DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 8 – Jim Ronquest Joins the Show to Talk Ducks and Duck Calling

Ronquest shares his thoughts on waterfowling ethics, duck calling, and more

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting insights to science based discussions about ducks, geese, and issues affecting waterfowl and the wetlands conservation in North America, we bring the resource to you. The DU podcast, with your host Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: Today we've got Jim Ronquest, the producer of RN TV, 2006 world duck calling champion. Probably one of the most iconic communicators in the entire outdoor industry. Everyone recognizes Jimbo. So how are you, man? Appreciate you joining us and welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast.

Jim Ronquest: Hi, brother Chris. Thank you, man. It's all good, man. Happy to be here. Appreciate y'all asking.

Chris Jennings: How's the new shop?

Jim Ronquest: Man, RNT right now, we've had one of our big shipping times for retailers. And now we're building back up and then September October hits, or October November hits, and it's another big bunch of shipping. So there's a bunch of calls getting tuned, bunch of stuff going out the door on the inside, the business side of things. The outside, John he and his group [inaudible 00:01:20] landscape architecture, after getting a new shop built we've reworked the pond. We've done a bunch of work in front of the shop. And trying to make it look presentable around there. Just finished that up this week.

Chris Jennings: Oh, that's awesome.

Jim Ronquest: And then ... oh, it's going to look nice. Right now it looks like a pile of dirt. Once everything gets green, it's going to be really nice. And then the Flying Duck tap room, people are starting to enjoy it a little bit more. We have a craft beer license. We work with a couple different small craft beer people from Little Rock. Flyaway Brewery, Lost 40. We've got our own beers.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, it's awesome.

Jim Ronquest: RNT Flying Duck. It is good. And I tell you a funny story here. Being kind of almost your basic savage redneck, I was a little concerned that I would like some of this small craft beer. But man, there's several of them I like pretty good.

Chris Jennings: That's great, yeah. When I was over there for the grand opening that night, I think I sampled most of them. And man, the shop looks great. The little Flying Duck taproom is cool. I know I look forward to stopping by and having a beer this duck season for sure.

Jim Ronquest: Yeah. I think it will wind up being a meeting place, after the hunt. Guys been hunting, whatnot, they'll come back by. After lunch, come have a beer or two and just sit and talk about the day.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. That'll be great. Hey, just to change directions here. Duck season's coming up. Following last season, which was a difficult one for everyone, what are your expectations here going into the season?

Chris Jennings: And do you even have expectations? I mean you travel around with the TV show and I know you get to get out quite a bit. How do you temper those expectations as far as you're concerned? Your personal hunting.

Jim Ronquest: Man, that's a good question. Because you know one thing about duck hunters, I think duck hunters are all pretty excitable folks, for the most part. We all look forward to things. And I always have high expectations every year. But I kind of keep it real, because I do travel. Fortunate enough to travel a lot. I get to go a lot of places. But I think most duck hunters always have high expectations for the year. Just because it's what we do. It's what we look forward to. I always anticipate every season to be great.

Chris Jennings: Absolutely.

Jim Ronquest: If it's not great, so be it. I still get to go. But the anticipation of the coming season is what drives us the rest of the year. And so we always look forward to it, to anticipate things. Granted I do try to pay attention. Longterm average LTA is still above average, but recruitment's been kind of off past couple of years. Native prairies been dry. The Dakotas and even in northern Nebraska is trying to pick up the pieces there. So there's going to be some ducks. There's going to be some ducks fly south. There's going to be some people having great days. And we're going to have some bad days. But you know what? We get to go duck hunting.

Chris Jennings: That's right.

Jim Ronquest: We get to go enjoy our passions and apply our trade during the course of another duck season. And it's going to be another several 60 day duck season for the Mississippi flyway.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Jim Ronquest: So in the big picture of things, it's all good, man. It's all good.

Chris Jennings: Absolutely. I'm getting fired up you just talking about it. That's one thing we all do, like you said, the anticipation for it. And then you get that first cold front right around probably around Stuttgart you're probably not getting that real good first cold front until middle to late October even. But it's still just the anticipation of that is always at the top of my list of favorite things and things that get me excited. One thing that we've talked about in the past, and I've had this conversation with you several times, but the ethics in duck hunting. And people arguing and doing this. And you've always had a really good statement on this about people just going out there, having fun. It's not about what's hanging on your strap. It's more about enjoying the time outdoors with your friends and family. And enjoying the moment. Can you talk about that as well? And just your position on where the ethics and the standards in duck hunting are right now.

Jim Ronquest: That's a really good one.

Chris Jennings: I only ask good questions, Jim.

Jim Ronquest: You did good. I'll probably take some heat from this, but I don't care. There's a whole lot of people duck hunting nowadays that have not been [inaudible 00:06:03] duck hunting for the wrong reason. Granted, as duck hunters we all get competitive. We all want the best spot. I understand that. At the same time, that spot competition, it's the opportunity to enjoy God's creation every day. With friends, family, make new friends, whatever. Go enjoy being there. There's so many guys, and you read about it all the time on social media, especially at home in Arkansas on public ground. And it's not just there. But you hear about man boat racing. And I ain't saying I hadn't been a part of that. I don't want to be a hypocrite here because I've been in the middle of that rat race. And I finally got the idea, if you're going to be in the rat race, you're going to be a rat and nobody wants to be a rat.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Jim Ronquest: Let's come together. Because if we don't stick together, they going to pull us apart.

Chris Jennings: That's right.

Jim Ronquest: And we have got to work. There's a lot of guys out there that I think if they could shoot a duck and you bow up in a fiery ball of smoke and hit the ground, they'd be just tickled to death. Sure, I like to smell burnt powder and I like a heavy duck draft and I like to see my dog go to work. I like to be successful.

Jim Ronquest: But there's more to it than just pulling the trigger. And we just got to figure out how to get that to a lot of guys, to help them maybe look at it different. See it as a sport and not necessarily a habit.

Chris Jennings: Absolutely. And you hear stories about guys racing to holds on public land. They get there and people are arguing in the duck holes and whatnot. And one thing I've always thought is why not just say hey man? Tuck in behind that tree and hunt with us.

Chris Jennings: And you hear about that sometimes. But you don't hear about it a lot. And I think that's something that if people were a little more willing to do, instead of making it a competition. I've hunted with guys in the White River a few years back that I didn't know any of these guys. But we were kind of in the same area. And it's just like hey man, let's just team up here. And it worked out. And these guys were from Georgia, I didn't ... never knew them. But now I stay in contact with them pretty regularly and figure out how their hunting is and whatnot. So it can really open doors for a lot of people. And it's just a better approach. And I think you hit the nail on the head with that, that it doesn't have to be a competition. And come together or else someone's going to pull us apart. So I think that's a great great topic. Now, one thing I wanted to do, and we talked about this before we started recording, but I wanted ... we had dinner a couple years ago at Shot Show and someone had asked you what is your perfect day of duck hunting. And you leaned back a little bit and went on this story. And I've told this story before to other people because I thought it was just perfect. If you want to share that again on the podcast today, what would be considered your perfect day of duck hunting?

Jim Ronquest: Man. A perfect day of duck hunting for me at home especially, is typically on weekends or times when my wife is off work. I've come around to that. I love to get up in the morning, know where we're going. A good cold, clear morning, wind about 10-15 mile an hour, south southwest preferably so you got that sun behind you in the morning. But go have a good solid hunt, good dog work. Get a couple good bunches in, break some high ducks. Just really get to enjoy the morning. Have a great morning, have a good brisk boat ride back to the truck. Everybody high-fiving. Makes you get back towards the house. Now, this is where I like it when my wife's at home. My wife is known for making really good soups and chilis. And all the guys like to come to my house after the hunt on weekends, because Rosie's going to have a big pot of soup on the stove. And we all like that. Have a great hunt, get back home, clean your ducks, have a couple after the hunt, cold beers. And just relax, have a good time, eat a big old bowl of Miss Rosie's taco soup, vegetable beef barley soup, or venison chili. Whatever it is. And get you a big old belly full of that. Take a nap, wake up from that nap in time to go scout for the next morning. And enjoy the pretty sunset. Come home, have a cocktail, go to bed, and do it all over again tomorrow.

Jim Ronquest: That's good living right there boys I promise.

Chris Jennings: Sign me up, man. Sign me up. That sounds fantastic. And that is something. It goes back to the earlier topic that we were talking about, where you didn't even really say oh, we filled the boat with ducks. It's more about the elements, the camaraderie. Just being out there enjoying it, hanging out, eating Miss Rosie's taco soup. It's the full package of duck hunting. It makes it what it is. And which from my perspective makes it a little bit different than even other kinds of hunting. And I think that's what attracts me to it, really.

Jim Ronquest: It's all the parts and pieces. I love good dog work. I'm into retrievers. Of course I like to call. You like to see ducks do their thing. You piece just right, come on, spending time in God's creation with good friends? Man. Don't get no better than that.

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Chris Jennings: We mentioned you like calling obviously. World duck calling champion. You work for Rich-N-Tone Calls. Give some people some quick advice on becoming a better duck caller. Just very basic stuff. People are working in the off season, we're getting ready to ramp it up. What do you tell people? Just say I want to become a better caller.

Jim Ronquest: That's easy. Don't try too hard. Don't try to go too fast. Don't try to be too fancy. Work on the basics, work on enunciation. And then once you get that, work on being able to blow a basic continuing hen quack, soft, medium, and loud. Learn to do a basic feed call. Soft, medium, and loud. Learn a slow lick. Soft, medium, and loud. And learn a fast lick. Soft, medium, and loud. Learn how to apply it and read ducks and you'll call all the ducks that want to be called.

Chris Jennings: That's awesome. Yeah, that's great. Just simple advice. But you know, the last thing you mentioned is one thing that I've personally tried to continue to get better at over the years. Especially as the habitats that I hunt have changed. I came from growing up in Indiana and then moving down here. And now I'm hunting a little more timber and just some different habitats that I didn't grow up hunting. But being able to read the ducks and being able to call to what they're doing. Yeah. Speak to that and what you have seen other people do and not do. And how you got better at doing that.

Jim Ronquest: Biggest thing I've had to teach myself to do, and I still struggle with it, is knowing when to quit. But I'm fortunate to hunt around some other lands growing up. My dad and his buddies. And then even as I got on to things, hunting with hands that had more experience than I did, would pop you in the head or get your attention and tell you to be quiet. One of the things that I see happening a lot, especially in the woods, if you want to watch a duck rodeo, a duck Turkish rodeo, put your four or five accomplished duck callers in the woods that's never hunted together before. And just watch all these ducks get blown out of the hole. And then a guy, another group about a quarter mile down the lake used to hunt together, is shooting all the ducks you started. Typically what'll happen is everybody get [inaudible 00:14:23] and everybody's timed out and blow everybody else. And you break high ducks good, but you won't finish nothing because people get to pushing and pulling. So what'll happen, and this is just watching ducks, reading the wing beat, reading the body angle in the bird, you'll see a bunch they'll get downwind and you'll want to turn them back into the wind towards your hole. And you'll hit a lick, and they'll turn back. Well, your buddy, man he wants to be part of calling these ducks in. So he'll hit that same lick and he just pushed them. So and I've learned a lot of this editing video. God dang, that's what happened.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Jim Ronquest: And people get to calling too much. So once you get them started, we all like to blow. Like to watch and react or hit the feed hard, you see them pull them wings down or start dropping in feet. But they was coming anyway. Learn when not to blow. Learn when to let them in. Learn when to let them come around. Now, a hunt above the ground, you won't have to keep them on you. Somebody else is going to get them. But you got to find that line on how that works. And that whole key there is reading ducks. I could go on for hours about how to read ducks, but it's something you really got to do.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Jim Ronquest: You got to pay attention to how they react on certain sounds. And watch that reaction. A lot of times you'll be working a bunch and they circle and they circle and they circle. Then you have a course, and I know you know this. But once they start getting a little higher, you're probably not going to get them back. That don't mean you don't try to do something different to initiate a response. But once they start getting higher, they're about done. There have been occasions where you'll pull a single or a couple birds back off that bunch. You'll find something that works. But the whole key is if you blow something at them and you get a good response, do it again. If you don't get a good response, try something different. Now, along with that, to add to it, I am of the opinion that if we start a bunch, we ought to get them. But then that's where concealment and calling and reading ducks comes together. You're probably, nine times out of ten, going back watching video, you probably called too much. Or it's a concealment issue. You can normally tell that. Hunting with cameras all the time, all my buddies get mad at me about the camera got that one. But for a camera to get good footage, they got to be out front. They got to be seen. They got to be able to see the birds, so the birds can see them. And that big lens is nothing but a great eyeball to a duck.

Chris Jennings: Oh yeah.

Jim Ronquest: So that creates an issue too. But man, learning to call ducks and just getting out there and spending time calling ducks. And spending time practicing with your duck call, learning the mechanics and operation of the call, once you combine those two together you'll be good. The duck call should be just an extension of your voice. One thing I like to tell folks in seminars is once you learn to operate a duck call and forever we've had tapes and instructions say this is a hail call, this is a greeting call, this is a feed call. And other than different clucks and feed calls and stuff, everything else is all based off the amount of decrescende or lick. So a duck doesn't look up, cock her old head, look up and says oh. There's a high bunch of mallards. I need to blow a hail call. No. That's not what she does. She just hollers at them. And that's the way we as hunters need to be ... it needs to be more reactional than proactive. If that makes any sense.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, absolutely.

Jim Ronquest: You don't think, you just do. You don't think about it, you just do it.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And one thing that I've noticed, I've hunted with you several years ago, and the first thing that I noticed is how aggressive you and the other guys that we were hunting with are on the feed call. And kind of explain the importance of that. Especially when you're in the timber. You're really hitting that feed call hard, that chatter. It almost echoes through the woods. It's a very cool experience. But it's something that really stuck out to me. Can you describe that and why you're doing, why you're hitting, the feed call so hard?

Jim Ronquest: Yeah. Especially public woods. This is going to sound counter to what I just said about calling too much. And I probably do do it too much, to be honest with you. But my idea there is once we get a bunch broke, we want to keep them paying attention to us. We want to keep let's call it a wall of sound, if you will. We want to keep them ducks. Once you break them, I want them looking at me and nobody else. That's just part of the game of calling ducks. So once we get them started, we want to keep them started. So we'll keep that hard (imitates calling), just keep that going. The thing that makes a difference there is doing that with guys that you're used to hunting with that are all used to hunting together. Know when to let off and let them come back around. And just slowly back it down. Because sometimes if you get quiet too quick, that'll scare them as bad as anything else. Because in the real world, if ducks all of a sudden get quiet there's typically a predator or something around is why they get quiet and they ball up. So keeping that going to where you keep the duck's attention on you and your decoys, but yet not blow them out and not spook them by getting in, just shutting all the way up too quick is kind of the game there. Just that wall of sound is important. When ducks are really in the woods, they make a lot of racket. And we can argue all day long about ducks making feed sounds and deep water or not, but they do. They make all kinds of sounds at different times. So we're just trying to emulate that and trying to super emulate that. It goes back to a deal I Read once that was done at Cornell University. These researchers up there, they had some kind of songbirds and they were seeing how these songbirds reacted to their spring mating call. So they had the control group, or the control audio they would play at a natural, ambient audio level. And then they would record, write down how they reacted. And then they'd give them like a 15 minute break or 30 minute break. And take these same birds and they would play back the recording of the singing, the songbirds, at a like double the volume. And recorded how they reacted to it. And it was interesting that they reacted quicker and faster to the louder peal at first. And then they did whatever. But the super stimulation there is what you go for. It's why super magnum decoys work. They're super stimuli, they see it bigger. So it must be more of them. They're ducks, they got a brain the size of a pea. But they're really good about avoiding getting shot at at times. But that's part of the calling deal. And you want to sound like ducks but you're really louder than ducks. You want to be duck light and then you got to know when to be duck E and let off and get down to that natural volume level.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. I think everyone just learned a lot. I know I did. That's fantastic. Jim, I appreciate you coming on. This has been a great conversation and hopefully as we move forward with this podcast we'll have you on again. And I look forward to stopping by and seeing you at the Flying Duck taproom here. Have a beer with you here in a couple months.

Jim Ronquest: Man, I look forward to it. Come on by. We'll talk again. I'll show you my trophy.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. That's right. All right, take care, Jim. Appreciate it.

Jim Ronquest: Have a good day.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to the show. And visit www.ducks.org/dupodcast for resources based on today's topics, as well as access to more episodes. Opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect those of Ducks Unlimited. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.