In this edition of The End of The Line podcast, I am joined by Ramsey Russell. Today, we talk about the Blood Origins episode entitled “Uncharted Waters.” What makes this episode so unique? What makes it so good? We debate what some may be missing in their short-term thinking of why waterfowling is changing. Ramsey may have a different take than most. I guess you will find out when you listen.
It Really Is Duck Season Somewhere!
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of the Line Podcast, I’m Rocky Leflore sitting in the Duck South Studios in Oxford, Mississippi. Of course, you know it’s Thursday Double R, Ramsey, how are you?
Ramsey Russell: Man, if I was any better I’d be sitting in a duck blind. Then again, I’ve been in a lot of duck blinds since January. Maybe I wouldn’t, maybe I’d be sitting on the beach somewhere drinking a Mai tai and watching the waves come in. But I’m good Rocky, I’m enjoying the spring weather in Mississippi and I’m really enjoying not being in an airplane or a duck camp or something right now. Being home, my family and everything is good. I’m happy to be here.
Rocky Leflore: Duck season somewhere. Where would it be duck season right now?
Ramsey Russell: Where is it duck season? Snow goose season’s going on. Its duck season in Southern Australia right now, in the Southern Australian provinces, it’s duck season. Here in about a month it opens up in New Zealand, here in mid-April it opens in South America. So yeah, its duck season somewhere.
Rocky Leflore: I love that saying from Getducks, it’s duck season somewhere, it always is.
Praises for Uncharted Waters – Getting the Hunting Message Out
Bring that message and bring that positivity and bring it in a way that transcends gender and ages and biases. Put that message out there and I promise you, it’ll come back on you.
Ramsey Russell: Man, it always is. Yeah, I’ll never forget it dawning on me one time I was bent over going to work. I basically worked for the federal government and I really did not like that job but I would just work like everybody else. I remember one morning just lacing up my shoes to leave to go to work, and I remember thinking it’s duck season somewhere today, right now. It’s a big world out there still Rocky and there’s duck season somewhere, Southern Hemisphere, Northern Hemisphere. Look, I’m home until mid to late May, I may have to go to Russia, mid-May, host a capercaillie hunt but after that I’m home until the last week of May and then it gets busy again. I’ll be home a little bit in June and looks like I’m going to be down in Argentina chasing around for a long time again. It’s crowded, my show schedule – it’s late right now so I’m probably going to leave Argentina. Fly straight to Houston, meet Forrest who will bring the booth over, and we’ll set up a booth and do a couple of shows there in Houston and Dallas. But right now I’m good, the phones are ringing, business is good. It’s one of those little lulls in our business. Mexico is over with, Azerbaijan is over with, right this very minute we have no clients in travel status between selling hunts from Mexico, which is red hot right now and last-minute Argentina goers, which is still steady. It’s just phone calls from clients, getting ready for their upcoming trips and Argentina this year is going to be a doozy, just trust me it’s going to be epic. Last year was dry in a lot of areas and wetlands need that dry period to oxidize soils and get vegetation growth and now it’s wet. The reports we’re hearing from our operators are nothing short of epic, just as good as it’s ever been. So, we’re really fired up about that and that’s where I’m at. Hey, change of subject. I saw something on the internet last night that – Rocky it’s just absolutely one of the very best things I’ve seen on the internet in a long time. I mean, really and truly, and I remember the executive producer of Blood Origins came to Willow Break and we filmed, I remember him telling me about this story and I’ve been waiting to see it. Yesterday was the launch of a Blood Origins episode they entirely called “Uncharted Waters” and it was different. It involved 3 young ladies I know, Ashton Stockwell, Cara Harper, Kim Rogers and it was so good. If you haven’t seen it – -if you’ve got a child, if you’ve got friends, if you’ve got dead in-laws even thinking about duck hunting, please show them that episode. Rocky you asked me a while back and I remember I was in Mexico, you asked me about how people can get into this industry. Well, it ain’t for everybody, but if you want to get into the hunting industry, do what these 3 young ladies just did. Tell a story, bring something of that value to the listeners. What got me is I’ve met these ladies, I know them, I hunted with Cara. Forrest and I both got to hunt with her with Prairie Rock Outfitters in Nebraska this year. She’s on the staff up there and I hope they’re not listening wrong, I hope you don’t take me wrong, what I’m about to say. They aren’t girls that just decided to go hunt like we all see in social media. These are hunters. All 3 of them are hunters. They’re successful, successful in business, they’re successful in life, they’re successful in brand building and you put a duck call in their hands when they climb into a duck blind, they’re duck hunters. That was the message that so resonated with me when I watched the first time, the second time, the third time. This video “Uncharted Waters,” it just absolutely resonated with me that they were not speaking from any perspective of gender, they were speaking as duck hunters. Their message is very profound and they accomplished it, to me, as ambassadors for hunting. The message I heard them say, they said in a way that a guy like me will never be able to say. I don’t think you’d be able to say it Rocky. I don’t think Bill or Bradley or Pat, I don’t think any of us will be able to say this in a way that they communicated the message. How inviting it was, I wanted to share it with every child I knew, I wanted to share it with my own daughter, with my wife, I wanted them to hear this message. Allison Cruz was on the podcast back in September and she had a very, very good message, speaking from her perspective. I haven’t seen that in a long time and I would encourage everybody to watch it because it hit the nails square on the head of the message that is incumbent on all of us hunters to be speaking right now. I’m so sick of the drama online, so sick of it. Corn, timber out of state, blah-blah, a bunch of dang internet hunters, just bickering and culling the ranks, along come 3 real hunters. They just have this inviting message, it invites everybody into the fold, every child, every man, every person. I think it resonates with every listener what they said, and it’s such a strong message. I think, it’s what we all ought to be doing. If you’re one of those people out there, you want to get a toehold you think in the outdoor industry, I think you’re going to be disappointed when you wake up and realize it’s just a job. But there you go right there, that’s it right there. Look at that video and communicate to people that message. Bring that message and bring that positivity and bring it in a way that transcends gender and ages and biases. Put that message out there and I promise you, it’ll come back on you. You’ll be where you want to be soon enough. I applaud them Rocky. There’s just so much cynicism on the internet and all of a sudden I click on this video and see that? Wow, I’m blown away. I applaud them all man, they are such good people, all of them are just very good people and have done very well with it. They communicated in a way I could never communicate that message. I love America for this sport.
The Forces Behind Uncharted Waters
Gosh, it’s just so positive that these are the kind of people that are representing the future of hunting.
Rocky Leflore: I don’t know Cara.
Ramsey Russell: I got to hear Cara’s story in a duck blind in Nebraska. Cara is from Arkansas and where as I took my two little boys, Forrest and Duncan, duck hunting when they were babies. She went with her daddy, she grew up duck hunting and just like we all did. And of course I’ve known Ashton’s fiancée TJ Mallette. I’ve known him since he was in 9th or 10th grade back in the old MS duck days – I’ll never will forget one time we had a little group gathering at a pizza joint in Jackson and TJ and his daddy showed up, we all thought his daddy had a power personality. It was TJ and, man, he used to come to all the gatherings we had, we duck hunted together, I’ve known him since he was a young man and now he’s a very successful duck guide in Canada and also Arkansas. I’ve never hunted with their operation yet, I’d love to, especially the Arkansas Flooded Timber, which I’ve heard is excellent from what I’ve heard from a lot of friends and a lot of mutual friends that know each other, and some of my own clients that have hunted with them. Ashton is as instrumental to their core mission with what they’re doing as my wife, Anita, is with Getducks. Folks, I’m going to tell you right now, Getducks business would not exist without Anita. She is truly the brains of the operation and brings a lot of the good stuff, the important stuff to the table. I’ve just heard that they have that kind of partnership. They’re real hunters. You know what I’m saying? Ashton is a real hunter.
Rocky Leflore: Ashton probably beats TJ out of bed some mornings. Dude, she’s a freaking killer, she loves it.
Ramsey Russell: I bet she does. She is. That’s good. I just get to keep up with them in social media, but I hunted with Cara and her husband Grant and they are both fine people, good people. They’re young, she’s probably the youngest of the 3 of those ladies that were on “Uncharted Waters” but just a really nice girl. She has got her feet up under her really good in this industry. What gets me is – we’ve talked about this in the past, I’ve heard it talked about in another podcasts and in duck blinds, and everywhere else – when you start talking about these Insta-celebrities, you know what I’m saying? There’s so many of them but it’s just anytime you get to me, and be in the presence of a very credible ambassador that’s involved with industry and getting the message out of hunting – because I don’t care what you think, I don’t care where you hunt – we need more hunters. And I don’t mean it’s about selling merchandise, but it is about selling merchandise because that is the economy that keeps hunting in America politically relevant. Take it from somebody Rocky that has been to Netherlands, that has been to Australia. We don’t want to become economically irrelevant in the United States of America because when we do, good old days are over. There will not be hunting like you think there is and right now it’s all about the money. People say, oh it’s all about the money. Yeah, it’s all about the money. But it’s all about hunters and hunting and the tradition and getting, bringing recruits into it. We’re losing recruits. So many of us are old and biased, I don’t wear face paint, I don’t care if you do or not, but we’re old, we’re biased, we’re stuck in our old ways. Gosh, it’s just so positive that these are the kind of people that are representing the future of hunting. And they’re not the only one, there’s Haley Hernandez down in Louisiana, who could fit right in with that bunch, she is a real hunter and a very good ambassador for hunting. Tanisha Larson over in Georgia is the same way. I love knowing those kinds of people with that kind of voice that brings a very credible message to hunters and to people that are considering hunting, getting into it. One of the best things I’ve heard Spencer Holford say in his podcast, I mean it’s a message that drives home and I kind of heard it, when need ladies were talking about calling. You think every duck in the world sounds the same, sounds like a stuck car calling routine, you’re wrong. They don’t, they make quacks and they’ve all got lisp and funny sounds and everything else. Call, learn to call, don’t be scared to call. Don’t beat up on newbies that are learning to call, they have got to learn to call. You can’t do that, if you didn’t you have got to do it out in the duck blind. Call, be yourself, get into this sport, figured out learning and be a hunter like these young ladies, like a lot of other people. It’s just that simple. We need more hunters in it. But anyway, I’ll run on and talk about that forever because that was a very good production and everybody should take the time to watch it, share it, make sure people that need to see it, see it because my hat’s off to the ladies. They did a very good job with that.
Rocky Leflore: That’s the thing that I don’t – see, if I’m picking up the phone as an outdoor company and I need ladies to market my brand, I’m calling Ashton, I’m calling Cara, I’m calling Kim, Jess, Denise. I’m not calling the one – yeah, they may have a million followers on their Instagram but 9 out of 10 pictures of them are half naked – I’m not calling those girls
Ramsey Russell: They aren’t selling product, no. That’s right.
Rocky Leflore: No, there’s some daddy issues there. If you’re posting 9 out of 10 pictures in your bikini, showing your boobies off, 9 times out of 10 it’s a daddy problem. They’re selling their selves for some attention.
Teaching & Learning the Ins and Outs of Duck Hunting
Ramsey Russell: Like a lot of duck hunters I know, I use what works for me. I’ve experimented with everything and I’ve gravitated towards what I like, what works for me may not work for you, you may not like it, I like it. We get a little lost in the noise if you’re in the outdoor industry, if you’re promoting a message, if you’re telling a story, because you want more people to see it. If it’s a good message like you want more people to see it, but we don’t need to get too lost in the noise. What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot to be said for telling a good story without muddying the waters with sponsor intervention. I mean, let’s just tell a good story. Anyway, why would you go to an Insta celebrity that looks like a centerfold in the media versus going to somebody credible that is a hunter that can intelligently speak to hunters or to young hunters. I mean, you want to talk about an encouraging message. If I was the guy – and I was the guy one day people – if I was the guy that didn’t really know what a hen gadwall looked like when the dog brought it in, man, I’d like to hear their message. They encouraged me to figure out what it is through experience. You know, guys, all of us started somewhere, all of us did, we all started somewhere. The great thing about hunting is just improving it and figuring out what works and figuring out what doesn’t work. It’s always the ballgame, it’s always like baseball, it’s a game of errors. There’s a lot of variables besides our skill set and those errors we try to prevent that win or lose the game. It’s what it is. But we keep we keep digging, we’ll keep doing better, we keep trying to figure out something better, a technique. That’s the whole adventure, man. That’s the whole process. It’s just so worth it just to go through that process. Rocky you just have got to admit in a day and freaking age where everybody on the internet, every other thread is intimidating or discouraging people from asking questions, or doing something, or hunting somewhere. Boom, here comes this video inviting everybody to be a real duck hunter.
Rocky Leflore: It was good.
Ramsey Russell: Their ability. The message was so good. It was spot on.
The Message Behind Blood Origins
Every story is personal and I think it’s a very important message to get out. I know that the world ain’t beating his door down to hear this story told but it should be.
Rocky Leflore: I don’t want this to come across in the wrong way. I felt that Blood Origins is doing the same thing that we’re trying to do here at this podcast, tell good stories of good people that have been successful, that have a great story to go along with that. I will say, it’s not a knock on them, but in the past they could have been done a lot better. Some of the videos that they put out and maybe they’ve learned from that, but I will say this, they totally redeemed himself yesterday with that one. That is one of the best ones when it comes to a webisodic series episode, that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. They did a great job with that episode.
Ramsey Russell: Robbie Kroger is the brainchild of Blood Origins. Very interesting person, very knowledgeable, I’ve met him several times. Several times I’ve met him, I’ve got to hear a lot of his own personal story and why at the emotional level hunting is so important to him. Same reason, it’s so important to you, same reason when your podcast people come on board it doesn’t start with last week’s duck hunt, it starts with their childhood, start with and always their mama or their daddy or their granddaddy and their kids or an uncle or a family friend, his tradition and Robbie – I’ll tell you the story. I did a little interview with Robbie back during duck season and man, the guy is very intuitive, he’s on the outside of his subject looking in like a book, he opens the cover and when I met with him, he helped me articulate something that had been there forever that I just never articulated that way and I’ve said a million times: I don’t collect birds. I chase birds and I’m compelled by the places, those new species or new locations, I’m compelled by the process – from where it takes me to a remote marsh in Azerbaijan, to a remote marsh in Argentina, to 16,000ft elevation in the Andes mountains chasing Andean geese to below sea level, in the Netherlands chasing a barnacle goose, to the next place, to South Africa, to Australia, to Red Gum Swamp, to all these places – that’s what gets me. Robbie’s instinct takes it all with “You’re a collector of experiences, not birds,” and he nailed it. I’m a collector of experiences, that’s what makes me tick, I never articulated it that way. You want to talk about my humble opinion, my heart felt not trying to sell merchandise. All this merchandise industry Rocky, everybody’s trying to sell to duck hunters is contingent upon hunters and the continuance of hunting. I see the look on people’s faces when I say it in public across the table from somebody, people roll their eyes and start thinking, what do you mean hunting ending in America? It could never end in America. Baloney. Don’t deceive yourself. Hunting universally is hanging by a thread. I’m telling you, I see it everywhere. Every country I’ve been to hunting is hanging by a thread. There are many people and a lot of people with a lot of money, throwing money at politicians, governments, government agencies worldwide that are undermining what you and I know is hunting. I wish I had more disposable income as a business to put into Blood Origins, and to put into your podcast, Rocky, because these stories we’re telling – Robbie’s angle with Blood Origins is the why, why I hunt? Do you notice? Never because of a pile of dead ducks. Every story is personal and I think it’s a very important message to get out. I know that the world ain’t beating his door down to hear this story told but it should be. There should be funding to tell your story Rocky, these stories that are airing out 5 days a week on End of the Line Podcast. It should be – you haven’t asked money – it should be industry. Non-government conservation people coming get this message out, get it heard to a wider audience and it’s not the dead gum. Hunters and the problem with us, our message delivery is where the preacher’s preaching to the choir. Hunting magazines, hunting podcast, hunting oriented shows, telling hunting stories to hunters. They don’t matter. Forget the 10% out here that is against hunting. I’m telling a story right now to a writer for an organization about anti-hunting, personal experiences, conflicts, people going ballistic in my face, death threats. I’m telling a story, forget those people because you know what, you’re never going to ever change their mind. You can eat every duck, you can utilize it – God damn, we can make sewing needles out of the bones like the Indians did – it doesn’t matter. Utilization is not the key, the fact that you derive enjoyment, makes them unhappy. You want to make an anti-hunter happy, quit killing animals, period, that’s how you make them happen. Forget them. We’re not talking to them. You know who you’re talking to? We’re talking to the grey mindless mass of societies that’s neither the hunter nor the anti-hunter. That’s where this is going to be, getting the message to those people. That’s where our tradition is going to continue in the future. This podcast Rocky, End of The Line Podcast, I look forward to it. I’ve enjoyed meeting with you, I’ve discovered a lot about myself that I had forgotten about or didn’t know just in the last month we’ve been doing this story. I gained a whole lot from listening to all of your podcasters. I love them all. Old Jeff Foley is fixing to tell a heck of a story. Reggio coming up, heck of a story. All of them. Man, I listened to them and I learned something. Sure would like to get that message out to a wider audience. Much wider audience than just us hunters, just us duck hunters. It’s very important and I guess I’m speaking from my own observations around the world. Politicians don’t care unless money is involved. There’s my heartfelt thing. That’s what I felt through that latest Blood Origins and that’s why I feel so strongly, support so strongly End of the Line Podcast and others. To get that message out. We have got to build bridges, mark ourselves as a collection of people, the hunting, the hunters. We’re fractionalized in ourselves and in doing so, we’re losing ranks and in some regards, it’s selfish. I don’t want nobody else hunting in that property, I hunt there, I want to kill them all. Well, that’s selfish, Mister. There’s enough ducks for everybody and if it isn’t, collectively, we exercise change or we enforce change, and we induce change to get more ducks to get more agricultural policies, to change regulations, management, whatever. Only collectively can we do that. As a united political voice can we do that. And you know what? It takes money. You better hope that pick-a-brand.com is selling the fire out of merchandise, that’s just how it is in my opinion. Sorry about that Rocky, I just slid off the rails.
The Debate Over Effective Habitat Management & Corn
Rocky Leflore: No. You actually let us into the next thing I want to talk about. So, the Bulls Podcast yesterday. All right, so everybody knows that Bulls came out against the flooded corn issue, which has been an emotional topic for a lot of waterfowlers this past season. I’m kind of in the middle on it. There’s either strongly for or strongly against. Now, I don’t want to argue today, I’m not saying that. I don’t want to argue the case for or against it. Here’s a couple of things I want to say. I want you to back me up on the history of what I’m about to say. Look, I think that in an effective management habitat, management program on any block of land you have to have corn as part of your management program. Number 1, everybody thinks that it’s for feeding the ducks. There’s even a bigger one than that. Ducks use corn for shelter from predators, from the conditions. Look, a lot of people are saying that the whole corn deal’s short-stopping ducks. I don’t think that it’s short stopping ducks in the years that we have weather to push them. Just hear me out on this. What’s the number one thing that most people plant or have for sanctuary for waterfowl? What’s the number one thing, just one word, what is it usually?
Ramsey Russell: On my campus, coffee weed or willows is what the ducks tend to use.
Rocky Leflore: And see that’s what I would have used back in the day. A lot of people use corn in their sanctuary. So, a lot of this arguing, all these ducks are held up on this corn. Do you know what the number one problem in duck hunting right now is? Overpressure. And these ducks are going to the places where they’re not feeling any pressure during the daytime, where they’re not being shot at for 60 days.
Things That Have Changed in Hunting Over the Years
…is it possible we don’t have the quality habitat down south as we used to have?
Ramsey Russell: Well boy, that’s all over the place. I have got a couple of thoughts so just bear with me because they ain’t directly connected. One, you don’t know hunting pressure, I don’t care where you hunt in America. Mississippi, my camp, your camp, public land, you don’t know hunting pressure until you hunt at a place like that big wetland we hunted over at Azerbaijan. We get there to the boat ramp at 04:30 AM in the morning. You hear shots off in the distance. Every guy you have got has got an old school headlight and, buddy, look they go to great pains. They might be driving a motorcycle that was built during the Eisenhower administration – it’s a wonder it works. I am not about to drive one, it might break or something fall on me when I’m going down the road. But the old stuff, old boats that are caulking with mud, push poles or whatever, 2.5 horsepower motor, 20 years old and runs like a top, but nonetheless, you know what I’m saying? But those lights they’ve got baby, are nice lights and I don’t mean those little LED made in Japan, cheap. I mean, big old timey growl and giggle like a Papaw lights, like a Q-beam on her head. How they roll those things up and protect them when they aren’t on their heads, and that they’re hunting 24/7 out in that marsh, they make their hunting 24/7, Rocky. From the time the first duck shows up till the last duck leaves, season doesn’t matter, these folks are hunting. It’s like Jake and I were talking, the fact that we’re even killing ducks, let alone in the decoys – now hold that thought, let me say you this right here. I was listening to that podcast yesterday and I neither agree nor disagree with what Jeff or anybody else says about corn up North. I’m going to say it right now to shrug it off, I just shrug it off. Because here’s where I think we’re all missing the picture. We’re trying to identify something. Boom, here’s the reason. Oh, I’ve heard the podcast about the Mojo, the Mojo killed all the super hens off in 1998. Maybe so. Ducks still come down South. Okay. There’s a million different reasons we all think. I remember this old joke I heard one time, communications from Air Force pilots to Air Force mechanics – and I never will forget, it was like a top 10 funny thing. The pilot gets done flying and he writes something on the clipboard. Next day comes back and reads what was fixed and this is what I’m trying to say. Listen, pilot lands the flight or jet and writes on the clipboard, something rattling in the cockpit, next day he comes up and then the message from the mechanics is something’s tied in the cockpit. Now, I remember back at Mississippi State University, I took a Wildlife course, can’t remember the name of it right now, under Bruce Leopold. Bruce Leopold was becoming the Dean of Wildlife for a long time. Very smart man, very good teacher, they had him for several courses there at Mississippi State University and he was statistician. This guy knew statistics inside out. He was an ecologist, very smart man and he knew statistics. I took them in this little course right here and it wasn’t a statistics course it was a wildlife course but one of our homework assignments or whatever was some statistics. I had to call a PhD student here to kind of get a little help ciphering out what this deal was. It’s like a multi-variant equation and he gave you some numbers, number of churches, number of light poles, number of murders for this community. When you ran the little statistic that you learned in class to run, basically statistically speaking, the more churches there are the more murders there are, it was just plain as day. Well, golly man, who would want to live somewhere where there’s a bunch of churches, a bunch of Christians that are killing people or something? It’s kind of what at face value that graph would say to you. That doesn’t make sense, does it Rocky? But you know what makes sense? When you plug in them, you look at the big picture. There’s more churches per capita as people per capita go up. So, the bigger city, Jackson, Mississippi, probably has more churches than Greenwood, Mississippi than does Leland, Mississippi. So therefore, the more people you have got compressed in the city boundary, the more murder rates increase. That’s the answer. And all I’m trying to say and bringing that into it is corn, mojos, hunting pressure, water quality, water difference. I mean, Rocky, there’s a million different things that have changed since 1970 and then we’ve still got just a totally random laws of the universe, like weather, like migration, like age ratio. I think that Delta Waterfowl biologist made a very good point, that having a preponderance of juvenile birds affect your hunting success up North and down South. As somebody who’s participated in the wing survey for the past 5 years, I know how to age and sex duck wings. I don’t write them down and matriculate them while I’m cutting the wings up, stuffing all of them envelopes, which takes a little bit of effort. I do open them up, look and say, well that’s an adult and just at a glance, I’d say that 20% of the birds I’ve shot in the South in the past few years were juveniles. The rest were adults, especially mallards. I’d say that 90% of the mallards I killed, the very few relatively, few mallards I’ve killed in the last several years, 90% were adults. Okay, well that’s a good point. But you see my point is, Rocky, for us to point at one thing, corn is messing up everything. I had a client one time hunting right there at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in Southern Illinois, in some of them big blue blood rich clubs. I mean, boy, howdy. Man, the money they throw about. I mean, this guy himself had a decoy collection worth $10 million, that’s that kind of club. And guess where they kill all their birds up there? They don’t plant corn, they manage for smart weed. That’s where they killed their ducks. Oh, maybe all the ducks aren’t dying in corn after all. Heck yeah. Ducks are going to use that vertical structure for cover. Yeah, they’re going to do it. Hunting pressure doesn’t keep them there. I ain’t getting no younger, I try to actually exercise to stay mobile and stay in good shape and whatnot but I love listening to podcasts when I go bicycling. I go out there and it’s my time, and I’m listening, and I’m thinking, and the phone isn’t ringing. If it does, I turn it off, BOOM. I’m riding and listening – my time, not your time or her time or their time, my time. When I bicycle, out there humming around like an old man on a bicycle listening to podcasts and I heard the podcast yesterday and loved it. Good job Jeff. But I had a thought. Every time up there in L’Anguille Lounge and in a good year a lot of pit blinds Pat had were in rice fields. That was a good year when it was in rice. The levees were good, the food was there, it just seemed to be better, every other year that rotated into. I just had this thought Rocky, bear with me. Just one of many multi-variables could be affecting it. I think I read or heard something you said about the quality of habitat changing between 1970 to now down South. Ask any old farmer down South when the ditches and creeks and everything overflowed, and the farmer couldn’t harvest those old generation one soybeans but could come back in spring and harvest them because they were still viable, not like the gen 4 or 5 or whatever they’re planning now that sprout on the vine that have been rained on twice. Things have changed. Soybeans aren’t great products anyway. It’s a feeding slim fast fact. If it hasn’t been cooked, good protein’s locked up and they aren’t getting much nutritional value out of it, but they’ll eat it if it’s available – that’s a whole other discussion. You know, I this thought, nothing else has changed. It’s the good old days, the 70s and 80s it’s snow goose population, just throwing it out there. Hey man, anything goes. I’m throwing my idea, just thought I had. You know what’s changed since I was a little boy sitting in Greenwood, Mississippi watching billions of snow geese fly overhead heading for the coast of Louisiana and Texas? The fact that those populations have exploded in the 20 years we’ve been shooting with reckless abandon, unplugged guns, electronic calls. In the Spring Conservation order, Congress had to come in and rewrite migratory bird laws to let us shoot these birds regardless of banding and no limit and we haven’t put a dent in them. It ain’t land practice down in coastal Louisiana and Texas, ain’t the rice it used to be. Rice now is Arkansas, parts of Mississippi, and further. The birds are holding up. I can remember one of the most everlasting indelible thoughts I’ll have of hunting at L’Anguille Lounge was on a Friday. Before the opener into Thursday the week before we’re out there throwing decoys and cleaning pits and pumping and doing things right. Pat keeps a tight camp, son. But I’ll never forget sitting out at dusk, having a drink in an open country by the camp house and watching the entire red sunset obliterated with snow geese that were used to going over the bridge, coming out of bridge where the rice was. It was good because they stomped down the rice stumble, make openings for ducks. It was bad because they were eating rice for ducks. Now I’m just saying, is it possible that between zero grade and clean farming practices and roundup ready crops and water management and a whole million upon million more snow geese now eating rice before the ducks show up – is it possible we don’t have the quality habitat down south as we used to have?
Rocky Leflore: Well, I think number one is habitat driven. Ramsey, just a second. My phone’s about to die before we have to end this podcast. I don’t think that people understand Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana Deltas. What it was like in 1985 where every ditch had grass growing up on it and with every inch of rain there was a pothole out in the field filled with water and hundreds of ducks sitting on it. People don’t understand that concept and then you walked up and knocked on the door and say, “Hey, can I go hunt in your pothole that’s got water in it for the next couple of days?” Shoot yeah man, you couldn’t lease a hole really back then. Man, think about the hundreds of thousands of acres in South Delta, where you’re sitting today, where you all camp is that the habitat loss there is coming back now but for years it’s been gone.
Ramsey Russell: 300,000 nearly contiguous acres of marginal farmland that if it wasn’t flooded, it would get flash water in it during heavy storms during duck season because it was in soybeans or whatever else back in the 60s and 70s. Or get flooded because it is marginal farm ground prone to floods during duck season is now 300,000 acres, is now sitting in 5 to 30 year old hardwood plantations that are rife with buck brush and a duck couldn’t get to that water if he tried. In another 20, 30 years maybe they’ll be some nice flooded timber. Remains to be seen. 300,000 flood-prone acres are now sitting in hardwoods that are not seeing access.
Rocky Leflore: In 1998 when I first became a guide, the central Delta right there around Greenwood was rich with food. Now you fast forward to 2016, 2017 when I walked away, Will, Troy, Brad, different people that we would sit on my front porch or down at wheels and say, “What is it here for them to eat, mud?” It looks like the surface of the moon on a regular year. You’re getting your corn and your beans out so early that you worked this land back up and it’s nothing but a mud pie. What is even there for them to eat?
The Dynamic Process of Habitat Changes and How It Affects Hunting
It’s just the laws of nature, things change.
Ramsey Russell: And things change Rocky. Things change, wetlands, change, wetlands are dynamic and the whole dynamic process. I’m sorry, but ecological time, time to the universe, time to Earth is much bigger and much grander and much different in a whole lot slower pace than the span of a human lifetime or hunting career. I’m just sitting here thinking of the duck hole that you shot your first duck in, that story. What changed? Why the duck quit coming? Did it sell thin? Did the soils not oxidize? Did some water quality change? Anything could have changed because cypress breaks by God’s design. Old river runs or made to sell thin, that’s just the laws of nature. They sell thin, things change usually that’s just the natural progression. To look at a kind of a manmade version of that look at Hillside Refuge. It has filled in about 20 or 30 years quicker, silted in and filled in and they’ve reforested areas of it and they’ve treated it to become naturally established on big portions of it, about 30 years ahead of schedule. In another 10, 15, 20 years it’s not going to be a duck hole, could be some great deer and rabbit habitat, that was the whole design of it. Well, that’s really no different than any Cypress break on Earth. Lot of these old rivers runs are just silt in, period. And especially when we start doing agriculture and construction and everything around, they silt in. It’s just the laws of nature, things change. One of the coolest things I’ve ever read, was a slap in the face, was Delta wildlife, which is the wildlife component of Delta Council up there in Stoneville, Mississippi. They put out some literature one time, maybe a year ago, maybe two years ago, and they got to looking at data and distribution of waterfowl utilization in the Delta – counts, midwinter waterfowl counts. And they actually reached out to Fish and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited. Everybody else said, “This is really what we think it is?” Yeah. There have been years that number of waterfowl in Mississippi has actually increased, historically was as more ducks than what it used to be. But distribution of those ducks has changed drastically. Those duck are most heavily concentrated where there’s still a lot of water on the landscape, and you know what? It ain’t it. Well, it is right now, it’s a freaking ocean down there because I need to build that pump but it isn’t during a normal year, it’s a whole lot of hardwood buck vine thicket, they used to be soybeans until about the 60s, 70s, it was clear. So, really and truly you if think about, maybe down at extreme South Delta up against Redwood, Vicksburg, I don’t know if anybody knows how many ducks used those areas back in the 30s and 40s. I mean how many ducks were on Willow break back in the 30s and 40s, when it was all marginal hardwood, swamp wood? Probably very goddamn confused, Rocky. It wasn’t until they came in and U.S.D.A incentivized them to clear that marginal land and put it into the open agricultural crops because soybeans were gold on the global market that there was a boom. Then now the pendulum swung the other way, habitats changed again. My point being corn up North, corn down South. Ducks Unlimited, who my gosh, I’ll go to my grave believing they’re the greatest because of what I saw working with them as a partner when I worked for the federal government, I believe what Ducks Unlimited does, especially for the South in terms of creating wintering habitat on private and public lands. I believe they’re one of the greatest conservation forces out here. And I don’t care about anything else you heard it done. Let me tell you, I’ve seen it. What they did, putting habitat on public ground today, when I work with the federal government partner with them on this stuff, unbelievable. But there is no smoking gun in my opinion. Corn, whatever, there’s no smoking gun on why you ain’t killing ducks like your granddaddy did in that same blind. It could be a million different reasons that are subject to some change year to year with migration. It’s just a stone-cold fact. Bill Cooksey – boy could speak, write a book on it – but look at the degradation of the Gulf Coast or marsh of the lower Delta, out there vented all along Louisiana. Man, you want to talk about a football field sized piece of property and our disappearing of duck habitat disappearing an hour. How many millions upon millions of ducks is that historically overwinter? Well, now there’s so little marsh grass buffer between the open gulf and the marsh proper that a good tropical storm killed all the duck food. It’s quiet years, you’ve got all kinds of great food and habitat down there. How is that impacting the ducks we’re killing in the Mississippi and Arkansas? I guarantee it is. There are a million different reasons why. And ducks are migratory, they’re instinctive and how a duck knows to fly 500 miles to the West because there’s no habitat down here, it’s beyond me, but they do.
Rocky Leflore: I’ll close up with this point, I’ll say this that the short-term people that are shouting the loudest about this – Well, let me say this. The people that are shouting the loudest about this are thinking short-term. I look at this from a long-term perspective. If you think about the habitat loss that we’ve had, just over say 30 years, just 1989, you take that into consideration. If you’re still killing the duck, we should almost be thanking the private landowners around that are building habitat for them, or the refuges that are holding some birds for us, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have crap. You’re thinking short term. You’re not thinking back long enough.
Hunters Working Collectively for Change
We need to be pulled together because we’re going to be a political voice, we need to be together on this thing.
Ramsey Russell: Well in all fairness, listening to your neighbor shoot ducks when you aren’t is one of the most miserable situations on God’s earth I’ve ever known. You know what I’m talking about, you’re sitting in the duck blind and you’re chipping away and you’re not shooting nothing and somewhere within an earshot somebody’s having a party. That’s kind of like watching HBO reruns while your roommate’s making out with a pretty girl – it just isn’t very fun and it isn’t a good way to be. But it is what it is, Rocky, and there are little X’s on Earth that I believe the ducks will always fly no matter what. Parts of Tallahatchie County, parts of Arkansas, parts of Louisiana, and stars got to line up anymore for them ducks to be there. Hey, ducks have wings, they migrate. You know what? Put some gas in your tank and roll. Go find those ducks because that’s the world we live in. There are little bitty, there are blinds at my camp that I love Rocky. I love to be there with my kids, with my friend. I love it. You know what? Sometimes there ain’t no ducks there, we go to another blind, we go to another county. If you want to shoot ducks that day that’s just the way it is. It’s just duck hunting and I don’t believe talking to my daddy, who’s been dead now for 11 years or my granddaddy, looking at the pictures of the very few black and white pictures I’ve got from back in the day down in Washington County where they hunted, it’s now in one of refuge complexes – I don’t believe they went out and shot duck limits every single day. I don’t believe they did Rocky. You know what I’m saying? It’s duck hunting. They went out and hunted because they were hunters. They had good times in the blind and they took what nature and the good Lord gave them and their own skill set, they shot ducks. What I would say to anybody that’s using divisive tactics and vitriol on the internet is: you’re part of the problem, fractionalizing hunting community. We need to be pulled together because we’re going to be a political voice, we need to be together on this thing. It’s very easy Rocky, when you’re sitting in a duck blind and your neighbor’s killing ducks and you ain’t, it’s very easy to take it personal and it all becomes about me. You see, we’re all in this boat together. I said before, we’re all in this boat together. We don’t need to fractionalize the ranks. That’s exactly what a very particular group is doing very divisively. We’ve all got opinions and man, you know what, I’ll tell you right now, I’m idealistic enough to listen to them, I may not like your ideas, I may disagree. But I tell you this, I am not about to even listen to it if I can help it, depending on how it’s presented. Let me just put it that way. We’ve all got opinions, well, you know what? Some of opinions ain’t worth a flip. They don’t work, they’ve have been scientifically disproved. When I tell anybody it’s a multi-variant reason that your duck hole or your region or your community or your state in any given year I am not shooting the number of ducks that normally does. Just remember, murders increase as churches increase, those dead gum Baptists. There’s more behind that than just that observation, that’s just what I think.
Rocky Leflore: You couldn’t have put that any better in this podcast. That was awesome.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Rocky.
Rocky Leflore: Man, I enjoyed it. Hey, I will throw this last point in here. I will say if you don’t think that – and I’m not pointing this at you. I can remember when I first started guiding, I went pretty much wherever I wanted to, knocked on doors. Now there’s a blind everywhere you drive. Every one of the old fields that I used to just, “Hey man, here’s a ham, can I hunt that this year?” “Yep, go ahead.” A lot of places that didn’t get used to hunted hunt, but a couple of times a year now somebody’s got a blind, and sitting up in it every day, complaining because there’s no ducks. Even in the old days we didn’t kill ducks for 2 days a year.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Rocky Leflore: That’s when I went hunting them.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t care to show up.
Rocky Leflore: Cost me a ham.
Ramsey Russell: Jeff Foiles said yesterday they killed ducks for 10 days out of the whole season but it wasn’t in the crop fields. They went out to the natural habitat, got on them, and that’s just duck hunting man. You’ve got those days remember, you’ve those days you don’t but you know what baby, if your duck hunting life is so miserable, that you need to act like – I’ve seen some behavior online that’s just, again take it for what it’s worth – take up golf. Go play golf. Save that money and take your kids down to Disneyland. Go have fun, man. Life’s too short. Just go have fun.
Rocky Leflore: I agree with you. One of the greatest things about having an opinion is being able to listen to somebody else’s.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You all be good Rocky, I enjoyed it bud.
Rocky Leflore: Ramsey I enjoyed it. I want to thank all of you that listened to this edition of The End of the Line Podcast, powered by ducksouth.com.