocky Leflore: I want to hear about it, let me ask you this. When you go halfway around the world like that, what is the recovery time for your body? What I’m saying is adjusting to that time. Once you land, how many days it takes for your body, maybe 12 hours difference, but it’s time to go to bed.
Ramsey Russell: No, I don’t know. Probably for me a week or so before you really get adjusted. Ambien helps. Take a little sleeping pill or a little melatonin as you need to and exercise, just get out and move around like you do when you’re duck hunt like we are. It is what it is, I don’t know. When you go halfway across the world like this Rocky, I don’t know that you do adjust because we get up in the morning bright eyed and bushy tailed at 3 o’clock in the morning here. We’re 9 hours into the future from Mississippi. We’re going pretty good but I tell you, we get back off the water about 01:32 PM, eat lunch, it’s pretty damn quiet around house because everybody’s snoring (except for the snoring). Everybody’s asleep once we skin a few birds and done some stuff, it’s naptime. Wake up about 7PM Azerbaijan time, we eat dinner. Just ate dinner about 9, had some nice smoked fish tonight. I don’t know, that’s a good question. I don’t know that you do get adjusted. When you move so much like I do look, Rocky it’s crazy. Probably getting too old to be stacking these trips back to back. I figured if I’ve got 48 hours, it gives me time to come home, wash clothes, and move on down the road. I was down in Mexico, we wrapped up with a nice trip there. Had a very nice season down in Mexico, and I was sitting at Hermosillo airport and started getting texts from my travel agent to Sheri Bassham at All World Travel. I hope you make your flight, I don’t know if you’re going to make your connection to Dallas, and yada-yada, your flight is late. That’s what I like about working with a pro like that is, she’s running ahead of the curve on me. You know what I’m saying? Long story short, I did miss my connection to going to Dallas and I’m supposed to get home at 10:30 on Friday night to leave and come to Azerbaijan on Sunday afternoon, and I miss that flight. So, I’m sitting there in the Phoenix Airport. Cheri says, “Oh it’s no problem, I can get you home by noon tomorrow.” I’m like, “Yeah that’s a problem.” I thought real quickly and said, “Can you get me to Memphis tonight?” She said, “Yes I can.” “So, what time does that flight get in?” She goes, “11:30.” I said, “Get me to Memphis and I’ll be sleeping on my pillow 3 hours later.” That was the plan and well guess what? That flight was late. So by the time I get to the car rental place, my car rental place been locked up for 30 minutes. I’m in Memphis, Tennessee, and Cooper and I just went and found us a bench and baggage. We conked out with our stuff and I was so tired. I just remember bits and pieces of waking up, I guess that’s the night they decided to power polish the floors in baggage.
Rocky Leflore: I would’ve come to pick you up. All you had to was call me.
Where in the World is Azerbaijan?
I got on my plane coming over here to Azerbaijan and the whole back of the jet was full of middle class sheikhs with their peregrine falcons.
Ramsey Russell: I’m probably all over social media: the sleeping guy with his dog in his lap at the Memphis airport. Anyway, so I got to the car rental place next morning, I was there when they open. They go boy you’re here bright and early, I said, yeah I’ve been here since 12:30. I was home and took a nap and went and eat some boiled crawfish. Got caught up, got packed. Rocky, it’s not the hunt, it’s the traveling to here man. It’s just that the traveling and the time zones and the grind. Like leaving Mississippi to come here, that’s 40 hours. I mean, you’re in travel status for about 40-41 hours and that’s a little bit of a grind. If you think about it, just being at that airport, that airplane. We flew Turkish Air over here. They had good rates and good connections as best it could be. I’ve never been through Istanbul, Turkey and don’t really want to go back through that airport. Last year I came over here through Doha, Qatar. And that was a trip. First off, you’re in the Arab Emirates, so it’s just really nice facilities. But the craziest thing is, I was going down one of the big long escalator sidewalks, the guy coming the other way, it was like a sheikh wearing a white suit and the red checkered head thing and he had a peregrine falcon on his arm.
Rocky Leflore: Skandor Akbar. Like mid-south wrestling.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah exactly. Exactly what he looked like. Well my host over here in Azerbaijan described him as a middle class Sheikh because he flew commercial. I got on my plane coming over here to Azerbaijan and the whole back of the jet was full of middle class sheikhs with their peregrine falcons. They were coming here to hunt with falcons. I don’t know what they’re hunting, some kind of upland bird. But it’s just a real interesting trip. Baku, which is the capital of Azerbaijan. First off, everybody says where’s Azerbaijan? I’m going to tell you this story.
Rocky Leflore: Exactly what I was going to get you to explain to the audience where Azerbaijan is.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I had to look it up on a map, but let me tell you how I got to Azerbaijan. How does the Mississippi duck hunter end up in Azerbaijan? For years we went to Russia and we do a Capercaillie hunt over there. Not much of a duck hunting culture, not much ducks in that place at that time anyway. But a lot of folks here there yonder over the years have talked about the Volga River. The Volga River, the Volga River delta that comes through Russia, because parts of Russia, are really kind of encompassing the Asian or Eurasian continent now. So, you’re picking up a lot of common species over here that are very uncommon elsewhere. I had had done a little research and leg work through some of the Russian associates about hunting the Volga River and it’s a migratory corridor, I learned, going to South Dakota. It’s all about timing when the migration comes through. The peak migration is mid-October. So, you spend all that money, you go all that far, even if you time it right, you’re shooting some pretty cool species in mid-October. I just kept thinking about it. One day it just occurred to me, well, where the heck does the Volga River go? Well, it flows into the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is, it’s freshwater. It’s a little brownish but it’s essentially freshwater. I looked at the Caspian Sea, okay, here’s where these birds are going. Remember the Maltan’s we talked about, I called them up, and they said, “Yeah we’ve been around Azerbaijan.” That’s kind of where it all started and was what led me down the path to come here. To be honest with you, I had to look it up on the map. Where the heck is Azerbaijan? Its north of Iran, its east of Turkey, it’s bordered by the Caspian Sea, and its south of Russia. It’s just a tiny little country that I knew virtually nothing about, it’s 94% Muslim. We’ll talk about going to Pakistan one day. You want to talk about Muslim, I’ll talk to you about Pakistan – it’s Muslim but it’s not. There’s women and children and they wear regular clothes, and the clients are drinking vodka that they buy at the grocery store. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries in this part of the world to extend voting rights to women back in 1918. That’s not really kind of a Muslim trait, you see what I’m saying? I think of them kind of like the backslide Methodists of the Muslim world. The coolest thing about where we’re at, we’re really about two hours from the Caspian Sea, but we’re hunting in agricultural land.
Rocky Leflore: What town are you close to two hours from? You’re two hours from Baku.
What’s Duck Hunting Like in Azerbaijan?
But they have got a duck hunting savvy and culture and history that stretches back before America was even invented.
Ramsey Russell: We’re two hours from Baku and we’re in a little town. Even if I looked at Southwest – we’re two hours Southwest of Baku. And Rocky, my roots are in the Mississippi Delta, I was born and raised in Greenville. Part of the family lived over in Greenwood, which is the cotton capital of the world. I grew up seeing all the signs the world cotton exchange was there, and right here coming into this little town, is big huge sign that crosses the whole road in the curve like the arch that we drive under every morning. We drive under two big cotton bowls and my host explained that they have two sources of wealth in Azerbaijan, one is oil. It is an oil country. It gained independence from Russia in 1991, it basically powered Russia through World War Two because of its oil reserves. The other source of great income is cotton. They produce a lot of cotton here and it’s just crazy to me, you have come 6800 miles from home to duck hunt and essentially are sitting in the Azerbaijani equivalent of Greenwood, Mississippi. It’s just a little farming town. It’s just built up around the farm and the farm implement stores. I didn’t see the John Deere store but it’s different. The thing that got me last year was, I realized we’re literally hunting – best I can tell through the interpretations and all is – the wetland we’re hunting is about 100,000-110,000 acres contiguous water body. It’s marsh, a lot of marsh grass, it’s just vast swamp. It functions a lot like an irrigation reservoir but we’re hunting 8 miles from the Iranian border. Look, I get phone calls and people like, is Mexico safe? Is Mazatlán okay? I live up here in Memphis, or I live here in Chicago, is that okay? Man, you start talking about hunting 8 miles from Iran. I grew up watching the news, I grew up hearing Jimmy Carter and Reagan and all that news. The thing that just shocked me about being here, Rocky, is these people don’t know or care. They love us. They absolutely love us and the people we’re hunting with out in the country, they’re just good simple poor country folks. They don’t watch CNN, they don’t know or care. They’re out there tending their cows and they’re sheep and their goats and their farming. This lake we’re hunting, one of the head guys here is a government administrator that’s over – I’d call him the area manager, the lake manager, kind of like WMA manager back home as best I can understand it. The lake is divided into concessions and this group, they are the duck hunters on this part of it. This group holds the concession, the duck hunting concession on the other. Rocky, they aren’t as sophisticated as we are. They don’t have the name brands of guns and clothing and everything else, I’ll tell you that in greater detail in a minute. But they have got a duck hunting savvy and culture and history that stretches back before America was even invented. Coming into town, like how you see boiled peanuts being sold on the side of Highway 49, they’re selling ducks. We get there at the lake in the morning and I hear shots. I’m talking pitch black dark morning and you hear shots. We’ve been pushed polling in for 35-40 minutes and you hear shots, boom, in all directions. They’re hunting and I mean these guys hunt. We’re leaving here on March 10th when the official season ends. I imagine duck season around here is going to end when the duck migrations moved on through, that’s just how they are. I asked somebody one time I said, “So they sell ducks?” He goes, “We’ve been selling ducks here for 2000 years.” What blows my mind is there’s no mud motors, we’ve got mechanical decoys over the last couple of years plus what they’ve gotten from Europe, a dozen or so Mojo. The decoys are – except the ones we brought last year and this year – are just cheapest, oldest, plastic, crunchiest, water riddled, hand painted a million times decoys you’ve ever seen. They don’t blow, they use electronic calls at times but the people we’re hunting with, those bird boys can’t afford stuff like that. So, the richer guys, the owners, the manager will, they’ve got the money for it. Let me tell you about yesterday morning. I came here last year and we hunted, had a great time, we loved it. I mean, I didn’t like it, I loved it. I really loved being out there and just a real fundamental hardcore hunt. I’ve told people that have called about this hunt, this hunt isn’t for everybody. This is an adventure hunt, this is an experienced hunt. Yes, there are some interesting species, but if you want a vacation hunt, call me. I got Mexico, I got Argentina. This is a real hunter’s hunt. This is a hunt play for keeps, shoot straight, shoot far because you’re hunting a very highly pressured animals. The fact that we’re decoying birds, it just blows my mind because these Azerbaijan has been out here hunting them in September. I mean hunting them morning and night, and every day in the same blinds, in the same setups in the same duck holes, and you fall off. We’ve been hunting and get to this part of the lake, we step off of this tiny little P-row and get everything squared away just right. Our guide stands up with a 10ft piece of bamboo and start to push pole us. We’re just going through a little rat maze of tall marsh grass and that trail opened up into a little opening. We’ll go into another little narrow trail and it’ll open up to another. Just countless openings and duck holes and they know just where they’re going. They know this property it’s unbelievable how many little trails wind through that. You come to a fork in the road, well forks in 5 different ways, and they know just where they’re going. So yesterday I get in the blind with this guy, had the same guy last year, I loved the deal last year. Boy, you can tell he’s a duck killer, he’s a real strong personality. It’s cold here, the weather like it feels like 37° in the morning and it’s windy and you’re on the water. This guy’s got on something like blue jeans and rubber waiters and a sweatshirt, a Walmart coat, that’s it. I’ve got on my clothes and I’m glad I do. All these guys are dressed like that at best. They don’t have duck calls, they call with their mouth and it sounds kind of funny sometimes but it works. We get out there to the blind and I see where the blind is going to be, where we’re going to kind of push the boat up into the reeds and get it wedged up in those reeds to stand. I think we ought to move decoys a little differently. I realized today the guy woke up, it was raining, instead of sleeping in he’s going duck hunting, he had to take somebody out. Sure he was in a bad mood, I could see that. We didn’t get along real good. I mean it wasn’t bad, it was just the guy’s just a real strong personality. It’s like he would touch me, poke me here, that’s a very humbling experience. I actually got explained to me yesterday morning, the concept of a shotgun pattern opening up and spreading at a distance. I actually got explained to me the concept in Azerbaijan, the concept of leading a duck. It was very difficult shooting yesterday because of the rain and the wind and everything else but I hung in there. Then this morning I had this discussion, I told my host, I said, I know the guy’s very skilled and knowledgeable and I’m humble enough to admit when I hunt with a market hunter I could probably stand to learn a thing or two about duck hunting. But I don’t need to be told all this stuff, I don’t. All he needs to do is be quiet and help me spot ducks. I would enjoy my hunt a little better if he did. This morning it’s like, I tell you, I hunted with the best duck guide I’ve ever met. He was quiet. The only thing he would say in the blind was “Ramsey” and I’d look at him and he’s either pointed ducks or he was wanting to tell me something in hand signals. We had a really good time this morning. Rocky, how did these guys hunt in the absence of all the modern day trappings of duck hunting? That’s probably how they hunted a 150 years ago. P-rows, battered up decoys, they scout, they know where they’re going, they don’t call, they don’t move. That man, he’s 54 years old and he’s got the eyesight of a 20-year-old because he’ll point and I don’t see the duck. I mean, I don’t even remotely see the duck, the duck is a mile away, but if he sees that duck, he goes into game mode because every duck he sees as a potential candidate for coming into the decoys. He crouches, he hides, he makes his calls if he’s going to make his calls or whatever he’s going to do, and it works. I don’t even know the untold thousands of birds these guys killed over the course of a year, let alone a lifetime. Now his boss, I say his boss is 70 years old, but it’s kind of hard to say. These guys smoke from daylight to dark, all day every day of their lives. Guy could be 65, he could be 90, I don’t know. He looks old as dirt and he’s a very interesting and very nice person. They’re very poor, simple but he’s a very nice person. We talked at the boat ramp with hand signals and everything else. These guys hunt pure and free. What I marvel at today is how they do the absolute basics of duck hunting, they stick to the bare bone fundamentals. We’ve talked about this and a lot of your guests have talked about duck hunting. So much of what we do in duck hunting is almost decorative or over the top. You get to places like this and you realize that what it really boils down to is the absolute bare bones fundamentals. Be quiet, be still, be hidden. It takes a little effort for him to get that P-row and us backed up with a push pole into the grass to where it’s locked and placed where when you stand up it’s solid in 3ft of water, but he’ll do it. We’ll get to that last little bit and I’ll start to stand up and like, no sit. He’s not going to leave 6 inches of the point of that boat sticking out of that grass, it’s going to be hidden and it’s going to be hidden perfectly every single time he backs in there. Shooting-wise, they may be the best shots. I haven’t seen this guy shoot but I bet he’s a good shot just because I watched the boss today. There were some upland birds as we were driving out and they got very excited. It was like a quail about a foot tall and he got a shotgun loaded up. That thing took off running like a barnyard chicken and he just patiently walked. When it flushed, I’d say it’s about a 40 yard shot, and it didn’t flush like a chicken from the roost. That son of a gun took off like he’d been shot from a cannon. That man folded it, BOOM, with a borrowed gun. It fell off in some real tall grass in a ditch and I realized the way they started looking for it, we weren’t going nowhere. So we all got in there trying to find that grouse or whatever it was. They were proud because it’s got good white meat and they love the ducks over here, man. They eat them as a part of their culture, as a part of the fabric. It’s such an amazing country to be over here with that kind of tradition and that kind of culture. They are the hardest hunting duck hunters and some of the best duck hunters I’ve ever met in the world. It’s incredible. We’re here a month later than we were last year. Last year, the volume was better. We were shooting in the high 20s maybe, sticking it out till 1 o’clock. And now we’re shooting 10’s, which is fine because it’s not a volume hunt. We’re here to shoot some kind of cool species, rare in the sense that they can only be found here in Eurasia and in this part of the world. Red crested pochard, tufted ducks, Eurasian wigeons. There’s not as many of us as there was last year, but we’re getting Eurasian wigeons, we’re shooting common shell ducks. The reason we came later this year is there is a little duck called a garganey about the blue-wing teal sized bird. Absolutely gorgeous. We didn’t see any last year at the first week of February. They explained to us that those birds migrate through very early and return, coming back very late. A lot of them go down to India and wait for the South. The way he described the migration pattern to me, it sounded a lot like our blue-winged teal back home. So we decided to come later. They had a weaker migration than last year. They explained that same as we did in the United States. The Northern Latitudes didn’t freeze until very late and the birds stuck it out further North up in Russia rather than come South. Although they did get some birds, we are seeing the garganey just like they said, the garganey are coming through. We’re shooting mallards, and gadwalls, and Eurasian green wings, Eurasian wigeons. We’ve shot all the species we shot last year but this year we’re shooting garganey, they’re coming through good. I’ve got some clients coming in next week, that’s the only reason that they’re coming – = to shoot this little garganey bird, this little garganey duck and they’re a cool little teal. One thing I realized today, it was 12:30 PM, I was getting a little hungry. I kind of indicated to him, hey, I want to go to the boat ramp and the guy was just, okay, but we can wait. I mean they have patience. That’s one habit they have that I find myself lacking in a lot of times, maybe see a lot of in younger people. I also see a little bit of temperament maybe on social media. I think we modern hunters, contemporary hunters, we lack patience. Sometimes the ducks don’t fly until later. Sometimes it’s worth the wait because that next bird, maybe that garganey or that red crested pochard that you traveled halfway across the world to shoot, why not wait a couple of more hours since you’re here. It’s the most beautiful wetland I’ve ever been in, Rocky. It’s one of the duckiest places I’ve ever seen. It’s just tall marsh grass, just all these potholes and trails and there’s some open water and there’s food, it’s an incredible resource.
Rocky Leflore: I saw a video, I guess of you all push poling in and it is and then some pictures after the hunt that’s pretty cool looking place.
How do Duck Hunters Around the World Hunt?
…the great thing about duck hunting is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I mean, you can learn something from practically everybody.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I really enjoyed this hunt. I’ve said this before, I love the duck hunt but the older I get it, it’s really transitioned more to a collector of experience, it’s more an observer of the process. Hunting with a guy that as far as I know, his only skill set is duck hunting, that’s all he’s done and maybe his whole life. His great uncle, the old man who has probably been duck hunting since he was a boy. These guys are duck hunters and the greatest I’ve ever seen. They’re patient and they’re hard working and they live in that land and it’s just utterly amazing. I’ll tell you something funny, my guide yesterday – what was explained to me about being kind of humbled by his personality – yesterday’s very instructional personality. What was explained to me was we’re the only American clients these people have ever seen. They’re used to taking people from Kuwait that are really just here to vacation and maybe go shoot a few ducks, or from Arab Emirates, which really aren’t shot gunners. A few Italians, but mostly Kuwaiti-type stuff and what my host would explain to me, he goes, “Ramsey, he didn’t realize you all are duck hunters. Just last week he had some Kuwaitis that maybe have never shot a shotgun in their life. And so maybe he was just a little raw from that experience.” Last year we were here and leading up to our initial visit last year, I had a lot of discussions, a lot of discussions online and everything on email with better preparation of the trip. He kept talking about the professional Italian hunters, and the professional French hunters, and that’s just the word they use ‘professional’ for good. Until we showed up (and this hunt doesn’t attract sports). It doesn’t attract recreational observers. I mean, the hunters that are coming here are duck hunters, real duck hunters with a good sense back home. So we showed up, we hunted hard, we shot well, and we brought decoy, we brought our calls, mallards work over here just like they do back home. We brought our calls and we brought our game. One of the greatest compliments I have ever received, it wasn’t directed at me, it was directed to us as a team. Elgin is the head guide’s name, he’s the lake manager, and he came by the house like he comes by every night at dinner time just to visit. Very nice guy. He told us, he said, “I’ve had Italians and I’ve had French and we Azerbaijanis are very good duck hunters. If all Americans duck hunt like you all do, you are the greatest duck hunting country on Earth. We’ve never had this professional team in our town as you all.” And he kept calling professionals because just because of the way we hunted. That was a very big compliment. One of the boys I hunted with today, with our guides, acted similarly. We’re kind of hunting in the same little part of the marsh and we talked about it on the way back. Yesterday this guy was kind of rude, kind of insulting, you want to call it kind of humbling. But this morning, extremely professional and once he just kind of got quiet, we sit down and he did his part, let me do my part. Heck Rocky, it worked good. We did very well and we knocked down, I knocked down one duck today, shovelers. They were coming up the bank kind of into the wind, and for whatever reason they cut out across the duck call. I realized there was no calling them in or back, they were gone. So, I grabbed one on the back and picked out a drake and shot him, and he fell out there about 75 yards. Ramis, is his name, he looked at the duck, looked at me, and he gave me a thumbs up. We got along just fine the rest of the day and we had a good time today. I’m looking forward to hunting with him tomorrow. I find the older I get, the more I get the process of it all. How do different people hunt around the world, why they hunt, and just the whole how part of it? I think we’re all experts but we really aren’t. If a guy can just humble himself – no matter how much you’ve done or how much you’ve seen, or how good a caller you are, how good a shot or how good a hunter, or where you hunt – if you can just observe a little bit, the great thing about duck hunting is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I mean, you can learn something from practically everybody. Especially when you start getting around guys like this, boy, they’ll open up your eyes and teach you something about patience. I’ll say this to the day I die, all duck hunting, it’s not the art and science, it really goes back to the fundamentals. Just absolutely set your decoys well, set your decoys where the ducks want to be, and play the game. Be hidden, not halfway hidden, not comfortable, be hidden. Don’t play for keeps, treat every duck you see like a potential candidate, play the game. When it comes down to it, they’re not all going to be 10 yards on the deck with their feet touching the water. They’re just not going to be that way. Maybe mallards in certain situations, but that’s not going to be it. If you’re going to shoot ducks, sometimes you guys just make the shot, you got to pull a rabbit out of hat and make it happen. That’s what intrigues me. The first time I saw a red crested pochard last year, this is what I get, we start putting the pieces of the world together. The red crested pochard, every time I post that picture on the internet, it blows up on Instagram. It’s just because it’s a striking bird. It’s a kind of a black body, the drake got kind of a black body and a tennis ball shaped head that is the color of orange, and a Revlon lipstick red beak. Very striking bird. It’s one of my unicorn species. Don’t ask. I read too many bird books or something. It’s just one of those species, them bar-headed goose, I want to scratch off my list. We came here, we heard they were here, we were hunting and I shot some green wings and shot some wigeons and shot some different birds. Out of nowhere, I heard, the air was just ripping like paper, divers. Those birds came right over about 70, 80 yards and the minute I saw them, I couldn’t see the orange because of the lighting, but I knew what they were and I grabbed my call. Just like a rosy bill, just like a pochard, just like a scaup, just like a tufted duck, just like any diver you’re going to growl at. What struck me is at a glance, the first thing I saw was this black body with these white wing stripes going down, it just like a rosy billed pochard. That’s the first thing my mind saw was rosy billed pochard and without thinking, I grabbed my call and started growling into it like I would a rosy bill. Those sons of guns turned on a dime and came right low over the decoys, close enough that I could start shooting the black ones. For the next week, Adil my bird boy, he wouldn’t say whatever the name was in Azerbaijani for a crested pochard. He started growling, telling me to grab that call and start calling. And that’s the process – my clients, they like species. I like species, but I like where those species take me in a process of just duck hunting. Not just duck hunting mallards or just duck hunting wood ducks which trust you me, I love mallards and wood ducks, but just this process is pure big global truth of duck hunting. That’s what just Rocky, I can’t articulate no better than that. That’s what leads a guy from Mississippi 6800 miles away to Azerbaijan. And it’s an incredible country.
Rocky Leflore: Let me ask you this. We’ve spent some time with where it is the ducks that you’re killing but I got to ask you this, if you went to any college, you had to take Western Civ pretty much required for anything if you were at school, I guess late 80s. If you remember what you learned in your history books, gosh man. I talked to you about this last week, off the air, that’s where the world began. All the history in that little circumference out to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, man, everything.
Ramsey Russell: Egypt, Northern Asia right here. Yes, right here.
Rocky Leflore: Right around there.
The Universal Truth of Duck Hunting
The universal truth of duck hunting is people are people, and duck hunters are duck hunters, and I’ll never get tired of experiencing new duck hunters around the world.
Ramsey Russell: Man, traveling, flying’ll wear you out. Man it wears me out and I’m getting up to my story here. Look, travel just wears me out and what I find myself doing these long flights is, I watch some shows. If there’s no good shows, I’ll watch foreign flicks. If I’m going to Azerbaijan or some foreign country, I’ll try to pick some movies – try to find an interesting movie that’s kind of interesting, watching a comedy from a foreign country just trying to get their deal. Then I’ll take a little sleep and I’ll sleep for four hours. When I’m up and where I find myself nerding out a lot, is a lot of these planes now have these interactive maps. You’re flying, you’re watching your jet trajectory going over these countries and I start zooming in and put it on map mode. That’s where I find myself taking pictures of the screen for somewhere I might need to look at one day, like the Amur River. One day, I started just really exploring and flying over Egypt and flying over the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Where I learned a lot of Western Civ, I probably took that course and showed up half the time, I don’t know, because I don’t remember a lot of it. When I was in grad school at Mississippi State, working for John Hodges there in the hardwood department on the hardwood research project. We had a grad student and I was kind of in charge of facilitating their programs, keeping them going. He had the largest graduate program in forestry and a lot of the students were from this part of the world. One of the students named Chetan, he’s from Turkey, I met him during the O. J. Simpson trial and that was a pretty good conversation fodder for us to get to know each other. He taught me a lot about the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire and politics. I remember, after 9/11 not really understanding what was going on. Why would somebody do something like that? There was a fracas up at Mississippi State University because the whole world was talking about it the day after, that’s all anybody was talking about. There was a conversation in Engineering Alley, in one of those math classes or something, there at Mississippi State University. Somebody from the Middle East – I heard this all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th hand – he may have said, “You deserve that.” He kind of shrugged and said, “Well, given America’s socio-economic policy abroad it’s bound to happen sooner or later.” He got a death broke over his head. A lot of the Muslim community went underground for months, they disappeared. I called to check on my friend Chetan who I knew was Muslim but he wasn’t that kind of Muslim. He didn’t get up, lay out a rug, and pray to the East every morning and all that kind of stuff. But he observed a lot of things that he told me over the years as we visited. How he practiced, how just little things, little differences he observed in America versus Turkey. Besides the way he respected his father, the way he never looked his father in the eye, but because it was a sign of disrespect, or the way he and his wife were. She a beautiful woman and a great cook, boy, she cooked good. It was just real subtle differences. I actually called Chetan after 9/11 to check on him. It took a while because the only phone he had was there in the lab and he was underground. Let me tell you what guys, I had written a 2000-line algorithm in SAS for my own graduate research and it wasn’t running. I had spent a week with that printed out algorithm, trying to figure out why this thing wasn’t running. I could write SAS code back then and I couldn’t figure out what it was. The time was clicking, I had to go and I couldn’t make this freaking thing run. Chetan come in, called one day, and said let me take it home and look at it. He brought back the next day and he said, ‘You missed a comma.” Two thousand lines of code, and I missed a comma, and he found it. I never would have found that Rocky. I never in a million years would have found that comma and he found it. Just found it overnight reading it. So I called him up and he finally called me back and we talked. I said, “Chetan I don’t understand because you’re Muslim and I’m Methodist and we get along just fine.” He was one of my favorite duck hunting buddies back in college, Rocky, because I loaned him a pair of waders, I loaned him a shotgun. He bought a license, he bought a stamp, he showed up on time. He was always the first one at the house, always, and he brought good coffee. His wife cooked really good blind food for us. When all my buddies had classes and things to do after the hunt, yada-yada, Chetan sat right there on the porch and we plucked ducks on the house. His wife would just turn them into masterpieces. So I said, “Chetan we get along great, explain to me what’s going on.” In very simple terms, he explained – boy Rocky, I’m terrible with names – but it all goes back to the Bible and he pointed to the one – who was it Rocky, whose wife Sarah could not conceive? He had a son with the concubine, and then later God granted Sarah the ability to bear children and he had another son?
Rocky Leflore: Abraham.
Ramsey Russell: Abraham. He went right back to the story of Abraham, I want to say the name, but I didn’t want to be wrong. He went right to that story. He said, “Ramsey when that deception happened, those two brothers became Zionism and Islam, that’s where it parted. There will never be reconciliation. It’s right there in your Bible. The two will never reconcile.” And he says, “The reason you and I are friends, Ramsey is because I’m just a regular Muslim, like many of your friends” because I had friends then that were in the graduate program that were from Pakistan and other places. They were different people but they were good people. They came over here and got an education, we got along. He said, “In every religion including ours, there’s radicals and these are Zionists. They’re radicals. They do not represent us. They represent their beliefs and they’re very zealous.” It really took my friend Chetan from Turkey to explain that to me in layman terms. God, I didn’t understand, I was a grown man. Heck, I was married, and Forrest was born but I didn’t understand what was going on and why! I would never dreamed in a million years and go flying a plane into a building over in another country. I couldn’t understand. But it all started right here in this hub, not in Azerbaijan, but I would describe these people as Persians. I know in the city of Baku, which is a beautiful city which has the most beautiful airport in the world because of that oil money. It’s a beautiful city and it’s right on the Caspian Sea, and the whole town just wraps around the Caspian Sea. It’s got a beautiful boardwalk, incredible gardening, and architecture, and then you get down to the old part of town. The inner downtown, I just imagine the walls of Jericho because it’s like this adobe wall and it’s an old fort wall. There’s a tower and it’s like 12 or 15 some, 100 some odd years old and you walk through those walls into that part of the town. It’s those old cobblestones that were laid back then and it’s kind of like a Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure because all the little vendors on the side of the sidewalks are selling Aladdin lamps, and prayer rugs, and things like that. It’s like stepping back in time but then you step back out into the city and there’s all these concrete highway barriers wrapped around roads, there’s bleachers on the sides of the roads and you say, what is that? That’s where Formula 1 comes in and races, they got a tenure contract in the city of Baku. Look man, if Formula 1 is racing in your downtown, you’re somebody. It’s just insane and I love it. I tell you what, I get as much out of all that as I do. Last year we had a few hours to kill before we went to the airport. The flights are so late, what we do is we go to the hotel, take a nap and then go to the airport. Flights don’t leave out until about 2 or 3 in the morning. We went to a Persian rug museum and I’m like, “Oh boy, this is going to suck.” And it really didn’t, it was kind of amazing to read. I don’t know what you know about Persian rugs but I mean there’s a million strands of thread running through those looms. Some little girl learned to do it, her mama taught her, her great grand mama taught her, it’s handed down like family tradition. They spend years weaving these very intricate details and pictures, and a lot of them are the story of their family. It’s really a big deal on the wedding day – the wedding rug that the family had spent years making for this young lady to hang on her wall or put it on a special floor or something like that. I spent an hour in there looking and I thought it was kind of cool. It tells you a lot about the people, just learning about their culture. I thought it was kind of interesting and I walked into a – when Jake comes in town, we’re going to stop at this hunting store. Buddy, let me tell you, you ain’t never seen a hunting store like this. I mean, I had never seen a hunting store like this, it was incredible. These people have got a profound hunting culture. So anyway, it’s been a heck of a trip, we’re right here where it all started. Last thing I was going to tell you talking about the cradle of civilization, where it all started. Chetan, my good friend Chetan, we talked on the phone until he left and returned to Turkey. I met him when he was a graduate student at Mississippi State University, got his PhD, and actually became a professor at Mississippi State University, and then came back to his homeland. Very smart guy and very successful. The last time I saw him, I had just written him an email after duck season. I was living in Brandon and said something to the effect of hey, if you need any ducks, give me a shout, because I’ve got plenty after the season. I didn’t say well if you need some ducks come knock on my door in 2.5 hours, but 2.5 hours later I was eating supper he knocked on the door. “Hey,” he said, “I’m here for the ducks.” “I said really? I just wrote you an email 2.5 hours ago.” But anyway, Chetan got those ducks and he had a proposal. He said, “Ramsey, I want to take you duck hunting. I want to take you duck hunting in Turkey.” I’ve since learned foreign nationals can’t hunt in Turkey. We would have. I was young and I wasn’t involved with all the stuff I’m involved with now. I probably would have, not knowing any better. He had set it up to where we were going to hunt with some government friends of his down in southwest Turkey and we were going to hunt at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There was one condition. He said, “If you will come to Turkey, I will take you duck hunting for 2 or 3 days, all you have to do is buy your plane ticket.” That’s about $600 at the time. He said, “I’ll take care of everything else. But I want you to come for one week, 7 full days because I want to show you my country.” My understanding is a lot of cool stuff is there in Turkey and he wanted to show me his country, and I wanted to see it. In the headlines at the time was David Pearl. If you remember him, they reported that a Jihadist cut his head off on YouTube. This hunt was to take place about 250 miles from Syria, that’s where that event happened. “Chetan, I don’t know buddy, I want to go shoot a duck, trust you me, I sure want to shoot a duck in the river system that Moses got floated down in a little reed basket. But I don’t know.” He shook his head and he said, “Ramsey it’s not like that, not where we’re going to be, not with who we’re going to be with, I promise you it’s just not like that. They’re real people like me like you, I want to show you my country.” So we set it up, he said, okay, we’re going to go. We picked a date, we’re going to do this next year. The year was 2010, we’re going to do this, next November we’re going to do this. I’m going to fly to Turkey, take a week off from government, to include weekends it will be 9 full days off and I’m going to hunt Turkey on the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates River. Two months, three months preceding that trip, they flew those planes into the trade center. Chetan’s wife, who was pregnant at the time, Bianca had actually gone home, and Chetan was unable to even go back home from the United States after that event. He could not even go home. He did not see his daughter until she was two years old. She had been born and was two years old when he made it back home. So, that that trip got side-railed over all that mess. That’s something I really would have liked to have done, and I still would like to go into that part of the world and hunt if it’s ever safe to do so. But over here it is safe. These people are just friendly and it’s nice. They were glad to meet us, and see us, and hear our stories. Remember I told you, Rocky one time, and I found this to be the truth this morning again in the boat, Ramis got quiet. It’s kind of got slow there for a while and wasn’t particularly fast hunt anyway, I was trying to pass on some birds. Really I was looking for those garganeys but we have some time on the boat. I broke out my cellphone started showing pictures and he got to see my family, and my home, and my ducks, and my camp, and my way. And it clicked, it just absolutely clicked. I see that time and time again, we don’t have to speak the same language, we get along. Man, just duck hunting, hand signals and grunts and moans, and funny sounds, that I can say duck, he can say whatever duck is in Azerbaijani, we just get along fine. We know what each other saying. Boy, when you connect with those pictures, it just brings it all home and they’re just people. The universal truth of duck hunting is people are people, and duck hunters are duck hunters, and I’ll never get tired of experiencing new duck hunters around the world. It’s one of the greatest rewards in my life. It’s really and truly what I really get into and enjoy the most about this. It’s really what I hope that working with Jake on telling this story that we can really convey to everybody. Just show people what it’s like. It’s really not a big scary world Rocky, there’s some bad people everywhere. There are bad people 15 minutes from where I lay my head every night when I’m at home. It really is a wonderful world of just good people and good duck hunters. Hey, if you don’t mind being yelled at because he thinks you’re a Lebanese duck hunter every now and again, it turned out you learned something from him, if you could just humble up and do it.
Rocky Leflore: I thought it was kind of interesting you brought up the Isaac and Ishmael, I tell that people all the time. God told Isaac in the Bible that the descendants would be a thorn in the side of Isaac’s descendants. That’s true. Abraham didn’t wait on God’s promise. Well who would sit around and wait? I mean your wife 90 years old. I mean you to go biblical, you decided to go have one with your young, good looking concubine, and it turns the world upside down. It’s kind of odd that you knew that.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well, and it all goes back to being in this part of the world. I was sitting in Turkey the other day – I had a 6 hour layover in Atlanta and then a long flight, and a 6 hour layover in Istanbul. It just wasn’t a long enough layover to leave the Istanbul airport. I had an 8 hour layover in Paris last year and I got off that plane. I walked straight to the exit gate, walked straight to taxi cab, jumped in the back seat of a taxi, went, “Hey, drop me off down by the Eiffel Tower.” I said, “Look man, I am kind of rushing it, you know. How much is that fare?” I don’t remember what it was, 20 bucks. I said, “There’s $50. You’re back here at 2 o’clock, I’ll give it to you.” Let me tell you what, 1:55 PM, that taxicab driver come in on two wheels skidding. I made my flight. So I got to go see downtown Paris for a little bit instead of sitting in the airport. I didn’t have time to do that in Istanbul. While I was there I had never been able to find Chetan. I’d been looking, I call myself looking on Facebook, and I’m not the savviest Facebook browser there is. I never could find him. By God, I found his wife and I reached out to her the other day, and hope to hear back from them and touch base with them. Rocky, you ever moved? God, I hate moving. Moving houses is terrible and especially when you get older and got a bunch of stuff. My wife and I got married, and got started when I worked there at the University for 3 years and then we were moving to Grenada. I went to with work with Fish and Wildlife, backed up a U-Haul. Let me tell you what, you find out who your friends are when it’s time to move. Old Chetan and his wife showed up to help us move. We got down to just the absolute last handful of stuff, all the back seats were full, all the front seats were full, all the trunks were full, the back of the U-Haul was full, and we still had just handful of stuff. One of the things I had was a bobcat I had shot in Alabama when I was a teenager, and I like it, it’s fine. But the taxidermist that have mounted it, it always threw me off because one eye had a round pupil, and one eye had an elliptical pupil like a cat, so it always looked kind of funny. I gave that bobcat to Chetan and last I heard he still had it. I’d love to touch base with him and see if that bobcat ever made it over there to Turkey. I gave him the first big whitetail buck I ever shot. It wasn’t big by today’s standards but it was a big old 8 point, about 125 inches. I got the last two things, I didn’t have nowhere to fit it. It just wouldn’t fit and I gave both to him, and he was proud as he could be of it. He’d always wanted it. I’m just dying to know if I can reach out and touch base with him. If he still got it.
Rocky Leflore: Well Ramsey, I’m going to let you get to bed. I know it’s late there. I appreciate you coming on and spending some time with us today. Thank you again. We want to thank all of you that listened to this edition of The End of The Line podcast, powered by ducksouth.com.