duck hunter walks towards foreground decoys through ankle-deep water covered in red vegetation, sprawling trees behind

This Old-School Duck Slayer Is Opening New Hunting Opportunities Leave a comment

IF I COULD BE REINCARNATED, I’d come again as a used-car salesman,” Ramsey Russell says to me.

It’s 5 a.m., and we’re barreling down a darkish freeway in Obregon, Mexico. Russell, 53, is explaining how it will be simpler to promote used vehicles than the worldwide waterfowl hunts he offers with in his present gig as a reserving agent (although he hates that time period). I’m fairly positive he’s solely half kidding.

“Folks go in to purchase a automobile, and so they know what they need,” he says. “Me, I’ve bought to promote the expertise.”

Later that morning, a handful of different writers,  some reps from Benelli, and I get pleasure from essentially the most epic pintail shoot I’ll ever be part of. Drakes of their breeding plumage, lengthy sprigs trailing behind, float out of the clear-blue sky and cup right into a decoy unfold set alongside a tidal seaside. Tucked right into a mangrove blind, my looking accomplice and I take turns capturing till now we have our limits, then we sit again and watch the spectacle of teal, wigeon, pintails, redheads, and shorebirds whip down the shoreline. By the point we get picked up for lunch, we’re bought on the Ramsey Russell expertise.

Ramsey Russell is a Southern salesman, an entrepreneur, and an old-school duck slayer. Ed Wall

We’re right here on the west coast of Mexico looking wintering geese due to Russell’s connection to Frank Ruiz, an clothing store who turned his household house right into a looking lodge.

Russell sends his purchasers to outfitters like Ruiz everywhere in the world. Traditional wingshooting locations akin to Mexico and Argentina are entry-level journeys for Russell’s hunters. Suppose extra unique: shelducks in Mongolia, garganey in Azerbaijan, barnacle geese within the Netherlands, red-billed teal in South Africa. Russell hunts all of those locations earlier than he sends purchasers to them. 

Not all of his journeys are  high-volume shoots just like the one we skilled in Mexico. On an Alaska king eider hunt, for instance, you shoot just a few geese per day. What all of Russell’s hunts have in frequent, although, is that they’re a mix of journey journey and species-collecting expedition. 

And the journeys will not be as costly as you may suppose. A median hunt prices about $6,000, which isn’t chump change, nevertheless it’s nonetheless cheaper than virtually any worldwide big-game hunt, Russell causes on our drive again after the morning shoot. His mission is to create a ardour (and a market) for journey waterfowl looking. He desires to foster a shift away from the luxurious worldwide hunt golf equipment. 

“These are duck hunts for actual duck hunters,” Russell says. “You’re not touring world wide to smoke fats cigars and eat edible artwork. You’re going to hunt. If you need all that different shit, take your spouse to Italy.”

dead duck held up by hunter in background
A pink-eared duck in Australia. Jake Latendresse

Life Is Quick

Like several nice clothing store, information, or reserving agent, Russell can minimize up with a gaggle of latest hunters as in the event that they’re previous buddies. He is aware of that if a hunt isn’t going properly and tensions are excessive, a superb joke or witty story can save the day. Over time, he’s developed an arsenal of quips:

“My favourite duck is the following one over the decoys”—for when pintails aren’t working, however shovelers are dive-bombing into the decoys. 

“I’d agree with you, however then we’d each be incorrect”—for defusing an argument with a consumer.

“It’s like strolling by the pages of Nationwide Geographic with a shotgun”—for promoting the thought of a hunt in a far-flung vacation spot.

two duck hunters sit on branches of sprawling red-gum eucalyptus tree
Searching flooded timber for Pacific black geese and gray teal within the land Down Beneath. Jake Latendresse

Russell was born in Mississippi, the place his grandpa taught him to like looking and fishing. He was tagging alongside on dove hunts at 8 years previous. Quickly sufficient, he was immersed on this planet of duck looking Mississippi River backwaters. Then, when he was 15, Russell was almost killed in a freak accident. He was cleansing a paintbrush with gasoline when a water-heater pilot gentle caught the fumes and erupted in a fiery explosion. Russell suffered second– and third-degree burns on three-quarters of his physique, however he beat the 8 % probability of survival the docs gave him.

Most of us save the idea of “bucket-list journeys” for the twilight of our looking profession. We’re solely prepared to roll the cube as soon as we acknowledge that point is operating out. However Russell confronted his personal mortality when he was a child. Throughout a protracted, torturous restoration, {the teenager} cast a saying that turned his private creed and would later change into his enterprise slogan: “Life is brief, get geese.”

Ultimately, Russell earned a forestry diploma and landed a job with the federal authorities. When he labored up sufficient scratch, he began touring to hunt waterfowl in Canada and Argentina. He made his first worldwide journey to Saskatchewan in 1998. 

three hunters and yellow lab pose behind large pile of dead waterfowl
The creator (far proper) with Russell and his canine
Cooper after a profitable hunt in Mexico. Jake Latendresse

Russell has the best temperament to captain a crew of duck hunters. He’s intense sufficient to verify everybody brings their A-game (“Flip off the rattling cellphone and play for retains”), however he’s additionally skilled sufficient to know that the entire level of the factor is to have a superb time—and he’s unabashed about his love for capturing geese (“Hell yeah, capturing geese is enjoyable, and hell yeah, it’s conservation”). So, Russell had no drawback recruiting buddies to go along with him overseas. He began bringing so many different hunters alongside that an clothing store satisfied him to open a part-time reserving–company enterprise. Then, in 2010, Russell went full-time together with his website,

Greenheads Worldwide

Russell has realized some simple classes throughout his world travels: Don’t drink the milk in Pakistan, and hold your firearms documentation in your particular person whenever you undergo customs in China. 

However the greatest takeaway cuts deeper, to the tradition of American waterfowl looking. Typically, we kill fewer geese per hunt than you possibly can virtually wherever else on this planet, and but we’re those obsessive about numbers.

That’s as a result of the strict limits on what number of geese and what number of of every species we will kill forces American waterfowlers to watch out counters. Every useless fowl is one notch nearer to a restrict. A full restrict means the tip of the hunt, and full success.

duck hunter sits in boat being push-poled by azerbaijani man through swampy area
Push-poling by an enormous wetland in Azerbaijan. Jake Latendresse

As Russell says: “It’s virtually like in the event you solely shoot three geese, you misplaced. It’s made to really feel like in the event you’re not killing a restrict, you’re not having enjoyable.”

In fact, these limits are good and vital for conservation. Within the U.S., now we have a lot larger hunter-density numbers than in different components of the world. There are about 1 million U.S. waterfowlers. As compared, just a few hundred People journey to the Yaqi Valley in Mexico to hunt geese every winter, in accordance with Russell. These few hundred hunters find yourself harvesting a statistically insignificant variety of geese, even when they’re bringing again an entire pile of birds every day.

In the remainder of the world, waterfowl looking for sport isn’t as frequent, and neither are limits or looking strain. In some corners of the world, you set your personal restrict. One in every of Russell’s hunts in Pakistan drives house the purpose.

american duck hunter with many birds poses with guide staff in pakistan
The information employees, who’re servants to a feudal lord, in Pakistan. Jake Latendresse

He was invited by a feudal lord to hunt a sprawling marsh alongside the Indus River (one of many longest rivers in Asia, which serves as a serious flyway). The lord had heard that the American was a crack shot, so he made his method right down to the blind to observe. He gave Russell a couple of containers of shells from his private stash—German-made, 3-inch lead masses—and insisted that Russell take lengthy photographs that almost all American hunters would contemplate sky blasting. 

“If you wish to hunt in Pakistan, you could shoot like a Pakistani,” the lord mentioned. 

So, Russell began burning by shells, and as soon as he bought the lengthy lead found out, birds rained from the sky. Russell wasn’t counting however figures he killed extra geese that day than most American waterfowlers shoot in a season. Every fowl was recovered diligently (meat doesn’t go to waste in Pakistan), and Russell was immersed in a very completely different looking tradition. To the Pakistanis, an important side of the hunt was capturing capacity.

The upshot? You may’t journey midway internationally and count on locals to have the identical looking values as you do. 

And over time, Russell’s purchasers have developed new looking values.

“At first, the number-one query purchasers would ask is, ‘What number of geese can I shoot?’” Russell says. “Now hardly anybody asks that. Now everybody desires to know which species are current and what the expertise goes to be like.”

However irrespective of how far you journey, in some ways duck hunters are all the identical. 

duck hunter and yellow lab sit on rocky lakeshore in light snowfall with ducks
Ready for Barrow’s goldeneye in coastal Alaska. Johnny Feltovic

“Mallards are the massive prize fowl wherever they exist on this planet,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Mongolia or Missouri.” 

Many instances, Russell hunts with locals who communicate a unique language from him. This minimizes the small discuss, however they nonetheless talk by hand alerts and gestures within the duck hunter’s frequent language: Repair the cover, the geese are flaring; tweak the unfold, they’re not committing shut sufficient; good shot, right here come some extra birds.

“You may put 4 individuals from wherever on this planet collectively in a blind, and so they’ll have extra in frequent than they’ll have variations, as a result of they’re hunters.”

The Subsequent Migration

On our final day in Mexico, we choose to hunt Pacific brant in a tidal flat of the Sea of Cortez. Shortly after dawn, the birds beeline for our decoys, low and tight, flying like big black teal in gradual movement. After two volleys, Russell’s 9-year-old Lab, Cooper, has a pile of retrieving work to do. Cooper is a registered service canine, and she or he’s traveled the world  with Russell. That is the final huge tour of her profession. 

Subsequent, we head to a backwater to hunt teal, and for the primary time, Russell units apart his shotgun. 

As we decide off teal separately, Cooper methodically plucks our birds out of the marsh. She wants no path from Russell, and is usually too deaf to listen to him anyway. She retrieves as a result of it’s in her blood. It’s what she’s at all times executed.

three silhouetted duck hunters prepare for day's hunt on swampy ground
Establishing a morning hunt in a wild marsh in northern Argentina. Jake Latendresse

In the meantime, Russell contemplates the way forward for waterfowling. He plans to focus on millennials together with his worldwide duck-hunting journeys. This demographic has confirmed prepared to spend extra on journey than some other expense. He’s banking on the concept the teams of hardcore younger weapons you see patrolling the goose fields of each Midwest city will in the future need to chase birds in Canada, Mexico, or Russia. 

Getting this subsequent technology of hunters enthusiastic about waterfowling and conservation on a world scale, he hopes, shall be his legacy. 

“Sometime, I don’t need my gravestone to learn, ‘Right here lies Ramsey Russell: A million useless geese,’ ” Russell says. “There needs to be extra to it than that. Don’t you suppose?” 

This story initially ran within the Fall 2019 situation. Learn extra OL+ tales.

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