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 could 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 automotive, they usually know what they need,” he says. “Me, I’ve obtained to promote the expertise.”

Later that morning, a handful of different writers,  some reps from Benelli, and I take pleasure in 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 searching accomplice and I take turns taking pictures till we’ve got 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.

hunter peers up, holding duck call in gloved hand, ready to use it
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 searching wintering geese due to Russell’s connection to Frank Ruiz, an clothes shop who turned his household residence right into a searching lodge.

Russell sends his purchasers to outfitters like Ruiz everywhere in the world. Basic wingshooting locations akin to Mexico and Argentina are entry-level journeys for Russell’s hunters. Assume 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 only some geese per day. What all of Russell’s hunts have in widespread, although, is that they’re a mix of journey journey and species-collecting expedition. 

And the journeys are usually not as costly as you would possibly assume. A mean hunt prices about $6,000, which isn’t chump change, but it surely’s nonetheless cheaper than nearly 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 searching. He needs to foster a shift away from the luxury 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 clothes shop, information, or reserving agent, Russell can lower up with a bunch of recent hunters as in the event that they’re outdated buddies. He is aware of that if a hunt isn’t going effectively and tensions are excessive, a very good joke or witty story can save the day. Through the years, he’s developed an arsenal of quips:

“My favourite duck is the subsequent 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 fallacious”—for defusing an argument with a shopper.

“It’s like strolling via 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 searching and fishing. He was tagging alongside on dove hunts at 8 years outdated. Quickly sufficient, he was immersed on the earth of duck searching Mississippi River backwaters. Then, when he was 15, Russell was practically 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 % likelihood of survival the medical doctors gave him.

Most of us save the idea of “bucket-list journeys” for the twilight of our searching profession. We’re solely keen 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 an extended, torturous restoration, {the teenager} cast a saying that grew to become his private creed and would later develop 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 writer (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 very good time—and he’s unabashed about his love for taking pictures geese (“Hell yeah, taking pictures geese is enjoyable, and hell yeah, it’s conservation”). So, Russell had no downside recruiting buddies to go together with him overseas. He began bringing so many different hunters alongside that an clothes shop satisfied him to open a part-time reserving–company enterprise. Then, in 2010, Russell went full-time along with his website, getducks.com.

Greenheads Worldwide

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

However the largest takeaway cuts deeper, to the tradition of American waterfowl searching. Typically, we kill fewer geese per hunt than you possibly can nearly wherever else on the earth, 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 are able to kill forces American waterfowlers to watch out counters. Every useless hen is one notch nearer to a restrict. A full restrict means the top of the hunt, and full success.

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

As Russell says: “It’s nearly 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 obligatory for conservation. Within the U.S., we’ve got a lot larger hunter-density numbers than in different components of the world. There are about 1 million U.S. waterfowlers. Compared, only some hundred Individuals journey to the Yaqi Valley in Mexico to hunt geese every winter, in keeping 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 trying to find sport isn’t as widespread, and neither are limits or searching strain. In some corners of the world, you set your individual restrict. One among Russell’s hunts in Pakistan drives residence the purpose.

american duck hunter with many birds poses with guide staff in pakistan
The information workers, 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 significant 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 just a few packing containers of shells from his private stash—German-made, 3-inch lead masses—and insisted that Russell take lengthy photographs that the majority American hunters would contemplate sky blasting. 

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

So, Russell began burning via shells, and as soon as he obtained 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 hen was recovered diligently (meat doesn’t go to waste in Pakistan), and Russell was immersed in a very completely different searching tradition. To the Pakistanis, crucial facet of the hunt was taking pictures potential.

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

And over time, Russell’s purchasers have developed new searching 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 needs 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 large prize hen wherever they exist on the earth,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Mongolia or Missouri.” 

Many instances, Russell hunts with locals who communicate a special language from him. This minimizes the small discuss, however they nonetheless talk via hand alerts and gestures within the duck hunter’s widespread 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 the earth collectively in a blind, they usually’ll have extra in widespread than they’ll have variations, as a result of they’re hunters.”

The Subsequent Migration

On our final day in Mexico, we decide 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 sluggish 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 he or she’s traveled the world  with Russell. That is the final large 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 choose off teal one by one, 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 all the time 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 along with his worldwide duck-hunting journeys. This demographic has confirmed keen 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 someday 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, can be his legacy. 

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

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



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