If you haven’t seen “Duck Dynasty” yet, smear your face with black paint, strap on a fake beard and tune in: The A&E channel reality-ish TV show about a family business that grew into a waterfowling empire is all it’s quacked up to be.
Hard to believe the scariest, hairiest bunch of hard hunting rednecks in our industry are now among the first to star on a mainstream TV network. We hope they’re here to stay.
Sitting at a duck camp in the mid-90s with the Berry brothers in Washington state, I was enthralled by the sight on TV: hirsute men straight out of “Deliverance,” sitting in a duck blind, blowing birds away from a floating blind in the timber.
They were raw men, and so was the video.
“At thar’s a hooded meganeezer,” I remember the senior Robertson man saying when a merganser lit in the dekes.
The guy was really getting his ducks in a row while appearing to be a really hairy, intimidating, Average Joe. Duck Men vids were a smash hit back then with the young guns, the most graphic unapologetic duck-killing footage ever seen, and the Cajuns splattering mallards with their old humpback A-5s were instant icons to the hardcore.
Part of the instant admiration was the ground-breaking, in-your-face and honest style of hunt video, and part of it was senior bad ass Phil Robertson’s personal commitment: He walked away from an amazing career to kill ducks.
The old man talked about his teammate Terry Bradshaw—he of the four Super Bowl rings—and how he started at quarterback over Terry at Louisiana Tech.
“Terry chose the bucks, I chose the ducks,” Phil said.
Not anymore. He is proof positive that by sticking with what you love (he made his first calls in 1972) you’re liable to be more successful than a guy chasing dollars. Decades later, he has wealth and fame and a lot longer career than most athletes both behind and ahead of him. Building calls that kill ducks after noting, “That no duck would even place in a modern duck calling contest,” he has been successful beyond words.
The new show is a lot less hardcore than his old vids, and crafted perfectly for the mainstream, focused very little on killing ducks and instead bringing viewers into the soap opera drama of the family-run business.
“They’re the Kardashians of hunting,” quips Tom Weaver, WILDFOWL publisher.
That’s not a criticism, but a dead-on description. The show is a riot. The intro shows them with helicopters and huge mansions and other silliness that veers from reality, but is a hell of a lot of fun, rolling out a line of duck pimp-dom footage.
- Take your dad to school day is a riot when senior Phil shows kids how to gut small game right in class, and uncle Si Robertson scares the hell out of youngsters with too many details of his army career.
- Disapproving CEO Willie (one of Phil’s boys) lays into the guys for sneaking out and poaching bullfrogs at his country club, inappropriate behavior for big-time businessmen. The frog hunting and cleaning is inspirational.
- Upstart and fun-loving brother Jase bombs as stand-in CEO for the day
- Senior bad ass Phil, the original Duck Commander; learns his family’s spoiled young’uns a lesson about the value of hard work by having them hand-cut a football field out in the boonies, after chucking their cell phones in the swamp.
- While arguing about business problems, the brothers engage in a brand of golf involving 12 gauges that would make the sport a hell of a lot more popular should it catch on.
Truly a freak of an athlete at one time in a state that’s full of them (he was Louisiana all-state in track, football and baseball), paterfamilias Phil has a quiet dignity about him, speaks softly but clearly with a light southern accent and a ramrod straight spine. He’s instantly likeable on TV, in other words, and the show is getting solid mainstream reviews from the New York Times and other prestigious venues, because of it’s honest dead pan humor and because the show has a real plot and doesn’t just rely solely on somebody having an unusual line of work to drive interest.
Here’s hoping the ride lasts, and opens the door for other mainstream hunting and outdoor programming that rides on the boom in interest of sustainable home-cooked hunter gathering.