When you first tuned into an episode of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, I suspect you asked yourself the same question I did: “When the heck are they going duck hunting?” After all, we grew up on Phil Robertson’s no-nonsense, politically incorrect hunting videos.
Yet clearly A&E had more than just duck hunters in mind when it released the series. As I sat watching—frustrated and wondering if Phil was ever going to “cut ‘em”—I glanced over at my non-hunter wife. A smile was tattooed on her face. She laughed at uncle Si. She admired Phil’s remarks on God and family. And I remain suspicious of the way she looks at Jase.
The next evening she dragged me to a dinner party I didn’t want to go to because her friend’s husband is an anti-gun, anti-hunter. Yet all he wanted to talk about was Duck Dynasty, including what I thought of it and whether I owned any Duck Commander calls.
OK, so two non-hunters I knew were into the show. I thought it was a fluke. Until I saw the ratings: A whopping 1.81 million Americans tuned in to the first episode, and viewership has only boomed since. The Season 3 premiere landed 8.6 million viewers—more than Fox’s American Idol—making Duck Dynasty the No. 1 reality show on television. In reaching that many homes, the show has made duck culture part of pop culture—who would’ve dreamed?
However, the show’s popularity has led many to wonder if hunters are experiencing any side effects of its success. How has the Duck Dynasty phenomenon affected the public perception of duck hunting and even the sport itself? Let’s take a look.
Newbies Try Duck Hunting
A buddy and I arranged a modest diver rig on a small lake in central Pennsylvania and settled in. Unfortunately, by mid-morning we’d only shot a bluebill and a bufflehead. But hey, at least we had the whole place to ourselves—that is, until a college-aged kid arrived with his girlfriend. Clothed in Drake camo—you know, the kind the Robertsons wear—they paddled their tiny johnboat to the center of the lake and tossed anchor. There they sat—shotguns in hand, no blind, no decoys, no dog—until we left.
“It’s that darn Duck Dynasty,” my buddy declared, certain our neophyte companions had been inspired by the show to give duck hunting a try.
A quick look at a popular waterfowl forum seems to indicate that the show has inspired an army of rookie fowlers.
“The show is great… but man I have never seen so many amateur duck hunters on public land in my life this year,” writes “Duck Pirate” from North Louisiana. “It’s a good thing this show has introduced people to duck hunting, but these guys out here think they are the next Phil Robertson. They have no clue what they are doing by calling like a duck with an acorn stuck in its throat, to shooting at ducks in the clouds… it’s a dang circus out here.”
Mr. Duck Pirate is not alone is his assessment.
“I have friends ask me to go hunting all of the time now solely because of this show,” writes “Fowl Mouth” of Newport News, Va. “It is not assumption the show recruited at least four new duck hunters as of this past season in my group of friends.”
Attitudes toward the apparent new crop of duck hunters range from welcoming to annoyed to poking fun.
“I was north of Mobile, Ala., this morning and stopped in at a convenience store and WOW, in front of me there stands the commander twins!” wrote “D. Comeaux” of South Louisiana. “Matching new waders, new matching camo shirts, new matching camo caps, beards [although not scruffy but well groomed] and of course the face paint. They were standing at the beverage counter pouring themselves each a latte! … It took all I had not to LAUGH OUT LOUD!”
Many hunters, it appears, believe Duck Dynasty has inspired a new breed of highly inexperienced waterfowlers to give it a try, but this evidence is anecdotal. Is there any data to back it up?
“I think the show has generated some new interest in hunting culture generally, and likely duck hunting specifically,” says James Powell, director of communications for Ducks Unlimited. “However, I haven’t seen any data or research yet that would show a correlation between the show’s success and increased participation in duck hunting.”
John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl, holds a similar view.
“I think there’s a lot of duck hunters who’ve been hoping for something in the media or otherwise that would create a huge enthusiasm for duck hunting, just as the movie A River Runs Through It did for trout fishing,” he said. “But I don’t think Duck Dynasty has manifested itself as that. Despite staggering viewership, I haven’t seen it translate to an interest in waterfowl hunting.”
Duck Hunting’s Public Perception
Given an entire political lobby is dedicated to banning the pursuit of waterfowl, public perception is something we do—and must—take seriously. Therefore it’s worth considering what effect Duck Dynasty has on how the average non-hunter sees us.
Jase Robertson claims to take this responsibility seriously.
“I want to cast hunting in a positive light,” he said recently. “There are some stereotypes in our culture that depict hunters as killing anything that moves. One of the reasons I agreed to do this show was because it showed our family, our business. We do a lot for the animals we hunt and put in the pot, and that shows. So now we’ve kind of established that we hunt without showing it.”
While I’m not sure Uncle Si firing his gun at random or shooting an excessive number of bullets at a beaver does hunters any favors, I do find that overall the show has a positive message.
“On Duck Dynasty and their previous shows and hunting videos, the Robertson family has always stressed ducks as food,” says Devney. “That’s a really positive message. It allows the public to dismiss the anti-hunters’ notion that we’re just out there shooting for fun.”
How might the show’s message be improved, as far as waterfowlers are concerned?
“As a DU staffer and volunteer, I’d love to see them incorporate a strong waterfowl conservation component into their show and business overall,” Powell said. “They are in a great position to do that for duck hunters everywhere.”
One area in which the show’s done well is in reaching the younger demographic—a task many in the business of spreading the hunting message have struggled to do. It seems for the first time in recent memory, duck culture is actually considered cool by a lot of mainstream teens. I saw several children and young adults dressed as the Robertson clan for Halloween. They wore Uncle Si T-shirts and used phrases from the show like “Happy, happy, happy!” And, perhaps best of all, they laughed along with Willie and Jase as they offered a carrot call to vegetarian singer Morrissey.
There’s not currently any data to prove whether or not Duck Dynasty has improved our image. However, it seems reasonable to assume quite a few Americans find duck hunters more relatable now than in the pre-Uncle-Si era. That can’t be a bad thing.
The boys from Duck Dynasty found their way into headlines again in February as they planned to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Vegan singer Morrissey, who was also slated for the show, cancelled his appearance because of the famous hunters.
In comedic response, Willie and Co. teamed up with Jimmy Kimmel to produce the carrot call—a vegan alternative to their famous duck call brand. Good show, we say.