I was one of those hunters and had the honor of spending a day and a half with the family. I got to eat Mrs. Kay’s duck gumbo, talk Jesus with Phil, swap fishing stories with Jep and accompany them on a hunt.
It was an amazing experience.
The following is from the interview I conducted with Phil after the hunt and provides truly unique insight into the Duck Commander, pre-“Duck Dynasty”.
It was easy to see that Robertson shoots straight and pulls no punches, whether he is speaking on hunting techniques or political issues in the outdoors.
“The biggest mistake most duck hunters make is a lack of concealment,” Robertson said.
He and his hunting team, “The Duck Men,” all wear face paint whether hunting in hardwood bottoms or on the prairies.
“We go to great efforts to conceal ourselves, and having our white faces looking up at the ducks would send most birds away,” he said. “I highly recommend hunters wear paint and brush out their blinds really good because it will make a difference.”
A prime case in point is the challenge of concealing all of the cameras and cameramen that go into the production of the long-running video series with catchy titles such as “For a Few Ducks More” and (at the time) their television show, Duck Commander.
“Doing the television show was a real challenge because we had to do certain things for the kind of show they wanted to produce. We had multiple cameras in the field and it made hunting much more challenging and problematic,” Robertson said.
The show was based in a reality type format, but Robertson said that is nothing new to him: “We were doing reality TV before anyone ever heard of such a thing. The Duck Commander videos are about as real as you can get.”
Robertson’s lifetime of waterfowling experience and decades of traveling throughout the country to hunt have given him unique insight into problems facing waterfowlers. He believes one of the biggest problems is the federal refuge system.
“It sounds great that the ducks will have a place to rest and all, but in reality it makes hunting very difficult, as it does not take them long to figure out where they are being shot and where there is no pressure,” he said.
By law, hunting and fishing are considered “priority” uses of refuge land, but that leaves vast tracts of the 110 million acres of refuges off limits to hunting.
Robertson, who hunts all around the country, said when scouting locations to film hunts for his videos, he goes as far away from refuges as possible.
“You can literally watch the ducks pile into the no-hunting areas. A lot of guys will get excited because they get a duck hole near a refuge, but soon learn that it works against them in most cases,” he said.
Most of the refuges are in the flyways and wintering areas, not in the prairie pothole or “duck factory” region where the birds nest. This is a fact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spoke of on its website:
“Most of the more than 520 National Wildlife Refuges and additional Waterfowl Production Areas managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service are located along the migratory flyways, serving as breeding and wintering grounds and as ‘rest stops’ for these birds.
“For example, in the ‘duck factory’ of the upper Midwest, the National Wildlife Refuge System manages just two percent of the landscape, yet 23 percent of the region’s waterfowl breed there.”
Robertson said it doesn’t make sense to have all of this refuge land in areas where the ducks winter if you’re trying to do something about duck production.
“They keep telling us we are losing crucial breeding grounds, but they keep buying refuge land down in the wintering areas. I think they have good intentions, but should be buying up more nesting grounds to protect.”
Just as frustrating for him as the presence of so much refuge land off-limits to hunting, is the lack of predator control programs in the prairie pothole region.
“Pretty much everyone agrees we are losing about 85 percent of our ducks before they ever fly down due to predation in the nesting areas,” Robertson said. “Think about that for a second. What we get to fly down is around 15 percent of the potential ducks. If you have a total flight of 100 million ducks, decreasing predation by only five percent would add 30 million ducks to that. If you could ever get predation down to around 70 percent, you could pretty much double the fall flight every year.”
Robertson said he believes if hunters knew just how much of a role raccoons, foxes, minks, and other predators played in duck production, they might support paying more for federal duck stamps to support predator control.
“No one wants to wipe out the predators,” he said. “God put them here to do their role, but he also put ducks here for us to hunt and to eat, and we can balance things out if we put the effort into it. With fur being out of fashion because of the animal rights people and [therefore] very little trapping, you have a situation where you have more predators on the breeding grounds than ever, and we are seeing the results every fall.”
Robertson said even after all these years, he remains amazed by what he sees in the field: “The good Lord created some awesome stuff and really outdid himself with the duck. We are blessed to live in a country where we have, at least for a while, the freedom to pursue happiness—and in my case, that happiness involves taking out a mallard at 30 yards.”