“It’s duck sea­son some­where”

He’s been de­scribed as the Christo­pher Columbus of wa­ter­fowl but Ramsey Rus­sell’s most re­cent es­capade was more Cap­tain Cook as he set out to dis­cover Aus­tralia and ex­pe­ri­ence some of the best duck hunt­ing in the world.

Field and Game - - IT'S DUCK SEASON SOMEWHERE FOR RAMSEY RUSSELL -

“I’m just a sim­ple duck hunter from Mis­sis­sippi” is the line Ramsey Rus­sell uses to de­flect the at­ten­tion and at times ado­ra­tion he re­ceives from around the world.

A wildlife bi­ol­o­gist who worked with deer in North America be­fore pur­su­ing his pas­sion for wa­ter­fowl, Ram­say has par­layed his pas­time into an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness con­nect­ing keen duck hunters with qual­ity out­fit­ters on six con­ti­nents.

Ram­say still bears the scars from an ac­ci­den­tal ex­plo­sion that nearly killed him as a teenager. Doc­tors doubted he would sur­vive and told his par­ents if he did, he would most likely lose his legs and an arm. He beat the odds and not only kept all his limbs but his trig­ger fin­ger; he de­ter­mined, once he re­cov­ered, he wouldn’t waste an op­por­tu­nity to use it. “I’ve hunted so many places and col­lected so many ex­pe­ri­ences; I find the story of hunt­ing com­pelling,” he said over a post hunt bour­bon. “Right about the time you think you’ve seen and done it all you come to Aus­tralia and it feels just like home. Aus­tralia is very blessed with hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties: a long sea­son, a very lib­eral limit, some great habi­tat and a hunt­ing tra­di­tion that re­minds me of home more than any­where else in the world.”

Ramsey’s Down Un­der ad­ven­ture had its be­gin­nings in a duck blind in Arkansas.

Sit­ting with him were two ea­ger Aussies on the trip of a life­time, Glenn Falla and Trent Leen. “I could see they were duck hunters: they shoot well, they call, they hide, they play by the rules of the game, but I just had no idea that Aus­tralia was so blessed with a very rich duck hunt­ing tra­di­tion,” Ramsey ex­plains.

Some of the hunt­ing tourism Ramsey or­gan­ises around the world seems at odds with his love of tra­di­tion and as he puts it, “play­ing the game”. He ex­plains it this way. “If I want to shoot 70 ducks over a bait pile in Ar­gentina, I’ll go do that. I go to all these places where it is shoot­ing not hunt­ing, but to come down here and play by the rules and have to earn that duck, there’s some­thing about that con­nec­tion.

“It is real duck hunt­ing, with the de­coys and the calls; it re­minds me of home.”

For Ramsey, the to­tal hunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence mat­ters, not the raw num­bers, and he’s draw­ing oth­ers to that phi­los­o­phy. “Hunters have changed in the past 15 years, clients go­ing to Ar­gentina or Mex­ico, our two big­gest des­ti­na­tions, the first ques­tion they asked was how many ducks; it was very num­bers driven,” he said. “Nowa­days a lot of hunters don’t even ask it; they are go­ing for the ex­pe­ri­ence, they aren’t com­pelled by num­bers. It has been a pro­gres­sion from quan­tity to qual­ity and that is the big sell­ing point I see for Aus­tralia, it is a qual­ity hunt and a qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ence.”

If any­one can put Aus­tralia on the hunt­ing tourism map, it is Ramsey Rus­sell but there are reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers.

For in­ter­na­tional hunters, the WIT test is waived in Vic­to­ria but not in South Aus­tralia and re­stric­tions on ex­port­ing taxi­dermy would de­ter hunters who travel the world for new species.

“I don’t col­lect species, I col­lect ex­pe­ri­ences, but a lot of hunters do and that would be a big lim­i­ta­tion,” he said. “I think Aus­tralia has got the op­por­tu­nity for hunt­ing tourism: the in­ter­est­ing species; the friendly peo­ple; there’s no lan­guage bar­rier and you have a great duck hunt­ing tra­di­tion. “A lot of my clients would come here to hunt, just from a few posts on so­cial me­dia I’ve got some clients vi­brat­ing right now about Aus­tralia.”

Ramsey’s tour of Aus­tralia and New Zealand had an­other pur­pose; he is work­ing on a book project based around his the­ory that it is “duck sea­son some­where”. With 100 000 photographs and a me­mory filled with anec­dotes from around the world it will be some book, and you can guar­an­tee Aus­tralia will fea­ture promi­nently. Ramsey can’t be­lieve how good it is and as he pours an­other bour­bon he speaks with the ex­cite­ment of a child

“I don’t col­lect species, I col­lect ex­pe­ri­ences, but a lot of hunters do and that would be a big lim­i­ta­tion.”

Ramsey Rus­sell

on Christ­mas morn­ing. “I stepped off a plane at mid­night, grabbed a cheese­burger (with pineap­ple) and went to a duck blind. Right off the bat I see some black ducks and I hit them with the Mal­lard call, they turn on a dime, quack, quack, quack, all the way into the de­coys and I’m like, holy cow, that’s just like a darn Mal­lard back home. “That has been one of the most en­joy­able as­pects, the Pa­cific black duck re­sponds to a Mal­lard call just like a Mal­lard. “I’m from Mis­sis­sippi and by the time a Mal­lard makes it there he’s been hunted since Sep­tem­ber, from Canada all the way down and he’s pretty ed­u­cated and doesn’t play as nicely as these black ducks do down here.”

His per­sonal duck camp in Mis­sis­sippi keeps draw­ing him back even though the hunt­ing is “medi­ocre” in the best of years. The rea­son is sim­ple: Ramsey likes to work hard in the field, if hunt­ing is easy, it is just shoot­ing. “You’ve re­ally got to get down and dirty and hunt, play by the rules of the game,” he said. “You have a wild bird with a brain the size of a pea, to in­ter­act with it, to talk its lan­guage and to bring it into shot­gun range, on its terms, that is what I en­joy the most. “There are Mal­lard en­thu­si­asts in Mis­sis­sippi and Arkansas I hunt with and the game to them is to land the Mal­lards and have them swim­ming in front of you.

“I love all these pretty ducks over here, they are very in­ter­est­ing species, but my favourite as­pect of Aus­tralia is the pa­cific black duck.”

One species eluded Ramsey dur­ing his time in Aus­tralia: the anti-hunt­ing protester. He re­ally wanted to find one and study it be­cause he can­not fathom what makes it tick. “I look at anti-hunters and won­der who they are, but I know who they’re not, they are not me, they weren’t raised the way I was,” he said. “They de­spise me for what I do but I know for a fact they don’t love the re­source like I do. We need to change our mes­sage and the de­liv­ery of our mes­sage be­cause in America, the Nether­lands and other parts of the world, we’re los­ing ground.”

Mis­sis­sippi was the first Amer­i­can state to pass a hunter ha­rass­ment law.

Un­der the law, no per­son shall in­ten­tion­ally in­ter­fere with or at­tempt to pre­vent the law­ful tak­ing of wildlife by an­other, at­tempt to dis­turb wildlife, or at­tempt to af­fect wildlife be­hav­iour to pre­vent law­ful tak­ing. Fur­ther, a per­son may not ha­rass an­other per­son en­gaged in the law­ful tak­ing of wildlife or in the prepa­ra­tion for such tak­ing.

Iron­i­cally, the first ap­pli­ca­tion of the new law was on a hunter who got into a dis­pute but it has pro­tected hunters from pro­test­ers.

What the law does not stop is the online cam­paign­ing where Ramsey Rus­sell ad­mits hunters are bring­ing the prover­bial “knife to a gun­fight”. “If you ask me to de­scribe my per­fect client, I could close my eyes and pic­ture him like a sketch artist, he’d look kind of like (for­mer US Vice Pres­i­dent) Dick Cheney: older, above-av­er­age wealth, ed­u­cated, re­tired or close to it. That’s the guy do­ing most of my hunts. “What he isn’t is a dig­i­tal na­tive — he’s tac­tile, he reads printed prod­ucts and wants to shake hands on a deal. We’re on Face­book so we can keep in touch with a sis­ter a town over or see our grand­kids; we’re not on there be­cause >>

>> we want to make the world a bet­ter or dif­fer­ent place.”

The next gen­er­a­tion of hunters is needed, dig­i­tal na­tives who can carry the ar­gu­ment for wise use of wildlife, the link be­tween hunt­ing and con­ser­va­tion, and the joys of the out­doors life­style and the whole­some food har­vested. “We do need to own it, and I’m not pick­ing a fight about Don­ald Trump but whether you like him or not is be­side the point, he says it, then he owns it. “I wish we had some­one like him as a spokesman for hunt­ing; oh, I hurt your feel­ings, I’m sorry, I’m a hunter, that’s how it has to be. “We have to own the fact that we are killing wildlife; if there’s rub­bish left, shot­gun shells, we have to own that too.”

In the Nether­lands 0.2 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion hunts and there is lit­tle prospect of a next gen­er­a­tion now that you need to be 18 be­fore you can get a per­mit. Ramsey says hunt­ing there is so marginalised, “It’s over.”

Else­where there is still hope but an im­por­tant com­po­nent of maintaining or grow­ing hunter participation is con­tin­ued ac­cess and that re­quires the cur­rent gen­er­a­tions to re­spect the priv­i­lege of hunt­ing on pub­lic land. They also have to be will­ing to pay a price to keep it. “I know with my sons, if I give them some­thing it gets treated one way, if they buy it them­selves it gets treated an­other way,” he said.

While in­bound tourism can add to the al­ready sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tion hunt­ing makes to re­gional Aus­tralia, it would have to be as vari­able as the cli­mate and the duck sea­sons. “None of us, as hunters, want to go out and de­plete species, prac­ti­cally speak­ing it is what it is, and you have to ac­cept in dry sea­sons with tight bag lim­its it won’t be too at­trac­tive to tourists,” Ramsey said.

Some would still come be­cause like Ramsey, they have a view that the harder the hunt is, the bet­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence. “The thing I love about duck hunt­ing is in a blind, it’s so­cial. “You are not spend­ing ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment wait­ing for a bird or shoot­ing, there are voids you get to visit. My son just com­pleted his fresh­man year in col­lege and in the Christ­mas break of his se­nior year at high school we en­dured a hor­ri­ble sea­son in Mis­sis­sippi; the ducks just didn’t come down and we strug­gled. “What I re­alised is, at a time when I needed to be vis­it­ing with him and hav­ing those fa­ther/son talks, here we were just sit­ting in a duck blind by our­selves talk­ing heart-to-heart in those voids.”

Ramsey picks up his now empty bour­bon glass to make an­other point.

“You take a prod­uct like this glass, every­body that buys that glass ex­pects the same thing from it, all they ex­pect is what a glass does, which is hold a drink; then there’s duck hunt­ing.

“You get five peo­ple, they’re all bud­dies, they pick a trip and you fol­low up af­ter­wards and you get five dif­fer­ent re­sponses be­cause duck hunt­ing is such a sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We’ve tried to build a rep­u­ta­tion on real duck hunt­ing for real duck hunters. Some are nicer than oth­ers; Mon­go­lia is pretty darn spar­tan, no run­ning water, no shower, no toi­let, but the hunt­ing is spec­tac­u­lar. It is all about the hunt and the hunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, that’s our heart­beat.”

Dur­ing a week in Vic­to­ria with Glenn Falla, Ram­say hunted open swamps, lakes and heav­ily tim­bered coun­try where the eu­ca­lypts cre­ate the at­mos­phere of a cathe­dral. He tried ev­ery duck call he could lay his hands on and bagged nearly ev­ery species. Heck, he even ate a ham­burger with pineap­ple.

His hunt­ing heart now has a very soft spot re­served for Aus­tralia.

Ramsey Rus­sell

Ramsey Rus­sell

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